A Modern 'Dream' Prances Sweetly

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
A Modern 'Dream' Prances Sweetly
Theatre Review: "A Midsummer's Night Dream"

Mark J. Lehman
Managing Editor

Originally Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006

As stage lighting pervades the Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood and Felix Mendelssohn's classical score bursts forth and drowns out the last remaining chit-chat of the audience, I tense up. Am I really at the ballet? Why am I here? What would mother think?

Social perceptions aside, I watch as people of all shapes and sizes, of both genders and varying states of undress prance across the stage, doing all different types of spins and leaps, some even standing with their full bodies' weight on pointed toes, and I can't help but get caught up in the frenetic energy of the Meh-Tropolis Dance Theatre's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

In the interest of full disclosure, before reviewing this performance, I will admit to three things: 1) I have never seen a ballet, 2) I have never seen any performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and 3) I have never read the play by "the Shakester" a.k.a. William Shakespeare. That said, let us continue with this highly professional and completely flawless analytical review.

The entire first act was a flurry of dancers and short interactions, introducing the audience to various characters and wordlessly setting up the action of what was to come.

We see the king proclaim the marriage of Demetrius (Joe Hedderich) and Hermia (Brenda Stevens) according to what Demetrius' mother wishes. Hermia, though, is actually in love with another man, Lysander (Nick Thompson), who also loves her back. Meanwhile, Demetrius is continually sought after by another woman, Helena (played by Erin Walsh), in whom he has absolutely no interest.

From there, the action unfolds as Puck (Kristi Kraemer), a mischievous fairy, gets hold of a love potion from her older and wiser cohort Oberon, the king of the fairies (Anthony Eisenhower). She then gives it mistakenly to Lysander, who in turn falls for Helena, which creates a lustful circle of Hermia chasing after Lysander, who is chasing after Helena, who is still chasing after Demetrius, who is still chasing after Hermia.

Confused yet?

Along the way, a few small subplots develop among the fairies and a group of actors, though only so much can be conveyed through dance. I was not able to figure out exactly what was happening other than that there was a child stolen back and forth and that a fairy turned one of the characters (Bottom, played by Atticus Batacan) into an ass.

The show itself has a few slow parts where a character breaks apart from the pack and performs a soliloquy, only instead of words, he or she dances and twirls and jumps. Aside from those few parts where the plot takes a timeout, the performance moves so quickly that one hardly realizes how much time has gone by.

Perhaps the most excellent aspect of the whole show was the dancers' emotive and expressive faces. My fear of going to the ballet was that I would be watching a group of dancers who-though talented-would not keep my interest for the whole two hours. They quickly proved me wrong, however, utilizing the small and intimate venue by imbuing humor and chemistry through perfectly over-the-top facial expressions and physical reactions.

They were truly able to tell the story with their movement, their bodies and their faces. It is an amazing discovery to see for the first time a group of people come together and create such a spectacle.

Erin Walsh played her role as the unrequited love-struck Helena with such amusing flirtatiousness coupled with heartbreaking sadness that she positively stole the show.

By the same token, Nick Thompson as Lysander scores big with a wonderfully playful and humorously mean spin on his character as he lusts after Helena and shrugs off the love that Hermia displays prominently for him, even going so far as to drag her across the stage while she is holding onto his leg.

When each of these actors are out onstage at the same time, it's hard to choose which to watch. And with artistic director Sarah Harkness infusing so much modern humor throughout, there is rarely a dull moment.

It would be fun to end this review with a line like "This isn't just another night at the ballet," but having no prior ballet-watching experience of my own, it just wouldn't be truthful. However, the Meh-Tropolis Dance Theatre Troupe has certainly made a convert out of me, and if you give it a chance, I'll bet it makes one out of you, too.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.399150]
From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Through The Portals of ManeGate
Web Review: LMU's e-mail service

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I sit staring transfixed, yet with no apparent focus, on the Featured Image of a white stone lion for about two and a half minutes before shaking off my trance and learning the meaning of the Word of the Day-"deride," meaning "to laugh at with contempt"-and scoping out the Netflix Top 100 rentals.

Wait, this is an e-mail program?

The easy answer is yes, but the real deal is that the new service, ManeGate, actually amalgamates almost every service for students into one somewhat easy-to-use "Campus Pipeline." On ManeGate, students can send and receive e-mails from their lion.lmu.edu accounts, as well as brush up on the weekly news from their award-winning Los Angeles Loyolan, submit homework assignments on Blackboard, browse on-campus job listings and do much more.

If it sounds like I'm a fan, I am. Then again, compared to the complete and utter wasteland that LMU passed off as an e-mail program last year, ManeGate is akin to a Royal Palace. Unfortunately, palace construction is not quite complete.

Most of the major problems are being slowly and systematically solved, such as fixing the load of hyperlinks leading to error messages. Blackboard is finally working after a brief time of darkness. There are some issues, though, that there are no visible plans to implement, but that there should be.

