Monday, March 31, 2014

Attend the Tale

Great art has the power to knock you off your foundation and plant you in a different place. It is very rare, and maybe some folks never have that experience. I'm moved to say that I did get to experience foundation-knocking Wednesday March 5th at the New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson.

The stars were properly aligned last October when I nabbed my ticket online. The impetus was the opportunity to see/hear Bryn Terfel in person. Ah, the man can sing. I had the funds, I was online at the right time, and - boom! - orchestra aisle seat for March 5. Only 5 performances, so no time to dawdle.  I'll admit I had my doubts about Emma Thompson's Mrs. Lovett being able to match Terfel's Sweeney, but, shoot, it's Emma Thompson, right? And it's Sondheim. And Sweeney Todd. Here. Take my money, and save me a seat.

I didn't stop to think that it was opening night of a 5-performance run. I had no idea what to expect, except that I knew Bryn Terfel would blow the roof off the place. And the Philharmonic. And Christian Borle as Pirelli. And Emma Thompson - even if she just sat on the stage and picked her nose, well, Emma Thompson. Add in Christian Borle as Pirelli and surprise cast member (noted as ? in the program) Audra McDonald as the mad woman, well, nothing short of perfection.

After a long and busy Ash Wednesday day at work, I crossed over to the West Side, had a nice dinner, and made my way to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The place was absolutely mobbed. I wormed my way into the crowd and let it carry me up the escalator and to my seat. I settled in, thinking I knew what I was going to see. I was well familiar with the score (it helps to have memorized Sondheim before turning 30) and story. But everything about this production exceeded my expectations.

The New York Philharmonic gave the music the treatment it deserved, well beyond what the normal Broadway orchestra is able to do. It was big and lush and spectacular. The orchestra was the focal point, of course, front and center and taking up most of the stage. The actors worked around the musicians, even using some of the instruments as props.

The cast marched on stage, all prim and proper, dressed in formal garb with their scores tucked neatly under their arms. They took their placed behind their music stands, and I thought, oh, OK, it's going to be a recital-type thing. But just as I was settling into that notion, each one tossed their books to the stage and started ripping off their dress clothes to reveal the seamy, dirty wardrobe better suited to this story of murder and questionable meat pies. And then it just took off.

I have never seen anything like it. Everything about this production was superb. I've seen many a fine production in my life, but this one blew everything else out of the water. The evening was spectacular and well worth any price paid to see it. And at the ending ovation, Emma Thompson ran out into the audience, grabbed Stephen Sondheim, and brought him on stage. Thrilling!

It made such an impression on me that I think it will be a while before I can see another musical, since I'll be comparing it to this production. Well done, New York Philharmonic, Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and cast! Thank you for  giving me the experience of a lifetime. I'm so glad I attended the tale of Sweeney Todd.


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posted by MaryB @ 9:38 AM  0 comments

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Dust Thou Art, to Dust Returneth

Instead of attending a full-on worship service, I thought I'd give Ashes to Go a try this year. I'm not much on bells-and-smells, but no one loves a whackin' great pipe organ and Tiffany windows in a lovely old church or bewailing my manifold sins more than I, so this was a tiny little Lenten adventure for me.

There's a lot of pro-and-con about Ashes to Go, which is basically taking the prayers and imposition of ashes to the streets for any and all who want them. The pro-folk believe it to be a worthy evangelism effort, going to where people are - commuter stations, street corners, grocery stores - rather than requiring them to show up at a given time and given place. The con-folk believe that it is a cheap short-cut and that the imposition of ashes means nothing if you haven't fully confessed your sins (bewailed the manifold) and been granted absolution by a clergy-type.

Before I go any farther with this, I would like to lodge a protest against the name "Ashes to Go," which does smack heartily of the flip, the easy, the wink-wink-nudge-nudge. But I'll let that go. Here's where I stand on it. Meh. I can go either way. Ash Wednesday is way bigger than which method I use to get ashed. Yeah, I'll probably stick with the tried-and-true service from here on out, but my manifold sins feel no less bewailed (I don't need the Prayer Book for that) or my dusty beginnings and endings any less internalized because I opted to have myself reminded of them on the streets of New York rather than in a church.

Last year, I assisted one of our priests with Ashes to Go at 42nd and Lexington. We had a goodly number of folks line up for the prayer and ashes. All took it very seriously and were grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate their faith. The most memorable were a couple of down-and-out men, who solemnly received the ashes and prayers, said bless you, and seemed genuinely moved that someone had prayed with them and given them the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. Who knows what it meant to them? But maybe it was the first time in a long while that someone had said a prayer with and for them. Maybe it was the first time someone had touched them in a positive way.

So here's the thing. If you don't like or approve of the Ashes to Go concept, don't go that route. If you want to try it, go ahead. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return, whether in a formal worship service or on busy city streets.

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posted by MaryB @ 4:33 PM  2 comments

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blow, Thou Winter Wind

A few things to think about as you whine about winter. Have some hot chocolate and calm down.

(All photos taken in Central Park, New York City, Winter 2014)




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posted by MaryB @ 2:25 PM  0 comments

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Fire of '74

Forty years ago (forty! yikes!), I was having a hard time sleeping the night of January 11, 1974, at our Bellows Court apartment in West St. Paul, Minnesota. Not sure what was keeping me awake, but I was getting frustrated with the whole insomnia thing, when a bright pinky-orange light flooded our bedroom window. The first thing that came to my mind, in my wide awake but maybe partly asleep state, was "Who the hell is setting up a carnival in our parking lot?" The light was cotton candy pink and bright as the sun. Carnival. Hm. Well, that's the way my mind works.

I honestly don't remember what happened next or how Charley and I got out of the apartment, into our car, and a mile or so away before the big explosion. We obviously moved pretty damn fast, so fast, in fact, that I left behind two of my essentials - contact lenses and birth control pills. But I did manage to stuff my feet into snow boots and pull on my parka before tearing out the door.

Where to go? What to do? This was out of the realm of experience for a couple of 22-year-old newlyweds from the South. We headed to a co-workers' apartment because we knew she'd be up late packing for Texas and the Super Bowl (Vikings vs. Dolphins).  Lest you need reminding, this was well before cell phones, email, and texting, so all we could do is just turn up on someone's doorstep without any notice. This acquaintance - not even a friend, really - let us crash in her spare bedroom so that we could at least be warm and dry for the rest of the night.

And that's about all I remember of the night itself. I'm not sure where we slept the next night, but I don't recall having stayed in a motel. Perhaps we found our new apartment the very next day, which is possible, since I guess nearby apartment complexes were housing the displaced residents of the destroyed ones.

Fortunately, Charley was an insurance man, so he knew to call to find out about emergency benefits and get details of our coverage, etc. We were lucky not to have lost everything. In fact, we were on the outer edges of the L-shaped complex, and the explosion and fire damage mainly demolished the center angle of the L. However, there was a lot of smoke and water/ice damage to furniture and clothing, mainly. In short, the sofa and mattress were gone, but my carefully packed away China was intact (a 22-year-old newlywed's priorities).

Four people lost their lives in the fire and explosion - three firemen and a manager of the other damaged apartment buildings. The cause was a little fuzzy at the time. We were told some guy was trying to thaw out something-or-other with a blow-torch just as the propane gas truck was pumping in the monthly gas allotment for the apartments. Bad timing.

I'm not sure of that's the real story, but the cause didn't really matter to us at the time. It was scary and confusing and frigid cold. But we were alive. A lesson learned about priorities forty years ago.

Sometimes, insomnia can save your life.

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posted by MaryB @ 7:26 AM  0 comments

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Losing a Force of Nature

Many years ago, I was pulled out of my kindergarten class to help Mrs. Miller with something. Now, Mrs. Miller was the founder and head honcho at Brainerd Baptist Kindergarten, and her family and ours were like . . . family. Anyway, this was a big deal, right?

After I ran though any of my behavior that might cause the head of the school to pull me out of playhouse time and determined I should be clear, I felt pretty special. I mean, Mrs. Miller needed my help with something. So I go out into the hall with her, and she sits down in a little chair. "Mary, I want you to pull out any gray hairs you see." Whaaaat?? Well, of course I didn't say that. I was a little kid and a grown up friend and teacher told me to do something, so, OK. I spent several minutes eyeing any gray hair in her side-part (I don't think there were very many) and yanking them out. Mission accomplished. Then I went back to my classroom.

Now, why Mrs. Miller had asked me to perform this particular honor, I'll never know. Maybe because she knew I needed to be rescued from Mrs. Jones' class or maybe because my family and hers were such good friends that she knew I could be trusted. Whatever. I was asked to do a task, and I completed it to her satisfaction. That's my earliest definable memory of this incredible woman, who'd known me since birth.

She started one of the first modern kindergartens in Chattanooga, Tennessee, pulling together creative, loving teachers (including my mother) and drawing a rather large number of 4- and 5-year-olds for her half-day school.

In her ground-breaking  kindergarten, I learned all about my five senses. I learned the song "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day." I learned my first cheer: "Apples, oranges, peaches, candy, Brainerd Baptist Kindergarten you're so dandy!" I learned to sit in a circle and listen to a teacher. Bottom line, I learned lots of things in kindergarten, as you do, of course. And all of this was driven - and I do mean driven - by Mrs. Miller. The school was her vision of what kindergarten for little Baby Boomers needed to be. Right time, right place, right vision.

Summer of '63 - I was 12 - she hired my sister Cindy and me to 1) help organize/cut out/assemble all the artwork projects for the upcoming kindergarten year, and 2) babysit for 2-year-old Star (you were a handful, Star). So in the midst of "Blowin' in the Wind" and Martin Luther King's March on Washington, we were camped out at the Millers cutting out circus animal patterns, chasing a 2-year-old, and eating our weight in Campbell's tomato soup (made with milk, not water). I know many of my famous organizing skills were birthed during the summer of '63.

The summer I left for college, we sold our house on South Moore Road and moved - guess where? - next door to our good friends the Millers. Now we really were like one big combined happy family. The Fraziers and the Millers. 

I'm writing this rambling little memoir because Fonza Miller Barkley died on Sunday at age 93. If I had to sum her up in one word, I'd say "Enthusiasm!!" (complete with exclamation marks). She was tall and had impeccable posture. When someone with her physical stature is enthusiastic, then - wow - that energy just fills the universe.

She was, of course, so much more than a standard happy, enthusiastic person. She really did make a huge impact on pre-school education in Chattanooga. That kindergarten she started is now a thriving pre-K through 5th grade private school. She was active in the Eastern Star and lent her talents to many other endeavors. But I knew her outside of all of that. To me, she was a force of nature.

My last memory of her was sharing brunch with her and son Glenn last spring when I was in Chattanooga for a weekend reunion. Though older and frailer (too many gray hairs to pull out now!), that famous enthusiasm was still there. We laughed and hugged tight before saying our goodbyes. I'm so glad I got to share one more tiny slice of my life with her.

Farewell, Fonza. It's a hap-hap-happy day in Heaven. There'll certainly never be a dull moment up there, dear lady. And no more gray hairs!

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posted by MaryB @ 8:44 PM  0 comments

Sunday, January 05, 2014

My Holiday Escapes

Who needs Aspen or the Caribbean when there are center orchestra seats to be had? It's been my luck to be on the audience-end of four shows in three weeks, and I've had more fanciful escapes than any exotic location can offer. A Twitter version of my most recent theatre-going experiences might read: A lamp, a bumble, a Jeopardy-playing detective side-kick computer, and a glass magnolia.  - that's entertainment!

First up was "A Christmas Story," a musical based on the 1983 holiday film classic. I usually pooh-pooh this sort of thing, but the show, which only runs for a few weeks in the run-up to Christmas, was nominated for 3 Tonys last year and I just loved the number I saw on the awards show. The songs are wonderful, the choreography is spectacular. It was a little weird going to Madison Square Garden's theatre to see it - the basketball crowd mixed in with the theatre crowd - instead of a proper Broadway house, but the arrangement seemed to suit the audience. This one could be a holiday staple for me.

Once in Atlanta for the holidays, we had a full agenda of kid-themed activities. The Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts' "Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer" was one of those events. One GrandMary, one Mom, two 3-year-old boys, and a 6-month-old baby girl - not your usual theatre audience, but Puppetry Arts knows how to handle multi-generational entertainment. Its "Rudolf" is a live version of the 1964 television movie, and boy, it is spot on. Wonderful! And another event that has the possibility of becoming a tradition for us.

Next up in New York was Playwrights Horizons' "The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence." OK. Combine Sherlock's sidekick Dr. Watson with the Jeopardy-winning computer Watson and the engineer who build Bell's first telephone and you get . . . . well, you get interesting theatre. Past and present come and go and get mixed in together as you realize the importance of being Watson, in whatever form he/it takes. Always interesting stuff at PH.

And as a blizzard was blowing into town, Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" at the Booth Theatre. Cherry Jones owned the stage as Amanda Wingfield, the chief animal in this human, very breakable menagerie. As a Southerner, I was more attuned to the accents, speech patterns, and general attitudes of the characters than the non-Southern folks around me. For the record, Ms. Jones' took on what we lovingly call a Mrs. Ashford Dunwoody accent - it was more old Atlanta than Delta-speak, but she nailed it. Celia Keenan-Bolger was absolutely marvelous as Laura. She stuck to a flat, basic accent, which was just fine. Now, Zachary Quinto, while excellent as Tom, did a sort of sing-songy, pseudo-Southern accent which got on my nerves after a while. Only someone from the South would notice, though (we get so sick of what passes for a proper Southern accent/dialect on stage and screen, btw). Nevertheless, classic play beautifully acted and produced. Very, very glad I saw it.

So you see, I really got around, theatre-wise, over the holidays. Now, it's back to work to earn a little money for 2014 escapes. Happy New Year!

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posted by MaryB @ 5:21 PM  0 comments

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang Syne 2013

Another year almost gone. Every year has its highs and lows, and 2013 is no different. I choose, however, to reflect on the highs, since most of the lows were out of my control. So before the clock strikes midnight, I raise a glass to:

Charlotte Currin Richeson, born May 21, 2013. Never has there been a happier, smiley-er, chubby-cheekier granddaughter. I love you to the moon. And back. And to the moon again. And back. Infinity.

Girlfriends. You know who you are. Childhood friends, All Saints' women, and other confidantes who love to talk and laugh and eat and drink and talk some more.

A job that lets me travel to wonderful places and meet incredible people - Hong Kong, Philippines, Haiti, Los Angeles, Jackson in 2013. Where to next?

Social media. As angsty as everyone gets about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I love that I can stay in touch with family and friends all over the world. It doesn't isolate me; it enhances my friendships.

New York City. For the great theatre, museums, and parks I've experienced this year. And for the world's most breath-taking skyline, day or night.

Atlanta. You have my heart because you have my family. And thanks for fun at Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Puppetry Arts Center, Legoland, and wherever else Liam Samuel Richeson leads me.

So farewell, 2013. Even with a few sad losses, you've given me great memories. May 2014 bring more adventures, good health, money to cover basic expenses, and a greater resolve to be present in every moment. Happy New Year and may God bless us all!

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posted by MaryB @ 9:41 PM  2 comments

Monday, December 30, 2013

The 10 Commandments of Being Lazy

All I want to do today is sit around in my pjs (flannel, not shorty), watch old movies, and eat junk food, but the guilt of doing absolutely nothing is ruining it for me. Damn that Puritan work ethic! I can think up all sorts of things I should/could be doing, but, shoot, I only want to have one day of laze. Sigh.

However, I just have to do something, so I have created for you, dear readers, the 10 Commandments of Being Lazy. Whenever you approach your own lazy day, pull these out for inspiration:

  1. Thou shalt not change out of thine flannel pjs, wooly socks, and old sweatshirts into non-lazy raiment, or thou shalt completely defeat the purpose of staying in and being lazy.
  2. Thou shalt ignore particles, specks, yea, even layers of dust covering any object. Neither floor, nor bookcase, nor lamp shade shall cause thy hand to lift a dust rag or push a vacuum cleaner.
  3. Thou shalt not consider indulging in any form of physical exercise, be it walking to the park or lifting any object heavier than a spoon to thine lips.
  4. Thou shalt honor thy comfy chair or sofa by remaining sedentary upon thine honored sitting place throughout the live-long day.
  5. Thou shalt not even consider improving thy mind by darkening the doors of museums, libraries, or theaters. These are activities that completely defeat the purpose of being lazy. Inspiration is dangerous to laziness. Thou can, however, read that tawdry novel sitting on thine night stand, as there is no danger in improving thy mind with it.
  6. Thou shalt remember to stock thine fridge and cabinets with goodies that will prevent thou from even considering getting out and doing something productive or leaving thine comfy sitting place.
  7. Remember Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and thine own stock of DVDs to keep them handy for series-binging. 
  8. Thou shalt ignore thank you notes, bills, and any kind of correspondence that detracts from thine complete laziness. 
  9. Thou shalt feel free to take plenteous naps throughout the day. 
  10. Thou shalt completely, utterly ignore that pesky Puritan work ethic. To thine own laziness be true.
Good luck with your own lazy day. 

