Paul and I did kind of a tri-county tour of school theater productions his siblings were in for the weekend. Working Saturday made it a bit annoying for me, just because it meant little downtime at home. I don’t like doing things after work. I like going home after work and that’s it.

We went out to Greensburg first to see Emily in “The Tempest,” only significantly shortened and set in space, so basically, it was “Forbidden Planet” onstage. It was fun. Emily played Miranda, and at this point we’ve gone to a few of their shows and have seen a few of her friends at literary events over in Pittsburgh, so they’re familiar faces and they remember who we are, too. Their dad said it was a bit over-the-top, and Paul and I were like…of course it was over-the-top! I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point.

We went out to dinner with the cast and crew after, which was fun but also a reminder of how we’re kind of at a really different place in our lives, mostly in terms of schedules. We’re used to early nights and early mornings, while they’re college kids who stay up late, so being out until around 11 and not getting home until midnight was rough. I fell asleep while Paul was driving us home.

So praise Sunday matinees! The thing about marrying someone who went to your high school and has fiver younger siblings is you’re never really away from that school’s orbit, at least not for several years–we’ve been together for like 7 1/2 years at this point, and his youngest brother’s still got a few to go before he graduates. But I didn’t hate my high-school years, and for the most part, I kind of like going back. I think it’s one of those things where you enjoy it for the first year or so after you graduate, when you still have friends there, and then when they’re gone, it’s more of, “When will I ever be free?” and now it’s, “Oh, this is nice.” I like seeing the teachers that were good, and the musical this time was good, too. They did Footloose, and I was honestly impressed with the lead. Jonathan only had a small part, but I was impressed he even tried out for it.

We hung out at my parents’ house while Jonathan was at his cast party a few minutes away, then picked him up, took him home, and hung out with the in-laws for a bit before heading home.

I spent my Monday off sleeping in and lounging around, then headed out to have Friend Emily, not Sister Emily, dye my hair. It’s been in need of it for a good few months, but we’ve been busy and on top of that, she tends to book about a month in advance, so I had a good while before I made it back. But it was almost worth it–I really liked having subtle pink-ish hair, but I was itching to take it farther, so now we’ve gone full bright pink and I love it.

Whether You Like It or Not

I’m not sure how I actually stumbled on Hedwig & the Angry Inch. All I know is I watched the movie and based on the description, expected something more along the lines of a comedy. And don’t get me wrong, it definitely is funny, but it was also so much more serious and moving than I expected going in. Maybe those expectations are why I like it so much–it’s one thing to go into something and come out let down, but it’s entirely different to go in expecting something lighthearted and come out impressed.

I really wanted to go see it on Broadway last year. Being a fan of it was enough, but the cast they had of Hedwigs was ridiculous. Neil Patrick Harris kicked it off, creator and original star John Cameron Mitchell returned for a run, Darren Criss of Glee and A Very Potter Musical fame did it, and even Taye Diggs took a turn. On one trip to the casino, I said that if I hit, I was going home and booking a flight to New York and scoring Hedwig tickets. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I knew that these things usually come around on tours.

And it did, for a whopping two nights in Pittsburgh. I’d shown Brandon the movie back when I first saw it, as I always did when I watched something I really liked when I was still living at home–I mean, I still do it now, but when you live with someone, it’s way easier to sit them down and make them watch a movie with you–so he said he’d go with me. We ditched our significant others for the evening and just went out on our own. I think Paul would probably like it, but I’d rather show him (and Kelly) the movie first before spending money on tickets to a show he may end up not liking after all.

And then when I went to order tickets, I got lucky–there were seats available in the second row. Normally, those are pretty expensive, but I guess since Hedwig doesn’t have the same draw as, like, the Hamilton tour will, they were cheaper. I saw it as an opportunity. Not only are those rare, but I was totally comfortable paying that price to get them and until we’re all totally rich later in life, this is one of the few chances we’re gonna get to do that. So I went for it.

So we get to the theater, and I’m pumped for these second-row seats. And then the usher takes us to…not the second row. It was a second row–the second row of the house seats–but the ones I thought I’d paid for were even closer, up in the director’s circle. At first, I thought that in my excitement ordering, I’d looked at something wrong and not ordered what I thought I was ordering, but then I looked at the tickets. Nope, they were for something like row BB, and we’d been taken to just regular B. So I asked another usher on my way back from a bathroom trip and sure enough, she took me to where I was sure I belonged, and I waved Brandon up to follow. For some reason, the ushers were off their game that night, because a girl nearby had the opposite problem where an usher took her to a seat that was better than what she’d paid for, which caused some confusion when the people who had paid for those seats showed up. It was strange. I’ve never had that happen before, let alone seen it happen to someone else the same night.

