Sunday, August 07, 2005

Just a Few Things…

Last Thursday night, I attended the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet on Boston Common, free to the public. I can claim to know Hamlet pretty well: I’ve read the play twice, seen Olivier’s Hamlet and the Ethan Hawke version done a few years ago, and have now attended three stage productions. On top of that, I have an audio recording of the play starring Sir John Gielgud as Hamlet which I have listened to no fewer than ten times (impossible to get tired of). With all this in mind, I have to state this was by far the best interpretation of Hamlet I’ve ever witnessed, a magnificently-realized production, ultra-professional on every level. Stagecraft at its finest, and all for free. Of particular note, the director took a few liberties with the script that, well, made me laugh; a good example was the scene when Polonius (the king’s counselor and Hamlet’s girlfriend’s dad) attempts to sound Hamlet out in order to get to the bottom of the prince’s strange actions. The director has Hamlet poolside in a bathing suit with water wings and an air mattress!

Here’s how the scene was supposed to go:


What is the matter, my lord?


Between who?


I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.


Slanders, sir: for the satirical rogue says here
that old men have grey beards, that their faces are
wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and
plum-tree gum and that they have a plentiful lack of
wit, together with most weak hams: all which, sir,
though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet
I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down, for
yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab
you could go backward.

You see, Hamlet is supposed to hold a book in that scene while saying those equivocal lines. And as I watched, I wondered, How the hell are they going to work a book into this? I didn’t see a book anywhere. But instead, when the moment came, Hamlet squints at the air mattress and starts reading, “Not a life-saving flotation device…” directly from the warning label! It was really funny and it worked. Another nice little touch was in another scene when Polonius does an aside to the audience. Hamlet steps next to him and starts to curiously look around, as if trying to figure out who Polonius is talking to.

But here was the part I liked the best. Right before the play started, the director stepped out to inform the audience that the actress playing Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, was called away at the last moment due to a family emergency. Her understudy would have to play the role, but he wished for us all to know beforehand that she would need to carry the script around with her. I quickly scanned Gertrude’s part in my mind and decided it was a fairly major role, especially considering the big scene between she and Hamlet in her bedroom, when Hamlet mistakenly slays Polonius and the ghost of his father, the dead King Hamlet (on stilts!), reappears. Bummer, I thought. What rotten luck.

It turned out to be an extra treat, because we all got to witness a true professional step in and do an extraordinary job. They put her script in a plain, black, hardcover book. During the course of the play, she naturally kept it with her at all times and referred to it frequently, but what a performance! It was like being summoned to pitch in bottom of the ninth, based loaded, nobody out, game on the line, and striking out the side. The play didn’t miss a beat with her there. I was very, very impressed.


Anybody doing the extra credit assignment, good work! Let me know what book you’re reading. And, for the curious, I’d like to share with you what made me think of giving you this “assignment.”

Last Thursday (the same day of the play), I went to the library expecting to hunt up a specific author to see what other books he’s written and checking one out. While walking down the line of fiction shelves, I on impulse changed gears and decided to do something I do all too infrequently: give an author I never heard of a try. I think doing this every so often helps keep me from becoming a “book snob.” Maybe you know what I mean by that — the sort of person who will only read authors he’s familiar with or those recommended to him by persons of respect. The problem with this way of selecting reading matter is, for every one “approved” book, there’s hundreds of other worthies that will never have a chance to be experienced.

When I was a little boy, the bookmobile used to come to my neighborhood once a week during the summer for kids on recess. For anyone not knowing what that is, the bookmobile was a sort of literary ice cream truck, a rolling library where, with a library card, one could withdraw any book or books of his liking. (Maybe they don’t have them anymore. If anybody’s used a bookmobile, let me know.) Now at that age I was fairly open to anything, so I would spend a half hour or so looking at the books and deciding which ones seemed the most interesting. It was like inspecting a basketful of puppies and asking which of the little fellahs wanted to come home with you the most. My mother had cautioned me “never to judge a book by its cover,” so I knew to glance inside and read enough to get the gist of it. It was a wonderful way to discover a book and it stuns me to realize that I don’t try this approach more often. Last year I encountered an absorbing historical novel that took place during the California Gold Rush by using this method. I wound up doing extra research about the Gold Rush on the Internet because of it. Another time I checked out a book that described a fictional English country town of roughly one hundred years ago called Lark Rise. It was charming.

