June 25, 2006

A reprise and an inspiration

Returning to the subject of my very first blog enty, Kathleen and I went back to the Harvard Exit yesterday, to see the new crossword-puzzler documentary Word Play with our friends Natasha and Norman. It was a fine and beautiful day, if a bit on the warm side, and all was going fine driving there until we hit the police roadblock at 10th Ave. and E. Highland Dr. Apparently, we were wrong: the Raise Your Voice March, part of Pride weekend, was not going to be limited to the southern end of Broadway. It took us a while, but we finally backtracked enough to find a way down to the near vicinity of the theater, only to discover that (duh) it was all parked up solid. It turns out, though, that you can pretty easily find a parking spot on the street that only costs $35, paid to the municipal court system...

Anyway, the Harvard Exit remains a very comfortable place to see a movie, and the cafe across the street, Joe Bar, has changed their ways and now sells both sweet and savory crepes in the evenings. On the negative side, though, Joe Bar no longer appears to offer their "PB & J" crepe (formerly served with a glass of milk), so I never got to try out that delicacy.

The movie centers around Will Shortz, the crossword-puzzle editor at the New York Times, and various contenders in the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It's a fun, quirky look at some really fun, quirky people and their passion for puzzles. The latter third of the movie gives good feel for the action and the ambience at the championships and the twists and turns of final rounds are surprisingly exciting.

Inspired by the movie, I suppose, I didn't skip over the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in the paper this morning. I'd never tried any of the NYT puzzles before, let alone the hardest one of the week, but somehow I couldn't resist attempting it. At first, as I slowly worked my way down the Across clues, looking for any that I could fill in (in pencil, I admit: I'm not totally rash), I began to despair: I could only fill in maybe half a dozen answers, and I wasn't particularly sure of some of those. I got a couple Down answers right off, though, and that opened up the upper-left corner, and that led to the answer to the first of the "theme" clues, and finally I was making real progress. I'm pleased to say I finished the puzzle in pretty good form, with only a few answers that I didn't understand (who knew there was a "Brooklyn-born rapper" named NES?), after about 45 minutes of work. Along the way, there were several wonderful groaners ("German crowd?" was DREI), some very nice bits of misdirection ("Tower, often" was REPO MAN), and of course a fun theme (recontextualized advice from "Dear Old Dad").

Boy, standard crosswords have certainly changed while I've been off focusing on cryptics! I may just have to check out this Sunday puzzle next week, too.

October 10, 2004

"Good Boys" at ACT

Every once in a while, we're lucky enough to be reminded, viscerally, of the emotional power that live theater, uniquely among art forms, has to offer.

Tonight, the reminder was served up by ACT's production of Jane Martin's recent play "Good Boys". This riveting, tense, supercharged, and blessedly short play is centered around an encounter between two fathers: eight years before, James' son killed Thomas' son in a Columbine-style shooting at his high school.

Staged in the round in ACT's intimate Allen Theatre, this is a well-cast narrative onion of a play, with the conversation/argument going around and around, peeling back the layers of the tragedy one by one. The brilliant encounter between these two men who've never before met, but who have so much crucial shared history, is prefaced and punctuated with gut-grabbing scenes with their sons, especially with Ethan, the manic, middle-class, but grungy shooter. Ethan's several monologues, energetically and sometimes frighteningly delivered by Michael Scott, offer a look into the mind of a desperately frustrated teen, tempted by and eventually overcome by the kind of evil impulse that's inside us all.

Thomas Jefferson Byrd's portrayal of the former pastor, Thomas, also deserves a special mention: his marvelous artistic choices, from movement to delivery to subtly exposed inner complexity, help us to see more deeply the multi-faceted nature of forgiveness for the unforgiveable.

This wonderful production is still playing at ACT for another week, through October 17th. If you're in Seattle already, or can make it here in time, you owe it to yourself to feel the full intensity of what live theater can give you.

