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All very complicated and fascinating. Add to this some extraordinarily good child actors as their children, and writers who know how to spin the story so it feels real rather than contrived, and we've got an hour at a time of television at its best.
Plus completely stupid passages of nudity that serve the function of really bad commercials, interrupting and distracting from the show. I wish the Naked Networks like HBO and Showtime would trust in quality and stop with the lowest-common-denominator time-wasting naked bits that are an insult to the artists and their audience.
For many years, after Hallmark stopped trying, we bought our Christmas cards from the Museum of Modern Art online store, which offered cut-paper cards of great ingenuity.
But there's a limit to how many cool things you can do with cut paper. And this year we discovered a way to create even more unusual and personal Christmas cards.
FineArtAmerica.com is a website that offers some of the best of contemporary illustrators and photographers – and a lot of rather awful amateur stuff.
Fortunately, it's pretty easy to sift out the good stuff and blow away the chaff. And, best of all, FineArtAmerica.com allows you to buy much of the art in the form of greeting cards.
That is, they'll put very high-quality prints of the art you choose on the outside of a card. Then you can either leave the inside blank or put in your own message.
One of our favorite artists, Greg Olsen – a more-realistic successor to Normal Rockwell – has some wonderful family- and child-centered pieces at FineArtAmerica.com, and we ordered many of his pieces as Christmas cards this year.
We also sent out Jane Austen's birthday cards – and found appropriate photographs and art to go with those cards.
The prices are reasonable, considering the high quality FineArtAmerica.com delivers. I've seen prices as high as $10.95 for a single card, packs of 10 cards at $7.95 each, and packs of 25 at $6.50 a card.
But Greg Olsen's lovely painting of Christ, called "Walk with Me," can be bought 10 for $2.95 each and 25 for $2.50 each.
And FineArtAmerica.com also does a very good job with their art prints, on paper, canvas and metal, framed and unframed.
Speaking of customized art, LuggagePros.com offers "MyFly Tag" personalized luggage tags. You have to have the art you want to use already on your computer. It can be a photograph or any other image.
You decide whether it goes on the luggage tag in landscape or portrait mode, and you can add a bit of text on the face, as well as your full address information on the back. There are several typefaces and a number of background and text colors available.
The result can be a set of completely unique luggage tags; or, if you want, a whole bunch of tags with a corporate logo on the face. If you order one, the cost is $6.95, but as soon as you order two, the cost drops to $4.95, with even more per-unit savings at higher quantities.
Check it out at http://www.luggagepros.com/myflytag
Supposedly there's a superstition among theater people, requiring that no one actually say the title of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Instead, they must call it "The Scottish Play."
I've been in theater all my life and have never met anyone who actually believes in this superstition. We say Macbeth all the time. It's only an affectation to call it "The Scottish Play." You start doing it in order to pretend that you have connections among British acting professionals.
It's true that Macbeth is a violent play, and also it's macabre. There are ghosts and witches, madness and murders and atrocities. Women and children are murdered.
But there's just as much violence and as many atrocities in King Lear, and there's a ghost in Hamlet, and madness abounds in Shakespeare.
So it must be the witches. It must be the widespread belief that witches are Satan worshipers. Maybe the superstition arose because there was a feeling that saying Macbeth invited Satan.
But that sounds like a crock to me. If there's a group of people in the English-speaking world who don't believe in witches, it's theater people.
I think it isn't a superstition at all – or at least not a theatrical superstition. I think theater people decided not to speak the title of Macbeth during a time when outsiders who believed in witchcraft were outraged at the presence of witches on stage during Macbeth.
I mean, if the depiction of witches in Harry Potter could get a bunch of fundamentalists all exercised about witchcraft in our time, how angry might similar religious groups have gotten about Macbeth two or three hundred years ago?
Avoiding the title was a matter of self-preservation. You just don't want those people to know that you might ever have appeared on stage with a witch. So you refer to "The Scottish Play" and they have no idea you're talking about that evil satanic play Macbeth.
So as I talk about Weaver Center's production of Macbeth, let's keep a few things straight. There are no actual witches on the stage. And the pretend witches are not sympathetically portrayed.
In fact, their supposed prophecies are actually incitements; they provoke Macbeth and his wife to commit vile crimes in order to fulfil them. (They also have nothing to do with the very modern reinvention of "witches" in the form of a nature religion.)
Set aside the superstitions, and what do you have? The story of a man who is intrigued by a supposed prophecy that he will rise from his current barony to the royal throne. His ambitious wife helps him to murder the current monarch and take his place. But others rebel against their usurpation and eventually they are ousted and killed.
In other words, politics as usual. Hitler. Napoleon. Many of the later Roman emperors. A good number of the Ptolemies. Absalom. It happens over and over in history.
Macbeth is thus one of those timeless stories that remains powerful because, despite the fantasy elements, it is truthful about human nature, politics and war.
Still, Macbeth is a very difficult choice for a high school theater program. First, there's the obvious problem with almost all Shakespeare plays. In Shakespeare's era, all the actors were male. The female parts were played by apprentice boy actors whose voices had not yet changed.
Obviously, some of these apprentices were powerful performers – that's why Shakespeare could write brilliant parts like Lady Macbeth, Juliet, Katherine Minola, and Portia. (Some women's parts were played by adult males. The nurse in Romeo and Juliet, for instance, was certainly played by the clown; it would be surprising if Goneril and Regan were not played by adult men.)
Most female parts, though, are less demanding, and all of them have far fewer speeches and scenes than the leading males. Also, there are far fewer female parts in the first place.
Now, in most high school drama programs, there are three or four female students to every male. How, then, do you cast a Shakespeare play? Working in the opposite environment from Elizabethan drama, you have far more female students chasing fewer same-gender roles than the Elizabethans had apprentices chasing female roles....continued on page 3