The book I found last Thursday, by the way, is entitled Strange Fruit. It’s written by Lillian Smith, whom I have never heard of. The title attracted me because it matches the name of a Billie Holiday song about a lynching. And, to crown it all, the book’s cover says it’s “the once-banned, and best-selling, novel about an illicit love affair and race relations in 1920s Georgia.” It was even banned in Boston — a publicist’s dream! — so how could I not read it?


Pop Quiz: if you were marooned on a desert island with a CD player, a lifetime’s supply of batteries and only one CD, what would that CD be? Now, I know the answer is supposed to be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Thelonious Monk or something like that, but I would go with the soundtrack album of Run Lola Run. I could listen to it forever. What’s yours?


Blogger NYPinTA said...

CD: Tool, Aenima. I just love it.

Book I got without knowing who the author was or having someone else's recommendation: Carve the Sky bu Alexander Jablokov. It's still sci fi though. Can't go too far out of my comfort zone.

When I was little, we didn't have a book mobile or and ice cream truck. We had a donut truck. Honest. Nothing like a glazed donut on a hot summer afternoon!

7:44 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

Crap. "bu" = "by" Damn typo.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Quizzes Tests----Extra credit?
I think I'll stop coming by here--pretty soon we'll be working on dissertations.

As for my CD: Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti

4:02 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"When I was little, we didn't have a book mobile or an ice cream truck. We had a donut truck."

A DONUT TRUCK??? That sounds as likely as a pork chop truck.

I've listened to some Tool. They sound like a good band. Let me know if "Carve the Sky" turns out to be good book. Have you read any Marion Zimmer Bradley? Because your fiction writing reminds me a little bit of hers. She has a very strong following.

"Quizzes Tests----Extra credit?
I think I'll stop coming by here--pretty soon we'll be working on dissertations."

What's that, soldier? Drop and give me 50! Or a 500 word essay!

Good choice, Led Zeppelin, BTW.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I LOVE Hamlet. I have seen it, read it, and the like scores of times. I never like any fiddling with the original work or how it was intended to play though.

I still have to do the assignment, but I haven't been to the library yet. We're renovating my whole home and the one time I got out (yesterday), it was closed. I am going to do it though!

One CD, I have no idea.

6:16 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I never like any fiddling with the original work or how it was intended to play though."

I've seen a number of Shakespeare plays, and rare are the productions that don't take liberties with the script. One "Hamlet" I saw they cut out the entire first scene! As you know, Shakespeare gave practically no stage directions, so this might in part give directors a perceived license to put their own spin on the play. You might of liked this one if you saw it. I think they pulled it off really well.

Good luck with the renovations! How's the dust situation? Is it everywhere?

6:24 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Haven't gotten on that assignment yet. But my boss's wife just became director of our local library, so maybe she start getting the books I like.

We used to have a bookmobile come to the town my granparents lived in. Every Saturday morning, we would walk down to the park and I could get one book. It didn't matter that I could have gotten the same book at my own library. It was just cooler that way.

One CD? I have about 300 CDs, so that's a tough one. Maybe Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits. I could listen to it forever.

8:51 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Maybe Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits. I could listen to it forever."

I'm pretty impressed someone your age would pick that.

Remember, when you choose your book, no Louis L'Amour. I'll be on the lookout for that.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

The CD choice would be tough for me, probably a compendium of the easiest songs to which I could sing along. Probably a mix of country and rock, like some of the tunes that are used in the Rock Star INXS show. Have you seen that by the way? I am not a reality TV or American Idol guy, but for any child of the eighties/nineties that loves rock and roll, this show has it all. Check it out.

My book is Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen. I read the jacket and it sounds like some off-the-wall comedy, and I don't read that type of novel ever, not since Garp.

10:21 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"My book is Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen."

I just checked out a few reviews of it on Now I'm interested. Let me know what you think of it, I might buy it for myself.

"…like some of the tunes that are used in the Rock Star INXS show. Have you seen that by the way? I am not a reality TV or American Idol guy, but for any child of the eighties/nineties that loves rock and roll, this show has it all."

No, I haven't seen that show, but
I'm with you as far as reality shows, etc., go. I mainly watch movies and sports.

