Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Adoption

The other day when I was visiting Jonah in Vegas, he said he had a surprise for me but that I might not like it. Later that night he came home and told me to come outside. He was in his truck and sheepishly looked at me, pulled out two kittens, and said, "I couldn't let them go to the pound."

Admittedly, the kittens were very cute. And I am an animal lover. I love animals very much, and they seem to have quite an affinity for me as well. However, we already have two cats, and they are responsibility enough, in my opinion. So I wasn't terribly pleased, especially since Jonah hadn't at least discussed it with me (although, in retrospect, he had tossed some hints about.

The kittens had come from a litter from Jonah's mom's cat. He has tried to get his mom to get that cat fixed, but she hasn't. I think it's irresponsible to not spay and neuter one's cats. It just leaves a lot of orphaned cats that can't be taken care of.

Jonah looked so concerned about the future of these two kitties. However, four cats is just too much for me. One of the kittens was almost all black with some white and a little Charlie Chaplin-esque or Adolph Hitler-esque mustache. He was very cute. The other cat was gray or brownish, as I recall. Also cute. Although I did not necessarily want another cat, the black one was quite unique, and there is also the fact that the two cats Jonah has were his originally, before we married (although one of those cats adores me; the other one pretty much views anybody but Jonah as an unwelcome intruder). Anyway, I told Jonah I was not comfortable adopting two new kitties, but that I would compromise by allowing us to keep one, provided that I could name it.

I jokingly said we should name it "Hitler," not by any desire to offend, but simply because my dark sense of humor likes the juxtaposition of a cute, harmless kitty-cat with the name of one of the most evil dictators in human history. However, my sense of decency wouldn't allow me to actually do so, even if Jonah would go along with it (which I know he wouldn't), so I named him Chaplin instead.

We think he's a boy, and as far as we can tell, he has the parts that would indicate that he is (although they're very small, so we are not sure). If he turns out to be a girl, we will still call him Chaplin, and he'll just have to suffer through life with an identity crisis.

I admit it, he's adorable. He's a little ball of energy and very hyper and likes to jump around. I am amused at his innocence and curiosity. He loves to bite (not in a malicious way, but in a very pure manner. While I did not necessarily want him initially, it's fun to have him around.

The other two cats have been wary of him, but both are slowly becoming acclimated to him, and I'm sure they will enjoy him in time.

Anyway, here's Chaplin! (He would not hold still very well to get a really focused picture; my apologies).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

"Song of the Heart" and The Welcome Wagon

I just got back from church. The meetings weren't too bad: testimony meeting, which I generally like and Sunday School, which I enjoy mainly because I think the lady who teaches it is a good teacher. I don't typically attend Priesthood.

The ward choir sang some prelude music, and as is my experience with most ward choirs, they were kind of lackluster. They were singing so tentatively that I was truly tempted to yell, "Sing out, Louise!" which surely would have outed me to everyone there. (If you don't get the reference, look it up.)

Singer Gladys Knight, who converted to Mormonism a few years ago told President Gordon B. Hinckley, more or less, that we could use some more soul and pep in our worship music. I completely agree. Music is such an important part of Mormon worship services, and I think we should be using music to celebrate the joy we have in being members of the Church and in expressing the love and adoration we have for our Heavenly Father; and yet, what happens so often is that it comes out sounding very stiff and repressed and joyless. One quote attributed to a choral group Gladys Knight has helped create is, "[I]t is the fulfillment of Sister Knight's desire to bring a new level of passion and cultural awareness to the traditionally reserved LDS hymns."

I've been to several different churches in my life, and musically Mormons often to be the most reserved and straight-laced. I think it's unfortunate. Music is such an important tool to invite the Spirit of the Lord, and I know I have felt it in other religions. That isn't to say I haven't felt it in LDS meetings, because I certainly have. But I do think we could work on bringing a bit more "pep" (and maybe even more variety) into our worship music. I'm not asking for electric guitars or timpani; just a little more joyfulness.

