Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Holidays from Portland

I feel a little like Garrison Keillor, "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon..." Because it's been a quiet week in Portland, OR, since I got back, and I'm wondering why I don't feel more energized. Sure, I've seen some movies and one piece of theatre, read some books, eaten better food than I have all month, celebrated Christmas with the family... But I'm also very lethargic, not thinking very hard about the play that consumed me during my last week at Vassar (and which I still need to finish) nor very hard about this blog, either, it seems.

Sunday was a good, Portlandy day. I went downtown to see A Christmas Carol at Portland Center Stage, adapted by my mentor, Mead Hunter. I also knew several of the cast members from various summers at JAW. The adaptation was very faithful to Dickens' novella (which I usually make a point of reading every year)--it moved swiftly and did not pad things out with extraneous local color or period detail. It understood that the heart of the show is Scrooge's journey, and once each episode had made its point, it ended. And, though I just complained about the excessive use of narration in Doris to Darlene, I did not mind its more limited use here.

The cast was big (15 adults, 5 children) and expertly choreographed/ doubled to make it look like there were even more cast members than there actually were. One standout was Julianna Jaffe playing the Ghost of Christmas Present à la Sara Ramirez in Spamalot. I saw the show on closing day and couldn't help wondering if some of the performances had gotten overly broad since opening night--especially Scrooge's (Wesley Mann). Several times, it seemed like he acted self-consciously "funny" to make the audience laugh, rather than playing the truth of the character. Musical choices and arrangements were also good--my favorite being the Middle-Eastern orchestration of "Ding Dong Merrily On High" to accompany a scene where Young Scrooge reads The Arabian Nights.

After the show I went to Powell's and bought six wonderful books using the store credit I'd amassed... Santa brought me even more books two days later, so this will be a wonderfully literary vacation. And then, my parents and I reenacted our holiday tradition of a dinner at Higgins restaurant. They are obsessed with a seasonal item on the menu called the Smoked Goose Breast Salad, and me, I don't mind Higgins' cooking either. I've only ever eaten at Higgins in December, and most years, I get the Magret and Confit of Duck with sour cherries and spaetzel. Mmm. Holidays in Portland.

On Christmas Eve, my father and I hedged our bets by going both to The Golden Compass movie (y'know, the movie that Conservative Catholics are all up in arms about) and to 10 PM Catholic Mass. After all my anticipation, you can read my thoughts about The Golden Compass here. I wasn't expecting perfection, and I ended up being mostly entertained. And even though the dialogue was careful to sidestep around Pullman's anti-religious statements, I liked how the production design didn't: the agents of the Magisterium were definitely wearing ecclesiastical robes, and the wall of the Magisterium office in Trollesund was painted with haloed saints. Still, I'm not quite sure why Catholics specifically are attacking this movie, since, even when I first read The Golden Compass as a nine-year-old who wanted to take Catholicism very seriously, I never thought of it as an attack on one specific religion. More an attack on any religion or any cult that wants to control its followers' lives.

As for Christmas mass, since I don't consider myself a Catholic anymore, I go for the singing, and to see the people at church who still remember me. I feel more spiritual when I'm singing those great old songs (and they have to be the rousing old hymns, not the newfangled gentle folky stuff) than during any other part of the ceremony.

And since then...not much. Dad and I made the Gratin Dauphinois from Jeffrey Steingarten's It Must've Been Something I Ate (which I blogged about wanting to cook last August)--turned out very well. So it's been a fat and lazy week--much appreciated after all those finals, but I do hope to shake off this lethargy sometime soon and really get out there and enjoy my vacation!

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