Saturday, October 31, 2009

Special Halloween Book Review: On Stranger Tides

by Nathan Haney

...And unmoor’d souls may drift on stranger tides
Than those men know of, and be overthrown
By winds that wold not even stir a hair ...
--William Ashbless

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
--Philip K. Dick

Every time I venture into a Tim Powers novel I find myself enthralled, and I cannot say why. Perhaps I find appeal in Powers’ historic breadth and learnedness, or maybe I find Powers’ metaphysical universe intriguing? Either way, Powers never ceases to amaze me. But I emphasize again that I cannot say why he so amazes me. Nor, for that matter, can I place a name on what it is that so draws me to his writings. I typically dislike your everyday, contemporary work of science fiction/ fantasy, and I never found much enjoyment in a thousand pages of historical intrigue, but Powers’ works, contrary to face value, appear different somehow. Indeed, upon closer inspection, they contain a rootedness in reality lost in the works of other contemporary writers in similar genres. Granted, Powers’ works do contain evil clowns, vampires, werewolves, and every other sort of fabulous creature imaginable, but Powers brings a certain symbolic rationality to his works that other writers frankly do not possess.

Powers, born in Buffalo, New York in 1952, grew up in a devout Roman Catholic home. In 1959, Powers and his family moved to California where he later attended The University of Cal State Fullerton. While at Cal, Powers studied English Literature and, in so doing, first met friends and fellow authors James P. Blaylock, K.W. Jeter, and Philip K. Dick. Together these men, along with a few others, began collaborating to write countless books, essays, and poems, continuing to do so up to the present day.

Since the publication of The Drawing of the Dark and The Anubis Gates, Powers has drawn in readers with assurances of terror and a utilization of historic fiction all his own. Readers best recognize Powers by his use of historic oddity, or in other words, his integration of historic fact with fictional obscurity. In addition, Powers brings to his works a fascinating look into the world of the metaphysical, skillfully reshaping the face of history to allow magic a greater role in the enacting of definitive historical events. The result is a memorable and, oftentimes, haunting vision of the world around us.

On Stranger Tides is no exception, with ghosts, incantations, and witch doctors aplenty, lending itself reminiscent of Powers’ earlier works.

Set in the Caribbean region of Haiti during the reign of King George I, On Stranger Tides traces the journey of John Chandagnac, an Englishman and former puppeteer on a quest to avenge his father and reclaim his rightful inheritance. Troubles soon arise, however, when pirates overwhelm his vessel and force John into a crucial predicament: join the crew or die. With his father’s honor ever in mind, John (later dubbed Jack Shandy) chooses life with the crew, not knowing, however, that these pirates sway under the authority of the infamous Blackbeard and not privy to the work that they will soon have in store. What becomes of his decision is a hodgepodge of magic, intrigue, love, and betrayal that is sure to impress most readers. And with appearances by notable historic figures such as Juan Ponce de Leon and the aforementioned Blackbeard, On Stranger Tides is sure to capture the attention of fans from a broad range of literary genres.

Powers’ unique perception of historic fact coupled with his moderate contemporary tone combine to form a grand, somewhat farcical, saga reminiscent of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. But above all, Powers rarely calls the authenticity of the inexplicable into question. As the result, Powers’ works become products of the unknown, eerily realistic and brought to light only by his pronounced theological message.

As a devout Catholic, Powers possesses a chilling appreciation of the reality of good and evil, their struggle, and a beautiful understanding of righteousness under persecution. His works, therefore, commemorate this grand struggle by focusing on a clash between the symbolic powers of East and West as seen through the eyes of some arduous and wayward soul. In each of Powers’ works, redemption and the revelation of Truth are themes dynamic to the development of the central character. Suffering and Christ-like sacrifice also play their parts in the fulfillment of characters’ lives. And of course the realities of sin and judgment remain his foremost theme.

