Shakespeare Saturday: Luck Be a Lady!

OK, so…

Obviously, this has nothing to do with Shakespeare. But we made an executive decision that we were going to discuss and pair something other than Shakespeare this year (to be fair, we only skipped Romeo and Juliet, and well, we’ve spent enough time with Romeo and Juliet at Nerd Cactus), and we went through with it!

In case you hadn’t noticed, A had a lot of fun dealing with this show. She loves the musicals, does A. And so it falls to me to discuss versions of Guys and Dolls you can watch at home.

Unfortunately, unless you can lay your hands on a production video, your only real shot is the 1955 movie with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. It’s… not the worst possible adaptation, but it’s not good. I mean, as a movie it’s good, but not as an adaptation. It cuts several songs from the production, adds a couple, and manages to lose the soul of the stage production. The only really good things I can say are that Vivian Blaine and Stubby Kaye play Miss Adelaide and Nicely-Nicely Johnson; they had each originated that role on Broadway, so “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is the song it was meant to be.

Oh, and there’s always the pleasure of hearing Sinatra sing… anything.

OK, so it’s not a bad movie. In fact, it’s a well-respected movie, but it does feel like it’s missing something, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe those cut numbers (especially “Marry The Man Today”) would have helped fill the movie out.

You can also listen to Sinatra sing “Luck Be a Lady”. Because it’s always fun listening to Sinatra sing, right?

Or you can probably find snips from various productions on YouTube. “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is my favorite. But if you can find a good version of “Adelaide’s Lament”, you’re in for a hoot. Fortunately, the movie didn’t cut that.


Boozy Musicals: Guys & Dolls

Happy Friday, friends! Boy, have I been looking forward to this post. I get to pair Guys & Dolls with booze! I would say the two go hand-in-hand quite naturally, really. You see, there is an assortment of gambling/boozing gangsters in the story aaand alcohol is sort of used as a plot device to further one of the storylines . So, yes, pairing Guys & Dolls as our first ever Boozy Musical does seem rather fitting. Let’s get started!

For those who are somehow unfamiliar with this classic musical, there are several (let’s saaay three? At least…) plotlines running through the course of the show. Interestingly, I find the opening number, “Fugue for Tinhorns”, to be a perfect reflection of the story to follow – three characters sing three distinct sets of harmony and lyrics around and over each other in canon. It’s one of those numbers that kind of changed the face of musical theatre, because (for that time) it was pretty inventive. Most musicals up to that point stuck with one character singing at a time or having all characters sing the same lyrics. Let’s just say “Fugue for Tinhorns” is an oft-visited subject in good ol’ THA481 (History of Theatre).

Ok, now that I’ve told you about the brilliant, groundbreaking, and deliberately orchestrated opening number, let’s get to the story. Basically, two of the major plotlines are love stories. One follows Nathan Detroit (illegal crap game organizer extraordinaire) and his fiancé of fourteen years, Adelaide (lounge singer desperate to tie the knot and be an honest woman). The other love story kinda has that 90s teen movie trope that involves a bet about whether the guy can make the chick fall for him – of course, this was back in the 50s so clearly the OG “make a bet, fall in love” plotline. Anyway, the characters involved are Sky Masterson (gambler and secret bible expert) and Sarah Brown (boring, prim, proper, and only interesting once Sky gets her drunk). The third major plotline involves the crap game that Nathan is supposed to set up for his gangster friends and the ensuing chaos as they try to evade police. There are a couple other underlying things going on, but those are the biggies so we’ll leave it at that.

As you might expect from a musical comedy the action is fast-paced and sharp, and the plot (or at least the end result) is fairly predictable. Most of the characters come across as a bit one-dimensional simply because the writing of the time focused on character types that were generally defined by one major character trait (sometimes two). So, despite the interwoven storylines, the show is really very easy to follow and quite fun, as a result of its great pacing, bopping around from one plot to the next. As usual, I’m no fan of giving away the “deets” so if you’re looking for a tell-all synopsis go ahead and check out its Wiki page.

