Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why (and How) I'm Teaching My Kids to Drink

This afternoon, a Facebook friend posted a link to this very funny blog entitled, “Yes, I Drink in Front of My Children, Thank You Very Much.” The gist of the post was pretty much that having the occasional glass of wine in front of your kids is not going to kill them, but if you don’t have an occasional glass of wine, YOU might kill them. Which is a message that I, as the stay-at-home mom of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old destined to conquer the universe, am wholeheartedly behind. But in all seriousness, it did get me thinking about how I drink in front of my kids, and it occurred to me that drinking in front of your kids can actually be setting a very positive example. Before you decide I’ve lost my mind, please hear me out.

When I have a glass of wine or a cocktail when my kids are at the table, whether we’re at home or at a restaurant, they learn that there’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol. And when I refuse to share it with them, they learn that alcohol is something that only adults are allowed, kind of in the same category as staying up past 9pm or eating ice cream for breakfast or driving a car (all three of which are equally attractive to my children). They also learn that sometimes when Mommy and Daddy are getting dinner ready, one of them will ask if the other would like a drink, and the reply will be, “No, thank you, I have some work to do later.” Or if we’re at a restaurant, one of us will comment, “I’d love another glass of wine; would you mind driving home?” Often, when offered a second glass of wine, the response is, “I’d really love to, but I’d better not.”

All of these scenarios are teaching my kids that it’s okay for an adult to have a drink, but much more importantly, it’s teaching them that it’s also okay – sometimes even necessary – for an adult to NOT have a drink. I am modelling behavior that my children can use later in their lives. Imagine a scenario where my daughter is at her senior prom and someone offers her a beer for the first time (la la la la, this is my scenario, shut up). She’s seen adults whom she respects politely declining a drink without spoiling the party or being accused of being a goody two shoes, so it will (I hope) be easier for her to say no. And if she does say yes, it will also (I hope) be easier for her to not only stop, but to know that she SHOULD stop.

Some people might not agree with this approach. After all, if I’m showing my kid how to drink responsibly, am I not also teaching him to drink? Despite my la la las above, I am well aware that my children will, sooner or later, be offered alcohol, most likely long before their 21st birthdays. Like it or not, my kids are going to drink. The vast, VAST majority of children do at some point. And when they do, I want them to know how to handle it. Imagine that your child is turning 16 and gets his learner’s permit. Would you hand him the car keys without going over the controls, reviewing the rules of the road, having him observe you driving? Of course not. That would be irresponsible and unsafe.

Likewise, I want my children to know the rules of the “alcohol road”: don’t be pressured into drinking if you don’t want to; know your limits; never drink and drive; never put yourself in an unsafe situation. And not only do they need to know those rules, they need to have the tools and the confidence to wield them. So if watching me helps them to learn to use those tools, pass me a glass. (But only one.)


Cheers!


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Monday, April 20, 2015

With You

There may be nothing more painful for a parent than watching his or her child suffer – whether from a tummy ache, a broken heart, or a life-threatening medical condition – and not being able to do anything about it. I was reminded of that fact this morning when I woke up to the sound of hysterical screaming at 3am. I raced down the hall to find my daughter sitting up in her perspiration-soaked bed, coughing (a horrible, croup-y, phlegm-filled hacking) so hard that she nearly made herself throw up, sobbing hysterically, and shaking. I held her in my arms and rocked her to calm her down while I offered her whatever I could think of to help. She didn’t want a drink of water, she adamantly refused to take any medicine, she didn't want a cool washcloth, she didn’t want music on, she didn’t want to stay in her bed, she didn’t want to sleep in the guest room. Finally I asked her if there was anything she wanted. Through her tears, she clung tightly to my neck and croaked out, “With you, Mama.”

I was offering her the world, but all she wanted to make herself feel better was to be with me.

So often as parents, we want to offer our kids everything we can think of. We want to give them the best toys, the most delicious and healthiest foods, the most comfortable homes, the coolest wardrobes, the best education, the nicest friends, the most fun classes and clubs and activities. And we’re frustrated with ourselves when we feel like we’re falling short of that goal. But all too often, we forget that what our children want most of all is just to be with us. To play with us, to talk to us, to spend time with us, to get to know us, to love us, and to be loved by us. Our mere presence is comforting, reassuring, educational, inspiring pride and ambition. Being THERE is much more important than being anything else.