Powers repeatedly makes a point to specify the necessity both of earthly rootedness and Christian self-denial in his books. He fosters in us a healthy reminder of his belief in our need for spiritual awareness while reminding us of our earthly bonds: the Fall, human insufficiency, and our need for a savior. Powers achieves his aim through the lives of his heroes, often placing his protagonists in situations certain to render them harm. Indeed, Powers delights in the humanness of his heroes and takes joy in the reversal of their own self-reliance. He stresses that his heroes are not supermen, possessing deep-seated spiritual gifts, nor are they saints or knights in shining armor, fearless and infallible. Quite to the contrary, Powers’ denotes that his heroes are humans, weak, fallen humans, dependant upon the good graces of a mysterious, but sovereign, higher authority for their provision and made to suffer for their call and greater good.

Powers’ On Stranger Tides borders on the fantastical and perhaps the ridiculous. His attempt at producing historic fiction with twentieth century relevance, while successful, sometimes hinders the clarity of his finer goals and plot points. Nevertheless, Powers’ intriguing storylines, innovative creative methods, and enlightened looks at matters of spirituality and the character and nature of God merit the attention of anyone in search of a fun, exciting, learned, and well-written novel. Trust me, once you start, you won’t want to put it down!

Nathan Haney is a Junior BU English Major.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Movie Review: Bright Star

by Julia Nettles

Ending its run at the Belcourt Theatre this week is Jane Campion's Bright Star, a biopic about John Keats. This film, starring Abbie Cornish and Ben Wishaw, details the affair between Fanny Brawne and Keats through Brawne’s eyes. For those who don’t know the story: Keats and Brawne had a passionate love affair that lasted for two years, until Keats’s unfortunate death at the age of 25. The film details the story through the eyes of Fanny Brawne. Initially the two seem unsuited. Fanny is a much more serious student of fashion, and Keats is rather odd, a silly poet. However, there is an intensity that permeates between them throughout the film; it begins simply with a touch of the hand, and gradually moves to hand holding and then kissing. There is a relative playfulness to Keats and Brawne’s relationship when they are together. One scene in particular that displays this lighthearted affection occurs after the couple’s first kiss. A quite humorous scene that happens while the two are trailing after Fanny’s sister Toots. They sneak kisses and handholding through statue-like stances every time Toots turns around.

It is when the two are apart, however, that their words to each other are poignant and grand, and Cornish’s acting when the two are not with one another is haunting. Fanny Brawne’s soul seems to decay on screen when Keats is not with her. Therefore the ending, which I will not give away with the hope that you will see it, has powerful resonance, and was enough to make everyone in the audience tear up.

The equally intense character Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider) causes what at first looks to be a love triangle. Brown clearly dislikes and feels a rivalry with Brawne from the very beginning, even prior to her relationship with Keats, and uses every opportunity to demonstrate her inferiority. In one scene in particular, Brown tries to prove Fanny a fraud by asking her a trick question about Paradise Lost. At points of the film, it is clear that Brown’s issue with Fanny stems from both her presence in Keats’s life and her possession of Keats’s affections. Brown’s overwhelming regard for John Keats makes him act as a jealous lover at times, and Keats’s relationship with Fanny Brawne was obviously very difficult for him to stomach.

The beautiful Hampstead, London backdrop also has a role in influencing the emotional course of the film, perhaps as much as the characters. The poetry read in the film, for example, is that much more interesting and beautiful because it is read in such a gorgeous place. The trees, the leaves, the grass, the wildflowers all play key roles in this film. Even a butterfly’s cameo adds to the depth of Fanny and John’s romance.

Overall, Bright Star was quite good. Ben Wishaw’s performance as John Keats was seemed natural and authentic, and you won’t soon forget Abbie Cornish’s Fanny Brawne. The film’s narrative generally had a very easy flow, and the score capably mixes serenity and passion in a way that enhances the picture. This is definitely an entertaining “art” film worth seeing at a theatre.

Julia Nettles is a Sophomore BU English Major.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

By Gia Vangieri

What is the first order of business? To quote both the book and the movie, “Let the wild rumpus start!” Director Spike Jonze does just that as we follow Max (played by Max Records) as he plummets into the depths of an uncharted vernal imagination. Max finds his psyche fractioned off and manifested in loveable and dangerous “Wild Things” and becomes their king. It must be noted as word of warning, this PG-rated movie is about a child, but not necessarily for children.

