Thursday, May 29, 2008

More on my current mild obsession

with Thomas Adès. I've found a couple of nice interviews with him in anticipation of the London (and world) premiere of "In Seven Days," which I heard and adored this week in its U.S. premiere at Disney Hall.

From the Telegraph:
I comment, stunned after the presentation, that Adès's music is "unashamedly beautiful", where some of his earlier work felt more ironic. "I think that's true," he replies. "I used literally to think some notes were too beautiful, so I changed them to be ironic, but I've worked my way out of that." Since his opera The Tempest, through last year's Tevot and the recent Violin Concerto, there's a greater richness in his music. Could this be linked to his own more stable state?

"It could be connected," he admits. "So much of contemporary art is ironic and I don't think that's enough any more," he says. "Why would anyone be ashamed of beauty? It's a very 20th-century idea that you might be. Thankfully that's gone." Amen to that.
From Timesonline:

Adès and [Tal] Rosner were among the first couples in the UK to enter a civil partnership in early 2006, within weeks of the new legislation being put in place. “That law came in quite soon after we met and I still can’t quite believe it’s there,” Adès explains. “I thought ‘we have to do this’ and not only because of the Israeli thing, although it did make life a lot easier with visas, but that was just a bonus. It has had an effect on my music. You feel more connected, like joined-up handwriting. I think my music is more joined-up now than it was before.”

Adès is not only unexpectedly happy to talk about his private life, but also his work. “I wanted to do something that would have visuals and tell a story but would also be a piece of music,” he explains. “I think of it like a ballet but instead of dancers you’ve got video....

Working with your partner is probably most people’s idea of hell, but Adès insists that the experience has been “harmonious”. “I was worried this was going to be an awful disaster,” Adès says, laughing, “but in fact it’s been incredibly natural because he knows my way of thinking and I know his. We did have a rule that at the end of the day we just had to say ‘no more’ otherwise the danger would be that you’d have no escape. You have to have something else to talk about.”

Adès’s musical tastes and influences are wide. When asked about the content of his iPod, he admits that there’s nothing classical among the 2,000-odd tracks. When asked to reveal its current playlist, he sheepishly admits to the 1980s Norwegian pop heart-throbs Aha, and says that he and Tal have been downloading nu electro from the Italian internet radio station Pig Radio. When I ask what music they had at their civil partnership ceremony, I get a surprising response. “We were up all night trying to figure out what the right music would be,” Adès smiles. “In the end we had Girls Aloud’s Love Machine.”

Thomas Adès is My New Bicycle

JW and I saw him conduct his own work at Disney Hall on Tuesday. He's become one of my favorite classical pastimes, even edging out my Rolando if you can believe it. On Tuesday Adès was a triple-threat with a string quartet called "Arcadiana," which was played nicely by our beloved Calder Quartet. He then conduced the Phil in his "Living Toys." Both of these pieces were great fun, but they felt kind of young and brash. As much as I like young and brash, I was excited to hear the new commission after intermission to find out what he's been up to lately.

That one's called "In Seven Days," with video by his partner, Tal Rosner. Let me just say that I love love LOVED it, and leave Mark Swed to give you the details.

The new piece, which is subtitled "A Piano Concerto With Moving Image," is a dazzling collaboration between Adès and his life partner, Tal Rosner, an Israeli-born video artist....

"In Seven Days" isn't much of a piano concerto. Nicolas Hodges was the exciting soloist, but the orchestral writing was so spectacular that he became mostly part of the mix. And spellbinding as was Rosner's abstract imagery, presented on six screens, he now and then fell victim to the music and mimicked it too closely.

But then Rosner has merely succumbed to the same temptation that many of us find increasingly hard to resist. Full of the life of our own times yet so rooted in the past that it feels like family, Adès' music operates on so many different parts of the brain at once that it overpowers critical faculties.

Brightly bopping scores tickle the pleasure centers. Ingenious counterpoint stimulates the logic-leaning synapses of the left brain. Musical fantasy and illogic mess with the right brain. By this point, who has a enough gray matter left for anything else?
Lord, after the tired mess that was the LAOpera's Tosca (sample JW quote: "What a bunch of hoary old singing that was!"), this was just what I needed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hanif Kureishi in the Guardian

He starts off by comparing writing programs in universities to mental hospitals, and it only gets more curmudgeonly from there. I think I love this guy.

