Black History Month: Dear White People

TV recommendations seem to be as popular a part of small talk as the weather and traffic patterns. People tend to recommend hour-long dramas, but what I want are 20- or 30-minute comedies, something funny, smart, and thoughtful. The Netflix series Dear White People, based on the movie of the same name, is all those things. If we’re talking and we’ve covered how rainy it’s been and how crowded the Tube is, expect me to bring up this show.

dearwhitepeople

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Black History Month: Girls Trip

In recent years, Hollywood has seen #OscarsSoWhite and #TimesUp, and it has generally responded with a shrug of the shoulders and a few token awards and wider releases to appease the masses of us who just want better representation, fair pay, and a safe and equal place to work. In this context, enter 2017’s Girls Trip, which is at once a reflection of real issues in women’s lives (love, career, friendship) and a raunchy group comedy that gloriously pushes the bounds of what we’re used to seeing on screen in a major studio release.

In this movie, black women are allowed to let loose and let fly like they rarely are in movies and indeed in real life. Part of this is the privilege of class — these are upper-middle-class women, except for Regina Hall’s character, who is rich and about to get richer — but also it’s because reality is only allowed so much rein here. The women get into a fistfight in a club and then sneak out the side door, no one the wiser. They get off their faces on absinthe and laugh about it later, rather than being kicked out for inappropriate behavior. In short, they’re friends goofing around and getting into mild trouble, like in The Hangover or Bridesmaids or any other film that allows groups of friends to kick back without any real consequence. Continue reading

Highlights of My Edinburgh Fringe 2017

My first Fringe experience was as a flyerer and sometimes performer in 2014, so it was a different thing to go up as a paying punter this year. Liz and I went up with a friend of hers from college; the three of us each had our own bed in our own room in a flat we rented — such luxury! We bought our meals out and didn’t make any ramen noodles — such decadence! It was definitely a pricier way to do the Fringe, even for only three nights. But it was a lot of fun. I managed to see 14 shows in 3 days, as well as many street performers. Here are my highlights. Check out these acts if you can!

Edinburgh Castle scotland

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

The stage for the Two Plus Ones show

Comedy

The three young guys of the Two Plus Ones delivered nonstop, silly sketch comedy in “Huge Night In.” Luke Sumner’s characters in particular were all the more hilarious for being so wholly conceived. They had a sketch about a canon support group that had me in stitches with its utterly stupid brilliance.

We met Roisin and Chiara while queuing for their show “We Are Not Afraid”; they handed out candies and made conversation while in character as red jumpsuited oddballs. Inside, they did what seemed a hybrid sketch/improv show, including lots of audience involvement, a disco soundtrack, surrealist humor, and at one point, a wolf mask.

The 1st Annual Black Comedy Showcase was brilliantly emceed by Che Burnley, who asked white male audience members where they were from, then no matter what they answered (London, Manchester), followed up with, “No but where are you really from? What’s your heritage?” (“Germany, maybe? My girlfriend went there, she said it’s really beautiful and the people are so nice”). I hope the few confused people in the audience eventually got that he was pointing up the offensive and ridiculous nature of the same question when it’s posed to people of color on the regular. Che was a warm and friendly host, but make no mistake, he had clear intentions with this showcase. I loved it.

The standout act from the showcase was Athena Kugblenu, a London-based comedian who had one of the Jokes of the Fringe. She has this droll delivery that just kills me, and it doesn’t hurt that her mix of the personal and the political hits my sweet spot for stand-up.

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

Some of the lovely old buildings in Edinburgh

Spoken Word/Storytelling

The Banshee Labyrinth is one of the main centers for spoken word at the Free Fringe, and it was kind of a trip to go back there and see a show in the same little room that I’d performed in three years ago. We watched four young poets perform “A Matter of Time,” an interconnected group of poems told from the point of view of one person, at four different points in their timeline. It was a neat concept, and beautifully executed. If you like your poetry heartfelt but not sentimental, reflective but not navel-gazing, check out Ellen RentonShannon MacGregorRoss McFarlane and Bibi June.

