unnamed

The Candid Man’s Guide to Humor, Evil and Theatre

“Il avait le jugement assez droit, avec l’esprit le plus simple ; c’est, je crois, pour cette raison qu’on le nommait Candide.”

Theodicy is the central problem for any incarnation or lyricized reworking of Voltaire’s novella Candide. The eponymous character runs the Weltanschauung-gamut in his pained, hopelessly naïve globe-trekking, alternatively stumbling into phenomenal luck and misfortune, being swindled out of everything he owns or plucking golden pebbles off the streets of Eldorado. It is equal parts absurd travelogue and philosophical disenchantment, what the tale of the Buddha would have been if written by a splenetic Frenchman. It is an irreverent parable with a moral, a Bildungsroman and, on a 21st century stage, a pastiche suprême. It lends itself, if one may be so bold, to musical theatre.

annus

THE E’ER INSCRUTABLE | 1916: Annus Fugae Deorum

“Nulla è cambiato, la terribilità della tragedia è identica, tutte le apparenze effimere con cui la civiltà maschera e diversifica nei tempi il puro istinto umano sono qui abolite; l’uomo modern, l’uomo del secolo ventesimo, l’uomo che possiede cannoni e torpedini si ricongiunge al suo progenitore selvaggio, al suo antenato remoto armato soltanto del suo rude vigore e del suo coraggio feroce.” -Mario Morasso, writing of the Russo-Japanese War, April 3, 1904

This is my last article during my first year as a student at Cornell. I normally avoid personal pronouns and excessive self-reference in my articles; today, however, calls for a break in that routine, hopefully not to the displeasure of my readership of one and a half. I have a contention to make: 1916 was the year Germany should have won the war. The world would have been a better place if the apish “Mad Brute” of American wartime caricature, if the perpetrator of the Rape of Belgium had carried the day at Verdun and at the Somme. This is, I am aware, as argumentum ex silentio as it gets: bear with me.

Photo Courtesy of Carica dei Lancieri

THE E’ER INSCRUTABLE | 1916: Annus Equi Sine Rectore and the Mechanized Frontier

“The machines were more to his soul than the sun. He did not know these mechanisms, their great, human-contrived, inhuman power, and he wanted to know them… He wanted machines, machine-production… He wanted to go…  beyond the Self, into the great inhuman Not-Self, to create the great unliving creators, the machines, out of the active forces of nature that existed before flesh. But he is too old. It remains for the young Italian to embrace his mistress, the machine.” -D.H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy

It was with a heavy heart that D.H. Lawrence published his aforementioned 1916 travelogue; the old Europe had by then taken up arms, and every peninsular limb of her gangrenous body stood poised to strangle the other. A crossroads had been reached: the two year hump of the war, the hellfire of Verdun and the Stahlgewitter of the Somme, the stalemate of offensive and counter-offensive swallowing up young male blood in torrents.

eye-in-the-sky_eits-promo-1

Self-Reflection: Eye in the Sky

If Britannia once ruled the waves, America now indisputably rules the skies, and its aerial power is growing ever more precise. First, the USAAF of 1945, then an adjunct limb of the ground forces, could drop phosphorous bombs with impunity on every exposed inch of Dresden. Two decades later, napalm could be used to raze thin stretches of settled and foxhole-littered jungle in Vietnam, sans, supposedly, excessive civilian loss of life. Now, a house in a Kenyan neighborhood can be pinpointed and destroyed from kilometers above with the latest in predator drone technology. This is as much a moral as it is a technological evolution, and it is a moral dilemma which lies at the heart of Eye in the Sky, given limited release in select theaters in the United States this past month.

The Ithaca Shakespeare Company's production of Henry V was brilliantly acted.

Henry V: Agincourt on Cayuga

Henry V is unquestionably the most popular and widely performed of Shakespeare’s historical plays. On occasion, this produces a cheapening side-effect, à la Hamlet, in which certain lines and scenes become so ubiquitous that watching them fails to elicit any reaction beyond lukewarm recognition. Actors who play the role of Henry, not to mention the supporting cast of English and French knaves, poncy knights and lion-hearted barons, have their burdens doubled; what more is left to be said on the ultimate installment of the Henriad in a post-Kenneth Branagh world? The cast and crew of the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s production, staged and performed in Ithaca’s own Hangar Theatre this February, are more than up to the challenge. It is abundantly clear, moreover, that they relished every second of creativity and dedication that went into the show’s production.

161128-steven-avery-mn-1705_6ed7abe3d2d535b99e853f74c50a543b.nbcnews-fp-360-360

Morbidity in Modernity

It is with a twang of guilt that the archetypal bingewatcher of Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” realizes that the taut, expertly-told story he or she is watching could be summarized as though it were the schmaltz-ified voiceover in a trailer for any puffed-up TV legal drama. The narration writes itself: cops corrupt to their medalled gills. An unwitting, simple man in the slammer for a crime he (apparently) did not commit. Two lawyers on an All- American crusade to prove his innocence. All this with an uncomfortably intimate Midwest backdrop just naïve enough to be rocked to its core by the murder of the new millennium, and any viewer familiar with In Cold Blood and the past few decades of American true crime will be instantly at home.

An Alternate History: The Man in the High Castle

The American public is hardly unfamiliar with alternate history timelines: Video games, B-movies, comic books, novels and purely speculative military history (“what if D-Day had failed?”) have all mustered their collective pop-cultural capital in the occasionally dubious quest to show worlds in which the Roman Empire never fell, or in which the Confederacy triumphed in the Civil War. No topic, of course, is quite as juicy for an alternate history setting as an Axis victory in the Second World War. Somehow, even though contributions as bizarrely variant in style and tone as Robert Harris’ Fatherland and the 2014 video game Wolfenstein: The New Order have already drawn the subject to wild extremes (the latter source’s soundtrack includes a Nazified Beatles), there is still something shocking about seeing swastikas over Times Square. Amazon Studios’ newly-released streaming series The Man in the High Castle provides that precise image, and much, much more. In the show’s chilling would-be universe, the Axis Powers, having bombed Washington D.C. into a smoldering crater and wiped out all American resistance, have divided their new North American conquest in two.