REVIEW: Six Senses of Buddhism

Like all special exhibits in UMMA, this exhibit is a very small exhibit, only taking up part of a hallway and consisting of a few art pieces. It is an interesting exhibit because it is about how Buddhist art and objects invoke our senses; smell, sight, feel (there are lots of things to touch in this exhibit), and most importantly mind (thought), our sixth sense. In fact, I have always thought of Meditation as a release from all six of our senses, we close our eyes, sit still, ideally only smelling one fragrant of incense, hearing only silence, and letting our mind relax, detached from any thought.

The main piece of this exhibit is a painting of a Buddha heaven. This painting is from Pure Land Buddhists, one of the biggest sects of Buddhism in China, and is of someone, probably a monk, being welcomed into heaven. I like that the heaven is on the clouds, it makes me think that heaven is always watching over us. In this painting figures with halos represent Bodhisattvas. Tea is an integral part of Buddhism, and so there were two tea bowls, one from China and one from Japan. The Chinese bowl is a lot older, but it looks more modern because it is symmetrical and completely smooth. The Japanese bowl, on the other hand, seems much more hand crafted,maybe even by an amateur, because it is rugged and asymmetrical. However, in Japanese art this is intentional because Japanese ceramic art considers asymmetry more beautiful and more impressionable.

The featured photo is of Bells and Vajra. This bell is very ornate, and was probably used to call monks to the meditation hall. You can touch a 3D printing of the bells at the exhibit. There are beautiful incense holders. Next to them are cards you can take that smell like clove incense. Incense is often used to keep track of time while meditating. When the incense burns out, you are done. No sporadically looking at a clock is necessary. The last piece in this exhibit is a Rakusu, which is the garment monks wear outside their robes. This Rakusu was pretty ornate and had designs, so it was probably of a monk that had a higher status. Monks like to make their own clothes, because it is a tradition from monks who were too poor to afford clothes and would patch together old rags.

The exhibit is small, but there is actually a lot of Buddhist artwork in the Asian Art gallery. If you can’t get enough from the exhibit you can see more paintings, actual scrolls, and shrines that were in temples in the gallery.

REVIEW: Sweeney Todd

This play was a lot darker than I expected, there wasn’t a single moral lesson or redeeming feeling at the end. I thought that at least Johanna and Anthony would have a happy ending together, but they just disappeared and became irrelevant. It is slightly twisted, but the only possible feeling of justice is cold sweet vengeance when Sweeney Todd finally kills the Judge.  I am curious what such an intense feeling of revenge is like, is it more satisfying than uhh chocolate…? Sweeney Todd suffered wrongly for years, and the man at fault for his suffering, Judge Turpin steals his daughter as well. It was clear that Sweeney Todd’s sole purpose became to get revenge on Judge Turpin by killing him, which he finally does. When I get revenge on a sibling or friend for making me angry or upset, it is one of the most satisfying feelings. Revenge to the degree of Sweeney Todd must be the most powerful emotion in the world.

Acting wise, Mrs. Lovett was incredible. Her movements reminded me of Johnny Depp. She was definitely crazy, but a fun whimsical crazy that makes the audience fall in love with the character. Sweeney Todd great job of being pure evil. His face was always grimacing and he had a dark tone to his voice. My favorite interaction between Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney was their waltzing. It was an evil jerky waltz that fit really well. Tobias Ragg played the role of a juxtaposition perfectly. He was an innocent pure kid with a soft voice and blissful demeanor.

Everything seemed to be about being crazy. Every character turns crazy by the end. Sweeney and Mrs.Lovett as murderers,  Judge Tobin who wants to marry his adopted daughter,  Johanna spends time in the insane asylum, the crazy homeless lady is one of the major characters, Tobias goes insane from all the death, there seemed to be no end to the madness. The extras did a great job being very expressive and lively. I would often watch the extras just to see their facial expressions. The extras were very jerky which fit the crazy theme.

Musically I appreciated all the harmonies between characters. Moreso than any other musical I have ever seen, Sweeney Todd is filled with songs where multiple characters sing their own parts in harmony. This is extremely hard to coordinate, so props to all the actors.


REVIEW: The Lute: Cai BoJie (Chinese Opera)

The grand finale of the Confucius Institute was the best show I have seen in all my four years at Michigan. I appreciate the Confucius Institute for making my experience at U of M much more cultural and special, and congratulate them on all their success on U of M’s campus.

Chinese operas are more comprehensive than western operas because of the emphasis on movement and acting in addition to music and singing. These actors train their whole lives to be able to express subtle but deep emotions in their movements. I love how precise the movements align with the percussion and cymbals. Even when the actors were not moving they would stand in a beautiful pose flaunting their hands by elegantly contorting their fingers. Some other major differences between Western and Chinese opera include: Chinese opera has limited facial and mouth movements when actors sing, most of the singing from both male and female characters is an extremely high pitched falsetto, and the most important part of the clothing/costume is the sleeves. The costumes are extravagant. Dainty, light, silky, colorful dresses and robes combined with beautiful makeup and jewelry lining their hair. The male characters all had a feminine look to them because of the intense makeup and lack of facial hair. Still, sleeves are the most characteristic part of their clothes because of how the actors use their sleeves. Sleeves usually covering their hands would fly inward and outward with precision and control. The actors would twirl the sleeves occasionally allowing a glance at their fingers.

The plot was extremely Chinese because it was all about filial piety. It was a depressing story about a failed son without a happy ending. Still, this play was surprisingly comical. Cai BoJie often had me laughing, especially when he interacted with Lady Niu. Besides the irony and intended comedy in their scene together, something about how respectful and orderly he was to Lady Niu was funny. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of his esteemed attitude and his melancholy feelings. Maybe it was how unnatural their relationship felt having to address each other as “honored lady/husband”. One thing for sure is that the movements in Chinese opera give a sense of comedy vacant in Western operas or American musicals because we don’t have to wait for a joke to laugh, the subtle movements of the actors do the work.

