A gross capsule summary: what is legal is not always moral, and what is moral is not always legal. True democracy can exist only when citizens exercisA gross capsule summary: what is legal is not always moral, and what is moral is not always legal. True democracy can exist only when citizens exercise their power to disobey and disrupt an unjust state, often by breaking the laws of the state.
About 20% of this book is Sher's recollection of South Africa-- of his family, his favorite vacation spots, and of the ugly political realities. My inAbout 20% of this book is Sher's recollection of South Africa-- of his family, his favorite vacation spots, and of the ugly political realities. My interest in these subjects only stretches so far, and those chapters always slightly overstay their welcome. But the chapters about acting and theater are fascinating-- intensely so.
Sher is never satisfied with giving a "good" performance. His work must be excellent, the best it can possibly be. Furthermore, it must be something out of left field, a clever approach you wouldn't have anticipated. This holds even for the most famous parts, like Cyrano de Bergerac, Dr. Astrov, Josef K., Macbeth, and, of course, Richard III.
I may expand on this review later, since this book felt rather significant, but I skipped a few chapters, and so I must refrain for now....more
I enjoyed this book phenomenally. It serves as a reminder of the best parts of the theater acting process, parts which are easy for an amateur like meI enjoyed this book phenomenally. It serves as a reminder of the best parts of the theater acting process, parts which are easy for an amateur like me to lose track of when I sometimes get stuck in the mire of substandard school and community theater environments.
Sher's dedication to his art is inspiring: the massive amounts of mental energy he devotes to the part, his daily habits of practice, and his constant effort to keep up to snuff all go to show that the most successful people in their field have landed where they are because they care enough to make others care.
Sher has an amazing mind. Sharp, insightful, interesting, and with a keen sense of history. The long list of names he draws up (plays and characters, actors contemporary and old, companies, directors, and famous productions) hit with total relevance, because they tell the story of classical theater in modern times. It's a story which I'm glad to have learned (and, in a small way, inhabited) after him and people like him.
I'm a Henriad freak, and I came to this book after having seen Sher in the two productions he's writing on. I share his love for and familiarity with the plays, and after having seen his productions, I even know his castmates-- whenever he mentions Alex Hassell (Prince Hal), Tony Byrne (Ancient Pistol), or Oliver Ford Davies (Robert Shallow), their faces come up clear in my mind. That's quite a treat, and a privilege, since readers seldom sync up with their authors so closely!
My reverse-chronological tour of the Antony Sher memoirs ends today, inadvertently with the most famous and widely-read one. This book was written 15My reverse-chronological tour of the Antony Sher memoirs ends today, inadvertently with the most famous and widely-read one. This book was written 15 years before Beside Myself and 30 years before Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries. It may have done me good to read these in the order Sher wrote them. His nervousness and discomfort are intense in this book, though understandable when you consider the man who wrote them: a closeted homosexual in the 1980s, performing a leading role with the RSC for the first time in his life. Still, it's vexing when Malcolm Storry (who so uncomplainingly performs as Buckingham, Richard's constant sidekick) inquires if Sher will take a supporting role next to him in a contemporary play, and then is subject to days of Sher hemming and hawing about whether the part on offer is juicy enough.
The first half of this book is hardly about Richard at all, and instead focuses on his performances as King Lear's Fool and Tartuffe, the roles he took while considering the Richard offer. Those early chapters are interesting in themselves, and as useful to the actor playing those roles as the later chapters are to prospective crookbacks.
Also present in this early memoir, and not so much in the later memoirs, is a portrait of the RSC in its prime. Anecdotes and conversations with people like Kenneth Branagh, Brian Blessed, and Michael Gambon abound.
Sher is a sharp and pithy commentator, not only on the theatre, but on himself. That, in this book, he had yet to transition into the generous, nonjudgmental, and supremely observant figure of his old age is no fault....more
What's the purpose of reading a classic sci-fi/comedy novel? To be swept up on a lighthearted picaresque adventure, I suppose. So, does Hitchhiker's GWhat's the purpose of reading a classic sci-fi/comedy novel? To be swept up on a lighthearted picaresque adventure, I suppose. So, does Hitchhiker's Guide deliver on that? Not terribly. Most of the plot depends on inexplicably random twists of fate which scream "too-clever English novelist." Here's a novel that employs frequently-occurring extreme statistical improbabilities and mice revealing themselves as the most intelligent beings in the universe as movers of story. When everything happens so randomly, and is so detached from cause and effect, plot loses its drama and tension.
So, that's too bad. But how are the characters? Er, not very good. Here are our protagonists: Arthur Dent, an oblivious cipher who, as the aforementioned superintelligent mice say, is basically only good for blurting out "What?" and "I don't understand." Ford Prefect, a space-faring literary editor whose main personality trait is... competence? I guess? Or maybe composure? He's a very even-keeled guy. Zaphod Beeblebrox, president of the galaxy. He's supposed to be a rebellious, absent-minded genius, but we never get any reason to believe that, aside from being told that it's true. And, finally, Trillian, a Gal Friday of such epic proportions that her snarky asides of "oh, men!" are so tossed-off and inconsequential as to be negligible.
