Friday, January 29, 2010

Bonus bobrauschenbergamerica post

I just had to add my favorite speech from the play.

When I was sixteen my grandmother had to be put into a home. My grandmother had terrorized my mother and uncle for so many years it was difficult to feel much in the way of empathy or compassion or love for her. But I related to her in one way. We shared a real passion for the color red. My grandmother's house was a museum. She collected cut Italian colored glass decanters and glasses. Each object uniquely shaped. Colors rich. I valued those objects deeply. I wanted to play with them, to make new shapes of them, to make new surfaces for them. I wanted to smash them and see what they looked like as heaps, to see how light played on their shattered surfaces. My grandmother always wore a large rectangular ruby pendant on a gold chain. I dreamed of having that one day. Of having that color. When my grandmother died I asked what became of the ruby. It turned out she had gone into the home years before and everything was sold at a yard sale. The objects she collected--beautiful objects--all discarded. Thrown out. No one wanted them. Cast off. I would have preferred to smash them against brick walls to see what they might have become.

Well, art was not a part of our lives.

bobrauschenbergamerica at [Inside] The Ford

I read this play very soon after hearing about Charles Mee presenting it at Humana way back in 2001 (you can too, of course, by clicking here). At the time I'd had a passing understanding of Robert Rauschenberg's work but I don't recall how much I'd actually seen. Mee was very much in vogue at the time; a director friend of mine was obsessed with Big Love and determined to stage it somewhere. Mee's website seemed innovative as well, with him offering complete access to his plays on the internet. It was a real treat to read about a play premiering in some other state and then be able to click on the author's website and read the whole thing. I even taught another of his plays, First Love, in a playwriting class. I wrote the web address on the chalkboard and told the students to read that for the next class discussion.

That said, I've always been ambivalent about his plays; there are luminous bits of writing in them, and the spirit of play is always at the forefront, making performance an adventure. They're also somewhat confounding to me -- bursting at the seams in such a heady pastiche I often have trouble getting my bearings.

I'm sure that's how I felt when I read bobrauschenbergamerica the first time. The only thing I could remember from reading the text was the funny/scary speech towards the end of the script by the Pizza Delivery Guy; it made such an impact I suggested an actor friend check it out for an audition monologue.

I can happily say that I felt no such ambivalence about the play upon seeing it last night. We have the comprehensive MOCA exhibition from 2006, Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, to thank for that.

JW and I saw that show to the point of exhaustion. We went multiple times, by ourselves, together; I remember taking friends on at least two occasions. I don't know that we were exactly obsessed, but it just seemed at the time like such a necessary event. Are you visiting from out-of-town? Hey, look! There's the Hollywood Sign! And of course we HAVE to see the Rauschenberg show at MOCA.

(God I just felt like Ouisa from Six Degrees of Separation as I typed that.)

In all seriousness, though, it really did feel like required viewing, and in those multiple viewings I was able to get a strong sense of both the artist's personal history and some of the recurring motifs. It's actually too bad The SpyAnts had to wait over three years after the exhibit to present the play (apparently they've been trying to get the rights for eight years); a pairing of the two would be a perfect all-day cultural event.

It was with that memory of the 2006 exhibit that I sat down to watch bobrauschenbergamerica, and I was richly rewarded by the experience. The playwright seems a perfect match for his subject; his pastiche style melds with the artist's, and he clearly knows his stuff. Watching the show felt very much like viewing a collection of the artist's work; themes echo through the piece, with comic bird (specifically chicken) references providing laughs as well as more serious metaphors for flight (both found in Rauschenberg's combines). Those in turn complement the clumsily committed dancing of Carl (Mark Slater, who plays the closest thing to a Rauschenberg stand-in I can find in the production, complete with a lovely Texas accent), which evokes the gentle, messy whimsy of his art while reminding of the working relationship between Rauschenberg and dance legend Merce Cunningham. Sweet (and bittersweet) monologues from a character named Bob's Mom (Mari Marks, who gave just about my favorite performance in the show) evoke literal biography in homey, super-specific ways, serving more to provide the "America" that produced the artist than educate us on his early life.

This America is what the play is all about, as the title suggests. Characters appear as archetypes as much as they do expressions of American individualism; homoeroticism is accentuated not just for its biographical resonance but as another of its expressions. It's a 20th-century America, to be sure (even if Walt Whitman is included), what with the duality of wonder and terror found in scientist Allen's monologues about the future, the stars, and Los Alamos.

