Another Crazy Family

The Herd-150430We enjoyed a pleasant evening yesterday with friends at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. The play was one of the best ones we have seen. The Herd by playwright Rory Kinnear depicts a family broken and frustrated by a child born with a challenge. As the Mother put it he has the body of a twenty-one year old, but the mind of a one year old.The action takes place in the mother’s home. She lives with an adult daughter.  It is the twenty-first birthday of the handicapped son, and the family convenes for a party. Grand mother,  grand father,  sister, sister’s live in boy friend, and a surprise visit from the father who left the mother when the boy was five.

The boy himself lives with a caretaker independently. Throughout the story the mother gets progress reports by telephone from the sons weird caretaker as they make their way to the party by public transportation. The story unfolds and the microcosm of the family appears. It is a wildly funny, sad, and pathetic bunch of people who love each other, but who do little to show each other.

Before the sortie ends, the daughter reveals she is pregnant by her poet boyfriend, the father feels regret for his actions to leave, and the grand father dispenses cold hard realistic advice to everyone. The audience gave this play a standing ovation, and our group of six gave it five stars.

A Short Story Made Long

This is a short story which I will make long. Peggy and I have been theater goers ever since we married. For three years we subscribed to Chicago Shakespeare Theater. We looked forward to going, but always came home wondering what-the-heck is was all about. I was lucky if I understood fifty percent of what the actors said. Peg felt the same. In a cock-eyed way we enjoyed Shakespeare, maybe because it was a night out in the big town. Then, I learned that my friend Sherman and his wife Harriet were avid Steppenwolf Theater fans. My only association with Steppenwolf  came when I recognized the theater while driving by. I had heard the name many times, and my ears stood up when I drove past the building.

We subscribed to Steppenwolf in 2007 for the same nights as Harriet and Sherman. We have been members ever since. One of the first plays we attended is “Superior Donuts.” Sherman could not laud playwright Tracy Letts enough for his writing ability, and raved about a play they saw during the last season called “August: Osage County” also by Tracy Letts.

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All along, I kept telling myself that I have to see this play. From Steppenwolf the play went to Broadway lasting two years and receiving rave reviews. Then, Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Osage.”  All the while, Peg and I have watched five plays a year since then, and many of them featured Tracy Letts as actor. He is a fine performer. Our record of coming home not understanding what went on has improved and we now understand all the dialog.

This week, I accomplished the goal to see “August: Osage County.” Peg and I opened our winter movie season by seeing this film. The story has strong characters played by fine actors, two of which you will recognize immediately, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts.

I don’t know what it is about playwrights they always seem to write their best stories about dysfunctional families. I admit, Osage is about one really screwed up family. The story is riveting, as screwed up as the people are. This was one film that went by fast, and My old man bladder held out for the distance. There was no way I would  interrupt seeing one minute of this performance.

There is one thing left for this story, an Oscar. The film did not receive a nomination, but Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts have both been nominated, I agree that both should win.

Sweet Miss Giving’s Cookie

I disagree with comments flashing around Facebook that 1% of Monsters consume 99% of cookies.

Grandma Peggy and I planned a beautiful evening out. We have theater subscriptions for Steppenwolf and had to reschedule our date from Wednesday to Thursday a week later. We did that because our theater date coincided with the funeral of a dear friend. Needless to say, the weather a week earlier was heavenly, warm and dry. The friends we usually go with reported the play was excellent and that we shouldn’t miss it.

The plan was to leave the house at four-thirty for the seven-thirty performance. We would valet park, dine at Gianni’s, and saunter across Halstead Street to Steppenwolf. We did leave at four-thirty. That was it for the plan. From that point on things went awry.

At forty-first street all traffic on the Dan Ryan stopped. Normally, we do not hit heavy traffic until the entrance to the last express lanes at twenty-second street. Traffic delays from twenty-second are more normal than the one we sat in Thursday.  It rained this time, and the line of semi-trucks looked like a railroad train from fortieth to the Loop.

The electronic sign at thirty-ninth said it would be twenty-seven minutes to Circle. (Chicago Circle Campus of the University of Illinois). Circle is at Roosevelt Road (twelfth street from thirty-ninth is twenty-seven blocks or roughly three and a half miles). Thirty minutes later, at twenty-second street, another electronic sign flashed “thirty minutes to Circle.” That didn’t sound so good.

