Five Star Book: The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein

I am having a hard time writing about The Heidi Chronicles. I finished rereading it for the third or fourth time last week, along with a couple of other plays by Wendy Wasserstein (Uncommon Women and Others and Isn’t It Romantic). They are all wonderfully witty and poignant explorations of female friendship and feminism. And Heidi in particular has always been really important to me. My mom took me to see it once when I was around ten; I can’t say that I remember it making much sense, but certain scenes definitely made an impression.

I’m not going to go into a plot synopsis; it’s a play so it won’t take you long to read it and I really think you should (even if you’re a guy, maybe especially if you’re a guy). Basically, the play follows Heidi’s life from prep-school through her mid-thirties and shows the challenges and joys of trying to build a life for herself, rather than for a man or society. The play is very funny at times and I think up until this most recent reading I really thought of it as a comedy, and it is, but there’s an underlying sadness to the whole premise. Heidi’s struggles, to develop a life for herself where she can devote herself to her work and still have hope of love and personal fulfillment shouldn’t have to be a struggle.

And this brings me to why this post has been so hard to write, and I have debated all weekend whether or not I’m going to post anything at all about this, but in light of the horrific tragedy in California, and the countless other smaller scale aggressions that all women face in their lives I feel like it’s important to write this. I am a feminist, have never been afraid to say that (I mean I grew up with a mother that brought her fifth grader to The Heidi Chronicles, it never occurred to me that being a feminist was something to be embarrassed or apologetic about.) But what I’ve realized over the last couple of days is that just being able to say I’m a feminist isn’t really much of a statement, misogyny and rape culture are not dying out in the wake of the extraordinary progress made by women in the last fifty years. And my being embarrassed to tell people to read this play is a part of that. My not wanting to ruffle any feathers by mentioning that it can still feel really lonely to choose to do what makes me happy and feel like that might mean “ending up alone” is a part of that.

And that’s what makes me sadder than anything in the actual plot of the play: Heidi’s line to the “rap group” of disgruntled feminists that she hopes “our daughters never feel like us. I hope all our daughters feel so fucking worthwhile” still feels like a distant dream, even though this play won the Pulitzer in 1989 (the year I was born, incidentally). Why are women still made to feel less than? Why are there so many awful people on the internet still trying to explain that men are right to feel entitled to anything and everything they want from a woman regardless of her desire to give it? Why do I, even though I was raised by wonderfully supportive parents, and educated at a uniquely empowering place, still feel inadequate all the time (and all too often because of my physical appearance)?

These questions go beyond the scope of these plays of course, and even beyond my emotional reaction to this weekend’s tragedy and the social media explosion that followed it, but this is where my head has been at the last couple of days.

But the thing that I think Wendy Wasserstein (God rest her soul) would want me to end on is that there is always hope. Even when her characters are at their bleakest points they have each other. And they have good music, and the sense that things can (and must) get better. And even if the ship is sinking Heidi and Peter (or Scoop or Susan or Lucy) will dance as it does.

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Music for Memorial Day

Sorry I’ve been a bad blogger this week. I’ll hopefully get back around to Weekly Adventures sometime soon. (But it won’t be this weekend. I pretty much plan on baking, reading, and pretending it’s actually warm on Foster Beach.)

foster

But here are some songs I’ll be listening to.

Slumville Sunrise – Jake Bugg

(This video has the weirdest concept/longest intro – but I love this song…)

Cannibal Queen – Miniature Tigers

Her Mercy – Glen Hansard and Moji Live on Letterman

Shine – Benjamin Francis Leftwich

I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends) – Neon Trees

“She told me I was strange, I told her thanks and kissed her on the mouth” is one of my favorite lyrics ever

I Can’t Make You Love Me – Bonnie Raitt

Drive In Movies – Ray LaMontagne

All the Pretty Girls – fun.

Lost in My Mind – The Head and the Heart

Bam Bam – King Charles

Probably my favorite artist right now. I cannot stop listening to this album. On repeat. I also can’t keep myself from dancing, or mostly jumping. My neighbors are going to kill me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Degrees of Cinema: All the Real Girls

All the Real Girls is remarkable in a lot of ways, not only because it includes both a character named Feng-Shui and a scene where Paul Schneider and Patricia Clarkson dance around in clown suits, and yet I still love it.