Let's begin with the e-mail system, which is at the core of ManeGate's purpose. As mentioned, e-mail this year is absolutely wonderful compared to last year, with import/export abilities for the address book, auto reply and auto forwarding (which makes it easy to maintain one's LMU e-mail account from an outside e-mail, like Gmail), address blocking capabilities (for when that teacher is nagging you about a paper that is two weeks late) and even POP access to check other e-mail accounts from ManeGate.

The downside is that the problem with spam--and it's quite a problem--has not been solved, or even attempted to be solved. ManeGate, like its predecessor, has no pre-installed spam filter, so one can still correspond with all of one's friends offering "Free Penis Enlargements" or "100% Guaranteed Hair Removal." Sure, there is a feature allowing the user to create one's own filters, making ManeGate automatically organize all of one's party invites or e-mails from mom into one folder. One could conceivably put in place enough filters to block out a good deal of spam, but we're students and we don't have time for that sort of thing.

Aside from the e-mail service, a few other small changes would help save students time and create more of an online community. While being able to search for library books and articles on ManeGate is a nice feature, being able to save searches would make it an even better feature. The new personal calendar also might help students get organized, especially with customizable e-mail reminders when events are about to take place. Students, however, don't spend all their time in front of the computer, so why not add an option to send a text message reminder as well? After all, The Facebook does it.

One last feature that, while a luxury, would be a nice addition to the online LMU community is some sort of easy-to-use Web development tool that would allow those students who are not as tech-savvy to be able to actually utilize their 50 megabytes of free webspace alotted to them by LMU to create their own personal Web site. As of now, there are instructions on ManeGate about how to FTP into one's personal site and create something--such as the ever-popular blog--but I'd bet that most students don't know what that means, much less how to do it.

With all its ups and downs, the main problem with ManeGate is its image. Since most students stopped using their LMU e-mail accounts last year because the e-mail program was so bad, ManeGate has received the brunt of the carry-over hostility. According to a great many students, the consensus seems to be that ManeGate is simply a fancier-looking version of the same e-mail program-last year's service with a cocktail dress and high heels. And while ManeGate is, according to some, "hot," it is also feature-packed and very useful. And, as the bugs get ironed out, it will continue to become a more comprehensive student resource.

Grade: B-
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.400324]
From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
The Sweet Relief of Music
Preview of LMU's Music Department Gulf Coast Relief concert

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Room 120 in Burns Fine Arts Center is surprisingly well-kept, especially considering the activity it has seen in the past six days. The room belongs to Paul Holliday, the chair of the music department at LMU and the organizer of this Thursday's Gulf Coast Relief Benefit Concert, an event which he began planning one week before it was to be put on.

"We started planning it last Thursday, so that definitely has been stressful putting together a concert in less than a week," Holliday intones, with just a hint of exasperation. "That's why we're still figuring out the performers and what will be on the program and whatnot."

Though not everything is quite in place, a few things are for sure: the concert is happening at 8 p.m., the performers will all be current and past students and faculty, and there is a $10 suggested donation, from which all proceeds will benefit the relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.

"This was just a way for our department to help out," says Holliday. "It's so difficult when you're in a situation where you're not there so you can't physically help, but you still want to do something. So we just figured 'OK, we're musicians, what's something we can do to contribute to this situation.'

"We put on 30 to 40 concerts every year, so that's something we have down pat, so let's just get our students, faculty members and alumni, and hold a concert to raise money. It's a way we can use our hearts and talents to contribute."

Certainly it's an amazing feat to be able to organize something like this in such a short amount of time, but how good can the performers be for something so last minute?

"It will definitely be a top-notch performance." Holliday continues confidently and assuredly, "A lot of our faculty members are world-class musicians, and there will be a wide range of music types. Martha Masters, one of our faculty members, is a world-renowned classical guitarist who's always touring when school's out and who has come out with a few albums. We also have one of our piano professors, Dr. Wojciech Kocyan, who tours each summer and who has had a couple albums nominated for the equivalent of the Grammy awards in Europe for classical music."

For those students who are less than enthusiastic about an evening of orchestral-type music, Holliday feels that they needn't worry. "The performers are a collection of current students, past students, music faculty and alumni. It's going to be a collection of classical guitarists, vocalists, and possibly some percussionists. It's mainly going to be classical music, but there might be an a cappella singing group for those who enjoy more mainstream music."

With classical, a cappella, Spanish guitar and possibly many more styles represented, there's no doubt that the concert will be an interesting and eclectic blend guaranteed to have something for everyone. And with the amount of damage sustained by the southern states from Katrina, expect to see many more events of a similar nature.

