Improbable Science shows next week!

April 27th, 2011

As part of the Cambridge Science Festival, Mr. Improbable will be putting on two shows at Central Square Theater next week. Do you like things (and people, and songs) that first make you laugh and then make you think? Then join us! Here’s the deets:

Scientists (and Friends) Sing Improbable Science Songs
Monday night, May 2, 7:30 pm

A benefit for the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Science Theater Project

Some of the world’s great scientists (and some friends from the Boston area’s theater and music communities) perform songs by Tom Lehrer, songs from the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony mini-operas, and other beloved, and hated, purportedly funny songs about science, including: New Math, Pollution; Poisoning Pigeons in the Park; Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Dress; the mini-opera Atom & Eve; The Coffee Diet, and much more!

Performers include:
Frank Wilczek (Nobel physics prize winner) & Teresa Winner Blume (soprano), Deborah Henson-Conant (jazz harpist, Museum of Burnt Food), Debra Wise (Underground Railway Theater), Ben Sears & Brad Conner (cabaret), and many more!

Improbable Research After Dark
Saturday night, May 7, 11 pm (After “Breaking the Code“)

A benefit for the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Science Theater Project and Improbable Research

Dramatic, 2-minute-long readings of Ig Nobel Prize-winning studies and patents, performed by some of the Boston area’s leading scientists, actors, and journalists. These are studies that make people laugh, then think. Studies include: “Effect of Coca-Cola on Sperm Motility”, “Farting as a Defense Against Unspeakable Dread,” “The Collapse of Toilets in Glasgow,” “Homosexual Necrophilia in the Mallard Duck,” and many more.

Warning: Do not come to this event if you are easily offended by anything.

TICKETS: $15/$30 online here or call 866-811-4111

Don’t those sound fun? If you wanted to make it a full night of science theater, you could also attend the brilliant, brilliant performance of “Breaking the Code” before the Saturday show. It’s a play about the life of Alan Turing, a British mathematician considered the father of modern computing. Mr. Turing helped break the Nazi’s Enigma code in World War II, only to be hounded to his death by the forces of intolerance at home.

Dressing for the theater

February 15th, 2011

On Sunday Mr. Improbable and I went to see “Ti-Jean and His Brothers” at Central Square Theater. It’s a wonderful show!

And though I was excited to see it, I was even more excited that the sidewalks were clear enough to wear non-weather boots, specifically, this fun pair of cowboy boots I bought on eBay:

This entire outfit–boots, dress, cardigan–came from eBay. I bought the fiber-art necklace on Etsy and the tights are from We Love Colors. The bangles are from World Market.

“Ti-Jean” is set in the Caribbean, and if it hadn’t been for the weather, I’d have tried to wear something more … island-y. I believe in dressing up for the theater: in the performing arts, the audience is part of the experience, and I want to be a good part of yours. At the very least, I do not want to actively detract from the aesthetic experience. This, I think, is basic theater etiquette. Where I like to go a little above and beyond that is in trying to actually dress a bit in the spirit of the play. Not so’s it looks like I wandered out of the greenroom by mistake, but–well, this would have been an outfit I’d more likely wear to “Oklahoma!” or perhaps “Of Mice and Men.” The Russian shawl when seeing Chekhov, red lipstick and slicked-down hair for “Cabaret,” flamboyant colors and “statement jewelry” for “Taming of the Shrew,” and so on.

It’s my thing.

My stage debut

October 21st, 2010

How’s your Halloween weekend shaping up? If you have no plans for next Friday night, come see me in “The Big Broadcast of 1946,” a live radio extravaganza at the Somerville Theater in Davis Square. The show runs October 28-31 (Thursday through Saturday evenings; Sunday matinee) and the Friday, October 29 performance will star your very own Miss Conduct in the illustrious role of “Bar Patron.” (Since the show is set in 1946, I’ll be rocking the Rosie the Riveter look.)

Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Except for the two comps I have, which are free! I’m going to give these to the first person who asks. The tickets are good for any performance, though of course I hope you’ll come see mine!. And, on the honor system, if you’ve won tickets before, let someone else have a chance. (If they’re not gone in a day or two I’ll open it up to everyone.)

And if you have no plans on Halloween night itself, come to W00tstock! Mr. Improbable will be an entertainer there, and I’ll be in my flapper gear. We’re not quite sure what W00tstock is, but we’re looking forward to it!

You say goodbye, and I say hello

October 13th, 2010

I’m running a contest on my Miss Conduct blog to win tickets to Central Square Theater’s production of “Moon for the Misbegotten.” What are your best stories of hellos and goodbyes, of meetings and farewells? Tell me!

