Puppet Titus Andronicus!

Puppets are fun!  Anything adapted to include puppets is fun! That must mean Puppet Titus Andronicus is SUPERFUN!!!

From the web site of the Puppet Shakespeare Players:

It’s true, everyone’s favorite Shakespeare canon punching bag…has arrived in New York City! Puppet Titus Andronicus is a fresh, comedic take on Shakespeare’s “worst” play, featuring silly-string gore, a bunch of angry goths, a villainous anthropomorphic boar and all of the deaths, dismemberment, cannibalism and crimes against humanity that make “Titus” the “poetic atrocity” that it is.

Puppet Titus will be performed in The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (410 w. 42nd st @ 9th ave)

Man, I wish I could see this.  If any Fickle Readers out there are in the NYC area, go check it out and let me know how it went!  Or, if you’re interested in writing a review, I’ll post it right here on my blog!  Go now!

P.S.  Randomly enough, I found out about this production from Joyce Carol Oates’s Twitter feed.  Thanks, Joyce!

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Calming the Fickle Fish of the Mind

Heat up the sun energy of the right nostril, and cool

down the moon energy of the left nostril; practicing this

breath-control, bring them into perfect balance.

In this way, the fickle fish of the mind will be held

steady; the swan-soul shall not fly away, and the body-

wall will not crumble.

Shri Guru Granth Sahib

Shakespeare Is Everywhere: Burmese Edition

Time for a much-needed laugh from the annals of Good Tickle Brain!

For more on the story of the Burmese lesson, the full blog post is here.

This is one of the most bizarre random stumblings onto Shakespeare I’ve encountered in a while.  I tell ya, I don’t think anyone in the world–certainly not anyone in an English-speaking country–can go a day without bumping into a reference to Shakespeare.  Try it sometime.  You’ll be amazed.  And possibly a little creeped out.

Also: thanks and bravo (brava?) to you, Mya!  Mighty Tiny Bill is doing a tightly confined jig in his Original Packaging on my bookshelf.  I think you made his day!

In the Meantime, Ferguson, Missouri, Explodes. Did You Catch That?

Last night, while the world mourned the loss of Robin Williams, chaos broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, a town outside St. Louis.  A crowd protesting the questionable death of Mike Brown, an 18-year-old man shot and killed by police on Saturday, was confronted by more police officers, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters.  After that, there came riots.  (The Daily Beast has a good write-up of the incident here.)  Today, in the Washington Post, Todd C. Frankel opines:

It’s still unclear why, this time, tensions boiled over. But to many people, it had little to do with this town. The violent reaction grew from something larger, something tougher to pin down.

Really, Todd C. Frankel?  It’s tough to “pin down” that people are pissed about yet another unarmed, young African-American man getting gunned down by police?  Where exactly is the vagueness you find in this issue?

Okay, I’m going to ignore Frankel’s weak-ass commentary for right now.  What I want to ask is, were you watching TV last night, and if so, did you see this happening?  I don’t tend to watch the 24-hour news stations anymore, but all over Twitter there were pleas for major media outlets to stop the mass orgy of sorrow that accompanies every celebrity death and maybe show some footage of the tear gas cloud that had descended over the streets of Ferguson.

You know, I was mourning the loss of Robin Williams last night.  And I also tried my best to catch what was going on in Missouri.  There was quite a lot of footage floating around Twitter.  Sort of like when the Arab Spring took place on social media.

Is this what we’ve come to in this country, mainstream news outlets?  A media machine so distracted by fame it can’t report two news stories at once?  U.S. citizens forced by a silent news industry to report on events themselves?  I think even Williams would have excused a cut-away from his own coverage.  He might have even made a joke about the fact that he would, in fact, be polite and remain dead until the mourning could resume.

Ugh.  I really want to be wrong about this.  Someone tell me some news outlet somewhere broadcast coverage of Ferguson.  Otherwise, I think I may beat my head against a wall.

God Bless Sweet Haven, and Goodbye Robin Williams [UPDATED]

[UPDATE: This is important enough to add to the top of the page.  If you need help, please, please talk to somebody.  Try contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  According to Cracked.com’s David Wong, it’s been extremely helpful, and you can trust him because he’s a comedian.  No, really.  Wong says if he had to estimate how many comedians he knows who suffer from mental problems, he’d say “approximately ‘all of them.’ “]

I could start out this post with some little shard of dark humor, the kind that covers up despair with an attempt at detached wit, like, how fucked up must our country be when one of our greatest comedians commits suicide?

But I like the directness of Eric Idle’s recent tweet, so I’m going to steal it:

I am sick with grief.

***

As a child, one of my favorite movies was the live-action “Popeye.”  Yes, the one that Robert Altman directed. The one that made it into a book called Fiasco: A History of Hollywood’s Iconic Flops.  The one on Rotten Tomatoes that the audience hated almost 20% more than the critics, a phenomenon I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed in the time I’ve known about the web site.  Yes, I can remember what the movie was like, and yes, it was very, very cheesy.  I haven’t watched it in quite a while, but I’m 100% positive if I caught “Popeye” today I’d be cringing at the weird, ramshackle sets, the extreme overacting, the goofy dance numbers, and all the rest.   I’m sure I’d be cringing most of all because I’d surely be aware of that queasy double-consciousness we get when re-discovering ourselves at certain ages, or looking at something we used to love.

