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The Genie (Major Attaway) from the lamp sings his own praises. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

My ticket for Aladdin

{Note: None of the performance images are mine, I have used media photos provided.}

When we’re talking about live shows, performance and production can be words to describe the same thing. I recently saw two shows and for one I declared “That was a production!” and for the other, I was moved by the performance. They were equally wonderful and nothing alike. I’ll try to explain.

Tara, my 21-year-old-offspring, loves all things Disney and Broadway. Thus, tickets to Aladdin were an obvious choice for a Christmas present. I did not know anything about the show and did not take the time to look it up.

Consequently, I was totally blown away on Thursday when I saw this show. The creators pulled out all the stops for entertainment. This was the sparkliest, loudest, flashiest, most-colorful, most frequently jaw-dropping, silliest, gaudiest show I have ever seen. The costume changes were constant, and every costume was layered in mesmerizing colours and more rhinestones and sequins than I thought possible to fit on fabric. There were scarves and bangles and turbans and feathers and every single, every single male character wore pointed shoes. At one point, cannons shot metallic glistening streamers over the audience and we sat transfixed, watching them spiral down onto us.

Leaping, turbaned dancers

Golden cave of treasures, where Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) finds the lamp.

Back up dancers and singers, male and female, supported nearly every scene, and these were the fittest performers I’ve seen in a Broadway show. I could tell because most of them were only about 50% covered in clothing. It was nice to see men objectified for a change. All those glistening six-packs….sigh. They leapt, spun in the air, spun on the ground, flipped and skidded and cartwheeled back and forth.

Aladdin as the Prince, with Jasmine (in Portland played by Lissa deGuzman)

The sets were incredible, in the literal definition of the word. At one point the whole back of the theatre dropped away into a convincing starry night sky…WITH a legit flying carpet that Aladdin and Jasmine sat on and sang A Whole New World to us. The scene inside the cave of treasures, where Aladdin found the lamp, looked like it was made of solid gold. Indeed, every surface shone like metal. This made it particularly splendiferous when the fireworks went off. YES!! Real fireworks inside the theatre!

Genie explains to Aladdin how the three wishes work.

Genie was hilarious, Jasmine was convincingly strong, Aladdin convincingly vulnerable, and Jafar sufficiently evil. We were all glad to see him change from one costume to another in a blink before our eyes like magic, and then just as quickly disappear leaving only a lamp behind, when Jafar foolishly wished to be an all-powerful genie (and therefore had to live in a lamp).

What. A. Show. What a production!!

The set for Tiny Beautiful Things was a cross-section view into a beautiful home that is clearly lived in. (Left to Right: Lisa Renee Pitts, Brian Michael Smith, Dana Green, and Leif Norby)

My ticket for Tiny Beautiful Things

Storytelling took center stage in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. This play is based on the book, which is about an advice columnist named Sugar, and the letter-writers who contact her and sometimes get responses.

The set was great!! So perfect and beautiful. I wish we were allowed to take photos during performances, so I could have captured just one shot that showed the whole thing. Multiple times during the show I thought how nice it would be to live there. If you look at the kitchen shot above, imagine a small dining table to the right, with a door off stage on the right to the laundry room. On the far left of the photo, you can see two steps leading to a playroom in the back. Imagine that farther to the left, there is a living room with a couch and table, and behind the couch is the front door leading off stage on the left, and at the very back a staircase upstairs, and a door to the basement? beneath the stairs.

Sugar “listens to” one of her letter-writers.

We watched Sugar, a busy mom, as she carried her laptop with her around the house, answering mail (outloud) all day long as she does the laundry, folds clothes, picks up toys, straightens the living room. We also watch as three other actors perform the words of the letter-writers, who are children, people with cancer, or people who are pregnant. Letter writers told their secrets, exposed their fantasies, regretted their choices. Gender, age, and background aren’t visually reflected by the actors, so we had to listen carefully to the words to find out who was speaking.

Sugar didn’t answer everyone. She wore yoga pants and a cardigan, and at one point pulled her long hair back into a sloppy bun while she read the letters. One writer kept submitting the same letter over and over, that said, “WTF. WTF. WTF?” She didn’t answer that one, obviously. Until…. the end.

The way Sugar answered the questions was to tell a story from her own life (taken from true stories of Strayed’s actual life) filled with pain and tragedy, joy and fear and bravery and hope. She connected to the letter-writers by telling what got her through her own similar challenges, and recommended that we be more compassionate, kind, and generous – particularly to ourselves. It was thirty stories told, hers and theirs, linked by the advice column, and a thousand stories told, linked by all the people laughing and crying in the audience. Proof that we were all feeling these stories as our own.

Sugar answers a letter at night, after the day’s chores are done.

Sugar dispenses advice to a letter-writer.

Sugar would usually speak to her laptop as she answered letters, even while the letter-writer was sitting beside her on the couch, speaking to his phone as he typed his question. But when the topic or the connection got more intense, they would turn and face each other, and have a conversation. During one wonderful scene, she brought all the letter-writers into the kitchen with her to help pack school lunches for her kids while she answered a letter.

Live performances get to me more than TV or the movies (and all of these actors have been on TV or in the movies). This show was deeply personal, designed to make the audience reflect, or identify, or consider. Ultimately, this play took up all the parts of us that are dark, acknowledged them, and then made us feel good anyway. It is wonderfully done.


Before the show starts is often the only time we are allowed to take photos.

Somehow, the culture people of Portland got my email address, and now I’m at their mercy. I get periodic emails that show up with special price offers at irritatingly convenient times, like Just In Time For Christmas Gifts!

I’ve mentioned before that Tara is crazy about Broadway shows. I sent them a text last Fall. “Hey, Finding Neverland or RENT?” The response was 19-year-old appropriate: “Duh.” I should have guessed that they would want the classic show inspired by La Boheme.

“Classic” sounds kind of funny, because I actually saw RENT not too long after it came out, and that wasn’t terribly long ago. Right? Ahem, the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour is what we went to see. Apparently, I’m old enough to be classic.

The first time I saw the show was in rural Arcata, California, in the late 90s. I remembered that the storyline addresses AIDS, which was still a national scare in those days. And racy for the time and location were the homosexual relationships on stage. Most of all, I remember Angel, the dynamic cross-dresser who was the voice of love and reason for the group of young, desperately poor New York singles.

Arcata is a college town, but most of the audience was made up of patrons of the arts in their 40s or older, who didn’t know the story. And don’t forget that I said “rural.” The audience first sees Angel dressed in masculine clothing, when he meets and falls in love with Tom Collins. But soon comes the big entrance as *Angel!* with glitz and glitter and makeup. Angel pranced out on stage in a white and silver skin-tight costume, ruffles, high heels, red lips, and a dazzling smile that lit up the theatre. She came right up to the edge of the stage – so close I had to tilt my head – and struck a pose.

You could hear a pin drop.

I think I could actually hear people snapping their mouths back shut when they realized they were gaping. There was no cheer, no laughter. Total paralyzed silence. Maybe a muffled sneeze in the back. I had been just about to give a “whoop!” but then realized something was wrong and held it in.

This time the show was different for a few reasons. Notably, I’m in Portland, which is like a baby San Francisco, for all the tolerance we’ve got. And furthermore (it’s apparently 20 years later, and) concepts like homosexual love, drug use, diseases that kill you, and breaking into empty buildings because you’re homeless are not as shocking to find on the stage anymore.

This audience was fully on board. No, not just on board, but cult followers or something. The scene when Angel comes out in drag was preceded by raucous cheers before I even knew what was happening. The outfit was different this time, but the people went crazy for it!

The production still uses telephone answering machines to bring in missing characters (like parents) and to make connections in the story line. And it still works. The difference is that the first time I didn’t pay it any mind, and this time, it caught my attention every time. Answering machines! I remember those!

The first time I saw RENT, there was one relationship that carried it for me. The interactions between Angel and Collins are lovely at every stage, from the joy in the beginning, to their successful negotiations to unite their friends in times of trouble, to the heartbreaking hospital scenes when Collins takes care of Angel. Their love is pure and immense – big enough for all of us.

This time the relationship that carried it for me was between Roger and Mimi. He’s a musician struggling to be true to his art. However, his bigger struggle is with self-worth. He doesn’t really believe he’s good enough to be a musician, so he never finishes a song. And then he and Mimi fall in love and he suspects he’s not deserving of her either, so they break up. She’s an addict and really really wants to quit, but just can’t admit to herself or to Roger that she is weak, and she wants to be loved and forgiven despite that. They wrench apart, and fall together, and wrench apart again.

It was just awful, watching their pain, and knowing we so often bring our pain upon ourselves like that. We are happy or satisfied or loved purely based on our perception of who we are. Arggh, humans!

The ending is sad and hopeful, and Tara and I were still wiping the backs of our hands across our cheeks when the actors bowed. I wonder if art is supposed to make its audience find a truth? Maybe that’s why the same story hit me two different ways at two times in my life. When the artists don’t use direct words, we have to give it our own meaning, and then, it has a distinctly personal message for the most dramatic impact. Oooh, those artists. So clever.

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

It’s time to catch you up on many little things I have neglected to blog about in the past month. It’s summer time and I have had a lot going on!  Please do not feel obliged to go through the whole thing unless you’ve got an easy morning to fill, while accompanied by a large cup of coffee. It’s not only for you that I write, of course. My blog is my journal, and its alternate purpose is to entertain me on days when I want to reminisce and to be used as a reference when I’m trying to get my facts right (harder and harder as the years go by…).

My kid had her last short haircut at age 4. She has had long, flowing, cascades of blonde hair down her back ever since. That is, until the beginning of June when she made up her mind to get it cut short, and dye it dark brown. We were both in shock for 36 hours or so (she didn’t want to go to school the next day), and then we fell in love with the look.

At least a decade ago, I found some to-die-for Cat Eye glasses in a bin of old glasses at Goodwill. I was looking for an accessory to a Halloween costume. I pushed out the coke bottle lenses and have used them now and then for  years. As I told blogger friend Boomdee a little while ago, I finally did what I’ve been wanting to do all that time, and had my own prescription put into them. The optometrist who checked them out for me confirmed they are legitimate antique frames, possibly 60 years old. I have been having a blast wearing them.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Tara’s recently been keen to experience Broadway, so we went to see the show Once. I didn’t like it, but I think she did. The music was wonderful, inspiring, impressively played live on stage in every scene. But the story was so very sad. Like Fiddler on the Roof, it began heartbreaking and just got miserable. I had broken up with Arno only one month earlier. In fact, these tickets were my birthday gift to him, but he couldn’t go because of his son’s graduation ceremony. So seeing a love story where nothing works out was lemon juice on a cut. Many people have said “Oh, just like the movie!” But I had never heard of the movie, and I can’t say if they are the same. Nothing can compare to seeing people on stage though, or to the effect of raw emotions washing over you when you’re in the same room with people battling through their own agonies.

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

We went to see a great documentary called The Cherokee Word for Water. From the website: “The Cherokee Word For Water is a feature-length motion picture inspired by the true story of the struggle for, opposition to, and ultimate success of a rural Cherokee community to bring running water to their families by using the traditional concept of “gadugi” working together to solve a problem.” And it was a love story of when Wilma Mankiller (future Cherokee Chief) and Charlie Soap met and teamed up to make this project happen. Mankiller died in 2010, but Charlie Soap was able to attend the showing of the film. It was humbling to be present and to experience his passion and hear his words, when he participated in the question and answer session afterward. Go see this film if you get the chance!

Seeing Disneyland this spring put Tara in a mood for theme parks, so I agreed to take her and her friend to Enchanted Forest; Oregon’s home grown Disneyland. I won’t say a ton about it, because Enchanted Forest deserves its own post for the real estate of all the photos. Enchanted Forest was created by a man with a dream to create a theme park based on children’s storybook tales and nursery rhymes. We saw representations of Hansel & Gretel to Alice in Wonderland to Rip Van Winkle and Pinocchio. All the original versions before Disney got ahold of them and morphed them into cartoon characters. There are a few rides that were actually pretty fun.  And no lines!

