Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

End of the Innocence?

For 10 years, I’ve been quiet about my personal reaction to and feelings about the events of September 11, 2001 and the aftermath. But it seems fitting on today’s 10 year anniversary to let my perspective finally be heard.

Nothing in my experience of the day or my feelings as it unfolded was unique or remarkable. I was a stay-at-home mom of two young children ages 2 and 2 months who took her kids to a morning gym class and came home to news reports of tragedy. Millions of Americans saw the same scenes I saw and were glued just as voyeuristically to the horror unfolding on television as I was. It was what happened in the days, months, and years afterward that came to shape how I feel today about the events of that day.

People associate a wide variety of feelings with their personal experience of 9/11: grief, loss, fear, confusion, insecurity. Personally, I associate 9/11 with shame and anger – for my own country. If today’s ten year anniversary is about loss, and here’s what I believe we truly lost on 9/11:

* We lost over 3,000 civilian lives in a horrifically tragic way – as tragic as the millions of innocent lives which continue to be lost in horrific ways all over the world from violence, preventable disease, human cruelty to fellow humans, and wars which we ourselves are perpetrating.

* We lost our sense of fiscal responsibility, led by a President who told our citizenry that to spend money to avoid recession was their patriotic duty. Is it a surprise that we are in the economic situation we are today?

* We lost our sense of security at home, just like we lost that sense when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. We vowed we’d never forget the lessons we learned following that particular national tragedy, never repeat the mistakes made in the aftermath.

* We lost the recognition of individuality for which we were admired throughout history. We blamed an entire religion instead of a handful of radical zealots. We feared and institutionally discriminated against Americans who practiced Islam, making them feel fear in their own country and depriving them of individual liberty, just like we did to Americans of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor.

* We lost the very foundation of freedom that defines us as a nation. Instead of being MORE vigilant to protect that for which the world envied us, we gave it up for the illusion of action to create a false security which never did, never could, and never will exist.

* We lost our pride in our freedom to question those in power. We pretended unity and called it patriotism. We called traitor those who disagreed, rather like the very extremists we abhorred.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty – power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people.” Wendell Phillips, 1852

After the events of 9/11, we vowed not to let the terrorists and the extremists win, but when we allowed them to take our sense of security in ourselves, when we allowed our priceless American liberties to be eroded, we gave up our power. “We have met the enemy – and he is us.” (Walt Kelly, 1953)

“The world changed that day,” they say. But did it? Or was it just your personal perception of the world that changed? “We will never forget,” they say. But that’s what a generation before us said after Pearl Harbor.

I believe with all my heart in what the United States of America truly stands for, in the ideals on which it was founded. But I feel we have fallen far away from those ideals as a result of our reaction to the events of 9/11 – and THAT is what saddens and angers me even more than the loss of innocent life. I pray that as a country, we will stop cowering behind bravado and return someday to what made us truly great: to embracing the REAL American values of individualism with respect, openness without fear, and freedom with hope that made us a target that fateful day.

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Octopus’s Garden

“I’d like to be under the sea 
In an octopus’ garden in the shade 
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been 
In his octopus’ garden in the shade.”

I was at my in-laws’ house tonight when my phone rang. Usually I don’t answer unknown numbers, but I was curious to find out who was calling me at 8:43 on a Friday night.

Turns out it was an automated call from my grocery store. Apparently the cucumbers I bought at the end of last week have been recalled due to salmonella contamination. The store was calling to warn me not to eat them and to let me know that I can get my money back.

Stop and think about that. You can even go back up and re-read what I wrote. The GROCERY STORE CALLED ME to let me know about a problem with the CUCUMBERS I bought LAST WEEK!

I hear a lot of people complaining about the erosion of privacy in this internet age. Data is ubiquitous and the amount of information out there about each one of us is far reaching and multi-faceted, kind of like an octopus with many arms. There’s info scattered here and there – and this info has ALWAYS existed. But never before has it been so easy to gather these diverse bits and baubles about an individual in a useful and meaningful way.

When I first got the grocery store call, I was horrified since Megan’s already eaten one of the two cucumbers. Then I was a little freaked out that the store knew EXACTLY what I’d bought and when, even though I willingly swipe my little keychain card in order to get loyalty discounts on food and gas. But ultimately, I sure am willing to share the knowledge of what I buy in exchange for discounts on food and gas. And I like the fact that technology and market tracking empowered my grocery store to call me – and that they cared enough to do so. I’m well aware that they care about the bottom line and maximizing shareholder profit more than my personal heath and well-being. But I have always believed that taking care of customers translates to a healthier bottom line. And I’m pretty happy that there is at least one company out there using the myriad pieces of info they are collecting about me to actually BENEFIT me in such a concrete way.

