Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Imagine my delight to stumble upon this lovely review of Alias Hook, posted in May of last year by Larkin, over at Wonderfilled Reads.
She enjoyed it so much, she created this meme from a quote from my book!
Pretty cool. huh?
This is James Hook's epiphany, toward the end of the story, when he realizes that neither the bloodthirsty boys, nor the magical forces of the Neverland have any more power to terrify or control him.
He, himself, has finally gown up.
Big thanks to Larkin for finding my book meme-worthy!
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
But there's nothing remotely romantic about this vividly stark tale about a woman so completely warped by a monstrous society that she becomes a monster herself.
The story, based on the 1865 novel, Lady Macbeth of Mtsesnk, by Russian author Nikolai Leskov, is adapted for the screen by Alice Birch for director William Oldroyd; they retain the mid-Victorian setting, but relocate the action to the forbidding, windswept moors of northern England.
This turns out to be an appropriately rough-and-tumble landscape against which the filmmakers present an astonishingly poised, refined, and chilling gemstone of a performance by 20-year-old Florence Pugh in the central role. Pugh is in almost every scene — the story proceeds form her viewpoint — and she'll have you biting your nails in dread as her character evolves into something wicked, indeed.
|Florence Pugh (R) as Katherine: caged|
With servants to run the household, Katherine is expected to sit primly in the parlor all day, every day, until she fulfills her purpose of producing an heir.
When the men are called away from home, she grasps at rebellion with an unexpected lover. But the movie is never about anything so prosaic as a woman fighting for the man she loves. Instead, she's fighting a suffocating social order in which she has no voice, no power, and no recourse. The grim irony is how horribly she loses herself in her desperation to claim her selfhood.
A conspiracy of lies and deceit, cover-ups, betrayal, and murder most gruesome— often extremely difficult to watch — are all involved. This is not a movie to take to your heart, but as a psychological thriller, it's both grueling and profound.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)
Monday, August 7, 2017
A priest and his beaming altar boy, a winged mime on roller skates, a flock of nuns, and a bunch of guys in towels, walk onto a stage. No, it's not an old joke. It's the beginning of a sprightly, visually splendid new production of Shakespeare's early comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the third installment of Santa Cruz Shakespeare's 2017 summer season.
The play's not necessarily the thing in this show. One of Shakespeare's earliest works, it's a romantic comedy about a youth, Proteus (Brian Smolin, always fun to watch), all too willing to betray his best friend, Valentine (an earnest Rowan Vickers), and forsake the woman he himself loves so he can woo the woman his friend has fallen in love with.
|Adam Schroeder, Rowan Vickers: love is clueless|
There's a lot of funny comedy between these four characters and their servants, but the trick is to make this play appealing despite its dubious plotline.
This is where director Art Manke's ingenious production excels. Its many delights come from the visual wit of his staging on Annie Smart's core set of stone archways and catwalks (co-designed for this show with Chrissy Curl), in cahoots with B. Modern's absolutely fabulous, mid-century, Euro-chic costumes.
What's fun is the way Manke puts it all together. He envisions life at court as one lavish cocktail party, where the glitterati swill drinks and flourish cigarettes, while an army paparazzi snap their every move.
|Brian Smolin (foreground), Tristan Cunninghan (3rd from left) & co: symphony in black and white|
|Gallagher and friend: Felliniesque|
His counterpart, Launce, servant to Proteus, is a female here, and Patty Gallagher plays her with plenty of slapstick, sad-clown brio. In her bowler hat and cane, she recalls the poignant heroine of Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits.
Gallagher also has the poise and charm to share the stage with a mellow black dog called Crab, who steals every scene he's in.
The nuns and priest on the margins suggest the idea of faith, in contrast to the faithlessness Proteus shows to, well, just about everybody.
That everyone so easily forgives Proteus is the mark of a dramatist not yet in full control of his art, but Manke, Modern, and company are in full control of this delicious production.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Look what arrived from my publisher, Candlewick — the first typeset version of Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge. In publishing lingo, they call this First Pages.
And here's the actual first page, the title page, hot off the press!
Pretty cool, huh?
I especially like the font of the subtitle: classy but playful. Sort of like Beast himself!
Better yet, my beta reader (okay, it's Art Boy) pored through the entire manuscript and only found four measly typos! That's a personal best for me!
Pub date is July 10, 2018.
Stay tuned . . .
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Staging Disney's Beauty and the Beast for live theater is a massive undertaking. Along with the usual lavish musical production numbers, this show has magical spells, onstage transformations, aerial effects, video projections, and, not one, but two savage wolf pack attacks.
Just getting this unwieldy thing up onstage, with live actors and no CGI effects, is not a task for the faint-hearted. The trick is to make all these intricate components work and not overwhelm the love story at the show's heart.
The ambitious new production at Cabrillo Stage works hard to maintain this delicate balance, and is reasonably successful. There were bound to be a few technical difficulties on opening night, but that's the great thing about live theater: every new performance is a fresh start!