Peggy and I had a wonderful conversation along the way as I watched the mpg indicator on the Death Star drop from 24.5 mpg to 22.5 mpg. We moved very slowly, so slowly that the speedometer needle never left the peg. I thought this jam would be the ideal scenario for the all-electric car. When you don’t move, it doesn’t matter if the electric can only travel forty miles on a charge. Although two and a half hours with head lights on would drain the battery too.

We finally, passed Madison Street, the geographic bisector of town. Traffic began to move north out of the loop at a light warping speed of ten miles per hour.

We pulled into the Steppenwolf parking lot a seven o’clock. Both of us made a mad dash to the rest room for relief. Once the pressure was off our mind the stomach growls kicked in.  We headed for the snack bar, where I spotted the cookies. Not just any cookie, these were Sweet Miss Giving’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I took two off the rack and waited in line to pay. “That’ll be six dollars please.”

Whoa, six bucks for two cookies! It didn’t matter I became the monster and Peggy was the monsterette.

I have to blog about this cookie, I told myself. I stuffed the empty package in my pocket.

The play was as great as our friends told us. I’ll write about it later. We left feeling pretty good about ourselves for having stayed awake for the entire performance, and we actually understood what was going on. Steppenwolf does, at times, present some weird stuff.

Our drive home took a sweet forty-eight minutes.

The following morning I read the label on the cookie package. No wonder these things were so good, one cookie is two servings for a total of five-hundred calories, but Sweet Miss Giving’s cookie made up for missing dinner at Trattoria Gianni’s, and the ridiculous two and a half hour drive.

Still In Shock

The latest offering of my Steppenwolf Theater subscription is a play titled “Sex With Strangers.” I am still in shock over this play. First of all, it is very current. The characters and the content of the play is now. I thought I was hip, but after viewing this story I am not sure.

Sex With Strangers has two characters: Ethan and Olivia. He is twenty four, she is thirty something. Ethan is a Blogger who writes about his sexual conquests. He has writen a book about the one hundred or more sexual different encounters he has within a single  year. While he is writing, he blogs about his encounters. Olivia is a serious novelist who has no knowledge of the internet and of Blogging for fame.

I had serious problems with the story within the first act. The play opens with Olivia reading a book while sitting in a modestly outfitted home. There is a knock on the door. She ignores it. The knock turns into a pounding and shouting. A man’s voice is shouting let me in. This is where  I have a problem. She goes to the door and lets the guy, a complete stranger, in.

They talk to each other like they know each other, but in fact, are complete strangers. The place turns out to be in Michigan during the winter. Olivia is there to write. Ethan went there to do the same. He is totally disappointed however, because there is no internet service. He is suddenly lost. No phone, no computer connection, he is stuck with Olivia and the old fashioned method of communicating via conversation.

Within the first act and only after a short time of getting to know each other two complete strangers have sex. The only thing they have in common is that they write. The sex scene is portrayed by the set going dark. In the first half of the play before before the intermission, the lights go dark four times.

Although I was totally shocked by the content and the culture portrayed by these characters, this play was totally enjoyable, and understandable.

Stephen Louis Grush who played Ethan only had one flaw. He was tattooed over much of his body. The ‘toos, although current and contemporary, left me wondering about the guys sexuality. He also resembled a man I knew on my job. I kept seeing Chris not Ethan.

Olivia played by Sally Murphy was totally hot.  I only hope she has mopre sense in real life than her character had.

Both actors gave very convincing performances. All in all, this story was among the very best I have seen at Steppenwolf.

Five stars * * * * *

Autumn Stroll

This past week, I couldn’t take it anymore. My PC crashed again for the sixth time in as many weeks. I had to get away from the machinery and the search for a fix. My new computer was still en route and I continued to nurse the old guy along hoping it would find new life. Microsoft was working against me. Every time the machine allowed an upload of new security software, it affected the functionality of the keyboard.

The afternoon was warm, and sunny, so I left the house with my camera and took a stroll around my town.

