Theatrical Review: “Potted Potter”

Review of Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience / A Dan and Jeff Production
by Russell Nye

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I first heard of Potted Potter: The Unofficial Harry Potter Experience sometime in the late summer of 2012. The show’s premise is performing all seven Harry Potter books in seventy minutes with only two cast members. Was this even a possibility, or was I recalling the amount of page numbers and characters incorrectly when I reflected that there were over 300 characters and 3407 pages? When the performance came to my attention, I was currently re-reading the books, and I thought it to be too obscure of a coincidence to not go out and see the show. The entire premise of the project alone seems too other-worldly to even embark on, and the shock value of that tagline is not to be overlooked—for it is the selling point. The very prospect of all seven Harry Potter books being contained within a seventy minute parameter is un-thinkable for a fan, and so the idea sells.

I was definitely sold. I eventually made plans to go and see it this past December 2012. In the month leading up to going to the show, I built up more anticipation than I needed to and propelled my hopes beyond any level that could ever be lived up to. It is also important to note that my high expectations were due to the intense amount of sentiment which all of the Harry Potter books bear to me, as they do with so many others. Finally, the night of the show came: the curtains were figuratively drawn at the Water Tower Place Theatre, and the performance began. From start to finish, it was nothing but a disappointment.

Instead of trying to create any sort of impressive, or admirable, or even humorous production, the pair of Jeff and Dan decided to keep their show anchored to a street-performance quality (at which the show started in the mid-2000’s and never progressed). The premise of the show is that there are two actors who are there to put on a very expensive, lovely, and fully realized parody of all seven Harry Potter books to the audience, and one of the two jokes which is returned to every-minute of the show is that this is not the case—they do not deliver an expensive, fully developed parody.

Jeff is supposedly the world’s foremost Harry Potter scholar, and in addition to playing Harry for most of the sequences –where they are, in fact, trying to act out the books, and not returning to the same joke which relies on the audience’s, as well as their own recognition that, “wow, they (we) aren’t doing that”– his role throughout the entire show is to express the opinion on behalf of the half of the audience who has in fact read the Harry Potter books. Jeff’s role is lost to the second joke, which is that Dan hasn’t read the books and whose role represents the other non-read half of the audience.

These two jokes are demonstrated throughout the show in this way:
1) Jeff attempts to describe an aspect, or a scene of the Harry Potter series, and then he describes the set, prop, or knowledge of the series that the two of them will need to have to properly perform the scene.
2) Before Jeff can finish his description, Dan interrupts and says the situation is under-control.
3) After some uncomfortable conversation, it is revealed that Dan does not know what to do, which set materials/props to have acquired, how to spend their budget, or very much about Harry Potter at all.
4) At this point Jeff, as well as the audience are face-to-palm in recognition.
5) Once the actors and audience have recognized once again that there is no budget to spend and Dan hasn’t read the books, it is then concluded that they cannot put on the promised production, and they then move on to attempt whatever lesser-means of a performance they could muster.
6) The cycle repeats.

Though, for all of its blunders, the actors must at least be commended of their energy. For the entire duration of the show, the two actors lobby for audience reaction and interaction, eventually culminating —in the only really entertaining bit of the event— in a game of Quidditch. In this game, the front-row audience, which is divided into two subsections (Slytherin vs. Gryphyndor) knocks a beach ball back and forth towards two illuminated neon-rings posted high above the stadium. At the end of the match, Jeff comes out dressed up as a golden snitch, and is slammed into the ground by one of two children called up to the stage to be seekers.

Leading up to this theatrical marvel, Dan continuously runs onto the stage yelling, “Quidditch!” This moment was the only other funny part of the show–which peculiarly also had to do with Quidditch (conclusion: Quidditch is the funniest aspect of Harry Potter). Unfortunately though, this joke too falls victim to bilateral-joke-cycle which was constructed: they return to this yelling of Quidditch continuously because Dan does not know the meaning of Quidditch. Thus, Dan is unable to participate in the athletic competition because he has a vaccum and no broom–even the seemingly hilarious portion of the show was not very funny at all.

Before the show began, one of the two creator-cast members, Dan, ran up and down the aisles, shaking everyone’s hand, and introducing himself. I could have sworn there was a tearful glint in his eyes: perhaps this action was an apology of what was to come.
Note: “Potted Potter” is currently on its U.S. tour; the production has no upcoming performances in Chicago, but can be found in more cities throughout the country. Go to http://www.pottedpotter.com/ for more information on current shows and upcoming tour dates.

