Weekend Update

Dave and I saw CalShakes’s production of GBS’s Candida Friday night. It’s a play I’ve seen several times, but this has got to be the best production I’ve seen.

Dave and I saw Part I of Butterfield 8’s Pride and Prejudice Saturday night. I liked it even better than Part II, which we saw last week. Not sure how much of that is due to the acting being more confident, as it’s another week into the run, and how much to the first half of the novel being livelier than the second. I thought the direction was more varied and inventive in Part I, too, but then, there’s more variety in the first half of the story and thus more to play with; the second half of the novel is more dramatic and more focused on the tumult caused in the Bennett household by — well, if you know the novel, you know what I mean, and if you don’t, I’m not going to spoil the surprise.

I finished the Listener puzzle on the train on the way to Pride and Prejudice. Meh. An interesting idea but not a lot of fun to solve. Too much methodically slogging through possibilities and not enough finding logical inferences.

The rest of my weekend has been spent working on Tamino’s Magic Flute and doing laundry and dealing with the headache I’ve had on and off since Thursday. Now I’m feeling kind of queasy from the painkillers I’ve taken and too wiped to post more right now. I may write more about the plays later after I’m feeling livelier myself.


The trails start out so widely separated at the base that those who have never been more than thirty feet above sea level suppose that it matters vitally which trail you start out on, and that the trails stay just as far apart all the way up to the top of the mountain.


I’ve been working on this week’s Listener puzzle — a number puzzle this week, called “Number or Nummer” — for only about twelve minutes, and I’ve already narrowed down the possibilities to just 393,120.

Later: Is too much to ask in a number puzzle to have math that looks like math? With minus signs (HTML code: &minus;) or at least en dashes (&ndash;) instead of hyphens, and exponents that are actually raised (<sup>2</sup>) and not just in a different font?

Plus: In the clue for 13 Across, which is in the form X − Y / Z, could you maybe have added parentheses so we could be 100% sure whether you mean X − (Y / Z) or (X − Y) / Z? I hope I find out I’m wrong, but I have a growing suspicion that you mean the latter.

Still later: The order of operations in 13 Across is correct.

Pride and Prejudice, Part II, at Butterfield 8

Dave and I BARTed out to Concord Saturday night to see Pride and Prejudice, Part II, at the Butterfield 8 Theater Company. We didn’t wait to see Part I first, because our schedules make it uncertain whether we would then be able to get to Part II still later in the run. Rather than risk not seeing both halves, we decided to see them in the wrong order and trust that we’d be able to figure it out. For me, at any rate, it’s not like I haven’t read the novel a half dozen times or so.

The adaptation is by Donald L. Hardy, who is an old friend of ours. Don’s goal with this adaptation has been to use Austen’s own words as much as possible, revising and rewriting as little as possible in the process of adapting for the stage. The play is in two parts.

I fooled around some years ago with the idea of adapting P&P for the stage, in my case as a musical — that has already tried once, as First Impressions, but it’s a terrible score that trivializes the characters and situations and doesn’t catch any of the flavor of the novel, and I had wondered whether it would be possible to do a better job of it. I even went as far as working out a rough outline of how such a work might be structured. It didn’t take long to figure out that — assuming a more or less normal length for a musical — I’d be faced with an impossible choice: either cut so many incidents and characters that those who love the novel would immediately bristle at the omissions, or keep the whole story but race through it so quickly that there’d be no time to develop characters, no time to linger over the most important situations and let them develop their proper emotional weight. (I suspect that that’s part of what’s wrong with First Impressions, though I’d still like to get hold of the book sometime and take a look.)

The issue of stage time is more critical for a musical than for a spoken play (and even more critical for an opera — as a rough rule of thumb, when you’re writing the words for a musical, you have to tell your story in half as many words as you would for a spoken play; when you’re writing the words for a fully sung opera, you have to tell your story in half as many words as you would for a musical), but even for a spoken play it’s still very important. A novel will generally have too much story to squeeze comfortably into a two-and-a-half-hour spoken play (let alone a musical or opera); a novella will more often have about the right amount.

Although it isn’t the way I would have done it myself, given that it was Don’s goal to use Austen’s own words as much as possible, his decision to write the play in two parts was a good one. I can only judge from Part II so far, but it worked for me. The pace of the story is more leisurely than is usual for a play, but after ten minutes or so I got accustomed to it and enjoyed it. The performance really does capture the feel of the novel, and it reminded me in a very good way of a “literary cabaret” I used to go to regularly when I lived in Los Angeles, in which the performances consisted of nothing more than actors sitting and reading, but reading really, really well. This production is staged, but in a small and informal setting (the audience sits along three sides of the playing area, at tables set for tea — indeed, you can buy a pot of tea and sip it during the show if you like), and the overall effect is charming and engaging, like sitting in a living room and being told a story by a group of really good storytellers.

