Thursday, November 30, 2006

So I got a good start

on a play this month, but I didn't finish it, even though I was going to try to, since I took up Freedom Spice's challenge. It's a play I'd been thinking about writing, but it feels like it's going to be one of those in-between plays, you know? I feel like I write a big play that has a lot of potential and I'm really proud of, and I write a weird smaller play that I like and am a little defensive about but in the long run I'm not entirely convinced is successful and I don't end up sending it out much. So there's a part of me that wonders if I shouldn't just skip to the next big one. And then there's a part of me that wonders if I don't need to get through the weird smaller ones to get to the big ones. And then there's a part of me that's just happy to be writing anything at all and feels it unwise to focus on much more than getting through the first draft of whatever it is I'm working on. And then there's a part of me that wonders how to prioritize because there are so many damn things I want to be working on. And then there's a part of me that gets frustrated because I find it hard to find the time to work on even the weird smaller ones, not to mention the big, tough, edgy ones, or even the spec script ones. So, as you can see, a lot of parts to consider....

Malkmus

is back at the El Rey January 6. Must. Get. Tickets. Must also find someone willing to go with me since Brownie's deserted us. Brando?

Hansel and Gretel

at the LAOpera is surprisingly a lot of fun. There are big furry creature puppets and the witch is a drag role! It's not without its occasional odd hiccups...like about half of the scene transitions...but it's mostly pretty charming and ingratiating. If you've got elementary aged kids, think about it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Oh, and get this:

If you check out the new addition of American Theatre with Suzan-Lori Parks on the cover and a couple of Jason Grote essays inside (congrats, Jason, enjoyed reading them), you can find a picture of an actress with whom I was in an Arkansas summer high-school production of Babes In Arms. We had a little dance number for our duet, "I Wish I were in Love Again." We even kissed! I think we were sixteen. She's in a play now with someone I knew from Carnegie and both of them are pictured in the issue. I was flipping through the magazine when I found their photo.

I hadn't thought about that summer in years! It was at a county school in Rector, Arkansas; we slept on cots in a classroom and rehearsed eight hours a day for three weeks.

I remember how weird the two of us were the first time we had to do the kiss. Actually, I think she was weird; I was just shy. Or maybe I was weird, too, which is why she was weird. The whole experience was weird, actually, which was part of its charm, I guess.

OH, and I had my first and only experience fronting a band at this camp. We had a talent show and I sang "Blister in the Sun" with a couple of guys. We called ourselves Frog. I snapped my fingers into the mike and was all in sync with the cool guitarist and we had the Morrissey fan sing harmony on the chorus and play a snare with brushes and everything. Quite the cherished memory. I'm glad I remembered it!

Anyway, this certain actress seems to be doing quite well for herself in a certain big non-NYC theater city. Good for her!

A few things

I'll have more to say by the end of this week, I promise. I can't promise I'll actually get around to typing it up on here, considering my recent blogging history, but I'll do my best. Anyway, here's a short list:

TOMORROW -- bright British star composer Thomas Ades is back at the LAPhil for a Green Umbrella concert.
WEDNESDAY -- Hansel And Gretel at the LAOpera.
THURSDAY -- Fell Swoop meeting -- we're back, we've got new members, we're better than ever. I'd direct you to our website but it needs all kinda updating for all our new and improvedness.
FRIDAY -- A John Waters Christmas at UCLA Live. JW and I did this two Decembers ago and it was amazing. The man is a national treasure.
SATURDAY -- Mabou Mines' Dollhouse at UCLA Live.
SUNDAY -- We're thinking about another Ades LAPhil concert, AND it's the only night I can see Son of Semele's Caridad Svich play before it closes, AND there's a Lessons and Carols service I was thinking of attending in between. I might not make it through Sunday. We'll see.

While you're waiting for me to report back on some or all of the above, go see In The Continuum at the Kirk Douglas in Culver City. Original actors/playwrights, original production, direct from Off-Broadway hotness, very funny and sad and well-acted, really sharp, satisfying 100 minutes of theater.

I guess that's all I've got right now.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Report from the opening of 365 Plays/365 Days

I felt a little bit like Pepys sitting on the plaza at the Music Center on Wednesday night, doing a little journaling to pass the time before the kick-off of Suzan-Lori Parks' grand theatrical adventure. Here's a little of my jottings:

So far I've seen:
Don Cheadle
That actor from Theatre of Note who played the teacher in Erik Patterson's 10-minute I saw with Malachy.
That guy from ER that JW and I always see in Quality Cafe.
I'm not sure, but I think Judge Reinhold just walked by. Weird.
I wish I'd told Libby about this. It'd be right up her alley.
And here comes adorable genius Suzan-Lori with her camera-wielding husband.
Reminds me of seeing her production of Fucking A
at Infernal Bridegroom in Houston
And not having a clue who she was
And running out and buying copies of her plays at Half-Price Books the next day.
One of those writers with whom I feel a kind of shared history.
Watching her make a kind of history.
And to think I almost went home after work tonight.
It's so nice to be here. So glad I came.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Cleansed

I saw a staging by Seat Of Your Pants Productions of Sarah Kane's Cleansed last night. The show's a bit of a mixed bag, but you can't say its actors weren't committed. I hope somebody's paying these folks, because this show is some serious work! My favorite performance came from David Stamps, who plays the illiterate manchild, Robin. He has this kind of unadorned innocence and directness; he doesn't overplay the character's childlike qualities, either, which I imagine would be a temptation. And he looks great in his white blouse and skirt, to boot.