About the Writer:
My name is Russell Nye, and I am from Naperville, IL. This is my first year at DePaul. Prospectively, I am an English major, although I’m considering doubling in Philosophy.
Reading the writing of other people and trying my own hand at it have been the preferred methods of entertainment of mine for a fairly long time. Personally, I find writing to be very therapeutic; Nothing clears my head more than writing for no other reason than to write.

Book Review: Safe Haven

Bookcover_safehavenBook Review: Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
By Kathryn Sinde

Nicholas Sparks is known for writing his novels with a formula in mind: before even reading a work, readers seem to know how the novel is going to end and its basic premise.  As an avid reader of Sparks’ novels and former creative writing student, I can definitely see how some would think that there is a formula to these novels.

Firstly, it is easy to see the similarities of many of Sparks’ main female characters.  They are usually suffering from something that might be revealed in the beginning or held in secret until some point in the novel, and they are running from those secrets.  They end up meeting another character that is there to bring her comfort and form a bond that will carry them throughout the climax of the novel.

Having read a number of Sparks’ novels, I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked up Safe Haven (mind you, I read this novel before the movie was even announced).  But still as I sat down and immersed myself in this novel, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster ride that Sparks ended up taking me on.

The book follows Katie as she settles down in the small town of Southport, North Carolina, and her arrival is met with whispered questions and rumors as to why such a beautiful young girl would decide to settle into the small town.  Katie, is running from a tragically emotionally charged past that continues to affect her as she meets Alex Wheatley, a widower struggling to raise his two kids.

Katie and Alex form a friendship that helps both to heal from the tragic hand that life has dealt them.  Alex helps Katie begin to feel settled in Southport, and Katie begins to enjoy life in the small town, until that this until her past catches up with her.

It’s at this point that this novel really stands out as a romantic thriller because of the emergence of Katie’s past: Katie’s ex finds her and threatens her life and those she has met in Southport. In the climatic moment of this novel, you’re heart will pound, and you will just hope that everything works out in the end.

This novel goes above and beyond what I have come to expect from Nicholas Sparks, and I urge all English majors, especially creative writing students to read this novel because Sparks has to be doing something right to constantly creating bestsellers.

About the writer:
Kathryn is a junior English major from the small town of Hampshire, IL.   She writes because she feels it cleanses the soul and finds it easier to express feelings through writing than with actions.  Kathryn is also a huge Michael Phelps fan and has seen almost every single Mark Wahlberg movie.

His Name is Not Ted: An Evening with Josh Radnor

His Name is Not Ted: An Evening With Josh Radnor
By Gabbie Zeller

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            Imagine sitting in a coffee shop, catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in years. You have no idea what is going on in his life, and you don’t have the slightest clue as to how he is doing now. You begin to ask him questions such as: “How was life after college?” and “How exactly did you know that you wanted to be an actor?” For many of us, this was a reality last night when Josh Radnor, the star of the television show How I Met Your Mother, visited DePaul’s campus to give a talk. Of course a multipurpose room replaced the coffee shop, and there were a large number of us packed into the space.

Anyone who came to the event, or who happened to be in the Student Center, recalls that the line to even get into the room was extremely long. I happened to get very lucky when I saw how long the line was; I grabbed some homework and rushed over. This was at 4:30, and the event was not even supposed to start until 6pm! I can’t even imagine how many people ended up getting in line, but I guess that shows how popular the event was.

After anxiously waiting for an hour and a half, it was finally time to sit down and get situated before the event got started. The suspense was building, and everyone was getting very excited. When Josh came out, he was welcomed with cheers and applause. Not to mention obsessed fans yelling for “Ted” and saying “Marry me, Ted Mosby!”  When things finally calmed down, Josh told us that DAB, the DePaul Activities Board, had given him a water bottle and some Garrett’s popcorn. He decided that we all needed a snack, and proposed that we pass around the bag of popcorn. Josh started off with a little introduction about other schools he had been to, and then opened the floor to questions. I’ll admit, I was going into this thinking the whole thing would just be a talk, but most of it was actually a question and answer period. I thought that was interesting and preferred the question and answer format.