Maybe I should enlarge the question to include a CD you've mixed yourself. Don't you usually fit 22-24 songs on a CD? (No cheating with MP3s.) In that case, list off the songs.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

My wife and I Tivo, a LOT. We Tivo our favorite shows so we don't have to watch the commercials. So we get Rock Star on Monday thru Tuesday. Last week, the a woman from St. Paul Minnesota called Jordis sang a cover of a David Bowie tune I had never heard called The Man Who Sold the World that gave me goosebumps, in fact, every performance save two had some impact on me. These people are competing to be the next lead singer of INXS, and trust me, it's almost down to no fat left. Almost every one of the remaining six or so are awesome singers. Tune in on Tuesday night for the competition. Monday is reality TV where they haggle over what songs they will sing, Tuesday they sing, then the public votes, then on Wednesday the bottom three compete by singing an INXS tune as assigned by the band, and the loser, chosen by the band itself is sent home.

As for my songs, I can't begin to pick, but the aforementioned sung by Jordis, believe it or not, would be one of them.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Oh, this is nice, a video of her performance.

12:18 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Hey Scott, I can't get the video to work, but I checked the listings and I'll program the VCR to tape tomorrow's (Tuesday's) show. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

You can go to, choose Video on the left, choose the Performance tab in the bottom pane, then scan for Jordis at the second from the bottom left. I'm curious what people think of it.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Oh, you might have firewall issues at work.

1:16 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Oh, you might have firewall issues at work."

I think it might be a platform issue. My Mac can't handle it! I'll watch tomorrow's show.

2:21 PM  
Blogger trinamick said...

"I'm pretty impressed someone your age would pick that."

Yeah, well, I had older siblings, so that's the kind of music I grew up listening to. I hate most of the crap that's called music today.

"Remember, when you choose your book, no Louis L'Amour. I'll be on the lookout for that."

I've got it narrowed down to a couple other possibilities. If you like stories about the gold rush, you might like The Comstock Lode by L'Amour.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Mrs.T said...

Book: Absolutely Positively
By some smut author

PS. MilyiaVanilyia was not acceptable :P

8:38 PM  
Blogger Mrs.T said...

Also, am too preoccupied putting together an ultimate mix CD...

8:42 PM  
Blogger rightsvault said...

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9:26 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"If you like stories about the gold rush, you might like The Comstock Lode by L'Amour."

That's going right into my shopping cart — no fooling around, I mean it. Thanks for the suggestion.

"PS. MilyiaVanilyia was not acceptable :P"

What?!!? WHAT??? (gropes for smelling salts) (passes out) (twitches involuntarily)

"Do You Like Software?"

Do I like software? Do I? Man, I LOVE software! And for free? My God, this is the best day of my life!

5:11 AM  
Blogger John said...

One CD? That's hardly realistic. But here's mine. It has 22 songs. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Blackbird, the Beatles
(White Album)
2. Already Dead, Beck
(Sea Change)
3. Shadow on the Sun, Audioslave
4. I See a Darkness, Johnny Cash
(American III)
5. Look What You've Done, Jet
(Get Born)
6. The Nurse Who Loved Me, A Perfect Circle
(Thirteenth Step)
7. Misery, Green Day
8. Man in the Box, Alice in Chains
9. Where Did You Sleep Last Night, Nirvana
(MTV Unplugged in New York)
10. Confusion, The Zutons
(Who Killed the Zutons?)
11. Ruby Tuesday, Rolling Stones
(Forty Licks)
12. Over the Hills and Far Away, Led Zeppelin
(Houses of the Holy)
13. Love Reign O'er Me, The Who
14. Hey You, Pink Floyd
(The Wall)
15. Big Empty, Stone Temple Pilots
16. The Wind Cries Mary, Jimi Hendrix
(Are You Experienced?)
17. The Ballad of Curtis Lowe, Lynryd Skynyrd
(Second Helping)
18. Going the Distance, Cake
(Fashion Nugget)
19. Riders on the Storm, The Doors
(L.A. Woman)
20. I'm Going Slightly Mad, Queen
21. It's Good to be King, Tom Petty
22. The Spicy McHaggis Jig, Dropkick Murphys (Sing Loud, Sing Proud!)

6:27 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

I actually recognize quite a few of those! "Blackbird," I'll always remember, was played a a childhood friend of mine's funeral. The Nirvana song is an interesting choice. Same with the Queen song. Muy bueno, Señor Squeegee!

8:12 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

Have you read any Marion Zimmer Bradley?

No. But, since you mentioned it first, if I do I won't get any extra credit will I?

A suggestion about Tool. Start with their newest and work backwards. Some of the really early stuff can be a bit... disturbing.

2:23 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"But, since you mentioned it first, if I do I won't get any extra credit will I?"

Mentioned what? (whistles innocently)

2:40 PM  

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