Archive for April, 2009

Stop! In the Name of . . . Matzah?!

April 12, 2009 2 comments

Wednesday night marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Commemorating the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt some 3,300 years ago, Passover is noted for two main things: a festive meal (called a Seder) on the first and second nights of the holiday, and eight days of eating matzah. For those of you who don’t know, matzah is basically bread in cracker form . . . and the single most destructive force in the universe!

So why eat matzah? Well, as the story goes: when the Israelites were freed by the Egyptian Pharaoh, they were told to “Leave now!” (“. . . and never come back!” as Smeagol would say.) Not wanting to give the Pharaoh a chance to harden his heart (or swallow his tears, as Quarterflash would say) like he had done after witnessing all the previous plagues, Moses told the Israelites to pack it in and head on out—posthaste! Baking bread would obviously not fulfill the “posthaste” part, so they had to bring whatever they had on hand or could make in a very short time. Since matzah could be made in under 18 minutes from the combining of ingredients (water and flour) until being fully-cooked, that was what they made.

Legend has it that one woman decided she would have time to actually bake bread and still catch up with the others. I mean, let’s face it: the entire nation was picking up and leaving! If the lines to cross the Nile bridge were bad when just the men were going to work, foot traffic that night was going to be horrendous! So this woman, let’s call her Yenta, started pulling out all the ingredients for bread and found she was completely out of yeast. Well, Yenta knew that her good friend, coincidentally (or not) also named Yenta, had some yeast, so Yenta went over to Yenta’s. When she got there, the Yentas started to shmooze (as yentas will do).

Yenta 1: Hi! Can I borrow some yeast? Solomon’s packing for the exodus and asked me to put together some food, so I decided to bake some bread.
Yenta 2: Sure! Come in! Hey, did you hear that Pharaoh’s firstborn was smitten tonight?
Yenta 1: No! Really? Well, the other day I was talking to Shifra the mid-wife, and she told me that she delivered sextuplets for Judith! Again! I swear, she must be using fertility reeds.
Yenta 2: Ain’t that the truth! You know, Abiram’s wife thinks her husband has been spiking his Haroseth again, since he keeps insisting that Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster.
Yenta 1: That doesn’t surprise me: Abiram and his pal, Dathan, always liked to hit the sauce.
Yenta 2: Hey, didn’t you want to borrow something?
Yenta 1: Hmm, I forgot what I needed!
Yenta 2: Oh, well. Let’s make some fresh bread and have some tea. Say, what do you know about fertility reeds? Saul and I have been having trouble conceiving. . . .

And on they went straight through until morning, when it occurred to them that it was pretty darn quiet outside. When they went to check, they found that everyone had left. Stunned (and not a little bit angry) that their husbands had forgotten them, they went back inside—where they decided to wait until, realizing their error, their husbands would return for them. They were still sitting there in Yenta 2’s living room when Pharaoh returned from the Red Sea, his entire army drowned within. Thinking to have the final say, he brought Yentas 1 and 2 into the palace, vowing never to set them free. One hellish week of mindless gossip later, he gave them horses, provisions, and maps and begged them to leave. This came to be known as the Second Exodus.

Getting back to matzah, what, I hear you asking, makes it so dangerous? Well, much like Tolkien’s Lembas, matzah is a waybread. The only difference being that whereas a single bite of Lembas was “able to fill a grown man’s belly for a whole day,” matzah can fill a grown man’s intestines for at least a whole day. Usually it’s more like two or three days. There have even been some rare instances where its effects lasted up to a week!

I am reminded now of a Passover many years ago, when my mother prepared a “special” dish. Cholent, a Sabbath staple in Jewish households, is a meat stew that is largely comprised of beans and barley. However, since both beans and barley are forbidden to be consumed on Passover, my mother had to improvise when preparing the Sabbath food for that holiday. It was thus that she came to make a beef stew with the secret ingredient of prunes “for medicinal purposes.” I don’t remember how it tasted, but I do remember that my bowels thanked her. Profusely.

This year, late Friday afternoon (the second day of Passover), I was awakened from my nap by a strange noise. As I became more alert, I thought the sound—simultaneously haunting, yet also ecstatic—to have been a trick of hearing as a result of my waking dream. This was not the case, however, as ten minutes later (and ten pounds lighter) I knew the sound for what it was: my neighborhood’s collective sigh of relief.

