Monday, June 05, 2017

Rauschenberg in The New Yorker

Just back from my PlayLabs reading of Yucca Corridor at The Great Plains Theatre Conference. On the plane I was reading a New Yorker and enjoyed this review by Peter Schjeldahl of a show at MOMA called “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends." Several passages from it made me think, if I was still blogging, I'd post this stuff on FWL. So here goes--
Rauschenberg’s integrity, while unimpeachable, never had much to do with high standards of art. (Johns and Twombly far outshine him in that regard.) It was a commitment to sheer activity, with friends at hand, if not involved.  
He was a performance artist, first and last. You respond to his works not with an absorption in their quality but with a vicarious share in his brainstorming excitement while making them. For a time, momentously, what he did caught a wave of history and drove it farther inland than could otherwise have been the case. But even when he was reduced to being a beachcomber of his own legacy, the world was a better place with him in it than it is without him, now.
Related: I've always been proud of my old post about bobrauschenbergamerica, which you can find here (with a bonus post here).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Play Exchange

I just made a page. Check it out here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I was looking through old draft posts

and saw that I forgot to post this. Or maybe I lost my nerve. Anyway here's a chestnut from last September.

Notes from Arden column about the 99-seat conversation/controversy happening in various online forums is thorough, enlightening reading. Of course one thing sticks out at me as being hilarious--
In 2003, Kendt’s view may have had such validity and influence, he actually got what he asked for, though what appears to be around a 50% drop in 99-seat-theater production between 2003 and 2013 is more likely attributable to the real estate bubble, and how it has caused the cost of commercial leases to soar. Much has been written about the shuttering of established Hollywood-based 99-seat companies such as Open Fist and the Celebration theaters, due to rising real estate costs; before that, also in Hollywood, Unknown Theatre lost is lease, as did Theatre des Artistes. Theater closures due to the sharply escalating costs of leases have also affected North Hollywood, and Rogue Machine, mid-city, is concerned for its future.
Although I fled before its demise, I don't think we only have real estate to blame for Unknown's shuttering.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hello 2015!

I must've seen Sonic Youth play this song during the Washing Machine tour. I went with Sarah all the way to Memphis from central Arkansas in what must've been my sophomore year of college. I first mentioned that show on these pages in 2006 while posting about a show I saw at the Wiltern with Matt.

It's funny that this song should come to mind so much in the past month. P.T. Anderson's amazing Inherent Vice mentions skip tracing constantly, and the song's final refrain, "Hello 2015!" has been ringing in my head for the past few days.

But I haven't seen Sarah since college, Matt's in Brooklyn and Sonic Youth are a thing of the past.

Hello 2015.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Overdue CTG post #2: Luna Gale

I also had every intention of writing about Luna Gale at the Douglas, but I saw it so long ago my memories of it are fading. I saw it right after Thanksgiving, which must be nearing six weeks of history. And as we all know from Serial, no one remembers anything that far back.

Mary Beth Fisher as social worker Caroline Cox in Luna Gale,
giving just about the best stage performance I saw in 2014.
What I do remember is that I found the production both problematic and inspirational, which still made for a pretty satisfying night of theater. Its attitude towards religion was both the problem and the inspiration for me.

Rebecca Gilman is a master playwright, but my experiences of her plays usually involve admiration and irritation in equal measure. Luna Gale is gripping, funny, suspenseful, and overall finely tuned, but its treatment of its fundamentalist characters bothered me in a way that I can't really let go of. The audience didn't seem to share my frustration; the Hollywood Reporter review by Jordan Riefe gets at what I'm talking about so well I wonder if we saw the show on the same night--
There's no doubt who the bad guys are in Luna Gale, a play that had liberals from L.A.'s west side hooting when Caroline turns the tables on her right-wing Christian antagonists.
In fact the audience during my performance started groaning knowingly during the religious grandmother's very first mention of her own faith. Are we really so cynical that the first time a character mentions having religious beliefs, we assume she's a moron or a monster?

One could argue that Gilman wasn't really soliciting that reaction from the audience; the audience brings what it brings, and it would play differently elsewhere than Culver City. But using a world weary social worker as an intro to the religious obstructionists in her play limits our ability to empathize with these characters. (Quick, incomplete plot summary: the fundamentalist grandmother uses her manipulative preacher friend to help her keep her granddaughter out of her drug-addict daughter's care.) And yes, the script does explore all the characters' good intentions and moral failures, and that's a big part of what the play is about. But it also careens into implausibility when the social worker's boss reveals himself as a closet Christian and colludes with the grandmother's preacher to influence the situation. The unethical behavior displayed by these people makes for some thrilling dramaturgy in the howler of a scene Riefe refers to above, but it's either too dramatically good to be believed, or it betrays an extremely low opinion of the religious characters and their actions.

All this is followed by two monologues that add up to a sentiment so on-the-nose it produced my only groan during the play. The specifics escape me, but the meth addict mother describes being high in a lengthy reverie that's echoed in another scene by a religious character delivering the same type of speech about a relationship with Christ. Opiate of the masses and all that. Got it. Thanks.

I'm not about to defend fundamentalist Christian zealots, especially the ones who use politics to advance their moral agendas. But I also -- and this is where the play inspired me -- want to challenge the easy, modern, secular assumption that people who are religious are automatically worthy of suspicion. I've already had to address it in a play I've written with a minister character in it. My stage directions describe him as ethical and every time I've had an actor read it I have to tell the guy, "He's not creepy." I get that there's plenty of reason to jump to these conclusions, but this all got me so worked up that I think all this may be something to explore in my own writing.

Overdue CTG post #1: What The Butler Saw

Not the CTG poster, but the first image that came up on a Google search.
I've had every intention of writing a bit about the recent production of What The Butler Saw at the Mark Taper, but the holidays got the better of me and now it's January 1 and I'm playing catch-up, which I find hilarious since I've been trying to wrap things up here and I can't even do that in an efficient manner.

Seeing the play got me reading Joe Orton's diaries so he's remained in my thoughts and I want to get all this down. I'm an Orton fan from way back, and wouldn't have missed a professional production of his masterpiece for anything. And I was not disappointed. I laughed throughout, marveling at the wit and shimmering wordplay, and of course that ending always does me in, what with the absurd farcical revelations of everyone being related, Winston Churchill's bronze cock being waved triumphantly before the quack shrink Dr. Rance announces "Let us put on our clothes and face the world" and the cast ascends a rope ladder that's dropped through the skylight. I love the final stage direction--
They pick up their clothes and weary, bleeding, drugged and drunk, climb the rope ladder into the blazing light.
Joe Orton

JW and my friend Bertie enjoyed it almost as much as I did. Of course, at the end of the first act, Bertie leaned in at the act break and said something like, "All the rape humor's unfortunate, isn't it?" And I completely agreed. I hesitate to say that it made the play feel dated (for reasons I'll get to in a minute), but it did give me pause.

That said, I read more than one review of the production that called the play out-of-touch. At least one critic wondered why CTG was producing it. More than one review suggested that it was too long because Orton died before he could rewrite, lamenting how unfortunate it was Joe got his brains bashed in before he could tighten the thing up. Such a suggestion is as beside the point as it is factually incorrect. Orton writes in his diaries of making revisions based on the suggestions of Kenneth Halliwell and others. Maybe he would've continued to revise if he'd lived, but who cares? He finished the play, made some revisions, and died. It's not an incomplete work. There's no need to discuss it as such.

I don't think it should come as a shock to anyone that the play was written in 1967. That's pretty well documented. It's old. And yes, the playwright died before the premiere, but to suggest that it would've been better if he hadn't been murdered is like suggesting Tennessee Williams' plays would've been better if he weren't a pill addict. No wait, I think it's worse, since I guess one could argue that Williams' addiction has something to do with his writing, whereas Orton's murder was committed independently of his completion of this play, by someone other than Joe Orton. Sorry to belabor the issue but can we just talk about the production? Can we talk about the actual script instead of some speculative improved script we can't possibly know would exist in the most fortunate of alternate histories?

Okay, back to the rape humor. I'm not so annoyed by calling out that stuff (it is in the actual script, after all), and I'm on board with criticisms of the casual treatment of that subject. But it's also worth noting that the play's victim of improper advances, Geraldine Barclay, is also the play's token innocent. And she's preyed upon, manipulated, and tormented by everyone else in the show. They're all menaces of one sort or another; it's part of the point. I do think the production could've transcended being a merely well-staged English farce into something far more provocative if it had started with that idea as its focus. This production made me want to direct the play so I could do a take on it that treats this idea with the utmost seriousness.

Still, it's really rich to express outrage about a dead playwright being jokey about rape in 1967 when we stage racist, sexist and homophobic work constantly by people with names like, I dunno, Shakespeare? Last I checked it was the director's job to present historical scripts in ways that will make them resonant in today's moral and cultural climate. There are plenty of ideas in Orton's plays that resonate; I don't think any director that's half as clever as he was would have that hard a time keeping his writing relevant.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

I was doing some blogger-vanity-Googling

and discovered that FWL is a source for what looks like a pretty serious book. Granted, it was a commenter's writing instead of mine that was quoted, but it's still gratifying.