Having seats that close was really cool. For a more conventional show, I might not do it–being that close can actually make it tough to see what’s happening, but because Hedwig is presented as almost more of a concert, that wasn’t really an issue. And because you’re so close, you feel like you and the people around you are the only ones there. Sure, you can hear the cheering and applause behind you, but all you see is the row in front of you, the stage, and the people in the immediate vicinity. I was really glad I went for it, even when we were in danger of being groped and spit on by Hedwig. Like I said, more like a concert.

And that’s the major difference between the movie and the stage show, which I knew–the format of the show wouldn’t translate well to film, honestly. The film takes a more standard narrative approach, where you watch things happen and play out. But again, onstage, it’s more like a concert. The cast is just Hedwig and her band performing right in front of you, and rather than watch a story unfold, it’s like you’re actually at Hedwig’s concert. She tells you about herself and her life, and in that sense, it is exactly like the movie, just presented differently. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a clear plot, because it does, and in a very typical sense. You have character development, you have a narrative arc with a climax and denouement, all that.

On the whole, it’s a serious, moving story about Hedwig’s botched gender reassignment, hence the “angry inch,” and he relationship with an aspiring rock star who essentially steals her songs and hits it big with them. And although it’s a pretty funny show packed with wit, you’re essentially watching Hedwig become more and more unhinged, being hostile and even aggressive toward her band until she completely loses it in the end. But I think what I love about it and what makes Hedwig more sympathetic than one might expect is that she’s angry, and for good reason. Sure, the issues of sexuality and gender that the show explores are something I can’t relate to, but I totally relate to Hedwig when it comes to how upset and angry she is. Maybe not for the same reasons, as I’ve obviously never had a lover steal my work and become hugely successful with it, but I have been there emotionally. And even if one hasn’t, it’s not hard to feel bad for her and feel like she’s been put through shit she doesn’t deserve. And although those things don’t justify how she behaves, they explain it.

Maybe that’s why I’m so moved at the very end and cried a little during the final song. Which is a great song, by the way. They all are, even taken out of context.

And despite its at times serious tone, humor is one of its strengths, with plenty of wit thrown into the lines and characters. I don’t know who’s responsible for this, but I have to give them credit–many of the jokes and references were to local things. One of the second-row perks was being able to hear Hedwig yell, “Too many fucking PIEROGIS!” when one of her costumes wasn’t zipping, and one of our favorites was a line about going to Eat ‘N’ Park, where Hedwig “neither ate nor parked.” A blog post I stumbled upon later from a North Carolinan said Hedwig mentioned the controversial bathroom bill, saying that she couldn’t use any public bathrooms in the state. There was also a running gag about Hedwig following a shortened run of Hurt Locker: The Musical, and they went so far as to scatter fake programs for it all over the theater so that they littered the floor when you came in. When I first saw them, I thought they were leftovers from the previous night’s show, then I remember that 1) the Benedum cleans and 2) the previous night’s show would’ve been Hedwig, meaning that even if I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see that they clearly said Hurt Locker, they still obviously looked nothing like the Hedwig programs. After their purpose became more obvious, Brandon and I grabbed a couple as we left just out of curiosity, and the effort put into them was ridiculous. They’re much shorter than a real program would be, but they still include photos and bios for the fake cast. Some poke fun at actual actors, but others make fun of theater and the entertainment industry in general.

And of course, the cast/band was excellent. With so many high-profile Hedwigs gracing the stage on Broadway, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with high hopes from the touring cast, and they absolutely delivered. Hedwig sounded great and had the perfect attitude and was so fun to watch.

The whole thing was great, and I loved it. I hope it makes a return.

Aren’t spring colds great?

Paul got one from his tai chi teacher, most likely, then passed it to me. I wasn’t feeling too great last Wednesday and thought I’d call off maybe Thursday or Friday to give myself a day, and then I ended up sleeping like shit Wednesday night–I woke up hourly starting at midnight until the time our alarm goes off. So when it did, Paul got up and got ready for work and I called off, took a Benadryl, and went back to sleep until about 1 in the afternoon.

But man, did I feel a lot better!

I mentioned that I’ve started to do theater reviews, and my very first one was set for Thursday night. I felt kind of bad calling off then going to a play that evening, but there was such a drastic improvement in how I felt that I couldn’t feel too bad. I mean, it was the difference between being tired and congested versus well-rested and slightly less congested.

