THE GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING AGAIN!

It’s really no surprise that people are rather frugal in shopping for gifts this holiday season, especially in this year’s climate.

Thanks to the current rate of inflation, the ways and methods to snag bargains that wasn’t obtained last fall, as well as other factors from the shortage of goods, the delivery personnel to get the goods from points A to B, the physical retail outlets and the workers to maintain those outlets (or not), as well as the whole pandemic thing, folks are really getting keen in what they shop for, who they shop for, as well as where they shop for, if shopping (and the spending of money) is still part of this game.

One item folks are getting are those gift cards. These simple yet effective plastic cards can be used in most cases to purchase anything this outlet that issued the cards sells. And this tradition of getting cards as gifts has been around for generations.

These “ghost gifts” started out as paper gift certificates that somewhat resembled dollar bills, complete with a picture of some likeness of a person connected with the company. If these certificates were issued during the Christmas season, they might have had a likeness of Santa Clause, or a seasonal character connected to the retailer issuing the said certificate. For instance, if Marshal Fields offered the certificates, they would have had a likeness of Aunt Holly or Uncle Mistletoe plastered in the center of the certificates. This retail Uncle and Aunt were two long standing Christmas images that were part of the store’s holiday affairs.

Back in 2007, ALO-L composed an editorial that spoke upon the giving of gift cards and the impact they represented during the month of December. This is what we wrote about ‘em…

As the holiday season (all of ‘em) winds down, folks are there are still cramming in and out of the malls to do the usual retail antics. In spite of a looming recession over everyone’s heads, people are whipping out their charge cards to buy stuff for somebody that they know or know of! The only question remains; what to buy for these folks?

Within the last ten years, gift cards–these credit-card looking pieces of plastic that are usually decked out in bright and “gay” (read: happy) colors with the name of the store in question, of course, have been in vogue! A card could be good from anywhere from $5.00 worth of goods or services, right up to $1000! These kinds or cards make the (almost) perfect gift to somebody who would desire what the store in question would offer without the wonder if the receiver would even like the gift.

And it seems, based upon a recent opinion poll conducted by the BIGresearch American Pulse Survey asking some 4069 individuals about gift cards and gift giving/receiving, that these little pieces of plastic are the way to go! In the poll, some 52.1% of consumers say they would rather receive a gift card for the season. (Cash would do too, but most givers would rather deal with gift cards.) In fact, some 5.4% of those who received clothing as a gift in the past didn’t like or didn’t wear it. Yeah, one can return the item, but 46.3% say they hate to return gifts because it’s too much of a burden or hassle.

And what about shopping and gift giving/receiving? The poll continues! 69.4% say they would rather give a gift than receive one! When shopping, some 70.9% like it when employees wish them a “Merry Christmas” while shopping. (Note: no information was obtained if the shopper would want to hear “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays”, though the two are rather interchangeable!) And in spite of the religious theme that this season ponders upon, some 92.6% feel malls, stores and parks should be allowed to display the Christian nativity scene.

Now getting back to the shopping. Bargains is what drives the spending currently going on. 56% stated that they will be looking for more sales as they shop. However, some 59.1% will be spending less this year than in seasons past. Their reasoning? 47.7% feel that compared to one year before, it is becoming harder to pay monthly bills and/or are living paycheck to paycheck.

And in spite of how easy it is to gift a gift card that the receiver could use at their favorite store, there are some drawbacks! Based upon the survey, 82.4% noted that gift cards are a smart gift alternative for people they don’t know what the receiver would really want, 10.5% have “re-gifted” gift cards received (assuming that they are given with its full value), 13.5% have received gift cards that they’ve never redeemed, and 16.1% have received gift cards that they’ve only partially redeemed.

So there you have it. A totally incomplete tally of what to expect between now and the 25th. Of course, there will be a few folks out there that will still continue to shop well past the 25th and even to January 1st! If these shoppers are looking for bargains, then that’s the time to find ‘em! After all, unless one is getting a gift for Robert E. Lee’s birthday (January 17th), then there will be plenty of January white sales going down! Watch your newspaper ads (or your various web sites in cyberspace land) for all of the details!

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Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents David Lindsay-Abaire’s GOOD PEOPLE, a drama about a blue collar woman trying to make ends within her surroundings, and the man she seeks that may make things change for her for better or for worse.

