Monday, November 30, 2009

an Albee post

Matthew Freeman turned me on to a little bit of writing online about Edward Albee. His post is here, and all based on a blog post an Australian writer named Laura Parker wrote about hearing Albee speak and thinking the 80-something playwright sounded like an "old fogey."

One of the things I love about Albee is that every time he opens his mouth, there's always someone making hay out of what he says about theater -- fidelity to the text, directors as servants of the text, text text and more text, etc. -- who seems unaware that he's been saying all these things for decades. Who then goes on to use a headline like "Who's afraid of Edward Albee?" Never mind.

And then other bloggers have to go on about it too. And then there are the bloggers who blog about the bloggers who blog about Albee. And then there's me, blogging about the bloggers who blog about the bloggers who blog about Albee. And so goes the theater blogosphere, I suppose.

That's all well and good, but as far as I'm concerned, the big story is the LaBute-worthy screed that playwright Bruce Norris adds to the comments of Parker's original post. Seriously, click on that link. I'll even give it to you again. Here.

Even if I've heard all that before too, it's nice to read one of the new guys getting feisty.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hope everyone

had a nice Thanksgiving. I've had all sorts of things to post about but the holiday kind of got in the way.

Well two things...I had two things to post about.

Not one to let some trash talk about rock royalty scare me away, I went to see Fiery Furnaces down the street from me at the El Rey. Again the talent was selling the merch, which kinda spooked me, but I made myself go buy a t-shirt from Eleanor. I told her to break a leg! Didn't think to have her sign my ticket stub until after I'd walked away. Was bummed about that, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the show. All they have to do is play "Chris Michaels" and I walk away satisfied, but they did some songs from Bitter Tea, which I have a special place in my heart for.

After that I shifted gears and saw Tamerlano at LAOpera, which was just gorgeous, in spite of whatever lazy critics like this guy might think of it. Regardless of Domingo's face on all the posters, director Chas Rader-Shieber was the real star of this production, along with counter-tenor Bejun Mehta in the title role. The sets and lighting were sleek, stark and intelligent, framing the action with intensity and simplicity, and activating an opera that, with all its plot, could seem like an endless procession of static arias in lesser hands. If someone had told me I'd have spent much of the evening watching a parade of singers take the stage alone and sing, one after another, for over three hours, I'd have tried to bail on the whole thing, but it really didn't feel like that at all with this show. I hope we get more productions by Rader-Shieber, and I hope we get more Bejun Mehta as well. There's nothing quite like a counter-tenor with macho swagger. Not to mention precision and exuberance.

Today I'm off to see the Globe's production of Love's Labor's Lost at the Broad Stage. More on that later.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I saw

Precious over the weekend. I don't have too much to add to all the hype about the movie, except that I did enjoy it and was frequently moved and devastated by the whole thing.

One of the things I imagine will get lost in all the praise of the powerhouse performances and the tough subject matter is how full it is of all these nicely observed small, quiet, human moments. I loved the matter-of-fact way that Sherri Shepherd's character, a school secretary called Cornrows, treated 16-year-old Precious when Precious walked into her new school and explained about her little girl and her pregnancy -- all business, as if she'd seen girls like her a million times before, but decent, too, without the kind of parental alarmism seen from the principal's character at the top of the show. You get a sense that she can relate to the teenager in a way that Principal Lichtenstein, for all her concern, really can't.

Soon after that Paula Patton has one of my favorite moments in the whole movie. She plays Precious' teacher, Ms. Rain, and she discovers Precious sick and sitting in a waiting room in her new school just as class is about to start. Ms. Rain walks down the hallway into the lobby, buys a soda, and in an attempt at no-nonsense urban teacher cool, tells her "time's a wastin," then walks out of the lobby and back down the hallway. When she realizes the student isn't following her, she stops, knowing her tactic failed. We get a moment of the Ms. Rain planning her next attempt, unsure how to handle this new wild card in her class. In that pause we get a huge amount of information about that character -- her compassion, her frustration, her uncertainty -- until she finally gives in and says something like "my door closes in 2 minutes," and retreats to tend to her class. In the midst of a such a raw movie with such high-drama melodramatic scenes and speeches, it's a thoughtfully observed, quiet moment, full of authenticity and sweetness. It immediately endeared me to Ms. Rain and set things up for a warm and important relationship in the main character's life.

Friday Night Footlights

I went on Friday to a reading of several pages from my friend Katherine's new play, Sonny and Mac, presented as part of the Dramatists Guild's program called Friday Night Footlights. It was a special night, as we had some visiting dignitaries from the Big Apple in the form of Gary Garrison and Roland Tec. I got to say hello to Gary and we talked for a bit about Milan, which was nice. I thought about asking Roland about this, but thought it might have been ill-advised.