Yeah, I loved the movie “Popeye.”  For a while, it must have aired three times a day on HBO, and I watched every chance I could get.  My parents loved “Popeye,” too.  To the point where we’d quote lines back and forth to each other.  We sang the songs.  We memorized runs of dialogue.  For some reason, we latched onto the bizarre setting, a rotting little harbor village called Sweethaven.  When Popeye first rows into Sweethaven the morning after a terrible storm, the self-satisfied, ratty bourgeois dwellers are already singing their town “anthem”:

Sweet Sweethaven

God must love us

We the people

Love Sweethaven

And so on and so forth.  Okay, I admit the words are kind of insipid.  But the soaring absurdity of the whole thing comes out much more if you hear it in context.  Some choice lines I didn’t even catch until I googled them just now: “Swept people from the sea / Safe from democracy”; “God must have landed here / Why else would he strand us here?”  My mom and dad, both small-town folk, ate up the humor and then some.  Ever after that day we first saw “Popeye,” even after my parents divorced, whenever we rolled in to some decrepit little burg, one of us, usually my mother, would always sing in the quietest of voices, “Ah, Sweethaven…”

If you can handle the cartoony cheese and rubbery surrealism, you really ought to take a look at that YouTube link above.  Or look at it one more time.  Those shots of the man rowing to shore over the bluer-than-blue Mediterranean represent the first few minutes of Robin Williams’s career as a film actor.

***

To be honest, the reason why I’m sharing all these childhood memories is because I don’t have much of a coherent response to the death of Robin Williams.  I sort of feel like I’ve lost a parent.  I grew up watching Mork and Mindy.  I was only too happy when “Popeye” came out.  At the time, no one told me it was one of Hollywood’s greatest flops.  I loved the movie, first and foremost, because Robin Williams was in it, and he, as far as I was concerned, was the funniest man alive.

I know his shtick grew thin after about 20 years.  Maybe looking back, it all looks pretty stale.  Seriously, though, millennials, Robin Williams hit the airwaves in pre-Simpsons, pre-Seinfeld, pre-Colbert, hell, even pre-Monty-Python-Gets-Famous-on-PBS America.  You wanted something on TV you were sure would be funny?  And not just polite-titter funny, but edgy funny?  Unpredictable funny?  New funny?  Robin Williams was pretty much it.

Also, all that rowing and water imagery in “Popeye” reminds me (now) of poet Anne Sexton and her final book, The Awful Rowing Toward God.  Not necessarily because of the scene where Popeye arrives in Sweethaven.  I’m thinking of the movie’s grand finale here, when Bluto steals Swee’pea and starts a madcap chase out into the middle of the ocean where Popeye’s father’s treasure is supposed to be buried.  (Yeah, I know I’m spoiling away here.  It’s a 34-year-old movie.  Shut up.)  Of course, Popeye comes through in the end, Bluto swims away beaten, and everyone gaily sings the traditional “Popeye the Sailor Man” song.  Happy ending, right?  Except for the fact that all of their seagoing vessels–and I mean all of them–were destroyed in the fight to get to this deserted rock in the middle of nowhere.  As a kid, that always bothered me.  What are all the people supposed to do now?  Their spinach reserves aren’t going to stretch for more than a day or so.  Not with two-dozen castaways clinging to a couple of rocks, with nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see.

If you thought I was reaching for an allegory for depression here, you’re right.  Depression isn’t a little problem, not in the slightest.  Depression is a ghastly brain disease.  Bipolarism, which Robin Williams had according to the Twitter buzz, is an even uglier brain disease and results in even more self-destructive behavior and suicide.  People with bipolarism at times have the energy to push and push and push themselves out into nothingness.  They climb Mount Everest.  They row toward God.  They celebrate for a little while once they arrive at their destination. What they don’t realize is that they used up all their resources on the journey.  When they try to turn back, they realize they’re stuck.  No more energy or motivation or stamina.  The situation only gets worse from there.

Can’t say that this is what Williams went through at the end of his life.  I know I’ve had this experience, though.  Others, I believe, have fought through these crises as well.  Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of Anne Sexton, describes her mother’s struggles with bipolar disorder in a phenomenal memoir, Searching for Mercy Streetand then writes of her own horrifying ordeal in Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.  If you’ve never read either of these books, you should.  Be warned, however: they are both harrowing.  For my money, Half in Love is the far more gut-wrenching of the two, even though it documents Linda Sexton’s recovery.  Yes, depression and bipolar disorder are such awful conditions that the success stories, the stories of survival, can be the most traumatic.

***

I don’t know that I can say anything more about Robin Williams.  There’s really too much to say and not enough will to say it.  I want to wax poetical, express my hope that Williams has reached his haven, and that the sweetness is as satisfying to him as it is to people who’ve never had to deal with mental illness.  But that sentiment is pretty much D-grade schlock.  I hope he’s at peace.  And I hope we learn how best to remember him.

Prince Fickle and Fair Helena

Every day she drove the cattle to pasture, and all the time she thought of nothing but her faithless bridegroom.  She was very devoted to a certain little calf in the herd, and made a great pet of it, feeding it out of her own hands.  She taught it to kneel before her, and then she whispered in its ear:

“Kneel, little calf, kneel;

Be faithful and leal,

Not like Prince Fickle

Who once on a time

Left his fair Helena

Under the lime.”

–from Andrew Lang, The Green Fairy Book

 

Fickleness and Discipline, Jedi Style

What is the difference between being fickle and being versatile ? or just being open-minded ?

As with Fickleness (being the quality of versatility taken to an inappropriate extreme), Discipline also must be conscientiously attended to. Let us become aware of circumstances and the needs of others when applying our Discipline so that this ‘quality’ does not turn into Stubbornness or Rigidity.

 

And as with all phenomenon, one can become the other (Fickleness <> Discipline).

Benjamin-Alexandre, Temple of the Jedi Order