The play, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, was really cool. I highly recommend seeing it, but don’t read much about it beforehand. It ruins the fun and surprise. I found a review from when Nathan Lane did it that had this amazing opening line, but it ruined way too much of the plot and themes. At least I read that after I saw it.

We weren’t out too late, but I had trouble falling asleep when we did get in–sleeping an extra eight hours will do that to you. I think it caused a regression, because I felt slightly worse the next day and I’ve kind of been fluctuating ever since. I went into work just fine Friday and Saturday with just some sniffles and feeling a little run-down, but I spent my day off yesterday with sinus pain under my right eye and in my jaw. That was significantly better today, but I still have pain around my jaw and ear. I was afraid going to work and especially wearing big headphones would just make it worse, so after some deliberation, I called off again, took a Benadryl again, and slept in again, this time only until about 11.

I’m hoping this is out of my system by the weekend–I’d told a professor I’m interested in reading at alumni night at my alma mater, and I’m concerned doing that might end up being a terrible idea. Apprehension about doing it isn’t helping, either. Some of the others reading are featured in an alumni anthology the school released, and I’ve convinced myself that they’re all gonna be way better and I am not worthy of reading among them. Currently, my plan isn’t to bail entirely but to read something really, really short. It’s a piece I actually feel really good about, but it’s also so short that if I’m still congested and feeling shitty, I’ll be up there reading only for a few minutes.

Speaking of feeling unworthy and general writers’ anxiety, I was convinced that my review of White Rabbit Red Rabbit was gonna suck. The very first piece for a new publication/editor is tough. When I was trying to explain the feeling to Terra the other night, I likened it to the first day of a college class with a professor you’ve never had before–you don’t know what they expect of you, you don’t know how they grade, you don’t know how tough they are. At first, I thought, “Oh, my God, who the fuck do I think I am, reviewing a play? I’m nowhere near qualified to do this,” despite the fact that the editorial staff clearly felt otherwise, or they wouldn’t have taken me on. Despite the fact I usually see a couple show a year. Despite the fact that I’ve been in shows and took an acting class as an elective in college. I also picked a doozy of a play to start off with–a one-man interactive play that really deserves to be kept spoiler-free.

I was also convinced that my editor would want extensive changes, which is how I’ve felt every time I’ve started writing for someone new. And it has yet to happen. In fact, this time around, he said he loved my review and that I did a great job, and all he asked for was a little more discussion of the actor’s performance.

Validation accepted.

The Diary of Anne Frank

I don’t know what other people’s experiences of learning about the Holocaust were, especially people my age. I might be wrong, but I imagine being shocked and horrified when they learned about it in school. I might be wrong, but I feel like I was in a minority that knew about it long before it was taught in school.

My dad’s always been a World War II buff and a history buff in general, so I was exposed to a lot as a kid that others might not have been. We took weekend trips to Gettysburg for years, and R-rated movies that were based on historical events were fair game for viewing. My dad felt that history was important and wasn’t something we should’ve been shielded from, which is an attitude I strangely respect and admire–and using those words to describe something my dad did is pretty rare. He actually wanted to take me to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. on a trip as a kid, but at least at the time, you had to be 12 to go through and I was not.

I was fascinated by the Holocaust, which feels like the wrong word to use–disrespectful and voyeuristic, almost, but it’s the best I can come up with. I was astounded that someone could be filled with so much hate for a group of people and could be so horrible and do such horrible things. I still have an interest in memoirs of survivors or documentaries and movies, and like my dad, I think they’re important.

Strangely, despite having an old copy of my mom’s I never actually read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” My reading habits have pretty much always been the same–I’ll read just about anything, but that means I’m surrounded by stacks of unread books and I get to a book when I get to it. But I remember probably around the time I was in 6th grade–maybe around the late ’90s, early 2000s–there was either a mini-series or TV movie on about Anne Frank. The only thing I remember is the end, when Anne died in a concentration camp just a couple weeks before the camp was liberated. I cried myself to sleep.

A few months ago–on either a sick day or snow day or just random day off–I was going through my Netflix list and stumbled on an Anne Frank movie and tackled it. And on a recent trip into the city, I noticed billboards advertising a production of the play based on the diary. I decided if we had a good opportunity to go, we ought to, and that’s what we did last night, just in time for the last weekend of the show.

On my last couple trips into the city, I’ve ended up being sufficiently early for where I was heading. I’m still in the habit of checking traffic before I leave–it helps me gauge whether or not I need to leave early or if I should take an alternate route–and that includes checking news reports for road closures due to construction. Normally, the side of the highway we take to get home is the one that’s closed, and that’s what it sounded like was happening again last night. Turns out the side that was closed was the opposite inbound side, with a detour that ultimately took you all the way around the parkway on the other end of the city. And because everyone had to detour that way, traffic was terrible.