Advice-a-palooza redux!

June 7th, 2010

Meredith Goldstein of the Globe’s “Love Letters” column and I had such a good time at Central Square Theater’s Ann Landers play “The Lady with All the Answers” last month, and our pre-show discussion went so well, that the theater has invited us back for an encore performance!

We’ll be doing another appearance this Saturday, June 12. The show starts at 8pm and the discussion starts at 7. The theater has a nice snack bar with tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and wine, so you can grab a beverage and join us for a nice dish about the advice business. How would you answer some of Ann’s classic questions?

I have two tickets to give away, so go the Monday question on my blog and leave a comment if you want to go — I’ll pick a winner at random* and announce it at 5pm on Tuesday.

*As someone trained in the social sciences, if there’s one thing I can do, it’s random selection.

Fun event next Saturday

May 7th, 2010

Meredith Goldstein, of the popular “Love Letters” blog, and I are doing an event next Saturday at Central Square Theater in conjunction with their production of “The Lady with All the Answers,” a play about Ann Landers.

(Actress Stephanie Clayman, photograph by Elizabeth Stewart/Libberding Photography.)

Meredith and I will be doing a symposium before the play, at 7:00 pm (the play starts at 8:00) and a post-performance reception at Rendezvous restaurant. Join us for a fun evening!

You can buy tickets online. I’ve also got two seats that I’ll be giving away on Monday on my blog.

I hope to see you there!

… and on the topic of pregnant women

April 9th, 2010

What is with all this Shakespearean nonsense about Macduff not having been “of woman born”? McSweeney’s puts that lie to the test:

MACDUFF: I was extracted surgically, in an operation.

MACBETH: Okay, but thou wast still born, right?

MACDUFF: No. Untimely ripped.

MACBETH: Okay, but after thou wast ripped, thou wast of woman born.

Theater ticket giveaway contest!

March 16th, 2010

I’ve got a fun contest on the blog to win two tickets to Central Square Theater’s brand-new production of “From Orchids to Octopi,” a play about Charles Darwin, running March 31-May 1. Go enter! I look forward to hearing what your oh-so-evolved brains come up with.

Theater ticket giveaway!

February 11th, 2010

It’s another theater ticket giveaway!

Not Enough Air” at Central Square Theater opens today and runs through March 14. Be the first to comment on this post, and I’ll give you two tickets, along with complimentary parking and drink vouchers. (Previous winners John H. and Elizabeth aren’t eligible; part of the reason I do this is to introduce new people to this wonderful theater.)

I can’t review the play, partly because I am on the board of the theater, but more to the point because I haven’t seen it. However, it sounds absolutely fascinating — a brand-new play about a playwright:

Drawn into the sensational 1920′s murder trial of Ruth Snyder, famed journalist-turned-playwright Sophie Treadwell finds herself compelled to give voice to Ruth’s story through her landmark play, “Machinal.”

And it’s being directed by Melia Bensussen, and that woman can direct the hell out of a play, I tell you what. She did Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s “Taming of the Shrew” this season and “Merchant of Venice” last, both of which were absolutely brilliant. So I think you’d be in for a good time at the theater — I know I can’t wait to see it on Sunday.

Who’s on first?

A handy visual distinction

February 5th, 2010

“The Lion in Winter”:


The terrier in winter:


Most amazing political ad ever

February 2nd, 2010

In the epic discussion of rudeness on the blog, a number of people mentioned changes in the political/media culture as responsible for a degradation of public discourse. I don’t allow partisan politics on that site, but talking about general trends is fine, and I agreed with many of the commenters.

In that spirit, may I present the most remarkable political smear ad of all time. Yes, it is real; it’s for the coroner’s seat in New Orleans:

I’ll let you pause for a moment to take that in.

I majored in theater as an undergraduate. You know the actor who played Igor probably got his theater degree at Louisiana State or some such, dreamed of playing Mister Mistoffolees on tour, maybe getting to do the one-man version of “Santaland Diaries” someday, or even Shakespeare … I hope for his sake that his hopes and dreams were already crushed before this happened. It sounds harsh of me, I know, but I am cruel only to be kind.

Best “Miss Conduct” moment EVER

January 29th, 2010

So, last night, Mr. Improbable and I went to see “Indulgences” at New Rep. It’s a very good play, funny and sharp and well-acted, hip but not too knowing. Highly recommended.

At any rate, during intermission, I was in the lobby when the house manager came in through a staff-only door and almost bumped a couple of older women. “Oh, my goodness, sorry, guys,” she gasped. “We’re not guys, we’re girls,” one of them snippily responded. Neither of them acknowledged her apology.

