Archive | April, 2009

A Modest Critique of Shallow Waters

28 Apr

I maintain a Google Alert in my RSS feed (which I’ve been neglecting, thanks to school and my demanding home life – I’ll read all your fantabulous posts later) for Les Miserables. This has led to an uptick in my subscription in recent weeks, as the kick-ass Susan Boyle sweeps the internet. So, in an effort to reduce my unread counts, I skimmed through the Les Mis posts, and found something infuriating.

The University of Texas’ online newspaper ran a piece recently entitled, “A modest defense of shallowness.” I had hopes on reading that title – perhaps the article is satire, and the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to one of my favorite satirists? Very quickly, my hopes were dashed to the floor by Friedenthal’s piece.

“[Her] looks are more akin to your friend’s aging mother (and not the neighborhood MILF, either) and certainly are not up to the exacting standards that we rightfully set for our celebrities…Were Susan Boyle a man, the standards we would hold him or her to would not be nearly as extreme, and a homely appearance would be much more acceptable to us. However, for a woman with a beautiful voice to not have an equally beautiful body seems to be a malicious quirk of fate, a bit of cognitive dissonance that we, the American public, more so than the British public, cannot seem to get around.

Inherent in the “mom I’d like to fuck” concept is the idea that the body (specifically, the female body) is designed to fall under the male gaze, and be lusted for by men. This seems to be the framework Friedenthal is using, as zie puts forth the argument that this gaze is desirable for celebrities.  Celebrities, famous people, those with beautiful voices, they all have an obligation to remain fuckable and sexyhawt. That seems like a problem to me, because if you can’t be beautiful all the time, what happens? If beauty is the standard for value, aren’t we just saying that people women are Pygmalion’s ivory? It becomes a malicious twist of fate to allow into our worldview a woman who can do shit – and do it well – without also being conventionally physically attractive. Women are, after all, purely put on this earth to look nice so teh menz can take care of everything else. *head meets desk in an epic battle. desk wins.*

The rest of the article is a pseudo-scientific justification of the status quo, where the “creeping danger” of Susan Boyle’s lack of conventional beauty is a stab in the eyes to all who believe merit is useless, citing Annie Hall and Casablanca as evidence of the pure worth of appearance. I haven’t seen Annie Hall, but the understanding I gleaned from a nonillion viewings of Casablanca is that Ilsa leaves Rick for reasons other than his lack of beauty, so I’m not even sure how that supports Friedenthal’s arguments for the cultural valuation of attractiveness.

Okay, that’s enough blogging for today. I’m going to go hide in an obscure corner of the internet again!


Metapost: Blog Note

15 Apr

Posting is going to be fairly light for a little while. I’m having the “oh, shit. Finals!” sensation on top of actually having a social life (no wai!), so it’s safe to say I’m a bit frazzled right now.

While you wait for my astounding brilliance to return to the internet, enjoy this video of Susan Boyle singing the shit out of Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream.” As fillyjonk said,

Folks, we are all Susan Boyle. Fat or thin, pretty or plain, butch or femme, old or young, abled or not: people will judge us and find us wanting. You can posture all you want, out of genuine confidence or bravado; you can insist that the ideals are wrong, that the goalposts need to be moved, that rational humans can shake off the shackles of cultural expectation.


9 Apr

After Tuesday’s post, I realized I knew next to nothing about this syndrome I may have. So, naturally, I made friends with Wikipedia and related footnotes. I’m still working through a lot of the links I dug up, but I thought this was interesting:

From the DSM-IV requirements for diagnosis with Asperger’s Syndrome – my comments in italics

A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
(1) marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction I absolutely suck at recognizing non-verbal communication. What I understand, I understand because I’ve looked up body language decoders on the Internet.
(2) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level As I said in the last post, I’ve never made friends easily or well. I had what I would term a best friend in elementary, but most might call ‘good friend’ or ‘acquaintance.’ I’ve never had that level of closeness since. In fact, the occasion immortalized here from last Monday was the easiest I’ve ever made friends (and if feeling dizzy and short of breath because I have to stand up and ask a question in a microphone to a room full of people is easy, I’d hate to see what making friends the hard way is).
(3) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people) Not sure if I do this or not.
(4) lack of social or emotional reciprocity I had to google this, because I wasn’t sure what was meant. This result is interesting, and it may be applicable to me. I’m still not sure if this is what is meant, but I find small talk vastly irritating and as soon as it begins, I try to get away from the situation.