Allison Blanchard is Margie Walsh. She lives in a working class neighborhood in south  Boston, an area known by the locals as “Southie”. She is a single mother of a daughter who is physically handicapped, and supports herself working as a cashier at a dollar-type general store. Things start to unravel when she is fired from her job due to her showing up late for work too often. Now out of a job and perhaps one step closer to being on the street, she finds out that an old boyfriend of hers, Mike (Scott Facher), is a successful doctor with his practice and residence located in a better part of town, far from the borough he and Margie grew up in. Using the advice of her two fellow bingo playing partners, Dottie (Mariko Van Kampen, alternating with Milda Dacys) a senior lady who also makes craft rabbit figurines on the side, and Jean (Suzan Solomon, alternating with Sherrie Scott), another blue collar woman of means, Margie visits her old beau at his office, hoping to snag a job from him. Even though he can’t offer her employment, she still seeks his assistance while attempting to tie a few loose ends together before her emotional and financial ends become unraveled.

This stage piece by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is set in his old stomping grounds of south Boston, where many of its residents are born, live out their lives, and where they eventually die. This is one of the issues that makes this play just what it is; A story that starts out miserable and ends in the sable level. As to this specific production, Allison Blanchard as tough-as-nails Margie takes her lead in stride that shows a realistic side of a race toward a bottom. Suzan Solomon and Mariko Van Kampen as Dottie and Jean are just as “Southie”, presenting themselves as the comedy relief minus the buffoonery that comic relief characters tend to hold on to. Scott Facher as the doctor Mike is more normal than the other Southies, meaning that he is living way beyond his roots. Director Ann Hearn Tobolowsky showcases a collection of characters that are as even when together, and slightly uneven as solo. Among these leads (Margie, Mike, et al) are two other characters of note: Stevie (Michael Kerr), a former coworker of Margie’s and fellow bingo player, and Kate (Charlotte Williams Roberts), Mike’s spouse who happens to be black/African American, meaning that the doctor is part of a mixed marriage. This would be a domesticated state of being that would otherwise ruffle a few feathers in Margie’s neck of the woods!

A special note goes to Jeff Rack’s set design consisting of (among other settings), Margie’s living space, the bingo hall supposedly located in a church basement, and Mike’s living room positioned in the well-to-do suburb of Chestnut Hill. The latter location is the only set that utilizes the play’s hard action within the entire width of the theater stage. All other sets center the action in the middle of the stage, giving those same sets a limited and rather simplified ratio.

GOOD PEOPLE means that bad things happen to such good people. Then again, good things also happen to good people, or good-in-heart people. This play has heart and shows this notion in Beantown, or wherever the American dream may consist of a pleasant daydream, an afterthought, or a standard nightmare. It just all depends on what part of town one dwells in!

GOOD PEOPLE, presented by Theatre 40 and performs at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, located within the campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 South Moreno Drive (off little Santa Monica Blvd.) Beverly Hills, until January 9th, 2022. Showtimes are Wednesdays, December 15th and January 5th, Thursday, December 16th and January 6th, Fridays, December 17th and January 7th, Saturdays, December 18th and January 8th, Monday, December 20th, and Sundays, December 12th, and 19th at 2:00 and 7:00 PM, and Sunday, January 9th at 7:00 PM. All other shows perform at 8:00 PM.

At the present time, all attending patrons are required to wear face masks.

For ticket reservations, call (310) 364-0535, or via online at http://www.Theatre40.org

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WEST SIDE STORY (20th Century Pictures) is the story of two rival street gangs faced with seeking turf within their neighborhood, and a story of two people from the rival gang sects that fall in love, in spite of the challenges they must face.

The setting is New York City-1957. The area known as the Lincoln Square neighborhood on Manhattan’s upper west side is going through a change where the old tenement buildings are being torn down making way for newer soon to be built structures as part of the city’s urban renewal program. In this section, there is also a conflict between the long-time residents that have yet to be pushed out and those from Puerto Rico who are just moving in. Among these folks are two teenage street gangs consisting of the Jets who are white, and the Sharks who are Puerto Rican. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets while Bernardo (David Alvarez), an amateur prizefighter, leads his Sharks. Bernardo lives with his live-in girlfriend Anita (Ariana DeBois) and his younger sister Maria (Rachel Zegler) in a cold water flat in the neighborhood. One member of the Jets, Tony (Ansel Elgort), lives in the basement of Doc’s drug store where he works shortly after his release from prison. The store is run by Doc’s widow Valentina (Rita Moreno) who she hired to work at the store in order to give him a second chance in life. Meanwhile, the Jets and the Sharks plan to have a rumble (i.e. a fight) for gaining turf in their soon to be broken neighborhood. A community dance is being planned at the gym at the local high school. Here, both gangs plan to attend that dance to set forth in their soon to be rumble. Tony and Marie also plan to attend as separate people. While at the dance, these two catch each other’s eyes. They know that they are for one another, knowing that they come from the opposite sides of the gangs. From there, tensions flare up between the Sharks and the Jets, leading toward conflicts that become tragic, while Tony and Marie experience their love for one another.