Many students asked intriguing questions, and Josh would reply and then go off on a slight tangent with an interesting story or fun fact about himself. He talked about his experiences from acting, writing, and directing, and his love for his profession.  At one point he asked the audience, “This is college. We can talk about stuff, right?”  Josh was ready and willing to answer every question that came his way. He shared insightful stories about college and finding yourself.

As great as the event was, I must note my one qualm. One aspect that put a damper on Josh’s talk was the hecklers in the audience. People were randomly yelling pointless comments while Josh was talking, and it was not only irritating to me, but also to Josh, and not to mention disrespectful. We are all adults, not children, and even though we may be big fans of his, he still deserved to be able to speak without being interrupted. Sure, most people were there because they watch How I Met Your Mother, and I believe most people are convinced that Josh is really Ted. I went, and I’m sure many others did to, to hear him share his insights and experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge How I Met Your Mother fan, but yelling out comments and going crazy is not my style.

On a lighter note, it was great to see how open Josh was with us, and hearing about how he tries to shed the “Ted” image. We can all relate to this. Sometimes there are things that seem to define us that really don’t. Although Josh is a lot like Ted in some ways (he’s from Ohio and loves to read) he is not Ted. He is Josh, a completely different, very real person.

Overall, it was a fantastic night and I had a blast! I know that all the students did too, and I believe Josh did as well. He was so nice, and even took a picture of all of us for his Twitter page. A very special thank you goes out to DAB for bringing us not only a great speaker, but also a fun night filled with laughter. And thank you to Josh Radnor, whose name is not Ted Mosby.

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About the Writer:
My name is Gabriella Zeller, and I am a freshman English major at DePaul. I am from Peoria, IL, three hours south of Chicago. I love to write short stories and hope to go into editing/publishing one day. I believe that to be a good writer one must be an avid reader. Reading is an important hobby instilled in me at a young age by my family. I enjoy reading all types of books and here are a few of my favorites: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Starter for Ten by Andrew Nicholls, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Steig Larsson.

Book Review: Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A WWII Memoir Rediscovered

By Anne Malina

some-girls-some-hats-and-hitler-a-true-storyOriginally published in 1984, Trudi Kanter’s memoir about her experiences as a hat designer during WWII made very little impact. However, her book was re-released in October of 2012 and is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.

Unlike most WWII memoirs, Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler has an upbeat quality conveyed through Kanter’s buoyant prose. As a Jewish woman from Vienna, Kanter is optimistic despite her numerous hardships and she is truly resilient in the face of ceaseless danger. In this account, we learn how she relentlessly fought to get herself and her husband out of Austria and into safety in England. But she did not stop there. She also took pains to get her aging parents to safety, proving her love and loyalty through her courageous actions.

Additionally, Kanter’s true love story is woven into this memoir. We watch her love grow and develop during times of fear and apprehension. Despite the chaos in her life, her love for her dear Walter only grows stronger and serves as impetus for her to fight all the harder.

This memoir took me completely by surprise with its charming wit and unexpected accessibility. Kanter is a thoroughly modern woman, unafraid to fight for her rights and for the rights of those she loves. She was a divorcee and a small business owner during a time when that was virtually unheard of. She fought with all she had to achieve not only safety, but economic success. Her unfailingly optimistic voice takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through war-ravaged Europe as seen by an unswervingly resilient young woman of Jewish descent.

In short, it is a touching, inspiring, and unexpected memoir that is well worth the read.

About the writer:
Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French, from Berwyn, IL.

Student Review: Saunders Reading 1.9.13

On Wednesday, January 9th, DePaul’s Student Center was graced with the presence of celebrated author, George Saunders. He read aloud from his new book, a compilation of short stories entitled, Tenth of December after which he graciously answered questions from the audience. The reading was moving and witty, enhanced by Saunders’ enthusiasm and character voices; the audience’s response was tremendous.  We laughed heartily and rooted for his characters even as we were moved by their pain and their hardships.

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What is most interesting about Saunders is that he is not merely a writer—he is an entertainer, and he certainly kept everyone entertained. He is also a man of the people, untainted by his great success. He answered questions humbly and often humorously, never taking himself too seriously, but always getting his message across. All in all, it was a lovely evening, and we, at DePaul, were very grateful to have had him here. He inspired many DePaul students and professors that night. We hope he visits us again!

–Anne Malina

About the writer:
Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French, from Berwyn, IL.