So, we're out of luck with characters, too. But is the book funny? Yes, here and there, if you're in the mood for a frustrated snort induced by world weary Vonnegut-style social satire. So, at least there's that.
I was really hoping to like this book, since I tick off a lot of the boxes (Monty Python, Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett, radio theater) but it just didn't work for me....more
I just finished performing as Dr. Rank in a very shabby production of this play, so I'm not feeling very generous. It feels like a less poetical, lessI just finished performing as Dr. Rank in a very shabby production of this play, so I'm not feeling very generous. It feels like a less poetical, less transcendent, and more opaquely literal Chekhov play. But performing in a play isn't the same as reading a play, and so I'm open to my mind being changed....more
On the plus side, it's a handsome little book. Neatly organized into short chapters, with frequent quotation of Shakespeare and his peers, and generouOn the plus side, it's a handsome little book. Neatly organized into short chapters, with frequent quotation of Shakespeare and his peers, and generously illustrated with relevant photography and engravings and paintings from the renaissance.
However, it's definitely an introduction: it's all pretty fundamental, and probably won't surprise any Shakespeare buff. It also pulls the trick of containing just enough editorializing and outdated criticism to preclude itself from being an entirely useful introduction. Haha. Oops....more
The editor of my edition attests that Adolphe, not Ellenore, is the main artistic achievement of this novel. I like that. Adolphe, so likable and famiThe editor of my edition attests that Adolphe, not Ellenore, is the main artistic achievement of this novel. I like that. Adolphe, so likable and familiar at first, quickly becomes truly detestable: abusive, inconstant (hey hey) and cowardly, Adolphe's failing qualities reach much further and deeper than he knows.
[Note that I don't aim to excuse Ellenore's conduct by emphasizing Adolphe's. Ellenore can be a sort of harridan, torturing her lover from her bedroom-throne. But what she does onto Adolphe is a repetition of what he first does to her, and Adolphe surely puts himself ahead in this blame game by initiating the entire ordeal with such brash single-mindedness, and then seeming to tire so quickly of what he's won. On the other hand, assigning blame and degrees of naughtiness to fictional characters is horribly boring, and ultimately serves to rob the bigger picture of its majesty. Let's forget we ever had this discussion, shall we?]
As others on this page have mentioned, the first third of this book is a thing of beauty: all delicious 19th century swoon and melodrama. While I would have preferred for that narrative strand to be preserved throughout the rest of the book (though it does remain in the book to some extent: Adolphe's obsession with his own pain is itself a kind of love affair), the gewgaw trappings of the romance novel you start out with eventually wear away to reveal a troubling piece of psychological fiction....more
**spoiler alert** Okay. I liked it. But I have questions.
- Why does no one care that McGonagall has given Hermione a Time-Turner? It's a blatant act o**spoiler alert** Okay. I liked it. But I have questions.
- Why does no one care that McGonagall has given Hermione a Time-Turner? It's a blatant act of nepotism, and horribly unfair to the other students. What does McGonagall have to gain by favoring Hermione? Even if Hermione was her very favorite student, giving her a Time-Turner seems very out-of-character and altogether irrelevant to the quality of her education.
- Just how intelligent are hippogriffs? They understand human language, since they're able to comrehend insults. Actually, that goes beyond understanding English-- that's basically speaking English! Why are hippogriffs treated like animals if they have human or near-human intelligence?
- Why does the broomstick shop accept as a customer a cat with access to an accused murderer's bank account?
- Why do the Dursleys take in Harry after he inflates Aunt Marge? They're so deathfully afraid of magic, and here Harry actually uses magic to cause bodily harm to someone Petunia loves. You'd think that Harry would be kicked out for good after that-- sent to juvie or given up for teenage adoption or something. But nope, Vernon takes him back home like a stupid rube, like nothing ever happened. There's probably some hand-waving explanation at the beginning of the next book about how Petunia has never been more nervous about Harry being in the house. Sigh.
I had other questions, but I can't remember them now. It's 4am and I wanted to jot my initial responses down.
This book almost lost me, and I found it pretty tedious roundabouts page 300. All the stuff about Quidditch, Crookshanks, and Buckbeak felt totally extraneous and a waste of time. Of course, most of it wasn't extraneous, but Rowling certainly has a way of testing her readers' patience and daring them to stop reading when there are twists unfolding just around the corner. These books sure do drag when they're about three fourths done, though.
