Poirot and Less

Last weekend we went to see David Suchet, the inimitable Hercule Poirot, in his one-man show Poirot and More. In the first half, we were treated to a bunch of witty anecdotes following the friendly prompts of an interviewer, but honestly it was a bit underwhelming. His life before becoming an actor was comfortable enough, and he made a decent career right from the start, and then found a role that millions of people loved…. including me.

In the second half, he gave us a sort of acting masterclass for laymen… notes about how he prepares, how he looks at and listens to a script, that sort of thing. He knocked out a bunch of speeches and that was pretty good, but I did doze a bit I’m afraid.

Maybe my evening mirrored my biggest criticism of the evening… i was pretty comfortable when I walked in, and nothing really happened to change that. Makes for a less interesting blog.

So, I went out looking to see what other people thought and found a great review. This writer achieves a much richer emotional experience than I did from pretty similar source material (except our seats were really comfy). So, enjoy the ride with her, it’s more interesting!

Matariki Starlight Jazz

Last night I went to the Matariki Starlight Jazz concert at the Cathedral. Still great to live five minutes walk from such a nice venue.

Take a deep breath before reading this next sentence… The event turned out to be tacked onto the Matariki festivities (Māori new year) only as a matter of convenience and was actually a fundraiser for an event called Whānau Walk for Wellness that will be happening in late 2019 based on the organiser’s efforts to interpret and share her experiences walking the Compostela pilgrimage in a way that is relevant to other Māori women – but not just women because We Are Inclusive – who are themselves on a mental illness journey or joining members of their whānau (family/community) on a mental illness journey as caregivers or otherwise. Ok, you can breathe again.

Altogether seven or eight different singers and their rotating band members performed. Some only got a couple of numbers, while the headliner Whirimako Black did about a 45-minute set.

So was it a good show? As pure entertainment I’ve definitely seen better. However, my ticket bought well over three hours of music and earnestness, and cupcakes at intermission, so at the very least it was good value for money.

Further, my clarinet habit makes me a bit of a jazz student these days, and I think that might have been the best way to appreciate this show. There were some really good musical moments, I heard some songs I didn’t know, experienced some arrangements I would never have thought of, and learned a little bit about the whakapapa (genealogy/pedigree) of the people who keep the NZ jazz fires (ahikāroa) burning.

And my earnestness quotient increased substantially: I’m one big blog post closer to being one of those insufferable pākehā who stuffs a Te Reo Māori word or aphorism into every other sentence…

Five is old enough for cat videos

The blog turned five last month, which went unheralded at the time. But surely that’s a milestone, especially in Internet years, where it’s gotta be like a hundred. 

To celebrate, I present my very first actual cat video. It’s not long, but there’s layers and nuance. 

If I were terminally ill– which I’m not, but if I were — I think my make-a-wish might be to have Werner Herzog deconstruct this so we could understand it more fully. 

Samirah Evans

On a recommendation from the guys at last Wednesda’s open jam at the VT Jazz Center, we went to Samirah Evans‘s autobiographical show last Friday at the library.
So how did a New Orleans jazz singer end up in Brattleboro? I appreciate a long story, and she told us one, but I’ll cut to the chase. She was flooded out by Hurricane Katrina.

Accompanied by piano and bass as she was, it might have been a nice evening of music, perhaps a little too low-key and heavy on the slow songs. The comically white, sporadically arrhythmic, but earnestly well-intentioned backup singers lent a whiff of farce.

Unfortunately, I thought the sharing of her personal stories went a bit far… more than I needed to know, and, I suppose like anybody’s unembellished personal story, without any discernible point or lesson. Good shit happens, and bad shit, and unexpected shit.

Someday I will go to a regular Samirah show for drinking and dancing, and I think it will be more fun.

Death, love, courage, fear, and reverence 

Yesterday we saw soprano aerialist Elizabeth Wohl debut her one-woman show Laudate, A Singing Circus
We know Elizabeth a bit from her legal work for the hospital, and we’ve run into her around town and heard her sing at the Friday night opera sings at the Brooks House. She’s also a student of the aerial silks and a board member at NECCA. And the wife of a newspaper columnist and state legislator. She is as charming as she is ecumenical. 

In this show, the proceeds of which all went to NECCA and the Brattleboro Music Center, she tried to combine the soaring voice with the actual soaring. In the introduction, we were challenged to decide whether that was genius or mere stubbornness. Some of both, and an awesome clinic in breath control. 

Altogether, she sang 11 pieces, ranging from Bach, Handel and Mozart to Copland and Bernstein. Some were sung on the ground, recital style, and others involved various amounts of acrobatics. She had accompaniment from piano, violin, and bass. 

She definitely succeeded in illuminating some of the texts in a new way. Hearing Copland’s setting of the Emily Dickinson verse “Why do they shut me out of heaven? Was it for singing too loud”? as she clambered up and up and then spun down to the ground was marvelous. “Dream with me” from Bernstein’s Peter Pan and “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet made wonderful sense swinging in the silks. 

