Category Archives: Reviews

Xanadu

XanaduThe stage musical of Xanadu is a silly, self-aware parody of the movie, pared down to the bare minimum plot to hold the songs together, then expanded with more songs by the Electric Light Orchestra. It revels in its camp and never misses an opportunity for a pun or a cheap shot at its own genre (or story, or characters). And of course there’s roller-skating disco.

All this could make it the best show ever or an hour and a half of uncomfortable embarrassment punctuated by moments of hilarity, depending on your taste and frame of mind.

Appropriately enough for a story about fusing different genres together, the show itself is a fusion of two types of popular musicals these days: adaptations of movies, and “juke box” musicals that string together previously unrelated songs by an artist or in a particular style.

Personally, I really liked about 10% of it. I finally started to get into the show during Danny Maguire’s flashback/tap dance sequence and the song, “Whenever You’re Away,” but the rest of it just wasn’t my thing, or wasn’t what I was expecting, or something. The rest of the audience seemed to like it a lot better, though.

Equivocation in Westwood

After a Friday spent relaxing at home (no after-Thanksgiving Day sales, unless you count skimming the recommendations at Amazon), we drove up to LA to see the play Equivocation at the Geffen Playhouse. The drive was astonishingly fast (everyone must have been either at home or at the mall!), so we had plenty of time to wander Westwood looking for someplace to eat.

We ended up at Yamato, a Japanese restaurant that I’d definitely eat at again! I did wonder about the original purpose of the building, since it clearly hadn’t been a restaurant to start with. One of us spotted a plaque outside identifying it as The Westwood Building, built in 1929. Among other things, it did include a bank, which was one of my guesses.

After dinner we went looking for places we could get dessert and/or coffee after the show. The two Coffee Beans were both going to close by 9:00, but the Starbucks was open until midnight, and Diddy Riese was open until 1:00. We stopped in at Rocky Mountain Chocolate factory to get some sugar-free chocolate for Katie, and then made our way over to the theater.

The Show

Bill Cain’s play is a political thriller in which William Shakespeare is commissioned to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James I and blow up Parliament. (Remember the fifth of November?) The problem: the king wants him to write the official version of the plot, which has been somewhat…embellished. Shakespeare has to deal with political pressure from the Crown, conflicts among his actors, estrangement from his daughter Judith…and the question of truth: Can he find it? If so, can he afford to write it?

It’s a compelling story — terrorism and torture are topical, and political intrigue is always in fashion — and manages to give you enough information on the background that if you don’t know much about the Gunpowder Plot, or even about Shakespeare, you can still follow what’s going on.

Some familiarity with Shakespeare helps, though. The Globe is rehearsing King Lear at the beginning, and it quickly becomes clear that The True History of the Gunpowder Plot will eventually become Macbeth. References to Shakespeare’s legacy are scattered throughout the play. There’s also a great comedic moment at one point that is only funny if you know about the Porter scene in MacBeth, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow if you don’t know it.

(Some recognizable faces in this production: Harry Groener, the Mayor of Sunnydale from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Connor Trinneer, Trip from Star Trek: Enterprise. Coincidentally, Groener was also in the last play I saw, Putting it Together at South Coast Repertory.)

After the show we walked down to Diddy Riese, but the line was long enough it looked like it might take an hour just to get ice cream. By which time coffee wouldn’t be an option, unless they had some there. So we ducked over to Starbucks for a half hour or so, then drove home.

Finished The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time) – It’s Good

Wheel of Time: The Gathering StormThis weekend I finished reading the new Wheel of Time novel, The Gathering Storm. Now that I’ve read it, I can definitely say that Brandon Sanderson was a good choice to finish the series from Robert Jordan’s notes, and that splitting the final book into three was the right approach. It may be a doorstopper, but it would be difficult to cut more than a tiny amount without diminishing the impact of what remained.

No spoilers unless you don’t want to know which characters appear in the book. In which case, stop reading now. It focuses primarily on Rand, Egwene, and their respective entourages, though most of the other major characters make appearances. If I were to guess, the next book (Towers of Midnight) will probably focus mainly on Rand and Mat, and maybe Elayne. Katie reminded me that the title is a Seanchan reference, plus there’s another mission — well, quest, really — being built up involving a tower. (Not to mention the White Tower and Black Tower, of course!)