September 19, 2004

"Jumpers" at ACT

Somehow, by a series of decisions that each seemed quite reasonable at the time, we've ended up with season tickets to three different professional theater companies at the same time. We started out with Seattle Rep, because we'd heard of it before and we wanted an excuse to get us over into Seattle from time to time. Then, after that season ended, we picked up an Intiman subscription to tide us over the late spring, summer, and early fall, until Seattle Rep came back around on the guitar. Finally, we got a mailer from ACT (A Contemporary Theater) for their season, which included "Jumpers", a Tom Stoppard play that neither Kathleen nor I had ever seen. So, of course, we had to sign up for that, too.

Tonight, at last, was "Jumpers" night, and what a play it was. Apparently, after The National Theatre produced Stoppard's first play, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", they told him they'd put on whatever he wrote next, giving him essentially free rein.

Hoo boy.

Stoppard took that freedom and ran with it, literally to the moon and back, with this bizarre combination of hard-core philosophical debate (intuitionism vs. logical positivism, for those keeping score) and surreal farce. It's quite a ride and you'd better be paying close attention to the details of the arguments; there's a quiz-cum-coda at the end.

David Pichette puts on a truly remarkable performance as the second-rate (but passionate) intuitionist philosopher George Moore (no relation to the earlier, realer, and better known intuitionist of the same name). He so effortlessly carries the incredibly long and intricate speeches that it was no surprise at all to find out later that he actually appears to have some background in this area.

Unfortunately, tonight was closing night, so I can't really urge you to grab this rare opportunity to see this impressive play performed so well. You'll just have to live with being disappointed to have missed it.

September 12, 2004

A Night Out in Seattle

On the way into Seattle tonight, Kathleen noted that, due to increased proximity and convenience, we've probably made more trips into Seattle in the year we've lived in Bellevue than we made to San Francisco in the previous ten years of living on the Peninsula. We certainly do go in fairly often, primarily for the theater (somehow this year, we've ended up with season tickets to three different theater companies).

Tonight, however, the excuse was an art-house movie we'd been wanting to see, a French film called "Intimate Strangers", which has been out for a while and is now only playing at this one theater in Capitol Hill.

The Harvard Exit theater is near the very top of Broadway, on E. Roy. This is a lovely, relatively quiet little neighborhood with a few eclectic shops and several restaurants that look interesting.

The Seattle Weekly gave the Harvard Exit an award for "Best Movie Theatre Lobby to Wait In", and it's easy to see why. The building was originally a clubhouse for a women's club and there are several nice living room / parlor rooms scattered about. It's a very comfortable place to see a movie (even though our show was in the "Top of the Exit" theater, upstairs on the third floor) and you can't beat their politics: the other movie showing tonight was "Uncovered: The War in Iraq" and they have other, similar films coming up. Definitely a place we'll be going back to.

(The movie itself was also pretty charming, in that classically quirkly French way. It begins with a woman mistakenly coming into a tax lawyer's office, thinking it's the office of the therapist down the hall, and pouring her heart out to the bemused lawyer. Misunderstandings, confessions, understandings, and cryptic confusions ensue.)

After the movie, we walked across the street to a nice, informal little coffee shop and crepery called "Joe Bar" with a small but interesting crepe menu including the intriguing "PB & J" (which comes with a glass of milk). To our great disappointment, though, they only serve crepes until 2pm on weekends (why?). Fortunately, Kathleen noticed a line in the newspaper review they had posted on the display case, which mentioned that Joe Bar finally gave Seattlites a choice of creperies, joining long-time standard "611 Supreme", at 611 E. Pine, only a few minutes' drive away.

We quite enjoyed the food (and the value for money) at 611. I had their Salmon Chevre crepe, with smoked salmon, chevre, and lots of scallions. The scallions really make this dish, adding a necessary edge to a very creamy filling. (In fact, they added enough cream and/or butter to the chevre that the "goaty" flavor was almost completely hidden, a bit of a disappointment to me.) Kathleen concocted her own crepe of salmon, tomatoes, and spinach and was likewise pleased; the crepes are enormous, easily the largest we'd ever been served.

The music at 611 is too loud and too hip-hop for our tastes, but not so much so as to keep us from intending to come back for tasy crepes. (Of course, we'd also like to go back to Joe Bar sometime when they're actually serving...)