One thing I've noticed in my current ward is that the bishop has never shaken my hand or asked me who I am, although he has had many opportunities to do so. Granted, I could introduce myself to him. I mean, I'm not complaining or anything. Frankly, I don't really care to draw too much attention to myself or have to explain about my excommunication or my husband. I just think it's odd that he specifically shakes the hands and welcomes those he already knows, but ignores me even though I'm sitting right next to them. Like I said, I don't mind. I'm not bothered or offended by it or anything. I just find it strange, especially since we're in a small town where everybody seems to know everybody, and yet he doesn't seem inquisitive enough to ask about a stranger in his ward. It's just odd to me.

I also found it a little strange that he invited the newly baptized eight-year-olds to come join the bishopric on the stand, but did not invite two newly baptized convert children who couldn't have been more than eleven. I don't think they cared either way; they looked pretty happy. I just thought it was strange.

He seems to be a very well liked bishop among his congregation. Many, many people have said very kind things about him. I just find his actions a little odd at times. I felt so too when my first introduction to him was when he gave a talk and stressed three things: that we (the members) must have family dinner together every night, we must shun pornography, and that the economy was never, ever going to get better so we'd better get used to tough times ahead. It wasn't that any of the topics were weird in and of themselves; it was just the way he strung them together and his conviction that we were forever economically doomed that made me find him odd. I can't really explain it. He's a likeable guy; he's just odd to me.

Even more odd was the lady in Sacrament Meeting today who said she used to pray that God would have mercy on Satan because he was, after all, God's son and in need of mercy (not necessarily an unchristian sentiment, but still an odd thing to say in a testimony, I thought). She did also add that she doesn't do that anymore since she's realized that the consequences of some choices are irreversible. She said something else I found really odd, but unfortunately I have forgotten what it was (although if I do remember I'll update this entry).

I did feel myself tense up in Sunday School when the topic turned to the destruction of the family. I was sure homosexuality was going to come up, although it never did (although abortion and STDs were mentioned). I did find it interesting that many of the positive values they were talking about regarding the family unit (such as mutual love, commitment, nuturing, based in Christ, etc.) were just as applicable for a gay couple as they are for a straight one. The only one they talked about that wasn't is the ability to bear children (although I know some gay people are capable of raising and nurturing a child equally as well, and in come cases, better).

Anyway, that was church.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My View

I am not a regular watcher of "The View." Jonah watches it, however, and because he watches it, I have watched it on occasion, especially since it's one of the things that's on as I'm getting ready to go to work. My main reason for not watching "The View" is that I often feel like it's just a bunch of woman gossiping about stuff; at least that's how it comes across. But once in a while it's interesting to hear their discussions during the "Hot Topics," especially if the subjects are political in nature (although Elizabeth Hasselbeck's opinions generally make me want to put my head in a vice, and Sherri Shepherd often comes across (to me at least) as not the brightest bulb in the universe). Joy is just loud, and Barbara is pretentious. Whoopi Goldberg is the only one that even remotely shares my wavelength.

Anyway, it happened to be on Friday as I was preparing my lunch for the day, and a subject came up that I found interesting. Actress Meredith Baxter recently came out, and actor Rupert Everett had commented that when he came out, it ruined his career.

Joy made the comment that in America there is this mentality where audiences cannot watch an actor who they know to be gay in a romantic leading role. If they see him in a role that Brad Pitt or George Clooney might play where he's kissing and love-making with an actress, according to Joy the audience will subconsciously not buy what he's doing because they know he's gay. Sherri added that when she watches a male actor in such a role, she needs to believe that he would be romantic with her.

Whoopi disagreed, saying that if you've got really good actors, they should be capable of making you believe whatever they need you to believe, regardless of sexuality.

I'm with Whoopi on this. As an actor myself (and whom most people, I think, would regard as "straight-acting"), I've played many, many heterosexual roles (most of my roles have been) as well as acted with many gay people who can pull of heterosexual roles very well. True, I know some gay people that just can't pull off straight, but many of us can be seen in straight roles with no problem. So why is it when people suddenly know a person is gay that it makes a difference? Nobody has a problem with straight actors playing gay roles (in fact, they're often lauded for it as if acting gay is the ultimate acting challenge for a straight person (believe me, acting straight is no challenge for me (probably because I had years of practice ;-) ))).