When I read the summary on the Netflix sleeve (something along the lines of: ‘Schneider stars as Paul the town womanizer who has a change of heart when he meets Noel (Zooey Deschanel) a committed virgin’) I got really worried that this was going to be a movie about how a manic-pixie dream girl comes back from all-girls boarding school to teach small town boy how to love instead of lust. But it isn’t that at all (she also isn’t a ‘committed’ anything – whoever wrote that summary really needs to actually watch this movie.) Instead this is a quiet, lovely story of a man realizing the difference between attraction and love, and the story of a girl growing up and deciding for herself what she wants.

This is a simple summary, but they aren’t simple discoveries and writer/director David Gordon Green (who also conceived the story with Schneider), doesn’t try to dress up the story with Hollywood trappings (or even indie movie trappings). Instead the movie is essentially a collection of conversations, between the couple, but also charmingly between Schneider and his friends – including Noel’s brother – Tip (Shea Whigam) and his sadly sweet uncle/boss Leland (Benjamin Mouton) who seem to see how badly things could go before Paul has any inkling.

This isn’t a feel good movie, but it feels real. And it includes a number of small striking scenes, like Paul asking Noel to turn away from him so he can dance, inexplicably in the middle of an empty bowling alley, and my new favorite line about a broken heart: “If anybody smiles at me ever again, I’m going to freak out.”

Gordon Green has in recent years been better known for bigger films like Pineapple Express and Your Highness, but according to my favorite movie podcast, Filmspotting, he’s returned to form in the last couple of years with Prince Avalanche and this year’s Joe. I don’t think I can handle Nicolas Cage and a rattlesnake right now, so I’m going to choose Prince Avalanche as the next link in my chain.

 

In this chain: Breathe InGone Baby GoneThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – All the Real Girls

 

Best Picture Baking Project: American Beauty

American Beauty and pie

If I keep up my pace on this project I may get out of the A-s before I turn 30 (which is in just over 5 years…) Anyway, the dessert pairing for American Beauty was an easy pick – there’s nothing more American than apple pie after all.

Had I seen this one before?

Yes, it was one of my favorite movies in high school. I watched it too many times to count, but I hadn’t seen it since I graduated/moved away from the girl I used to borrow it from compulsively.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. It holds up. It is hilarious and emotional, and perfectly cast. Also my adolescent crush on Wes Bentley’s creeper character still feels justified, even though I know the whole “watching you through my video camera until you fall in love with me” dynamic is dangerous.

2. I know the movie is about a midlife crisis, but I was continually struck by how young Kevin Spacey looks. I know a lot of that is just because I’m used to seeing him now, 15 years later, but he’s only supposed to be 41, and in my memories of this movie he’s ancient. But again, this perception was formed when I was 15 so…

3. This movie is weird as Hell. And I love that. I especially love that somehow in the 90s, an art house film that includes drawn out surreal fantasy sequences of rose petal strewn obsession, grainy video footage (made by a stalker), Alison Janey staring into space for long periods of time, and Annette Benning slapping herself not only reached a wide audience but won Best Picture.

“There’s so much beauty in the world”

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

The Cider House Rules – Somehow I still haven’t seen this. I’m going to have to do a Classics from the Queue about it soon.

The Green Mile – I saw half of it on TV once and cried my eyes out.

The Insider – Is Russell Crowe in this? If so then I saw a trailer for it once.

The Sixth Sense – I saw half of this once. But I already knew the twist and I don’t like violence/gore so I turned it off.

It seems like American Beauty was a pretty clear winner here.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Yes. I think. There are absolutely 3 named women who all talk to each other. Most of their conversations are about men, but they also talk to each other about each other, and duplexes.

