Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Birthday Weekend

This past week was a very nice one, as it was devoted to celebrating my father’s birthday.

On Thursday evening, Joshua and I took my mother and father out to dinner, and after dinner we took them to the Guthrie Theater to attend a performance of the musical “1776”. My parents had seen a performance of “1776” once before—they had attended a road company production of the musical in Chicago in the 1970’s—but neither Joshua nor I had seen the show before.

None of us particularly cared for the show, or for the performance. Among other things, the book of “1776” is extremely irritating. It is, in part, a very serious presentation of the issues and personalities that lead up to the creation of The Declaration Of Independence. It is also, in part, a series of vaudeville skits, with historical characters assigned all sorts of ridiculous dialogue intended to “humanize” these iconic figures. The result is that it often transformed these historic personages into idiots and nitwits and dolts and fools.

We sort of enjoyed the first thirty minutes of the show, which contained most of the good musical numbers. After the first half hour or so, however, all of us seemed to lose interest in the proceedings, and we were happy when the show at last wound to its conclusion. I doubt that any of us would ever want to see this show again.

I am not confident that “1776” is worthy of revival. The audience seemed to be unsettled throughout the performance, unsure how to react to the show and to the performance. Energy—the energy of the performers, and the energy of the audience members—seemed to dissipate as the show went on and on.

Our birthday plans for my father for Friday and Saturday were altered at the last minute. Our original intention was for Joshua and me to have my parents over to our apartment for dinner Friday night, and to take them to a Minnesota Orchestra concert on Saturday night.

However, on Friday morning, my mother called me at work and she told me that what my father really wanted to do for the weekend was to go to the lake. My mother asked me whether this presented a problem for Josh and me, and she also wanted to know whether Josh and I wanted to go to the lake, too.

I told my mother that it probably would not make much difference for Josh and me, except that Josh and I had already picked up all of the food for our special Friday night birthday dinner for my father.

My mother’s response: “Save it for tomorrow night, and we’ll have the special birthday dinner up at the lake”.

So I called Josh at home, because he had not departed for work yet, and I asked him what he wanted to do. Josh said that he wanted to go to the lake, so I called my mother back and I told her that Josh and I would be joining her and my father.

My mother told me to get our gear together as soon as we arrived home from work, and the food, too, and the birthday presents, and afterward to come over to my parents’ house for a light dinner, after which we would all head up to the lake.

And that’s what Josh and I did.

Consequently, on Friday, my father’s actual birthday, we did not actually celebrate the event, at least officially. Instead, we ate a quick dinner my mother had prepared for us (Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and even a few cupcakes my mother had baked, just so that my father would get at least a taste of cake on his actual birthday), and then my father called my brothers to tell them what was up with us and to let them wish him a quick “Happy Birthday”. Then we gathered everything, including our gear, and the food, and the birthday presents, and the dog, and we set out on our way, heading north.

On Saturday, during the day, we really did not do much. Josh and I went swimming, and we all walked through the woods with the dog, but otherwise we just sat on the lawn or sat on the deck and read and talked and played with the dog.

On Saturday night, Josh and I made my father the special birthday dinner we had planned to give him the previous evening.

We first baked a special birthday cake, made with fresh pineapple and fresh coconut, that is fairly complicated to make.

When the cake was done, we also prepared some of my father’s favorite foods, such as stuffed pork chops, and a special potato dish made with cream and cheddar cheese, and lima beans, and glazed carrots, and a tomato-cucumber salad, and a special apple salad. It was a lovely birthday dinner.

After dinner, my father opened his birthday gifts, and he talked on the telephone, at length, to my brothers.

For his birthday, my father received mostly books. My older brother got him a book, my middle brother got him a book, my sister-in-law got him a book, and my nephew got him a book. I, as part-time keeper of my father’s library, had been called upon to serve as gift advisor, so as to avoid duplication, and so as to suggest recently-published books of special interest to my father.

Gifts of books were ideal for my brothers and my older brother’s family to present to my father, because books may be easily ordered online and easily shipped anywhere. For practical reasons, it made more sense for our family members living out-of-town to give my father books for his birthday than for my mother and Joshua and me.