After I typed this, I clicked over to the webpage where the script was located; I'd scrolled down to look for a pertinent passage from Allen and left it where it was, and when I clicked back I read below it and found this stage direction from Mee:

A country music song slams into the piece--
remember what country music does, how american it is, how it adds automatically themes of love, betrayal, a hundred story lines enter the piece with country music
I love that.

And I loved bobrauschenbergamerica. It's not without its flaws. It might frustrate more traditional theater-goers. But I don't know. As non-linear and seemingly chaotic as it is, it's also familiar, ingratiating, exuberant. Bart DeLorenzo made some strong directorial choices with the piece -- the most interesting being his turning of this stage direction --

Carl dives over and over again into a pile of laundry
while we hear an operatic aria. After a while, Carl exits.
-- into a homoerotic dance of longing and exposure, with Carl caressing a man's shirt as Bob's Mom looks on, unseen by him. This is just one of the many ways in which Carl seems a stand-in for the artist, a choice that, if not entirely implicit in the text, makes perfect sense in this show. It's just one of the ways DeLorenzo brings added layers of meaning to the play (as Mee encourages in his text), and it makes for a nice balance of wildness and pathos, playfulness and seriousness, all abundant in Rauschenberg's work and welcome in this tribute to him.

I recommend anyone who saw that MOCA show go check out this play. If you didn't make it to that, go to MOCA's new show, MOCA's First Thirty Years, and then go. I think LACMA also has his work up in the Broad, so you could check it out there as well.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

City Lights

A real highlight of last weekend's SF trip was my long-delayed return to City Lights Books. The last time I was there was during my first trip to San Francisco way back in 2001. I was attending the wedding of a friend in Berkeley and took half a day out of my weekend to make the trek into the city by myself and see as much as I could.

I remember being knee deep in research for my thesis play, War and Jim, reading everything I could about the New York School of Poets; on the plane from Pittsburgh, I had burned through the first chapters of of the CMU Library's copy of Brad Gooch's biography of O'Hara, City Poet, taking a special pleasure in the passages about his time in the city as a young man in the Navy.

An aside: I just pulled out my copy of City Poet to find something pertinent to add here. There's a bit about a short story he wrote as a student called "Lament and Chastisement," that contains a description of San Francisco--
and there was the fresh old city, gauche and precious, wide avenues, tiny streets, hills and troughs for cable cars, there was wind blowing, the scent of lavender, and snow in the air.
Another aside: my copy of the biography is a treasured gift; a gently used volume, carefully and thankfully wrapped in mylar. Just moments ago on consulting the book for this post I saw something I'd never noticed before. Written in pencil on the top right hand corner of the first page, "Happy 30th Kyle! Love Matt and Trista."

Back to City Lights: when I got there on that day in 2001 and discovered they had such a spacious, welcoming poetry room, I felt like I'd stumbled onto a treasure chest; I remember staying up there for a long time, browsing and reading and picking out at least one O'Hara book to take home with me.

Last Sunday I rushed up there even quicker, remembering it fondly and wondering how many things I'd want to take home with me. The first thing on my list was something by at least one of the Dickman brothers, who had that great profile in the New Yorker last spring. I managed to get copies of each of their first books.

I really hit the jackpot with a signed edition of Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems by Frank O'Hara's friend, subject, and collaborator, Bill Berkson. That purchase has stimulated a lot more dipping into the biography, along with the collected poems, just to remind myself of that history.

Edmund White's bio of Rimbaud was calling out to me as well; I walked around with it for a long time before finally using the "I'm supporting independent bookstores!" justification to add it to the stack. To feel further justified, I made it through over half of it in the car on the way back, reading occasional passages aloud to JW when they got excessively scandalous.

It's nice to reconnect to poetry, especially in a bookstore that gives so much space to it. I had so much fun I added a postcard souvenir to my already abundant bounty; it's a darling photo of Ginsberg and Orlovsky; I found a version of it online for you:

It is the birthplace of the Beats, after all!

SF weekend

JW and I took a last-minute trip to San Francisco last weekend to escape from the rain. Wait, what did I just type there?

It actually worked, more or less. Saturday afternoon was even gorgeous, as evidenced in this photo taken from Sausalito.