But more importantly – pie! This is the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything with a few modifications)

Classic Apple Pie

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 5-6 baking apples (on the advice of my dad, who makes the best apple pie I’ve ever had, I used: 3 McIntosh, 2 Granny Smiths, 1 Red Delicious)
  • A dash of honey (also a Bill Dennett pie suggestion)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 pastry for a double crust 9-in pie (bottom crust fitted into a 9 in pie plate); top crust on a baking sheet (refrigerate while preparing the rest of the pie)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • Milk as needed (to wash the top)

Instructions

  • Toss together the sugars, spices, and salt.
  • Peel and core the apples and cut them into ½ to ¾ inch slices
  • Toss the apples with the lemon juice, honey, and dry ingredients
  • Pile the apples into the rolled out bottom crust, making the pile higher in the center
  • Dot with butter
  • Cover with the top crust
  • Decorate the edges with a fork or your fingers
  • Refrigerate while you preheat the oven to 450F
  • Place the pie on a cookie sheet
  • Brush the top lightly with milk and sprinkle with sugar
  • Use a sharp paring knife to cut two or three 2 in long vent holes in the top crust
  • Place in oven for 10 minutes
  • Reduce oven temperature to 350F
  • Bake for another 40 to 50 min, or until the pie is golden brown
  • Cool to room temperature on a wire rack

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Adventure: Dorian from the House Theater at the Chopin

Oscar Wilde is incredibly important to me; I’ve read his collective works more than once and even used one of his aphorisms as my senior quote in high school. This is all to say that I was both delighted and nervous when I saw that the House Theater was putting on a show based on The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel is one of the scariest stories that I actually love. (If you’re a new reader, I’m a wimp when it comes to anything even horror adjacent.) There’s just enough Wildean wit to balance out the existential terror of your soul being ripped out of you and transplanted into an object which you then mutilate with your own bad behavior and lack of remorse. It’s ultimately a commentary on the dangers of pure aestheticism, but it’s also a not so thinly veiled tale of gay love in a time where living that openly was impossible, and just a really good story.

See, I have a lot of thoughts about Wilde – this was the background I was going into Saturday night’s show with. Well, that and a warning e-mail that show was in promenade so wear comfortable shoes. I generally like to sit down in the theater, but the setting of this show – a modern art gallery – and the way the actors could sidle up to you and include you in a scene ( or nudge you out-of-the-way) made up for the ache in my lower back by the end of the show. Dorian, co-written by Tommy Rapley and Ben Lobpries and directed by Rapley, completely captures the tone and energy of the novel, even though it is transplanted to the contemporary world and major plot points are changed. (Mostly these are welcome, I particularly liked the expansion of Alan, the medical student caught up in the glamour of the art world. He’s a tragic mention in the book but a wonderful presence, brought to life by Alex Weisman, on the stage.)

The main relationship though is between the painter Basil (Patrick Andrews) and his subject Dorian (Cole Simon), left vague in the novel (though honestly it’s still pretty obvious on the page) the chemistry between Andrews and Cole is electric (and their interactions well choreographed). So much so that when I knew we were coming to the confrontation scene, where Basil discovers the horror his painting has become, I had to grab Julia’s hand to prepare for the pain of what I knew was coming.

I could go on all day, but instead I will just tell you that if you have any interest in Wilde, or art, or great theater, you should really go see this show.

It runs through May 18th at the Chopin Theatre at 1543 W Division

Weekly Adventure: Busy Busy Weekend Edition

I’m a big fan of saying yes to things, and to buying tickets when they are cheap (read: way in advance). Sometimes this leads to me accidentally planning to attend five functions in the same weekend, which can be both lovely and exhausting. Rather than write five full length posts I thought I would give you all the Reader’s Digest version of my weekend. (As a teaser I wrote this sentence in an e-mail to Julia last week: “Important question I never thought I would have to ask: What does one wear to a show at prison that is also appropriate for a dance showcase?)

Friday Night: Bad Book Book Club at Katelin’s

About a month ago my girlfriends and I started a bad book book club, basically I needed a break from the great, but all too often, heavy picks at my other book club (which is public and at the Open Books Store!) This month we read Unsticky, or I should say the responsible members of the club read Unsticky. I couldn’t get it to download on my phone and gave up, but I was all too happy to indulge in the book club’s other aim, which is mostly drinking wine.

Saturday Afternoon: “Should I Answer the Call?” from Storycatchers Theatre at the CCTJDC

That long list of letters translates to the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and Storycatchers is a truly remarkable organization that leads kids there (and at various other correctional and community facilities) through the process of writing and performing musicals based on their lives. My friend Justin is their composer and music director, so a group of us were lucky enough to go down to see their latest show. It was really inspiring to see how committed to the performance the guys were, and how positively they spoke about the process in the post show Q&A.

