Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My First 2nd Production

A 10-minute play I wrote a few years ago called "A Little Light Roleplay" is part of an evening called 8 Midsummer Quickies every Saturday night through September 4 at Psychic Visions Theatre in Culver City. Check out that website for details.

Congrats

to Leslye Headland on her rave in the NYTimes of Bachelorette, one in a cycle of her plays inspired by The Seven Deadly Sins. Bachelorette is a play that premiered out here in L.A. with her company, IAMA. Maybe its success will poke another hole in the presumption that work coming out of L.A. arrives in New York at a disadvantage with critics and audiences.

Of course now I'm kicking myself for not getting to Bachelorette when it was onstage out here. I saw her Surfer Girl and found it quite interesting. I'll have to get to the next one when it goes up.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sam Shepard on James Gammon

There's a nice memorial by Sam Shepard of the late actor James Gammon at the LATimes Culture Monster blog. Here's a sample:

Sam Shepard first set eyes on his friend James Gammon at the MET Theatre in Los Angeles, a 50-seat house the playwright remembers as “almost like a little hallway.”

...

Gammon, who died Friday at 70 in Costa Mesa, surrounded by his family at the end of his fight with cancer, was once described in the Christian Science Monitor as “the perfect Shepard actor.”

Shepard said he knew that as soon as he saw Gammon enter as the drunk and yelling Weston, the father in the MET’s 1979 West Coast premiere of “Curse of the Starving Class.”

“This guy walked on stage, and it’s as if everybody else in the play disappeared, as if he had stumbled in from an alleyway and just was this character.”

Gammon already had played Weston on a far more prominent stage, New York’s Public Theater, but Shepard says he skipped that production to avoid the Public’s Joe Papp, because “we were like oil and water.” He was playwright in residence at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre when word came that he ought to check out the production at the Met, which Gammon and fellow actors had founded in 1972.

After that, Shepard said, “I wanted him to be in every play I wrote. The guy was a whole atmosphere unto himself, and I always tried to find a place for him. He was very versatile, and could do just about anything. He always added this edge, a scary kind of realism, which I loved. There was some risk in the air. It was the same thing with Ed Harris. They both had this kind of dangerous quality.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Sorrows of Dolores at Outfest

My second Outfest film of the weekend was a campy Charles Ludlam ode to silent film called The Sorrows of Dolores. He apparently shot the footage on a 16-mm home movie camera in bits and pieces over a few years, just improvising story ideas for his heroine, played by his lover, Everett Quinton. It sat in Quinton's closet ever since Ludlam's untimely death in 1987, and was recently dusted off, re-scored and screened in New York. I've always been curious about Ludlam and am ashamed to say I've not read any of his plays. Now I want to do that and read his biography.

Dolores is very much a mixed bag and probably only meaningful to serious Ludlam and/or avant garde/underground film buffs (JW was an incredibly good sport with this one). Still, there are some pretty amazing bits in it; particularly thrilling is a chase scene between Dolores and the dagger-wielding villain through what appears to be some late-70s New York street carnival. It's totally underlit and frenetic, breaking away from the muggy, drag close-ups and silliness and into something much wilder. Oh, and Poulenc came back around with this movie, as Ludlam scores Dolores' taking refuge in a nunnery with "Domine Deus, Rex caelestis," from his Gloria.

They didn't screen the other Ludlam film that's been given the preservation treatment, Museum of Wax, but it's available online. Check it out below. Read an smart article about both films here.





Monday, July 12, 2010

The Adults in the Room at Outfest

I started my Outfest weekend with a thought-provoking movie called called The Adults in the Room, a kind of meta-filmic documentary/feature hybrid about a director named Andy Blubaugh, who writes and shoots an autobiographical film about his adolescent relationship with a 30-year-old man. Blubaugh's sensitive and intelligent and thoughtful; the audience watches him struggle with the implications of filming something so personal, having conversations with friends about what it would mean to his ex, what it means to the teenage performer he's now directing in the role of his younger self. Issues of aging, relationships between adults and youths, the highly gray area that is teenage sexuality, and just trying to move on are all woven into this piece.

