Posts Tagged ‘Stratford Shakespeare Festival’

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Seven Sentence Reviews: Stratford Festival 2016

September 6, 2016

The 2016 Stratford Festival, with shows running through October, provides great diversions for theatergoers. I visited during the first week in August. I promised a friend I would review the plays, so I’m belatedly doing that. (Why does it take me so long to write seven sentences?) Ratings are on a four-star system, but please recognize that anything at Stratford is far and away better than theater nearly anywhere else.

Breath of Kings: Rebellion and Redemption  [++++]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 1 (only Henry V)

Breath of Kings Redemption – On The Run 2016

Members of the company in Breath of Kings: Redemption. Photography by David Hou.

Graham Abbey edited this two-part mash-up of four Shakespeare Histories: Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry V, and also starred as Henry IV. The resulting productions moved entertainingly through the plots and historical events at a fresh and lively pace. The shows also highlighted the streamlined story arcs of both Henry IV and his son, the ne’er-do-well turned hero Henry V (Araya Mengesha). This portion of English succession might be compared to the Biblical succession of Saul, David, and Solomon, with Henry V combining the immature qualities of Absalom with the wisdom of Solomon.

The laundry list of speaking parts in four plays was juggled agily by the talented cast and inventive costumers. Standouts were Tom Rooney as the insecure Richard II, an intense Johnathan Sousa as Hotspur, and is-it-typecasting-if-he’s-perfect Geraint Wyn Davies as Falstaff.

The stage itself helped to provide continuity through the two parts of the production co-directed by Mitchell Cushman and Weyni Mengesha: covered in a thick mulch that was worn down and shoved away during Rebellion to find stone underneath, the stage was cleared for Redemption to reveal “stones” (aptly likened to ice-blocks) that were tossed and tumbled during the French battle scenes to find more mulch underneath—the hidden meaning?…hmph I don’t know.

John Gabriel Borkman  [++++]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

John Gabriel Borkman – On The Run 2016
Lucy Peacock as Mrs. Gunhild Borkman in John Gabriel Borkman. Photography by David Hou.

After one has been to Stratford more than a few times, one becomes willing make great sacrifices to see Lucy Peacock, Seana McKenna and Scott Wentworth on stage together—even see an Ibsen play.

This risk came with a great reward: John Gabriel Borkman is an intense, mysterious, mesmerizing, and wonderfully entertaining precursor to toppled-titan stories like Citizen Kane. Tightlipped at the beginning, the play unfolds to show how Borkman was a would-be Rockefeller, living in a self-imposed mental prison of might-have-beens.

Peacock, McKenna and Wentworth are adept at playing the complex and flawed characters that populate JGB, imbuing clear meaning into the subtlest text and stage-business.

The play itself requires a small suspension of disbelief, that all of the conversations happening on stage would never have come up in the long history that the characters speak of having together. Ibsen wrote JGB in 1896, but with a modern ironic twist—the two female leads are strong, unique, and ahead of their time—while the male dialogue concerning women is almost laughably backward in comparison.

JGB’s title seems like a mouthful and difficult to remember going into the play; coming out you’ll never forget the name John Gabriel Borkman.

The Aeneid  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

Aeneid – On The Run 2016

Monice Peter as Creusa and Gareth Potter as Aeneas in The Aeneid. Photography by David Hou.

This newly commissioned adaptation of The Aeneid recasts Virgil’s epic poem of Aeneas (Gareth Potter), ancestor of the Romans, as a refugee story in an alternate-reality reflection of the current crises in the Middle East.

The production faced some significant hurdles to bridge a story written millennia in the past to modern-day sensibilities, politics, and culture. To a large degree it succeeded through the talented cast and, disappointingly for some, through its use of contemporary dance to help tell the story.

At times fully immersed in today—a dance club too loud to hear a military attack, an immigration official trying to explain bureaucracy to a young mother, refugees washed up on a resort beach—the story maintained its continuity when traveling to the underworld to find Aeneas’s father.