The whole article is here, but my favorite passage is below:

Kureishi revealed that he will be returning to the stage to workshop his novel The Black Album at the National Theatre. Of working in the theatre, he said: "It gets you out of the house, and then you start to hate the people. And then you can go back and sit in a room and write."

He recalled his early job at the Royal Court Theatre reading scripts when David Hare, Christopher Hampton and Lindsay Anderson were Court stalwarts. "I was fired from the Royal Court," he said. "They said I was being too horrible about the work of these great playwrights."

Kureishi also said that when he goes to his desk each morning to commence writing, he thinks to himself: "Why am I doing this? Shall I commit suicide?"
Hat tip, The Elegant Variation.

Fell Swooper gets good review in LATimes

And it's not even buried in the Friday Theaterbeat section! Jeanette Scherrer's March On, Dream Normal is at Lucid by Proxy and I recommend it, even if I haven't seen it yet. I read it, so my rec is not for nothing.

But back to the review. Here's a sample:

Directed with detached serenity by the playwright and Patty Ramsey, the story accumulates an unexpected power. Jim's worsening trauma is embodied by a ghostly drill sergeant (Luke Massy) who has taken up residence in his bedroom. His spectral presence suggests a kind of haunting -- the war is no longer just a faraway abstraction but a domestic issue as well....

[T]]he play's anti-dramatic aesthetic successfully avoids most cliches, achieving a documentary-like objectivity and an almost spiritual level of intimacy.
The whole piece is here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Laramie Project in Burbank

There's a fun article in today's LATimes about a group of high schoolers bucking the system to stage The Laramie Project whether their principal likes it or not. And they even turned the principal around. Here's a quote:

Among the supporters now is their principal, who about a month ago told the students they could rehearse at school -- and who now says he'd like to see a school production of "The Laramie Project" next year. [Principal] Urioste says seeing their commitment led to his change of heart. The students note that Urioste appears to have gotten a nudge from Stephen Jimenez, who administers a Los Angeles Unified School District program addressing the problems of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Jimenez wouldn't discuss his conversations with Urioste; the principal said they had "a very good dialogue" that helped him see the matter differently.
The whole article is here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I've been scolded

for not writing anything about my New York experience. I'm going to do it in parts; I wrote the whole thing in one long post but it got kind of unwieldy. They're below.

Oh, and P.S. -- If you're in New York and I missed seeing you, I'm sorry! It was a super busy weekend and I crammed in as much as I could. I'm sure there will be a next time soon.

NYC: Thursday

The redeye sucks, Park Slope is darling, and why am I not more exhausted?

I made it into Newark sometime before 7am and then took a train into Penn Station. After that I made it to Park Slope without too much bumbling so that I could meet my friend Trista at the pastry shop where she works in Park Slope. It was a sunny day and it made me wish I weren't toting my bags for the weekend so I could enjoy how nice the neighborhood was.

Trista gave me the keys to her place so I could go check out her cute apartment in Prospect Heights, then I did some ironing before making my way into the city to meet my director for the Lark Roundtable reading of Customary Monsters. The reading was a big success, and starred fellow Hendrix alum and general New York theater hotshot Ashlie Atkinson as Hannah. Kevin came to the reading as well, and we went out for a late dinner at Vinyl after so I could use the Cher bathroom.

NYC: Friday

Soaked to the bone, Patti Smith = Frida Kahlo?, and Passing Strange is my new hero.

Friday was the rainy day; I had to tote my bags from Brooklyn Heights to Jersey City so that I could meet up with my host for the rest of the weekend. He took the day off to run around with me, although we parted ways for much of the afternoon so he could spend some time with another of our mutual Hendrix friends, Ms. Jenny W.

I had lunch with Mr. Excitement News; we had a nice chat and talked theater and politics, which I think is the name of another theater blog but never mind. After that I had to duck into a store to get a rain jacket; thank goodness I picked one with a hood because my umbrella stopped working somewhere around the Cooper Hewitt Museum. I had darted over there to speed through the Rococo show and pick up the catalog for JW. The Cindy Sherman soup tureen was my favorite.

Someone named Eva Heyd took that photo; the one I saw was pink, but you get the idea. Sorry the pic's so small, but that's Sherman dressed as the Madame de Pompadour.

