Apr 28, 2006

"I" Has It

One of my first editors had a ban on the first-person in reviews—the "I-gasm," he called it. In principal I agreed with him, and in general I try to avoid it except when the alternative is the ghastly "one" (as in "one feels" or "one wonders"), and the presumptive "we" or "you" often gets to be, well, presumptive. I thought of this when I read Charles McNulty's review of The Black Rider, which contains this long first-person reminiscence:
I owe Wilson for some of the most spectacularly beautiful moments I've had in a theater; I also owe him for some of the dullest.

"Einstein on the Beach," his groundbreaking collaboration with Philip Glass, will always be a watershed moment in my theatergoing, as surely as it has been a landmark for the late-20th-century avant-garde. But I've felt increasingly impatient during my last few encounters with Wilson's work. I loathed "The Days Before: Death, Destruction & Detroit III," his distastefully fanciful collage on apocalypse that left me grumpily catatonic. Nor was I an admirer of his exquisite but shallow handling of Büchner's "Woyzeck" (at UCLA Live in 2002) or his soporific fantasia of Strindberg's surreal and apparently unplayable "A Dream Play." Trusted friends told me that I would have thought more of his "Madama Butterfly," which I caught earlier this season at the Los Angeles Opera, had I experienced it during its freshly minted American premiere here in 2004.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I'm not exactly a member of Wilson's cult. Yet I have a weird lingering fondness for "Black Rider," which was first introduced to me 15 years ago on video by an Austrian dramaturge who saw the work's premiere in Hamburg in 1990 and who delighted in the fretful European concern over whether this darkly fun expressionistic cartoon could (perish the thought) be considered kitsch...

Frankly, I find this to be some of the most lively writing he's done for The Los Angeles Times, and it shows a heartening confidence on the part of his editors to let him digress this way. I look forward to more.

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