My mother and Joshua and I had decided to give my father something other than books.

My mother gave my father an antique desk lamp, from the 1870’s, for my father’s den. It is an old, pre-electric, lawyer’s lamp, made mostly from brass. My mother found it in an antique shop, and purchased it, and polished it, and afterward she took it to an electrician, who wired it for electricity. It is a very, very beautiful lamp, and it will go perfectly in my father’s den. He likes it very, very much.

Joshua and I got my father compact discs. We selected discs of recent vintage that we knew he did not already have.

Specifically, we each gave my father a disc recorded by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Jarvi on the Telarc label: Josh gave my father the new Elgar/Britten disc and I gave my father the new Bartok/Lutoslawski disc. My father has not been keeping up on the Telarc discs recorded by Cincinnati/Jarvi, and he had mentioned this to us, a few weeks ago, and he had said that he needed to make amends. Josh and I decided to help him in this endeavor.

It was a lovely day, and a lovely evening, and a lovely celebration, and I think that my father had a wonderful birthday.

Today, we did not do much. We just enjoyed the peace and quiet, and played with the dog, and ate more birthday cake, until it was time for us to come back to the Twin Cities. We headed for home very late in the afternoon.

This coming week will be a very nice one, as well, because it will be devoted to celebrating my mother’s birthday.

On Wednesday night, Joshua and I will take my parents out to dinner and afterward to the Guthrie Theater to attend a performance of “Private Lives”. On Thursday night, my mother’s actual birthday, we will have my parents over to our apartment for dinner. On Friday afternoon, my parents will fly to Denver, for a visit with my middle brother. My mother—and my father, too, of course—will love it.


  1. I'll be interested in your reaction to "Private Lives." A local company of Equity actors presented it this month. The KC Star's critic had this to say:

    "Pretty snoozy. That’s the effect of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” as staged by Actors Theatre KC. The line separating a classic from a relic is pretty thin. And this staging of the 1931 comedy never makes a convincing argument that its pre-World War II British sensibility has any relevance in the 21st century.

    Don’t get me wrong. Coward’s legendary wit is still potent, and many of the lines in this piece are very funny. But the question the audience faces is simple: Why should we care about a love-hate relationship between two narcissistic cocktail-sipping representatives of the idle rich?"

    Later in the review, the critic noted that chemistry between the couples and comedic timing is crucial - and that it was lacking on press night.

    It seems to me that the critic was trying to have it both ways. If the chemistry and timing had been right would the play have stood the test of time? Or, is it merely dated?

    Although I've never seen "1776", I'm sure my reaction would've matched yours. I hate plays that are filled with silly anachronisms - at least those that use such clumsily.

  2. Drew:

    You should read the psycho's blog today. He posted the most inane review of Wagner's Ring ever written. You will wet your britches. The guy is a total moron.


  3. Which psycho, Paul? You need to be more specific.

    Having a slow day at the office?

  4. David, I will let you know about "Private Lives".

    I found "1776" to be extremely irritating. I really think the book needs to be completely re-written so as to remove its jarring "contemporary" references. It was quite clear, three minutes into the show, that the book was a complete relic of the late 1960's.

    However, because the score is not that good, it probably does not matter--there really is not much of a show there to preserve in the first place. The show should be allowed to die an honorable death and to live on, to the extent necessary, only in the original cast recording.

    I cannot imagine why the Guthrie chose to give the show a lengthy run.

  5. Speaking of relics of the 1960's . . .

  6. Did you get the dopey "wedding" pictures I found online and sent to you? The ones with them wearing the dopey vests? No class. No class at all.

  7. Paul, yes, I received the photos--and please do not send any more. Our email is archived.

    No, I have not read his blog in months and months, and I am not going to. He is just too weird. Lizbeth says that she could devote an entire career to cataloging his disorders.

  8. I thought the pictures were hilarious. Sorry. What I find fascinating about him is how dumb he is, but he thinks he is intelligent.

  9. Agreed. And agreed.

    Now get to work!