The good news in director-choreographer Janie Scott's production is a trio of strong performances at its heart — Mathew Taylor as Beast, Emily Mairi Marsilia as Belle, and Carmichael James Blankenship as the narcissistic villain, Gaston. There are many other noteworthy performers in the ensemble, but it's up to these three to sell the story.
|Marsililia and Blankenship: no way, Lout|
As the title implies, this is the Disney version of the 300-year-old fairy tale, based on the studio's hit 1991 cartoon feature. In Linda Woolverton's book (she also scripted the movie), Belle is considered "odd" in her French country village for reading books and not being married.
Gaston, a preening, muscle-bound lout, means to wed her because she's "the prettiest girl in the village" — while keeping up his dalliances with the other fawning village girls. Vain, pompous, belligerent Gaston is a horrible character, but a great role. And Blankenship is perfect, with his outsized, comic stage presence and powerhouse singing voice.
When Belle's adored father gets lost in the forest and stumbles into the castle occupied by Beast, Belle braves the forest to get him released — which Beast only agrees to if she takes her father's place.
|Taylor and Marsilia: Beastie Boy Meets Girl|
Nick Rodrigues is completely charming as chipper candlestick Lumiere, especially leading the ensemble of singing, dancing tableware and furniture in the rousing "Be Our Guest" production number.
Most opening-night glitches were from mics being smacked during the action, and some sketchy wire work. I guess the idea of using wires during the second wolf attack is so that Beast, in his fury, can hurl one wolf across the stage, but it's a cartoony idea that doesn't translate well; the choreography might work better without wires.
On the other hand, while the audience held its collective breath in the finale, with Beast spinning precariously above the stage, his transformation was triumphant. (Or not, if, like me, you don't want soulful Beast to turn back into the handsome prince.)
(Read more in this week's Good Times)
Seeing this production (and the live-action Disney version earlier this year) reminds me again of how Disney has co-opted the tale. Belle's father doesn't steal a rose from the castle garden in this version; Beast throws him in the dungeon for no apparent reason.
(Although actors always have a great time in the role. Check out Gaston alums Hugh Jackman and Luke Evans in a Gaston sing-off on the Jonathan Ross show.)
And the idea that all the human servants were changed into objects in the same witch's curse that turned their selfish master into Beast takes some of the fizz out of the love story. The curse can only be lifted if Beast falls in love with a woman and earns her love back, so from the minute Belle wanders in, the entire corps of objects are ganging up on Beast to woo and win her — for all their sakes.
The problem is, this set-up doesn't give Beast and Beauty a chance to fall in love on their own — unlike most traditional tellings of the tale, in which they are all alone in the castle and develop feelings for each other honestly.
Of course, Disney is slavishly faithful to the bit about turning Beast back into the Prince. There's a touching moment in the Cabrillo production when Taylor's Beast, feeling his humanity slip away, mourns, "There's so little left of me." Completely ignoring the fact that the "me" he used to be was kind of a jerk.
But, you already know how I feel about that!
Monday, July 24, 2017
That charming scalawag, Phil Johnson, proprietor of the salty piratical podcast, Under The Crossbones, interviewed me last year about my contributions to pirate lore, Alias Hook, and The Witch From the Sea.
Last week, he reached the milestone of Episode 100! And he generously invited me to participate in the celebration with a brief update on what I've been up to since.
And I wasn't the only one. This graphic hints at some of the novelists, historians, and musicians he's had on the air who are filling him in on what's new with their various swashbuckling enterprises.
So, hoist the colors, and let's wish Phil fair winds and fortune for his next 100 episodes!
Sunday, July 23, 2017
But the sobering fact is, all of those announcements have been for the same book.
And now, due to a mysterious time/space anomaly — okay, in real life, my publisher decided to restructure its publication schedule — my next novel, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, has a new release date.
My Beast will make his debut on —ta-da! — July 10, 2018.
In the most recent flurry of activity from my publisher, Candlewick Press, Beast was intended to be a Spring, 2018 release. (March 6 has been the announced pub date for months.) That apparently is still true, it's just that their concept of "Spring" has changed.
Whereas Candlewick used to publish in two seasons — Spring and Fall — they have recently switched to a Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter lineup. And my Beast, noble soul that he is, has stepped back to make room for the others. (Yet another reason that my Beast is so much more qualified to be the hero than the Prince.)
|Beast is coming — I promise!|
In light of all of this, the pre-order widget on my Amazon page for Beast has been temporarily disabled. (And big thanks to everyone who helped push up Beast's numbers while it was operational!)
On the other hand, I'm assured the Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) will be ready to send out to the press and book-bloggers on schedule next month.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Normally, of course, I wait until I actually see a movie before I start raving about it. But I think this just shot to the top of my list of (potential) favorite movies of 2017!
(Despite stiff competition already from Franck and Their Finest.)