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posted by MaryB @ 4:30 PM  0 comments

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Her Window in Time

Our family lost a most beloved member yesterday. Nell Rose was an absolutely essential part of our lives, and yet she stood apart. Her story is sort of grafted on to ours - through blood, through experience, through memories.

We thought of her as a young aunt, though in truth, she was our second cousin. She was born four days before the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Her mother died when she was 3, her father a couple of years later. Five-year-old Nell went to live with my grandparents, who had four almost-grown daughters of their own, including my mother. Mother always said that she thought of Nell as her first child because as a teenage she often took charge of the little girl. Nell was our go-to person for the "real" family stories. Of course, she saw things from a small child's perspective, but often, that's the truest viewpoint.

She was a survivor. She had polio when she was 11 - pre-vaccine, when the diagnosis meant either death or being crippled for life - and spent a couple of weeks in an isolation ward at Grady Hospital. She also survived cancer later in life. She was an independent working girl, who worked for Ma Bell (back when there was only one telephone company) from the age of 19 until retirement. Nell staked her independence flag by first transferring from Atlanta to Savannah and then on to Orlando and knew how to live life on her on terms.

Which was why we all landed on her doorstep at one time or another during our teenage years. It was the perfect summer set-up for a pre-driving teen. Nell had an apartment with a pool ('nuff said), plus she worked all day. She trusted us, and it wouldn't have occurred to us to do any damage or cause trouble, anyway. All we did was sleep late, go to the pool, clean up after ourselves, and wait for her to get home in the afternoons. She hated to iron and couldn't sew, so I kept the ironing under control and even made her several dresses for work. Our parents supplemented her income for doing this. We ate out a lot. As I said, one sweet arrangement for a teenager.

Nell was an avid reader and crossword puzzler. She loved Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson  (once, we taped movie magazine pictures of them to the inside of the toilet lid, just to get a laugh out of her). She was a Braves fan. She made great deviled eggs. She gave me my first legal alcoholic drink (a Brandy Alexander).

There's so much more to say, but all of that will have to play itself out as the days and years go by. This wonderful woman helped shape my life in more ways than I can count. Her story is unique in our family. She was her own separate generation, wedged between my mother and her sisters and those of us who were their children. That uniqueness of voice and experience was the gift she gave to me. And love. Always love.

If it's true that people live on through good memories, our Nell will live forever. Rest in ever-lasting peace, rise in glory, and enjoy seeing your mama and daddy, Bully Bartow sisters, and maybe even Frank Sinatra, dear Nell.

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posted by MaryB @ 5:56 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

My Little Christmas House

I pulled out my Christmas decorations this evening and festooned my tiny apartment as best as I could. I almost gave up before I got started because going through the boxes of decorations breaks my heart a little every year. Every ornament, candle-holder, or festive knick-knack just brings back memories of where they dangled, sat, or hung in my little Atlanta house. And it makes me a bit sad. A lot sad. All right, all right, tear-shedding sad.

Yes, I sold the house at the right moment, right before the housing market went over the cliff.  I mean, there was no way I could've kept it and lived in New York. We tried renting it out, but that was more trouble and cost than it was worth. So, yeah, it had to go when I left town.

But knowing all of that doesn't help as I pull objects from Christmas Past out of their boxes. It's when I feel the loss of that house most keenly. I loved decorating it - the tree, the mantle, the dining room buffet, the front door. But now, I don't have any of those things. No tree, no mantle, no dining room, and just an apartment door.

So most of the decorations stay in their boxes. Waiting for another little house, though I don't think there'll ever be another little house for me. And I wonder if the angels and Santas and glass baubles and bells will ever come out in full force again. That's what makes me sad.  So I have my little Christmas cry, give the dear objects a blessing, and put most of them away for yet another year.

And then I have to put away thoughts of my little Christmas house. It was, after all, just a house, right? Except it wasn't. It was home. And now it's not.

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posted by MaryB @ 10:07 PM  0 comments