And there are examples of gay actors doing just fine. Neil Patrick Harris plays a womanizer on "How I Met Your Mother," and does it well. I never thought of Ian McKellan's Gandalf as "the gay wizard" in Lord of the Rings. Portia de Rossi plays a "ball-busting" heterosexual woman on "Better Off Ted" with no problem. Dan Butler played a very convincing chauvinistic, macho sports-talk radio host for years on "Frasier." Richard Chamberlain, Tab Hunter, and Rock Hudson played romantic leads very well (granted, they did so before it was known they were gay, but what difference should that make?). Cherry Jones played a heterosexual president on "24." I never watched "Star Trek" or "M*A*S*H," respectively, thinking, "I'll bet Sulu and Major Winchester are gay." Never crossed my mind. Yet the actors who played them are. Oh, and I guarantee you, people, there are plenty of actors still in the closet doing an excellent job of convincing the paying audience that they are as straight as an arrow.

So I just think it's just B.S. that audiences can't accept a gay person playing a straight person. That's just my View.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Part of the Family

I took my mom to see A Christmas Story, a theatrical adaptation of the movie. It was good. We quite enjoyed it (it was certainly better than Michael McLean's The Forgotten Carols, which I've written about below).

Anyway, while I was home, I was looking at some of our family photos in the living room and commented that my niece had grown quite a bit since the photo had been taken. Mom agreed, and asked me if she noticed the new pictures she had put on the wall. It was three photos in one frame of Jonah and me at the zoo and at a nature preserve in Las Vegas (two outings we had taken with my mom).

I have really been happy about how welcoming my family has been to Jonah. He is treated just like any other spouse, and it has really brought me much joy (and I'm sure Jonah feels the same way). My family really goes out of their way to include Jonah in our family activities, and I really am grateful that. I know many gay people (including Jonah) who are not as fortunate in that respect. I know every family is different, and I also know of families who not only don't include their child's significant other, but also practically disown the child as well. I am thankful for a family that treats my husband as they would any other family member. It makes me so very happy.

I remember more than a year ago, I had written a post that said, in part:

"Recently my mom put a photo of my sister and her fiance on our piano in the living room. That's where many of the family photos go. There are several photos of my older brother and his family and ones of my older sister and her family. And now there is one of my youngest sister and her soon-to-be husband. But there are none of me and Jonah. My mom loves Jonah a lot and she also loves me a lot, and I don't expect her to put a photo of us on the piano because I know it would be awkward for her to explain to visitors about us, and I don't want to put her in that position. But it still makes me sad."

I'm glad we're past that stage, and that there is now a photo of me and my husband in the living room with the rest of the family photos. And the photos are still unobtrusive enough that I don't think they will put my mom in an awkward position should anyone ask about them.

Anyway, it just made me glad.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Forgotten Carols? Forget It.

As with most topic in this blog, I am only stating my opinion here:

So the other night I saw a production of Michael McLean's The Forgotten Carols directed by my friend. Those of you unfamiliar with The Forgotten Carols, it has become a holiday tradition among many Mormons. Michael McLean, who I have alluded to before without actually mentioning his name, is a Mormon composer famous for his inspirational and uplifting music. I feel the way about his music as I do many Mormon pop artists (defined as contemporary Mormon composers who write music specifically for a Mormon audience): I find a lot of his stuff cheesy and kind of sappy. That isn't to say I haven't been inspired or moved by some of his songs. I remember being very touched at a difficult point in my life by one of his famous songs, "You're Not Alone." Even in The Forgotten Carols itself, I quite like the song "Joseph (I Was Not His Father, He Was Mine." And although I mostly find his tunes a bit treacly, I think he's a relatively talented composer of overly sentimental songs.