Max runs, tumbles, and sets the screen on fire with a face laden with an inexplicable child instinct—an image caught by verité cinematographer, Lance Acord, whose agile lens chases the young star though the film’s Australian landscape. Breath-taking visuals (only part of which are CGI) are accompanied by the sounds of whirring organs, shouting children, and whimsical percussion, a contribution of stark genius by Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Carter Burwell, film scorer extraordinaire.

While the “Wild Things” will be familiar from the imagery presented in the original children’s book by Maurice Sendak, the plot (adapted by Jonze and Dave Eggers) is strikingly more Freudian. In the book, Max is sent to bed without supper where he dreams up the land of the Wild Things to cure his boredom. The movie exposes Max as the attention-seeking son of a single mother and teenage older sister whose friends trample Max’s igloo. When Max’s mom (Catherine Keener) ignores his calls for her because she is entertaining a male guest (Mark Ruffalo), Max throws a tantrum and runs away, through the woods, and sails on an abandoned boat to where the Wild Things are, a precariously violent place of love where Max runs, plays and rules over the Wild Things as they unleash howls redolent of Walt Whitman.

Even in this dream-land where Max can be king, the Wild Things are quick to recognize he is not magical, can’t protect them from sorrow with his “sorrow-blocking shield,” and is insufficient to rule. Each of the large feathered, clawed, furry, and dirty monsters is characterized with aspects of the personalities of Max and his loved ones. Disappearing KW (Lauren Ambrose) represents his sister; his own feelings of rage, abandonment, vulnerability and love appear in Carol (James Gandolfini); the voice of his mom is echoed in Judith (Catherine O'Hara); and Max’s insecurity and loneliness are divided among Ira (Forest Whitaker), Alexander (Paul Dano), and Douglas (Chris Cooper). In a land as unruly as the child dreaming it up, Max learns to embrace even the most turbulent parts of himself, telling the Wild Things “I’m just Max” before sailing home. KW lets him know “I’d eat you up, I love you so,” Carol howls, and with that, he returns home.

The version of the film Jonze screened when it was first shot and edited in 2006 showed Max as bratty and the monsters as terrifying; children in the audience actually started screaming and crying. He made changes for the 2009 wide release which portray Max as being beautiful but troubled and the monsters as out of control but lovable. This 2009 release captures the very essence of what it is to be a child. As the previews promised, and as the movie beats on the heart like a drum: “There is something wild in all of us.”

Gia Vangieri is a Junior BU English Major.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Twilight Convo on Friday

Just in time for Halloween, the English Club and Sigma Tau Delta present the second annual Twilight lecture at 10:00 in LCVA this Friday, October 30. Dr. Samantha Morgan-Curtis, Teacher of the Year at Tennessee State University, will continue her feminist rhetorical & literary analysis of the Twilight Saga by investigating Meyer’s “revision” of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (in New Moon), the birth of the Team Edward & Team Jacob dichotomy (which owes more to the Rowena-Rebecca pairing in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe than it does to the supposed rivalry between Romeo and Paris), and how the first film “sanitized” what little “realism” the original novel gave us in terms of Bella’s socioeconomic realities. Dr. Morgan-Curtis will preview the film New Moon with visuals and images in keeping with the voluptuousness of Meyer’s Twilight Universe. Last year the room was packed, so get there early for a good seat.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Review: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

by Aaron Briggs

American Pastoral, the Pulitzer Prize winning 1997 novel by Philip Roth, is an elegy to Seymour "Swede" Levov -- a former high-school athlete, childhood idol of his classmates, and hero to his community. Roth uses his recurring narrator, author Nathan Zuckerman, to imagine the tragic destruction of The Swede's happy, conventional, American-dream of an upper class life through the social and political turmoil of the 1960s; it's the story of a sudden slip from the "longed-for American pastoral" into "the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral - into the indigenous American berserk."

If you've never read Philip Roth, here's the quick introduction. Roth is known for his complex but readable prose - he writes with a huge vocabulary and an uncanny ability to "turn sentences around" (as he calls it in "The Ghost Writer"). His novel often blur the distinction between reality and fiction, and he frequently provocatively addresses Jewish-American issues and American identity. American Pastoral rightly feels like his masterwork because it does all of these in equal parts. The novel is rife with confrontation; it's written with an underlying tension that continues to the last heartbreaking page. It's a pleasure to read, but more so a joy to dissect.