Categories: Lembas, Matzah, Passover, Yenta

Now the Nightmare’s Real: Now Dr. Horrible Is Here….

April 2, 2009 2 comments

Today I would like to talk about the Internet sensation known as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Most (if not all) of you reading this are now probably thinking: “What’s that, some kind of karaoke blog?” Well, I’m here to tell you that no, it’s not . . . at least, not really.

Dr. Horrible is a little project that Joss Whedon put together during the 2008 Writer’s Guild strike. Basically, he got a bunch of his friends (and family) together to work on a self-financed short film. The beauty of it was, since there was no big studio or distributor involved, everyone who worked on it would get a share in the profits. And even if they weren’t paid up front or upon completion of the project, it was certainly better than sitting on their duffs while writers hung out in picket lines and Hollywood lost millions. But I’m not interested in talking about the brilliant marketing campaign (which was further enhanced when Whedon’s insanely-large fan base started spreading the word) or the initial release strategy (it was free to watch on-line during its first week); rather, I’m interested in talking about the movie itself—or, more specifically, the cast.

Let’s begin with lead actor Neil Patrick Harris—portrayer of Dr. Horrible and newcomer to the stable of actors in the Whedonverse. Many of you will remember Neil from the classic television show Doogie Howser, M.D. and, currently, How I Met Your Mother. But, unless you are a serious Harris fans, most of you do not know he can sing. I mean REALLY sing. My wife was unaware of this particular talent, and immediately fell in love with him. When she asked if I knew, I told her that years ago I had seen him perform a song with the then-current Broadway cast of RENT on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. (Given her feelings towards RENT, she fell even more in love with Neil—if that were at all possible.) Oh, he happens to have excellent comedic chops as well. If you need any more encouragement, he just won the first Streamy award for Best Male Actor in a Comedy Web Series for his work on Dr. Horrible.

Next up is the relatively unknown supporting actress Felicia Day, who plays Penny—Dr. Horrible’s love interest. Some of you may recognize Felicia from a story arc in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but if you tell me that you remember seeing her in some recent SEARS commercial, then I’ll tell you that you watch too much television. She is no stranger to the web series format as she can be seen on The Guild, which just finished its second season. Coincidentally, she too just won a Streamy for her work on The Guild. Her excellent performance here should be the catalyst she needs for bigger roles.

Finally, we get to supporting actor (and Whedon veteran) Nathan Fillion, who plays Captain Hammer—Dr. Horrible’s arch nemesis. You may know Nathan from his (in my opinion) defining role of Captain Malcolm Reynolds on the Whedon-created series Firefly and its follow-up movie Serenity. Currently, he can be seen on the new and quite enjoyable Castle on ABC. As Captain Hammer, Fillion is perfectly cast and nearly steals the show. (Some might argue that there is no “nearly” about it.) Well-known for hamming it up, Fillion was surprised (and quite excited) by these instructions from Joss: “More cheese. Cheesier!” The result was like adding C4 to dynamite. It seems only fitting, then, that late in the second act Nathan gets to utter what is possibly the greatest one-liner of all time. I highly advise against eating or drinking while watching this portion as you may very well end up doing a spit take. It’s that good.

Getting back to the film, some of you may be wondering: “Why is it a sing-along?” Well, remember how I already mentioned that Neil Patrick Harris does some singing in this thing? Guess what? So do Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion! (I know! Forget about Neil. Who knew Nathan could sing?!) See, this is actually a musical about superheroes and super villains. And, while seemingly presumptuous, the title is completely truthful: the songs are so catchy that not only will you find yourself humming them shortly after watching the movie, but you will also be singing along with them upon subsequent viewings. (And there WILL be subsequent viewings!)

Back in December, when Dr. Horriblewas about to be released on DVD, I advised some of my friends to just buy it—it would be the best $10 they spent over the holiday season. And now, dear friends, I am advising you the same. (No, you don’t have to wait until the end of the year to make the purchase.) The DVD really is worth every bit (and more) of the $10, and its price makes it a great filler item if you wanted to get a book or two on Amazon but not pay shipping. In fact the only thing that I find lacking on the DVD is a karaoke feature. Quite a missed opportunity, if you ask me, but I suppose you could always just turn on the subtitles. Anyway, if after all my gushing you are still unsure, you can now once again watch it for free online. When you do, just be prepared to be entertained . . . and to part with $10 soon after.