Broadway

2016 Reading List #32: A View From the Bridge, by Arthur Miller

I guess I’m unofficially reading Miller’s plays in threes.

I’m now 6 plays into his collected total of 18, and most of the “greatest hits” are those I’ve read thus far. A View From the Bridge is a play I’ve only known because the title is familiar, so I was glad to delve in.

Though it wasn’t intentional, I finished the play in 2 sittings, largely because I found the story quite compelling (and unsettling). A View From the Bridge is notably different from many of Miller’s other works because it features a narrator talking for the perspective of someone who knows the course of events in the story, so he warns readers of the turmoil to follow.

The play centers on a working class family in Brooklyn who harbor their Italian relatives as illegal immigrants. Eddie Carbone, the leading man, is very protective of his 18-year-old niece, Catherine, who starts to fall for one of the men staying with them. Miller’s ability to portray generational family tension is on full display here, particularly as questions of love and loyalty arise. The play’s sordid story kept me engaged from start to tragic finish.

Another bit of intrigue with this play is that the most recent adaptation just won a Tony for Best Revival of a Play at last weekend’s ceremony, and I’m very interested in the production. Luckily, the National Theatre’s broadcast of the play will be available sometime later this year, so I’ll do my best to see it.

Now that I’ve knocked out another 3 plays, I’m turning to Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles to conquer another thing on my goals for the year. Happy reading!

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2016 Reading List #31: The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

This marked my third time reading Arthur Miller’s classic The Crucible, but I was no less struck by its weight this time than during any of my previous reading experiences.

The Crucible is largely famous because Miller used its setting during the Salem witch trials to parallel his feelings about the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare. The thing I find most striking about the play is Miller’s ability to make the tension and frustration so palpable. Though I know what the expect of the plot, I am equally enraged by it on every reading, which I think speaks to Miller’s mastery as a playwright.

Since I’m slowly making my way through Arthur Miller’s collected plays this year, I was especially struck to see the thematic similarities between The Crucible and An Enemy of the People, Miller’s adaptation of Ibsen’s work that chronologically precedes The Crucible. Both plays take on the importance of truth in the face of an antagonistic community. Miller really knows how to tap into the power of a fearful community, particularly when they choose to point the finger at a common enemy.

My life lately

It feels like years since I’ve updated, but part of that comes from the timing of the semester. Three weeks ago today, I defended my master’s thesis project (and passed!), though it somehow feels like that was really decades ago. Apart from some final copy editing, my thesis is DONE! I’m both thrilled and a little sad to say goodbye to this project. I have a strong sense I’ll return to it in the future (dare I say dissertation?), but I’m quite content to both physically and metaphorically put it on the shelf for now.

Since preparing for my defense and rigorously studying for my oral exam are no longer activities that occupy my days and nights, my time has felt suspiciously free. As a present to myself for my defense, I ordered Voyager, the third book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series, which was really the perfect treat to come home to. Reading for fun without feeling any guilt is one of the most wonderful feelings.

I’m also entering the final weeks of my first semester of teaching, though that seems ridiculous. Somehow I feel like the semester has just started, when in fact we’re three weeks from its conclusion. I will certainly be sad to see my first crop of students go (though I can’t say every moment of teaching and prepping are all that joyous).

So, to atone for being M.I.A. for a month, here’s my update of the pop culture I’m consuming these days. No one ever said being a teacher meant you couldn’t still enjoy copious amounts of television (and I think I’ve proven that).

Books — As mentioned above, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Voyager–though, at 870 pages, it isn’t what you’d call a quick read. I’m only now closing in on the halfway point in the book, but knowing that there are still several other books in the series to dive into means I’m hungry to keep going.

Before starting Voyager, I’d been reading John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, though starting a new book meant I sort of abandoned this one until finishing it last weekend. This was the third Steinbeck I’ve read (after Of Mice and Men in 2014 and The Grapes of Wrath in 2015) and very tonally different from the others–Cannery Row is a very place-oriented, descriptive novel, not a plotty one. It wasn’t my favorite, but it’s a book I see myself returning to later in life.

