It was a mistake. Last Saturday, I ordered on line a ticket to The Book of Mormon, the long-running musical on Broadway, for the following day, Sunday. To my delight, I was able to grab a prime seat, J-104, presumably a seat originally reserved as one of the so-called Director’s Circle but canceled or donated a day before — an unforeseen fortune, such luck. The show received raving reviews; Ben Brantley of New York Times was ecstatic in his first review when it opened in 2011, and again more recently in 2014. Indeed, the opening chorus of well-scrubbed Mormon boys is delightful; they sang vivaciously and danced deftly, and the music was joyful and up-lifting. After an half hour, however, my spirit sagged; I started to get bored. By the end of the show, I was glad to run out of the theater. My problem was that the high spirit, externalized in full-blast singing and dancing that was unremittingly insistent, lost its power quickly, like an oversaturated painting of blinding colors without shadows or tonal variations. The show, in short, shouted without respite. This may be the nature of the musical theater; it makes all the dramatic situations into a high festivity; in this regard, it is a genre that may be said to embody the kind of optimism that is peculiarly American. Its energy is that of an all-night party of drinking, singing, and dancing, and shouting into one another’s ear for conversation, whose success is measured in the participant’s exhaustion. On the other hand, I love Jerome Kern, Irviing Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Stephen Sondheim, and others; I am not averse to the genre itself. So, I’m tempted to say that The Book of Mormon was seriously flawed in dramatic composition, or else, I proved myself a party-pooper. It was a blunder on my part to part with $210.25 in much anticipation.
Monday, September 15, 2014
My top favorite dessert since childhood is anything with egg in the ingredients, particularly the family of egg pudding: custard, crème caramel, crème brûlée, flan, panna cotta and such. So, if I saw any of these on the dessert menu, I know I’d be irresistibly tempted. When I eat out, rarely alone and normally with friends, I don’t even look at the dessert menu. I am well disciplined with regard to my diabetes. But a couple of weeks ago, lured by my companion at an Italian restaurant, I saw Panna Cotta on the menu; I couldn’t resist it and ordered it. The first panna cotta in many years, it was expensive ($10) but large and delicious. It was heavenly. For the next two days, however, my tongue remained stubbornly sweet, and I knew I consumed too much glucose and regretted it sorely. I swore I will not do it again.
It’s not something I can say except as a soliloquy — just to myself — but it is truth that I get a tremendous pleasure and satisfaction, an open, innocent happiness of a child, from delivering a healthy piece of poop which is thankfully more the rule with me than an exception.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Friday, September 5, 2014
Many readers of reviews, if not most, assume that they are reading a considered judgment on the work being reviewed, be it art, music, writing or performance. They forget or ignore the fact that reviews are essentially the reviewer’s opinions formed on her/his fresh impressions.
Criticism explicates, I wrote earlier in Criticism; the critic tries through analysis to explore the depth and reveal what is not immediately obvious to its readers. Reviews may also explicate but essentially they describe. They are introductions. A review of a film, a book, a performance, or an exhibition is always informative when it is about a new work I have never known before; on the other hand, a piece of criticism about an unfamiliar work is tedious to read and not very useful if I don’t already know the work being analyzed.
A description takes a viewpoint, and it is partial, just as we see what we see only from one particular side. If a description is thorough and exhaustive, it undermines clarity and becomes exhausting to read for the readers expecting an introduction. A review, taken as an opinion, is therefore bound to be slanted. The more we become familiar with the reviewer’s slant by reading her or his reviews continuously, the more useful they become. A reviewer is opinionated; a good reviewer is consistently opinionated. When Pauline Kael panned a movie in a certain way, I knew what to expect — that I would probably like it and it is very likely good, or, conversely, in agreement, I would not be tempted to see it. A good critical analysis illuminates, whether I agree with the author or not, regardless of my taste for the work being discussed.
A review is useful to the extent it describes the work reviewed clearly and makes the reviewer’s taste, bias, and viewpoint apparent; her or his judgment as such matters little.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Terrorism is most efficiently put under control by force of dictatorship, as cancer by surgery; the only way for democracy to deal with it is to prevail over it globally, that is, patiently, if slowly, by global cooperation, though it is a colossal challenge racing with time.