The acting of the characters was truly incredible. Cai Bojie did a great job acting sorrowful and regretful. No matter what he was doing he always seemed conflicted. The scene where he was on his knees mourning his parents death was riveting.  WuNiang was an incredible actress as well. Wuniang had a persistent look of worry the entire play. This showed the hardships she had been through and helped the audience understand the depth of her depression. The most comical character was the monk in the temple. He had a silly face and was constantly laughing. His singing sounded more like a fools chant than a monk reciting a prayer or sutra.  I am curious if this was a commentary on monks? The monk seemed to care more about sucking up to Cai Bojie than actually performing rituals. Seeking money and donation must be his first priority.

Music is a central component of the story. It is through music that characters displayed their true emotions. The most beautiful music was when WuNiang told her tale through the pipa. In fact, this play is named after the pipa, lute means pipa in English. My favorite sounds besides the instruments were when the actors would laugh or cry.

My favorite scene was scene 3. It was interesting that Lady Niu wanted to fervently punish Cai BaoJie when it was WuNiang who had to endure all the hardships because of Cai BaoJie. Yet, WuNiang didn’t want any vengeance on Cai BoJie and was willing to go back and mourn for another twelve years. The best part was when WuNiang revealed the name of Cai BoJie and she and Lady Niu simultaneously shrilled.  All of a sudden they started to mimic each other, even slouching in the same manner.

This was a once in a lifetime treat that I will never forget; being able to see a first-class Chinese opera, in the front row and with English subtitles.

PREVIEW: Sweeney Todd

One of my regrets from High School was not seeing my school’s production of Sweeney Todd, but thanks to the department of musical theater I have been granted an opportunity to fulfill a past mistake. I am not a fan of anything scary, I have never seen a real horror movie because I can’t even make it through most commercials. I am making an exception for this show because I know it is going to be fantastic.  Sweeney Todd is about a barber who uses his barbershop to get revenge on the world. This musical has been on Broadway, won multiple awards including Tony awards, and has been critically acclaimed.

You can see this show Thusday (4/18) at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday (4/19-4/20) at 8pm or the Sunday matinee show at 2pm.

REVIEW: Mazel Tov, John Lennon

Theatre Nova is a cute little spot in Ann Arbor. It’s basically a house that has devoted the living room to being a theatre room. There are only around 30 seats in the audience, and the room is so small that I was able to sit three feet from the mainstage. The intimate environment and the ability to see the actors facial expressions and eyes so closely made the viewing experience really unique.

This play was extremely well-written. It was ironic that I decided to see it with an expert in law, because I am an expert on The Beatles, and that is what this whole play was; John Lennon and a lawyer discussing how he is going to fight being deported and stay in the U.S. As a Beatles expert I was able to appreciate how accurately the writer portrayed John Lennon and captured John Lennon’s essence. This is difficult because John Lennon has an interesting personality; he is simultaneously laid-back and anxious. The author did a great job showing John Lennon’s humor while also showing his deep philosophical curiosity and capacity to be poetic. My friend confirmed that all the legal terminology was accurate and creatively put together. I assume the writer had legal expert help. I want to shake the writer’s hand for writing such a fantastic script.

There were some great plot points that kept the play interesting and engaging. It was very comical having a lawyer who did not recognize John Lennon was or any of his music. This made for some great wordplay.  I also enjoyed scenes that had characters looking directly into the audience, the great use vietnam war radio casts, and the historical accuracy of the play, even with the small details.

The dynamic relationship between the lawyer, who was a total square, and John Lennon was fantastic. Not only did they become close friends, but they were also able to teach each other. The lawyer taught John the importance of being a family man and John showed the square that the government is not infallible and righteous.

I also learned a lot as an audience member. Historically war has been sold like a product. John Lennon wanted to sell peace like a product. Conservatives and radicals are evolutionarily advantageous for the human race. The constant struggle between those trying to change things and those afraid of change is somehow what moves us forward as a whole. Actions can be significant from intangible actions. Changing the world can be done in intangible steps. Woodstock was amazing just because it happened, it doesn’t matter what tangible actions happened afterwards.

The end of the play had the most emotional scene as the square lawyer, for the first time, lost his temper. He ranted in a state of befuddlement and fury how disgusting it was for the U.S. to use immigration law as a political pawn.


PREVIEW: Mazel Tov, John Lennon

This is the world premiere of the show and you can see it this Thursday thru Saturday (4/11-4/13) at 8pm or on Sunday (4/14) at 2pm.  Beware, the last showing is April 14th, so this is your last week to see the show. The show is taking place at Theatre Nova which is a local Ann Arbor establishment located at 410 W. Huron, Ann Arbor. You can buy tickets in advance for $22, or if you show up right before the play you can purchase a last-second-pay-what-you-want ticket, which is great for anyone trying to save money.

This show takes place during the Vietnam war when the U.S. tried to deport John Lennon over marijuana possession. It is a play that will contrast relaxed, witty, chill personalities with hardline, uptight, angry personalities.

This is the description from Theater Nova’s website: January 1972: Vietnam war protests are at their peak, and newly ex-Beatled John Lennon walks into the office of Leon Wildes, an eminent immigration lawyer. As ultra-laid-back Lennon and straight-laced Wildes navigate Lennon’s stormy immigration case, an unlikely and comical kinship unfolds, and both men gain a greater understanding of friendship, personal values, and patriotism. Based on the true story of the Nixon administration’s attempt to deport John Lennon.

If you’re a Beatles fan, this show is a must see.