I was going to write a big post about being underwhelmed by the text, but I need to read it before I can say for sure. I admire the ambitions of this production, but I did a little online reading about the play after the show, and I realized that a lot about the script and story didn't communicate to me. Even a few program notes would've helped. I just wasn't clear about some things, and reading others' analysis of the script did shed new light on it all. So I'm tentatively underwhelmed, with final status of whelming TBD.

Here's why I'm tentatively underwhelmed: the action of Cleansed is so abstracted, including the violence, that I wasn't really invited into the proceedings, nor was I inclined to develop any kind of concern for these characters. Except for Robin. I mean, he had to eat an entire box of chocolates even though it was making him sick and he was crying and wetting himself. How can your heart not go out just a little?

But come on, you're going to make me sit through the cutting out of a character's tongue, along with the cutting off of his hands and feet? That's some heavy shit to toss into a play about love and relationships. Never mind the fact that it's repetitive to the point of becoming numbing when you stretch it out over three scenes like Kane does and neither the victim nor his lover does anything about it. I know, that's the point, and besides, it's poetic, it's not conventionally structured, it's all so complex, etc. I'd be a lot more impressed by all those things if I was made to feel something.

Although I did feel something during the play. I felt lots of things. I occasionally felt sad for some of the characters. I felt moved by the boldness of the play's imagery and its unrelenting vision. But I also felt uncomfortable. And then I felt all too aware that I was supposed to feel uncomfortable to the point that I detached from the experience and began evaluating it. I felt impatient with the self-indulgence of the writing. I felt the nakedness of the play's schematics. But mostly, I felt like I should be getting more out of this play for being asked to witness the rawness of its events.

So will I be crucified by the theater blogosphere if I say I walked out of Cleansed wondering if Sarah Kane might be just the slightest bit overrated? I do think it's at least a combination of script and production here, but Kane's in the process of being turned into this pioneering poet-genius -- a Sylvia Plath of the stage -- and as a result I wandered into the theater last night looking for the deep insights of a brilliant artistic visionary. What I got was an interesting yet alienating piece by a gifted, intense young writer...one who should've lived longer so she could actually make good on all the promise Cleansed shows.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

by the way

did you see Hilton Als' dirtying up of The Clean House in the new New Yorker? He is not playing around.

I don't know the play, but, and I feel kinda terrible for saying this because I really like what I know of Ruhl's writing, but I was...a little...uhm, relieved to read at least one negative review. I'm not really sure why, because I can honestly say it's not envy or resentment or thinking she's undeserving. I've been genuinely excited for all her success. I guess the only thing I can think of is that I tend to be a little suspicious of universal praise.

Regardless, I'm still dying to see the play and I can't wait to see Circle X's production of her Eurydice either.

Okay, my oddly relieved feeling has given way to irritation. Tell Hilton Als to eat it, Sarah! Besides, he's written mean things about Frank O'Hara in the past, so what the hell does he know?

The most underrated

of all the great Pavement albums has been released in a special Matador Records deluxe edition. Wowee Zowee, people! Two CDs! Fifty tracks! A goofy booklet! Yellow thought balloons! Oh happy day!

How long has this been out, by the way, and why have none of you told me about it? I know I've been a little out of it, but this took me completely by surprise as I was in Best Buy looking for the P.J. Harvey Peel Sessions CD that I also knew nothing about.

And I really have been out of it, I know. Seriously, it was a whole day before I found out Neil Patrick Harris came out...or that I realized I saw his boyfriend run around the stage of the Alley Theater naked and suckle at a woman's breast in Edward Albee's The Play About The Baby six years ago. Hey, I've seen both of them naked now! First David Burtka in The Play about the Baby (and I saw the version with the giant rubber baby crawling onstage...we were all practically yelling "MR. ALBEE, NOOOO" from our seats...thank goodness he fixed that), and then Neil Patrick Harris in The Paris Letter. Hmm, I wonder which play with male nudity I liked better. I can certainly say that I allowed myself to enjoy the male nudity a little more in the latter than the former. Still a little closety in Houston. I'm just sayin.

Oh, by the way, there's a band playing around town with my new favorite band name; it's at least the best band name since Hotrod Golgotha.

Neil Patrick Hardcore.

I've not yet heard them but I'm quite hopeful they become the best thing since Pavement.