I love Frankfort. It is growing up but still has a small town feel to it. We are close enough to Chicago to make a trip downtown relatively easy. In fact, on Wednesday afternoon, Peggy and I drove to Steppenwolf and made it in fifty minutes. The ride home was faster. There are times, however when that same trip takes a full ninety minutes each way.

The air was still this afternoon, and eerily quiet. Normally, I can hear the traffic on route thirty or forty-five. Today, all I heard was silence.

The sun was still high, but because of its position the shadows were long. This made for some great photos. There is color all around. All one has to do is to look and be aware. The trees that are still leaved are brilliant green, yellow, gold, red, and orange. Those trees that are bare have a blanket of crinkly dry leaves scattered about lush green lawns.

All about town, people decorated for Halloween. Front lawns and porches sport bright orange pumpkins with scary ghosts and skeletal witches. A few have graveyards on the lawn with silly grave stones.

Downtown Frankfort was empty. it was a ghost town. There were very few cars and even fewer people in town.

Along the trail in Prairie Park a great bloom of wild asters is showing off its lavender color. The pond is void of ducks and geese. Where the heck is everybody? I didn’t really care, I just enjoyed it all.

The best and most colorful part of the stroll was my back yard. The fall flowers are in full bloom and their colors are brilliant. How lucky I am to see this everyday. The tomatoes and cucumbers are still putting out, and giving me some fresh salad makings.

Yes God, you have blessed me. Maybe the crash was Your way of telling me to take a walk and suck in the sights, sounds, and scents of your wonderous natural world.

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Art

Peggy and I were privileged to see a Steppenwolf production of  “ART ” by Yasmina Reza.  The story takes place in the homes of three men friends who profess to be interested in art. All three, however, have different tastes in what they hang on their walls. The story begins when one of the friends buys a piece of modern art which is a totally white canvas. He excitedly invites his buddy of fifteen years  to see the new acquisition. The friend looks at it, and breaks into hysterical laughter.  “You paid 250,000 francs for that?” he asks in a laugh. The rest of the play centers on the relationship that has developed between three of them. They begin telling truths about each other that have been hidden deep within. Not wanting to hurt each others feelings, the truths have been suppressed, now the painting opens them up. The ninety minute presentation flew by and had us spellbound as the three characters parried with each other revealing secrets harbored for years.  In the end they resolve their conflicts. None of them wants to destroy the bond developed between them. They arrive at a mutual acceptance of each others tastes and belief’s in act of love that took us by surprise.

After the play ended, we stayed for the discussion that followed. One of the actors came on stage and answered questions as well as his own insights into his role. We pyschoanalyzed the play with about a dozen others who remained. 

 An evening well spent, I give it five stars *****

Triple Header

Wow! What a fabulous time Peg and I had last week. My friend Lou and his wife Delores, came in from Dahlonega, Georgia to visit family. We were lucky enough to hook up, so we traded news and recalled old times. Lou is the same guy who joined me on a bicycle trip to Nova Scotia (you can read the account of our trip on my Page titled “Nova Scotia.”) We worked together for some twenty years before he moved to a warm climate for health reasons.

Peggy and I had already purchased tickets for Steppenwolf Theater when we learned of Lou and Delores’ plans to come. I called the theater, the staff was most accomodating. The four of us went to dinner at the Landmark Restaurant immediately across from Steppenwolf. Our meal was fabulous, and the service by Brenna superb.  We sauntered across the street ten minutes before curtain to see “Superior Donuts.”  I thought this play was the best of the collection at Steppenwolf this season. It was serious, comedic, and fast moving. I rate it four stars.

After the show I drove over to Rush Street and then on to Michigan Avenue. I wanted to show Lou and Delores the “Bean, alias Cloud Scape.”  It was not to be. Since I was southbound there was a huge planter filled with magnificent flowers blocking our view. I turned east onto Monroe wanting to come back and pass toward the north.  I couldn;t believe my eyes, there were thousands of people walking down Monroe from Grant Park. Unknown to me, there was a concert, and it had just let out. In a way, it was nice to see so many people walking the streets of downtown Chicago at eleven o’clock in the evening. With all of the confusion, I pointed the car south and got out of there.

The best part of the evening was spending time with Lou and Delores, next was dinner, then Superior Donuts. A triple header, It doesn’t get much better!

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