B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
(1) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus I don’t know if I do this.
(2) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals Possibly. I get frustrated when I’m in an exercise class and the warm-up order shifts unexpectedly. I don’t do well with change to my routine I’m not prepared for well in advance. I don’t like not being able to check my e-mail immediately before bed and immediately upon waking.
(3) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements) Very much so. I fidget constantly, I crochet, I draw. My hands cannot be still. I hate not having something in my hands, something to focus idle energy into. I keep rocks in my purse to hold when I don’t have anything better to do with my hands (and when I’m walking, I pick up rocks I like the shape of that look nice to hold). When in junior high/high school, I played trumpet, and practicing fingerings was a convenient way of appearing “normal” while enabling my need to fidget. When walking, I occasionally throw in a few bounces and pirouettes, without really consciously realizing I’m doing so (others have pointed it out to me).
(4) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects The shape of noses fascinate me. I love staring at noses, the contours and bumps and zits and hairs poking out from the nostril, all the little “imperfections” that give the nose character and make me secretly adore the bearer. This is the only example coming to mind, but I’m almost certain there are others.

C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. I can’t relate to my mother, because she expects things of me that I’m unable to deliver. I have trouble applying for jobs, because I’m so convinced I won’t get the job that it seems futile to even try. I can’t ask for help if and when I need it, because I lack the social skills to feel comfortable doing so.

D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years). Nothing as far as I’m aware.

E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood. Nothing as far as I’m aware.

F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia. Nothing as far as I’m aware.

So I certainly meet enough of the requirements to warrant a follow-up and an attempt to get an official diagnosis. The main problem is financing such an endeavor – as I’m currently uninsured, I have an overwhelming desire to say, “Fuck you, United States of America, for not having socialized healthcare.”

EDIT: So, ten minutes after I post this, Meowser has another awesome post up.

Not Neurotypical: An Overshare

7 Apr

For various reasons, I’ve spent much of the day teetering on the edge of tears. First, my martial arts class was cancelled because my main school had a bomb threat. That martial arts class is amazing – if I’m having a shitty day, it takes the focus off of what’s happening to my life and allows me to get out of toxic thought patterns. And when I don’t get that, my day tends to suck. Plus, you know, bomb threat to the school I’ve spent large amounts of time at for the past 15 years (my dad’s a professor there, and has been since my childhood). So, I return to my other school to wait for my afternoon class, and I mark time, as I am wont to do, by going through my RSS reader and seeing what’s new. One of the first feeds I check is Shakesville, and this guest post by Meowser sucks me in. It’s about (warning: very poor summary) being diagnosed with Asperger and the stigma our society awards non-neurotypical brain function. You seriously need to read the whole thing, if you haven’t already (though I assume most people who read this blog already read Shakes).

But the reason I’m writing this post is because, as has been stated ad infinitum, the personal is very much political (and oh, how I wish it weren’t and I didn’t feel compelled to write this post and tell the internet my problems because the internet very likely (in my head) does not give a shit).  I’m trying to not have a heavy hand (er, pinky finger) with the backspace key the way I normally do when I’m writing about things I’d rather nobody else read, things I’d rather I didn’t even think about, let alone spill to the internet. This will likely give me more runon sentences and weird grammar than usual; please forgive me this. You see, dear reader, I have trouble coping with challenges in my life in ways that neurotypical people *ahem* typically don’t.

