Why Into the Woods Matters

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Last night I went to the movies to see Into the Woods, which is based off Stephen Sondheim’s play of the same name.  For those who are unfamiliar with the title, it is a Broadway musical combining the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a few other fairytale favorites with a serious twist.  Unlike the fairytales we all know through the Brothers Grimm or Disney, Sondheim’s characters experience major challenges and are forced to face the consequences of their actions and choices.  Essentially, it is a fairytale about the reality of human nature and the ambiguity of life.  Fast forwarding to the end: there is no “happily ever after.”  Much like in real life, there is just, “After.”

My first exposure to Into the Woods was my sophomore year in college when I was cast as “The Witch,” the seeimingly stereotypical ugly, old spinster of fairytales who seems to enjoy making life difficult for all around her so everyone else can experience her misery.  In the fairytales of my youth, the witch, much like other stock characters, is not explained or humanized.  She is flat and two-dimensional.  The stories of our youth never asked: what made her the way she is?  What more is there to this character?  Into the Woods changes that, and as the play progresses we begin to see the character take shape as a three-dimensional woman: someone who was wrongly robbed of her youth and who desperately wanted to love someone and be loved fully in return.

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She keeps her daughter, Rapunzel, locked in a tower with no doors or stairs, but when a Prince happens upon Rapunzel by chance, things begin to change.  Rapunzel is drawn to the Prince and wants to leave her mother’s safety.  When the witch finds out, she scolds Rapunzel angrily, saying, “Children should listen!”  And we really begin to see the character become human as she sings:

Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?
Someone has to shield you from the world.
Stay with me.

Princes wait there in the world, it’s true.
Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.
Stay at home.
I am home.

Stay with me,
The world is dark and wild.
Stay a child while you can be a child.

Although all of the songs in the show are of importance, a few really stand out as carriers of the central message: the world is dark and wild and full of humans and princes and wolves and wolves dressed in princes’ clothing. 

Often, Cinderella’a Prince (Prince Charming) is played by the same actor who plays the Big Bad Wolf, which really hammers the theme of the multiple ways evil masquerades as good; and even more than that, the ambiguity behind it.  Unfortunately, this was lost in the movie version.  Chris Pine played Cinderella’s Prince and Johnny Depp played the Wolf, and while I enjoyed Depp in the role, it watered down the true meaning of why the actor is supposed to be double-cast.  Cinderella’s Prince is charming and handsome, but he is also a lothario, unsatisfied by one woman and continuously searching for the next thrill.  However, as mentioned above, when Cinderella confronts him about his unfaithfulness, he does not lie to her–he tells her he thought he could be happy with her alone.  With this admission the character proves his own complexity because he willingly admits his wrong, and both part on their separate ways.  While the Prince is definitely not a character who displays positive traits like courage or integrity, he isn’t exactly a villain either, as he has no outright malicious designs.  He is simply a human motivated by his own selfish desires.

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Happily ever after?

The story of Cinderella and the Prince is important to Into the Woods because it takes the story and asks the real questions: exactly what WAS that fabled, “Happily Ever After”?  What did Cinderella and the Prince actually have in common?  What were their common interests?  Assuming Cinderella only received an education up to thirteen or so, what was her actual level of knowledge/cultural awareness?  Was she, as a simpleton, able to adapt to the Royal Family?  How did she and the Prince keep ‘the spark’ after those butterflies began to wear off?  Were they always faithful to one another?  What kind of a person was Cinderella and what kind of a person was the Prince?  What would have happened if one of them got sick or they had a child with a serious illness?  Would their marriage make it?  Although I, like many other little girls, enjoyed watching the Disney cartoon full of pretty gowns and singing mice, as an adult I recognize the poor message behind the story.  It basically tells children that someone will someday come along to rescue them (as long as they are pretty) and everything in life will then just magically go swimmingly.  They will be rescued from poverty, or from an abusive family, or from the boring hum-drum of their life.  This is a poor message to send to children; because the reality is that we are the only ones who can rescue ourselves, and more often than not, there is no “Happily ever after,” there is just  “After,” and it contains both happiness and sadness, good and bad times.