American Pastoral is rich and dense with thematic undercurrent that gradually reveals itself along the course of its pages. In the hands of a lesser writer, this breadth of thematic territory could be overwhelming and scattershot, but Roth manages it effortlessly. It's his characters that shoulder the weight of the meaning; these are deep, relatable, archetypical characters, each bolstered with supple backstories rife with politics, economics, social implications, generational rebellion, and those quiet formative moments that shape a person for a lifetime. Ultimately, Roth paints a portrait of three generations of an American family, and the rest of the story shakes out like dust from between the pages.

However, it's equally easy to dismiss Roth's characters (especially Swede Levov) as exaggerations -- impossible monuments that, no matter how flawed, simply don't behave as normal people would behave. But that's the point -- it's important to remember the framing of the story: the entire narrative of the Levov family is created in the mind of Zuckerman, based on only three brief conversations. The story is so immersive, in fact, that there are points in the narrative that we're removed from Zuckerman and Nathan's voice becomes Seymour's voice; it becomes his story as much as it is ours. As effective and believable as it is, ultimately, the entire novel is a construction of the writer Zuckerman. (And Zuckerman is a construction of the writer Roth... so go ahead and add another line of thematic density to your list.)

In the end, Roth (and Zuckerman) use duality to illuminate the thin rifts that divide us: how two very different wars created two very different generations, how strikingly thin is the line between order and disorder (in family, country, self, etc), how differently subsequent generations view the American dream. And as I sit on the precipice of fatherhood, I couldn't help but read the novel as a dissection of how little control parents have in controlling the worldview of their children, and how much influence children have in the worldview of their parents.

Aaron Briggs is a 2003 BU English Alum and winner of the 2003 Ruby P. Treadway Award for Creative Writing. He lives in Nashville with his wife, fellow 2003 BU English Alum Ashley Briggs. They're expecting their first child -- Ansel Franklin Briggs -- in February of 2010.

Aaron works as a Strategist for web design firm CentreSource and a current graduate student in the Distance Education program of San Diego State University, where he is working toward a Master's Degree in Educational Technology. Aaron also works odd weekends at Grimey's New and Preloved Music and continues to write as frequently as possible

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nashville Focus: Beth Pattillo Brings Jane Austen to the Southern Festival of Books

Story by Allison Berwald

Nashville writer Beth Pattillo is one of the many successful authors who spoke at the Southern Festival of Books. On a very rainy Friday, an eager group of friends, fans, and fellow writers gathered to hear Beth and two other authors speak and read selections from their works. Beth read from her forthcoming novel Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, which although not a sequel, is linked in some ways to her previous novel Jane Austen Ruined My Life. Each work traces a heroine’s journey in discovering lost Austen documents and dealing with her own related personal issues, including romance, and includes a society called the Formidables dedicated to protecting Jane’s legacy and secrets. Beth has also written eight other novels, including two about the female minister Betsy and two about a ladies’ knitting society.

In the question and answer session following the readings, Beth Pattillo talked about how conferences and critique groups have been very helpful to her in developing her craft. She views feedback as a key part of the writing process, and she often gains significant insight into the threads and themes in her own writing after getting feedback from her editor. Beth also said that she likes to begin with her main character’s life falling apart, because then there is nowhere to go but up.

I am what Dr. Murray calls an “Austenmaniac,” so I very much enjoyed talking with Beth about Austen and England. I studied in London this summer and took a Jane Austen course, and Beth and I were thrilled to discover an amazing coincidence. She also studied in London during college at the same college as I did (when it had a different name) and lived in the dorm room directly across the hall from the dorm room I lived in! Needless to say, we chatted very excitedly about the school and the surrounding area in such detail as to convince ourselves that we truly stayed in the same place.

