Friday, August 27, 2004

Small theater groups near Bloomington

Looking for some great, yet inexpensive, live entertainment? Try one of these groups:

Little Theater of Bedford

Bloomington Playwrights Project

Brown County Playhouse

Shawnee Theatre

Indiana University Theater

Play review: Caught in the Net, Ray Cooney

We went over to the Brown County Playhouse to see this. As of tonight, I am officially a Big Fan of Ray Cooney; I thought before we went to see the play that I'd recognized the name, and reading the program I recognized a couple of other titles of his that I'd seen. I'm not a play-going afficionado by any means, especially since the three-year-old was born, but I try to get to a few plays every year. Cooney specializes in the British farce; that is a play where the main character tells a lie to cover some indiscretion or problem of his, then has to go on inventing bigger and bigger lies to try to keep holding everything together. In this one, the main character is a man with two wives in different parts of London, and a teenaged child by each one, who eventually meet over the Internet.

As it starts out, you assume the man (played by Jonathan Molitor) is going to be the main prevaricator, since he has been holding the two households together for many years, but it soon turns out that his reluctant buddy Stanley Gardner (Scot Purkeypile) has the real creative genius, coming up with a series of lies to tell every character, and almost holding the whole thing together until the very end. I was impressed by Mr. Purkeypile, who had a real sense of physical humor. He had just finished playing Froggy in The Foreigner, and I kept looking at him and thinking how perfect he must have been in that part.

The play started out a little rough. Watching comedies, I pay a lot of attention to timing, and I thought the timing of a few of the lines was a little rough. But things quickly smoothed out, and midway through the first half I was lost in the action and trying to keep track of which character knew what. That's always how I know a play's gotten good, if I'm no longer paying to the dynamics of it. Before the end there were plenty of moments that had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Playhouse tickets were $17, even before you get into the ridiculous Ticketmaster fees. (I once tried to order tickets to a museum through there, and children under 10 were free. Ticketmaster wanted to charge me a $3 handling fee for my free ticket. Wrong.) You can get them without additional fees at the IU box office, but it still strikes me as a little high. Maybe I'm getting old, though; I think most things are ridiculously overpriced. Oh well, I'll certainly be back next year if another Cooney play is on.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Book review: Emma, Jane Austen

It's an interesting thing to note, that if you go searching for information on Emma on the web, 90% of the hits you get will be aimed at kids. I'd assume high schoolers, since I wouldn't assign the book to younger readers myself, but still, questions like "How many characters marry in Emma?" make me cringe. I think the correct answer is, "All of them", more or less. Then there are the Austen online biographies, of which there are roughly three million. I don't know how much I'd have to wade through to get the answers I want, to the questions I have, none of which I can remember any more. The edition of the book I read wasn't annotated much better, either. We learn that "Imaginist" is a word Ms. Austen made up which means, "One who imagines", and that's great, but somehow I think I could have figured it out all on my own. On the other hand, every so often there is an allusion or maybe just something going on behind the scenes, that I'm sure was perfectly clear to every contemporary reader of the book, which left me saying, "Now what exactly did you mean by that?"

My favorite thing about reading these older books is the unconscious descriptions of the society. You can hear people saying, "Oh yes, back then women were practically forced to get married, they were always addressed as Mrs. or Miss, and they always took their husbands' names" but you don't really feel it until you read a book like Emma, where things like this aren't discussed, aren't mentioned, they simply permeate the book and the telling of the story. They are basic facts of existence Without Which One Could Not Exist. You don't get the same effect from reading a modern novel that is merely based in that time.

Anyway, it's a good book. You have to enjoy the "Novel of Manners", as I've heard them called; there is a surprising lack of car chases, death scenes, or even bank robberies; the point of the book is simply: how does one get what one wants in a society in which behavior is so strictly regulated? You soothe, you hint. You avoid ruffling feathers. At one point Emma is obliged to spend an afternoon with Mrs. Elton, whom she truly dislikes, in order that her degree of dislike not be known. (The utter uncouthness of Mrs. Elton simply cannot be described; she refers to her husband as "Mr. E", if you can imagine.) But once you get into the feel of thing, the lack of manners is truly grating. I think I'd prefer to bang my head against the wall rather than read over one of Mrs. Elton's obnoxious speeches again.

I'm not going over the plot. Google for "Jane Austen Emma" for many many descriptions - primarily in words of one syllable - and you'll find everything you need to know. It starts a bit slow, but by the time Emma has managed to get herself well and truly tangled in her attempts to matchmake for everyone around her, it's impossible to put down without finding out how she extricates herself. Read it. And always be polite.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


I don't get what Technorati is about. I blogged last night about losing weight, right? They claim they index blogs, right? Yet, if I go there and search for "Losing Weight", I get three pages of entries that don't include mine. If I search for my name, I get "No results found". So am I not indexed? If blogs aren't being indexed, what's the point of Technorati? It's not like spiders can't find this page. Now, if I don't show up because I don't have anyone linking to me, that's cool; but I wish I could find that information out somewhere on the site. I even went there and "Claimed my blog" one day, I think. Username and password are long lost. So what are they doing over there? Anyone know?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Losing weight

So I gained a few pounds on vacation. I had a goal of losing 20 pounds this year, and I was doing pretty well until vacation, when we went out for meals, drank quite a bit, and ate snacks in the hotel in the evening. Still, I managed to hit the treadmill three times during the week, so I thought I'd be doing ok, if not great. So I was really irritated when I got home and found I'd gained six or seven pounds for the week.