As I’ve stated on the LJ entries I just linked, I suspect that I have depression (which is currently deepening, as evidenced by the reemergence of my most common symptom), but I’d never considered Asperger’s Syndrome before. For one thing, as Meowser stated, I’m biologically female, and women don’t have such syndromes, silly goose! But enough of the symptoms Meowser listed made me go, “That…sounds a lot like me, actually,” to make me curious enough to take the quiz linked in the post. I scored 35/50, and a score of 32 is a strong indicator of likelihood of Aspie’s. UrsusRufus linked another quiz in comments, I scored 186/200 for likelihood of Aspie’s (and a 16/200 for neurotypical brain function). So.

I was an unusual child, the most common description is “dancing to the beat of her own drum.” Quite often, literal dancing. In the third grade (age 9 or so), I got in trouble because I stood up and started doing a happy dance because school was almost over for the day, and I could go home and read my books. One time, the art teacher got upset with me because I was skipping through the halls on my way back to the ordinary classroom (Orderly walking ONLY – stop that infernal disorder!). For this and other things (like the fact that soon after I discovered chapter books, I decided to read (and succeeded in reading) Little Women *cough*feminism buds early*cough*), I was mercilessly teased through junior high. But I was and still am one of the slowest people ever at arithmetic. When in second grade, I had to have remedial math quizzes at home with my parents so I could have a chance in hell of being anywhere near an acceptable level (by high school, I was finally allowed to use a calculator for everything – woo!). But I’m very good at higher-level maths, like algebra and pre-calculus, especially for a liberal arts-focused person. My logic class is frustratingly easy, because I can just see how arguments like Modus Ponens and conditional exchange work logically, and how equivalencies are, in fact, equivalent, and it’s hard for me to let the teacher teach at the other students’ banally slow pace. A lot of my school problems (again, outlined in the LJ entry linked earlier) could be said to be symptoms of Asperger.

But I’m also very good at passing for neurotypical. I’ve had to learn how to be – like I said, merciless teasing through the age of 14 (and plenty beyond that, but nowhere near the level it was for the first 8 years of my public school education). So most of this shit – nobody will notice it. Ever. When my parents separated in September 2001, I began acting out my frustrations, and they sent me to a therapist so I wouldn’t be as aggressively troublesome as I had been. I was diagnosed as having passive-aggressive tendencies, and friends my own age were recommended by the therapist. My mom started going to church and taking me with her; I was fairly serious about Methodism for most of my teenage years (previous exposure to religion was fairly agnostic). I became involved with the youth group at the church, but I never made friends easily. I never exchanged phone numbers with friends in the group, never dated, kept to myself. This worried the therapist about me, but as far as I know, Asperger’s was still never mentioned. I remember one time on a trip home from a Christian rock (oxymoron if ever there was one) concert, one of the boys in the youth group fell asleep with his head on my shoulder. I sat there panicking because, OMG, somebody is making physical contact with my body and what do I do what do I do what do I do? So, I did what anybody worried about being taken for a freak does – I let him sleep while I sat there in hyperawareness of how far away from the church we still were (half an hour, okay, only fifteen minutes, ten, very close now, almost there, OHTHANKGOD, he’s awake). But anyway, before I got off on that tangent, I was going to say that I taught myself how to act neurotypical to convince the therapist that I was okay to stop counseling sessions. And it worked, taking a little over a year of seeing her. But I never actually got better at coping – just at hiding my problems because I knew nobody actually cared I was having problems, they just cared that they weren’t affected by it (for a frighteningly near-perfect example of how this plays out in my head, see this comment by JJohnson).