What I do want to get into – albeit briefly – is the use of alcohol to further the Sky/Sarah storyline. Sky kind of uses alcohol to loosen Sarah up… Now, I will tell you that in the context of the show he’s already won his bet, so it isn’t a scene about taking advantage of her. If the scene is directed properly it’s actually Sky’s attempt at getting Sarah to stop being a pain in his ass and have a little fun. Because, while I do not like the idea of women being plied with alcohol, Sarah does need to lighten up. A lot. She is boring, predictable, virtuous, and the most unwatchable part of the show right up to the point that Sky orders her a “dulce de leche” and convinces her that Bacardi is a type of preservative.

Obviously, you know where this transition is leading… Yup, I’m pairing Guys & Dolls with the (until recently) fictional Bacardi cocktail Sky refers to as “Dulce de Leche”. Now, I’m sure a lot of you recognize this as a flavor of ice cream that gets its name from the thick caramel condensed-milk swirls that is the actual South American treat known as dulce de leche. At the time the musical was written there was no such cocktail. The Bacardi dulce de leche drink was not invented until the 1992 Broadway revival of Guys & Dolls. It was concocted as a specialty to be served at the show’s grand opening. The recipe is as follows: Bacardi, Godiva, and cream.




Monday Muse: Guys & Dolls, A Musical Fable of Broadway

Happy Monday, Nerd Cacti! Welcome to week three of Shakespeare-a-palooza!! That means we’re getting suuuper close to the week of the trip y’all! I can practically taste Laura’s homemade granola and feel the breeze on the back patio of Balzac’s. August 28th, you are so close, yet so damn far…

Anyway, this week marks our departure from Shakespeare-iness as we explore some of the other shows we’ll be attending when we hit Stratford at the end of the month. This week we’re spotlighting Guys & Dolls – the classic Broadway musical which I have had the privilege to perform in, and love very much despite its glaring problems (and in today’s day and age, they are quite glaring). It’s a well-known masterwork that helped set the stage for the American musical comedy: delivering laughs and conflict, stock characters that Broadway audiences would come to recognize in an instant, and doling out happy endings to all.

It’s a fun musical, to be sure – typically staged in an atmosphere awash with color and spectacle, and boasting a good handful of memorable songs and characters – but over time, I’ve come to find that it’s best enjoyed at face-value. Looking closely at this 1950s relic, a modern audience will find that the material has not aged well. It is brimming with problematic stereotypes, outdated gender expectations, and an old-timey Americana depiction of what is supposedly “wholesome” that leaves much to be desired. Simply put, beyond the flash and the catchy showtunes, Guys & Dolls is outdated.

Yes, as much as I love this musical, I can admit to its flaws. The gender-based humor is not kind to women, the depiction of police is irresponsible, and the fact that the audience is led to cheer on gangsters who receive little to no recourse is downright deranged. Under the magnifying glass this is far from a perfect example of American musical theatre. It features an array of chauvinistic themes, allowing the male characters to be the featured protagonists despite their errant and obvious flaws, while the women are caught in the narrow-minded writer’s depiction of either being virtuous or loose (with no apparent in-between). Also, Adelaide and Sarah’s duet at the end of the show – “Marry the Man Today” – can make the modern, emancipated woman feel a little itchy if it isn’t directed properly. If it is left to the lyrics and not paired with strong motivation on the part of the actors, it comes off as an ode to settling for the sake of being married.

Interestingly, the show’s subtitle – “A Musical Fable of Broadway” –  suggests that there is a moral to the story. I think, above all, this is my problem with the show. To me, it says that beyond shallow entertainment I should learn a lesson from this particular story. But – as I mentioned – being a believer in equality, it is hard to consider the story as something deeper than an old-fashioned romp that was written before women’s lib and the dawn of realistic character development. Sure, there are lots of examples of women being shoved into one of two pigeonholes, – moral and boring or sassy and loose – but this show’s deliberate subtitle suggests that there is an important lesson in watching a good woman fall for a crook, and another equally good woman (heart of gold, bitches, don’t judge Adelaide cause she sings in a sleazy lounge) settle for another crook who has given her no real reason to stay with him beyond the fear of ending up unmarried and old.

As I said, I love Guys & Dolls. It’s fun and silly and – oddly enough – charming, despite these issues. More often than not, this musical relies on its cast to make you like the characters they’re depicting and – generally – they succeed, because each character is written with such broad strokes that it’s easy to find something to relate to and connect with (even if it is a 14-year engagement to a man who won’t commit). Personally, I plan to watch the show for the spectacle – as I have done on at least four different occasions. It makes me laugh, it makes me hum along, and – if the choreography is good – is guaranteed to hold my attention. I love it in much the same way I love I Love Lucy (which has many of the same gender-based oopsies as Guys & Dolls)… it entertains me beyond measure, I honestly love the broad-stroke characters, and – in many ways – it is a nostalgic connection to something I discovered early on in my life.