You can probably tell from that description just how eggheady it is, which is more than welcome to me. It was a nice way for me to start off this festival, considering that last year my big Outfest documentaries were pretty much solely about rentboys. There's certainly a place for that kind of work, but I just loved seeing all these bearded Portland intellectual thirtysomethings. More please.

The movie really struck a chord, in part because I wrote a play a few years back that I essentially abandoned a couple of drafts in, taking a meta-theatrical approach as an attempt to make some sense out of a relationship. Documentary obviously offers a different set of opportunities to explore the conceit than theater does, and I loved the nuances that he seems to be discovering about the movie he's making as he makes it, particularly the sense that as a director to an underage actor he fears he was taking on the dominant role of the older lover somehow, even if only by proxy. It's one of those things that's never entirely articulated, but still very much in the fabric of the process, and it highlights the uneasy relationship Blubaugh still seems to have, both with young people and with his own past.

The movie is also resonant in light of some of the issues of exploitation I wrote about last week, as it's all about that -- beginning with the literal exploitation of a minor, then layered with an artist's exploitation of his own experience and the people in his life. These themes seem somewhat superficially linked at first glance, but they complement each other in a moving way. The exploitation we see of young Andy isn't necessarily violent or disturbing; it's complicated, often tender, and often driven by his own desire, yet it follows him well into his adult life. He seems paralyzed by this past; his own friends point out that his anxiety about his ex's opinion of the film is just one more way that he continues to control him. He's driven to make an artistic expression of both his past and his attempt to come to terms with it. It becomes simultaneously an embrace of the exploitation of himself, his youth, his story, and an expression of reticence about the need to do so. That need obviously prevailed and he got a powerful film out of it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lieutenant of Inishmore

at the Taper is pretty wild. Go check it out.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Poulenc at the Bowl

I was eager to hear Tuesday night's concert of sacred choral music at the Hollywood Bowl, mostly for Poulenc's "Gloria," which I was lucky enough to sing way back in the late 90s in a performance with the Houston Ballet. I've adored the music ever since, and have always had an interest in Poulenc. So much so that he's name-dropped in my play, War and Jim. In an earlier draft, I'd even mentioned the Gloria specifically, until my director requested I change it to the "Stabat Mater" because she wanted to use that music in a later scene. I went with it.

Tuesday night was the first time I'd heard it performed live since I helped perform it, and it really didn't disappoint. The final movement is particularly sublime; it's marvelously lush, especially in the delicate later strains, when the music softens and Jessica Rivera's stunning soprano takes the focus.

Mark Swed's review of the concert is quite nice; I've excerpted his passage about the Poulenc below.
Poulenc’s “Gloria” might well have been Gloria (or the male equivalent), namely a love interest. In this irresistible late score, the chapel butts up against the bistro on the Parisian boulevard. Poulenc’s God is all that is sensual and sentimental, a concoction of incense and sex.

I've scoured Youtube for a good example of the music; this should give you a sense of it.

Steven Leigh Morris on In the Heights and Exploitation

As I was typing up the last post about Larry Rivers and Alice Neel, I was reminded of Steven Leigh Morris' recent review of the tour of In The Heights at The Pantages, in which he spends a little time talking about exploitation, more in a general sense than the familial one. I think it's related, though, as it addresses issues of cultural and ethnic exploitation. He rightly questions how adequate the idea of "authenticity" is as a defense against such accusations. See below for a quote:
If In the Heights had been written by Sondheim, I suspect there would be grumbling about his right to exploit an ethnicity, or a world, from which he wasn't reared. So is it more authentic, or acceptable, if that world is exploited by someone who was reared in it? Are the issues of authenticity and ownership, which have swirled around productions from West Side Story to Miss Saigon, really issues of identity, or of exploitation?
Of course, he ends the review by suggesting something different is being exploited:
This is why those questions of authenticity and exploitation linger. The exploitation isn't so much of the people from Washington Heights, even if the producers gave away tickets to them — the musical could just as easily be coined as an homage. Stories like this don't exploit ethnicity, they exploit the depths of anguish that shape the lives of everybody who's struggling to get by in this tempestuous economy. The fake resolutions and sentimental answers that this musical serves up offer neither veracity nor the kind of hope any intelligent person could believe in.
I can't say I'm entirely convinced that In the Heights doesn't exploit ethnicity, but I'm also not convinced that that's automatically a bad thing. As for exploiting "the depths of anguish" in such a way that "no intelligent person could believe in" it, I just wonder if its fair to assume that all the people cheering for Lin-Manuel Miranda when he took the stage when I saw the show, or who threw award after award at him when it was first produced, are unintelligent. I don't say this be argumentative so much as to wonder why this sort of exploitation -- if that's what it is -- is so welcomed into pop culture if no intelligent person could believe in it.