But why am I posting this here? I try to keep my mental stuff away from this blog – I like to quarantine it on my LJ, because I’m afraid nobody will take me seriously as an intellectual and a feminist if they know how bad it gets sometimes, how much I hate myself, how much I want to make the pain stop, how far I’m willing to go sometimes to do so (as Meowser said in the post, I’m not suicidal – most of the time. I can avoid self-harm fantasies – most of the time.). But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that increasing the voices that say, “Look, I’m not neurotypical, but that doesn’t mean you get to shut me away in an institution, drug me until I look like I’m coping with shit again, tell me that what my brain naturally does is irrational and absolutely useless in the discussion on how to help nonneurotypical people cope (not look like they’re coping, but ACTUALLY FUCKING COPING) in a world that isn’t built to allow them any degree of success,” is absolutely a feminist issue. Even among allies, it can be impossible to get across the idea that “…non-neurotypical people retain full human rights regardless of the severity of our conditions.” That’s why this post is here – because the more people shout from the rooftops that ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!’, the more likely that our voices will be heard, and we won’t continue to have our voices drowned out by the thundering roar of normalcy fetishism.

Thoughts on Survival

5 Apr

*TRIGGER WARNING* Discussion of sexual assault following

I’ve spent the past few days (when not at musicals or playing role-playing games) reading this thread at Shakesville. Here’s my response.

As I’ve read through all of your stories, things have come back in bits and chunks, and made me certain I’m still forgetting many incidents. And I’m not sorry I can’t remember them.

The first I remembered was about a year ago. I was out of town on a school trip, and some friends (mostly women, 2-3 men, all of us in 20s or late teens) and I went out to eat at an Italian restaurant. The manager (at least triple our age) came by the table frequently, and as we left, he said something like “Such lovely ladies – each more beautiful than the last!” then pulled me aside and kissed me on the cheek.

Which leads to another memory – high school. I rode the bus until eleventh grade, when I got a car. A guy who liked me liked me sat beside me a lot, and commented on my eyes and how surprising it was that I had no boyfriend. I did what I could to discourage this (without, you know, saying anything about it. That would have been rude.), including not letting him sit by me a lot. At some point, I felt bad about not sitting next to him – he was nice enough, especially compared to other guys on the bus. So, we sat together again. He was thrilled, and also kissed me on the cheek. Another thing I need to say about this story – I know it doesn’t really make sense to rank these sorts of things – none of them should have happened at all, but this one doesn’t feel as bad to me as the one I related above, or the ones below. I think it’s because there wasn’t as much of a power dynamic between us as there could have been – there still was some, because as I’ve said, I didn’t feel comfortable asking him not to, but it wasn’t like he was being overtly manipulative (And ugh, that’s one fucked-up justification).

Speaking of buses, my parents were divorced and lived in separate neighborhoods in the same school zone. So some months I rode one bus (the bus mentioned above), and the other months I rode the bus I really hated. There weren’t any compromises of my physical boundaries on that bus, but plenty of trespassing on my mental space. A few times, guys tried to talk to me. One guy asked me if I knew the “Milkshake song.” I didn’t. I’ve since learned the lyrics, and suffice it to say “Ewwwww!” Other times, the talking wasn’t directed at me. One kid was telling another about this “chick” whose hairy ass he’d licked. “And if she’s hairy there, can you imagine all the other places she’s got hair?” The people he was talking to laughed, and I shrunk into my seat, completely mortified.

In junior high, shortly after the divorce I mentioned in the above paragraph, my dad lived in an apartment complex with a swimming pool. There were some kids my age in the complex (one of them stole my shoes and refused to give them back until I ran after him barefoot). One time, I was at the pool with a guy I sorta-kinda liked, and he commented loudly on a sunbather’s pubic hair poking out of her suit. “Isn’t that gross? Don’t you think that’s disgusting?” I agreed with him, hoping he would finally shut up if I agreed with him. (Ha! Can you tell I have issues with hair?)