Director Keira Loughran didn’t create The Aeneid as light entertainment to while away a few hours; it is a serious piece of social commentary that challenges the perspective and opinions of the audience. If one is willing to be challenged and think about the meaning of the play and the implications of that meaning in our modern world, then The Aeneid can be transformative. The Aeneid at Stratford is not the play you want to see at Stratford this year; it’s the play you should see.

Shakespeare in Love  [++++]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

Number of times I’ve seen the film: >10

Shakespeare in Love – On The Run 2016

Luke Humphrey (centre) as Will Shakespeare with members of the company in Shakespeare in Love. Photography by David Hou.

In the 1998 film’s DVD extras, it is noted the audience must believe the actor playing William Shakespeare is capable of actually writing the words of Shakespeare. Luke Humphrey succeeded on the whole in this, but was fighting an uphill battle against a script that undermined the idea at every turn, even adding Christopher Marlowe to the balcony scene with Viola de Lesseps in a quasi-Cyrano rewrite.

Director Decian Donnellan’s production used a bridge-like version of a three-tiered Elizabethan stage moving up-stage and down-stage to “move” the audience from backstage to the house effortlessly. Apparently Donnellan also envisioned the bridge as an elevated running track at a gym—Shannon Taylor‘s Viola spent several scenes doing sprint sets back and forth between her lines.

Besides Ms. Taylor’s cardio workout, the physical performance aspects were well done, including sword fights and dances that were impressively overlapped with prose conversations.

The play adapted and rewrote plot points to work onstage, but went out of its way to include some scenes, most notably a sweet, low-tech recreation of the rowboat scene. Perhaps necessarily, the Romeo and Juliet play-within-the-play was heavily overacted, unfortunately undercutting the mood of the closing scenes.

Macbeth  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

Macbeth – On The Run 2016

Photography by David Hou.

Stratford’s artistic director, Antoni Cimolino, envisioned Macbeth in a medieval post-Roman empire forest—the society primitive, just above subsistence and appropriately rustic and superstitious. Cimolino often succeeds with minimalist productions, but this Macbeth is as dazzling as anything produced at Stratford.

The weird sisters (witches) scenes were gleefully chilling; Lanise Antoine Shelley‘s blind sister’s unnatural movements were especially effective. Macbeth’s return visit to the sisters is a masterful highlight fit for a horror movie.

Ian Lake, returned to Stratford after notable stints on stage and television, played against his previous leading man roles to deliver a brooding and delusional Macbeth. I’m unfamiliar with Krystin Pellerin‘s CBC work; I felt she succeeded well as the two-faced lady Macbeth.

Someone please inform Scott Wentworth (Banquo) that the Festival Theatre is large and he needs to speak something above a whisper in order to be heard—I don’t know why he does that sometimes.

A Chorus Line  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

A Chorus Line – On The Run 2016

Members of the company in A Chorus Line. Photography by David Hou.

Revamped for the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage and performed in one act, this production of A Chorsus Line is true to the original which holds up better after 41 years than one might expect. It tells character stories that are at once unique and universal, addressing adolescence, insecurities, and body issues. The only aspect that felt particularly dated was how drastically societal views have changed regarding homosexuality and drag shows.

The show connects emotionally with the audience in nearly every number and every character, which is both wonderful and draining at the same time. Someone noted, quite rightly, how the success of all parts of this show points to the depth of talent available at Stratford.

Dayna Tietzen as Cassie, as near to a starring role as anyone in the cast gets, seemed genuine and sympathetic in the part, except somehow during The Music and the Mirror; a song that should be a tour de force seemed to sag in energy compared to the rest of the show.

A Chorus Line forces the audience to acknowledge—and in a way celebrate—that dancing on Broadway is a risky career choice; the show challenges us to get in touch with our curiosities and passions, asking everyone, “What do you do for love?”

As You Like It  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

As You Like It – On The Run 2016

Cyrus Lane as Orlando and Petrina Bromley as Rosalind in As You Like It. Photography by David Hou.

Robin Hutton acted as the Hymen (MC, host, uber-narrator not included in Shakespeare’s script), who, along with stage musicians and some of the actors, created a 1980’s concert-party backdrop against and into which As You Like It was played.