That’s it for me, friends! I’ll be back on Friday for the pairing, which includes a bit of a history lesson so I’m sure C will be pleased.

See you then!


Silly Sunday: The Week My Job Got Hard

Hey, guys! Welcome to this week’s Silly Sunday.

Do you guys know how hard it is to find jokes about Timon of Athens? It’s really difficult. But I managed to find a couple. Well, mostly… I managed to find an image where Timon of Athens is Timon from The Lion King, which is really all I wanted. I’ve been making that joke all week, and I’m glad the internet has come through for me. Thank you, internet. I love you.

Related image


Image result for timon of athens funny

The only thing I want now is for someone to find a still from a production of Timon of Athens (bonus points for this year’s Stratford production) and replace Timon with a cartoon meerkat. Please. My birthday is coming up. I’d really appreciate it.

Now. Lest we forget how much we love Good Tickle Brain (who will be giving a panel up in Stratford this year which y’all should endeavor to see on my behalf because it’s the week after we’re up there and I’m sad), she has come through for the internet in a big way and done a 3-panel version of Timon. It’s succinct, and it’s perfect.

Image result for timon of athens

Well. That’s all the sillies I’ve found for you today. I credit my Google-Fu with this!

Tomorrow, A talks Guys and Dolls!


Shakespeare Saturday: Timon of Athens: or, “Sorry, Never Heard of It…”

Hey hey, readers! Welcome to the next installment of this week’s Shakespeare-a-palooza series. Hopefully, you’ve been following us, and already know that this week we’re covering Timon of Athens. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. But, if you’ve been following along like good little Shakespeare nerds, you’ll know that just because it’s not super famous doesn’t mean it’s not good. If I am not much mistaken, this is the first show we’re scheduled to see when we hit Stratford at the end of August, which will be a great way to start off seeing as I’ve never even been afforded the chance to see it; nobody produces it, you guys…

So, today it falls to me to set you up with a list of adaptations you can check out. Unfortunately, there’s really not much you’ll be able to get your hands on. It turns out that Timon actually received its first film adaptation this year – a picture entitled I, Timon, which premiered at the Hoboken International Film Festival. Good luck finding a theater in which to watch it, however… It’s an Australian indie flick and if it gets a release in the US it’ll probably only be on a handful of screens.

The BBC put up a TV version in 1981 starring  Jonathan Pryce (you’ll recognize him as Governor Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean) in the lead role of Timon. While this version seems to have received positive reactions, I can’t find a reliable way to watch it. Le sigh. But it is out there, if you so choose to search for yourself.

Now, the most interesting adaptation of Timon of Athens – imho is actually one that was presented during the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s tenth season in 1963. Whaaaaat? But, but, there are no video recordings of plays that far back in Stratford’s history! I know. Trust me, I know. But we do have a record of the incidental music utilized in that production. Music that was commissioned to be written by the great Duke Ellington. Again, whaaaaat? I know! It’s so unexpected and cool and trivia-y! And what an interesting take on Timon that must have been, right? Though we may not be able to watch that production, we CAN listen to a recording of the music Ellington composed, here.


I’ll see you back here on Monday!


Boozy Books: Timon of Athens


First off, I am a little sad no one loved the title of Monday’s Muse as much as I did. I put effort into these things, people, and I am made glorious by your praise…

But there was no praise. Not even a titter. And now I don’t feel glorious at all. I feel unloved and underappreciated.

Which is perfect for today’s pairing, so…thanks guys! I knew you’d always come through for me! You’re the bestest!

So. Today is the second of four pairings we’ll be doing in our run-up to Strat Fest 2017. And, just like last year (you’ll notice a pattern), I’m doing the plays that aren’t as exciting. Like, I did the histories last year while A got to do Macbeth and As You Like It. I’m not complaining, though, because I love the histories as much as the tragedies and, truth be told, more than most of the comedies. It’s like seeing Shakespeare’s version of Hamilton. (Or would Hamilton be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of Shakespeare’s histories? The eternal questions being asked here at Nerd Cactus, folks.) But, basically, I seem to be drawn to the plays that no one else likes, or has even heard of.