As in Knife of Dreams (and unlike Crossroads of Twilight), things happen in this book! There’s a growing sense of urgency throughout the novel, and everyone who can is pushing hard to have everything in place for the coming apocalypse. For some characters it’s a personal journey. For others it’s political. And for some, it’s simply geographical.

As far as meshing with the rest of the series goes, the only thing that stood out for me was that points of view would switch in the middle of a chapter more often than I expected. It’s not that Robert Jordan never did it, but I remember it being rare outside of the prologues. Brandon Sanderson is more likely to take what would have been two shorter, thematically linked chapters and combine them into one. Katie also noticed one spot early on that one character from Tarabon didn’t speak with the Taraboner dialect — but only the one instance, and one in which the phrasing would have been awkward. It still reads like a Wheel of Time book.

I wish Robert Jordan had been able to finish his epic himself, but it looks like we’re getting the next best thing.

Flash Forward Premiere was Awesome!

The first episode of Flash Forward is one of the best-constructed pilot episodes I’ve seen in a long time, especially of an arc-driven series. (I’ve been trying to think of the last show I saw where I didn’t feel like it took the cast or story a few episodes to get up to speed, and all I can come up with is Firefly.) In one hour, it managed to introduce a slew of characters, show the major world-changing event that sets the arc in motion, pose serious questions (both story-wise and philosophically), force characters to change, set up conflicting agendas and points of view, establish a mystery or two, and find a thematic conclusion to the episode that doesn’t feel like it’s just the first hour of a two- or three-hour show.

Most shows would take two hours to do all that, or pick and choose to cram it into one. (They even found time for a car chase.)

One of the things that really impressed me was that, just using one episode’s worth of characters, they showed the beginnings of so many totally different ways of looking at humanity’s glimpse of the future, whether through hope, fear, or simply confusion. From what they said at Comic-Con, one of the ideas is to be able to expand this to theoretically anyone in the world.

The extended preview of upcoming episodes (a flash forward to Flashforward!) seemed to be making a great effort to say that yes, they’ll be answering questions, and no, you won’t have to wait 3 years to find out what the heck is going on (unlike that other show with Sonya Walger, Dominic Monaghan, and Oceanic Airlines).

There were a couple of moments that I thought were forced, though the only one that really stands out was the immediate juxtaposition of the “we’re being punished” and “this is a gift” reactions.

Adaptation


They did a good job of taking the source material, Robert J. Sawyer’s novel Flashforward (I’m getting really confused as to whether the TV series has a space in the title or not, but the book definitely doesn’t), and making something that’s recognizably the same idea, but telling a new story with it. It has the benefit of all the thought he put into it:

  • What are all the consequences of everyone blacking out for two minutes?
  • If everyone experiences his or her own future at the same instant, what about people who are asleep at that time?
  • How do you determine whether people are seeing different possible futures or the same future?
  • How do you determine whether the future can be changed? (It’s a common enough storytelling trope, but how would you scientifically prove it?)

And so on. But they can tell a larger story, with more characters…and still surprise people who read the book. I don’t know whether they plan on using a similar explanation for what caused the event, or whether the TV version will come down on the side of “The future is not set” or “You can’t fight fate” (though I expect it will be the former, for storytelling reasons). And there was a moment a few minutes before the end that just came out of nowhere and left me thinking, “Wait, what???

The book is definitely worth reading, especially if you like science fiction of the “what would happen if…?” variety, and it looks like it probably won’t spoil much.

Recent Reading: Flashforward

FlashforwardEarlier this month I read Robert J. Sawyer’s novel, Flashforward. It’s about what happens after, during a scientific experiment, the entire population of the world blacks out for two minutes and sees a vision of what they will be doing twenty years from now. It focuses on the question of free will, and looks at the different ways people might react to learning exactly what their future has in store.

Like most of Sawyer’s stuff, It’s a good, fast read that makes you think. It’s also been in the news lately, since ABC is developing it as a TV series to pick up the Lost audience as that show wraps up, and they’ve been announcing casting for the pilot.

I’ve posted a review of Flashforward at Speed Force.