Saturday Afternoon pt. 2:

 

Milkshakes at Little Goat, enough said. (Photo Credit: Katelin Buell)

Saturday Evening: BLAST Show at Northwestern

Another event, another acronym, but this one’s really different. BLAST is the Northwestern Ballroom, Latin and Swing Team (or Thing…) and this weekend was their annual show. My friend Madison is one of their choreographer/dancers and her pieces were amazing. She also made a great cameo in the penultimate dance of the evening that took place on the Purple express train and combined hip hop and swing and was generally awesome.

Sunday Morning: Strangers on a Train at the Music Box

Another in the Music Box’s Hitchcock series, I knew nothing about this movie walking in except that it’s basically the only movie other than Rope that Farley Granger was in. Although visually more varied and quicker, Strangers never rises to the tension level of Rope, and the ending could not be more ridiculous, but it was a nice diversion. And I was introduced to my favorite supporting performance in a long time from Patricia Hitchcock, as Granger’s love interest’s brainy little sister Barbara who has a knack for always saying what everyone else is dreading. (Also who knew Hitch has a daughter? And that she is hilarious?)

Sunday Evening: Hit the Wall from The Inconvenience at the Greenhouse

It’s going to be hard to stay brief about this, because I feel like I could write a master’s thesis about this dramatization of the lead up to the Stonewall rebellion. I’m obsessed with a lot about this show, the performances are all captivating (personal favorites include Desmond Gray as stoop kid Mika, Steve Lenz as a hippie who feels himself drawn to a captivating transgender woman, and Mary Williamson as the conservative sister of a lesbian beating victim that gets caught up in the fray.)

A remount of a show that premiered in the Steppenwolf Garage a few years ago, I was swept up in the energy of the show from the opening minutes, where the cast mills around and greets the audience. (Gray said he liked my shoes, it was really exciting.) When things start to fall apart it gets a little overwhelming, but in the best way. These events are important American history and we need to remember not just the consequences but the particulars and this show is a good introduction.

Warning: There is a (great) band onstage, but it’s LOUD.

The show runs through June at the Greenhouse Theater at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave (and you should all go!!)

 

 

Six Degrees of Cinema: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Firstly, I have to say that this title is way too long. Stop it filmmakers. (Yes I know it’s named after a novel, it’s also too long to be a title for a novel.)

More importantly, this movie is great. I don’t seek out Westerns a lot. I tend to think of them as movies about men shooting each other because they can’t articulate their feelings. (Though sometimes I’m in the mood for that…) That’s pretty much what this is, with a healthy dose of critique of celebrity culture thrown in, but the performances are compelling, especially my favorite Casey Affleck (who was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar, even though this is clearly at least co-lead here – Sam Rockwell is the supporting actor really.) He conveys Ford’s youth (he as 19 when he joined the gang) and awkward enthusiasm turned disillusionment all with different twists of his mouth and his flicks of his eyes.

Director Andrew Dominik, who also adapted Ron Hansen’s 1983 book for the screen, maintained a novelistic approach, with a lot of voice over and shots of landscapes that you could almost see described on the page. In any other story I think this would have annoyed me; film is a visual medium and I have the ability to pick up the book if I want to, but this story is all about Ford ’s obsession with the legend of Jesse James he read in comic books and the disappointment of actually meeting the man (Brad Pitt). The voiceover made this movie felt like an old time-y telling of a ballad or a folk tale, and Hugh Ross’s narration adds to that tone rather than distracting the viewer.

One thing that did distract me though, was the casting of Mary Louise Parker as James’ wife Zee (and to a lesser extent Zooey Deschenel as a burlesque dancer that Ford befriends). They are wonderful actors, I was really excited to see Parker especially on the DVD cover, but they are given almost nothing to do. Zee stands spends the whole movie standing in doorways until the titular crime has taken place and then she wails over James’ body. That’s it. What a waste.

Not wasted are the talents of the ensemble that play the James brothers gang; Sam Shepherd and Jeremy Renner both make intriguing appearances. I especially liked Paul Schneider as Dick Liddel, the womanizing conniver of the group. I hadn’t seen him in much except that season of Parks & Recreation he was on before they brought in Adam Scott. He was apparently in All the Real Girls (with Deschenel) which is constantly being referenced on Filmspotting, so I’m going to use this as an excuse to watch it.

In this chain:

Breathe InGone Baby Gone – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford