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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
October 3, 2010

Every Day Is Special

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Lockerbie, Billionaires, Women's Suits, Air

The Women of Lockerbie is a play that deals with the aftermath of the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 over the village of Lockerbie in Scotland on 21 December 1988.

The American parents of a twenty-year-old student who died in the bombing have come to Scotland on the anniversary of the crash. He had been sitting directly over the bomb -- no identifiable part of his body had ever been found.

His mother fell apart when he died, blaming herself for insisting he come home in time for a Christmas party; she has essentially put her life on hold, consumed with grief. Her husband, who has never been able to grieve since he had to keep both their lives running, is still trying to help her by reasoning with her.

They find themselves in the midst of a group of Scottish women who also have their own stories of grief. Eleven citizens of Lockerbie died as parts of the plane fell to the ground; all of them had to deal with the destruction and debris, which included many bodies and body parts.

Now the U.S. government has finished with all the luggage and clothing that was gathered up during the years-long investigation of the bombing. The State Department official on the scene has decided that the clothing should all be incinerated.

The women of Lockerbie, on the other hand, want to gather the clothing, wash away all the blood and fuel and dirt, and return it all to the families. Both sides are convinced that their way will be best for the families.

The group of women constitutes a kind of Greek chorus, and the device is powerful as we get a sense of a community whose lives were inadvertently recentered around a disaster not of their making.

This play is opening tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Weaver Academy for the Performing and Visual Arts, and playing Friday and Saturday at the same time. There's also a Sunday matinee (in my opinion a deplorable practice -- isn't there any day that is off limits for school functions?) at 2:00 p.m.

The play is definitely worth seeing, if only to get the play's many useful and truthful perspectives on grief and blame after a man-made disaster. If it now and then trips over a platitude, it makes up for it with fresh, keen insights at other times.

This is a high school production, of course, which means that the actors are all in the midst of their training, or at the beginning of it. So while the staging by director Keith Taylor is professional and moving, the acting sometimes partakes of the excesses of student actors, who don't yet understand what does and does not work for an audience.

The inevitable tendency of the amateur actor is to concentrate inward, on producing "feelings." The result is usually long pauses during which, as far as the audience can tell, nothing happens at all. Often such pauses can seem as if someone has forgotten a line.

Skilled actors know that with very rare exceptions, you do your acting while talking. They avoid pauses and instead make the play move forward vigorously, so the audience is constantly engaged.

But I can hardly fault the young actors at Weaver for flaws I've seen over and over again from paid actors in supposedly professional productions in Greensboro and High Point, and in college productions as well.

I simply urge you to be patient with the youthful errors of some of the actors, appreciate the excellence of those who are farther along in their training, and give an insightful play the attention it deserves.

I must call attention to the particularly strong performances of cast members Samantha Matson and Beth Hawkes, who play two of the titular Women -- Matson as a woman who has come to blame Americans for having brought their war to the air over Scotland, killing her husband and child as "collateral damage"; Hawkes as a local cleaning woman at the evidence warehouse, who is trying to help her friends while not losing her job.

Hayden Moses plays the American State Department official with naturalness and vigor that make him stand out as a breath of fresh air amid so much gloom. And Sam Jones handles the difficult role of the father so well that we forget the actor and ache for the man who has lost both son and wife, without being able to grieve for either.

Back in Shakespeare's day, the "boys' companies" drew audiences for their plays in real competition with the professional adult companies -- it used to drive the adult actors crazy, that people so often spent their theatre money on youngsters.

But when you watch these earnest young actors, with their wide range of skills, tackle adult roles, it does add a powerful extra dimension to the performances: We not only care about the characters, we care about the actors playing them; we invest our hope in both.

Theatre is the art in which the performers' tools are their own bodies and voices -- they literally throw their whole self into the work as no other artist ever can. Come and see how well they're doing at it. Besides, it's your tax money at work -- you might as well come and enjoy the benefits! (There is an admission charge, though -- $6 for students, $8 for adults. Your taxes don't get you in free.)

*

I haven't seen the movie The Social Network, but even so, I can tell you that the movie has to be better than the book it was based on, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal, by Ben Mezrich.

Admittedly, Mezrich faced a nearly insurmountable difficulty in writing the story of the founding of Facebook. After all his research, he had about fifty pages worth of story, and that's not long enough for a book.

Furthermore, he clearly was never granted an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, which left a gaping hole that could only be filled by speculation.

Even so, Mezrich made an artistic choice that buried him. He decided to write his account in a "novelistic" way -- that is, concentrating on scenes and giving us people's thoughts rather than narrating events like a historian.

Before deciding to write your history like a novel, however, it is wise to have a clue how a good novel is written. Here's Mezrich's constant pattern:

Get inside the head of one of the main participants in the story. Give us everything they're thinking about and anticipating. Build us up to a crucial scene of confrontation.

Skip the scene.

Get into the head of a participant after the scene and only gradually bleed out tiny bits of information about what actually happened in the crucial scene.

Mezrich quite literally has everything happen offstage. We only anticipate andremember, anticipate and remember. I've had fiction-writing students do this now and then -- and even so, it's a fatal error -- but Mezrich does nothing but dodge all the interesting scenes.

Not only that, but he has characters "think of" the same things that they just thought of, over and over again, and then summarizes the ideas that we've already read about twice, and then summarizes them again, until you want to scream, "Get on with it!"

This reached its peak of maddening stupidity when he shows a character heading up the elevator to a crucial meeting, and then shows the same character coming down the elevator, remembering what happened. We're shown "scenes" in which absolutely nothing happened, while the scene in which everything happened is avoided entirely.