As I said, it isn’t the way I would have done it myself, and there were places I felt there wouldn’t have been anything wrong at all if Don had rewritten Austen’s words to make things less literary and more theatrical. But it’s a charmer and a lot of fun, and the acting is good — I thought several of the actors were very good indeed. We’re definitely looking forward to Part I this week.

Come On, It’s Not Like They Can Just Break a Jar of Expensive Oil Over His Head and Give the Rest to the Poor — We’re Talking About Somebody Important

From today’s New York Times:

MADRID — The Rev. Eubilio Rodríguez’s church is a prefabricated building in an area of this city hard hit by Spain’s economic crisis. In front of the altar are a few scraggly potted plants. Behind it, some plastic chairs.

How, he asks, can the Roman Catholic Church be getting ready for a lavish $72 million celebration in this city — some of it paid for with tax dollars — when Spain is in the midst of an austerity drive, the unemployment rate for young people is 40 percent and his parishioners are losing their homes to foreclosure every day?

“It is scandalous, the price,” he said. “It is shameful. It discredits the church.”

Quote of the Day

Washington Post political cartoonist Tom Toles posted this on Facebook today:

Today I had an email exchange where I indulged the bad temptation​ to return snark for snark. However I was so subtle that my snark was missed and a polite and positive exchange ensued. There is a lesson in there but I’m resistant to it.

The Most Happy Fella at Festival Opera

Dave and I saw the opening night Saturday night of Festival Opera’s production of The Most Happy Fella. It’s a show I’ve both loved and been frustrated by since my college days. Its good points are unique and powerful, and yet it has some serious weaknesses as well (mostly in the second act, in my opinion) that I wish Loesser had figured out how to fix. I have no time to write more about it right now, but I wanted to recommend this, a confident and polished production of a show that is not done very often and even less often done well.


I finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “Toga” by Nod, this morning. I really thought I was going to finish last night — around 9:00 I had only solved about half the clues, but that turned out to be enough for me to figure out the “advice” spelled out by the extra letters, how to apply it, and what to do with the result. By figuring out in advance what was supposed to be the final step in the puzzle, I obtained several letters in the grid that I hadn’t actually solved yet, and that quickly gave me a few more answers. I was quite sure that I’d have it all nailed before I went to bed. But I got sleepy and ended up crashing with one clue still unsolved, and two more for which I was pretty sure I had the right answer but hadn’t yet worked out how the wordplay was supposed to work.

I finally solved them this morning — I was right about the two answers and worked out the wordplay, and the third clue turned out to involve some proper nouns I didn’t know that aren’t in Chambers Dictionary; thank goodness for the Internet. All in all, an enjoyable and not overly brain-busting puzzle.

Thought While Reading Some Literary Criticism

Show me an artist who never repeated him- or herself and I’ll show you an artist who died very young. You can’t hang around long enough to complete more than two or three major works without starting to reuse some of your favorite techniques and devices.

The way out isn’t to dismiss artists who have given you great pleasure but whose patterns you’ve started to catch on to, it’s to stop judging your old friends for having allowed you to know them too well.

Sir John in Absentia

Michael Zwiebach has a list of “Top Ten Shakespeare Operas” over at San Francisco Classical Voice, but he leaves out a favorite of mine: Vaughn Williams’s Sir John in Love. Verdi’s Falstaff is a completely wonderful opera, don’t get me wrong. But Verdi and Boito transformed it so well into a polished opera buffa in the Italian style that if you didn’t look at the program notes you might never guess that it takes place in England.

Sir John in Love is less well constructed, I think, but at the same time its music conveys a love of the English countryside and the feel of country society in Elizabethan England that I don’t hear in Falstaff. That pastoral quality is what makes The Merry Wives of Windsor special among Shakespeare’s plays — in terms of dramatic construction, it’s one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays, but Merry Wives is the only play that Shakespeare set in his own time and place, and in which he was writing openly and directly about a society and a social order that he knew at first hand. So the play has its own unique if rough-hewn quality, and the words and music in Sir John capture that atmosphere wonderfully well. You can practically smell the fresh-cut hay and the sawdust and the spilled beer in the music.

Of course, any top ten list is a very personal selection, and everyone gets to have different favorites. I just wanted to make a case for one of mine.