We’d originally planned on taking recycling, then parking at the casino and taking the subway. We first got stopped a little after 7 and figured no big deal, the show’s at 8 and we can just skip recycling and take it after if we need to. And then the minutes ticked by and we were barely moving, so we decided to scrap the subway and just go straight there and pay for the parking, possibly even having Paul drop me off at the theater while he parked. I even checked my handy parking app in advance to make sure the garage was open before we went to it–ParkPGH, if you’re in Pittsburgh, super helpful. Come 7:40, I said, “I’m afraid we’re gonna spend this next 20 minutes still sitting in traffic,” and I was right. By a little after 8, we started discussing at what point our cutoff would be to say fuck it and turn around and go home–no point in going to a play if you’re gonna miss half of it. I even asked my mom if she thought I ought to complain and try to get free matinee tickets for today if we ended up going home. We decided that if we weren’t out of the traffic by 9, we were going home.

We made it out around 8:30, got parked a few minutes after, and were fortunately right down the road from the theater and made it in there and picked up our tickets at the box office by around 8:45. I was pretty pissed, but at least we made it before our cut-off time and before the first act ended. I actually wasn’t sure that they’d even seat us–I thought we’d be stuck in the back until intermission–but I’m grateful to the nice, understanding O’Reilly Theater employee who took us right up and sympathized with what was ultimately our two-hour ordeal in traffic.

I’ve never been to the O’Reilly before, although I’ve been in the area plenty of times. It might be my favorite of the city’s theaters, simply because it has a thrust stage. I didn’t want the cheapest seats in the house, but I didn’t want the most expensive, either, so I sprung for a tier up, which got us the top level of the theater. Because it’s a thrust stage, our section was lone chairs arranged in a single-file row, so Paul was actually sitting behind me as opposed to right next to me, which actually works really great when you’re 45 minutes late to a play because it meant we could slip into our seats quickly and quietly without disrupting anyone around us significantly–which might be why we did get seated immediately. And for being the not-quite-cheapest seats in the house, it had a great view right down onto the stage. Next time, I might spring for a price tier up, but I wasn’t disappointed.

Although we were 45 minutes late, we suspect they got a late start and we didn’t actually miss a full 45 minutes–in fact, we ended up being able to see almost a full 45 minutes of the first act and just under two hours of the play total, and the runtime was advertised as being just over two. Paul was unfamiliar with Anne Frank’s story but was able to pick it up quickly enough, and my movie viewing was fresh enough that I could figure out where we were. The trouble was forcing myself to pay attention instead of stewing in my fury over being late.

Obviously, I can’t speak for the beginning of the play, but what we saw was great. It was a Pittsburgh Public Theater production, and the entire cast was excellent. And naturally, it was a heavy, moving story, and I cried. The movie I watched showed the family actually being forced out of hiding and taken away, but I was grateful the play didn’t go that far and stopped with the family hearing Germans entering the building and getting closer and closer to the annex, closing with Anne’s dad reading from her diary–which, although I missed it, I do know is how it starts, too. It’s funny to say that I’m grateful the play didn’t show what was the most difficult part of Anne’s diary (though obviously not her story itself) when that would’ve been so, so much harder to live. Watching it is hard enough itself.

The same things struck me about the play that struck me about the movie–how difficult it can be to be a teenage girl in general, let alone one in hiding from Nazis in a small, cramped space with your entire family, another family, and a middle-aged man as your roommate. How in spite of everything going on around her, Anne was still very much a typical teenage girl developing a crush on a housemate or wondering if she was pretty. How Anne, as a writer, feared she wasn’t any good but wanted so badly to be.

You can’t help but thing how you would handle that situation. I imagine I’d act very similarly to Anne but with more of the anger and fear of some of her housemates. Even pettiness didn’t seem so petty–there’s a scene where the father in the other family takes his wife’s fur coat to the woman who’s hiding them to sell, and his wife goes into hysterics over it. On the outset, it looks materialistic, a woman going into a crying fit over a fur coat. But when you think about it, is it really? If you were in hiding, away from your home, comfort, and even some basic necessities like enough food, wouldn’t you cling to what few possessions you had left? It wouldn’t really be about the things themselves, would it?

I’m also struck by that now-famous quote of Anne’s about still believing that people are still good at heart. It was one of the moments that pushed me over the bring into all-out tears. Honestly, there weren’t many, but they were strong enough to be really compelling. I admire that optimism and hope, and in some ways, I agree with her–I think people are capable of good and things go wrong, and I think there’s a lot to learn from that. I think it’s important for all of us to look at the way we treat people, the way our politicians treat people, and make sure we’re all doing everything we can to be compassionate, kind-hearted, and helpful, not paranoid or laying blame or selfish. We have a moral obligation to be good to each other. We all have the power to change someone’s life, even in tiny ways, and we have the moral obligation to do so.

Why not try to brighten and improve this world while we’re here? We can.

Which Member of The Four Seasons Is Probably My Spirit Animal?

Saw “Jersey Boys” Saturday night with Brandon and Kelly, had dinner at Grille 36, was bummed they got rid of these tacos that I loved, had a great night regardless because that show is so good.

But I think I want to talk more about one specific character.

The plot of the show follows the career of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, with each member of the band narrating a different era–appropriately split into seasons. It ends with the band’s induction into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the show closes with each member doing a sort of monologue summing up their experience and discussing what they’re doing in life now. It’s a nice closer and a good way to let every character have their last word.

In the midst of the band–and their mob-boss mentor–trying to decide how to handle Tommy’s financial debts owed to said mob, one of the guys, Nick, decides to quit. At the end, he talks about why and says he just said it, but once he said it, he knew it was what he really wanted and explores the possibility that maybe it was an ego thing. He makes a joke about being the Ringo of the band which is funny and appropriate yet also kind of gives you insight to his head at the time.

The thing is, I’ve seen the show onstage twice and I’ve seen the movie, and Nick has emerged as my favorite character. Sure, they’re all flawed–but honest about it–and also have great strengths, especially as musicians, and it’s easy to see why Nick might feel he was Ringo. Tommy was a commanding presence that brought the group together and virtually ruined it with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Frankie was, well, Frankie and is still a musical star performing and selling out venues. Bob Gaudio was the young kid who came in and wrote the band’s biggest hits. And then there’s Nick–it’s not that he contributed nothing, it’s just that he kinds of fades in the background. He’s a quiet character for most of the show, though he does have some great lines.

I think the reason I’m so drawn to his character–and the real Nick, if the show’s as true to the real story as its writers claim–is because I relate to him.

I feel like I’ve been Nick.

I know what it’s like to feel like the Ringo of the group. To feel like you’re overlooked, left out, unimportant, maybe even a joke. It’s how I felt with the Craigs, much as I hate to bring that all up again some three years now after our falling out.

I know what it’s like to sit back and keep your mouth shut, to deal with a lot of other people’s bullshit until one day, you just can’t anymore and you blow up, let it all out in a way that maybe the people around you weren’t expecting.

I know what it’s like to essentially say you’ve had enough, to realize that you don’t want to be a part of a certain group anymore, to realize that you’ve actually been unhappy for a long time and to just walk away from what–or who–it is that’s making you so unhappy.

The difference between me and Nick? He was very sure of his decision. I questioned mine relentlessly and had to constantly look at where I was at the time and how far I’d come and tell myself yet again that I had to do what was right for me, and that I’d done it.

My parents had tickets to see The Phantom of the Opera a few weeks ago and managed to not only not find parking nearby but get stuck in traffic so bad that they missed a significant chunk of the show, so they decided just to skip it. It reminded me of the time Julianne and her boyfriend got into a fight on the way to a Pirate game and just decided to leave after a few innings. Personally, I’d stick it out. At least missing only part of something isn’t wasting all of the money you spent on the tickets.

Anyway, my mom of course complained, and they were nice enough to offer her tickets to another show, although more along the lines of a small, local production as opposed to the big, national tour they missed. Her choices were Young Frankenstein or Peter Pan and she wasn’t really crazy about either one, so she asked me. Paul and I decided to go for Young Frankenstein.

Since the parkway was such a fucking mess a few days before, I decided I’d rather take my chances taking the longer route in the city to try bypass all the traffic, which sort of worked. Only trouble is we ate at the Chinese buffet first and I underestimated the time it would take us to get there, so between walking to the subway station and the unusual slowness of the subway to leave, we did miss the first few minutes of the show, which made me feel like a dick. I’m gonna keep experimenting, though–I’m definitely gonna keep taking the subway, but I think next time I’m gonna get off that alternate highway a little earlier and take the first exit I can off the parkway. The subway also runs to and from a mall about a half hour from my apartment, and although the downtown stops I usually use are free, I’d be willing to park at the mall and pay whatever it costs to take the subway the rest of the way in, because it’s probably cheaper and easier in the long run than battling parkway traffic and paying to park in a garage, especially when there are those rare occasions when the garages nearby are full.

We also took separate cars–Katie needed a ride back to State College, and Paul lives slightly closer to both her parents’ house and State College, so we decided to take two cars into the city, park, take the subway, drive back to his place, then leave from there Sunday morning. We would’ve liked to have had the whole weekend up there, but our tickets hindered that and driving two hours in the middle of the night probably isn’t the best idea. Even though I used to do it when I worked 11-7, sometimes later if I stayed to finish up work.

But the point is that Young Frankenstein–the musical, of course–was really good. It was a funny show with the same gags as the movie, pretty much, with a good bit just turned into songs. And of course, the highlight was “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Paul and I were both really hungry by the time it was over, so we decided to stop at Primanti’s by his place when we got in. I was voting for checking out some places in the city, but he wasn’t too into it. And there are still some places I’d like to take him to and things I want to do in the city with him, but with the construction, I’m gonna avoid it as much as I can–this weekend, for example, the tunnels are closed. I’d definitely rather not deal with that.

And so we got in late then got up early, picked up Katie, and set out for a State College day trip.

This weekend concluded our Blood+ mini binge. We kicked it off by going to Primanti’s, and as much as eating sandwiches every other week stuffed with coleslaw and French fries, it is one of our cheaper haunts–especially during happy hour. We’ll branch out one day, but when we’re hungry and want something quick and cheap, that’s our go-to.

And other than that, I just went to see a local production of Hair with Brandon and Kelly, which I believe makes that musical the one I’ve seen onstage the most, not counting Rocky Horror, of course. I’ve seen it three times now–twice on tour and once locally.

This local production was by a new theater company, not the well-known and established Stage Right. Nope, this was Split Stage Productions, and this was I think their first show. Their goal is to put on somewhat risqué productions that other local companies won’t touch. Their next one is The Full Monty, followed by a couple others I’ve never heard of before but sound really promising, like the musical Assassins, and I plan on trying to go. This make have a crash pad in the form of Paul’s apartment all the more convenient.

As for Hair, it was excellent. I always forget how much I love it–the plot of the stage version is much leaner than that of the movie, but the pacing is faster and there are tons more songs, which are its greatest strength anyway. It had the look of a local production, although the touch of screens being painted throughout the show by an artist onstage was pretty cool, but it certainly didn’t have the sound of a local production. Or even the acting quality. Every single person in that cast was excellent and put on an amazing show that earned them a standing ovation–and of course, no live production of Hair would be complete without a few tears from me.

In Which We Finally Succeed in Seeing ‘The Nutcracker’

What a busy time of year.

Thursday, I met my mom up at the outlets to tackle some Christmas shopping, then we went to dinner at Max and Erma’s. Then she stopped off at a Walmart and took forever to get home because apparently, the roads back there were covered in ice and there was a wreck somewhere.

I worked late Friday and ran some errands before Paul finished up, and he’s now working 10-hour days, so it was later than we both would’ve liked and I headed over to his place, where we went to eat at Primanti’s before another brief round of Christmas shopping. My mom and I had picked up these cute little hot-chocolate cups from Harry & David at the outlets but were short a few, so I was on the lookout for a couple more to gift to Paul’s siblings. I went up and looked every day this week and with little time left, settled on getting a different neat Harry & David for the boys and stuck with the hot chocolates plus Christmas cookies for the girls, as well as Kelly.

We lounged Saturday, then met Kelly and Brandon in Pittsburgh for dinner and The Nutcracker.

Now, the past two years trying to see the damn beloved ballet have been a disaster–the first was the infamous year in which they all stayed home due to a snow storm and I went anyway without a working phone, and last year we got stuck in traffic and were really late and had to sit in the back of the theater until intermission, because the back of the theater is where they stick late jagoffs.

So I was a little apprehensive about it this year.

Brandon and I decided if we were gonna eat, we’d best do it either near the theater or in the North Shore, which is close enough to the Cultural District that eating there was pretty easy. And then he filled me in on his city secrets I always forget about but really need to commit to memory. He suggested we park at the casino, which is free, then walk to restaurant of choice Grill 36 a few blocks away, then walk to the subway station between the restaurant and casino and ride it over to the Cultural District because riding the subway to downtown destinations is free. And the subway station in the Cultural District is right across from the theater.

Now, I started getting worried when Paul and I hit traffic on our way into the city. Brandon and Kelly got an early start to Christmas shop and were gonna get a table, but still–I started to get concerned that we’d be late enough to throw things off and that Brandon misjudged the timing of our walking, despite him insisting we wouldn’t need to adjust our eating time of two hours before I wanted to be at the theater. I had a feeling we were doomed to be late yet again, which would’ve been particularly horrible this year since I sprung for Director’s Circle tickets when they were on sale and got us second fucking row of the balcony, which ballet fans will recognize as nearly the best seats in the house.

But we had a great waiter, who made sure we got our food fast–and I don’t think he even knew we were going to the show, although the fact that they were already busy and the Pens were playing that night might’ve been factors. I wanted to be done eating by 6–we’d arrived between 4:30 and 5–and we finished well in advance of that and got to the subway station just in time to catch it over to Wood St.

I wanted to be at the theater by 6:30, and we made it by 6:20. I have to give Brandon credit on this one–he had a good, cheap plan that worked out perfectly.

And the show was fantastic, as it has been the previous two years. I love The Nutcracker so fucking much, it’s ridiculous.

I’d plan to stop at Sarah’s Christmas party later that night, but by the time we got back to Paul’s, it was late enough that I didn’t feel like driving out there then driving to my parents’ to crash, so I spent an extra night at Paul’s, which he certainly didn’t mind.

On Sunday, after having made plans to go to my mom’s Aunt Elaine’s annual Christmas party, Paul was informed that Emily had a Christmas concert to attend, so he did manage to squeeze in both. The party was nice, I hung out some at my parents’, and now it’s off to work tomorrow to wait it out until it’s time to leave and enjoy Christmas festivities.

Oh, and I stepped down as features editor for IYS.

And Then There Were None

We started Meri’s send-off to El Paso with a group dinner at Vietnamese restaurant Nguyen’s. I had the misfortune of eating small box of Bagel Bites before Meri texted everyone about getting dinner first, so I stuck to sushi, which is the smartest choice for me at Nguyen’s as their portions are huge and Paul heckles me every single time my judgment fails and I order the pad thai.

After the waitress found out about Meri’s move, she got a complimentary desert with the plate decorated with cowboy boots. It was adorable and amazing and we devoured it as a group.

And the rest of the night was spent just pretty much dicking around and drinking. We played a couple hilarious rounds of kings, Paul acted like an ass and sucked up to me so hard the next day that he offered to take me to see the new Oz movie, even though it looks like a silly child’s movie and he doesn’t want to go.

It was one of those nights that in some ways was uneventful but was nearly perfect (Paul ruined it for me, that’s how much of an ass I thought he was). But the company was great and everyone seemed to have a good time, and it was a nice low-key send-off, I think.

Best of luck to Meri in El Paso. I look forward to her tweets.

The next day, Brandon and I saw Eddie Izzard in Pittsburgh. It was our second time seeing him and while I think he was funnier the last time we saw him (I actually cried), he’s still my favorite comedian, I still laughed the whole time, and I still had a great time.

Shout-out to the man two rows in front of us who threw the middle finger after a joke about the Tea Party. I’m not sure what you were expecting, sir, seeing an openly transvestite and liberal comedian.

He didn’t return after intermission, but that just meant a couple in the same row stole his and his wife’s seats and got a better view, so hooray for them! Plus it’s always a miserable experience to be sitting near someone who isn’t enjoying the show and is being a disrespectful ass about it.

Brandon and I stuck around for a post-show Q&A he did out in the lobby, which was pretty cool. I wish people would’ve asked more creative questions–like, you know, ones he hasn’t answered plenty in interviews already–but I’m sure some people just want to chance to speak to him, which I get. I was content just to listen to him and see him, especially outside of a performance setting.

American Idiot

Brandon and I went to see the American Idiot musical last night in Pittsburgh, and I want to talk about it now before I forget all the things.

This June, I’ll turn 24. This September will mark 12 years since the September 11 attacks, meaning officially, half of my life will have been spent at war, in a country under the fear of terrorism, in a time when things are shifting and people are scared and angry and maybe a little lost–especially if you’re a 20-something. Everyone is afraid their opposing political party is going to send the country to shit, and we can’t all be right.

I was 12 when September 11 happened. At 13–literally days after my birthday–my dad left for his first deployment, albeit on a base in Italy. He returned several months later, then deployed two more times–including once when he wasn’t supposed to and left when given the opportunity–between when I was 15 and 17. I can’t remember the time clearly. They blur together. I think I was 16 when he was injured in Iraq, and my college years were spent dealing with the various ways being injured fucked him up.