Having splurged on a front row seat for this production, I was rewarded with a participatory audience experience modeled on Newfoundland “kitchen parties,” including forest branch and star props, bleating sheep noisemakers, campfire embers, and—for me—a few spoonfuls of ice cream at the bottom of a gallon bucket. 

Petrina Bromley and Trish Lindström were exuberantly youthful in their Madonna-wanna-be portrayals of Rosalind and Celia. Other characters were reimagined into 1980’s style personas, including Duke Frederick (Scott Wentworth) as a Wall Street big-shot complete with Donald Trump hair, Jaques (Seana McKenna) as a nature photographer, and Touchstone (Sanjay Talwar) taking fashion cues from Boy George.

Perusing the program later, I saw that the casual fun of As You Like It is not just a draw for the audience; some of the cast (and stars) from Shakespeare in Love took uncredited background roles in the show. At intermission, the person next to me asked, “Do you think it was this silly in Shakespeare’s day?” I never seem to have those answers on the spot, want to go back to her now and say, “I certainly hope so.”

 

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Seven-Sentence Reviews: The Beaux’ Stratagem – Stratford Shakespeare Festival 2014

August 8, 2014

++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

2014 Publicity Images - THE BEAUX’ STRATAGEMOne might doubt that a 1707 provincial farce promoting legally accessible divorce in England would have much to offer a 21st century audience; but the 2014 Stratford production breathes delightful life into The Beaux’ Stratagem’s period plot-lines and characters.

Mike Shara and Colm Feore play penniless beaux scheming to win the affections and purses of country heiresses played by Bethany Jillard and Lucy Peacock. Notwithstanding some anachronistic phrases, the strong cast makes the dialogue reasonably understandable without any foreknowledge of the play.

Several supporting characters are marvelous—Martha Henry is terrific as Lady Bountiful, a doddering precursor to medicinal herbalists of today. Gordon Miller snaps up more than his share of laughs as the jittery manservant, Scrub. I’ve not previously seen Evan Buliung play so flamboyant a comic role as Count Bellair, a French prisoner of war with a, well, outrageous accent.

Antoni Cimolino’s joyful production also includes entertainment during the scene changes—extras sing short William Boyce-inspired tunes by Berthold Carrière.

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Seven-Sentence Reviews: Stratford Shakespeare Festival 2011

August 6, 2011

As I sat in restaurants and cafés in Stratford, Ontario last week—typing away on my phone or computer; reading programs and scripts—I often fancied myself as a theatre critic in the eyes of those around me.  So I decided I should be just that.

I attended seven plays in Stratford this year.  In deference to my two gentle readers—who probably won’t be going to Stratford—I’ll devote only seven sentences to each.  I should note that my ratings were skewed by my surroundings.  Any production in Stratford would be a welcome addition to most cities’ theatre scenes.

Titus Andronicus ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

John Vickery was superb in the title role, a victorious Roman general besieged by those he conquered.  The slave-made-empress Tamora (Claire Lautier) and her not-so-secret lover Aaron (Dion Johnstone) were mesmerizing in their pursuit of revenge and evil.

Additional stage-business suggested that Tamora dominated Emperor Saturnine (Sean Arbuckle) partially through alcohol, which helped to explain the emperor’s strange decisions.

With a costuming nod to Edward Scissorhands, Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Amanda Lisman) was effectively employed by this production to exact her own revenge on the assailants who had cut off her hands.

Darko Tresnjak’s staging of the opening scene created an appropriate intensity and motivation for all the gruesomeness to come.  The play, both the script and this production, reveled in the violence portrayed, daring the audience to abhor it and simultaneously laugh at the insanity of it.  We weren’t so much depressed or stunned at the end of the show as much as relieved that it was over and nothing worse could happen.

Camelot ++½+

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

The first five minutes of Camelot promised a magical, epic story—a real hawk flew in from the balcony; a large celtic medallion rotated in the stage floor; the lighting sparkled; and Arthur grew from a boy to a man.  But I’ve not seen Camelot before—I didn’t know that the magic would end with Merlin’s death ten minutes into the show.

The leads were excellent—Lancelot (Jonathan Winsby) in particular, had a Grand Voice, reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston (whom Winsby has played).