Beth and I spoke about how she got the ideas for her Austen stories. She said that there is so much that we do not know about the stories of women throughout history, including Jane Austen. Her novels play with the hypothetical situation of finding those lost parts of Jane’s story, specifically the majority of the letters Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra and the original manuscript of First Impressions, which later became Pride and Prejudice. Beth had previously written other historical romances set in the Regency period as well as contemporary stories. Her Austen novels combine the two elements, using a modern setting to explore Regency material and mysteries.

This dual identity of Beth’s novels allows them to appeal to a wider audience. The “Austenmaniacs” love all things Austen, of course, so a well-written novel in that genre will inevitably have a certain degree of success. Austen’s work seems to bear up even after being taken in many different directions, and Beth is happy to be a part of that. She also describes her books as “semi-Christian fiction.” Her publisher, Guideposts, publishes inspirational and Christian literature, but without strict guidelines such as required faith statements from authors that many publishers have. Her work is written from a Christian perspective but is not evangelical.

Beth Pattillo loves being able to travel around England as research for her books. She has been to many Austen-related sites over the years and found valuable experiences and resources there. In the bookshop at Chawton, the home at which Jane was most productive, she found a chronology of the Austen family members’ lives written by the editor of Jane’s letters that has been profoundly helpful in her writing. She also had to write fictional Austen letters for Jane Austen Ruined My Life, and she listened to audiobooks of Austen novels to get the feel of the rhythm and vocabulary of her writing. Beth continues to follow Jane Austen’s trail by traveling in England, reading her works, and writing about her. Through her novels, she hopes to provide readers with a painless way to read a biography of Austen and to encourage them to read and love Jane’s works.

Allison Berwald is a Senior BU English Major.

English Club Meeting Friday

The English Club will be meeting on Friday, October 23, at 10:00 in WHB 209.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Southern Festival of Books: What’s All the Buzz About?

Story and Images by Cory Pavlinac

During the weekend of October 9-11, Nashville was the southern hub for literature and home to hundreds of loyal devotees to the art of the written word. Set between the columns of the War Memorial Auditorium, booths of publishing companies, libraries, and book sellers lined the plaza, while smoke from the barbecue grills wafted through the crowd, carrying with it an irresistible temptation.

With anywhere from five to ten authors speaking during the same hour, it was difficult to even make a decision as to who to see. Children’s authors included Shellie Braeuner with her book, The Great Dog Wash, as well as John Carter Cash (the son of country/folk legend, Johnny Cash) with his first crack at the genre, Momma Loves Her Little Son. Exuberant readers of all ages shuffled into the War Memorial Auditorium at noon, clutching books like The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Magician’s Elephant, in hopes of leaving with the signature of Kate DiCamillo.

Nonfiction and journalistic writing was represented with award winning authors like David Cullen, who has written extensively on the shootings at Columbine and various societal issues. Writers of scholarly books were present from universities across the nation, giving insight into writing memoir and illustrating the new methods of music journalism. While prose seemed to dominate the scene, poets Diann Blakely and Julie Kane tag teamed in a sultry discourse about jazz and Bourbon Street.

One writer I chose to hear was Joseph Kanon, an author of five novels including his most recent, Stardust, about the Diaspora of a small group of anti-Nazi citizens from the crumbling, post-war Germany to the glimmering paradise of Hollywood in the 1940s. Here was a Hollywood in its prime--“a town of movie stars, palm trees, swimming pools, back patios, and people who didn’t wear neck ties"--the home to an industry that was seeing more consumer activity than at any other time, past or present. During the war, some 85 million people were attending movies on a weekly basis, and Hollywood was becoming the playground for the rich and famous. So it makes sense for a downtrodden, poverty-stricken German escaping the Fascist regime of the Nazis to head to Hollywood. Why live anywhere else? Ironically, as Kanon pointed out, a lot of the German actors in this migration ended up auditioning and taking roles as Nazis in movies. But Kanon’s focus wasn’t so much on the sunny side of Hollywood but on the dark side. Movie executors came under heat for “harboring communists” and were forced into blacklisting the German immigrants in order to save face, their careers, and to keep from being federally persecuted. According to Kanon, “McCarthyism started before McCarthy, in Hollywood.” Stardust is meant to portray this time in Hollywood’s history through a murky lens; much like stardust gets in the way of seeing the cosmos clearly.