Except this year, of course, because I swore I was going to pair Tartuffe and, by gum, I am going to pair Tartuffe!

But not this week, of course. Because this week is Timon of Athens.

OK. Where to begin? I guess the most important thing to remember about Timon is that Shakespeare collaborated (probably) with Thomas Middleton in writing it. I mean, there’s no primary sources that say, “Hey, I totes collaborated with Middleton/Shakespeare on this,” but we’re pretty sure. There’s lots of things in the play that seem nothing like Shakespeare but seem very much like Middleton, so… yeah. It’s a collaborative work. Which, given the arrangement here at Cactus, I very much approve of.

Now, like I said on Monday, a lot of things are affected by whether or not Timon is seen as being truly ascetic or merely using it as a device in the second act. In one instance, Timon is sympathetic; in the other, he’s far more petulant. But, basically… Timon is a really rich guy who wants friends. And he is exceptionally generous, giving away his money left and right to support these friends, patronizing the arts, getting people out of debt, etc. He is warned that he is spending his money too quickly by one of his few true friends, but ignores these warnings and continues to spend until it is revealed that he is completely broke. Timon turns to his friends–the ones he has helped and been so magnanimous toward–and, one by one, they turn him down, some even railing against him. Needless to say, Timon is not happy.

What follows is a delicious mix of revenge, misanthropy, anger, the paying off of prostitutes to purposely spread venereal diseases, and what could only be described as the greatest Misanthrope-Off in the history of theater. Like… if Lin-Manuel Miranda could take the humanity sucks battle between Timon and Apemantus and write them like a rap battle, I think the whole world would be in a MUCH, MUCH better place. Eventually, Timon tells the world to go fuck itself… and dies.

Also, Alcibiades is in it, and he isn’t much happier with Athens than Timon, having been banished. But that’s OK. He’s going to tear down the city in revenge using all that gold Timon found in the cave.

Right. Yes. Timon finds gold in a cave. Because of course.

This play is a lot more interesting than I think people give it credit for. I guess no one wants to read about misanthropy and cynicism, but COME ON. Who among us hasn’t wanted to tell everyone to go fuck themselves and then chill out in a cave with a bunch of gold? OK, so I probably wouldn’t give money to prostitutes to spread STDs (I’d give them the money to get treatment and, if they so chose, get out of sex work. Or at least into a safer form of sex work, where they aren’t quite so likely to get STDs) and I wouldn’t live in a cave, but there are days I want to hide in the woods and not talk to anyone for a while. And Timon is basically living out that fantasy.

Also, I really want to see Nathan Lane play him one day. Just for the funsies.

So. What to drink? Well, if you’re a truly ascetic Timon, caring only for earning friends and a good man in a messed up world, you’ll stick to water and roots (the only explicitly mentioned part of Timon’s diet in the text). No wine or meat for you. But personally, I’d much rather be like Cersei Lannister* and drink wine as my enemies suffer (or, you know, something that isn’t wine because I don’t actually like wine), so I think a nice Cabernet Sauvignon will do. The savage red. Because, personally, I think it fits.

OK. That’s it for me. I’ll be back Sunday with some sillies. If sillies even exist for this play…


*I am not Team Lannister, for the record, but I can really admire a woman who can watch the world burn (or, at least, the Sept) and drink wine. And at least she doesn’t pretend to be better than everyone else like a certain blonde woman whose titles are really just a bit much. SHUT UP, DANY. YOU NEED JON JUST AS MUCH AS HE NEEDS YOU. LET THE KNEE THING GO, WILL YOU? Ugh.

Monday Muse: Wait. So Timon of Athens isn’t about a Meerkat Eating Baklava?

Hey, guys! And welcome to week dos of Shakespeare-a-palooza 3: The Shakespeare-ening! This week we’ll be dealing with one of those plays you’ve probably never heard of (like Troilus and Cressida or Measure For Measure. And especially King John.): Timon of Athens. Now, I’m going to be pairing that on Friday, so I’ll save anything about the plot and whatnot until then, but for now, let’s talk about the fact that Timon is one of those plays that… really is underrated.