I’ve generally felt like I’ve been slacking on my 2016 reading list, though I’ve still read 22 books thus far this year. Depending on my pace with Voyager, I may work through another Arthur Miller play or something of that sort to speed up a bit and feel like I’m making better progress. I’ve also got Hamilton: The Revolution (also known as the Hamiltome) waiting on me at home. Though I’m regretting the decision to have it shipped there since I won’t see it until next weekend, the distance means I’m not diving straight into another book, so that’s probably a good thing.

Movies — My movie-watching pace has also slowed considerably (though I’ve currently seen 41 new-to-me movies this year, so I really shouldn’t be complaining). I’ve not seen anything very noteworthy either, though I did watch The Danish Girl last weekend. I liked it, but it makes sense to me that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. I’ll likely be spending a quiet weekend in, so this might be a good time to knock a few things off my Netflix and Amazon viewing lists.

Television — It would be fair to say that my movie-watching has been hindered by my TV-watching, because I’ve been doing more than my fair share. As far as current programming goes, I’ve been keeping up with Bob’s Burgers, The Last Man on Earth, Call the Midwife, Girls, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bates Motel, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Broad City, and Outlander (and, because I’m kind of an old woman, even Dancing with the Stars and Survivor). Since Girls, Broad City, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all come to an end this week, my schedule will be a bit freer (though they’ll be replaced next week by Game of Thrones and Veep, so I guess things aren’t changing that much).

As for all these shows… I think The People vs. O.J. Simpson was a really terrific season of TV all around. I smell a well-deserved Emmy in Sarah Paulson’s future (though my ideal situation would feature a tie between Paulson and Kirsten Dunst) and hopefully the same treatment for the stellar Sterling K. Brown. I think Bates Motel is the best it’s been since season 1, and I kind of love the romance between Norma and Alex. I don’t think this is Broad City‘s best season, but there have been a couple standout episodes, including last week’s wonderful Mrs. Doubtfire homage. And OUTLANDER! There’s only been one episode so far in season 2, but I’m enthralled. I’ve rewatched bits of season 1 and can’t seem to get enough of this show lately, so I’m quite happy for its return.

Apart from what’s currently airing, I’ve also done a significant amount of side watching, including lots of Game of Thrones prep. This week I watched the Starz ballet miniseries Flesh and Bone, which was only okay. Lots of pretty dancing, melodramatic storylines, and mediocre acting. And just today (because I’m kind of terrible) I watched all of season 2 of Amazon’s Catastrophe, which I find very charming. Having met these characters last summer in a quick-moving first season, I was glad to see that season 2 developed them further into funny and likeable people (not to say they weren’t that way already). I’ve also watched the pilot episode of the new Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, which I think I’ll stick to since it’s getting good reviews. I didn’t have any particularly strong reactions to the pilot, but I’ll stick it out. And tomorrow’s release of season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix means my weekend will be just a little brighter (in a fairly literal way, considering Kimmy’s costuming).

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In summary, I’ve been watching a lot of TV–though I swear I do other things too. What things are you reading and watching? I’m always up for additions to my ever-growing lists! 🙂

 

2016 Reading List #18: Biloxi Blues, by Neil Simon

My 2016 reading list is off to a nice start! Once again, my readings have been greatly bolstered by reading plays, but I’m just as interested in expanding my theatrical knowledge as any other genre, so I do what I can.

After reading Brighton Beach Memoirs two years ago for a class, I was happy to find a copy of Biloxi Blues at a discount bookstore to continue reading Neil Simon’s trilogy. Biloxi Blues is mostly light and funny, though there are some real moments of seriousness as the play revolves around a group of training soldiers in the midst of World War II.

Since finishing After You, I’ve tried to keep my recreational reading to a minimum–that oral exam I have in three weeks (!) requires some serious studying, so I can’t let myself wander too far into fun reading territory. Plays and poetry (which I’ve never considered leisurely reading until recently) have helped me stay sane and entertained while not being too distracting from exam prep.

However, since it’s spring break, I’m letting myself have a little freedom and plan to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go this week. I saw the movie when it came out in 2010 and really liked it, so I have high hopes for the book. Stay tuned for an update soon!

Book #54: After the Fall, by Arthur Miller

You may have noticed that I’ve skipped a few of my reading projects in recent posts, but that’s mostly been because I’ve been reading school stuff that I don’t really know what to do with. What could I really say about Dante’s Inferno that you haven’t heard? Probably nothing too exciting.