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

The very next day I drove Tara to California to spend some time with her dad. Dennis is a Harley man, and unfortunately wrecked his bike pretty seriously and is laid up for a time. Even more unfortunate is the fact that it’s his second bad wreck in two years. This time he broke his hip, so he was not able to drive up to Oregon to get Tara.

On the way, something strange happened with my Saturn Dragon Wagon. It’s been the Dragon Wagon ever since I lived in California and forecasted weather at the National Weather Service office in Eureka. I had personalized plates that said “DRAGNZ” because I love (and collect!) dragons. The boss’s husband gave the car her nickname and it stuck. I love, love, love my Saturn. Dennis and I purchased it brand new in 1998 because Tara’s car seat wouldn’t fit into my Mustang anymore. Like so many parents, I had to give up my sports car for the kid. Anyway, with and without embedded car seats, I’ve taken that car to surf beaches, to alpine trailheads, on no less than 4 coast-to-coast moves, and many shorter moves in between. She’s started up without fail every morning in Vermont’s below-zero winters, and never ever died in Nevada’s 110 degree summers. As we climbed a hill outside Grants Pass, Oregon, she gave a great shudder and the Service Engine light came on.

Earlier, the metal band holding the muffler had rusted through and the whole apparatus rattled whenever the car vibrated, so as the shuddering continued up the hill and down into Grants Pass, it made a metallic rattling that sounded much worse than it was. It was nerve wracking. Long story short, we made it to California. I was staying the night with my longtime friend Margaret whose boyfriend works at a dealership with a great service department. Sam insisted that I bring it over first thing in the morning. After awesome personalized attention, Sam began listing all the things that needed to be repaired. He estimated it would cost $3000-$4000. “Crystal. I’m sorry, your car is just not worth it.”

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

Well, since I was trapped with an old, broken dragon at a dealership, you can guess how the story ended. I’ve known Sam for years, which eased my worries about being forced to buy a car in the spur of the moment. I wasn’t able to get my perfect choice of vehicle, since I needed something available right there, right then. I think I’m going to end up loving the new Jeep Cherokee though. Especially if it gives me 16 years like the Saturn did. In honor of my old girl, I shelled out the clams to get personalized plates, and I think I can even spell DRAGNS with an “s” this time.  I’ll post a photo when I get the plates. If my first choice doesn’t work, I want UKTENA, the Cherokee winged serpent.

I haven’t mentioned the Jeep online yet, because I’m embarrassed of my conspicuous consumption. I’m never the kind of person who purchases to just to look good or have the newest thing, but you wouldn’t guess it from seeing me in the Jeep. Aside from the great cargo capacity and hatchback which will be so useful with all our camping, the technology makes my inner Geek Girl so happy. It’s from a different planet than cars in 1998. This one has a ginormous touch screen in the center of the console, to control radio, separate driver’s and passenger’s climate, apps (yes, apps) and whatever else. I can answer my cell phone through the steering wheel – built in hands-free! It’s got a back-up camera, how brilliant is that? I start the dang car by pushing a button as if I’m Jane Jetson. All the ISB and SD card ports are built in. And BEST of all, at the credit union the other day, I tried to lock my keys in the car, but after I closed the door, it went “beep beep beep!” and I was able to open up the door and grab my keys before it locked. Whew!

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

At the orthodontist, Dr. Angle (great name for a teeth guy, huh?) decided my teeth are organized enough to finally switch to Invisalign. So off came the braces. Yay! Yay! I’m not done with my orthodontia, of course, because I still need tweaking by the Invisalign appliances. But now I get to take them off to eat and to brush my teeth. No more torn up mouth, no more avoiding carrots and apples and corn. No more picking nuts out of the metal for two hours.

Part two of very cool orthodontia story: Invisalign are clear plastic shells that fit around teeth and hold them in place or move them. The shells are built on a plaster cast of my teeth. I asked Dr. Angle how Invisalign can move my teeth if they are built on where my teeth already are? He said the original cast is made into a digital image in a computer which he can then manipulate by a millimeter here or a millimeter there. Then a new cast of teeth is built in a 3D printer, and the next set of clear plastic shells is created off that. Wow! Technology in my face!

