Reading & Watching Fingersmith

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“My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan. My mother I know is dead. But I never saw her, she was nothing to me. I was Mrs Sucksby’s child, if I was anyone’s; and for father I had Mr Ibbs, who kept the locksmith’s shop, at Lant Street, in the Borough, near to the Thames.”
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

So begins the novel by Sarah Waters that follows Sue Trinder, Maud Lilly and a cast of characters that comes to life in a stage adaptation presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Before I get too far into writing about the book and play, I want to let you know that this post does not contain spoilers. The beauty of this story lies in the twists and turns, and I do not want to give anything away to readers who have not experienced it yet.

I first came across Fingersmith almost 10 years ago when I saw the BBC adaptation of the book. I had not heard of Sarah Waters prior to watching the miniseries and was happy to find out the TV version was based on a book. I was enthralled with the story and gasped out loud in my living room at the plot twists. I later picked up some of Waters’s other novels and was equally impressed with her stories in written form.

Fingersmith is the kind of book that you start and then look up from only to realize that it is 3:30 in the morning. You have to keep reading even though your alarm is set to go off in just a few hours. Waters paints a vivid picture of Victorian life, first in a den of thieves in London and then in the English countryside. While she is telling a historically rich Victorian story, the pacing is such that a 21st-century reader will feel right at home.

I saw my first Oregon Shakespeare Festival production when I watched them perform A Wrinkle in Time last fall. When I saw Fingersmith on the schedule, I started planning my trip to Ashland right away. Alexa Junge adapted Waters’s novel for the world premiere of the stage version, and Bill Rauch directed the production. Sue Trinder is brought to life by Sara Bruner, and Erica Sullivan plays Maud Lilly. From the moment Bruner uttered the opening lines that also begin the novel, I was on the edge of my seat. Even though I was familiar with the story from the miniseries and the novel, I was still so swept up in the story that the 3+ hour run time sped by as though it were only minutes.

The house was packed the night I saw Fingersmith, and it reminded me of the magic of live theatre. The audience gasped at the plot twists. It was impossible not to get caught up in the emotion of the story. I saw the play with a friend who had not read the book or seen the miniseries. I told him very little about the show other than, “I can’t wait until you see this play because I need to discuss the story with someone.” He was a bit skeptical when he saw the long runtime of the show and heard it was set in the 19th century; however, he was elbowing me and giving me wide-eyed looks of amazement at every wild turn in the story. After the show, he called it one of the best plays he has ever seen.

Having seen the miniseries and recently having read the book, I watched this play with the full story in mind. It is funny how knowing the outcome helps you see a story in a different way. Each time I experience Fingersmith in its different formats, I come away with something new. I can honestly say that this is one of the best book adaptations I have seen.

I would love to talk about the story here, but, as I said, I want to keep this post spoiler free. What I can say is that this is the kind of story that sticks with you. I still find myself imagining futures for some of the characters beyond the pages of the book. I still feel for these people even though I have moved on to other books and shows. This is the kind of story that begs to be reread or rewatched, so adapting this novel to the stage seems like a natural flow in its evolution. Whether it is the original novel, miniseries or play, drop everything and find a way to immerse yourself in the world of Fingersmith.

Work Cited:
Waters, Sarah. Fingersmith. New York: Riverhead Books, 2002. Print.

Road Tripping & Tessering Through California, Nevada and Oregon

There’s something that puts my mind at ease about being on the open road. I will fly when I need to, but I find that security checks, long lines and baggage claim get in the way of enjoying the experience of the journey. I had been looking forward to my latest trip since we started planning it a few months ago. My favorite road buddy Tim Pershing and I set out on a Saturday morning for an adventure that would take us to Reno, Ashland, Napa and points in between.

The drive to Reno meant trekking up the 395 and through Bishop, CA. Tim wrote about a recent drive on this highway last month in the Reno Gazette-Journal. We had lunch at Jack’s (as we have on previous trips through Bishop) and then visited Spellbinder Books, a gem at the foot of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Be sure to check out their local section for some interesting books on the region. I picked up No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869 edited by Ida Rae Egli.

After a visit with some friends in the Reno, NV area, we hit the road for Ashland, OR. Even though small, independent bookstores seem to be disappearing, several have managed to survive in Ashland. Our first stop was Bloomsbury Books—a good place to pick up Shakespeare related books and items.

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Shakespeare Books & Antiques had a whole bookcase dedicated to banned books, which included quite a few of my favorites. It is just a reminder that I need to be reading more banned books. Where there is controversy, there is often a good story.

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We also visited Antiquarium Books & Antiques, where every shelf, nook and wall was filled with bits of the past. This is the kind of place where a mannequin hand could be at peace resting on an old copy of The Paris Review and a typewriter. To walk through the tight pathways of books, rusty tins, knick-knacks, faded furniture and dusty magazines was truly like travelling back in time.

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Our main reason for visiting Ashland was seeing a stage adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which was part of the 2014 season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). The OSF staging of this book seemed to be for people like me who fell in love with the story as a child. The experience of reading the book is as much a character in the play as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin are. Throughout the production, characters are on stage reading from copies of the text. One of the most present readers is a girl who at times works on a science experiment on stage right. She and the other readers serve as our gateway into this story in that they take us into the action at the place we first entered it when reading the book. It is a place where the words on the page meet our imagination and where bed sheets can form the wings of a centaur-like creature. It also allows us, for a brief moment, to believe that the concept of traveling through space and time by tessering seems like a real possibility.

The set was minimal, making the play somewhat conceptual in that it asked the audience to supply their imagination to fill in gaps. The effect meant that at times I felt like I was reading instead of seeing a play. The OSF interpretation of the story was a reminder of why I love L’Engle’s book so much, and I highly recommend it to anyone who feels the same way about the original text.

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While you are in Ashland for the theatre scene and bookstores, make the drive north to Central Point to visit Rogue Creamery. We bought some Echo Mountain Blue Cheese. All other blues pale in comparison to this amazing cheese, and it went quite nicely with the wine we bought next door at Ledger David Cellars. The two businesses share a parking lot with Lillie Belle Farms Chocolate Shop. I find the idea of eating chocolate to be as appetizing as devouring a bowl of dirt, so this obviously is not my kind of store (I’ll give you a moment to get over your shock of someone hating chocolate), but I know many of my chocophile friends would think this place was heaven with its cases of beautiful handmade chocolates and friendly staff. They even have Smokey Blue Cheese Truffles made with cheese from Rogue Creamery.

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Our trip finished with a stop in Napa for a few days before we made the drive back to Los Angeles. The highlight of our stay in Napa was a visit to Kasten Family Wines, which is owned by some fellow California Lutheran University alumni. This winery grew out of their love for winemaking, and that shows in the quality and richness of their wines.

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It was hard to return, knowing that meetings, blog posts and presentation preparation were waiting for us when we got back to LA. But we are back at work, so we can earn the money to feed the travel addiction. I have already picked out the plays I want to see during the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 season, so perhaps another trip to Ashland isn’t too far off.