This past May, I went on a school trip to London (I’m from TX). Three of us (at 19, A. and I were the oldest, and all of us were quite naive) were out on our own at night. A street-drawer approached us in Leicester Square (I believe his name was David – I have no interest in protecting his identity) and, after some haggling offered to draw S. for free (normally, he charged several pounds). He talked to us as he drew in a very flirty way, and somehow it came out that I spoke limited French. So, he started flirting with me in French – [Do you want your own drawing? Only five minutes.](I have a feeling the phrase “seulement cinq minutes” is forever going to upset me because of this encounter.) I refused, and then he suggested we meet him at a club/pub a few blocks away for beers and dancing. There was more flirting, primarily with S. and myself (You look Irish! Surely you’ll have a beer with me!) We were all getting pretty skeeved and nervous at that point (beyond the fact that none of us drank), so we got the fuck out of there and back to the hotel. 6 months later, we got together for a dinner and A. told us that while he was trying to ascertain our ages, he told her to “show him her tits and he’d tell her how old she was.” She thought S. and I had heard him, but didn’t do anything about it (I don’t think she blamed us – we were all pretty clueless about what to do about this guy).

I can’t help wondering – how much longer would my list be if my grandfather had lived longer? If I’d ever been accidentally left alone with him (my mother and her older sister were both molested/raped by him as teenagers)? If I hadn’t been afraid of people through high school? If I’d been (Maude forbid) popular? I’ve never dated, and now I’m scared to. Part of that’s mental stuff that’s unique to my situation (and I can’t find a way to phrase that which doesn’t come off as silencing my brain’s standard operation as unreasonable – urgh!), but a lot of that’s reasonable fear. Women go through so much shit in this culture that it’s impossible for me to visualize a world where women aren’t “pathologized, criminalized, ostracized, jailed, raped, and butchered.” (via). It’s impossible for me to go out at night without visualizing exactly what sort of assault I could be subjected to – oh, look at that bush. It could hide a man pretty easily. What’s that I hear – footsteps? Better speed up. Maybe I should have called security to walk me to my car. What sort of martial arts move should I use if x happens (at which point I visualize x in graphic detail)? Would a roundhouse kick be good? Neck chop? Lots of yelling and punching? Is there a chance in hell that’s going to be good enough?

That’s a pretty small snippet of the shit that goes through my mind on minimum 2 times a week – I have a night class on Mondays and Wednesdays. If I do anything special, like go somewhere that has me walking around at 11:00 at night, I figure out how I’m going to be safe (the tags on that entry are telling: fear, life) walking to my car. I prioritize this shit, because I know even though the only reason anybody is raped is the presence of a rapist, society will find a way to blame me for my own death if it gets a fucking chance to do so.

And my second story is disturbing me more and more as I think about it. That fear of rudeness upsets me, partly because I still have it, 5-6 years and a helluva lot of self-esteem later. I wish I had some smart insight on that, about how that’s probably some vestige from the days of chivalry, where women had no opinions of their own and never contradicted their menz!, but I have no insight. Just a head full of words, a heart full of sadness and a spleen full of hatred for this culture where rape’s been normalized.


4 Apr

H/T and inspiration for this post to Amanda Fucking Palmer and Shakesville.

As I’ve implied here before, I don’t shave. I haven’t owned a razor in over a year, and I don’t plan to own one ever again. Among other reasons, I stopped depilating because I was incredibly tired of the way advertising campaigns hit me over the head with my unwomanlyness if I didn’t painstakingly remove every single hair from my body. I realized that I wouldn’t become less of a woman if I stopped paying these companies copious amounts of money to lower my appreciation for the natural state of my body. Plus, I was curious what my armpit hair looked like grown out – as soon as I began growing it at 11-12, my mom freaked out and insisted I shave (which now seems odd, as she has always been fairly lax about her leg hair). So, now I don’t wear sleeveless shirts without feeling like I’m telling the status quo to go fuck itself (whether the status quo is listening is another matter entirely).

When I see advertisements like this, I wish the status quo would listen to me.