There is no prince; there are just humans.

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The First Act ends with what we would normally call a “Happy Ending,” but even so it is left with some outstanding ambiguities.  The Second Act IS the play.  In the First Act, there is a narrator, who leaves clues to help guide the characters along, but he is killed at its end.  In the Second Act, the characters are left to fend for themselves, with no one to guide them.  People die, a major conflict arises, and we realize that there is neither a true protagonist nor a true antagonist.  Each character has experienced a shortfall in their moral foundation at some point: a little white lie, a lack of good judgement, deception, theft, unfaithfulness, selfishness.  The characters play the blame game for awhile until they realize in order to save themselves, they must forego the issue of “blame” and recognize they must do what is necessary to survive, and even that in itself will have consequences. Red Riding Hood tells Cinderella she is ashamed of her actions because she is about to kill a giant–who is a person, too–and Cinderella begins to sing another song central to the meaning of the play, “No One is Alone.”

The characters sing:

Witches can be right, giants can be good,

you decide what’s right, you decide what’s good.

Just remember someone is on your side,

Someone else is not.

Into the Woods is a poignant portrayal of human nature.  It takes the fairytales of our youth and transforms them into cautionary tales about the complexities of life.  It takes the two-dimensional characters of traditional stories and turns them into people.  Witches, wolves, and princes all become the same thing: HUMAN.  Although I enjoyed Into the Woods when I was younger, as I have gotten older and experienced more in my own life, the messages and emotions behind everything in the play become much more clear and apparent.  It is a dark story, but it is not one completely without hope.  All characters go through major transformations and grow from the hardships they endure.  Most importantly, they learn compassion toward others from their own personal challenges, and indeed they do learn that in life, no one is alone.

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Wishes come true, not free.

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KP circa 2010 (in the center)

-KP out

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The Stranger’s Always You

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A few years ago I discovered John Cameron Mitchell’s movie adaptation of his stage play, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  Actually, I first watched it after I had ended something that I now wouldn’t even say had any semblance of a relationship…but at the time I was hurt.  In the wake of everything that has happened recently, I have found myself suddenly turning back to this movie.  I have’t listened to the songs or watched it in about two years, but after watching it again only just recently, I realize how perfect a play and film Mitchell created.

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At first glance, the posters and trailer make one think of the flamboyant glam-rock film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It certainly portrays a lead character who demands attention, but this film and its music are vastly different from Rocky Horror.  The central concepts center on identity, human complexity, love, and understanding what “wholeness” is.  Mitchell created a story based on a character who believes love from another will form the missing other half to the whole.  One of the songs, “Origin of Love,” is an illustration of this, pulling from Aristophanes speech in Plato’s Symposium explaining heterosexuals, homosexuals, and their longing to feel “whole.”  The story is that in ancient times human beings existed as three different types of creatures: male/male, female/female, and male/female.  Much like in other religions, notably Christianity and Judaism, humans made a costly mistake in trying to acquire too much knowledge (similar to Adam and Eve, the story of the Tower of Babylon, etc), and so Zeus sent thunderbolts to split the beings in two, causing them to then forever feel compelled to “find their missing other half.”

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In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hansel is a young man living in Communist East Berlin who falls in love with an American solider.  In order to marry the soldier and leave the country, Hansel must get a sex-change operation to fool doctors that he is actually a woman.  Note: he did not previously feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body.  The operation is botched, and what remains is something in-between male and female.  After moving to the United States, the solider leaves Hansel–now Hedwig, using his mother’s name–for another man.  Alone and devastated, Hedwig picks herself up and begins odd-jobs and writing music, sometimes performing with local military wives.  She meets Tommy Speck, a quiet, very Christian young man, and the two begin writing music together and falling in love.  Hedwig teaches Tommy about rock music and gives him the name, Tommy Gnosis (Gnosis being the Greek word for “knowledge”).  Tommy ends up rejecting Hedwig for her physical deformity from the operation and runs off with Hedwig’s music and claims it as his own, rising to stardom.  Hedwig now has her own band, and is in the middle of a lawsuit to reclaim what is rightfully hers.  She is caught between her desire to be with Tommy, who she believes is her other half, and wanting to destroy him if she cannot be with him.  Ultimately, she receives justice and the fame and recognition deserved for her music.  In the end, she comes to realize there is no “other half,” and that “wholeness” comes from within.  Tommy and Hedwig part ways, and Hedwig leaves behind all the wigs, costumes, and makeup, and comes to terms with who he is.  My favorite song, Wicked Little Town, sung by Tommy to Hedwig as a form of apology in the end, probably boasts some of the most powerful lyrics in the entire show:

Forgive me for I did not know
’cause I was just a boy
And you were so much more

Than any god could ever plan
More than a woman or a man
And now I understand
How much I took from you
That when everything starts breaking down
You take the pieces off the ground
And show this wicked town
Something beautiful and new

You think that luck has left you there
But maybe there’s nothing
Up in the sky but air

And there’s no mystical design
No cosmic lover preassigned
There’s nothing you can find
That cannot be found
’cause, with all the changes you’ve been through
It seems the stranger’s always you

The line “You were so much more than any god could ever plan, more than a woman or a man,” really drives home the theme of human complexity.  Ultimately, we are not “destined” to be with anyone; we are whole as we are and life unfolds based on the consequences of our choices and actions.  Love comes not from the need to feel “complete,” but by feeling complete as we are.  None of the characters in the show can be easily defined, which makes them so much more human and real.  Not male, not female, not gay, not straight, but human.  This film is definitely highly unusual and non-traditional, but it has one of the best story-lines I have ever seen and the music is wonderful.  John Cameron Mitchell really drives it home with this one.  I highly recommend for anyone who likes off-beat films with a sense of humor and a good message.

Waterfalls

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My job can really be a downer sometimes; often my schedule changes at the drop of a hat and before I know it I’m in the drug store scrambling to pick up enough toiletries for an impromptu trip.  Today was spent much at the mercy of my bosses waiting for word from their bosses (this sounds like a bad comedy, right?) about my schedule in the next few weeks.  Things ended up turning out a little better than expected, and so to celebrate I came home, had a few drinks, ate some of the leftover Easter Ham (I believe my words as I walked through the door were, “I want this [piece of chocolate], I’m having a drink, and all I want to do is eat some of that ham.”), watched a few Twilight Zone episodes, and listened to some “oldies” (aka 90s music).  

One of my all-time favorite songs is TLC’s Waterfalls.  I love, love, LOVE that song.  If any artist(s) ever wanted to write a song about life it was done perfectly with that song.  Genres aside, the lyrics ring out true:

Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to

Those lyrics are screaming, “Don’t go after things that are out of your reach (for good reason), stick to what you should be focused on in life.”  I feel like at any time in my life when I have questioned whether something felt right or not, I can hear that line playing over and over again in my head (I definitely soundtrack my life, sue me).

My favorite part about the song is Left Eye’s rap, which is actually much more beautiful when read:

I seen a rainbow yesterday
But too many storms have come and gone
Leavin’ a trace of not one God-given ray
Is it because my life is ten shades of gray
I pray all ten fade away
Seldom praise Him for the sunny days

And like His promise is true
Only my faith can undo
The many chances I blew
To bring my life to anew
Clear blue and unconditional skies
Have dried the tears from my eyes
No more lonely cries
My only bleedin’ hope
Is for the folk who can’t cope
Wit such an endurin’ pain
That it keeps ’em in the pourin’ rain
Who’s to blame
For tootin’ caine in your own vein
What a shame
You shoot and aim for someone else’s brain
You claim the insane
And name this day in time
For fallin’ prey to crime
I say the system got you victim to your own mind

Dreams are hopeless aspirations
In hopes of comin’ true
Believe in yourself
The rest is up to me and you

I don’t know if I would ever get a tattoo (one day I’d love it, the next I’d be over it already), but in my imagined maybe-someday-when-I-get-a-tattoo reality, I would probably want to be even artsier than I already am (so, would that cancel out “being artsy”?), I would want to get one of those bolded sections in some super feminine print (so I could be like one of those fabulous examples on Pinterest).  Okay getting waaay too hipster for my own good!