After that I put my hood up on my windbreaker and darted down to the Whitney to see the Biennial and the Mapplethorpe Polaroids exhibits. Trista's hubby Matt, Kevin, and my friend Michael met up with me to see. There were a handful of edgy portraits of Patti Smith in the Mapplethorpe show, which led Michael to mention hearing Smith state that she modeled her relationship with him on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Kevin called bullshit on her for that; I was mainly just confused. Mapplethorpe as Diego Rivera? In what universe does that correlation make sense? Regardless, I wanted to take home the three-Polaroid nude portrait of Mapplethorpe that was obscured by faux-barbed wire and framed by a purple-painted paper bag. Too cool for words.

My favorite Biennial artists are here here and here.

After that it was on to Passing Strange, which was a joy just about from start to finish. Kevin and I were getting the spirit right along with them during the church scene, and there were several other sequences throughout that did the same for me; all of those extended waves of music were just exhilarating. The piece was so intelligently made, too; all the different ways the "passing" motif reverberates through the show. I hope it wins all the Tonys and everyone goes to see it.

NYC: Saturday

Brunch with Cher at Odeon, August: Osage County is as good as they say it is, and fun with prompters.

You do realize that Cher is inescapable, don't you? She was waiting for me in the bathroom at Vinyl on Thursday night, and was much the topic of discussion over brunch at Odeon, as Kevin insisted was eat there because of its notoriety as the alleged site of her liquid meals after her pre-Moonstruck dental transformation. This only led to Kevin's reiterating the importance of her incisors in shutting her out of the Oscar for Silkwood. Does this explain Mask too, Kevin? I'm unclear of the timeline here.

After that it was time to meet Matt and Trista for August: Osage County. How satisfying is that little monster of a play? I'm so glad to have finally seen it so I can stop being jealous of all you other people who saw it before me.

Then Kevin and I ran to the Signature because I managed to land the $20 tickets to Edward Albee's Occupant. The most memorable line of the evening was the one that was fed by the prompter: "And then there's death to consider." I guess if it was me onstage I might forget that line too. Since it's in previews I'm not supposed to talk about it, right? Isn't there some kind of blogger's code of ethics I'd be violating if I told you you're not missing much if you sit this one out? I think so. Okay, I won't say anything then.

NYC: Sunday

More brunch, a cop, and finishing Sophie's Choice

I had one brunch left with Kev; we met Jenny and Brooke and some other of their mutual friends someplace on the Upper West Side. I got to meet Brooke's baby and her man, a genuine NYPD sergeant. It's too bad I didn't have a tape recorder. That guy's a riot. Unfortunately there's no Cher connection to be made all day, although I can't imagine she didn't come up in conversation at least once.

After that I made my way to Newark to catch my flight, out of the subways and trains and big shows and old friends. I was relieved that New York was harder for me to romanticize than it has been in past trips; it mainly felt just like another old city to me. Loads to like about it but plenty of grind as well. Pushing through all those people and that spitting rain was great for a change, but imagining myself doing it every day is another matter. Still, I do love navigating the subways and the fun restaurants and all the walking and old buildings. I could definitely see myself there, even if it's starting to sink in that it's no longer the New York of Frank O'Hara's or various other literary fantasies. Maybe it never was.

And L.A. ain't so bad! At least I don't have to spend the day walking around in the rain. I just have to sit in traffic. Oh well.

Oh, and I finally finished Sophie's Choice on the flight back, which was a great relief to me. It was also helpful in anchoring my disappointment with Red Dog Howls at the El Portal on Wednesday night, even if Kathleen Chalfant literally does howl out that hot, crazy monologue at the end. But that's post-New York trip so I'll just leave it at that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When I was in Arkansas

for my 10-year college reunion last month, I saw a church sign on the side of the road and had a small crisis over whether to be late to dinner in order to turn around, pull over, and take a picture with my camera phone. Luckily my sister snapped one and emailed it to me.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I have things to report

One is that you should try and see Hillary Agonistes at Studio/Stage. It's a clever, thoughtful play and it's full of good performances, not the least of which is by one of my favorite L.A. actors, Ms. Rebecca Metz. I found the script by Nick Salamone really interesting, and he's great fun in all the roles he plays.

Two is that you should go see He Asked For It by our friend Erik Patterson at Theatre of Note. It's tough, funny, and daring.