So, at 3am, I trudged downstairs and stretched out on the couch with a hot little human bundle clinging to me like a limpet, her face nuzzled into my shoulder and her soft hair trailed across my face. I stroked her warm back and felt her body relax and her choked coughing settle into a gentle, sleeping gurgle. She had found the place where she knew she would be cared for, protected, and kept safe, the place where she was happy and loved. And so had I.


With you. 


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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sorry/Grateful

My son looks exactly like my husband, with nary a hint of me to be seen. But his personality, his mannerisms, and his way of thinking are very much like me. It’s delightful and exciting to see and hear aspects of myself in him. 

Except when it’s not.

There are parts of me that I’m very happy to see in him: my curiosity, my compassion, my sense of humor. But there are other parts of me that made my life very difficult as a child (and some which continue to make my life difficult as an adult). I was afraid of trying new things; I was uncertain of how to approach an unfamiliar situation; I was easily frustrated; I took any kind of criticism as a personal attack; I didn’t like to ask for help. In short, I was a self-conscious and sensitive child. And my son is very much the same way. Already, I see him going through many of the same struggles that I did – and that I still do.

Sometimes, as a parent, it makes it easier when you can identify with the difficulties your child is going through. When I see him hesitate to join his gymnastics class because there’s a substitute teacher, I remind him that he’ll be doing the same activities and playing on the same equipment and with the same kids as he always does. I understand that the core of his hesitation is that he won’t know what to do if things are different, so I reassure him that nearly everything will be exactly the same as what he’s used to. But there are other times when he’s dealing with a problem that I haven’t mastered yet. How do I teach my child how to have thicker skin and shrug off a criticism or an unkind remark when I haven’t even figured out how to do it?

In some ways, I feel guilty that I’ve passed on my own insecurities to my child. Why couldn’t he have inherited some of the “better” parts of me, like my unusual eye color or my ability to identify obscure actors or my gift for writing funny poems? Why did he have to inherit issues that I don’t know how to deal with? What kind of parent can’t figure out their own problems by the time they’re in their 40s? I’m sorry that the part of him that came from me included struggles and shortcomings. And I'm sorry that I can't do much to help him with those struggles.

But then I realize that MY parents apparently hadn’t figured them out, either. Much like my son is a younger version of me in terms of personality, I am a younger version of MY mother. She had many of the same shortcomings that I do: fear of unknown situations, an (often unfounded) lack of confidence, and a sensitive soul. Which means that not only had my own parents not been able to figure out how to erase those traits from my personality, but my grandparents had not been able to erase them from my mother’s personality, either. So I’m grateful to know that past generations of wise and experienced parents couldn’t figure out how to “fix” their kids. Maybe I’m not such a bad parent, after all, if I’m having the exact same measure of success as they did.

But I'm also grateful that even those parts of his personality that cause him to struggle have positive aspects. Because of his sensitive soul, he is sensitive to the pain of others, and compassionate when he sees others struggling. Because of his nervousness with unfamiliar situations, he is careful to think through and evaluate anything new, rather than merely accepting it without question. Because he is self-conscious about his own shortcomings, he does not call attention to the shortcomings of others. 


I’m sorry. And I’m grateful. And I hope that someday, if when my son has a sensitive child of his own, he’ll look at himself, and he’ll look at me, and he’ll also realize that even if he can’t “fix” it, he’s still a pretty good parent. And I hope that he is sorry and grateful, too.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New York Theatre Review: New York Spring Spectacular

Last year, my husband and I had ordered tickets for the new Radio City Rockettes show, Heart and Lights, only to find that it was cancelled less than a week before the scheduled opening. Rumors abounded as to what the issues were: problems with the music, problems with the book, problems with the pre-sales, personality and artistic conflicts among the producers and the writers were all named as culprits in various interviews and articles. Unlike a production in a Broadway theater, Radio City has multiple performances and events scheduled which preclude postponing a production, since there is a limited and specific window of stage availability, so the entire production was tabled until this year.


