Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Edith Needs You

As the end of the school year draws near, my thoughts turn to reading. Well, my thoughts are never far from reading, but summer brings the opportunity to read more than usual, so I'm on the prowl for great books to devour in the weeks ahead. For some reason, I'm drawn to classics in the summer months. Yes, while the rest of the world is scouting for "beach reads," I'm dusting off War and Peace, pulling out Eudora Welty, and gearing up for The Innocents Abroad. (So I'm different. What can I say?)

For some reason, summer makes me think of Edith Wharton. Not sure why, given all those frozen pages of Ethan Frome, but it does. Maybe it's those voluminous pale dresses in which she always seems to be pictured (Edith, Emily, Louisa May...ya think if I traded in my jeans for long white dresses I could have better luck selling my novel?). Whatever, when I think of summer, I always think of Edith, and now you need to think about her, too. It seems the home of this wonderful writer, delared a National Historic Landmark years ago, is about to be foreclosed upon. I can only imagine how much it costs to maintain "The Mount," as Edith's mansion is called, but it does seem horrid to let America's only monument to Ms. Wharton--and one of the few protected landmarks honoring a woman--fall into the hands of heaven-knows-whom. Given that many of Edith's books were nonfiction works about architecture and gardening, this estate offers definitive examples of what she wrote about. And it's impossible to put a price on the effect walking in the haunts of a beloved writer can have on an aspiring one. Having wept from pure bliss when I visited the homes of Helen Keller, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Carl Sandburg, and Louisa May Alcott, I know that impact first hand.

So if you haven't yet spent all your tax refund and are feeling just the teeniest bit philanthropic, visit and consider making a donation to Save The Mount. They've been given till Halloween to raise a couple of million dollars; a couple of yours will help. Go read one of Edith's books to put you in the mood or, better yet, make a pilgrimage to Lenox, Massachusetts, this summer and visit the estate for yourself.

If you've watched TV recently, you know it's more critical than ever to preserve whatever shreds of intelligence, creativity, and dignity that are left on this planet. Here's your chance!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nothing Sleepy About The Drowsy Chaperone

"The Drowsy Chaperone" is a Broadway play currently making its way across the country. It was in Greenville this week and, take my word for it, you should make every effort to see it if it comes to a city near you. (See the tour schedule here.) Unfortunately, many seats sat empty during the Greenville run because the play is fairly new and still largely unfamiliar. That's a real shame, because the plot is inventive, the music and dancing topnotch, and the voices among the best I've ever heard. Even the bit players are excellent. Georgia Engle, whom we know and love from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is the biggest name in the cast; she isn't onstage often, but when she is, she's her sweet, softspoken, slightly ditzy self. The entire ensemble does a masterful job bringing to life this tuneful tribute to classic musicals; Cliff Bemis as frustrated impresario Mr. Feldzieg and James Moye as on-call lothario Aldolpho are particularly enjoyable, and a tap dance by bridegroom Mark Ledbetter and best man Richard Vida is pure fun. I just wish Fran Jaye ("Trix the Aviatrix") had been given more of an opportunity to cut loose; her voice promised way more than she had a chance to deliver.

The "Man in a Chair," who serves as narrator in this clever tale, gets it right when he talks about the ability of a darkened theatre to whisk us away from reality; heaven knows, a little escape from reality these days goes a long way toward maintaining sanity. That's why I hate that theatre tickets--especially top quality productions such as touring Broadway shows--are so prohibitively expensive. I don't know many families that can comfortably whip out $70+ a piece for a couple hours' diversion. Given the choice of playing to a half empty house or offering up a too-good-to-miss-out-on deal, seems to me the producers of these shows--any show, for that matter--would try to cut their losses. I know the argument: they don't want to offer last-minute discounts because then people will wait and not buy tickets at full price. The truth is, devoted theatre-goers, people who can afford it, and people who want to see the show from a particular seat will buy the same tickets they always have. But students, and families for whom cultural activities are too often a luxury, and people who would NEVER pay $70 for a ticket might just decide to buy a $35 one--and they probably wouldn't care if it was on the last row of the top balcony. They'd just like a chance to get in on the magic.

These days, with bell peppers a buck a piece and gas at four dollars a gallon, seems like we ought to at least catch a break on magic, doncha think?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Family Fun

Okay, folks, word is that "A Plumm Summer" did well in Minnesota, Montana, and Alabama last week, but not so well in California. It's showing again this weekend, so if you're in one of those states or have friends there, hunt up this film and vote for family values with the price of a movie ticket. If you see it, let me know what you think.

And while you've got the fam gathered 'round, when's the last time you played board games together? Scrabble, naturally, is my all-time favorite, and I have devoted many hours of my life to Monopoly, but my newest favorite is a game called "Carcasonne." I would play it daily if I could find a partner. (I've worn out everyone in my household!) I don't even care about winning; just the act of claiming and building up kingdoms and roads, or planting myself as a farmer in a lucrative area, is enough. Carcasonne takes a bit of effort to learn, but I promise you it's worth it.

The all-around favorite in our house, though is the card game of Spades. Having grown up in a good Baptist household where cards where frowned upon, I didn't learn the joy of Spades till I went off to my good Baptist college, Mars Hill. (Go, Lions!) Before I die, I have to learn to play bridge, else I can't call myself a good Southern girl, but in the meantime, I've learned to play a mean game of Spades. Every summer since they were old enough to safely reach the stovetop, I've taught my sons how to cook one new thing, figuring that by the time they left home, they'd be adept enough in a kitchen to keep from starving or living off fast food. (I realize the latter is a matter of choice, rather than culinary capability!) But the year the youngest was finally old enough to hang on to a splay of thirteen cards in a reasonably discreet manner, I cast aside tradition for ready Spades partners, and many are the fine summer nights our tribe has enjoyed at the kitchen table since.

It's May, my middle son has just completed his first year of college, my youngest is on the home stretch, and the scent of summer is just around the corner. Seems like a good weekend to go to the movies and get out the games.