What I think he absolutely sucks at is playwriting, and this production of The Forgotten Carols only reaffirmed that. I have seen The Forgotten Carols. In fact, the version I saw starred Michael McLean himself. The version I saw was done more as a reading, with McLean telling the story of Constance, a nurse with a stick so far up her butt that she needs an angel of sorts named John to help her open her heart to the true spirit of Christmas. McLean sang all of the songs himself (yikes! Composer, yes. Good singer, no!) with a choir backing him up. I thought the show was so-so, but at least thought it sort of worked in a kind of "bedtime story" format.

This production I saw was a full-scale, dramatized production with individual actors playing the various characters in the story. The script has also suffered some "improvements," and is somewhat different from the version I saw. What is blatantly obvious to me is that McLean's dialogue, plot development, and character development are very weak. There are scenes that are completely unnecessary. Instead of moving the plot along, they leave you asking, "What the...?" There is a backstory for Constance that is poorly developed and, frankly, of little aid in helping us understand why she is the way she is even though that is its exact intended purpose. When her character does finally have a change of heart, it happens on a dime and seems to have nothing powerful enough behind it to warrant it. Most of the dialogue is very wooden.

I get why people like the show. It's got some moving music and it's got a positive, family-friendly message. I just think it's terribly written and poorly developed.

My director friend agrees whole-heartedly with my assessment of the show, and in fact, knew what my criticisms of the show would be before I even told him. Like he says, "it is what it is." Why is he directing it, you ask? Well, he knows (as do I) that it will be a sure-fire hit in this very conservative, Mormon town in which we live. And I guess that's what annoys me the most; that audiences so often would rather see mediocre, feel-good entertainment even if its badly written than they would thought-provoking, well-written material that offends their sensibilities. Furthermore, they will give that same poorly-written material standing ovations and cheers as if it's the greatest theatre they've ever seen.

I wrote about this before when I saw a production of Michael McLean's show The Ark, which frankly, makes The Forgotten Carols look like Hamlet. I'm far more offended by mediocre (or less-than-mediocre) theatre than I am by nudity or profanity in a well-written, thought-provoking piece. I'd rather see some edgy independent film than a mainstream Adam Sandler movie. I'd rather see some experimental musical by Stephen Sondheim that the general populous doesn't get than some overrated show about cats or trains by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

I guess another thing that bothers me is that I've met Michael McLean. I have nothing against him, but he does come across as having a bit of an ego. He regards his work in a much higher esteem than I do, and he probably can justly feel that way because the Mormon masses have taken to it so readily. I'm sure in his mind because his music and shows have touched, moved, and inspired people, that must mean they're well-written and beautifully constructed; but I say just because something makes you feel good, that doesn't make it a masterpiece. Mamma Mia! makes me feel happy and gay (pun intended) when I leave the theater, but I'll be the first to admit it isn't Shakespeare or Shaw or Chekhov or Sondheim. There are plenty of feel-good movies out there that you may leave feeling moved, but you realize it did so with artificiality and manipulation rather than through a well-constructed storyline or characters.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying there isn't a place in the world for feel-good entertainment. I love Mamma Mia! for example. I like the movie Deep Impact, but I won't tell you it's a great movie. The movie "Scavenger Hunt" always makes me laugh, but it is a terrible movie. I understand why silly melodramas or overly sentimental shows are appealing to people. What I tire of is the accolades some works receive without really being deserving of them, and what's even worse is when those works are presented in a shoddy manner. Mamma Mia! and Deep Impact are certainly a lot better constructed than The Forgotten Carols, but I wouldn't dream of awarding either a Tony or an Oscar, respectively. I teach musical theatre, and while I enjoyed Mamma Mia!, it is a mere blip in musical theatre history as far as I'm concerned and is barely worth mentioning. The Forgotten Carols isn't even in the same league. The songs are salvageable, but the script needs major help.

I don't know why I'm on such a tirade about this. It really isn't that important, and now that I've written my thoughts, I wonder if it's even worth posting. I just hate bad theatre! Oh, well. Here it is, for what it's worth. Enjoy.