Monday, December 31, 2018

"Indecent" at Arena Stage

"Indecent" has a play within a play. The pieces times and actors shift. The play within is a real play, originally written in Yiddish and performed throughout Europe, that depicts a sex worker falling in love with the daughter of the brothel owner to explore themes of patriarchy and those who claim to represent religion. The play movies to the US in the early 1900's and does well enough to move to Broadway, where the cast is promptly arrested and prosecuted for indecency. 
The cast of "Indecent" is arranged based on age, such that characters who age shift from one actor to another, and one actress shifts her clothes mid-scene and alters her posture to immediately become a different character. While the play starts at the turn of the century, it gets to the 1950's where we can see the cycle repeat with McCarthyism. 
It's always hard to say how much a play speaks to a time versus the audience focusing on bits that seem timely. Nonetheless a look at what writing and representing your people, the breadth of them means, how art can bring hope in times of struggle, and how sometimes translation in the wrong hands can alter something beyond it's meaning are all things that seem apt right now. Because of the time periods it depicts, there is some antisemitism, most of it occurring off stage but referenced. And some of the cast members return to Poland during World War II and so they wear yellow stars as they perform the play in an attic. 
There were some times the characters spoke and the translations were projected in super titles, other times the actors spoke English - with shifting accents and facility - while the super titles alerted the audience that the conversation was in English, Yiddish, or something else. 
All of these things worked, the show in essence does a good job of teaching you how to watch it. The cast and the musicians who were onstage for much of it, moving among and with the actors, were fabulous. 
The stage design was also great. It is a play that isn't easy to watch but also doesn't revel in the struggle. It is focused on the enduring nature of art even as our own relationship with a piece of it changes. The play closed at Arena Sunday, but the Broadway version was filmed for WETA and is also available through Broadway HD. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1. Lillian Li's piece on the American-ness of eating Chinese on Christmas is lovely. 
2. Celeste Ng's piece on resistance as optimism is also wonderful. 
3. This roundup of the responses author Saladin Ahmed got when he asked what male writers get wrong about teenage girls was wonderful.  (Although I admit when I saw this conversation in Twitter, one of my faves was that without glasses I do not become 100% hotter.  I look like me, without glasses.  Apologies, my search is not finding the author of that one at the moment.)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Gains Ignored Can Become Gains Lost

I was talking with a friend recently about how the numbers of women in STEM haven't significantly increased, but a lot of companies that used to run a ton of camps and other opportunities to encourage early access to the science and technology have stopped.  NPR's story about the increasing maternal death rate in the US, included the supposition that in part, we assume we have conquered these old timey only happen in the third world these days problems and have let go of many of the safeguards we used to have.  So, it is with that in mind that I took a look at the publishing reports for kidlit and romance that came out earlier this eyar.  
We are not getting better.  Not even when for the entire last year there has been one or more books by authors of color dominating the YA NYT list.  Not even when plenty of romance books by women of color have done very well, like multiple printings well.  
Now sure, publishing moves slow, 2020 slots are getting filled now by many publishers.  But, we cannot keep hoping it will get fixed by next year.  Absolutely nothing leads us to believe that will happen without work.  Publishers need to continue to hire widely and diversely, work to acquire widely and diversely.  Reviewers too.  Because it's easy to do nothing and assume there are no structural inequities that need to be addressed.  It's easy to do nothing and assume because Beverly Jenkins or Angie Thomas got through anyone who really wants to can too.  I am also going to tell you that this year, in an article I am not going to point to, a person who considers themselves well-read interviewed a debut black author and they said publishing hasn't published a romance for twenty years. That there are no agents or editors of color.  Now I know none of these things are true. I can name multiple traditionally published back authors and other authors of color.  And more who are digitally first or self published.  They are there.  But right now it's easy for the dabblers to think it isn't.  Much like someone once told me that 50 Shades of Grey contained the only strong heroine they'd ever read in romance.  There are more casual readers than there are avid readers.  And those who only read a few books a year are in some cases going to avoid genres that don't seem to view them as people.  (And before you push back, think about why you might read more books with your preferred gender in the lead.  There's a lot of stuff out there.  No reason you shouldn't lean towards the stuff that makes self insertion easy.) If all you see in the grocery store is white characters on covers, well, then, it would be easy to assume that's all there is.  
So, as folks pointed out on Twitter, this isn't just so we can feel better about ourselves.  This is so the genre doesn't die out because too many people assume it can't imagine them finding love and community. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1. I feel for Mahershala Ali here.  As more and more info about the relationship between Don Shirley and his driver, as well as Don Shirley and his family, and the rest of his life outside the limited view that the movie "Green Book" provides, its clear that this is an example of how assuming that you have all the sources you need because you have a family member of one of the people you are portraying, provides a limited picture.  I really hope someone does another movie (or other work) about Done Shirley who seems to have led a very movie worthy life.  
2. Having recently been at a cookie party where these cookies were one of the offerings, I found this article about folks who might not otherwise have time to cook, but finding some comfort in baking interesting. 
3. Come for the compelling headline, stay for the deep look into the social hierarchy of naked molerats.  No wonder Rufus thought living in Ron's pocket was the good life.  Also, this is exactly the kind of locally specific and odd stuff that make me so glad DCist is part of our news-sphere again. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