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle's house.

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle’s house.

On the 4th of July long weekend I drove to see my Pa and Michelle on their place on the Snake, south of Boise. It may very well be the last time I visit the Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch. They have decided to sell it because it’s just too much neverending work and money to maintain. Pa & Michelle have worked hard to be able to retire, and they should have the chance to enjoy it now, not spend most of their time saving every penny for the next catastrophe, or spending their free time doing repairs. Much as they love their oasis in the Owyhee desert, they have decided to give it up.

The visit was a good one. Pa’s health is much better than last time I visited, which was good for my soul to see. My visit was long enough to really spend some good time with them, talking, joking, sharing recipes and talking about the future. Pa showed me his winged archer avatar in his online gaming world – a truly fascinating place. It reminds me of the incredible depths of story and artistry of the world my friend Vlad spends time in. I joined Michelle on a morning walk and we talked about some common history, which makes me understand better why I love her so much. Michelle also joined me again on a trip to Map Rock, the Shoshone petroglyphs I wrote about in 2010. I was hoping that in sunset light I could get the images to show up better this time, but bright sunny skies aren’t conducive to displaying the basalt carvings. I’ll probably make this a separate post too.

Saturday afternoon I managed to squeeze in a quick trip across the river to Boise to visit my brother Eli and his wife Addie, and get another good look at my growing nephews, Parker and Paxton. I am crazy about this family. Salt of the earth people, I’m telling you. In my next life I want to come back as them.

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

July 7th I was able to join two dear friends of mine as they were married in a hot air balloon! I got to meet their parents (and a niece and a brother), and all of us shared a blissful morning ride soaring over the Willamette Valley packed with vineyards, hops fields, and acres of Hazelnut trees. Oregon’s state nut is the Hazelnut (and I thought I was the state nut…). My friends are both enormously sweet, shy, thoughtful, gentle, hardworking people. It must be so hard to find a match when you’re a quiet and shy person, and thinking that makes me so glad they found each other. I am tickled to death that they are married, and so very deeply honored to have shared the morning with them.

That’s it! You made it to the end! I am planning a late start to my next adventure for the sole purpose of getting this blog posted (and putting some cards into the mail) because it’s about dang time I join my Internet community again. I love and miss you guys. In a few hours I’ll hit the road for California again, this time to one of my favourite places on the planet: the Trinity Alps. I’ll spend all week on the trails, battling poison oak and mosquitoes and sharp elevation gains, then I’ll head down to the valley again, good and stinky. I’ll go pick up my kiddo (prolly beg Dennis for use of his shower) and bring her back to Portland in time for her birthday, and her birthday present: another Broadway show. This time, the Book of Mormon. I am dying to see it!!

To my blogger friends: all your new posts are in my inbox, waiting for me to go read. I’ll find some time soon to discover what’s been happening in your worlds too. Till then, happy Solstice, happy Ramadan, Happy Independence Day, and Bastille Day, and… well, you get the idea.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is playing Willy Loman on Broadway right now. I know in my very marrow that the performance would wreck me if I saw it. I would have to be carried out at the end.

I hated the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller when I read it for the first time. Hated the misery of it. Willy Loman is a shit. I freaking despise that guy. The whole damned dysfunctional family sucks.

But wow, when I disengage from those hateful feelings, I am in awe of Arthur Miller. Can you imagine what it might feel like to be the author of a play that makes somebody react so strongly? I can think of one other piece of writing in which I hated the main character so much, and that is Ignatious Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Miller and Toole have achieved my powerful emotional response through the mere application of ink to paper. This is a skill I have held as a life’s goal for as long as I can remember. These two writers and their wretched characters have my deepest respect.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him. PSH was the perfect kiss-ass in The Big Lebowski. Watching him I simultaneously wanted to smack him, and knew I would be the same person in that job.

The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.

So put that together with Death of a Salesman, and I throw my hands in the air. I would have no resistance whatsoever. Take me, art. Take me and use me, I am yours.

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