The sets were sumptuously wrapped in jewel tones of sea green and gold with Celtic and French motifs; the rotating medallion element sat idle through most of the show, unfortunately.

Many of King Arthur’s speeches and sentiments seemed out of place in a musical; they struck me as propaganda for the United Nations.

Lerner and Loewe excelled at the character-driven musical—unfortunately Camelot is a plot-driven story.  Multiple songs that talked about the weather did not help to move things along.

The Grapes of Wrath ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 1

The Grapes of Wrath could have been overpowered by its scenery, with beautiful skies created through lighting, a swimmable river, and a thunderstorm.  Tom Joad (Evan Buliung) and Jim Casy (Tom McCamus) were key in keeping the impressive scenery in the background.

As hard as Randy Hughson tried to give Uncle John an Oklahoma accent, I still heard his lines in his Irish brogue.

Most of the costumes evoked hard work and poverty.  It was jarring to see one farm worker in a sweatshirt that appeared to be fresh off the rack from the department store.

Chilina Kennedy, a delight on any stage, was perhaps too sympathetic as Rose of Sharon.  The potency of the book’s final scene, for me, was predicated by Rose of Sharon’s whining, naive and irritating presence throughout the rest of the novel.

Jesus Christ Superstar ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

Everyone was raving about JCS in Stratford—rightfully so.  The Broadway-bound production has modern and energetic choreography, concert-style sets and (happily) focused on pitch and blend in the music rather than just volume alone.

Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy were marvelous as Jesus and Mary Magdalene, respectively, but the sensational Josh Young ran away with the show as the conflicted Judas.

The production did not sidestep portraying the crucifixion (as others have), although it did put a heavy Las Vegas-style slant to it.

A Times Square ticker wrapped underneath a stage catwalk to update the audience about times and places.  After Jesus died, the ticker began a succession of bible verses that expanded across the entire backdrop in waves—an affective addition to the show.

This production made the music more likable for me—not good, mind you—just likable.

Richard III ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

Casting Seana McKenna as Richard of Gloucester was not a stunt or a gimmick; she did not play up irony or femininity in Richard’s character.  No, Ms. McKenna embodied Richard III and all his delicious villainy in a virtuoso performance.

Julie Scott’s brilliant makeup for Richard was reminiscent of the Penguin (Danny DeVito) in the 1992 Batman Returns.  (Was Stratford honoring Tim Burton this season?)

Brendan Murray (whom I had seen as an immature Roman prince in Titus) showed professional versatility in his understudy parts during our performance.  Gareth Potter as the late-entering Richmond possessed the necessary stage presence to counter and compliment McKenna’s hypnotic Richard.

I suspected that the ghosts of Richard’s slain enemies would be well-used at the end of the show, and indeed they were—to chilling effect.

The Merry Wives of Windsor ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

I would recommend The Merry Wives of Windsor to anyone simply for the joy of watching Geraint Wyn Davies and Tom Rooney onstage.  Their portrayals of  Sir John Falstaff and Master Francis Ford were delightful and regularly stopped the show with their antics and laugh-lines.

Merry Wives is a fun and frivolous ensemble piece, mainly concerned with the hilarious exploits of Falstaff in his attempts to gain monetary and sexual satisfaction.  The ensemble was steadfast in making a merry production, with one—rather glaring—exception.

A famous Canadian TV actress was cast in a colorful role, one supposes to sell more tickets.  But she either had no energy for or no interest in playing the part—she arrived on stage, delivered her lines matter-of-factly and exited.  The audience noticed—even with other stand-out performances, a standing ovation was decidedly denied to the cast.

Twelfth Night +++ ½

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

Des McAnuff (Big River, Jersey Boys) pulled out all the stops for this production of Twelfth Night.  The sets, costumes and staging were a mash-up of gaudy styles from Victorian to disco and included on-stage entertainments such as golf, tennis and a steam bath.  The many songs by Feste (Ben Carlson) were production numbers with eight to twelve band members, backup singers and concert lighting.

As big as the production itself was, nearly every actor on stage tried to steal the show.  Brian Dennehy (Sir Toby Belch), Tom Rooney (Malvolio), Stephen Ouimette (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) all gave knock-out performances.  Ben Carlson dazzled the audience as a musician, singer and actor.