Anyway, this third semester of my master’s program is kind of kicking my butt. I’ve pretty much known from the get go that this would be my hardest semester; I’m a full-time student, taking lit classes that are out of my comfort zone, drafting as much of the content of my MA thesis project as possible, and prepping my own syllabus so I can teach two sections of Intro to College Writing next semester. So yeah, it’s a lot.

Because of this, I’ve accepted that I won’t be able to do much recreational reading this semester, but there are a few moments here and there when it seems like I might be able to squeeze something in. That’s how I ended up reading Arthur Miller’s hugely autobiographical play, After the Fall. 

After the Fall isn’t what you’d call “light reading”; the play jumps from scene to scene because it takes place in the memory of the main character, Quentin. But if you know anything about Miller’s personal life, you’ll soon start to figure out who these characters really represent. Each of Miller’s three wives (ignoring the woman he was with at the very end of his life) is present, but most time is dedicated to Miller’s second wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Things look pretty bleak when we get into the truly dysfunctional marriage between Quentin and Maggie (AKA Miller and Monroe). We see Maggie becoming jealous and obsessive, turning to pills and alcohol to numb her pain. I know the play has been criticized for portraying Monroe is this light, but I’m not sure how (in)accurate it really is. To me, the real emotional impact of this play comes from knowing the reality of Monroe’s tragic life. Monroe was a woman who needed far more help than she ever received.

Miller dedicates After the Fall to this third wife, photographer Ingeborg Morath, who is thinly veiled as Holga in the play. Holga is the ray of hope at the play’s conclusion, but by that point, I was far more concerned for Maggie’s bleak future than Quentin getting his happy ending.

Books #34 and 35: Angels in America, by Tony Kushner

Just minutes ago, I finished reading Part Two of Tony Kushner’s epic drama, Angels in America. I’m not quite sure how to feel about it, mostly because I don’t know if I even understood all of it.

Angels in America is pretty safely known as one of the must-reads in gay and lesbian literature, with good reason. Kushner takes on AIDS-riddled New York in a mythic way. The play follows the lives of several interrelated characters, two of whom are diagnosed with the disease, while the others suffer its fallout.

At this point, I think the biggest struggle I’m having is due to the fact that I’ve just read the play, not seen it. You can’t deny that plays are written to be watched, so that’s what I need to do. I’ve added the HBO miniseries adaptation of the play to my “to watch” list, and I imagine I’ll move on that soon so I can see how the visual production works

Though my thoughts overall are a bit muddled, I can say a few things with certainty. This play is absolutely essential reading for lovers of drama, or really anyone looking to understand more about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. I was discussing this with my mom the other day, but I still don’t really know how to articulate it: reading about or seeing representations of AIDS always hits me harder than other illness, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s something to do with the helplessness and despair, and the politically and socially charged nature of the disease. It taps an emotion in me that I don’t quite understand. Needless to say, I’ll be thinking on this one for some time.

Book #10: The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, by William Inge

Since I’ve now completed 25% of my reading goal for 2015 and it’s not even the end of January, I’m starting to think I should have aimed a little higher.

In my last days of winter break, I couldn’t quite decide what reading I wanted to be occupied with, so I turned to an anthology of William Inge plays, figuring at least they’d go quickly. I read one of Inge’s most popular works, Picnic, for a class last spring and really enjoyed it, so I figured I’d give the other plays of his that I own a go.

Much like Picnic, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs deals with Midwestern life, though this play takes place in the 1920s in Oklahoma. We’re dropped into the lives of the Flood family whose patriarch is a traveling salesman and a bit of a rowdy cowboy, unlike the rest of his family. Rubin’s absence is difficult for his wife, Cora, who can’t decide if she really wants to be with her husband and wishes for a grander lifestyle.

What I really liked about this play (and about Picnic) was that it feels like a glimpse into typical middle class American life. There are serious subjects involved (like suicide, rape, domestic abuse, and sexuality), but Inge doesn’t take a heavy-handed approach. His plays read like real life.

In a way, Inge’s work makes me think of the movie Boyhood, which has become the frontrunner to win Best Picture at the Oscars this year. Neither shies away from difficult subjects, but they don’t affect families in a necessarily life-changing way. They offer audiences a glimpse at reality, even if reality isn’t always so pretty.