So after my trip to the ladies’ room, I went to the ticket counter and asked to speak with the house manager. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Robin Abrahams, and I write the ‘Miss Conduct’ etiquette column in the Globe. And I want you to know that it’s colloquially acceptable to call more than one woman ‘guys,’ and that it’s not acceptable to criticize strangers for minor faux pas. Those women were very rude, and I think you’re perfectly fine.”

Well, she had been feeling bad about it, so she was was delighted, and so was I. I felt like some minor little superhero or something! I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed being “Miss Conduct” quite so much. (Actually, I sometimes find being “Miss Conduct” in public to be kind of a pain, but I’ll write about that some other day.)

But of course you don’t have to be an official etiquette columnist to do this. On the other blog we’re talking about rudeness, and how to respond to it. If the rudeness isn’t directed at you, but at someone else, don’t scold the offender — comfort the offended. Say, “That was unfair. What you did wasn’t wrong” or “You handled that very gracefully,” or even simply, “I’m sorry that person did that to you.” It can make a world of difference; really, it’s like you are taking a shamed person and leading them back into the light by the hand.

I mean, it’s a heck of a lot funnier if you’re Miss Conduct, but it’s just as kind no matter who you are.

Harriet Jacobs

January 15th, 2010

The death of Miep Gies this week, at the age of 100, reminded everyone of her heroism in sheltering the Frank family during World War II. Right now, there’s a play at Central Square Theater that is strikingly reminiscent of Anne Frank’s story.

Harriet Jacobs, a literate slave, hid in a crawlspace for seven years before making her way to freedom. Ms. Jacobs’ intelligence, verbal dexterity, and moral clarity are reminiscent of George Orwell. I’m a member of the board of the company that co-produced the play, so I can’t give an actual review … but I suspect you’d like it. If I could express an opinion. Which I can’t.

And I have two extra tickets! So if you live in the Boston area, be the first person to comment on this post, and I’ll give them to you, along with complimentary drink vouchers and parking validation. No contest, no need to create a haiku or parody or recipe — just get firsties, and I’ll get you two tickets to a show that I’d say is really good, if I could say that.

Today’s column

December 20th, 2009

… is online here.

I often have to edit questions for length, and the question from the woman who is often “accused” (her words) of being pregnant was one of them. The full question was as follows:

I am a petite female who has put on a little weight as of the last year. The problem with this, is that I get all my weight in the front, which is bad enough. However, the icing on the cake has been that every week, there is a new stranger asking me, “When are you due?” I have an identical twin who is a bit smaller than me, but gets the same questions (just not as often). I have no ring on my finger, and several friends and family say that I do not look pregnant, just “fluffy.” And with the most recent pregnancy accusation made by an obstetrician – I am angry. It was funny before (I joked that it was a cheeseburger I just ate – which I had ate the night before), but now it has gotten out of hand. My question is, since when is it okay to ask if someone is pregnant when they could very clearly just be a little bit overweight? Also, what is the appropriate reaction? I would love to point out their flaws (i.e. a big nose, hairy ears, whatever), but I just smile and say “no, sorry,” as if it is my fault.

First of all, I am in no way denying or minimizing this woman’s frustration, so let’s get that out of the way. I’m an advocate or ally or member or whatever you want to call it of the Fat Acceptance movement, which I’ve been quite public about, and if I put a foot wrong here, I hope my FA buddies will call me out on it so I can get my head straight.

I was bothered, although I didn’t address it in my answer, by the “I have no ring on my finger” statement. Not all pregnant women are married, and not all married women wear their rings during pregnancy, if they’re prone to gaining weight or retaining water in their hands.

Also, of course your friends and family are going to say you don’t look pregnant. That’s the kind of thing friends and family do. But if you’re being asked every week — and by an obstetrician, no less! — then, hon, you look pregnant. Which doesn’t make it any less annoying, I’m sure, but everything is at least a little bit easier to cope with when we’re not in denial about it.

Last week, I got my hair done, and my hairdresser looked … fluffy. Really fluffy. I hadn’t seen her for a while, and I knew she’d had a baby eight months ago or so. With this question on my mind, of course, there was no way I was going to presume anything, so I greeted her and said, “What’s new?” She looked down at her belly and then at me as though I’d grown two heads and replied, “I’m expecting again, obviously.” She thought it was pretty funny when I explained my trepidation.