Book Review: Casual Vacancy

From Young Adult to Adult Fiction, J.K. Rowling’s Casual Vacancy, Book Review
by Kathryn Sinde

When you hear J.K. Rowling’s name you immediately think of Harry Potter – the series that made Rowling famous.  Her new work, Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s first foray into the world of writing for adults, could not be more different than the Harry Potter series.  For those that absolutely love Harry Potter, this might not be the book for you–there are no magical elements to be found in this very real, grounded book.  It should be noted that this book is written for adults; there are some heavy topics within the novel. But, Rowling handles these topics in a subtle way that they are not too much to handle for the reader.e Rowling famous.  Her new work, Casual Vacancy, is a drastic departure from Hogwarts and the adventures of Harry Potter.

Rowling effortlessly captures the everyday life of her characters.  Within the first opening pages, you’re immediately engrossed in the lives of the main characters.  She describes with great, yet simple details that paint the story’s scene. You can’t help but relate to these characters because they are described as if they could be your neighbor down the street or one of your friend’s parents. Because of this, you find yourself unable to walk away from the novel: you want to see how they’re going to handle the novel’s sudden tragedy.  Rowling is very direct in this novel–not sugarcoating any of the heavy topics.

This book is a must read for English students because it’s a good way to see how an author can transition from one style of writing to another. Creative writing majors should definitely check this out because Casual Vacancy is Rowling’s successful transition from young adult genre of Harry Potter to mature, adult fiction.  For those studying literature, it’s also a must read because of the way that Rowling handles the heavy topics of death, drug use, and family dysfunction. Rowling does an outstanding job of building the tension within the opening pages that makes it impossible not to see where this novel is going to take the reader.

About the writer:
Kathryn is a junior English major from the small town of Hampshire, IL.  She writes because she feels it cleanses the soul and finds it easier to express feelings through writing than with actions.  In her free time, Kathryn is a huge Michael Phelps fan and has seen almost every single Mark Wahlberg movie.

 

Movie Review: Alex Cross

Movie Review: Alex Cross
by Ruben Miranda-Juarez

WARNING: Do not see this movie if you like the Madea movies like I do…

Alex Cross, based on James Patterson’s various books with a character of the same name, is a crime thriller-mystery film starring Tyler Perry as Alex Cross, Edward Burns as sidekick, Tommy Kane, and Matthew Fox as Picasso as the hired hit man. Tyler Perry takes on his first role outside of his previous films which are usually directed and written by himself and attempts to fill the shoes of Morgan Freeman who played Alex Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.

The film is essentially another book adaptation gone wrong. Tyler Perry as well the other cast member’s are extremely out of place with the exception of Matthew Fox who does an excellent job playing a sociopath for hire. The character of Alex Cross is a family man, a brilliant psychologist, and an even better detective, but you could not see that in the film mainly due to Tyler Perry’s portrayal. I kept seeing him dressed as Madea every time he was on screen. His movements were forced and so were his emotions in each scene. This is most apparent in the scene where his pregnant wife dies—the forced focus on him made me forget his wife was even pregnant; this, unfortunately, made me feel less sorry for him.

Minor details which were altered also left me uneasy. They changed the setting from Washington D.C to Detroit; in the novel, it is important to note he is deeply rooted in the Washington D.C area. James Patterson’s Alex Cross lives in the most dangerous part of the D.C area which is utterly significant to his character’s development. Here’s a man who came from nothing, living in one of the most dangerous cities in the country, who ultimately becomes a one of the renowned criminal profilers.

There is nothing good to say about this movie besides Matthew Fox’s portrayal of a deranged man, passionate in murdering people and making it look easy. If Idris Elba, Denzel Washington, or even Will Smith would have taken the role with say Christopher Nolan directing this film it would receive critical praise. But instead, you get a film with Tyler Perry in it and an entire cast of bland, stale B-List nobodies. Also, if the director would have cut out the classical music from the background which caused several audience members to fall asleep, that would have helped. Also, if the film had added a grittier storyline where we got to know Alex Cross as a person—this film would have done better even with Tyler Perry.

About the WriterRuben is currently a sophomore English major from Cicero near the south side of Chicago. He has been writing since high school and has experimented with various forms. He describes writing as a “deep sigh of relief” every time he can put his pen to paper. In Ruben’s spare time, he writes rhymes for fun and skateboards.