Sunday, August 25, 2013

Chicago Travelogue, Summer 2013

It's been a strange summer.  Tommy left for Chicago in May to perform in "The Jungle Book" at the Goodman Theatre.  (Where he was the best snake ever!  And I'm totally unbiased about that.)  I stayed in Boston to finish my teaching and to be part of the Summer Reading series at the Huntington.  I went from the reading (my last duty official in Boston) directly to the airport for a months' stay in Chicago myself.  It was good to see Tommy after over two months.  It's the longest we've been apart. 

Chicago is a wonderful city.  I had always meant to travel there, and I'm not sure why I hadn't before this, the opportunity just never arose, so it was great to be able to stay there for free for a month. 

Now that I think of it, I've actually never been to the Midwest for any meaningful amount of time. 

Some things I noticed: there's a lot of space.  Chicago just goes on and on.  You can drive for half an hour and still be in Chicago somewhere.   That empty field?  Chicago. 

Also:  There's "The Loop", which contains most of  the city elements, and beyond that this vast suburb that just stretches outward like a giant donut.  Every neighborhood seems similar and slightly different at once.  It's as if Brookline, Somerville, Allston, Beacon Hill and Brighton all had a party, got drunk and threw up all over themselves.  And Frank Lloyd Wright is their cranky downstairs neighbor, banging on the ceiling with a broom stick. 

They put cheese on a lot of things in Chicago.

Their hotdogs are really elaborate.  Tomatoes and pickles.  The relish is neon green.

They mix cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn together.  Which shouldn't work.  But it does.  I ate a trough of it while I was there.

Theatre is EVERYWHERE.  There is SO much theatre, and it's all so vibrant.  I saw a play every night while I was there.  Boston Theatre pretty much dies in the summer, as everyone leaves the city for the Berkshires or the Cape.  Chicago almost seems the opposite: everyone is flocking TO the city.  There's endless things to do there.

Plays I saw:

Slow Girl, Belleville, Annie Bosh is Missing, The Gospel of Franklin, and Buena Vista @ Steppenwolf

The Jungle Book (of course) and The Albany School Project @ The Goodman

Big Lake, Big City @ Lookinglass

Glass Menagerie @ Theatre Wit

The Hypocrites' new take on 12th Night, called 12 Nights

Death and Harry Houdini @ The Chopin Theatre

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

That's Weird Grandma

Pink Milk, a new play about Alan Turning

Shrek, the Musical

A hip hop version of Othello @ Chicago Shakespeare

I'd say that most of what I saw there was excellent.  More than half the plays I saw were new plays by living playwrights.  Which is great.

Chicago residents (and perhaps this applies to the Midwest in general) seem to take up space in a wildly different way from what I'm used to.  They take up a LOT of it.  I noticed this while walking the city streets.  At first, I thought it was because I was in more tourist-heavy locales, where you would expect people to be kind of clueless.  But as I branched out further and further into the city, it seemed to be everywhere, and I realized that it wasn't tourists: these were Chicagoans. 

You know when you walk on the sidewalk in the city?  You stay to the right, yes?  Unless you need to pass the person in front of you, in which case you would go to the left of them (usually), pass them, and then get back to the right again.  That's just how you walk in a city, at least that what I always thought.

In Chicago, people walk wherever the hell they want.  They walk on the left. They walk on the right.
They walk straight down the middle.  It's chaos.  When crossing the street, there's sometimes just a wall of people coming straight at you, and you play this game of sidewalk chicken: "One of us needs to move to the side, which will it be?"  I always try to move to the right.  But there's already people there, walking in the opposite direction (ie, their left).  It's the craziest thing I've ever seen.  

Not only that, people seem completely oblivious to other people around them, even though they're in the third largest city in the country.  And again, I thought it was tourists, but it's really not.  These were locals.  It was fascinating.  My theory is that there's so much space there, that people just naturally feel that they can take up as much as they want, and that everyone else will as well.  It really does work that way most of the time: Chicago is surprisingly roomy for such a big city.  There's always a seat on the subway, there's always (usually) room on the sidewalk.  It's almost never crowded the way Boston or New York or Philly might feel.  But when it IS crowded, which is during rush hour and any time there's a Cubs game, you really see this space-taking trait.  People don't know how to not take up space.  It wasn't annoying so much as interesting to me.

I was walking back to the apartment with iced coffees for me and Tommy once, and this woman was standing on the sidewalk, listening to her cell phone.  She looked up when she saw me approach, and then randomly stepped right in front of me.  So I stopped, because I didn't want to collide with her, and wasn't sure where she was going.  It was so weird.  Then she looked up again, noticed me, said "Excuse me" and moved to the side again.  There was NO ONE else on the sidewalk, and she still managed to get in my way.  Wacky!  Things like that happened all the time in Chicago.  I don't think it was rudeness.  It seemed a special sort of unawareness. 

Even their architecture takes up space: all those tall skyscrapers and all the Prairie School horizontal lines that seem to make everything look so wide and flat.

Speaking of rudeness, that was another thing I noticed about Chicago: everyone was disarmingly friendly, for the most part (these are WILD generalizations/anecdotal experiences, I realize, btw!).  The rudest Chicago native just seemed charming to me.  It was such a na├»ve form of rudeness, it just tickled me.  I wanted to say: "I know you think you're being rude to me right now, but I come from the land where rudeness was INVENTED.  So I just think you're adorable." 

The subways are very efficient and clang over your head.

They put bacon on donuts.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's unbelievable that Jeremy is no longer alive.

Because I don't think I ever met anyone
more alive.

And who enjoyed life more.

His spirit was beyond him.

I will miss him very, very much.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mads About You

I’m sitting in an air-conditioned dressing room with Mads Mikkelsen. 

He is performing in a revival of “Godspell” and somehow,  I’m his assistant.

Rather than the typical comic, clown-like ensemble, this particular production has re-imagined all the Godspell characters as famous film murderers: Jason, Michael Myers, the killer from the “Scream” movies, in the Edvard Munch mask.  

In this version, Jesus dies, comes back to life, and goes on a killing spree.

Mads is playing Judas as a young Hannibal Lecter. 

I can’t tell when Mads is in character and when he’s not.  Both seem pretty dour. 

My job is to sit by him in the dressing room and write down random words that he utters every now and then.

He says the word “breathing”. 
I write it down on my note pad.
I write it down.
“Carny rash”.
Scribble scribble scribble. 

It’s not clear how I got this job.  I have no recollection of ever applying.   Was there an interview?  With whom?   Or did I volunteer?  I wonder how much I’m being paid.   

Mads is waiting for his next entrance, which is in a few minutes.  He seems unperturbed.

I can’t pronounce Mads’ first name correctly.  I say it like the plural of “mad”, which is wrong apparently.  Mads has given up trying to correct me.

Outside the trailer, we can hear Freddy Krueger, Teen Wolf and Pinhead from Hellraiser singing “Day by Day”.  Leatherface accompanies them on his chainsaw.

“It’s so difficult, performing for onstage”  Mads murmured, his accent a thick slice of Havarti. 

It’s the first sentence, or complete thought anyway, that he has ever uttered to me.  I break the tip of my pencil off in surprise. 

Mads continued:  “But it’s worth it to hear the crowd  applauding whenever  I walk on stage.  Do you know what it’s like to hear thousands of people applauding for you, just you, night after night?  What am I asking?  Of course you don’t.”

I’ve stopped writing.  It’s clear this isn’t meant for me to write down.  This moment is for me, and me alone.  I feel so honored.

“The other night” Mads continued “Dolly Parton, Rush Limbaugh and Jane Lynch came backstage after the show to congratulate me on my performance.  It was truly one of the pinnacles of my career.  Their kind words, they mean so much to me.   And yet, I must also congratulate this director.  This director, he is a GENIUS.  I have never worked with such talent, such vision.  I am truly blessed.  And humbled.  And grateful.  And thankful.  And humbled.  And humble blessed.  And blessy humbled.  I'm... blumbled.  Hey, I made up a word!  Write that down, before I forget it."

Mads stood and walked to the doorway of the trailer.  His entrance was in mere seconds, yet he turned back to me for one final moment.

"It’s such a blessing to be this talented" he breathed  "And yet, it is also a curse.”

(Note: this was a dream, of course.  I have never even met Mads Mikkelsen.  I'm sure he's not like this at all!)