The oddity, obviously, is that I’ve mentioned none of the leads, even though they were well played—indeed, it felt anticlimactic during the bows to honor the main characters last.

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‘Twill Vex Thy Soul

July 1, 2011

I didn’t mention in my sidebar that I finished Becoming Shakespeare and have since read Richard III and Titus Andronicus.  I’ll be seeing both plays this summer in Stratford, Ontario.

I am not a fan of horror.  I don’t claim to be otherwise.  I have a weak stomach for such things.  I don’t read Stephen King.  I avoid movies with words like ‘nightmare’, ‘scream’, ‘saw’ or ‘massacre’ in the titles.  I liked Misery and Silence of the Lambs at the movie theater, but I’ll never watch them again.

Those of you familiar with Titus Andronicus will understand why I’ve been sleeping with the lights on for the last week.

For everyone else, Titus lands squarely in the horror genre.  Definitely rated R.  I heard the play described as bloody.  I thought I was prepared for bloody Shakespeare.

I sat in the audience while eyes were plucked out in King Lear.  I gazed on Macbeth’s disembodied head as it was paraded around in his own play.  I witnessed the stage-carpeting carnage of Hamlet.  Perhaps less graphic, but equally bone-chilling was  Laurencia’s tongue-lashing of her father and other men in Fuente Ovejuna (by Lope de Vega) after they allowed her to be raped by the local bullies.   Certainly Titus would be no more gruesome than any of these, would it?

Well, yes.  Yes it would.  The word ‘grisly’ is more apropos.  The list of casualties starts in the opening scene.  After that, one should have a notebook to keep score.  But lest you become numb to the routine beheadings, Shakespeare spices things up with macabre maimings.  Several characters are mutilated and left to wander around the stage on morbid display as others make tasteless jokes.

Thankfully, I am finished reading Titus Andronicus.  Now I can laugh haughtily (my favorite pastime!) at Titus references.  I don’t know if it was worth the price, though.

I think I’ll pack my wubby for this year’s Stratford trip.

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2010: My Personal Highlights

December 31, 2010

Since 2004, I’ve reviewed my journal entries for the year to pick out highlights.  I don’t really care about current events; I want to remember what happened to me.  I drop and add categories on a whim, they change from year to year.

2010 was substantially skewed by my trip to Paris with Genevieve.  (If you don’t want to hear me brag more about our trip, stop reading.)  It hardly seems fair to lump the trip in with a normal year when Paris was the highlight of a lifetime.  So I’ve doubled up some of my categories, giving an answer for life outside Paris and what happened during the trip.

My Most Memorable Moment in 2010:

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival continually blows me away with its brilliant staging.  This year was no exception.  I snagged a last-minute seat to The Winter’s Tale because everyone was recommending it.  It was a simple but joyous production.  The final moments were astonishing.  Hermione and Leontes were reunited after years of heartbroken separation (all through acts 4 and 5).  They approached each other on stage slowly, consolingly, lovingly.  The rest of the world had melted away.  When they reached out to embrace each other, the stage went black.

My Most Memorable Moment in Paris:

I got goosebumps when I turned the corner and saw the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.  The same thing happened when we walked up the stairs into Sainte-Chapelle.  But on Friday night, Paris was alive with music, lights and pedestrians, Genevieve and I walked all around Notre Dame and took pictures of the brilliantly lit cathedral.  I talked her into walking along the Seine, looking up at the overflowing ivy and rose window across the river.  Parisians dotted the sidewalk in pairs and groups, wine glasses and bottles in hand—toasting the night, the city, youth, love, destiny and life.  It was irresistible.

The Best Book I Read in 2010:

I’m still not through with Les Misérables, so it will go on the list for 2011.   This year, Lost on Planet China was the best book I read.  It was the best ending I’ve read since The Grapes of Wrath.

The Most Important Thing I Did in 2010:

I came out to my parents.  They took it as well as I might have expected.  Their approach has been to ignore it for the most part.  They don’t want to talk about it.  If you’re reading this news for the first time here, I apologize.  There were lots and lots of phone calls going on at the time.