The event that created the most “buzz”, without a doubt, was Buzz Aldrin’s lecture at one o’clock on Saturday afternoon. The grandiose War Memorial Auditorium was filled with anticipation and an agitated murmur as elderly men festooned with war medals stretched their necks to catch any signs of life from the back stage door. Then the door opened slowly and before the snowy haired, space veteran could even show his face, the crowd burst into a tumultuous display of admiration. A hero had just entered the room. The highlight of Buzz’s speech was his on-stage exploration of the black hole of his life after returning from his legendary peregrination to the Moon. Much of the same story and sentiment found in his new book, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon. The title of the book has literal and figurative meanings. It’s “a magnificent testimony to the progress of mankind” and a simultaneous nod to the uninhabitable characteristics of the Moon. The title also describes Buzz’s own magnificent opportunity of the Apollo mission and the desolation of a life steeped in depression and alcohol after returning. The lecture was not without some lighthearted astronaut humor, however, as Buzz joked chauvinistically about the true consistency of the Moon: “the Moon doesn’t have Swiss cheese on it, it has American cheese.”

Cory Pavlinac is a Junior BU English Major.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shakespeare at Staunton

Story and Images by Michael Huff

This past weekend of October 9th-11th eleven brave students--along with Shakespearian scholars Dr. James Wells and Provost Marsha McDonald, and guests Dr. Bryce Sullivan and wife Beth--loaded onto what appeared to be a healthy charter bus bound for Staunton, Virginia. We were a motley crew of varied ages and disciplines – English, Accounting, Biology, and Theatre majors ranging from Freshman to Seniors. But then, some thirty miles from Staunton, our bus gave up the ghost. If only bus-engines responded to recitations, we would have been right on our way. Luckily, one scenic rest stop and a few bizarre taxi drivers later, we overcame the only notable trial of our trip and entered the lovely Staunton, Virginia for a weekend full of theatre and good company.

Staunton (pronounced “Stanton”) is a charming town where New England meets Appalachia. The Shenandoah Valley blushed with fall foliage, the Blue Ridge Mountains hemmed us in, and the light rain only served to cool the air and our humors for the exciting day-full of theatre to come. We were treated to a tour of The Blackfriars Theatre where we learned of its prestigious ancestry. The Staunton theatre is a recreation of one by the same name in Renaissance period London. The King’s Men, including William Shakespeare, used the original Globe theatre for their summer performances and the Blackfriars theatre for their winter performance. The original play-house was built within a former monastery, named Blackfriars for the black habits worn by its monks.

The resident theatre troupe originated as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in 1999 before changing their name to American Shakespeare Center in 2005 as their mission broadened. They now maintain one traveling troupe, one resident troupe and work year-round doing performances and workshops at the theatre. Collaborating with Mary Baldwin College in town, the theatre offers enhanced learning for the graduate MLit/MFA students in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature Performance, the only degree of its kind.

Along with its faithfulness to the original architecture, the new theatre is notable for continuing tradition of, as their slogan goes, “doing it with the lights on.” Like the original Blackfriars theatre, the players perform in universal lighting, lights set equally on the audience as on the players. This allows the players to direct their comments directly to audience members, or even to call them to interact. I had never experienced a play in this way, and can say that hearing King Henry IV give his rousing monologue--“So shaken as we are, so wan with care,/Find we a time for frightened peace to pant,/And breathe short-winded accents of new broils/to be commenced in strands afar remote,”--while looking person after person directly in the eye was powerful indeed.

The players preserve other traditions too. Before the play begins a couple of players perform a humorous pre-show. During the interludes the players stand in the balcony near the Lords’ chairs and perform contemporary folk and pop tunes, just as players did in the original Blackfriars theatre. I had never matched Jeff Tweedy’s verse with Shakespeare’s, but the players’ performance of the Wilco song “I’m Always in Love” in the interlude of Much Ado About Nothing proved a fun and appropriate match for the comedy.