The book is Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, by Stephen V. Sprinkle. One of the subjects of the book is Scotty Joe Weaver, who I wrote about in 2006. Click here for my writing on the matter. Weaver was brutally murdered in 2004 in Alabama, a crime I first learned about in the great documentary, Small Town Gay Bar. I'm glad Weaver's story got some attention in a book like this. Nice to know FWL contributed to it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Speaking of Edmund White,

if I had been a little more active on FWL lately I might've written about how moved I was by his first memoir, My Lives, which I finally got around to reading this year, although it's almost a decade old. White is meaningful to me because he's one of the first gay novelists I read after coming out. Kevin gave me a copy of his fine novel, The Beautiful Room is Empty, after we'd had at least one heart-to-heart about what was going on with me. Years later when I mentioned it to him he was confused; he thought I'd given him the book. He's always been much more well-read so I think it's safe to say my version is the correct one.

There's a chapter in the book, "My Master," that is extremely raw and revealing, detailing White's relationship as submissive to a much younger actor (for whom he initially wrote his theatrical riff on Timothy McVeigh and Gore Vidal, Terre Haute), a masculine southern narcissist to whom he refers only as "T." White sets up this scene well; he's a self-described sex addict with a predilection for hustlers. With all his sexual adventures, it's astounding he's managed to make the time for such a rich body of work. What's most impressive to me about the story he tells in "My Master" is the candor and depth of feeling he puts on the page. He mentions at the top of the chapter that he's just had his heart broken by T., and you can really tell. Here's a sample passage, describing his abjection after T and he agree to stop seeing each other for a while--
Forty times a day I checked my e-mail, but never a word. On the train back from Princeton I wept openly, the tears flowing down my cheeks uncontrollably. I didn't have a tissue to blow my nose. No one noticed. If they would have they might have thought I was a grandfather mourning the death of his old wife, not an antique libertine bewailing the loss of a hot hard dick.
His sense of humor is welcome, but after reading this chapter I wanted to find him and give him a comforting hug. The writing in "My Master" is strange, sexy, and surprisingly devastating, and most effective on me because I knew exactly where he was coming from as I read it. It's refreshing to read someone so unreservedly expressing such (some would say unflattering) detail, such vulnerability, and to be so relatable while describing such a transgressive relationship.

Perhaps that's one reason why my brief return to Joe Orton's diaries on the occasion of the Taper's production of What the Butler Saw was so jarring to me. Orton's brief, matter-of-fact descriptions of sexual encounters are equally shocking for their lack of warmth. There are obvious moments -- such as his tricking in Leicester after his mother's funeral, for example -- where you see a sex-as-escape pattern about as plainly as possible, but detachment, or even depersonalization, seems the norm for him.

I suppose I'll always be attracted to literary libertines. But I guess these days I'm more impressed by risk and revelation of an emotional sort.

I might write a little more on What the Butler Saw in a bit.

So yesterday came and went

and where's the self-congratulatory 10-year anniversary post?

Looking back on the first posts of FWL, there's nothing to be exceedingly excited or embarrassed about, nothing poignant or momentous, but there's a funny bit of symmetry in the December 29, 2004 memorial to Susan Sontag, as I've gotten on a bit of a Sontag kick this month. I just finished Edmund White's My Lives and City Boy and, particularly with the final pages of City Boy, I was pretty heavily immersed in Sontag and his friendship and falling out with her. There are so many good passages in his writing about her in City Boy, but here are two of my favorites--
She was a terrible snob. Once I had her to dinner with a beautiful and charming young couple who each eventually went on to write successful novels but who were unknown at the time. Susan said in an embarrassingly loud stage whisper, "Why did you invite them?" I was so vexed that I lied and said, "They're terribly rich." Susan nodded sagely, as if that answered all her doubts.
Once she read something I'd written where I'd carefully ascribed my thoughts to the sources that had inspired me. She said, "Cross all that out. Claim it for yourself. No one will ever notice who said it originally. It weakens your argument to be so scrupulous." Perhaps she was right, but this kind of recklessness got her into trouble later, when she was caught for plagiarizing, word for word, in a few passages of her novel In America.
Then Kevin got me Sigrid Nunez's slim memoir of Sontag, Sempre Susan, which I plan to read on the plane to Arkansas for the holiday. And I have her early journals, Reborn, as well, which I need to get around to.

And just as a fun bonus, here she is in 1992 pretending she doesn't know who Camille Paglia is.