Liz has seen Theatre Ad Infinitum shows before and wanted to see whatever they were putting on at the Fringe this year. We went to see Homer’s “Odyssey,” and were thrilled to find it was a spellbinding one-man storytelling hour. Spellbinding is not hyperbole here: I was fully immersed in the story from the first word, and breathed a deep sigh of contentment at the end.

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

The Big Top Circus Hub on the Meadows

Dance/Circus

The circus is the place to go when you want to be reminded of how amazing the human body is, and Bibi and Bichu‘s “Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams” provided myriad reminders. I actually gasped in awe several times and applauded wildly every time they held a pose or finished a tumble.

I’m pretty sure everyone in the audience cried during 201 Dance Company‘s “Skin,” a hip hop dance show about a kid growing up and coming out trans*. The dancing was urgent and emotional, especially from the protagonist and their mother. Including a child dancer to mirror the adult protagonist was a great choice, and it’s good to see an FTM transition, which is a story not told as often as an MTF one, I think.

Theater/Cabaret

One of the most perfect play-within-a-plays I’ve ever seen, Willis & Vere‘s “The Starship Osiris” made me laugh for the entire show. A self-obsessed man puts on the most ridiculous sci-fi show glorifying himself, and everything breaks down spectacularly when the cast rebels. The details in the performances were spot-on, from the particular preening of the director to the facial expressions of the babed-up female crew members.

Pollyanna is the queer cabaret we all need in our lives. Polyfilla hosts, and the night we went we saw several excellent acts, including a drag king performing to a clever medley of songs about being a boy/man and Pollyfilla leading the audience in a participatory musical about Theresa May that made you laugh through the horror of the current political climate.

Nearly all of these acts are UK-based, so if you are too, be sure to check out their Twitter/FB pages in the links I’ve provided and see when their upcoming shows are. Even if you aren’t based in the UK, art travels, so why not follow them anyway in case they come to your town. If you get a chance to see any of these, I highly recommend that you do!

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

St Giles Cathedral

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

Street performance on the Royal Mile

 

Film Club: While You Were Sleeping

There are many reasons why I shouldn’t like While You Were Sleeping. The entire plot is based on the thinnest of misunderstandings, even by rom com standards. Peter is the victim of a creepy, prolonged mind game by Saul and Lucy. No way anyone would believe that someone engaged to fancypants Peter wouldn’t have a giant rock on her ring finger, which should have stopped the plot dead in its tracks right there. Anyone who has lived in Chicago for even a month would know northside Peter supports the Cubs and not the White Sox. And yet, it’s one of my favorite movies.

the delightful family from "While You Were Sleeping"

Is this sight scary or heartwarming? Depends on your tolerance for meandering discussions of Guy Lombardo and Argentinian beef.

The chemistry between Lucy and Jack sparks right away, and any scene with the whole family is gold. Obviously, the movie pushes the idea that half the reason Lucy’s in love with Jack is because she finally has a family she can join. When I was younger, I never believed that Lucy would be as friendless and alone as she’s shown to be, but the more time I’ve spent trying to fit in to new cities, the more I appreciate just how difficult it is to get set up with new friends. And I have the Internet, with its Couchsurfing and Meetup and things, which is more than Lucy had, back in 1995. Lucy makes friends at work, but when your job is sharing a small booth with one other person collecting subway tokens, you don’t meet a lot of people. Besides which, she’s grieving her father, who died just the year before. It’s actually not surprising that she’s so isolated.

Meeting the Callaghans, who are marvelously open and friendly (perhaps a bit too much so, to a strange woman who claims to be engaged to their comatose son), would feel like coming home. And then you get to sit through dinners talked at such cross-purposes that in my family, when things are getting similarly ridiculous and rowdy, someone just yells out, “I never said he was tall!”

Of course it’s a Cinderella tale, and we can’t forget that Lucy would never afford that trip to Florence on her own, while the upper-middle-class Callaghans can shell out for it no problem. But I’m willing to go along with the idea that the real treasure Lucy gains is the love of a family, and their wealth is a nice bonus.