Three is that you should check out IAMA Theatre Company. I saw their production of Leslye Headland's Surfer Girl, featuring Il Bidone alum Sarah Utterback; Headland's play Assistance has gotten good reviews as well. Unfortunately my schedule won't allow me to see that one, but after Surfer Girl, I'm most certainly curious.

All three of those shows are by L.A. writers, by the way. And two of the plays are all or partially L.A.-based. I love that. More premieres by L.A. writers please!

Four is...and this is completely unrelated to theater, but I'm loving that Santogold album.

I'm off to NYC tonight! Chat ya later.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A few things

1. Monday night's reading at Celebration went really well. I had super sharp actors and I even got to direct it, which was quite satisfying. For those of you who didn't get to attend, the world premiere from last spring is on Youtube in two parts: here and here.

2. I gave a little money to Unicef and Episcopal Relief and Development for Myanmar. Feel free to do the same.

3. I've been trying to write a 10-minute play for this festival I'm being considered for, and for some reason I've felt the urge to write a southern play. I got about 6-7 pages, and I even think it kinda works, but just this afternoon I decided to abandon it. It's intended to be a comedy about two sisters, one of whom is trying to fix up the other with the new Episcopal priest named Wanda who she presumes must be a lesbian, because "honestly, how many straight Episcopal priests are there anymore?" Well as you can probably discern from that snippet of dialogue, even if they're a little lavender, these two sisters are basically variations on the brassy southern belle archetype. It felt so hackneyed I just gave up on it. I've written a lot of southern stuff, and I can churn out some characters that sound like they walked out of a Del Shores play or an episode of Designing Women if I want (nothing against either...I am still gay, after all), but I like to think my experience of the south is a little more particular than that.

4. Oh, and tonight I was addressed as "dude" for the second time in a week. This time was by a concierge at a hotel desk. After he had my name in front of him no less. This is almost an exact quote: "Your cell phone's breaking up, dude."

Not to sound like a stick-in-the-mud, but can we ban that word from all discourse that occurs outside of high school hallways and haze-filled dormitories? At the very least, I think customer service professionals should receive proper training on its appropriate usage, which should be never.

5. Off to New York in less than a week! Anything I should check out while I'm there?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A dialogue

between me and David Mamet's new movie Redbelt:

REDBELT: So what'd ya think?

ME: What'd I think? What'd I think about what?

REDBELT: About what? You know what about. About ME.

ME: Oh, well I guess--

REDBELT: What do you guess?

ME: What I'm saying is I--

REDBELT: Spit it out, man.

ME: I decided I'm kind of over David Mamet.

REDBELT: You're OVER David Mamet? Who's OVER--

ME: Well except when it counts, but--

REDBELT: When it COUNTS? When does it count?

ME: The early stuff.

REDBELT: Of course with the early stuff....

ME: And that House of Games.

REDBELT: Yeah, that one's good.

ME: It's just cuz Joe Mantegna--

REDBELT: Joe Mantegna? I got Joe Mantegna!

ME: It's just the DIRECTING!

REDBELT: DIRECTING? Are you saying I'm poorly directed?

ME: I'm saying that the pattery dialogue--

REDBELT: Pattery?

ME: Needs more than the stiff line readings he gets from--

REDBELT: But what about?

ME: About who? Emily Mortimer? Okay fine. She was fine.

REDBELT: Not just her, what about?

ME: Who, the lead?

REDBELT: He has a name! Say his name.

ME: Chiwetel Ejiofor.

REDBELT: Yeah! That guy!

ME: That guy was good too. Mostly.

REDBELT: MOSTLY? MOSTLY? What are you?

ME: And HOT.

REDBELT: HOT? What are you, some kinda?

ME: Oh COME ON, like there's no homoeroticism in your jujitsu shit AT ALL.

REDBELT: Hey man, I dunno what you're talking about.

ME: (laughs) He doesn't know what I'm talking about! HE doesn't KNOW what I'm TALKING about!!

REDBELT: (changing the subject) But Mamet's a--

ME: Mamet's a what? A GENIUS? A MASTER? What is he? Come on! What? What, so you think because he came up with YOU that he must be--

REDBELT: No! I'm not saying! I'm just saying--

ME: What are you saying?

