The McManual

Blogging my little heart out in poetry and prose.

Category: criticism

My Final Fringe Report 2012

Well, I’m done talking about fringe festival, at least for the time being.  It was fun while it lasted, but I ran out of steam for the past couple days of it…  Now I’m going to be thinking about what Jay and I might be doing for next year…  I think we’ll put our names in the hat for a show.  I have one idea I think is funny, and he has a couple… of course we are in completely different directions in our thoughts – we might have to do two shows.  🙂

I wanted to try to wrap up my reports, though, and so I guess I’m not quite done yet.  Since I last wrote, I went to see a few more plays – I got to see Sneak Thief, As the Stomach Turns, The Music Box, The Donner Party Kidz, The Urban Hermit  and Not Dead Yet: The Return of Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal.  

Sneak Thief  was very funny.  I thought the story was clear, simple enough, but engaging.  The actors were very funny – each of them had good timing, and there were some things that had me laughing out loud in (slight) anticipation.  When the one guy sang an Eminem song, I was losing it.  I also liked that this story showed a character grow just a bit, and that’s not something I expect from a slapstick sort of comedy.  Kudos!

As the Stomach Turns was not my cup of tea.  I guess I got it in my head that it was going to be somewhat based on the Carol Burnett Show, an that just threw my expectations up really high.  There were some funny burnett-style moments, but mostly I found the show confusing and dissatisfying.  I did like a lot of the dancing, although a lot of it wasn’t really justified by the storyline.  Oh well, that’s fringe for ya.

The Music Box was okay.  The story was a little overly sweet for me, and I was a little bored.  I thought the actors did a nice job, I just thought there needed to be some more heated conflicts between the two main men.

I was surprised by The Donner Party Kidz – I wasn’t going to see it, but I ended up over by the Playwright’s Center, and I wanted to see the show after, (Zen and the Art of Ushering or What I Learned While Putting People in Chairs, which I missed because I waited to the last second to go in & tix were sold out 😦 )  Anyway, for a show about the Donner party, it was pretty funny.  Some of the singing got a little bit tedious because they kept singing parodies of twinkle twinkle little star, and that gets a little old, but the story was solid and the kids had a lot of good energy.

Not Dead Yet: The Return of Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal  was fun – not a lot to say, they sang songs and bantered with each other.  They are cute and they work well together.  The show gave me warm fuzzies.

Finally, I want to talk about Urban Hermit.  I saw a preview for this a few weeks ago, and I felt very drawn to it.   I was not wrong.  I thoroughly enjoyed the show.  Rachel Nelson lays it on the line.  And she plays instruments.  So great.  I loved how she handled addiction – it was there, she showed us how it affected her, but it was more of an illustration of the walls she was putting up- if that makes sense – she illustrated how alcohol and weed were ways of putting up a wall between herself and other people, and then she showed us how she learned to live with the walls down.  And this play, and the film project that she is working on next, well, it’s hard to see that there ever were any walls, because there aren’t now.  She is so sincere, so immediate – I left the show feeling that I want to be fearless like her.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

So, that’s the last of my fringe reports for this year.  Thanks for tuning in 🙂 – Sheila


12/30 NaBloPoMo09 – Harry Potter at the Drive In

I want to say something nice about the new Harry Potter movie, but I just can’t.  All I can think is, you call that a movie?  Doesn’t something have to move to qualify as a movie?  And is there some sort of shame in having color in your movie?  Does it all have to be silver and black?  Is this a 2 hour homage to the Oakland Raiders? I would rather be watching football than watch this movie.  Maybe that doesn’t sound extreme to you, but trust me, it is one of the strongest statements I can make.

Jay had the right idea – he fell asleep about 20 minutes in, and snored the whole time.  I foolishly stayed awake, thinking that something might happen.  I mean, there was a plot in the book, as I recall.  I read it – maybe it was a bit tedious, but I did.  All this seemed to be was an extended series of near-poisonings where everyone turned out to be alright.  By the time that something I dreaded happened – which I won’t divulge, in case you are one of the dozen or so people who haven’t read the book – I was just plain burned out.  The only reason I didn’t walk out on this movie is that I literally didn’t know where the exit was, and I didn’t want to turn on my headlights on the off chance that I might ruin someone’s enjoyment of the movie.

At least I got to see it at the drive in.  I haven’t been to a drive in since about the 6th grade, when I believe they had Star Wars followed by Porky’s, and the only things I remember are my dad snoring through both of them and some kid at school saying that if my family saw Porky’s at the drive in, my mom must have thrown a blanket over the whole car.

My mom did not.  But in retrospect, I’m surprised.  I wish I had had a blanket to throw over my car tonight – that or I wish I could pull the memory of that movie out of my brain with a magic wand and store it in a test tube on the shelf…no, even then I wouldn’t get my 2 hours back.

7/30 – NaBloPoMo09 – The Natural

Well, I missed another day. This time I had a blog written, but it was off-line. When I went back online, something bad happened and the computer ate my words. At least I didn’t have to eat them.

Actually, I wasn’t too excited about what I had written anyway. It was about reading Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, which I finished last night after blogging (or trying to blog, anyway.)

I do love reading The Natural, which is a little unnatural for me because I am the antithesis of a sports fan. I don’t exactly hate sports, but I do find myself unable to resist rudely changing the subject when someone talks about sports for too long, which in my estimation is about 30 seconds.

I don’t know why I love that book so much – there is a lot of description of different aspects of games and playoffs, etc, but I don’t think the book is truly about baseball. I think it’s about love and ideals and the loss of youth.

The hero is the a lunk of a bumbling idiot, yet he fairly graces the pages of the novel, and this is because he is a hero. He is a natural at the game of baseball. Even with all of his setbacks, his Greek mythic characteristics carry him through against the odds. Then, well, then we learn that he is truly only human, and I find it one of the saddest endings of a novel.

You might be tempted to see the movie, and if you do, that’s fine, but don’t kid yourself. It’s not the same as the book. Not nearly. Talk about your Hollywood endings. It’s a good story, but it’s not the story that Malamud wrote.

I also had written some things down about the women in the book, how they are like strikes in the game of life – you only get three. And I will have to ask around to see if the image of a bird is somehow significant to the game – birds come up again and again. That’s still a mystery to me.

Ok, I’m running away now. Keep writing!!

NaBloPoMo09 – Away We Go!

NaBloPoMo is exactly what I need right now! So I’m going to do it- 30 blogs in 30 days.

To start off, I have seen three recent movies without talking about any of them. They don’t flow naturally together at all, none the less, I shall discuss each of them in this blog as if they do.  Hope that works for you.

I think I will start with my favorite, which was Away We Go. I laughed a lot.  At one point, I laughed so hard I thought I might have an asthma attack.  I cried a little too.  Lots of events happen in this movie, but what I liked the best was that they addressed a lot of different women’s experiences with fertility/infertility.  Some of it was just funny, like over the top touchy-feely parenting, but I felt that they balanced that well with more serious situations.

It’s been very difficult for me to articulate why, not being able to have children* myself, I don’t go out and adopt.  I can’t exactly say why, but it doesn’t feel right to me yet.  Maybe I’m still in mourning – but I know I’m not ready to adopt right now.  In the movie, I feel like the couple from Montreal (don’t worry, I’m not ruining the movie for you here) showed exactly why I am hesitant – I am afraid I would feel how they feel. Ok, spoiler alert, I guess, because I’d like to talk about it in more detail.

I have been in her shoes – the woman who does the sexy/melancholy dance – because I have often wanted to ask pregnant women how it feels to get pregnant and have no problems – but I’m sure they couldn’t tell me anyway, and I would probably start to feel envious, which is a complete waste of time.

Anyway, I liked that part of the movie because it’s not a feeling that is talked about – the feeling that no matter how much you try to fill the hole that is left by not having children, nothing will.  You have to live with the hole.  And if you adopt, that’s great, and they are your children fully and completely, but the reality is that if you had wanted a biological child, an adoption is not a replacement of that lost possibility.  It’s probably not fair to the adoptive child to have a parent who is still longing so deeply for a biological child, and that’s why I’m not ready to adopt yet.  I am still in mourning.  I don’t know how long it will take.  It’s definitely better than it used to be – I no longer weep about it on a monthly basis, but the pain and loss is still there.  Seeing someone portrayed in a movie who went ahead and adopted several to ‘make a family out of whatever we can,’ and seeing the possible cracks in that goes a little way toward helping me understand myself, which I appreciate in a movie.

I also liked that the main couple reminded me of myself and my husband in that they are so in love.  And like that couple, we laugh a lot.  And when someone’s grumpy, it’s usually me. 🙂  They have little jokes, they are disappointed by the same things, and so on.  I loved them as a couple, and I love us as a couple.

The second movie that we saw recently was The Proposal.  I don’t have that much to say – it was entertaining and cute, but it’s obvious that compared to Away We Go, the director didn’t seem as confident in the audience being able to grasp the events and interpret them – this is especially evident in the last scene where what’s his name says some mushy-gushy stuff, and the director cuts to shots of random office workers making doe eyes or covering their mouths in surprise.  It was so effin’ silly.  But other than that, the movie was fine, and was enjoyable two times, so far.

The final movie we have seen recently is Transformers II, or whatever the hell it’s called, which was pathetic.  I was the one who wanted to see it – and I was sorry about 10 minutes in.  The cars transforming was neat, but there was no plot to speak of.  Well, there was a plot.  It was a very young and oddly mismatched couple competing to be the last one to say ‘I love you’ to the other.  Meanwhile, aliens attack the world, yadda yadda, the girl says it first because she thinks the boy has died, and only then he can say it back.  Plus shitloads of chase scenes, and some very racially stereotyped robot characters, and a couple of near crotch shots of a couple pretty girls.  I think that sums up the movie, actually.  So so very bad.  And they’ll make a million bucks each.  Oh well. Hollywood, right?

If you only have the chance to see one of these movies, it had better be Away We Go, or you are a fool.  We’ll try not to judge, but why don’t you make it easier by just seeing it.  It’s worth your time.  🙂

*without going medically further than I want to, that is,  Please don’t email me and tell me “there’s always something they can do” – it’s not them, it’s me. 🙂 Plaintive smile. – thanks, Sheila

Ivan the Drunk and his Terrible Tale of Woe – Theater Review

I had the pleasure of seeing “Ivan the Drunk and his Terrible Tale of Woe” on Saturday.  If it isn’t yet June 21st 2009, you haven’t missed it yet.  You should go.

The set is beautiful and cleverly transforms into layer upon layer of dream-like sequences and settings that Ivan recalls from life and returns to in his memory.  The memories are surreal – it’s not a strictly linear play – and the interaction between the music, setting, and acting/dancing are evocative of intense emotion, often with no words for minutes at a time.  Some of the scenes are nightmarish; but it is always clear that they are based on events from his life.  At no time does it seem completely random – the action is grounded in a reality, even though we as audience members only have a minimal sense of the reality, it’s clearly there.

There are light hearted moments, too, as Ivan talks to his burden, which he quite literally carries around with him.  The physicality of Paul Herwig leaves no doubt from the very opening moments that this burden is taxing.  I wondered, though, whether he would be able to share his burden with someone else if he would allow it.  He wouldn’t allow it, and thus we saw several examples of his loved ones being shut out of his life.  This is painful to watch, as it is a depiction of an emotion that many of us have felt – perhaps it is a universal emotion – of not being trusted with someone else’s pain.  The other performers, every one seamlessly controlled yet fluid and accessable, each have moments of physically embodying the hardships of enduring Ivan’s distrust.

I don’t even have a word for that kind of rejection – the pain that accompanies the knowledge that a loved one would rather choose to carry their burden alone, whether it be alcoholism, drug dependency, post-traumatic stress, mental illness, or any number of other sadnesses.  That kind of rejection doesn’t get talked about much in our society – and here is a play that articulates it beautifully – subtly, the other characters throw bruised look and a walk away – Ivan watches in horror as he realizes he has shut another loved one out – but unable to do anything but hang onto his burden for dear life.

And you get the sense that life is dear to him – even after all of his struggles in the war, after nearly being killed, after killing (in more ways than one), he wants to live.  He seems to wish for things to have been different – in one of his memories, he alienates one family member, and then has a memory-do-over and tries again, only to alienate another family member – and so on.  He can’t get it right, because he can’t rewrite his memories into falsehoods.  So we see the pain and hurt and degradation.

All the while, though, there is a sense of healing, too.  Perhaps it’s in the very beauty of the movement, the imagry, the music – but one gets the sense that Ivan does have a poetic soul.  You wouldn’t know it from his ‘tchotchkes,’ his baudy little soldier rhymes, but he must have, if the events in this play are going on in his mind.  The reasons for his pain, the contents of his burden, are slowly unpacked for the audience to see and feel – we get both sides of the rejection and pain, and realize that as personal as the rejection is for the other characters, it is a double-edge sword that hurts Ivan as much as them.

The play has no breaks – no intermissions or even black-outs, and Ivan is on stage the whole time.  There is physical and verbal comic relief, but it is closely tied to the tragedy, and by the end, as an audience member, I was physically tired just from watching and paying as much attention as I could.  In empathizing with Ivan, I had a sense of relief and anxiety for him as he approached the final scene.  I was glad to see how the resolution of the final minutes was uncompromising in maintaining Ivan’s reality, yet found a way to articulate joy and beauty in the process of life, even a tragicomic life such as Ivan’s.

In the end, I felt spent and sated – I felt trusted as an audience member to understand and interpret the action in my own way, and, surprisingly, I felt closer to some parts of my own life that have been difficult for me to process in the past.  Something shifted in my own way of thinking about rejections that I have experienced and family members whom I have not understood – maybe some room for compassion has opened up where there was only pain and rejection before.  Regardless of my personal emotional reaction to this play, I feel I can confidently say that it touches a deep chord of humanity and will give you a lot to consider, whether you have direct experience with someone like Ivan in your life or not.

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things

Good morning, all.

This will be a short entry as I only have about five minutes to write. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I completely forgot that I have a blog and that I had committed to write at least a few times a week. I think I actually said I would write every day. Ha. So I managed to forget, but I have been writing.

I wrote a novel over the summer this year. I like it, but now I have been tinkering with it a bit too much. I really think some of the changes are good, and then there are some random paragraphs that I know I need to go back and take out. I really like the first 30 pages, though, so I think that’s progress.

I am slowly letting people read it and give me feedback. At first that was giving me panic attacks – Jay could read with no anxiety on my part, but anyone else and I was in a state. Two of my friends read it, and a few students started it, but I don’t think any of them finished. Or at least they haven’t said anything.

It’s a strange thing to have a book written and not know what to do with it. I have been sending out letters to literary agents, but honestly , and this isn’t the anxiety talking, they seem swamped and I read that they typically receive hundreds of query letters a week. It seems that knowing someone, an author, agent or editor, is the way to go.

Or I could take classes at the Loft in Minneapolis. Problem with that is time. I don’t seem to have any to spare. So maybe that will have to wait until summer, and who knows? By then I’ll have forgotten that I wrote a novel at all, but you can bet I’ll still be writing on my blog! (I hope!)

See ya, thanks for reading!


PS if you want to see the first little section of SOMEOTHERVILLE, my novel, you can check it out at

🙂 Sheila

I just saw Juno

Hi friends and others.  Jay and I just got home from seeing Juno.  It’s been a while since I have so thoroughly enjoyed a movie.  I think part of me was in there – not literally, of course, I just really related to the Vanessa character, if I were more like my sister, it would be a perfect fit.  But my personality is more like the the kid played by Michael Cera; at least when I was that age, that’s pretty much how I acted – paralyzed by people I liked.  Anyway, I don’t want to ruin anything for you, so maybe you should just go see the movie.

I like movies that try to get to the root of what love is.  I like seeing movies with that theme with my live-in boyfriend/husband, Jay.  Jay and I have a really good and happy relationship.  It’s actually sort of shocking to be a part of something that’s so right when all around are examples of relationships that are damaging and sad.  I feel a little guilty or something, like I got the biggest piece of the pie; but I can’t help it if I recognized him as my partner.  And as sheepish as I sometimes feel about telling other people about it, I believe that I got the best of all possible worlds for me in the love category.  So yaye me.  Love at first sight turns out to be my forte.  Of course it’s a skill you only need once, so that’s maybe a waste or something.  But I’m not complaining.

Ok, have a nice night.  Oh – I’m on winter break now from school, so you can be expecting lots of poems to be entered in the near future.  Sheila

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