My Most Uproarious Laughter in 2010:

This category is a perennial favorite of mine.  Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily the funniest story that I can tell others.

I visited my cousin Cecilia at her house after she had a throat surgery.  She couldn’t talk for a week.  So I did all the talking (highly objectionable to most anyone).  Cecilia had a notepad to jot down comments.  I told her about a soapdish that I bought the day before.  Except the word “soapdish” had slipped my mind.  Making do, I settled on “soap-boat.”  Cecilia was unsatisfied and wrote the proper word on her pad and showed it to me.  My own idiocy is always amusing.  I tried to stifle my mirth since I knew Cecilia wasn’t supposed to laugh.  But that just made it all the more humorous.  The gales poured forth.

The Most Uproarious Laughter in Paris:

My birthday was about a week before our Paris trip.  During the trip, I was sick—often in a drug-induced stupor.  (That’s my excuse.)  One night after dinner …

Genevieve: “Oh, by the way, happy birthday!”

Craig: “You’re welcome!”

More gales.

The Most Memorable View:

I was up early to run along the north shore of the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Louisville was waking up to the crisp November morning across the river.  The sun tickled the underbellies of the stratus clouds.  Their reflections of pink and violet glistened off the undulating water.  The iron framework of the disused Old Bridge, hulking and imperious when overhead, receded into intricate lacework downriver, carving the brightening mandarin sky into mosaic panes.

The Most Memorable View in Paris:

Georges Abstraction Surface Restaurant sits atop the Centre Georges Pompidou north of the Seine.  During a peaceful sunset, Genevieve and I sat there too.  Many of our excursions through the week were now at eye level with us—the rooftop of Hotel De Ville, the towers of Notre Dame, the Domes of the Panthéon and Les Invalides and the ever-present Eiffel Tower.  The only interruption of our view was a forest of chic square umbrellas and the long-stemmed red roses that adorned each table.  If Genevieve weren’t my cousin, I might have felt obligated to propose to her.

The Best Music I Heard in 2010:

I attended many excellent concerts and musicals in 2010.  I attended my first Indianapolis International Violin Competition event (the first night of the finals) and saw Clara-Jumi Kan—the eventual winner—play Beethoven’s Concerto in D major, Op. 61.  As wonderful as that was, I’m going to give my nod to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Shakespeare included lyrics for a song Who is Sylvia in Act 4, but there is no official music for it.  Dean Gabourie’s production set the play during the 1920’s with the leads as members of a vaudeville act.  Jonathan Monro’s setting of the tune utilized a phonograph on stage playing period-style recorded accompaniment.  It was sweetly and earnestly delivered by Gareth Potter as Proteus.  I’m disappointed to think that I won’t ever get to hear that tune again.

The Worst Music I Heard in 2010:

Secretariat had all the elements of a great sports movie:  a struggling heroine facing incredible odds as the owner of a horse farm, a promising race-horse, a wise and gruff horse trainer, and the requisite Cinderella ending.  What it lacked, however, was a proper musical score.  I don’t know what Nick Glennie-Smith was thinking of as he wrote this music.  I suspect he was dwelling on the death of a beloved family pet.  I’ve never heard music so morbid.

Scoring a sports movie should be a relative no-brainer: strings play excitedly in twelve-eight time, horns blare on tonic and dominant notes, timpani rolls and cymbals crash at appropriate intervals.  Hell, I could have scored this movie.  I’ll do that in my spare time next year.

The Best Music I Heard in Paris:

On one of our last metro trips, we rode in a car where a clarinetist played a snappy rendition of La Vie en Rose.  Hearing that song wasn’t on our list of things to do, but it made the trip to Paris complete.

The Best Christmas Present of 2010:

I usually don’t rank my Christmas presents.  But Genevieve outdid herself.  She uploaded our Paris pictures to Shutterfly.com and created a phenomenal coffee-table book.  She even reprinted my La Dame de Fer post in it (which I just now realized I misspelled, dammit).  I was thrilled.  I’ll need to rethink the disparaging remarks I made about picture-taking.  The book captures the energy and excitement of the trip as well as the staggering beauty and colossal proportions of the architecture.  It’s almost as much fun to flip through the book reminiscing as it was to go.