"We (the music department) have talked with the Center for Service and Action and they've started a committee to organize several different types of programs to raise money, such as a dance and possibly a concert in Sunken Gardens." So, if you can't make it to this particular concert, keep an eye out for flyers and other announcements. "There are a lot of things in the works," Holliday said.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.400322]

Reading for Fun: Book reviews of summer reading

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Reading for Fun
Book reviews of summer reading

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Wednesday, January 4, 2006

When half of the movies at the local Cineplex are remakes and all that is on TV are the usual summer reality fodder, literature can often be the best place to escape after the afternoon grind at the office. Lord knows there is no shortage of good material out there, but to save Loyolan readers some trouble, here are some of the best-and some of the not-so-good-on my summer reading list. If there is time for "reading for fun" between classes, work, homework and drunken weekends, check out a few of the titles below.

"Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's instant classic was by far the best summer read. Infusing fact, speculation, and all-out ridiculousness, the Gospel according to Moore is entertaining every step of the way, and even that much better when one realizes that he did his homework and made sure everything added up according to all other writings about Jesus' life and teachings. If not for the sex jokes, this wouldn't be out of place at Sunday morning mass. Too bad, too-it could add a bit more fun to church.

"Matilda" by Roald Dahl

Yes, it's a children's book. Yes, I'm a college student. Now that we're clear on those two facts, allow me to explain to you naysayers. Though his style may seem directed at children, do not be fooled-Roald Dahl's ideas and sense of humor are oftentimes quite mature, subtle enough to float over the heads of the smallest children, yet funny enough to get the oldest of parents gasping with laughter. Don't believe it? Read this little gem and then try and say otherwise.

"Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" by J.K. Rowling

In the sixth and newest tale of the would-be wizard, Rowling doesn't disappoint, serving up a fresh batch of brooding darkness and magical secrets. Tight and gripping throughout, it's guaranteed to keep the reader flipping pages faster than Flipper can say "eee-ah!" or whatever that weird sound dolphins make. To top it off, the author gives us an ending that stirs up emotions like those that come after seeing the end of "The Empire Strikes Back." HP fans all over are gearing up for book seven-it's going to be a bloodbath.

"A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis

Not exactly light and simple summer reading fare, "Grief" provides an engaging look at losing a loved one and all of the losses that accompany that. Lewis systematically works through his loss of faith, love and even his own idea of himself. Reading more like a journal than a novel, "Grief" dashes all hope to the ground and shatters it before picking up the pieces to put it back together again. If one isn't convinced of Lewis' skill by the Chronicles of Narnia, this amazing work will finish the job.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl

Having been raised on the '71 film adaptation with Gene Wilder, and having just seen the new Johnny Depp version, Dahl had to work pretty hard to impress me with his original story. Still, it is easy to see how the tale caught the attention of movie producers in the first place. Dahl's language and vivid imagery give this children's novel a charming quality that cannot be found anywhere in the creepy Tim Burton summer film. Skip the movie, read the book instead.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon

The story of an autistic boy who spearheads an investigation into the mysterious death of his neighbor's poodle is a strangely intriguing yarn that remains complex in its simplicity. Haddon gives amazing voice to his narrator main character, helping his reader understand the way this young boy sees the world, without forcing any sentimentality down his or her throat. This author is definitely one to look out for in the future.

"A Certain Chemistry" by Mil Millington

Following up his hilarious "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About," Millington tells a story not quite so autobiographical with an unorthodox structure. When he hits his stride, the pieces fall together beautifully like a choreographed game of Connect Four. At times, however, the narrative feels forced and jerky. Still, the humor remains constant throughout, and that alone makes it worth the read.

"Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris

Sedaris sets off running from the get-go with the first story "Santaland Diaries," detailing several weeks in the life of a mall elf. Manically hilarious, the stories of elf-on-elf love affairs, along with elves going postal and elves having an unholy obsession with daytime television, "Diaries" is easily the best piece of short fiction in a long while. While the other four stories keep the pacing steady and elicit a few chuckles themselves, they pale in comparison. Read "Santaland" first, then return to the book six months later and read the rest.

"How To Be Good" by Nick Hornby

Much headier than the usual Hornby fare, "How To Be Good" often feels more awkward than entertaining. Abandoning the light and casual subjects found in "About A Boy" and "High Fidelity," Hornby tries, through his female main character, to ask some of the big questions about life, purpose, and, well, how to be good. What's left is a novel full of questions but no answers. Though this might have been the point all along, the reader winds up with an empty feeling and only one question-what was the point of that?

"War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells

This classic work of science fiction falls into the dreaded category of being famous simply for being the first to do something. While it must have been ground-breaking to speak of aliens-Martians, in this case, in 19th century London-today, the story is both stale and boring. It's a wonder that Spielberg and Cruise wanted to make a movie out of such a bland novel, and even more of a wonder that they stuck so closely to the text when it is a perfect story to be used as a jumping-off point for the bigger and better. Unless you're a history buff, steer clear of both the novel and the film.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.400377]
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