I was about 15 when I started paying attention to politics. Green Day was one of the mainstays of raging against Bush and the Iraq war. I saw them on the American Idiot tour. I have the shirt and some confetti with the heart-shaped grenades. Rock the Vote happened–but I was too young–and the compilation album Rock Against Bush. I read. I watched. I questioned. Now I’m 23 and pretty damn liberal–war should be a last resort, but it usually isn’t. I get criticized plenty, living in Pennsylvania with a Republican boyfriend who’s not really all that Republican. I see things happening, and I want them to stop. They make me angry. When I really think about it, I’m scared, too–scared that we’re moving backwards, scared that an entire political party wants to deny me rights as a woman, deny others rights in part because of race and religion, control marriages and bodies and personal decisions. It’s a confusing time and a confusing age.

And American Idiot captures this perfectly.

The musical opens with the curtain slowly rising to reveal a basic set of just staircases, metal, and TV screens–which are great to pay attention to–with sound bytes playing of Bush talking about terrorism, reporters talking about North Korea, etc. It launches straight into “American Idiot,” sung with fervor and pure aggression–and the sets the tone for the rest of the musical, especially with the music itself. Some songs are gorgeous exceptions (“Last Night on Earth” probably being the most notable), but overall, the musical is a powerhouse of attitude, resulting in an extremely effective and moving show, despite a very simple and even predictable plot.

The plot is nothing new or groundbreaking, but its success comes in the delivery through the music, making any simplicity or predictability entirely forgivable. It’s a one-act show–about the perfect length–so everything gets right to the point. A lot is done visually, which I loved, from neat scenes to dance sequences that are downright aggressive to the actual plotting. It follows the classic writing rule “show don’t tell.” You’re told a little, but for the most part, you see it instead, sometimes even without any verbal explanation or context.

In that way, too, it’s fascinating to see how the songs have been adapted to fit a plot. “Favorite Son,” for example, is an entire sequence featuring an all-American military poster boy, while “Extraordinary Girl” launches into an impressive dream sequence involving wired acrobatics and badassery which is genuinely impressive and a thrill to watch. I was totally enthralled and engaged. Looking away meant missing something. Looking away takes you out of the show. That makes it succeed where some musicals fail–rather than being strung together by songs, the songs are the real heart of the show, and you don’t find yourself looking at your program to see what’s next. It powers through with no real breaks, which also provides a greater context for the album itself. Lines make more sense or hit harder, enhancing the album. In fact, I think American Idiot as an album has been vastly underrated.

Which brings us to the music. The band is onstage, which is awesome, and the music is loud from the start with more of the sound of a rock concert than a musical. The touring cast’s singers, though, are damn fantastic. They have great voices that work with the music rather than sounding too pretty. The most impressive of them was probably Whatshername, who was just an all-out badass with a real power to her voice, shown best in “Letterbomb.” I’ve always found some of the songs to be excellent rock pieces, but the musical helps to enhance them and really showcase the skillful songwriting. And, of course, a plot, characters, and story make things more moving. I almost cried multiple times not because of something sad or even remarkably happy but because of the sheer power of the music combined with the storytelling. I did cry during “Homecoming,” which was beautiful, and certain lines were particular moving for me.

American Idiot can very easily be compared to Hair and Rent, with hints of Across the Universe. Though not really political show, despite the opening and occasional subtle commentary, similar plots to Hair deal with the military and how people around the military deal with the military and what can happen–a similar theme in Across the Universe, too. But it has Rent’s sound, look–especially given the basic set–and attitude, sort of taking the larger commentary of Hair and stripping it down to the day-to-day. Rent, like American Idiot, isn’t particularly political, but you’re looking at slice-of-life countercultural living in changing times and what that means for the characters living it. Traces of Across the Universe come in with sequences like “Are We the Waiting” with a line of people going into the military, similar to but much simpler than “I Want You.” Similarly, the “Before the Lobotomy”/”Extraordinary Girl” sequence is very reminiscent of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”

I only disliked the ending–“Whatshername” closes the show (not counting the encore/curtain-call full-cast performance of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”), but the entire “Homecoming” sequence would make for a better, more powerful ending.

Others, however, disliked sex scenes and plot points involving drug use, but isn’t that kind of representative of the times? For one thing, such things should, to some degree, be expected of a musical based on a rock concept album born out of a post-9/11 society. And this is 2013. Theater is pushing the limits, and as was Tweeted to me, there are plenty of vanilla musicals out there. American Idiot is gritty and raw, and therefore, realistic–because life in 2013 can be gritty and raw, too.

I hesitate to call American Idiot the New Millennium’s Hair or Rent because they are so iconic, but all three do represent the eras out of which they were born. The original Broadway run wasn’t particularly impressive after Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong left the cast, but there’s no reason the tour can’t kick ass and make this a classic.