While I doubt the show will find its way onto a larger stage, she packed the room with family, friends, and curious others, raised a little money for good works, and certainly exorcised any remaining performance anxiety she may have been harboring. It was a little weird, powerfully moving at times, kinda silly at others. That is to say, it was a deep drink of distilled Brattleboro. 

All aflutter in Avignon 

In Avignon last week, the whole city was in festival mode: theatre, music, lots of stuff. Since everything is made of stone, it’s hard to hang posters, so they tie up these great long strings and fix the flyers to those. They flap in the wind like crows and make a haunting rattle everywhere you go.

The stories we tell 

Last night, thanks to the unexpected generosity of the Retreat, we got tickets to The Hatch’s annual storytelling extravaganza at the Latchis.

Fronted by Tom Bodett and led by a gang of local movers and shakers masquerading as soccer moms, the Hatch brings storytellers (in the vein of This American Life or The Moth) to town for a fundraiser. Each year they choose one charity, and last night was Youth Services. A fun event for a worthy cause.

As it happens, there was also a Paul Stone painting available via silent auction… that brings our collection to two.

The program was certainly entertaining, and it really was a good cause, and we were happy to be there. But of course there’s a niggle…

In these times we live in, it has become possible for a whole class of people to get astoundingly good at doing spoken word performance stuff (and also blogging !!!), from standup to serious. This show leans heavily toward the personal and confessional, the kind of reflective story you’d unexpectedly share with a college friend you haven’t seen in 20 years.

Except these stories are edited, polished, perfected, and practiced so they seem even more real than they already are. Which somehow makes them less real to me. Constructed rather than lived… recited rather than shared.

Somehow the standard for “truth” in these spoken memories seems uncomfortably fuzzy to me. In photos, when we airbrush our fashion models, or rearrange the bodies on the battlefield, most people object that there’s been an act of deceit. And when Ben Carson talks about West Point… But when these radio storytellers deliver their homilies about life and loss and love, we aren’t fact-checking. I think even if  we did find things to quibble about in these stories, we’d decide that the authenticity of the emotions they conjure outweighs the heavy use of craft to convey them.

Anyway, it’s all just a niggling question, of little real importance. The Hatch’s mission is clear and benevolent … use the power of narrative to raise money for groups that need it. Since I support the causes they support, and since it really was a great show, I’m quite willingly complicit.

And years from now, using all the techniques I’ve been able to glean from watching and listening to Bodett and crew, I’ll lean over to the tourist who just walked into the beach bar and tell him my story.


Last night we went to see Gan-e-meed Theatre Project’s inaugural production of the play Two-Headed by Julie Jensen. Here’s a good review from some production a few years ago, which includes the following explanation from the author (the link is mine)

We were two-headed about a lot of things, meaning that we kept secrets. We had public heads and private heads. Sometimes I was two-headed about the Mormon Church. I just didn’t want to talk about it. Most of us from long-established families were also two-headed about the Mountain Meadow Massacre. It had happened in 1857. No one alive remembered the events. But our families had been involved, or else they knew families who were…And so we knew and didn’t know. We imagined and didn’t talk about it. The same was true of polygamy. Many of us had polygamous grandparents, great grandparents. Many of us were distantly related because of it. And yet we didn’t talk about it. We knew and we didn’t.

Kara Manson and SerahRose Roth did a fine job with the play’s vignettes from the intertwined lives of two pioneer Mormon women. The play’s emotions are restrained, and so the audience left dry-eyed. That made an interesting comparison to the production of Doubt that we saw a few weeks ago, where it was all right there on stage and the entire house was teary by the end. Appropriate, though… it seems to me that being a good pioneer wife required keeping it bottled up, especially in public.

Afterwards there was a Q&A with the actors and director, and the quality and tone of the questions was as interesting as the answers. Echoing a current controversy, the troupe was asked if they felt that a play written by a man could have moved them the same way. Yes, they replied, we’re actors… a good answer. Another audience member had been a VISTA volunteer in Southern Utah and shared her remembrances of the area, and we had been in Utah more recently and Lee shared her thoughts about the duality of Mormon life for women that persists even today. All in all, a nice discussion to cap off a nice evening.

The show was held at the New England Youth Theater, where we’ve been several time. Ms. Manson is an NEYT alum, having answered the very first audition there, according to the nice article that came out in the Reformer and alerted us to the show’s being in town.

And God bless us, not even a mouse (cookie)

Tonight we are at New England Youth Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. At the lobby snack bar we got these MOST adorable cookies ever. Holiday magic sprung from half an Oreo, a Hershey’s kiss, a maraschino cherry dipped in chocolate and slivered almond ears.

In true Brattleboro style, the director’s notes explain that this production teaches lessons of solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.

The show was wonderful. Too long, but still very entertaining. The kids seem to take direction well, and the crew knew enough ‘real’ theater tricks to keep things moving. The Greek chorus girls, heavily influenced by Helena Bonham Carter, stole the show.

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