Nobody in this story is particularly likeable, least of all Zuckerberg, who is portrayed here as a mid-functioning Asperger syndrome sufferer with a relentless selfishness that allows him to lie to anyone and everyone and break any promise he has made.

Only Eduardo Saverin emerges as a decent guy -- whip smart, so he made hundreds of thousands of dollars in oil futures before his junior year at Harvard. It was his money entirely that funded Facebook in its early days, and during the summer after Facebook started, he blew off an internship and worked like a dog trying to get advertisers for Facebook so it could start making money.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg went off to California to work with Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in the movie), who started Napster and Plaxo but never got rich from either. It's clear to me, at least, that Parker maneuvered to cheat Saverin out of his place in Facebook exactly as Parker himself had had Plaxo taken out from under him.

The pent-up rage in these computer wizards is obvious, and they share Bill Gates's utter immorality about taking other people's work without paying for it or even sharing credit. Whom can you possibly like, except Saverin?

The odd thing is that I'm a lot more at home with computer geeks than I am with the kind of hard-drinking shmoozers that seem to rule the social life at Harvard. If there's anything more detestable in this book than Silicon Valley culture it's Harvard -- everyone totally impressed with themselves while all they think about is drinking and sex.

There's not one person in the whole book with whom I could spend five minutes without wishing I could have that portion of my life back. Napping would be better than spending time with these people. Standing in line at the post office during Christmas season would be better.

Or at least that's how I felt after reading Mezrich's inept book.

The movie has to be better, because they cast actual humans in the parts, and because no screenwriter could get away with Mezrich's perpetual dodging of important scenes. Any movie version would be the opposite of Mezrich's skip-the-actual-scene approach, and therefore would be better.

In other words, don't buy this book; see the movie.

*

As many women can tell you, it's hard to find grownup clothing in the chain stores. It's as if all the retailers are going after girls between fifteen and twenty-five, while adult women have a terrible time finding clothing they can wear to work, or as part of a mature social life.

It doesn't help that fashions for young women and girls are depressingly tawdry; only a handful of these youngsters have bodies that are flattered by the clothing they're offered, and often the result is to make them look flighty or way too available.

Where, then, when this is almost all that's on offer, can a serious woman find serious clothing for her daily life in the business world?

That's where a local clothing store, The Hub Ltd., comes into play. I've been shopping there for many years -- it's where I can get suits that fit my taste, my body, and my budget. But what does a men's store have to do with women's clothing?

It's about the suits.

Women wear suits, too -- and for a lot of women, an excellent, well-fitting suit gives them the gravitas that allows them to be taken as seriously as they deserve.

The Hub is now doing a significant portion of its trade providing excellent suits for women (with either pants or skirts) through its website. Regardless of body type, you can find a style that allows you to enter any meeting or deal with your staff, knowing you look attractive and smart.

As company president Kent Tager explains it: "Our goal is to offer women the same kind of quality construction, fabrics, and fit options, that men have been able to purchase from us for many years. We are using menswear quality fabrics and making the trousers with an unfinished bottom and fully alterable seams, as is found on our men's trousers."

Though many of the fabrics are Italian or English imports, all the suits are actually made in the U.S. -- in New York City, to be precise. The suitmakers are superb specialists in tailoring to individual measurements, and then hems are adjusted by local alteration shops when the suits arrive.

But women who live near Greensboro have the benefit of doing fittings right in the store, at 2921-D Battleground Avenue. Their local telephone is 545-6535; their toll-free line is 866-482-5836.

Check out the website.

*

From the Fast Casual website we learn that "The makers of Ben & Jerry's ice cream have agreed to drop 'all natural' from its retail label, after receiving the request from the Center for Science in the Public Interest."

It seems that if you use alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, hydrogenated oil or other ingredients that are "not natural" in the CSPI's opinion, they get testy with you. And even though they are not a government agency, and the Food and Drug Administration has not defined "all natural," Ben & Jerry's is going along with the request simply to avoid trouble.

A Ben & Jerry's spokesman said the company is not changing any of the ingredients used to makes its premium ice cream, and the label change will gradually occur throughout its product line.

*

A friend recently responded to my "greeting cards for the dead" satire by telling me this story:

"When my mother was on her deathbed somebody gave her a get-well 'card' that blew up -- a rubber balloon with a spout that closed. Mother blew up the balloon, and it was still in her hospital room when she passed away. That was 1970, and today, exactly forty years later, the balloon is still inflated!

"It's in my sister's attic. She wants to get rid of it, but she doesn't want to lose Mother's air. There really used to be workmanship, back in the old days. Mylar just doesn't stand the test of time."

It may seem almost insane to cling to the balloon because the air inside it was once inside the lungs of a lost loved one -- you can't see it or smell it, and the moment you try to examine it, it's gone. But I understand completely.

We really can't send greeting cards to the dead, but we can hold on to relics. I have my share of them. Memories are precious and nothing compares to them; but it's also comforting to have something in the physical world that you can see and touch.

My sixteen-year-old daughter is very much alive -- but I have a Hallmark "talking" ornament on which my wife recorded our daughter's infant laughter. Sixteen years later, it still plays that infectious, delightful sound, bringing back the baby who is now gone -- replaced by the delightful young woman she grew into.

But we miss that baby, and with that never-ending ornament we can hold on to the sound of her, just as my friend and her family still know that inside that deathless balloon, their mother's breath is still there.


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