REDBELT: I'm just saying that I'm, you know, I mean, for a genre movie--

ME: Oh, genre? Genre? So you're a genre movie? So you're all film school now?

REDBELT: Fuck film school! You think you know film school? You think cuz you're what? Some kinda BLOGGER, you can talk to me like you know what I think? Cuz what I think is I'm a kickass genre film by some smart tough guy from--

ME: Tough guy? Tough guy? Tough guy playwright? A PLAYWRIGHT?

REDBELT: Hell YEAH a playwright!

ME: Tough guy playwright my ass.

REDBELT: Plus I've got all those twists and turns and--

ME: Twists and turns! Hah! A bunch of loose ends plus a coincidence or two is all you got. And what was with that lawyer and the pills and the pharmacy and--

REDBELT: She's TROUBLED! And with the drinking and smoking and jumping around and--

ME: Okay, so fine, so--

REDBELT: So come on, I wasn't THAT bad, was I?

(beat.)

ME: You do have Tim Allen getting his ass beat.

REDBELT: And DRUNK. Tim Allen DRUNK the whole movie and getting his ass beat.

ME: Yeah, but all that moral code stuff, all that--

REDBELT: THERE'S ALWAYS AN ESCAPE, man. Deep stuff! Admit it.

ME: Admit what? What does that? I mean, what does that even MEAN?

REDBELT: It means you can deflect or you can engage man, but there's no point in opposing my butch ass.

I highly recommend

The Lost Plays of Tennessee Williams at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center Davidson/Valenti Theatre. A link for more info is here.

JW and I saw the evening last night. It's a collection of three "recently discovered one-acts," but the real treat of the evening is the final play and Williams' most overtly gay play, "And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens."

I read this play back during my temping days when I was concerned about money. In those days I used to go to Barnes and Noble, buy a cup of coffee, and pull a play off a shelf to read and return when I was finished. Now I wish I'd bought it, and I'll surely do so.

When I read it, I remember being struck by the matter-of-fact presentation of these gay characters and its lack of excessive sentimentality. I say "excessive," because, come on, it is Tennessee Williams, after all. Still, seeing it last night I felt a certain proud defiance in the main character's reading of his upstairs neighbor's "lovely poem" about queer life. These were not the weepy, self-pitying queens you might expect in a play written in 1959. There were the typical concerns of such a play, loss of youth and beauty, struggling in vain to maintain a fantasy in a marginalized culture, but there's not much tiresome self-pitying or self-loathing to muck up the proceedings. If it's dated, it's gorgeously, fascinatingly so.

It's also great to see the classic Williams animal / artifice dichotomy played out by a man in drag after he's picked up a sailor for rough trade. As much as I love Streetcar, seeing its themes play out so free of the coding that his masterpiece required for the masses is refreshing, to say the least.

The production is solid too, with funny, balanced performances that manage neither to overdo the familiar Williams emotionalism nor to neglect the quite intentional camp of the piece. I guess you could overdo its camp elements as well, but not to worry. They got the tone of this show just right. The trickiest performance of the show goes to Chris Rydell, who plays Karl the sailor. As I watched I was imagining the rehearsal process and the challenge it must've been to work out his odd, closety shifts in intention. It's all there in the text, but I'm sure it took some work, and it definitely shows.

Anyway, go check it out! I think it's playing through June.

Friday, May 02, 2008

More of Hayes Carll in the LATimes

There's a nice feature article about Hayes Carll in today's Times. Holly Gleason calls him "one of the most talked about emerging artists in the country arena," and "one of the must-see performers at this weekend's Stagecoach Festival at the Empire Polo Field in Indio." Here's a longer bit from her article:

After graduating from Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., Carll fell in love with the work of the Beat writers and the music of John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Todd Snider and was inspired by daydreams of life as a wandering folkie. "There's a certain magic to the life," he says. "I had to be part of it, whether writing, traveling, drifting or exploring."

Those explorations took him to the entertainment low-water of Crystal Beach, Texas, where, with a handful of original songs, he staked his claim. "It's a long way to here from there," he says. "Asking to play for free to three shrimpers, taking it one show at a time. It was fierce: me and the karaoke guy, battling it out for the entertainment dollar in Crystal Beach. They'd run food specials at my bar: All You Can Eat Fried Chicken and Hayes Carll, $4.99."
The whole article is here.