Tag Archives: classic literature

“Dubliners” by James Joyce: a book review

I enjoyed this more now in my mid-twenties than I would have in high school, but slice-of-life naturalism in general suffers from lack of dramatic tension. It’s like, “peek-a-boo, my country this, sad hopelessness that,” and then the book is over.

Yeah, some of this is pretty writing. A lot is not. He was 22 when he wrote this.

I have no doubt that these pieces were revelatory a century ago, specifically to the Irish, but today the aspects of human nature which Joyce wanted to illuminate are well explored in popular media. We’ve had decades to dissect our lives, our wants, our needs, our faults; and the things that make us different, strong, and weak; TV, songs, writing, tales of war, science, societial constructs, and other, frankly, more accessible writings.

Your average, contemporary reader – in any country – will find this work taxing to read and self-serving. This is not fun, Sunday morning light reading. In fact, I bet if you were not made to reade Joyce in high school or college, MOST young adults or adults for that matter would never touch this stuff.

You can respect Joyce, but, and forgive me for saying this, you’re an asshole if you love his work. If you really enjoy it and own it all and think few things are better. Ha. Joyce was in love with his self at a young age, and the pretension shows through everything he ever wrote. Get over his writing, get over yourself.

“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is the only other piece I will ever attempt by Joyce. I’ve read it is the second most easily digestible next to “Dubliners.” Avoid “Finnegan’s Wake” and “Ulysses” like the plague. Long, obnoxious, literary tomes of garbage, gargantuan experiements tinged with a pleasure for the scent of one’s own shit.

My, my, my, look how I can write – some of his work seems to exude.

How good can something be when many only happen to read it during their seventh year Master’s in English Theory and half the class still doesn’t enjoy it? With writing for such a niche of scholars and used as such a pillar of 20th Century study, how and why could the majority of readers appreciate and read such work? Don’t all authors want the largest group possible to reflect and consume their work? Am I crazy here?

Dubliners is what I would recommend to a “first-timer”: nowhere near the self-indulgence of other work, i.e. “Ulysses.” Ugh.

Pioneering a style and setting the precedent only gets you so much praise from me – the rest of your writing as to be, I don’t know, good.




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The HCC production of “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical”: a review


I learned last night that actors/actresses singing in key is a secondary or tertiary requirement to some directors when putting on a musical. Kayla Whisman was the very young student director of “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical” at Harford Community College’s Chesapeake Theater, and the verdict is not yet in as to its calibur being something expected from a high school or a college. But, goddamit, they tried and had fun. Like a good coach tells his little league team: “Good effort out there, guys!” The difference is none of the parents are asked to pay $15 dollars to watch a little league baseball game.

First, the good. Elements were stunning for a college level production–no doubt. Costume design (Rebecca Eastman), set design (Samina Veith), lighting design (Chris Allen), and general enthusiasm from the entire ensemble kept this ship afloat. The rest needs to be seen to be believed. It must be experienced to be understood. But after you read this, you won’t.

Part of that is, honestly, the source material — the script’s quality. Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden wrote the music/lyrics in the late ’80s. It premiered in 1990 and would not reach Broadway until 1997. There were a lot of funding issues, but I do not have to wonder why. It ran roughly 3 years, lost money in the end—more than $1.5 million—and lacked any stellar reviews. Where it has played since then has seen the script further deteriorate, with many different script variations at the director’s behest; changes in monologues, additions or ommissions of characters, and a general over-reaching of what artistic license should be–disrespecting the source material and making alterations beyond recognition. This particular production, I was told by one of its players after the show, was an assemblage of several other productions “best parts and scenes.” Take that as you may.

While a little change in any long running play or musical can be refreshing and inspiring here or there, you’ll likely never see “Jekyll & Hyde” the same way twice, if you can stomach going more than once. Had I not been with a group, I would have likely left at intermission, marking the first time I would have ever left a theater without watching the entire show.

At my particular show at the Chesapeake theater, fighting against the spoken scenes at every turn was the musical score itself–the accompaniment. There was little time in Jekyll/Hyde where there was silence from pre-recorded MIDI files with digital bells, horns, tympani drums, and strings; stunting the scenes’ natural rhythms and emotions. The snythesized and outdated recordings were distracting. When the audience was infrequently blessed with no music stomping over a scene’s dialogue, I found those scenes to be the most believable and effective and natural. It was like I was watching a play. The actors could actually act and not be rushed by the timing of when the next song starts. All of that music “hams” it up dramtically; it’s hard to not find it over-the-top and clownish. People around me laughed on and off from beginning to end, all unintentionally. When actors speak with music in the background, there is no room to falter in one’s deliveries; there is a cue to hit when the singing commenses again, and this makes for a sometimes late entry into a song, or worse, the actors complete their dialogue volley several seconds before the music and singing is to pick back up, leading to an awkward pause or freeze. The play stalls, and it’s obvious: the entire building is waiting for the music to kick in.

Per usual with pre-recorded anything, the mix at the Chesapeake Theater was too loud. I was in the the very front row, center in fact, and could hardly decipher some of the words ten feet from me, in both lyrically and spoken. Everyone seemed to have microphones attached to their heads, but often only the lead roles mics were on and mixed properly. My one wish for Jekyll/Hyde is to only play music just before a song begins. Allow the rest to breathe! If the “fathers” of this musical had any faith in the quality of the spoken lines in the script, there would be no need to cover them with brass, tubas and french horns. Creating “over-ambiance” detracts from the intended emotional response. Sometimes (actually often if you’ve ever seen any other musical) less is more. And the Jekyll/Hyde I saw at HCC needed a great deal more.

Very young twenty-something director, Miss Kayla Whisman, came out before the show with a smiley face balloon tied to her wrist and, with little regard for professionalism, bumbled over an introduction. She wanted affectionately to welcome us, and said there would be “the use of blood in the production tonight.” She was “sorry if that makes people uncomfortable or offended,” interspersed with “uhs” and “ums”, ending with something like “Okay! Enjoy the show, guys!”  Something to that affect, but those were not her exact words. I saw no blood, bytheway. Actually that is a lie; because I was in the very front and center row I accidently saw what seemed to be a possible blood capsule drip one time out of a dead man’s mouth who died on the very, very edge of the stage 8-feet from my seat. How was anyone else supposed to see?

The director came out once more, in the middle of the second act when the lights came up in the house, to apologize for technical difficulties, but the sound system stopped working and they had to fix it. It made sense. The previous song before this announcement was a capella; also, without the slightest sense of melody or key. I will give her credit for being completely alone on stage and really having some courage to do it. Whatever else I may say, know I respect thesbian courage without equivocation. I digress, I knew something was wrong since I was not being aurally pummeled with waves of MIDI piano and cymbal crashes. When this “something” went right with the sound, I knew “something went wrong” with the sound system.

I think, when it’s all said and done, these young actors and actresses did their best with what they were given; in their defense, even with the best vocalist on the planet, “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical” is not well written, lyrically, artistically, dramatically, or with intriguing character arcs or development. There was but one catchy song in the first act, the rest was hackneyed and borrowed and butchered from other superior musical’s verses and choruses of the past. Again, I am addressing the original writers of this play. The best player was Dr. Jekyll’s love interest and finace who could both act and sing beautifully. Had I been her, I would have been incredibly frustrated. The lead actor, Jekyll, apparently acting for seven years according to the play bill, couldn’t maintain pitch to save his life. Ironically, he did die in the end. I guess he can’t sing to save his life. However, he made up for it by putting on an incredible performance and showing real torment and sadness. So long as he never stars in a musical, I think he has real promise if he continues with his career at Towson university as he intends. Good luck to him.

The one positive thing to come out of the night was the reminder of how much I love the time period “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical” is set in. If nothing else, it made me want to watch “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, and “From Hell.” Additionally, watching this production has given me the reassurance that I could write a gothic musical and it wouldn’t be half bad. Thank you, Frank Wildhorn. My rendition of “Sherlock Holmes the Musical” should be an instant classic. Jokes aside, however, some classic literature should probably not be on stage; Sherlock Holmes and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” included.

To be nice about it; between 8:10 and 10:40 p.m. on November 10th, 2011 at The Chesapeake Theater in Harford County, Maryland, I was abused.