The first night we were treated to a rarely performed piece of Restoration drama, George Villiers’s The Rehearsal. The play satirizes drama conventions of the time, featuring a harebrained playwright and his troupe rehearsing his newest work based on all the “new rules of writing” he has discovered, such as: one should begin and end the action of a play without ever revealing a plot, and most combustive, that there should be a dance at the end of each act. This meta-theatrical circus was rambunctious and hilarious, and as Drs. Wells and McDonald remarked, prefigured absurdist theatre some time before such notable absurdist playwrights as Samuel Beckett. The satirical criticisms made by the play were all the more relevant for the troupe’s inclusion of twenty-first century clownery, like a slow-motion battle sequence and a performance of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller."

We returned Saturday afternoon to see The First Part of King Henry IV, the second part of Shakespeare’s History tetralogy. Rarely performed, it was a pleasure to see, and upon polling the students was the overwhelming favorite. This may have been in part because many of us seized the opportunity to view this play from on-stage, making the action and drama especially palpable. The royal battles of wits were sharpened and sword-fights intensified when occurring just before our faces. “I had never seen a fight sequence quite like that on stage before,” said Crystal Gimesh, senior English Education major. ”All of the scenes that I was wondering how they would act out completely met my expectations and were even funnier at times,” said Michael Bailey, senior French Major, “One of my favorite scenes was when Prince Henry was messing with Francis the drawer who was torn between his duties - and any time Falstaff woke up with a hangover,” which was quite often.

Michael was not alone in his enjoyment of Falstaff. We were all seriously wooed by the all too lovable, doomed, and rotund clown played by the excellent James Keegan. Callie Compton gushed, “when he made his entrance, he touched my face!” And when Falstaff approached me with his giant belly during a battle sequence and requested my seat-cushion I was happy to provide it. The unique interaction the Blackfriar troupe has with its audience makes the experience especially memorable, which was only enhanced by sitting on stage for this performance.

Finally we ended with the comedic Much Ado About Nothing. The troupe’s production of the play was lighthearted and even slapstick at times. One difficulty with the text and production, as Dr. Wells proposed, is that the comedy is tripped by some near-tragic events in the play’s middle. After Hero’s apparent (but faked) death, it was only Christopher Seiler playing a bumbling and excited Dogberry that kept the play from sinking into complete tragedy before the conflicts’ resolution. The buffoonery made it more immediate, but at the sacrifice of some of the play’s ambiguity. Crystal offered her take: “I like Much Ado, but I thought of Benedick and Beatrice may have relied to much on physical comedy and made them less serious.”

Between plays we did have time to descend on the town. Some of us discovered the Darjeeling Tea Room, unique shops like the Once Upon a Time Clock Work, the Trinity Episcopal Church, and no shortage of relaxing coffee shops on the corners. Dinner together at Emilio's Saturday night offered some rousing conversation and one last hurrah before packing up to head home. I think I can speak for the group when I say it was an enjoyable and educational trip. I had never seen Shakespeare produced in the spirit of Blackfriar’s troupe, and I will certainly not soon forget how John Falstaff, the blimp, stole my seat cushion to fake his death upon.

Writing this from the bus ride home, saying goodbye to Virginia’s fall foliage and trusting that this new bus will be a more formidable vehicle than our first, we reflected on our experience together: “It was actually like a miniature vacation, getting to go see these plays and be charmed by the town” said Melanie Bond, freshman English major, and to any considering the trip next year, Callie said, "Certainly do it, it’s definitely worth the price and you’ll be in good company, both an educational and entertaining experience. You don’t have to be a Shakespeare connoisseur, or even to have been to many plays before to enjoy the experience.” So there you have it: plays, a lovely town, some stops at McDonalds to stay college kosher, and to top it off you get to meet Sir Falstaff.

Many thanks to Dr. Wells, Dr. Sullivan, Dr. McDonald, and all who made this trip possible.

Michael Huff is a Senior BU English Major.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dr. Wells' Shakespeare Edition Published

Dr. James Wells' New Kittredge edition of The Second Part of King Henry IV by William Shakespeare has been published by Focus Publishing. One review of the book says the book "is an exciting new edition, with a clear and lively introduction that succinctly captures the play's complexity and challenges," and that Dr. Wells' "discussion of the play's relationship with Henry IV, Part One is especially thoughtful, and his attention to performance and film history is extremely valuable." Congratulations, Dr. Wells!