Anyway, for a fantastic blast from the past…err, 90s (and some just plain old good life advice) listen to some TLC.

Food + Health + Music

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Food

I have a confession to make: I can’t cook.  There has been much time spent on Pinterest drooling over the beautiful creations that people pin, and I have thought about attempting to make some of them, but then I just get discouraged because I actually barely know how to cook anything.  I went to a university where they provided food for us, and actually, we didn’t really have access to cooking appliances.  Anyway, I’ve got a little time off from work this week and next, and so my goal has been to actually cook using recipes.   I bought a Better Homes and Gardens healthy cooking magazine and wanted to try the Seven-Grain Salad with Roasted Pepper, Feta, and Mustard Dressing.  Because I live overseas and do not have access to specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods, I had to try to stick to the recipe as best as I could.  It’s listed below:

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups seven-grain pilaf mix

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon coarse ground brown mustard (I did not use this because I couldn’t find it)

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I couldn’t find this, so I substituted with chipotle pepper)

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1 cup chopped cucumber

1/3 cup chopped roasted red sweet pepper (I used fresh sweet pepper)

1/4 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives

1/4 cup snipped fresh herbs, such as dill, mint, and/or parsley

1/3 crumbled feta cheese

It turned out decent for the substitutions I made, considering this was my first attempt at actually following a recipe and having to create a sauce myself.

Health

So while not ready to go full-on Paleo Diet just yet, I am definitely trying to change what I eat.  I would really like to lose a few stubborn pounds that have been hanging on for a few years and tone up.  Pinterest really is my weakness–it makes finding different workout routines so easy!  I really like to do distance running, but I tend to just get in the habit of one or two routines and not really changing things up, which doesn’t help my speed-work too much.  Long, slow distance only trains the body up to a point and then you just plateau.  Hopefully by adding different calisthenics, weights, and interval cardio, I can improve my speed for my distance runs.

Music

I finally gave in and might be going down the path of Hipster tendencies (gasp) by branching out and expanding what I’m listening to.  I really like listening to all different types of music, with a few exceptions, but as of recent I’ve definitely been leaning in the Hipster musical directions.  A few albums I’ve downloaded recently of note are:

Wild Nothing/ Nocturne

To be quite honest, a lot of these groups sound very similar to me, but I really enjoy the Dream Pop sound.  It’s easy listening for mornings driving to work or just relaxing.  I’ve been listening to this album a lot as of recent; for anyone that likes easy listening I recommend this album.  And to read a much better review please check out BBC’s review of the album.

Foxes/ Echo, Warrior, Youth (EPs/singles)

I don’t know why, because even though British singer Foxes seems like initially “another female singer/songwriter,” her music is really interesting.  It is pop, but it just has a different sound.  Youth is almost like something that would be a dance song in a club, but it’s still different.  I hope she releases a full-length CD in the near future.  Really like her stuff!

Delta Rae/Carry the Fire

This is my FAVORITE new album I’ve downloaded.  I love blues-inspired, southern-rock-esque music.  Bottom of the River is a very powerful song, but my number one on the album is Morning Comes, the tale of an every-man and the obstacles he faces in his daily life.  Although different in sound, I think Mumford and Sons fans might like this one.

Hopefully this coming week I’ll have more dishes to share, and hopefully no disasters!

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Danse Macabre

Sitting in my apartment, listening to the winds howling outside in the super-typhoon that’s currently hitting Japan.  The wind is actually shakinf the apartment building (and I live 10 floors up!).  Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre couldn’t be a more aptly fitting piece right now for such a dark and stormy night; actually, I’m currently obsessed with it.  It’s a very interesting composition, based off much of the mythology and folklore that surround the character and concept of “Death” as pertains to French superstition.  The piece is based off the poem by Henri Cazalis and translated into English, reads:

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking a tomb with his heel,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zag, on his violin.
The winter wind blows, and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden trees.
White skeletons pass through the gloom,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,
You can hear the cracking of the bones of the dancers.
A lustful couple sits on the moss
So as to taste long lost delights.
Zig zig, zig, Death continues
The unending scraping on his instrument.
A veil has fallen! The dancer is naked.
Her partner grasps her amorously.
The lady, it’s said, is a marchioness or baroness
And her green gallant, a poor cartwright.
Horror! Look how she gives herself to him,
Like the rustic was a baron.
Zig, zig, zig. What a saraband!
They all hold hands and dance in circles.
Zig, zig, zag. You can see in the crowd
The king dancing among the peasants.
But hist! All of a sudden, they leave the dance,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.
Oh what a beautiful night for the poor world!
Long live death and equality!

