A Lesson And An Analogy

Yesterday we accompanied the Lady deGloves to an event at American Players Theatre (APT) and we taught a lesson in a beautiful fashion.  We taught a similar lesson, less elegantly, about 20 years ago.  To explain why we need to explain the analogy between APT and the university.

Brenda DeVita, the APT artistic director, was meeting with a group of supporters ostensibly to plan a season at APT.  The real lesson was: we really appreciate your support but you can’t have the plays you want because of all the constraints.

We faced a similar situation a couple of decades ago when accounting majors were in extraordinarily high demand.  Every firm wanted to be the first on campus so they could get the top candidates.  The Department worked with Career Services to create Accounting Career Expo (ACE) on Monday evening and Accounting Interview Days (AID) to follow immediately.  That way we could avoid no.

The analogy is that APT is very much like a university.  The comparisons are

Brenda is the department chair
The Core Company is the (tenure track) faculty
Other actors are academic staff
Directors are deans, albeit of one production
Supporters are supporters
Financial constraints are that seats must be filled

Brenda’s job is more complicated than a chair’s because almost all university performances are one-man shows while her shows are larger and often much larger.  The nature of the chair and her position, however, is the same.  Both of them have folks with awesome but not unlimited skills and often substantial egos that must be allocated to certain shows.  The Core Company or the faculty gets first consideration.  Other actors or academic staff fill needs and come and go.  Director and deans always have big ideas.  Both of them need to fill seats.  Both need to add new supporters without alienating continuing supporters.  Both need to accomplish much without much authority.  Agreements are reached by discussing, convincing, and cajoling.  We saw these attributes yesterday.

APT provided us with a nice dinner, plied us with alcohol, and brought in some of the performers to meet us (we met James Ridge who is wonderful as Cyrano) before moving into the Touchstone Theatre to design a season of APT.  They encouraged and got lots of input and put together a season.  Then they dropped “the math” on us.  The plays most folks like have lots of actors.  Not every actor can play every part.  Actors can only do a few plays a season.  There must be a Shakespeare comedy because “it is the gateway drug to the theatre”.  We’re not sure if everybody got it but the point was clear: You can’t always get what you want.

We learned the lesson and are more aware of the constraints than almost anyone but still want to see Arsenic And Old Lace at APT.  It only has 14 characters and the new stage will give them access to the Panama Canal.  Our casting is almost complete but we are have trouble with Dr. Einstein.

Arnaldur and Erlendur

We were going to entitle this a Ruthian moment but we did not want to confuse folks into thinking this is a baseball post because this is a book review.  The Draining Lake (TDL) by Arnaldur Indridason is an epic book.  We suspect he thinks of himself as Arnaldur but to find it you will need to have the patronymic Indridason.

Sidebar: In 1919 Babe Ruth set the MLB record for home runs with 29.  That was impressive as it was the most ever.  But 1920 was a Ruthian moment when he hit an astounding 54 home runs.  The MLB runner up had 19.  Arnaldur’s TDL is his Ruthian moment.  The other books were really good but TDL is a Ruthian step up for him.  End Sidebar.

We had read four of the Inspector Erlendur books, one out of order, and the stand alone Operation Napoleon.  We enjoyed all of them but were taken aback by the power of TDL.  It weaves together the story of Inspector Erlendur with the insidious impact of Communism.  As often happens, Erlendur is connected with an old missing persons case.  This time he is trying to identify a body exposed by the draining lake.  It connects the Iron Curtain, especially East Germany, with Iceland and the Cold War.

It does a brilliant job of showing the impact of Communism.  It gives us vivid specific cases as well as the overall data.  What makes it extraordinary, Ruthian, is that it tells us why Communism and socialism is so popular despite its long history of failure.  It is a book that everyone should read today.

Book Analysis

We are big fans of Iceland: The place, the soccer team, and Arnaldur Indridason.

Sidebar: We saw the Iceland soccer team play a FiFA qualifier in Reykjavik in 2002 or so.  They tied an eastern European team, Romania, we think.  The echoing cheers of Is-land and the folks that looked like Vikings made the game great fun.  We enjoyed, on TV, their success at the recent European tournament.  End Sidebar.

Arnaldur has written many books about Inspector Erlendur but we just finished reading a stand alone book: Operation Napoleon written in 1999.  All the books are written in Icelandic and translated into British English.  It might be described a political fantasy that pokes fun at Americans and Icelanders alike.  What got our attention was this on page 50:

“They [American politicians] were always putting themselves centre-stage.  Especially Democrats, with their demands for open government, for having everything transparent and above board.”

When we first saw it we thought that Arnaldur was just another clueless European leftist but the rest of the book led us to believe he as capable of deeper insights.  We would like to ask him but we think it is tongue-in-cheek.  Remember that is was published in 1999 so it was written during the height of one of the Clinton scandals.  Democrats arguing for open government would have seem dated by then.  Certainly Obama has convinced everyone that the Venn Diagrams of open government and Democrats do not intersect.

Theater Three-For-Three

We spent the weekend at various forms of the theater with the Lady deGloves and went three-for-three.  We went to Madison and saw the touring version of Beautiful- the Carol King Musical.  It is interesting because it is not just about Carol King.  It is about the music industry of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.  They have great music (and The Loco-motion) to create a story around and they do it well.  The singing and dancing is the quality you expect from a national tour.

Sidebar: We sat near a number of young folks and there was laughing when The Drifters first came on.  We are not positive but we think they we reacting to the groups choreographed moves.  It was a generational thing.  End Sidebar.