Of course, that was a bit high; probably quite a bit of water. I managed to work most of it off with soccer and Ultimate Frisbee the first couple of days back, but I was still 7 pounds shy of my goal for the end of August, so I've really been trying to cut back on calories since then. I'm still probably two or three pounds too heavy with a week to go yet, with one soccer game yet to play. Ah well, maybe I can find a few minutes to run as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Back from vacation

Wow! A whole week in exotic Evansville, IN. We really live it up on our vacations.

In all seriousness, we did spend most of the time in Evansville, and had a great time. I wish the hotel had had Wi-Fi, and I would have blogged each day, instead of the couple of sentences I'm going to provide now. We spent the first couple of days in New Harmony, IN, the site of some Utopian experiments in the early 1800's. Most people could probably do the town in a few hours, but we were interested enough to come back the second day to look at the things we missed. I especially liked a recorded lecture over a miniature layout of the city. We also visited the State Park and the Wabash River, which was bigger than I remembered.

We visited the George Reitz house, a very nice old house, where we were guided by a very knowledgable tour guide, who kept throwing things out like, "We're having the restorers come in next week to see if there's any old wallpaper behind this whitewash", which is a nice change from the rather bland from-memory speeches you often get in this sort of house.

We went to French Lick and West Baden, to see the old hotel that has been recently remodeled. We didn't get to see much, they had big No Trespassing signs everywhere. But there was also a train museum in town, which was very nice, although we didn't actually take a ride.

We visited another train museum in Evansville, as well as the Museum of Arts and Sciences and the Children's Museum. The train museum was a great value for $2. The Children's museum was a bit on the small side, although we would definitely be members if we lived closer.

We visited Angel Mounds State Park, to look at the old Indian mounds. I preferred the inside displays to the outside ones, which mostly consisted of "Don't walk here" signs. We did see a Snowy Egret in the wetland.

We drove over to Kentucky to visit the Audubon state park. Very nice birdfeeding stations, with dozens of hummers and a few other things. The audio tour of James Audubon's life was nearly an hour long, and discussed a surprising number of exhibits in a very small space.

We went to Connersville and, in our third train museum, finally took a train ride, from Connersville to Metamora and back. The museum had no less than five Thomas the Tank Engine train tables, and an extensive Thomas gift shop.

We watched lots of Court TV and gained lots of weight, at least I did :) All in all, we vacationed good and hard, and now I'm happy to get back to my desk and relax!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Book review: Chicago River, Libby Hill

I have a habit, when we take a vacation, of picking up a book with some local history or some interesting information about a site, since I read voraciously I prefer a book as a souvenir to some knicknack that I'll never find a place to keep. (The downside, of course, is that I constantly need more bookshelves.) So on our Chicago trip I picked up this history of the Chicago river, which is chock-full of information and fascinating research on the river. I'm looking forward to our next trip, now, to examine the mouth of the river with my new understanding that it is now engineered to flow outwards from Lake Michigan and, eventually, empty into the Gulf of Mexico. I had no idea.

The author has done a lot of what I like to do, which is to wander out to some random place and say, "Wow, I wonder what this looked like 20 years ago? Or 50, or a hundred?". If the place is on the Chicago River, you will find out in this book. Tons of details, with discussion like, "The tiny creek actually flowed into the river just south of the Mini-Mart on Calcutta Avenue." If I were a native this kind of detail would be terrific, and I would be sure to swing by Calcutta Avenue some time and see if I could actually find the ditch. Since I'm not, I have to wish someone would write a similar book about Spanker's Branch, the tiny creek that runs through the Indiana University campus here in Bloomington. I think I'll be waiting a long time.

The book tails off a bit in the end, with some pieces that almost seem like propaganda concerning various nature preserves that now exist on or near the river banks, and there is a map in the back showing "Golf Courses on the Chicago River", as if I might be interested in spending a summer golfing down the banks. Judging from the number of courses, I probably could.

But the first 80% of the book is terrific reading for local history buffs. There was a series of books many years ago on rivers - maybe a depression-era public works project? Employ those writers! - and that had a Chicago River book as well, which is referenced by this updated version, but this one is obviously a labor of love. The older books spend a lot of time discussing the people who happened to live on the river banks rather than the river itself. I bought one on the Ohio River as a souvenir of a trip to Cincinnati, and I haven't managed to slog through the whole thing yet. But if an update comes out that is as good as the Chicago River book, I'll be in line to buy it.