You can listen to the piece and read more about the significance of the music on Youtube:

I have had a long-time love of the violin and have been listening to some more modern violin pieces.  The violin is actually considered the “Devil’s Instrument” because of its connection to dance (and the subsequent outrage of the Church at dance).  If you enjoy listening to violin pieces I recommend Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, and for more modern tastes aka “Street Violin”, you can check out Black Violin or Josh Vietti.

The photo was taken by me in Prague at the Saint Vitus Cathedral.  Nothing like some terrifying Gothic architecture to set the mood.

New Jersey, My Love

So I’ve been a little homesick recently (living across the world will, on occasion, do that to you), and I went through some of my photos from home.  I am, through-and-through, born and bred, a Jersey girl (and for all the beef it gets, it is kind of awesome–Springsteen, Bon Jovi, amazing beaches, porkroll!). Summers were spent flying down the streets on our beach-cruiser bikes and walking laps on the boardwalk or through downtown.  You’d work on the Boardwalk or in a local seafood restaurant  and when you got out you’d probably end up hanging out at the Ocean Bay Diner until 5 AM with your friends.  I didn’t really have a curfew in high school, just as long as I called to say where I was.  I come from a small town, and thankfully crime was practically non-existent.

And I come from the time a few years back when the underground music scene was gaining popularity and a lot of the now pop-rock bands started out just as a few kids playing in someone’s basement or garage.

When I came back from Japan after my year long exchange in high school, I started working in this little town known as Ocean Grove.  It’s really a bizarre place, started in 1869 as a Methodist meeting camp, it remains the longest acting camp-meeting site in the United States.  It’s a dry town, and back in the day they used to lock the big iron gates so no one could get in–or get out–until the Sabbath was over.  It’s only a square mile total in size, and the town charter was essentially written incorrectly and in 1921 it was ruled unconstitutional.  Basically everyone was fired from their jobs and Ocean Grove got absorbed into the larger surrounding township.  To make things weirder, there are residents who stay in some of the houses who are really….quirky, to say the least. I encountered quite a few of these “townies” when I worked there.

The town itself really is quite lovely, though, full of Victorian beach cottages and some outright gigantic mansions–you definitely get the vibe of that old turn-of-the-century Jersey Shore glamour.

And a few from Seaside when it’s at its best–in the middle of winter when the Benny’s and the Jersey Shore hooligans are nowhere in sight:

You can take the girl out of Jersey but you can’t take Jersey out of the girl.  Nothing quite like waking up at 5 AM to bike to the beach to watch the sunrise and then grabbing porkroll and cheese on a crispy, toasted bagel at the nearest diner.  And as long as you remember not to slurp your soup or detain a homing pigeon, it’s really a great place to be from.

What place do you call home?

Just a few shots

The days have been incredibly long at my job, so I can not express just how relaxing it is to come home, listen to Edith Piaf, and have a cup of tea before bed.  Especially when the hours you are working look something like wake up at 5 AM and don’t return home until around 9 PM.  Staying focused has been difficult recently; we’ve been working 7 day weeks and it’s not certain when we will stop.  I’ve dug up a few shots I took awhile back that I’ve always liked, so I’ll go ahead and post them tonight.

So on a completely random note, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to listen to more music, and now that I have a big-girl-job I can actually afford to download pretty much all the music that I want on itunes.  Recently I’ve been listening to The Who’s Tommy, which I was introduced to through my all-time favorite, Almost Famous.  It’s pretty wild, and if you’re into concept albums like myself, it’s worth a listen.  Totally bizarre.  And on the topic of music, I can’t wait for Mumford and Sons’ new album to be released.  Definitely looking forward to that one.