From the great Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), behold the new trailer for The Shape of Water.
Looks to me like a gender-reversed Little Mermaid meets Creature From the Black Lagoon, with a little Beauty and the Beast tossed in, just to spice things up!
And you know how much I love a good mer-folk tale!
Opens Dec 8 on a big screen near you.
I am SO there!
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Much has changed since last summer, when Season 6 ended. The Obamas were in the White House, and some determined stabs at social progress were still being made — like the international Paris Climate Agreement — despite the torporous just-say-no congress here at home.
But now everything has changed, to the point that our so-called "real" life has begun to mirror George R. R. Martin's art in sinister ways. The tagline for GoT Season 7 is "Winter Is Here," and boy do we know how that feels!
Winter has been here in our political landscape since January, and now that it's mid-July, it just keeps getting colder. That's just a metaphor, of course, as abnormal heat waves continue to ravish large pockets of the planet.
But in the GoT universe, the threat is very literal. A vast, unstoppable army of the undead, led by giant, frozen, immortal White Walkers, are advancing out of the North with but one objective — to obliterate every mortal in its path until the entire known world is reduced to frozen wasteland.
|Jon Snow: blade-wielding|
(There's actually a second tagline for Season 7, the even more ominous,"The End Begins.")
So now, along with the usual fear of fan-abuse that comes with every new GoT season, as we wait in dread for which of our favorite characters will be killed off, we also have to worry about the whole of the Seven Kingdoms getting overrun by the white menace.
Meanwhile, back here on Earth, what armorer has forged the Valeyrian steel blade to vanquish our own White Walker-in-Chief, and his ghoulish, giraffe-killing sons? And where is our Jon Snow to wield it?
And who will step up with the savvy wit and the brains of Tyrion Lannister, and the passion for justice of dragon-girl Daenerys Targaryen, to lead us out of this morass?
|Daenerys, Tyrion and company to the rescue!|
Let's hope the same is not true for us!
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
|Smolin and Rao: mysterious|
It's not exactly the Bard, but the 2017 season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare gets off to a ripping start with The 39 Steps.
Based on an adventure novel by John Buchan, famously made into Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1935 chase thriller movie, the story gets another makeover in director Paul Mullins' uproarious production — long on sly wit, short on logic, and absolutely irresistible.
This 2005 stage adaptation by English playwright Patrick Barlow is an exercise in comic audacity. All the parts are played by a cast of four — three men and one woman —in a variety of costumes, accents, and disguises.
|Gilmore, Ryan, Smolin: strangers on a train|
You don't have to know the film to enjoy the play, but those familiar with the Hitchcock version will get a special kick out of the sheer chutzpah of this interpretation.
At its center is Richard Hannay (Brian Smolin), a bored young man puttering around his London flat one evening who decides to distract himself by "doing something mindless and utterly useless — I'll go to the theatre!" It's the first step on the road to disaster.
At a music hall performance by a mentalist called Mr. Memory (Allen Gilmore) and his partner/handler (Mike Ryan), Hannay meets Annabella (Grace Rao), a sexy dame with a ripe German accent, who begs to come home with him.
|Stagecraft: Smolin falls from a (ladder) train trestle|
But who cares about the plot? All the fun is in the playing. Smolin, who won hearts and cracked funny bones in the title role of The Liar a couple of seasons back, is the only cast member to play only one character, and his Hannay anchors the show with his determination to be a good sport, his insinuating double-takes, and his acrobatic dexterity.
(It's a riot when he limbo-slides out of an armchair from under a dead body.) The subtle ways he preens while running in place onstage as police bulletins describe him in ever more flattering terms is also very funny.
|Name that Hitchcock reference!|
Rao is also terrific as the three principal women —Annabella, the femme fatale, Pamela, an innocent Scottish lass married to a parsimonious old farmer, and Margaret, an angry blonde who winds up handcuffed to Hannay in his trek across the Scottish moors.
She and Smolin get a lot of comic mileage out of those cuffs, trying to go over, no, under, no, around a wooden stile out in the country, or traversing a bog — played by Ryan.
Ryan and Gilmore (their parts are called Clown 1 and Clown 2), play everybody else, and they're both hilarious. Gilmore is especially memorable as the ferociously self-abnegating farmer saying grace, or an ancient staffer at a political rally attempting to set up a podium. Ryan brings down the house in the rally scene as an elderly speaker with a miniscule voice.
|Rao and Smolin: comic mileage|
Scenic designers Annie Smart and Justine Law's rolling staircase set cleverly adapts to every locale, from music hall to train station to manor house. Special kudos are due to properties designer/master M. Woods for transforming objects like crates, chairs, and a ladder into a train, a car, a railroad trestle, and the Scottish Highlands. (One door frame on wheels is particularly ingenious.) B. Modern's period costumes are deft and impeccable.
Clearly, everyone involved in this production is having a high old time, and the audience can't help but be swept along.
(Fabulous photos by Jana Marcus.)