You might be asking: how is that possible?! How is anything written by William Shakespeare, aka the Bard, aka the most recognizable English-language playwright ever even if you’ve never seen or read a play by him underrated?

Well, I’ll tell you. For one, not everything is Hamlet. Some of his stuff just… isn’t as good (see last week for an example). While the language is always there, the wit and humor and linguistic skill, some plays just don’t have the same resonance as others. I mean, not everyone can write Othello or King Lear all the time, right? Or even Much Ado About Nothing, which is my favorite of the comedies. (Beatrice and Benedick 4eva!)

But is that the case with Timon? Or is it just that, good or bad, some plays just seem to get lost? Well, let’s talk about Timon a bit, and see.

The biggest problem with Timon of Athens seems to be that it is rough around the edges. It needed a good editor. But what appears to be bad writing can, in one instance, been seen as a deliberate piece of characterization, and in another, a deliberate duplication in printing that would not have made it to production (as in, there were two choices for epitaphs, and the production got to choose which one it went with). So these aren’t necessarily faults so much as stylistic choices. But the third issue? Where characters appear and disappear, sometimes without saying or doing anything to further the plot? What about that?

Well… it seems to me that that is probably a product of making sure every person in the company got a part. We know that Shakespeare could be a bit slapdash (why did he write sixteen comedies when he could have written just one? To quote the Reduced Shakespeare Company.), but the rest of the play doesn’t suggest this to be the case. It takes a careful touch to do satire well, and Timon does. Not to mention that Shakespeare probably collaborated with Thomas Middleton on this, and two writers wouldn’t miss something so glaring as that. So I’m inclined to believe it was a reflection of necessity, aka actors demanding to be on stage and get paid. Or maybe to add to the spectacle of the first act.

So what does that mean for Timon? Why, if its criticisms can be explained, isn’t it more popular?

Subject matter.

Unlike the great tragedies, Timon of Athens isn’t a straight tragedy. It is also satire, and can be categorized with the ‘problem plays’, which doesn’t mean the plays are problematic so much as that they’re difficult to categorize. And Timon is a play that is very difficult to categorize. It is, in short, an intellectual play. A play that means more, reveals more, and has more value to someone who can understand the philosophies at play, recognize the set pieces, and connect to the characters. Timon himself is likely based on philosopher Timon of Philius. Alcibiades, the general and ultimate savior of Athens, was present at the banquet in Plato’s Symposium, which an educated audience member would know. The play has a lot of Middleton’s signature style, making it markedly different from a solo Shakespeare endeavor.

Basically… Shakespeare was a man of the people. A writer for the masses. Timon of Athens stands out because it is less markedly populistic. It features dogs as a motif, but there isn’t a single dog playing a trick (yes, that’s a Shakespeare In Love reference. Shut up) throughout the entire thing. And when the majority of audience-goers at the time couldn’t read, it makes it difficult to become popular.

There is also, and perhaps most importantly, the nature of the main character. A lot of the enjoyability of the play revolves around whether or not Timon is a sympathetic character. Is his asceticism true and lasting, making him a moral figure betrayed by a licentious society and untrue friends, or is Timon himself as decadent and petty as the rest of them? There seems to be a divide here. People who regard the play well tend to stage the play as the former, while those who believe it a lesser work tend to have Timon’s behavior be just as debauched as his supposed friends. In one production, he even ate flamingo! In others, he eats next to nothing, proving himself a true student of the philosophies he preaches and a man trying in vain to win himself friends.

Perhaps because it is so difficult to categorize and understand a play–and a character–like Timon of Athens, it becomes a play that cannot be popular. As beautiful as Hamlet is, and as full of nuance, there is something universal about grief. We all know it, we all understand it, and we can all see something of ourselves in Hamlet. But with Timon? I suppose it all depends on whether or not we are presented a character we can identify with. A guy trying in vain to win friends being betrayed by a petty, self-centered society? I think a lot of us can see ourselves in that. And, in that case, Timon becomes someone maybe we wish we could be: a person who flips the deuces on society and leaves it, telling everyone to go fuck themselves. If he’s just as petty and debauched as the people he claims to hate? Well, no one wants to see themselves in that…

So. I guess I’ve talked enough. My apologies. I’ll be back on Friday to pair Timon of Athens. Until then!