Just as an aside, if one were to call In the Heights exploitation (ethnic or otherwise), it it seems far less problematic than that which, say, negatively portrays an ethnicity, or in the case of Rivers, emotionally damages one's own children.

Are escapism, sentimentality, and optimism exploitation? Do they prey on our vulnerabilities? These are all reasonable questions, and I have frequently found myself suspicious that they might be. But I also wonder if these qualities provide us with something necessary, no matter how imperfect the package, or how temporary the provisions inside.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Larry Rivers, Alice Neel

Brandy turned me on to this interesting, disturbing article about the archives of artist Larry Rivers and some controversial material involving his daughters. It revisits the fuzzy line between child pornography and...well, I dunno, questionable parenting? General creepiness? Here's a passage:
The archives of the proto-Pop artist Larry Rivers, who died in 2002, will arrive at New York University in a few weeks, filled with correspondence and other documents that depict his relationships with artists like Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol and writers like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery.

But one part of the archive, which was purchased from the Larry Rivers Foundation for an undisclosed price, includes films and videos of his two adolescent daughters, naked or topless, being interviewed by their father about their developing breasts.

One daughter, who said she was pressured to participate, beginning when she was 11, is demanding that the material be removed from the archive and returned to her and her sister.

“I kind of think that a lot of people would be very uptight, or at least a little bit concerned, wondering whether they have in their archives child pornography,” said the daughter, Emma Tamburlini, now 43.

Ms. Tamburlini said the filming contributed to her becoming anorexic at 16. “It wrecked a lot of my life actually,” she said.
More interesting to me than the child pornography question is actually the fraught relationship between the artist and his family. After reading this article, it seems reasonable to assume that Rivers valued his role as an artist more than his role as a father, and the use of his daughters to make an art piece for display (the article later mentions his creation of a 45-minute film that his wife stopped him from exhibiting) reads as both an artist drawing on his life for inspiration, and selfish, insensitive and exploitative (at best). It also just sounds like an embarrassment, but that's beside the point, I guess.

The article reminds me of the fascinating documentary of Alice Neel that was made a few years ago by a grandson of hers, which documents the complicated relationships she had with her children. One segment mentions and displays a rather unsettling nude she painted of her young daughter and questions the appropriateness of her subjecting her children to her exhaustive creative pursuits. I'm inclined to take Neel's efforts way more seriously than Rivers' home movies (or Rivers in general, even). Either way, it doesn't diminish the quality of her art to say that her children suffered because of it.

How do we like

my new look? I spent some time playing around with the Blogger templates and thought this one was interesting. I almost went with red curtains in the background but that seemed obvious.

I may try some others after a while just to shake things up. Just let me know if anything looks too hideous.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Last night I dreamt

that I was Lindsay Lohan's beard. This was odd, because everyone knows we're both gay. Wait, is she gay? Whatever; she's dated women...or at least a woman; that much is known. Anyway, her mother was thrilled about the pairing because she knows what a stabilizing influence I would be (I would). We both expressed our concerns about the Linda Lovelace biopic and had a good cry. Dina is remarkably empathetic, at least in my dreamworld.

I do worry about that girl. I can't help it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Dirty Projectors and Bjork

I read on Stereogum about a brand new, 7-song release from Dirty Projectors and Bjork called Mount Wittenberg Orca and immediately downloaded. It's brand new as of Tuesday, it's stunning and it's for a good cause. I've always found Bjork's voice to be an acquired taste, but she fits perfectly with their close, ethereal, oddly beautiful harmonies. They do things with their voices that give me chills -- the straight tone and slow glissandos, the hocketing they always do. I was going to pass on seeing them when they come back to So Cal in September but now I'm starting to think about tickets again. I'm just nutty about this stuff. A link to purchase is here. Proceeds go to the National Geographic Oceans Society.

Here's a couple of live versions of the songs.