The Sirius Black/Remus Lupin friendship is the true heart of the novel, and it's a good one. Sirius and Lupin are probably the most compelling characters in the series as of the end of book three. It's too bad they had to be disposed of. I would've really liked for Lupin to have stayed as the Dark Arts professor, and I don't find that it's a narrative necessity for him to leave. But the bittersweet brevity of his employment at Hogwarts is the whole point, I suppose. Sigh.
If I was a little more open and a little less cynical, Sirius' letter to Harry would probably make me cry. So very sweet....more
Rowling was not joking when she described herself as a more moral Roald Dahl-- this book is weighed down by the sheer goodness of those the story requRowling was not joking when she described herself as a more moral Roald Dahl-- this book is weighed down by the sheer goodness of those the story requires to be good, and the sheer badness of those required to be bad.
Of course Harry and Hermione (and to a lesser extent, Ron) are all perfectly upstanding kid-lit heroes, that's not what I'm really concerned with. What I'm actually terribly bored by is the lazy, unimaginative predictability of characters like Draco Malfoy and his father. If Slytherin and its students are such a problem (and have been for all of recorded history, according to the developments of this book) then why the hell is it still extent as a house of Hogwarts? That's the unanswerable Potter question, I suppose.
I quite liked the Aragog subplot. The mystery and nobility of the Forbidden Forest dwellers was also one of my favorite parts of the (superior) first book. The stuff in the middle with Nearly-Headless Nick was good fun as well. Very Terry Pratchett, and very British. It's no wonder they got John Cleese to play that part in the films. I liked Gilderoy Lockhart, too-- that is, until the last moments of the novel, when his harmless comic narcissism turned into murderous and evil narcissism for no reason at all. I guess it fits into Rowling's larger project of teaching morality, a project which eludes (and slightly annoys) me....more
Shakespeare's comedies tend to be hit or miss for me. I much prefer the dark and ambiguous comedies (like Midsummer and Twelfth Night) to the light anShakespeare's comedies tend to be hit or miss for me. I much prefer the dark and ambiguous comedies (like Midsummer and Twelfth Night) to the light and fanciful ones (like Errors and Shrew), and I'll take the strange and colorful cast of a play like Merry Wives before the endless procession of Italian lords and ladies found in Much Ado.
So, As You Like It has always been a hard sell for me, not the least because it was the first Shakespeare play I ever saw, in a poorly done and barely audible outdoors production. By chance, I saw another As You Like It not long after the first, and I only liked it a bit better. Those experiences put me off AYLI for a long time, and they might've even put me off Shakespeare itself for a bit.
Cut to the present day: I hear that a production of AYLI is being cast at school, and I regret that the director didn't pick a better show. I try to think of which role might suit me, only to realize that I've never read the damn thing. I've only seen those two subpar stagings.
I just finished my first go-around with As You Like It as it exists on paper, and I still prefer the wild and woolly personages of the other comedies. Rosalind, Orlando, Jaques, and crew are a pretty tame bunch compared to the spiteful Oberon, the ambitious Malvolio, and even the strange Welshman Hugh Evans. But in AYLI, it's the simplicity and kindness of the characters that really stands out.
PHEBE Good shepherd, tell this youth what 'tis to love.
SILVIUS It is to be all made of sighs and tears; And so am I for Phebe.
PHEBE And I for Ganymede.
ORLANDO And I for Rosalind.
ROSALIND And I for no woman.
SILVIUS It is to be all made of faith and service; And so am I for Phebe.
PHEBE And I for Ganymede.
ORLANDO And I for Rosalind.
ROSALIND And I for no woman.
SILVIUS It is to be all made of fantasy, All made of passion and all made of wishes, All adoration, duty, and observance, All humbleness, all patience and impatience, All purity, all trial, all observance; And so am I for Phebe.
PHEBE And so am I for Ganymede.
ORLANDO And so am I for Rosalind.
ROSALIND And so am I for no woman.
PHEBE If this be so, why blame you me to love you?
Chekhov's plays are so utterly similar to each other, it's very tempting to enjoy them less and less as you go through them. This is my third.
AnotherChekhov's plays are so utterly similar to each other, it's very tempting to enjoy them less and less as you go through them. This is my third.
Another thing about Chekhov's plays is that they're incredibly elusive, and recording your impressions immediately after having read one (as I'm doing now) is overhasty. It took me months to begin to come to a conclusion on The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. So, I won't pretend to have a 360 degree view on Vanya just now. I have a handful of strong, positive first impressions, though.
The fight between Serebryakov and Vanya in Act III is hilarious. Astrov's doom-laden monologue at the beginning of Act III is powerful. My translation, by van Itallie, has him intoning such phrases as "This is a map of destruction, which in ten or fifteen years will be complete." That's straight out of a movie trailer! BWWWWAAAAAAAAAMMMMM.
As a theater person, it's a sheer impossibility that my relationship with Uncle Vanya is over. I look forward to going deeper down....more