This feature film is based upon the stage musical of the same name first presented in full in 1957 with book by Arthur Laurents, a music score by Leonard Bernstein (later to be the lead conductor of the New York Philharmonic) with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a 20-something musical prodigy that was first trained to write scores through family friend Oscar Hammerstein II. And its concept, direction, and choreography was created by Jerome Robbins. The stage musical became a major hit performing on the Great White Way and later across the nation and the world.

In 1961, United Artists released the feature film version of that musical, keeping its contemporary settings as well as the original choreography by Jerome Robbins with a new screen adaptation by Ernest Lehman. That film is how many know of this musical, outside of seeing it performed in an occasional revival at a regional or community playhouse within a live theater setting. This movie version released in 2021 (from a planned 2020 release but delayed thanks to the pandemic) retains its 1957-era visuals, and is deemed more as a “reimagine” rather than another remake. This new edition with a screenplay by playwright Tony Kushner expands the story and its characters, adding a bit more depth that tells more of a backstory for the same lead characters as well as the neighborhood where all these conflicts take place. These revisions do enhance the said characters while changing much of the concept the original stage and film versions leaves out. Such revisions reveal that anyone from Puerto Rico is technically an American citizen and the reasons for the rumble is for turf only, and not because of racism(!) The latter may have been added because not to conflict with the racism that had been going on in the USA when this movie was released or was supposed to be released in 2020-2021.

And perhaps the noted change of view; the love story as enchanted by Marie and Tony seems to take a back seat, meaning that their love is more deemed as a “strong like”. The love story part was the entire point of the stage musical and the original movie! (Remember, its premise was Willie Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet!!) This new film places the rivalry between Jets and Sharks as more front and center. But one doesn’t receive as much drama in love stories outside of turning such trauma as another soap opera.

As to how this new version stands out is through its visuals. It does have the look of a film musical that could have been released in the late 1950s-early 1960’s. Its colors are rather muted down a bit, not as bright and shiny as a Technicolor print would present itself, and much of the camera moments have its scenes looking upward toward the players as well as the panning and trucking upward/downward/sideways (left and right) with objects passing by. Steven Spielberg, a man who is part of modern movie makingdom, directs this film as a homage to the original production without forgetting the notion that this movie is indeed a remake, or reimagine to be precise!

There are lots to comment about the physical production itself as well, such as Justin Peck’s choreography that uses his own works while being inspired by the piece Jerome Robins placed on stage and screen, as well as Gustavo Dudamel conducting both the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics with new arrangements by David Newman and Jeanine Tesori’s vocal direction. But the real element is how this feature presents itself to a movie audience living in the postmodern era. That is, today’s audience living in the time of now.

That result would be this. If one has never seen the original film release, this movie musical is quite enjoyable for what it is, in spite of the fact that is has a very long running time of two hours and thirty six minutes–four minutes longer than the original film. But that first movie included a built-in intermission as roadshow versions did back in the day. This new one doesn’t have an intermission for those seeing it in a theater. So bring an extra large bladder along if you do view this title in an actual movie house! (This doesn’t apply if one views it on an electronic device with a video screen attached!)

Movie musicals are very rare nowadays as those kinds of titles tend to attract those of a certain age. (Those over the age of 50!) That is ideal since people of that age tend to be members of groups that nominate movies for awards. And this feature will appeal to that demographic. There aren’t any explosions seen, and gunfire is used only once. (This isn’t a spoiler alert!) And traditional cussing is kept to a minimum. Only its appeal to the masses as well as how this title will be able to nab an award or two will serve as its fate. But in the meantime, enjoy it for its period look as well as the music and dancing, both on the big movie theater screen and the smaller video screen at home/away from home. (Extra large badder optional in that kind of environment!)

WEST SIDE STORY is rated PG-13 for “some strong violence, strong language, thematic content, suggestive material and brief smoking”, as quoted by the Motion Picture Association (of America). Now playing exclusively in movie theaters nationwide.

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