Beautiful is a beautiful show.  It starts with interesting songs but adds characters, sets, and presentations to make it a quality show.  We completely enjoyed it.

Our second stop was at American Players Theatre for The Unexpected Man.  This visit had the challenge of high expectations as it was a two person play with Brian Mani and Sarah Day, two of our favorite actors.  The show still far exceeded our high expectations. It is a wonderful story about characters of roughly our age dealing with opportunities to connect as well as the experiences of death and disappointment that come with being past the midpoint of your life..  Brian and Sarah are perfect and the simple set becomes a bit more with lighting and sound.  It is worth the trip to Spring Green.

Our third stop was to see Wonder Woman at the local cinema.  It was worthy of its positive reviews.  It introduced characters worthy of a franchise.  We hope they get back to them.  It, almost surprisingly for a summer blockbuster, had an interesting story.  And it did have enough action to be an action flick.  For us, one of the most interesting parts is the training of Diana (Wonder Woman).  Often in movies characters become expert warriors in too short of a time.  Diana, on the other hand, wants to become a  warrior at a very early age and begins training then despite her mother’s disapproval.  It is not epiphany that leads to her lethal skills.  It is mostly hard work.  You need to see the movie to fill in the missing piece.

It was a great weekend.  Our next experience will suffer from comparison.

Designated Survivor Disappoints

The second episode of Designated Survivor was immensely disappointing.  The first show was a great start with about to be fired HUD Secretary Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) being the title character when the unthinkable happens.   It looked to be an exciting show because so much was going on.  Kirkman would be under fire from both international positions and domestic positions.  He dealt with Iran in the first show.  Kirkman’s wife is interesting but his self-absorbed son Leo promises to bring lots of drama to the White House.  At the same time the cause of the attack is in question and there is conflict between the investigator Hannah Wells and her boss.  There is the unsettled disposition of Hannah’s love interest who on Capitol Hill at the time of the attack.

All this was washed away with hateful cops and hateful Republicans in the second show.  Michigan’s governor, a member of AEI, has decided to go the full FDR and imprison all Muslims in Michigan.  Oh, and there is an evil surviving Republican woman that seems nice at first but we know will be evil.

Sidebar: the AEI is the  American Enterprise Institute.  In its own words:

The American Enterprise Institute is a public policy think tank dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world.

We are committed to making the intellectual, moral, and practical case for expanding personal freedom, increasing individual opportunity, and promoting free enterprise in America and around the world.

It took a hard, and undeserved knock from the show.  End Sidebar.

We still like the show.  Tom is an interesting guy with enough conflict to make Jack Bauer happy.  It is laughably biased during an election year but there are still lots of interesting thinks going on.  When the bombers turn out to be white Christians we might rethink our position or we might suspend disbelief again.

The Week In Sports

These weeks come so rarely but this was a rare week for MWG.  The Red Sox won seven games to extend their winning streak to 11.  They have clinched a wild card berth and have reduced their magic number to one.  They scored the winning run like this tonight.

The Patriots beat Houston 27-0 on Thursday.  The Pats winning at home is not unusual but it was not expected when Brady was out and then the second stringer went down leaving a rookie to start on a short week.  We saw the Pat beat Houston in Houston last year but they had Brady and Gronk and Houston had QB problems.  This year, except for a cameo by Gronk, it was all different.  Houston had a QB and the Pats did not.  Now the Pats have a two game lead in the division while Brady is waiting to join the team.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the Premiership 3-0 and, of lesser interest, Nottingham Forest 4-0 in the EPL Cup.  Chelsea has been Arsenal’s nemesis in recent years.  Even last year Arsenal finished second and Chelsea finished tenth, Chelsea won both meetings.  It was Arsenal’s first win over Chelsea since 2011.

We are not big NCAA fans but it was nice that Wisconsin beat Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse won.  The only downer this week was that the king, Arnold Palmer died.  There are heartbreaks to come but we can enjoy this week.

 

Arcadia At American Players Theatre

We went to see Arcadia by Tom Stoppard at American Players Theatre (APT) over the weekend.  Arcadia is a wonderful play done to near perfection by APT.  It intertwines two of our favorite topics: time travel and academics.

Rebecca Hurd is up to being an adult playing the Thomasina, the 13 (and later 16 year-old) genius from the 19th century living at a country house called Sidley Park.  Thomasina is the focal point of the science and math of the play.  Old friends Jim DeVita (Bernard) and Colleen Madden (Hannah) play the archival researchers in the present.  The play is extraordinary because it captures math, science, archival research, and love all at once.  The research part of it is often underreported, check out Reception here,  but Stoppard shows great understanding of the joys and challenges of such research.

Sidebar One: Arcadia is a great play because you can take parts of it and leave other parts.  You don’t need to know the math, science, or research to enjoy it because the humans are so much fun.  Knowing a little of it helps.  End sidebar.

In archival research you need to tell a story based on incomplete data.  Often, as when we find out that Lord Byron was a house guest at Sidley Park, some of the data comes from unexpected sources.  In this case it was the hunting logs which the biological mathematician was using for other purposes.  Bernard gets overly excited about the certainty that Lord Byron was there and concocts a wonderful theory that will be published but slain by an ugly fact.

Sidebar Two: A great example of the challenge of research is that data is incomplete.  Stoppard vividly displays this when a character in the 19th century claims that he, rather than Lord Byron, shot the animal.  Of course, if he had ben recorded then Bernard would not have a data point to work from.  End sidebar.

Bernard and Hannah get to theorize while we see parts of the truth from the 19th century.  He gets published but she gets the last laugh.  It is a stern reminder for all of us that seek to uncover the secrets of the past.  It is also great fun.