As part of the revamping, the original plot involving some cousins and a grandmother was tossed and replaced with a new plot involving an angel trying to get his wings, a money-grubbing billionaire, and an aging NYC tour guide. Doesn’t sound like much of an improvement, right? Well, it’s a Rockette show. To quote a lyric from 42nd Street, “Who cares if there’s a plot or not when you’ve got a lot of dames?” No-one comes to see the Rockettes for the plot. We want to see 72 (in this cast, it was actually 84) gorgeous legs kicking in perfect synchronization. We want flashy costumes and high-tech stagecraft and cheesy “rah-rah, New York” numbers. Fortunately, the revised show, renamed the New York Spring Spectacular, has all that – and more. 


This production does a great job of updating the Rockettes’ age-old formula. There’s still plenty of sharp, crisp, precision dancing with impressively synchronized kicklines, but the opening number, choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance choreographer, Mia Michaels (who has plenty of other legitimate choreography credits, but SYTYCD put her on the map for the general, non-dancing public), uses a much more contemporary style of dance, with plenty of hip hop and athletic cheerleader-inspired moves. The choreography throughout the show incorporates a lot of fun props, including umbrellas, basketballs, hockey sticks, footballs, baseball bats and gloves, and bouquets of flowers. In addition to Broadway veteran Laura Benanti (who, on top of her Broadway credits, is recognizable for her role as the Baroness in the television production of The Sound of Music Live! in 2013 and her role on the television show Nashville), the cast features Derek Hough of Dancing with the Stars fame, both names somewhat familiar to the general public.


The production also wisely uses a mix of traditional and contemporary music. The score includes Broadway classics like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Easter Parade,” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” American standards like “The Way You Look Tonight” and “New York, New York,” contemporary pop numbers including an instrumental version of Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York“ and Demi Lovato’s “Neon Lights,” as well as a number of original (albeit somewhat forgettable) compositions written for the show. Benanti’s impressive Broadway chops are shown to their best advantage throughout the show, and Hough shows off a surprisingly impressive voice as well, more than holding his own against his talented partner.

The cute but mostly forgettable plot is (as is fairly standard for any Rockette production) mainly an excuse for the Rockettes to dance around iconic NYC landmarks, including Central Park, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty (an enormous animatronic puppet voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, who also voices God), a Fashion Week catwalk, the top of the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library (complete with animatronic lion statues hilariously voiced by Tina Fey and Amy Poheler) and the homes of several New York sports teams. 




These multiple scenes also allow for a parade of flashy costumes, from very traditional glittery leotards to matching yellow rainboots and slickers to ballgowns to various sports uniforms to LED-lighted tux jackets, most of them clearly designed to show off the dancers' famous legs (prompting Benanti to hilariously ask at one point, “Don't you people ever wear PANTS?”).






In addition to the “name” stars and the Rockettes themselves, the high-tech stagecraft was practically its own character in the show. Each audience member is given a pair of 3D glasses and an LED wristband upon entering the theater. A brief but effective 3D segment near the beginning of the show draws the audience in, and the LEDs pull them in even further as they light up in coordination with the Rockettes’ costumes, reminiscent of a rock concert or a Superbowl game, as everyone raises their wrists and cranes around at the effect.


Other flashy tech effects include a large kite flying over the audience, jumbotron-like projections from onstage Steadicams (some actually working in real time, others faking pre-recorded video), and a huge upstage video wall projecting detailed sets that are seamlessly incorporated into the physical sets.

But much like my comments in On the Town (see my review here), it was often the minor characters and small details that brought the show together. The character of Bernie, played by Broadway vet Lenny Wolpe; dancer Jared Grimes as Benanti’s fast-talking, fast-dancing assistant; Bernie’s cute but not-too-precocious grandchildren; featured vocalist LaVon Fisher-Wilson; the multiple animatronic characters (Alice in Wonderland, as well as the previously-mentioned Statue of Liberty and NYPL lions); a magical costume change when Benanti’s red tailored dress transforms instantly into a floaty ballgown; a pair of aerialists descending from the rafters; and a recurring bit with a group of crossing dogs that grows in number from 1 to 9 over the course of the show all add lovely moments of charm and humor to the production.

There may not be a huge amount of substance to this show, but the flash, the sweetness, and the genuine love of the city of New York all come together to make a winning combination that could very aptly have kept the production’s original name of Heart and Lights – but which just as aptly deserves the current moniker of Spectacular!