It's a good program for us members; I presented a couple of short plays through there last year, one of which was a first draft that has since turned into my latest full-length play, currently named Bumblef**k, AR. Writers get 90 minutes to do whatever they want, and I imagine I'll be signing up for another one in the future. Possibly for a new play of mine with profanity in the title.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Joey Arias and Basil Twist

On Thursday night I saw Arias with a Twist at REDCAT, which is exactly the kind of drag show that I always long for. Does this kind of drag exist in Los Angeles? The kind where the queens don't lip sync, but actually sing? The kind where wild theatricality combines with camp mayhem for a ride that's more than just hair, dresses, and pageantry?

Don't get me wrong; under the right circumstances, a night with the girls at Le Barcito can be just what the doctor ordered, but I've always imagined there was more to drag than what I was constantly being exposed to. In fact I knew there was, starting with Hedwig, Kiki and Herb, and the like. Is it a New York thing? I feel like it's not just that, but a New-York-In-The-80's-and-90s thing, which is apparently where Joey Arias got his start. I was completely clueless about his career until I mentioned a curiosity about this show to my friend Vasanti, who got excited and told me about seeing Arias at Here in the 90s in New York and how great it all was. She seemed a little nostalgic as she described those times. The good news is, while this show might be very New York (right down to evoking Godzilla in a cardboard cityscape), and very much a celebration of the work of both Arias and Twist, it doesn't feel stuck in the past.

The show's success is due in part because of Arias' astounding voice -- there are touches of Tina Turner in it, and of course Billie Holiday (his impersonation is spot-on and a riot), but the power and control of his singing are what impresses me the most about his performance. The Basil Twist puppetry is equally versatile; there is one scene set in a jungle that looks like it could've been a musical number from an episode of The Muppet Show, and then some other crazy mess happens and Arias ends up in Hell alongside towering demon puppets with enormous phalluses that he happily caresses. Those puppets are astounding (phalluses or no). They're Bunraku in style, with puppeteers all in black manipulating them as extensions of their own bodies. It makes for highly flexible figures, towering, lurid, and gorgeous.

The show's greatest success is in how it treats camp and drag with a theatrical seriousness that I wish I could see more often, however full of good humor and joyful silliness it may be. It's technically complicated, visually ambitious, and still light as a feather. I want more!

Arias with a Twist at REDCAT

Go see it. More later.

Monday, November 09, 2009

I know

this post from Modern Art Notes on David Hockney is almost a month old, but I just saw it today. FWL isn't the only blog I have trouble keeping up with these days.

MAN's Tyler Green wrote last month about a recent NYTimes profile of Hockney . He suggests that by omitting a key fact about Hockney's relocation to the U.K. -- that he had to in order to be with his partner, who wasn't allowed in the country by the U.S. government -- the profile hetero-normalizes the artist.

Sounds less like hetero-normativity and more like shoving Hockney back in the closet, but I guess it all boils down to semantics.

This is the money quote:

America's discriminatory policies have driven away the post-war era's most prominent artists -- someone who chose to live here because he loved being in America and who enriched the cultural life of our nation. America's treatment of Hockney, his partner and other men and women who have had to confront a similar circumstance, is a point of national shame, not a meaningless detail to be quietly dismissed.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

My night at Chi Chi's

was a big success. We all had great fun, and I even had a couple of friends from the office show up in prom gowns. They almost upstaged us all, which was just fine with me.

I wish I could've heard more of the pieces but was too busy freaking out in the back trying to make something stageworthy. Composing on the spot based on a handful of writing prompts was stressful; I used one of the prompts to get started and before I knew it I was writing some personal essay about my freshman year in college and my dormmates streaking campus with beer boxes on their heads (I stayed on the sidelines). It wasn't bad, but I did have an audience to think about, so I scrapped that and decided to thicken up my accent for a fun monologue.

The next Chi Chi's Word Parlor will be early next year and the theme is DIRT. Get your essays ready.

On Halloween

Brandy and I went to Echo Park to see Dirty Projectors at the Jensen Rec Center. I walked in and saw the brick and cinder block wall and immediately regretted forgetting my earplugs. Their ear-shattering drums were exciting at first, until the excitement gave way to just flat-out deafening. Brandy turned to me after the first or second song and said "Are you kidding me with that drumset?" I wanted to keep a good attitude, but eventually resorted to shoving bits of cocktail napkins in my ears to survive.

I always feel old when I complain about a loud rock show and forgetting my earplugs. Oh well, I still had a good time, and I've been listening to Bitte Orca almost on a loop ever since, so that should tell you something.

Still, I was quite pleased to find this video on Stereogum of the band playing "No Intention" acoustic. It's a nice counterpoint to the show, and highlights two of my favorite things about the band -- the harmonies from Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle, and Dave Longstreth's trippy way of sliding in and out of falsetto. Check it out.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Chi Chi's Word Parlor

I'm going to be writing/performing tomorrow for Chi Chi's Word Parlor, an evening of music, performance, and personal essays. Tomorrow's theme is PROM. I'll be doing the "Lockdown" portion of the evening, which requires a composition on the spot based on a few writing prompts. I attended a rehearsal yesterday and the material sounded like a lot of fun. Come join us if you can.

It's at 8pm at Atwater Playhouse. The directions are here.

For more info on the evening, check here.