Billy Elliot: Dancers Soar, Writing Falls Flat

Tonight I saw Billy Elliot: The Musical, the 2nd of 7 Playhouse Square Key Bank Broadway Series shows I have the privilege of reviewing as part of the official Playhouse Square Review Crew.  As usual, I’d done my pre-show homework: I’d browsed various Billy Elliot websites,  googled details about the show, watched Twitter for other people’s opinions, and read the educator’s guide for students.  I even watched a live-streamed webcast session with some of the cast and crew from Durham, NC (where this second tour opened on October 20th) and interacted via back-channel chat with the actress playing Debbie!

After all my research, I was expecting the dancing to be stylistically diverse and extraordinarily well performed – and I was not disappointed!  If you’ve ever seen “West Side Story” or “My One and Only” on stage or “Footloose”, “Flashdance”, “Dirty Dancing”, or “Save The Last Dance” on screen, you’ll recognize the universal pull that top dancers have on your very soul.  They make it look easy, and regardless of your age or physical condition, you can imagine expressing yourself through dance as artfully as they do.

At the theatre, there is something even more special about the “aliveness” and presence of it all.  When you hear and feel the reverberation of the tap shoes on the stage floor, when you see the tension in the muscles that it takes to hold an extended pirouette, then the dancing connects with you on a visceral level.  And when you suddenly remember that some of these incredibly accomplished dancers are not even yet teenagers, you are truly blown away.

But a good Broadway show is more than just flashy dance numbers.  Solid, believable acting is equally important.  Here again, the entire cast of Billy Ellit was rock solid.  The best actors and actresses truly live their parts – and you can’t conceive of them being anyone else.  I honestly could not find fault with a single character on-stage tonight.  From the feisty grandmother to the conflicted father, from the gawky pre-teens to the worn-out dance instructor, from the miners to the police – each role was lovingly and thoroughly explored and completely believable.

So if both the acting and the dancing were outstanding, why did I leave the theatre feeling disappointed? In short: the writing. I don’t care how many awards this musical has won.  If THIS is the best Broadway has to offer in the past decade, then modern Broadway is in real trouble.

LearningNerd defines plot as, “a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.” The show definitely attempted to cover a good deal of emotional and dramatic ground, tackling such diverse themes as homosexuality, death, unionism, homophobia, and the parent/child relationship.  But it felt like too much was bitten off at once with none of the topics really fully or thoroughly explored.  Even the flow from scene to scene was stilted and there just didn’t seem to be a cohesive storyline, especially in the first act.

The plot of Billy Elliot: The Musical hangs its contextual hat on the British coal miner’s strike of 1984, but the reasons for the strike and the animosity of the characters for then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are never explained.  Few, if any, musicals hinge so directly on such a specific, modern political environment.  In order to really empathize with the characters, it would have been helpful to understand the situation more intimately. As an American audience member, I felt like an outsider.

Another aspect of the writing which fell flat for me was the language.  Although the dialect was heavily criticized by a fellow Review Crew-er as being completely wrong, I wouldn’t know Cockney from Welsh from a Scottish brogue.  However, cursing in any language comes across loud and clear.  Although gritty, earthy language was deliberately used to make the musical sound more “authentic,” such foul language coming from children – and some really YOUNG children at that – was an absolute turn-off.

I read an interview with Stephen Daldry, who directed the movie and helped bring the stage version to life.  He said that it is a reality that children use bad language and that this production was not going to ignore that reality.  That may be true, but no child I know has, at the age of 7, 8, or 9 (as some of these characters were), called his/her father a bastard or so casually and frequently sworn in front of and at adults. It was jarring and it was gratuitous.  It crossed the line, in my book, to the point where it took away from my enjoyment of the first act.  I had read and heard from many other people that the language on this second tour was very much toned down from the Broadway version.  Yikes!  I very nearly brought my 9 year old to this production, but in retrospect, I am SO GLAD I did not.  This is a show ABOUT a child, but it is not a show FOR children as far as I’m concerned.

I must close this review with special mentions for the two performers who, in my opinion, nearly stole the show out from under Billy’s ballet shoes.  The first was Faith Prince, the renowned Broadway star and Tony award recipient who was educated in Cincinnati, Ohio!  She stars on this tour as Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s ballet teacher and she sparkled in the role – both literally and figuratively!  I thought she played the wistful yet down-to-earth part with just the right combination of grit and polish.

And finally, Jacob Zelonky who played the part of Michael, Billy’s cross-dressing, homosexual best friend, should receive way more accolades than he is.  I cannot even imagine how completely wise-beyond-his-years and mature a young actor must be to play so confidently and truthfully so complex a role.  In many ways, Michael’s role is as difficult dramatically as Billy’s is physically.  Kudos, too, to Jacob’s parents for supporting him as they must be.

So should you go see Billy Elliot?  Yes – if only to see what the buzz is about!  Read up on your modern British labor (or should it be labour?) history then prepare to be dazzled by the dancing – and let me know what YOU think in the comments!

Billy Elliot: The Musical runs at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square until December 12th, 2010.  Get your tickets here or by calling the box office at (216) 241-6000 or (866) 546-1353.

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