I bet you didn't think I could pull the disparate themes of this post together, did you?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Styron post

When I was in Houston in my early 20s I was persuaded to join a book club by a friend of mine. The book club consisted entirely of 30something to middle-aged women, all very smart, but also interested in a very specific type of novel. In short, I almost threw an Anne Tyler paperback out the window of a Houston city bus rather than finish it in time for a meeting once.

I finally got a little fed up with the lack of variety and demanded we have a kind of round-robin approach to book choice, and immediately started with Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet which I remember being fun because I love those invented/alternate history type novels. I don't know how well the ladies got into it, though.

My next time around I was paying attention to what was going on in the city and noticed that William Styron was due to make a big public appearance in the coming month. University of Houston's high-caliber creative writing program always brought a lot of impressive literary types through. Between UofH and my all-time favorite bookstore, Brazos Bookstore (Skylight in Los Feliz is a close second, although Duttons Beverly Hills is neck and neck, as it's my respite from the gaudy nonsense of 90210's shopping district), I got to hear Martin Amis, Susan Sontag, and got introduced to the New York School of Poets. And now they were bringing Styron through for a lecture and signing at the Museum of Fine Arts. I suggested we all read The Confessions of Nat Turner and go hear him speak after.

In preparation I decided to try and track down a 1st-edition of the novel for Styron to sign. I fancied myself a novice book collector when I was living in Houston, as I didn't have a lot of debt to worry over yet and I enjoyed picking up signed 1st-editions at Brazos. I found a reasonably affordable edition of Nat Turner on Alibris.com and snatched it up, worried that it wouldn't be in great shape because it was only about the middle of the price range for that book. It arrived in the mail and it was GORGEOUS. I was so thrilled; it looked spotless, was responsibly wrapped in mylar. Really well taken-care of.

So of course, NONE of my book club could make it to the Styron appearance. I believe I was traveling to Long Beach at the time for my horrible post-Teach For America job, but that's another story (and one I probably won't tell). My friend Gia, however, expressed an interest in going to the reading, even though she wasn't in my club, so I left my book with her in the hopes that it would get signed.

When I returned she told me she couldn't get in because it was sold out, but the staff at the event took the book for her when she lied and said I was waiting in the auditorium for my copy to arrive. They gave her a number for me to call to pick up my book, which I did. When I went to fetch it, the folks in the office said, "Oh, you're that guy with the lovely 1st-edition!" They retrieved my newly-signed copy and handed it over.

So, even though I never met Styron, or heard him speak, I have a lovely signed 1st-edition of The Confessions of Nat Turner. I was so concerned about disturbing it that I went to Half-Price Books and got a beat-up reader's copy and got through it in time for the book club discussion.

Don't remember much about it, though.

I managed to read 15 pages of Sophie's Choice last night before falling asleep. I'm off to read a little more tonight. It's off to a fun start.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I started a new play

over the weekend. A few of us bloggers (spearheaded by one Freedom Spice...check my links on the right side of the page) decided to write a play in a month, kinda like Ernessa T Carter's "Dirty Thirty" last year. That produced Customary Monsters, which has done okay for me so far, I suppose, so maybe this little endeavor will help me come up with something good as well. I was supposed to take up the Dirty Thirty initiative, wasn't I, Ernessa? Sorry...maybe next year?

So I've done a little character work, and some scene writing, and I'm starting to sense the shape the new play's going to take. I keep thinking of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, which was also on my mind during the writing of another play of mine, Toils and Snares, a couple of years ago. I haven't read Wise Blood in years, though; I suppose that novel's had a more profound impact on me than it ever seemed to at the time. It's a baffling read...I read it right when I got out of college and I'm not convinced I ever really knew what to make of a lot of it, but it is terribly funny and oddly heartbreaking, if I remember correctly. I keep threatening to read it again, and I just might do it.

Craig Lucas' play Reckless keeps coming to mind as well, perhaps in part because I saw his (and Adam Guettel's) The Light in the Piazza last week. Well Reckless is better, as if I had to say that. I remember talking to Glenn about it last week...probably during the Piazza convo. Okay, so Piazza and my soon-to-be new script are making me think of Reckless. I'll have to re-read that one too.

But for now I'm digging into Sophie's Choice. Styron's another one who's been on my mind since his passing last week. I have a Styron story of sorts...nothing too remarkable, but diverting enough...I'll save it for another blog post. I've been short on them lately, I know, but I'm going to try to do better...I'll likely start updating in the evenings.

After working a little overtime I headed over to Los Feliz for a sandwich at Fred 62 and a little work on the new play before I popped into Skylight Books and picked up the last copy of Sophie's Choice. Erik over at My Year of New Things (check my links) wants to do a virtual book club about it and my friends Matt and Trista were gushing over it when we went to Joshua Tree on Saturday (I guess there's another blog post), so I thought I'd better read it. I'm lucky, too, because I've never seen the movie, so it's going to be a completely new story to me. I'm excited for that. Anyway, I'm going to go do some reading for a little while. I'll be back later on or tomorrow with my Styron story. Or my Joshua Tree story. Or both.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow.