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Monday, September 30, 2019

Book review: 'Under Red Skies,' highly recommended


If I were in charge of high school curriculum, Under Red Skies: Three Generations of Life, Loss, and Hope in China would be required reading in World History classes. (Do any high schools teach World History?)

This little (almost 300 short pages) book is an excellent first-person account of the life of a young girl, born in 1989, in China, and her family's familial and cultural practices, and their experiences with restrictions on personal liberties the communist government places on its citizens.

Consider abortion and the Chinese birth rate.  

Implemented in 1979 to slow population growth, the single-child policy was abandoned in 2015 after 40 million female babies were aborted or murdered. Now China is a society with an inadequate supply of workers to fill jobs, stemming from an insufficient number of females (killed off) to marry and produce children in a nation with a rapidly aging population.


(A 2015 article in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that next year, China will have 24 million more men than women of marriageable age which translates into kidnapping, human trafficking, other crimes, and relocations to other countries by males searching for mates. Come to the U.S. capital, mates!)


The practice of terminating pregnancies up to eight months of gestation during the one-child rule is wrenching. Women had to submit to monthly door-to-door checks to make sure they were menstruating and were not pregnant (!).  

Ms. Kan writes of neighbors forced to undergo abortions. 

If mothers were able to hide their pregnancies beyond the seventh month, the government allowed the baby to be born. Thus, Ms. Kan's parents, who already had a son, had a daughter, the author.

For readers who know little about China, this fascinating contemporary history provides enlightenment and makes me sympathize with the Falun Gongers I see around town and in parades. 

After Falun Gong membership increased substantially, the Chinese government declared it to be a cult in 1999 and forbid anyone from following the group and/or keeping its literature which a member of Ms. Kan's family did.

Authorities went house-to-house to seek and destroy anything connected to Falun Gong.  Fortunately, Ms. Kan's uncle (I think he was) was not killed for his spiritual practices, but thousands were, including persons used for organ transplants.  (See the website.)

The author experiences all the ups, downs, and heartbreaks of a young person when she doesn't make minimum test scores to enter prestigious schools or when boys she likes do not return the romantic favor, much like what happens in the U.S. and around the world!  ("Love" must be the same everywhere.)

I am certain that one of the reasons I picked the book up from the new non-fiction titles at the library (in addition to its smart cover), was having recently listened to the CD of the autobiography of the Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, Journey of a Thousand Miles (no longer available for $164, newer copy, or $64, library copy, at Amazon).

Under Red Skies is equally as impressive, if not more so, since Ms. Kan did not have a parent as driven and possessed as Lang Lang's father who worked feverishly to ensure his son would become the ultimate pianist. (He has.)

Ms. Kan's mother also wanted the best for her children (Ms. Kan's father has a minor role in the book), and she ignored traditional dogmas to mind in-laws. Rather, she moved her family from the country to the city so her children could attend better schools (with their dad along for the ride), a wild scene played out in the front of eavesdropping neighbors who had a wonderful time listening to the screaming and bitter fight.

Another memorable scene was Ms. Kan's outing with a friend to an English bar when they ordered cocktails. You will smile and maybe, laugh out loud.

For the next edition, may I suggest the addition of a simple map of China showing Ms. Kan's route from the country to the city and Beijing, and a character list with their roles (Chunting, Laolao, Laoye, friend, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc.).  

Also, a glossary of the italicized Chinese words (e.g. zao lian, laobaixing, etc.) in case other readers, like me, forget their meanings which I belatedly discovered in the index while writing this review.


You don't have to be young to adopt Ms. Kan's persuasive outlook to keep on trying and never give up. 

It helps an American better understand the Hong Kong unrest and the freedoms we have and take for granted, freedoms unknown to Chinese citizens.

Movie, anyone?

patricialesli@gmail.com



Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Judy Chicago's death debut at the Women's Museum

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 5/6: Depression, 2015, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery

This show is not for everyone. (What show is for everyone?) I doubt everyone will be pleased. (Really?) I doubt parents will want to bring children, or, heaven forbid...grandparents! Or anyone close to death or thinking about it or, or ...

I have no doubts it will be controversial. (Yes.)  It will build traffic. The people will come to see it and discuss.  

Bravo for the National Museum of Women in the Arts! The home for the next four months of Judy Chicago's exhibition on death, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction.
Judy Chicago at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Sept. 16, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie
J
Judy Chicago, A Desperate Weariness, 2015,  courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying: How Will I Die? #1,  2015, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery


There are people who like to talk about death. A lot of them. I've worked with most of them, I think. They are blue and gray with personalities to match. I hope they find out about this show for they will love the subject of almost 40 paintings on porcelain and black glass and two bronze reliefs.
In the galleries at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Judy Chicago's The End:  A Meditation on Death and Extinction/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying: How Will I Die? #6 2015, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery
Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying: How Will I Die?#5 2015, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery


Ms. Chicago (b. 1939) is often associated with her celebrated Dinner Party, called by ArtNet News, "the most famous feminine artwork of all time." Once rejected by multiple museums, it now occupies a prominent place at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum where, it was announced last week at the Women's Museum, it's Brooklyn's biggest draw.

Wikipedia carries pages of description and discussion about the Dinner Party.

Judy Chicago, Extinction Relief, 2018, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Judy Chicago, Smuggled, 2016, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery
Judy Chicago, Bleached, 2017, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery
Judy Chicago, Harvested, 2016, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery

That's what art is, right?  To stimulate, interpret, apply, enjoy?  Well, maybe not so much "enjoy," but the bigger the controversy, the bigger the crowds. Make it and they will come.

Ms. Chicago's newest exhibition is not only about her upcoming demise, but, more importantly, that of the Earth and its occupants. 

Three shadowy galleries of a makeshift funeral parlor contain the death works which mostly hang on walls, each under a single spotlight stream which augments the impression of being inside a cave (with no way out. Dream on, those of you who were expecting a brightly colored Wizard of Oz-like path to Heaven! It ain't here! This route to death is paved with doom).
Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying: How Will I Die? #9 2015
Judy Chicago at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Sept. 16, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Judy Chicago at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Sept. 16, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Judy Chicago at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Sept. 16, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Judy Chicago, center, in the galleries at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Sept. 16, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Judy Chicago, left, in the galleries at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Sept. 16, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In the galleries at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Judy Chicago's The End:  A Meditation on Death and Extinction/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Judy Chicago, Mortality Relief, 2018, courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery/Photo by Patricia Leslie


In the first gallery, "Stages of Dying," Ms. Chicago takes a nude older woman (to contrast with the blithe, young female most male artists draw) through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 
  
The second gallery contains the death mask, a bronze relief, of Ms. Chicago lying in the tomb. The third gallery has the second bronze and art of creatures threatened by humans who have acted in destructive ways to harm life

The Extinction exhibition runs adjacent to Live Dangerously, pictures by 12 photographers of women, mainly their bodies, mixing with nature.  Sometimes humorous, all stimulating and provocative, the pictures are a nice contrast to the somber environment presented next door.

On October 23, November 13, and December 4, the museum will host free noontime, 30-minute gallery talks about The End.  Reservations are not required. 

That the National Museum of Women in the Arts was chosen for Ms. Chicago's Extinction premiere is significant and helps focus attention on female artists whose works and presence have been ignored for centuries. 


The National Museum of Women in the Arts will join Penn State and Harvard universities to become online repositories for the Judy Chicago Portal which opens Oct. 17, 2019.

A catalog, New Views with 240 pages, is available ($49.95). 


What: The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction and Live Dangerously

 
When:
Both shows close Sunday, January 20, 2020. The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and on Sundays, 12 - 5 p.m.

Where: The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005


Admission:  $10, adults; $8, students and seniors over the age of 64.  Free for members and those age 18 and under, and free for everyone on the first Sunday of every month (October 6, Nov. 3, Dec. 1, and Jan. 5, 2020 for these shows).

For more information: 202-783-5000 or visit nmwa.org.

Metro stations: Metro Center (exit at 13th Street and walk two blocks north) or (better) walk a short distance from McPherson Square.

patricialesli@gmail.com


Sunday, September 15, 2019

'A Few Good Men' and a woman in Alexandria



 Fred Lash (Capt. Isaac Whitaker) and Emma Wesslund (Lt. Cmdr. Joanne (Jo) Galloway) in Little Theatre of Alexandria's A Few Good Men/Photographer: Ari McSherry

For anyone who loves theatre, A Few Good Men at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, is a classic must. 

The second act was so engrossing that an occasional member of the audience, unable to contain himself during the performance, would give a shout-out to the actors, hoping for justice for all.

Nicholas Temple (Lt. Jack Ross), left, and Brendan Quinn (Lt. J.G. Daniel Kaffee)
in Little Theatre of Alexandria's A Few Good Men/Photographer: Ari McSherry  

On trial are two young Marines, Harold Dawson (John Paul Odle) and Louden Downey (Jared Diallo) charged with the murder of another Marine, Pfc. William Santiago (Edwin Kindler). Rather than pleading guilty and going to prison for a few years, a female officer, Joanne Galloway (Emma Wesslund) convinces Mr. Plea Deal Lawyer Kaffee (Brendan Quinn) to submit the truth and find justice for the Marines whose top brass seek to deny and cover up their participation.

Whatever shall be the verdict?

Lawyer Kaffee basks in recognition for getting the most leniencies for his clients on plea deals, the least time in the slammer, although his clients may be innocent. A different strategy presents a risky and uncertain outcome, but it's the one the attorneys agree to follow and challenge the brass.


Mr. Kaffee is ably assisted by Lt. Weinburg (Jonathan Mulberg) whose infrequent comedic role helps to relieve the drama.  The single woman, Lt. Galloway draws audience applause at some points in the first act, but the play has her role diminished significantly in the strong second act when Lt. Weinburg overtakes her. It's almost as if Lt. Galloway has disappeared into the woodwork.

The hated Col. Jessup (David Kimmelman) lashes out at suspected opponents with all the venom and more which director Kathleen Barth desired, and his performance is likely to win a nomination in the Washington Area Theatre Community Awards competition.

Lt. Kendrick (Miguel Rosario), a true believer, ably assists Col. Jessup. And Nicholas Temple as the prosecutor added more reality to the show which is not all courtroom exchange. The history of the case builds, climaxing in the trial we all knew was coming.

Presiding in the center of the ring is Judge Randolph (Cliff Rieger) who conducts proceedings with strict military precision. Of course. He seemed a natural for the role.

While this is not a "feel good" story but one based on true events, it's certainly pause for reflection and to ask:  "Where are we going?" 

John Downing has designed an effective set for different scenes in four corners of the stage, three which go dark when lighting designer Ari McSherry drives attention to the action.  

Emma Williams's props are totally sufficient and unobtrusive.

What are tiresome though are the persistent Marine chants cast over a deep sky blue backdrop for scene changes. (Two chants would have been enough.) 

Director Barth writes in program notes that she sees a parallel of the 1986 drama with today's national "current political climate," and she hopes the audience will see the "struggle for the truth." It's impossible to overlook.

Costume designer Farrell Hartigan carefully studied military uniforms from the time, but the tieless reporter seemed out-of-place when cornering an officer for questioning.

The play takes place at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba and in Washington, D.C. and is based on true events.

The general acting all around is another benefit of living in an area rich with theatre and talent, and well worth the price of a ticket or two (three).

The large cast (21) also includes Abbie Mulberg (Galloway understudy on some nights), Fred Lash, Jeff Haslow, Johnny Goodwin, Craig Morris,  Patrick Hogan, Christian Kampe, Ramy Ramirez, and Robert Montgomery.

Other creative team members were Sam Jensen, assistant producer; Rishabh Bajekal, assistant director; Charles Dragonette and Peter Leresche, stage managers; Eli Alexander and Joel Durgavich, assistant stage managers;  Donna Reynolds, set decoration; Krista White, sound;  Charlotte Corneliusen, hair and makeup; Robin Worthington, wardrobe coordinator; and Michael Donahue, stage combat coordinator.


What:  A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin, produced by Carol Jean Clark, Katie Kellenberger and Robert S. Kraus


When: Now through September 28, 2019. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee, Sept. 22, 2019 at 3 p.m.

Where: Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Tickets: $21 to $24


Language rating"X" with f-and s-bombs
 
Duration: About two hours with one 15-minute intermission

Public transportation: Check the Metro website.

Parking:
On the streets and in many garages nearby. If Capital One Bank at Wilkes and Washington streets is closed, the bank's lot is open to LTA patrons at no charge.
 

For more information: 703-683-0496

patricialesli@gmail.com