(* out of ****)

(Matt Lowder has been in two dramatic plays and two musicals since 2002. He has attended a dozen plays and musicals over the past decade by major companies, colleges, and high schools, including “Grease”, “Guys & Dolls”, “Sweeny Todd”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “The Sound of Music” and “Romeo & Juliet”. He has studied film, theater, and music theory since 2007.)

HCC site, touting evocative qualities — http://www.harfordneighbors.net/index.php?section=1&subtype=2&id=4920

For more info about this play — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jekyll_%26_Hyde_(musical)

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A Reaction and Overview to: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

Kundera’s most famous novel is a complex book. Set against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the story evolves around different fictional topics but could just as well be the story of real people. A man torn between thought and emotion, between love and lust. A woman who lives for rebellion. Another whose body is simply an amplifier for her emotions. Tomas, the male protagonist, falls in love with Teresa and marries her, while still having many one-night stands in an attempt to give weight (meaning) to his life. Moreover, he maintains a love-affair with Sabina. 

   Teresa is aware of Tomas’ adulteries and cannot bear the situation, which manifests itself in numerous detailed nightmares illustrating the realities of life. For Teresa, love and sex go together, whereas Tomas believes that having sex without love is possible. The female protagonist therefore suffers from the heaviness of life, while her male counterpart feels the unbearable lightness of being. Teresa later tries to gain this lightness for herself. Most of us carry the heavy and the light, the expression of either part depending on our character and circumstances. For that reason, one can identify with Teresa as well as Tomas and Sabina too. 

   Kundera led me to understand that the “specialness” of relationships is not really held in the place that we tend to think it is nor manifests itself in the way that we wish. That love is not what we think it is and unfortunately can sometimes only be gained through situations that we would otherwise find abhorrent if not consumed with these feelings. Sex and love are so intimately joined that it is very difficult to distinguish between the two. Tereza stayed with Tomas knowing he spent most days and nights in another woman’s arms because she loved him, and therefore would suffer anything for him. For her, sex and love were the same thing and that is what tormented her but at the same time made her stay. Is Tereza’s acceptance weakness or a pessimistically hopeful attempt to gain love through persistence and loyalty? 

   The very fact that they stay together and seem to find some degree of happiness illustrates that an acceptance of a relationship that falls well short of satisfying and fulfilling hopes, is possible. Is Tomas and Tereza’s tolerance of their imperfect love, their acceptance of where they have arrived at simply a reflection of the fact that you can’t change the strong’s oppression of the weak? You may hate it, as Tereza hates Thomas’ infidelity, but you have to accept it and move on. However, this suggestion that change can only be incremental (at best) and that basically everyone must cope with life, however awful, must be rejected. Life without dreams is no life at all, but perhaps this is the very point that Kundera was trying to portray. 

   Kundera plays with opposites: life and death, heaviness and lightness throughout his story. The reader can try to decide which life is happier: the light or the dark? What is “The Unbearable Lightness of Being?” It is the realization that, with no hope of knowing the right path from the wrong, there can be no wrong path. One is necessarily absolved of mistakes. The search for meaning in life leans towards the necessity of significance, which comes from a sense of weight. Are events forgiven in advance because they happen only once? But, is it also not unbearable that events only occur once as we can never go back and rectify our mistakes? Everyone wishes they could replay a past error; a lost opportunity, a lost love, a relationship that should not be. Is this not unbearable?! Is this not a weight we feel pressing down on us every day?

   The novel is an attempt to identify what makes us need companionship in life so badly, trying to understand the relationships between the conflicting desires that humans possess and act upon. What makes a man leave the woman that he loves and is perfectly happy with and seek something intangible in the arms of a mistress? Why does the same man sacrifice everything he has – freedom, social status, and his life’s work – only to go back to the same woman he absolutely had to leave before? Is the absence of any responsibilities and ties in life really a “lightness”? Could this absolute lightness turn into absolute emptiness and thus become unbearable at some point – a burden pulling us to the ground? It shows how vulnerable we are, and how miserable we can be made by our contradictory desires, aspirations and impulses. If you read deep enough into this novel you’ll repeatedly think, ‘he’s talking about me’. 

“How can life ever be a good teacher if there is only one of them to be lived? How can one perform life when the dress rehearsal for life is life?”


article thanks to: Nabou.com and Eugene Knight

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