And if that was too subtle for you, here’s another ad from the same campaign.

This shit – this culturally enforced hairlessness in the name of “freeing your skin” – makes me want to scream and cry and pull my hair out (oh, teh irony). Why the fuck isn’t it okay for anybody to do what they like to their own body? Maybe it’s what Crowfoot said (couldn’t find a permalink: if in Linux/Windows, CTRL-F “Crowfoot”) in response to Eloriane and my conversation about including all stories in the stories that are told about menstruation:

After all, we are a culture that has a long history of being disgusted
with our physical bodies, thinking them as base and dirty, indicative
of the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. And it’s probably likely
that the idea of the body as base heavily feeds into misogyny: bodies
are base, icky and leaky and women’s bodies are the basest, ickiest and
leakiest of all!

That probably has a lot to do with it. I’m not really in the mood to get into the history of shaving or body politics right now, but suffice it to say that bodies, particularly women’s bodies, have been policed and censored because they fall too close to the natural form.

Run in terror, for the hairy-bodied women are coming for you! They will devour your soul, because they can! They follow Chef Cthulhudee’s recipe for spaghetti and soulballs (the secret – a dash of Atheist salt)!

Mua-ha-ha! Behold, my weapons of fear and manipulation!

Mua-ha-ha! Behold, my weapons of fear and manipulation!

Struck to the Bone

3 Apr

Had you been there tonight
You might know how it feels
To be struck to the bone
In a moment of breathless delight!

So, if you’re one of the lucky few following me on Twitter, you may be aware that last night, I had a ticket to see Les Miserables, the musical, at Houston’s Hobby Center. And it was fucking fantastic. Never have I been so utterly fascinated with a theatrical performance* (and I am privileged enough to go to the theatre relatively frequently). My back was sore by the end (approximately a 3 hr. show) from leaning forward in my seat almost the entire time. From the opening notes of “Look Down” through the finale, I was completely drawn into this retelling of the story I have loved for a year and a half (given that I am only twenty, this is a long time even if it doesn’t sound like it). This was the first time I had been to a show where I was as intimately familiar with the source material for the play/musical as I was last night. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I saw last summer, came close but usually, when I see a performance I don’t know the original as well as I know Les Mis, if I know it at all. That was interesting in the way it played out – Gavroche’s death scene had me wincing about 3 minutes before the rest of the audience was. I’ve also never been to the theatre alone – I usually go with my dad or a group, so I did some hardcore people-watching, and it was interesting seeing how the dynamics changed because I was by myself. There may be a post coming on gender norms and theatre attendance, because that was screaming out at me (M. Thenardier’s line in “Beggars at the Feast,” “this one’s a queer, but what can you do?” got one of the biggest laughs of the night from the audience).

I’ve had the soundtrack from the original London cast (OLC) for a while, so it’s always interesting to hear how things are reinterpreted as the musical develops. One of the things that I noticed most was the way the British accent factored in to my knowledge of the music – there were several times when the American pronunciation threw me off because I was expecting British pronunciation. And another thing – my roommate’s been telling me for ages that the OLC recording’s Fantine is kinda ‘meh,’ but until last night, I didn’t believe her. Andrea Rivette (who played Fantine last night) had me in tears because of the sheer power of her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream,” which has never seemed so profound as it did yesterday. I hadn’t even noticed how Fantine’s struggles with the abandonment of Tholomyes mirrored those of Eponine’s struggle with her unrequited love for Marius (The line, “And still I dream he’ll come to me,/That we will live the years together…” is quite similar in concept to “On My Own.”). Any Foxtrotters know of a recording with a good casting of Fantine? Valjean, played by Rob Evan last night, was also quite good. His voice didn’t sound quite capable of hitting the notes at the end of  “Bring Him Home,” but it worked. The strain translated well as emotive rather than painful to listen to, which I was a little worried might happen. And I had no idea “Stars” was sung by Javert – for some reason, I had gotten the impression that Valjean was singing it – similar vocal ranges, maybe?

The staging was also very cool. The scenic designer’s note in the Playbill was fascinating. Apparently, the show traditionally has a revolving barricade, but Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), the production company for this performance, wasn’t allowed to use it. So Matthew Kinley (the scenic designer) had some quite creative solutions. First, the barricade was stationary – there was one scene where seeing the other side of the barricade was necessary, the aforementioned scene of Gavroche’s death (which is fairly true to the book IIRC – for the most part, the barricade scene is written from the view of the students’ group). Also, Kinley worked with projecting some of Hugo’s own drawings (which are absolutely dumbfoundingly amazing – his use of media!) to set the scene to spectacular effect. I’m not sure how well the sewer scene translated for the people that didn’t know what was going on. It may not have been entirely clear that Valjean was going through the sewers of Paris to wind up on the banks of the Seine, which Javert picked up on by finding a trail of Valjean’s blood, but maybe it seemed like it might confuse people because I’m used to Hugo’s windy explanations of absolutely everything that could maybe sort-of be a little confusing to a small subset of the population perhaps. But Javert’s suicide translated well, I thought. I was wondering how they would show the “jumps into river and drowns” thing without, you know, actually having a river, but they did it quite nicely through the use of the projections of Hugo’s artwork I mentioned earlier.

Which I guess brings me to the acting. Very good all around, with a few performances that stuck out – Javert (played by Jeremy Hays) was phenomenal. A well-played Javert can change my entire perception of a rendition of Les Miserables (Geoffrey Rush’s Javert is the only reason I ever recommend this film), so even if I hadn’t already been in love with the play by Fantine’s death-scene, Hays’ performance of Javert would have caught my attention as improving the entire show exponentially. As I said above, Andrea Rivette’s Fantine was also quite good. Enjolras, played by Edward Watts, was pretty powerful as a sort of father figure to Marius, though his time on stage was fairly brief. The child playing Gavroche (Sam Linda) was fairly impressive as well – pretty serious acting chops for an eleven-year old. Eponine, played by Sarah Shahinian, didn’t quite speak to me the way I expected her to. I think it has to do with the fact that I have ridiculous high ideals for the character, because I identify so much with her in the book and in the OLC performance – “On My Own” was listed as a highlight in the Houston Chronicle’s review of the show, while in my head it was almost imperceptibly a disappointment. It was still a good performance – just not up to my impossibly high standards for Eponine.

And because I am so intimately familiar with the book Les Miserables, you will have to forgive me a small rant. I’m one of those people that hates when things are changed or taken out of the original for no apparent reason – I was upset for a week after I saw the first Harry Potter film and Harry had referred to Malfoy by first name, “Draco.” I didn’t mind so much that Azelma was removed – she doesn’t do much even in the book, but the rearranging of the action at M.-sur-M. so that Javert doesn’t suspect M. Madeleine’s true identity until long after his confrontation concerning Fantine’s arrest seemed pointless. Javert’s recognition after the Fauchelevant incident seemed comical – “You must be Valjean, but you can’t be because Valjean’s been arrested, and I would never have thought anything of it, but jeepers mister, you’re very strong” and Valjean’s subsequent reclaiming of the label “24,601” seemed almost too quick – in translating to stage, you lose so much of the anguish that Hugo embues in his characters – that “Tempest in a Skull” is reduced to almost farcical decision-making. M. Thenardier’s characterization seemed a bit off – in the book he’s described as fairly quiet and unexpectedly intelligent (and even more dangerous because of it), yet in the play he’s a drunken, boisterous thief but ultimately mostly harmless.

But overall, it was an amazing performance, and it cemented my appreciation for an audio/visual interpretation of the book.

*Marius Pontmercy had me in thrall (if you got that joke, we seriously need to geek out over British literature together).