My New Friends in 2010:

For extroverts, this entry likely makes no sense.  For me, it is absolutely necessary.  I fail so regularly and miserably at making friends that I need a category to track it.  I’ve actually listed new friends one year who weren’t speaking to me the next year.  (Imagine that.)

Ellen is the daughter of a fellow choir member at my church.  She just moved to Chicago to get into the theatre business.  I applaud her spunk and determination.  At every opportunity this year, I’ve encouraged her in her efforts.

Everyone in my circle left me to my own devices when choosing a school and career.  And everything inside of me at the time said, “Be practical first, then creative.”  I didn’t realize that changing careers after graduating from engineering school would be like climbing Mount Everest without the Sherpas.  I wonder how life might have turned out if someone I trusted and admired had said to me, “You have talent, you need to develop it.”  (Of course, there may be a reason no one said this to me.)

Long story short, Ellen is quite a talented young lady.  I’m hoping to be an encouraging voice in her head to keep plugging away.  We hug whenever we get to talk to each other.  That’s a pretty good definition of friends if you ask me.

The Most Craigo Moment of 2010:

In high school, people started calling me “Craigo.”  I didn’t like it.  But if it is said with the right inflection by people I know and love, it grows on me.  My Craigo moments are the ones where I’m accidentally myself—when I speak before thinking, act before remembering my surroundings or just do something stupid that is completely in-character for me.

The Starbucks staff was cleaning as I walked in.  Most of the floor was freshly mopped.  I hate walking on mopped floors.  It’s so rude.

I ordered my tall vanilla latte where the mopping stopped, barely in reach of the counter.

The barista went to make my drink without taking my money first.  So I waited at the edge of dryness near the cash register.  Like some OCD child, I refused to step in the fresh mopping.

The mopper of floors had stopped and was behind the counter doing something.  I’ve seen him a hundred times.  He’s friendly and we’ve chatted before.  But I was too distracted for chatting.  Why, you ask?  Because I was in the middle of paying.  I had to pay for my drink.  I order, then I pay.  It’s a pre-ordained, universal law.  I would never presume to step outside such a natural law and speak pleasantly to the guy behind the counter.   I was in the middle of paying, teetering at the threshold of fresh mopping.  As I stood there, thinking more on the topic, I considered the mopper was probably impatient for me to leave so he could finish.  So my frozen limbo became more anguished.

Hence, the people at Starbucks think I’m a really weird person who’s not friendly and is scared of water.  I didn’t sit down in Starbucks that night, obviously, since I couldn’t get to any furniture except by boat.  I left, feeling like a nincompoop.

The Coolest Thing I Did in Paris

This is a new, but necessary category.  Genevieve and I attended L’Italienne à Alger at the Opéra Palais Garnier.  (L’Italiana in Algeri if you’re following along in Italian.)  If I didn’t create a category for this, I would have listed it in every other category.  Waiting for the overture to start was the most memorable moment of the year;  the orchestra and singers delivered the best music I heard; the resplendent theatre was the most memorable view.  It was thrilling, engrossing, overwhelming and surreal.  The stage lights glittered off the gilt columns and reliefs around the balconies.  The house was packed with well-heeled and stylishly-coiffed patrons.  They hung over the railing on the upper levels, smiling faces resting on forearms.

Our view only covered about half of the stage.  Our burgundy, fabric-wrapped box was aimed directly at the VIP seats in Box Five.  The opera was in Italian and helpfully translated at the top of the stage into French.  The leads were from Alaska and Ohio.  Just being there was cosmopolitan, exclusive, worldly, cultured, historic and literary.  They could have put on Sesame Street and I would have been overjoyed.  But they put on Rossini and I was insatiable.

When I saw the tickets themselves before the show, I found out that their face value was 25 euros.  I had paid Super Bowl prices through an online reseller.  Strangely enough, it didn’t matter in the end.  I’ve never been someone who would use this kind of superlative, but attending the Paris Opera was—far and away, hands down, without equal—the coolest thing I have ever done.