So here’s a question: what are, and are not, appropriate comments to make on another person’s appearance? I’d say both weight gain and loss are off the table entirely. (I used to be more on the fence about weight loss, but both learning more about FA — and also having the unpleasant experience, recently, of being congratulated on weight loss that is the result of illness — has changed my mind on that.) Even if someone is losing weight on purpose, there is a chance they will gain it back, and yesterday’s compliments may make them feel even worse.

Deliberate changes in appearance — new hair color or cut, new eyeglasses, contacts — seem like fair game, as long as this doesn’t involve insulting the way the person used to look. “Thank God you’ve finally gotten rid of the grey!” is not how we compliment a good dye job.

But what other general principles are there?

I think this is an area of social behavior where my own parameters are a little bit skewed from the norm. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be a theater person, and still am at heart. And theater people, because their body is their instrument, can be extremely straightforward about assessing their own appearance and that of others. You have to know what you look and sound like and what kind of persona you project, and if you’re getting it wrong, a good friend or mentor will tell you, in no uncertain terms. There isn’t time for tact and “everyone is beautiful” happy talk when careers are at stake. Sometimes, in fact, given that I hope to do more television and public speaking, I wish I could get that kind of unvarnished feedback again. Maybe I’ll ask my actor friends, if I can convince them to treat me like one of them, and not like “Miss Conduct.”

But outside the greenroom — what’s polite and what isn’t?

Shrew love waits

October 20th, 2009

More on ASP’s “The Taming of the Shrew” …

The big question with any production of “Shrew” is how to do Kate’s final scene, in which, at Petruchio’s command, she gives a speech about the obedience women owe to their husbands. I saw a brilliant all-female production of the play several years back (the women played the male characters as men, just as in Shakespeare’s time, female roles were played as women, by male actors) in which this monologue was very dramatic and clearly very difficult for Kate, and during which Petruchio’s attitude went from a macho boastfulness, to embarrassment, to complete shame and horror at what he had done to this woman and incredible gratitude and humility in the face of her extraordinary grace. It was a deeply Christian reading of the scene, reminding me of nothing so much as Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

Melia Bensussen, who also directed last year’s wonderful “Merchant of Venice,” took a much simpler tack with it, and yet one that I’ve never seen or heard done before. The three husbands in the room — Petruchio, Lucentio, and Hortensio — have all agreed to wager on their wives’ obedience. They send the servant Grumio to call their wives from the other room, and Kate is the only one who comes. (Given that it is well established that Kate hates her sister Bianca, and has already been gratuitously insulted by the other woman, her eagerness to join her husband speaks less of obedience than a wholly rational desire to escape the Mean Girls.) Petruchio then tells her to go get the other women, bring them into the main room, and TELL THEM.*


And here is the brilliant, obvious, perfect thing that Ms. Bensussen does: she puts the money on the table. This is a wager. The audience sees the pile of money, lying right there, and so does Kate. She knows the score. Does she believe what she’s saying? Oh, probably, partly. It’s hard for anyone, even someone as verbally dextrous as Katharina Minola, to lie convincingly and on the spur of the moment for 40 lines. But she’s doing it for the money — the same reason Petruchio married her. The fact that she swoops down on that pile of bills like the hawk she’s often compared to makes that clear enough. She and her husband jam the cash into their pockets and beat a quick retreat! (I must blushingly confess that this scene charmed me enough that I actually wrote Shakespeare fan fiction this weekend, imagining Kate and Petruchio on the way home to Verona, laughing at having pulled a fast one on their friends and family and deciding what to do with their winnings.)

So often, in productions of Shakespeare, the money is treated like a metaphor. Seeing Ms. Bensussen’s take on two of his most difficult plays — “Taming of the Shrew” and that which is often called “Taming of the Jew” — has convinced me that this is a mistake. It’s not a metaphor. It’s money. And people will do a lot for money. My God, what won’t they do for money.

More subtly, the production, though set in a vaguely defined present-ish moment, is staged with recurrent images of Queen Elizabeth — on the stage floor, on the cover of the pub’s dart- and gameboard. Which reminds those of us who know our Bard that he, too, was doing it for the money. Shakespeare, that great artist, was also a great mercenary. And he wrote by the leave and at the pleasure of a woman — his Queen — just as Kate speaks by the leave and at the pleasure of her husband. The Queen protected and supported him, too, as Petruchio protects and supports Kate. Shakespeare was no more free than Kate, and no more oppressed.

We all make compromises, which sounds very mature. We are all compromised, which sounds very dirty. But both are true.

*I’m delighted to report that the creator of the “Oh Snap!” flowchart, originally found here, bears the wonderfully improbable name Sharif Kellogg, and is a friend of a friend of mine. Say what you will, the internet can be a fun playground sometimes.