We did have some grayness, as well, but it seems appropriate for a tour of Alcatraz. Here's a shot of JW enjoying the view from the ferry.

I'm proud of a couple of pictures I took at Alcatraz. Here's one of the warden's house (or what remains of it):

And here's one of the wildlife:

Monday, January 18, 2010

This made me laugh

JW and I went to the LAPhil on Saturday for Strauss and Sibelius conducted by Lorin Maazel. It was an eventful night at the symphony, with a young bookish type booing the poor soloist from the benches. I don't know about you but I always feel well-equipped to stand in judgment of a singer's performance when I'm sitting behind her with dozens of instrumentalists between us.

But I digress. My favorite piece of the night was a suite from Der Rosenkavalier; I was just reading Mark Swed's review of the concert, and this is what he had to say about that music--
The “Rosenkavalier” Suite is of dubious provenance. Most likely it was arranged in 1945 by Artur Rodzinski, a former music director of the L.A. and New York philharmonics. But Maazel likes this orchestral tour of operatic highlights; he conducted it with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Orange County in 2003, and he began the program Friday with an extreme, epic performance that mixed vulgarity with a sentimentality that could annoyingly break down a listener’s defenses.
Vulgar and sentimental. Of course it was my favorite.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Going to Photo L.A. with Brandy in Santa Monica today.

Going to LAPhil with JW downtown for Strauss and Sibelius tonight.

In between we'll be making time for Wurstkuche!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Here's a Red Cross link.

Here's an ERD link.

And of course you can text HAITI to 90999 for a $10 Red Cross donation.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Liveblogging Prop 8

I got sucked into reading this earlier today. I imagine anyone who has any interest has probably found it already but it's definitely worth following. Check it out.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

This makes me sad

The LATimes reports today on Dragstrip 66 ends taking its final bow this Saturday. It was one of those things in L.A. I kept wanting to do and putting off.
Equally inspired by high fashion and lowbrow art, Dragstrip 66 carved out a niche for those who liked their night life tempo somewhere between a John Waters film, a Bob Mackie fashion show and a drunken punk dance party. It became a who's who of the alternative/queer performance art scene; Jackie Beat, Joey Arias, Varla Jean Merman, Chi Chi LaRue and Jer Ber Jones all graced its stage.


Jackie Beat remembers: "It was also messy and monstrous in a way that plucked and tanned WeHo would never tolerate, so even within the gay community it felt somewhat subversive."


"It was like Stonewall meeting Warhol meeting the Sunset Strip meeting Haight-Ashbury all in the aftermath of an AIDS-plagued decade," says [Scott] Craig, co-owner of Akbar. "We were happy to party. We needed to party."
The article is here.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Our friend K in the LAT

Woke up to see a nice profile of our friend K in the LATimes this morning regarding his new book of photos, East of West L.A. Here's a sample.
[Kevin] McCollister attended Ohio University and arrived in Los Angeles 20 years ago via Boston. The former deck hand on the Mississippi’s Delta Queen steamboat began taking photos as a modest enterprise for a photo blog in 2005 to show pictures of L.A. to his brother living in Taiwan, and the project grew from there.

He notes poets Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams as the biggest influences on his craft. The project was originally conceived as a book of verse, but during the two-year period, Kevin, who lives on the east side of the Westside, began taking photos and stopped writing.

"Kevin’s poems are now his photographs," said [publisher Brooks] Roddan. "People don’t know the real wonders of this city," he added, hoping that the photos will pique people’s curiosity to get out and explore other neighborhoods.
There was a release party and book-signing last month and I was sick about having to miss it. Will there be other events, K? Should I order online?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Wayne Thiebaud at PMCA

You have just about a month to see a gorgeous exhibition of a major American painter. JW and I traipsed up to Pasadena today to check out Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. We've always been fans of his particular style of pop art -- vibrantly colored, painterly depictions of mass market kitch -- but this exhibit shows a lot more than that, from arresting portraits to unusual landscapes and cityscapes. It's a rich, satisfying show, and well worth a trip.

This was my second visit to PMCA, and it did much to cement my fandom. It's a small museum, but both times I've visited there were three stellar shows on view (the other two currently on view are here and here). It's also right next door to the Pacific Asia Museum and Vroman's Bookstore, so one could easily make an afternoon of it.