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New York Theatre Review: On the Town

Both The King and I (which I reviewed yesterday) and On the Town are revivals of classic musicals, yet they are completely different types of shows. The King and I is Rodgers and Hammerstein at their absolute best: unafraid to tackle dark subjects like racism, sexism, and abuse of power; a score full of popular and hummable tunes; elaborate and realistic costumes and sets; operatic, classically-trained voices; well-developed, subtle characters; lavish production numbers. On the Town, on the other hand, with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Comden and Green (who, interestingly, both played leads in the original Broadway production), is much more light-hearted fare: heavy on big dance routines; broadly comedic characters and situations; voices more suited for jazz and belting; bright, stylized, almost cartoonish sets and costumes. Directly comparing the two productions would be comparing apples and oranges. But oranges can be just as delightful as apples.


Originally produced on Broadway in 1944, On the Town is most well-known through the 1949 Gene Kelly movie (although the majority of the music was changed for the film). The stage musical was revived on Broadway (with the original Bernstein score intact) in 1971, in 1998, and again in the current revival, which opened at the Lyric Theater in 2014. Although I’m quite familiar with the original Broadway score (I’m particularly fond of Nancy Walker’s rendition of the song “My Place”), I don’t know how much of the script was changed between the original production and the various revivals, nor how different the set is from the original. I can say, however, that the current production has a very vintage, 1940s comic strip feel to it, from the vibrant colors to the stylized sets to the broad humor to the caricature characters. 



Even the technical aspects of the show have quite a retro feel to them. Instead of the high-tech video wall backdrop of the Radio City Music Hall stage (see my upcoming review of the Radio City Spring Spectacular for more on that) or the set wizardry of the flown-in pillars and chandeliers and the life-size moving ship of The King and I at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (see my previous review), this production relies on projected silhouettes, reflecting walls, neon lights, and rear-screen projection. The low-tech approach suits the simple, suggested, stylized sets much better than the bells and whistles of most modern Broadway productions.



The advantage, of course, to having a show with minimal set pieces taking up space is that you have a wide-open stage to fill with wild dancing. And if this show does one thing to perfection, it’s the dancing.



Broadway newcomer Megan Fairchild brings her experience as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet to the role of Ivy, but her skills are not limited to her dance. With a voice that even sounds terrific when she’s standing on her head, and “sweet and innocent” oozing out of every pore, she brings a charm to the role that has the audience wanting Gabey to find her nearly as much as Gabey does.

The three sailors also have plenty of both dance and acting skills. Unlike the film version, where the three sailors tend to be remembered as “Gene Kelly and a couple of other guys” (sorry, Mr. Sinatra), the three sailors in this production are much more evenly balanced. Tony Yazbek’s Gabey (the Gene Kelly role) has more featured vocals (particularly ballads) and a bit more classical dance, Jay Armstrong Johnson’s Chip has some delightful physical comedy (managing to appear squished and confined inside a taxi which consists of merely a bright yellow bench seat and a steering wheel), and Clyde Alves’ Ozzie’s terrified/exhilarated romp first with a large T. rex skeleton and later with a large anthropologist manages to reel in a couple of scenes that teeter on being too cartoonish even for this production. The three men together have a nice, brotherly, believable chemistry which is welcome and refreshing in a show full of caricatures and manufactured situations. Their mission to find Miss Turnstiles is the thread of believability which holds the show from completely flying apart into unreality. 


Another delight in this particular production is the many secondary (or tertiary, or quaternary) roles that are so well-played as to be memorable in spite of their minor status. Philip Boykin plays multiple small roles, but wins over the audience immediately with his glorious deep voice in the show’s opening number, “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet.” Jackie Hoffman also plays multiple comedic roles, pretty much stealing the scene in every one of them, but most notably in her recurring role as the booze-swilling voice teacher Madame Dilly, whose hip flask seems to magically transform her voice from a bass croak to an operatic coloratura. Even the unnamed ensemble member with the running “So I said…” subway gag brought it to life with impeccable timing and a spot-on Brooklyn accent.

One final high point of the show for me was the glorious jazzy, belty performance of Alysha Umphress as Hildy. Each of her numbers was unabashedly in-your-face (as they should be for her character), hitting the back wall of the theater, vocal pyrotechnics and power. When you’ve got a voice like that, you ought to show it off.

To sum up, if ever a show was greater than the sum of its parts, it’s this revival of On the Town. Taken separately, most aspects of the production were good, but somehow they all worked together to create a production that is much better than good. It’s a helluva show!



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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New York Theatre Review: The King and I

My husband and I spent this past weekend in New York City, enjoying Broadway shows, fabulous cuisine, interesting shopping, ethnic festivals, and the wonderful fascination of the broad range of humanity that is NYC. Among our adventures were three completely different theatrical performances: the revival of The King and I (which is still in previews, officially opening on April 16) at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, the revival of On the Town at the Lyric Theater, and the new Radio City Spring Spectacular at (naturally) Radio City Music Hall. I’m no professional reviewer, although I am a theatre fan with plenty of experience being in the audience of both amateur and professional productions, as well as performance and backstage experience with amateur and semi-professional productions, so this is really not so much of a “review” as it is a “let me tell you about what I saw!” kind of thing. I’ll begin with The King and I, and over the next few days I’ll cover the other two shows.


One of the most exciting things about Broadway shows is that the theater itself often becomes a part of the performance. Broadway houses can be completely transformed to create the atmosphere of a show, drawing the audience into the world of the production even before the first note of the overture sounds. The King and I definitely took advantage of this. Being part of Lincoln Center, it is no surprise that the Vivian Beaumont Theater has a huge, tall stage, with an unusually deep orchestra pit in front of the main stage, which is often built out to form a thrust (sometimes retractable) covering the orchestra pit.

The stage of the Beaumont, showing the thrust built out over the orchestra pit. Note also the bamboo detailing around the proscenium arch, which is echoed in the set pieces upstage. This set was used in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. 

The retractable thrust pulled back to reveal the orchestra during the curtain call of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific.

The theater design and stage setup for The King and I was quite similar in some ways to the design and setup for South Pacific. The proscenium arch was decorated with tall gilt statues of Buddha and elaborate gilt detailing, and the stage was retracted as the audience entered, revealing the full orchestra pit and braces detailed with gilt matching the proscenium arch. The main part of the stage was hidden behind a tall, dark red and gilt curtain. The curtain was not particularly striking until the overture began and the lighting colors began to change – soft purple, dramatic scarlet, cool blue. The large areas of gold on the curtain reflected the color of the lighting, seeming to change the color of the entire curtain and creating an effect similar to a cyclorama, or “cyc,” which is a white curtain at the far back (or “upstage”) wall that is lit with different colors to create a changing backdrop.

In my opinion, the overture to The King and I is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best. It opens with a huge, crashing, Oriental chord featuring a gong and a gorgeous open fifth in the brasses, which is immediately followed by a shimmering passage with the strings chasing each other up and down the scale. It is immediately clear that we are not in the familiar Western world, but rather in the exotic and mysterious far East. The pattern is repeated several times, separated by dramatic pauses, then transitions into the beautiful sweeping melody of “Something Wonderful,” followed by bits of many other familiar tunes from the well-known score, including, “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “I Have Dreamed,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” and then back to bookend the overture with a final variation on “Something Wonderful,” concluding with another booming gong and a grand chord. It would take a cold, cold heart to listen to that overture without getting a chillbump or two. It was especially exciting to be able to watch the fully-lit orchestra (particularly the percussionist, who was practically choreographed as he leapt between a drum set, timpani, and various other percussion “toys”), and the orchestra took a much-deserved bow at the end of the overture.

As if that weren’t an amazing enough opening, the curtain was then drawn across the stage to reveal a large boat upstage, with its prow facing toward the audience and low mists rising off the “water” behind it. But wait, there’s more: as Anna and Louis make their appearances on the bow, peering toward “Bangkok,” the whole ship moves forward on the stage, sailing through the mist towards the audience. That’s not enough stage magic for you? All right then, as the boat approaches the front of the stage, the entire center section of the stage begins to sail forward into the audience right along with it, covering the orchestra pit and causing a delighted gasp from the entire audience.

The scale of the sets throughout the performance was impressive: when the King entertains his English guests in the large dining hall, a number of huge crystal chandeliers fill the upper part of the stage; during the show-within-the-show of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” Buddha appears atop a high pillar of stairs leading to the sky; the King’s quarters are adorned with a huge Buddha statue. 


I read an interview with the costume designer in which she commented that when they were testing her original costume design for Anna’s hoop skirts, which seemed huge in the design room, once they put them on stage, they were dwarfed by the size of the stage and the set, and she had to redesign them to be even larger. 


Speaking of costumes, the costuming of the entire show was breathtaking. Since we were seated high in the balcony, we had brought opera glasses, which allowed us a close-up look at many of the fine details. The King’s first costume was a white-and-gold suit which was stunning enough at a distance, but seen close up, revealed literally thousands of tiny pearls and gold beads encrusting it. Similarly, the headpieces used during “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” were intricately beaded and painted.



Every detail had been carefully designed to create a world unfamiliar to most audience members, to help us identify with Anna’s feelings of being overwhelmed with the opulence of her surroundings and her own sense of foreignness. The costumes helped to create each character long before we saw them interact with each other. Anna’s very formal, buttoned-up dresses and prim hats; Louis’ crisp schoolboy suit, glasses, and hat; the Kralahome’s bare chest and sweeping robe; the King’s gold-encrusted robes; the wives’ dresses, exactly identical save for the colors; the royal children’s gold headpieces and embroidered sashes.





But above and beyond the characters that were created simply by their looks, every single actor brought his or her character to life, developing relationships, creating personalities, revealing social roles. Kelli O’Hara’s Anna showed the vulnerability behind her brave fa├žade by her nervous whistle, her genuine love for her students was evident in her romping and playing with them and in her delighted laughter at their antics, in her compassion for the lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha the audience understands her own love for her late husband, Tom, and her protectiveness of her son, Louis; Ken Watanabe’s King Mongkut showed a very distinct change in demeanor when interacting with Anna, the Kralahome, his children, or his wives, or when alone in his room, revealing both his public confidence as a King and his private doubts as a man, as well as his sense of conflict over western vs. eastern culture and values. The two characters together created a delicious culture and personality clash, beginning in polite frustration, mounting to actual anger, and eventually moving to a silent admission of mutual respect, admiration, and genuine affection as the King gives in to Anna’s demands for a house in exchange for her agreement that “head must not be higher than mine!” as Act I ends with the King – with a slight smirk on his face and a distinct twinkle in his eye – prostrates himself on the floor, forcing Anna to mimic his posture – right down to the smirk and the twinkle.


The charm of the two main characters was matched by many of the minor characters. The King’s eldest son, Prince Chulalongkhorn, is very like his father, right down to the personality clash he has with Anna’s son, Louis. One of my favorite moments for both boys was their rendition of “A Boy’s Puzzlement,” a reprise of the King’s earlier song, in which they admit their own confusion and puzzlement about their parents, and in which they temporarily sympathize with each other, perhaps even becoming friends, but which ends with an inevitable and hilariously teenage “fight” of pushing each other, a delightful reflection of their parents’ affectionate yet challenging relationship.


The King’s Head Wife, Lady Thiang, is a lovely foil to Anna’s relationship with the King. Lady Thiang, although an intelligent woman, is not educated in politics, but she understands and adores her husband, despite – and perhaps because of – his flaws, and she quietly supports him, masterfully guiding him without bruising his fragile ego, recognizing when he needs help from others, and getting him that help. Her gentle subservience contrasts with Anna’s intellectual frankness, as if the women are two sides of the same coin. The King needs both of them: the one to massage his ego and the other to challenge it.

Another foil to Anna is the character of the Kralahome: powerful, intelligent, and politically savvy, but more doubtful of – perhaps even threatened by – western culture than the King. He has little respect for Anna, as she is both a woman and a westerner, but eventually he comes to see that she wants the best for both the King and his beloved country of Siam, and he recognizes that she has a special influence with the King that even he does not. In the end, he is able to humble himself enough to ask for her help, for the sake of his country and his King.

The production is a visually lovely and emotionally moving picture of two cultures coming together, each recognizing that there is beauty and worth in the other, and even seeing that there are flaws in their own. The final scene wraps up the story sadly but beautifully. as the King, on his deathbed, passes the crown to Prince Chulalongkhorn, who announces that his people will no longer be required to prostrate themselves before him "like toads” (a criticism directly from the lips of Anna), but that they will show their respect with proud posture and a western-style bow or curtsy. The King nods in approval, and quietly slips into death with Lady Thiang holding one of his hands and Anna gently taking the other. He has seen - and become – the bridge between his old world and the new world, and he dies knowing that his kingdom will be well served by his son, led by both Anna and the King’s teachings. I, along with most of the audience, smiled through tears as the music swelled and the curtain fell.