Other great things:

  • Despite her timidity in other areas of her life, Lucy has no problem cracking wise with her boss or putting the love of her life gently but firmly in place whenever he starts going off about whose type she is.
  • Jack tries to do the right thing by not sharing his feelings with Lucy and messes it up royally, which is endearing.
  • Peter is such a self-centered jag that you don’t really mind he’s the victim of a terrible mind game. Peter Gallagher does a great job of playing a guy so into himself he’s not even worried about being that into himself; he’s equally concerned about whether he sucks as a person or whether his outfit sucks (maybe more concerned about the outfit).
  • Joe Jr., a strange amalgam of Queens and southside Chicago, is a glorious punchline in every scene, and I hope his future involves strutting around in his own pair of high heels.
  • Lucy’s apartment is in my old neighborhood of Logan Square–I tracked it down on Logan Boulevard a few winters ago. Those buildings really are that gorgeous.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Lucy never once brushes her hair in this film and she is the heroine–god bless the mid-’90s.

And Elsie has the best answer to “would you like some more wine?” ever. She says, “Oh I don’t drink anymore.” Beat. “I don’t drink any less, either.” For a grandmother like that, you might fake an engagement to a man in a coma, too.

Community, Where My Ladies At?

Community is coming back! After a hiatus that had comedy nerds across the country weeping along to Arrested Development reruns in an attempt to fill the void, the show is back on March 15. I love this show for so many reasons: the jokes, the musical numbers, the complex callbacks, Donald Glover. It’s also a show with an uncanny eye for detail. Community subverts the conventions of any genre it tackles, while simultaneously celebrating those conventions. Characters wear ridiculous outfits, stories hang on the thinnest of premises, and yet the intricate plotting and consistent character development means that we wind up caring a great deal about what’s going on at Greendale Community College.

we all wish this was our college crowd

So it struck me as odd when I realized that with all the care that’s gone into creating and embellishing this fictional world, one aspect is severely underdeveloped. I’m not talking about the fact that we haven’t seen Shirley’s children outside of that one episode in Season 1, or that it’s Season 3 and Jeff isn’t even pretending to try to get back into his law firm anymore. It’s a sitcom; some facts just aren’t as important as the overall story and the jokes. No, I’m talking about the lack of ladies on the Greendale campus.

We’ve got the seven main characters (4 men, 3 women), two secondary characters (2 men–the Dean and Chang), and several tertiary characters (all men). I wouldn’t for the world suggest we lessen Dean Pelton’s presence, because Jim Rash’s portrayal is one of the funniest things on TV in the last decade. And it looks like they’re finding a balance with Chang, which is good, because a little goes a long way with that one [insert Chang’s self-referential joke about “the Chang” here].

The show does a good job of having characters recur in the background, to make the Greendale world feel more complete. But women outside that crowd show up as one- or two-episode love interests for the guys in the group, and then disappear. Tertiary characters: Duncan, Star-Burns, Leonard, Magnitude, Garrett, Neil… see a pattern here? Sometimes Vicki shows up, but she never gets much to say, whereas Magnitude has a catch phrase, Garrett plays pivotal production roles in Greendale promo videos, and Leonard is a well-known old crank.

C’mon, Dan Harmon et. al., let’s liven things up with some wacky women as regulars on the Greendale campus! Lord knows there’s plenty to be found at that wild and wonderful place.

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I’m Covered in Bees!

Hello, dearest fellow travelers! Did you miss me? I did you.

I shall now summarize for you my vacation last week: More, please.

As I’m sure you all know, coming back from vacation should be done as gently as possible. No matter how relaxing the vacation (and a week on a beach with old friends was quite relaxing), coming back is a shock to the system. I cleverly dealt with the problem this time by having a whole weekend to myself before heading back into the workforce. Saturday was movies, Sunday was laundry and a new book, and by Monday morning I was almost able to bear the thought of sitting in a cubicle instead of swimming in a lake. Self-brainwashing, sure, but necessary in order to earn more money to take more vacations.

And of course, last night I supplemented unpacking and books with a healthy dose of Eddie Izzard. Nothing says “you can handle the office” like giraffe impressions and “I’m covered in beeeees!”