How The Misused Accent Mark Signals to Outsiders Only

As an East Coaster who is of Hawaiian descent and enjoys Hawaiian food, I have been thrilled that the poke trend made it to the mainland. Sure, most of it is basically some version of sushi salad rather than poke, but hey, I actually enjoyed a so-called watermelon poke, so I can be flexible. Officially poke references a Japanese knife technique often used to precisely cut fish. But lots of food words get broadened beyond their original scope. Taco technically means folded around in Spanish. 
I also understand that our odd trademark rules mean that restaurants that want to establish a brand often choose to do so by trademarking their name. Since the idea behind trademarking is that you and only you use it, once trademarked, businesses vigorously defend such trademark, lest the argument be made that others have been operating under the same name so might also have similar rights. (P. S. Not a lawyer, and I'm sure this is an oversimplification.)
So along comes Aloha Poke, a Chicago based company that registered first. (Restaurants not planning to operate as chains don't always register because registering costs money.) And sure, they were first to file. But once they started, um, vigorously defending their trademark against actual Hawaiian owned businesses, things got heated. Aloha Poke with the funny e said they were doing this out of love not cultural appropriation and of course the real meanies were they folks that accused them of such. 
But, as others have pointed out, Hawaiian doesn't use that funny e for poke. Yes, the e is pronounced more like eh, and not silent like the English word of the same spelling. But in Hawaiian the accent over a vowel places the emphasis on that syllable. And normally Hawaiian places the emphasis on the second to last syllable. So placing that over the e actually makes the word wrong in Hawaiian. Well, you might be saying, who would know that? Obviously the majority of their customers are English speakers not Hawaiian. You're right. And that's how they have signaled - before you even walk in and look at the menu - that this place isn't for Hawaiians at all. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1. A former Toys-R-Us manager has now opened a toy store and has stocked it with, among other things, dolls of color.  (Warning link autoplays video, but transcript is below.)
2. This post about how one woman (who is also a YA author) found happiness witnessing Chopra and Jonas' multicultural wedding as she plans her own was great. 
3. And a Maryland teen lobbied to get consent added to the sex ed curriculum

Monday, December 10, 2018


I read a thing about reading multiple books being bad for your sense of the narrative structure that that author is trying to create and I get it and also I want to say pbbbbbbbt. 
A few years back David Simon got in some hot water for saying he thought the current state of TV where things get recapped and discussed after every episode was harmful because as a TV creator he was making a season of TV, and it wasn't fair to judge it on discrete parts when for all you know they addressed or had a plan for a thing you didn't know yet. 
And sure. And that's been discussed to death elsewhere so I'm not going to rehash it here except to say that yes, a novel is intended as a complete form and so yes, sometimes I have told people mid-book a thing that turned out to be resolved or worse entirely abandoned by the time I got to the end. Yes, as a reader I can better immerse myself in the author's work if I focus on it and only it. It would also be great if I read everything on my couch, curled up with my cat, and with elves bringing me fresh drinks on a regular basis. Look, books are rarely ever read in a single sitting. And when you consider Charles Dickens was serialized in the paper, we can stop blaming it on modern life and our phones. (Except that I read on my phone now sometimes, which is super cool.)
I could return to the same book each time but also sometimes I am more open to this story, and sometimes I want that. Most TV makers understand that their show is being watched in between other shows. And similarly even if the only thing that interrupted my reading a book was work, people, eating, and sleeping I would still have to develop skills to return myself to the story. That's why we have "unputdownable" as a thing, books we were able to block everything else for are unusual. Will I have a better sense of authorial intent of I read one thing at a time? Probably. But we live in a busy world and so I'm going to do all the things I can to keep reading. Including switching between books. 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1. This story of two women who raised money to help buy off a bunch of medical debt is all the things that are both right and wrong with this country. 
2. I was thrilled to see the DC Council decriminalized metro fare evasion. It's only a civil offense in Virginia, and so hopefully that simplifies things for the transit police.  I want metro to have money, I really do, but this doesn't do that.  People who can't or won't pay do so regardless of the consequences.  
3. A twitter discussion about time led me to this article which looks at how those in academia equate reading with working and therefore find the idea of pleasure reading sort of odd.  But more broadly it applies to all the things that people wonder at you for having time to do. 

Monday, December 03, 2018

"Anything Goes" at Arena Stage

"Anything Goes" is a play from a number of talents including Cole Porter and P. G. Wodehouse. At the time it was written it was intended to be contemporary, so the 1930's a time of post-stock market crash recovery, a time when the US to UK boat journey was an extravagant party. 
The book has been revised and updated, to attempt to adapt to a modern day audience that would expect female and/or Chinese characters to have equal personhood. 
The program at Arena Stage's production mentions that they address things in classic musicals with a three pronged approach casting (Corbin Bleu is the most recognizable cast member and is biracial, there were also other visible African American, and Asian American (not just the two Chinese cast members) cast members), direction, and book changes (with permission of the writers).
"Anything Goes" is a farce, as you might expect with Wodehouse on the original team. No one is telling the truth, and of course after the first scene, they are all on the boat together. This version allowed the two Chines characters, John and Luke, to demonstrate early that they were performing their own con, which helps a lot in making them characters rather than caricatures.  It does still include the song "The Gypsy in Me". That song is one of the few that isn't instantly recognizable to audiences and, probably because using ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior is not great. 
The production is wonderful, and the cast great. Corbin Bleu as Billy and Soara-Jaye Ross as Reno are especially notable. The cast also did a great job of being funny by being serious, even as they broke the fourth wall in one number and teased an audience member and stole the conductor's baton. Also Reno goes through more costumes than anyone and all of them were delightful.