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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Refuge

Much like yesterday’s word, “prosper,” “refuge” is a word we all know but rarely use. And also like yesterday’s word, one of the few usages that comes to my mind is a Bible passage: “You are my refuge and my strength.” I don’t even know where that’s from, except that it’s probably a Psalm. A quick Google says that it’s Psalm 46:1, and it also says that the word “refuge” is used throughout the Psalms in reference to God: “In You I have taken refuge,” “He is my mighty rock, my refuge,” “You are my strong refuge,” “It is better to take refuge in the Lord,” “You are my refuge and my shield,” etc., etc.

I usually try to avoid overly blatant Christianity in my blog so more people can relate to what I have to say, but the word “refuge” strikes too much of a chord in my Christianity for me to not focus on it. God is, to put it simply, too much of a refuge for me to ignore Him on this topic.

“Refuge” itself is such a weighted word: it implies not only fleeing from something, but it also implies throwing oneself on the mercy of another. When I think of someone who is seeking refuge, I picture someone who is fleeing from persecution, usually unfair persecution. I picture a political refugee with a price on his or her head. I picture someone fleeing from abject poverty with no chance of getting out of it. I picture someone begging, pleading, to be set free from some kind of horrible persecution and repression. And I picture someone who is appealing to another for help, whether it is a person, a country, an organization, or God Himself.

I would not consider myself to be persecuted, and yet I often feel that I need refuge from my own comfortable, first world life. When I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities, I seek refuge. Not usually a physical refuge (although with two small children who follow me around more closely than my own shadow, sometimes it IS a physical refuge), but an emotional refuge. I need Someone who will take on my burdens for a moment. Someone at Whose feet I can lay everything that is resting heavily on my shoulders, everything that is clutching at my heart, everything that is frightening me. I need a refuge Who can be my strength when I have no strength.


And whenever I need that refuge, God is always there, waiting for me with open arms. My refuge and my strength.


Refuge.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Prosper

I’m enough of a geek that the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “prosper” is, naturally, “Live long and prosper.” But the second thing that comes to mind is one of my favorite Bible passages, Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’”

The interesting thing about the word “prosper” in these two passages is that it’s almost a reversal of itself. In “Live long and prosper,” prospering is something that is happening to you. It’s internal. It's passive. But in the Bible passage, prospering is something that God is actively doing for and to you: He is causing you to prosper. Prospering isn’t just something you do for yourself or that just happens to you that benefits you; it’s something you can do for someone else that benefits them.

Prosperity has been a goal of American culture ever since the country was founded. We strive to prosper, to be successful, to be financially sound, to fulfill all our own needs. But what about the other sense of the word? Do we strive to help others prosper? Do we try to help others be successful and financially sound? Do we actively work to fulfill their needs? Do we prosper them?


As a Christian, I believe that I am created in the image of God, and that I am charged with striving to be more like Him. So how am I prospering others and not harming them? How am I giving others a hope and a future? Am I sharing the prosperity that God has given to me?


Prosper.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lent Photo of the Day: Breath

Your breath is something that you usually can’t see. Of course, in the cold, dry winter weather, you can sometimes see it when you go outside, or if you breathe onto a cold windowpane. But most of the time your breath is totally invisible. But even though you can’t see it, you know it’s doing its job.

Your breath has one main job, obviously: to keep you alive. Your breath pulls in life-giving oxygen when you inhale and gets rids of toxic carbon dioxide when you exhale. If you hold your breath for long enough, you pass out. If someone smothers you so you can’t breathe at all, you die. Bringing in oxygen is the single most crucial function of your breath.

But your breath also has many other jobs. Speaking, for example, cannot be done without your breath. Your larynx creates the sounds of speech, but it cannot do it without your breath passing through it and causing vibrations. Keeping your throat clear is another. Without breath, you cannot cough to clear something blocking your airway. Another convenient, if somewhat less important, function is warmth. How often have you used your breath to warm your hands, or trapped your breath under the bedcovers to warm your whole body? And on the opposite end of the spectrum, how often have you used your breath to cool off a hot bit of food or to soothe a burned finger?


Just because your breath can’t be seen doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, or that it doesn’t matter. You can’t see kindness, but kindness matters. You can’t see freedom, but freedom is important. You can’t see justice, or love, or God, but what you can see, much like with breath, is their effect. Don’t be fooled: sometimes the most important things in life are the things that you can’t even see. Like breath.


Breath.

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