Feb 27, 2007

Who's Afraid of Collaboration?

Over at Parabasis, Isaac Butler muses a lot (just one link in a long daisy chain), and quite transparently and graciously despite his very strong opinions, about intellectual property and the relative creative participation of directors and playwrights in staging new work. I don't personally have a dog in that race, but I was struck by this gauntlet, thrown down in a recent issue of the L.A. Weekly:
The big problem is the assumption that writing a play is a collaborative act. It isn’t. It’s a creative act, and then other people come in. The interpretation should be for the accuracy of what the playwright wrote. Playwrights are expected to have their text changed by actors they never wanted. Directors seem to feel they are as creative as the playwright.

Thus spake Albee. Read the whole thing here.

Raitt Stuff

Producer/impresario Jayson Raitt, an old homie from the L.A. theater scene, gets a nice write-up in Gay City News here.

Naked Self-Promotion

I'm playing with a full band at Galapagos Art Space this coming Friday, March 2 at 8:30 p.m. My opening act at 7:30 p.m. is the multitalented Ward Williams. I recently played at Pete's Candy Store. Documentary evidence of the latter here.

End of plug.

Feb 26, 2007

Don't Mess With Denton

Denton, Texas.

I know next to nothing about this burgh at the northern tip of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area except that it's a college town and that it's not the ultrahip Austin. I mention it because it seems to be the epicenter of an inordinate amount of good music. Really, outside of the anomalous Liverpool, what are the odds of one smallish town birthing two of my favorite bands? Denton is the home base of the once-punkish ethnomusicologists/polka enthusiasts Brave Combo. Through Brave Combo, I became aware of a rich Dallas-area scene that included the gypsy jazz/Western swing of Cafe Noir, the exquisitely honey-voiced yodeling of Randy Erwin, the demented Big Band sound of Little Jack Melody, and others.

Now, suddenly, there's Midlake, whose new record The Trials of Van Occupanther sounds a bit like Radiohead dipped in Fleetwood Mac. In other words, indescribably tasty. I can't quite figure out why their new tour will hit the West Coast and Europe but not New York. Maybe one day soon I'll have to make a trek to the Lone Star State's Northeastern corner and see if there's something in the water there that makes the muses flow. (The city's website has a quaint guide to the local music scene, but alas, Midlake hasn't made the cut.)

Back to Rockville

I don't know what to call The Curse of the Mystic Renaldo The (not a typo), which I saw at 3LD last weekend. Silent-film alt-cabaret? Vaudeville rock? Rockville?

I can roughly describe it as a multimedia work on a rickety, Escher-esque stage that begins as a sort of riff on silent movies and ends as a music gig by the band Psycho the Clown. Between those points stretches a desultory, often digressive, but always fascinating grab bag of vaudeville lazzi, meta-theatrical "mistakes" (with the house crew making "unscripted" appearances), multisurface projections, and straight-up tunes in a slick, prickly-guitared Latin rock vein. Headlining is the thin-moustachioed, Chris Walken-esque Aldo Perez, whose most memorable line, parodying glib singer/songwriters, is probably, "I wrote this song last summer, and I hope you do too," and whose most memorable stage moment may be his playing a wood flute with his nose while wearing a severe dental lip retractor (see above). His cohorts include Richard Ginocchio, with a bottomless deadpan as a bongo-playing valet, and Jenny Lee Mitchell, as a brittle, quizzical windup maid with a sharp, lovely voice.

Is it theater? I don't know. I do suspect that if it dropped about 20 minutes, and/or were a tad more artfully shaped (the director is Victor Weinstock, and--buried the lede here--the Renaldo character was reportedly co-created with Will Eno), this often-inspired hybrid of the oddball, the offhand, and the sinister would pack enough punch that I wouldn't care what it should be called--I'd just urge you to go. As it is, it may be a few flickers short of a reel, but it is uncanny, promising, and well worth the candle.

Feb 23, 2007

Special Skills

A friend who works at the Bronx Zoo just sent me this irreplaceable line from what she called a "grant proposal on elephants":
Activity: Dung decay rate monitoring and on-the-job training.

Shovel not included.

Feb 20, 2007

Slow Build, Big Payoff

I had the immense pleasure of seeing Janacek's Jenufa at the Met over the weekend. Old Leos ranks among my top few favorite composers, and this was his first full-length opera, so while for me it doesn't rest quite as high in the pantheon as Makropulos Case or the ebulliently perverse Cunning Little Vixen (for which I made a special trek to the SF Opera back in 2004), it's still quite a powerful work, and all the more so in my estimation for being a slow-builder.

This is the kind of work that starts slow, stays slow, accumulates details and lets them simmer--then slam-bangs you with a climax that's worth every minute of exposition and seeming indirection that preceded it. At least, that's how it seemed to me--my mind wandered a bit during the first two acts, as they meticulously but rather meanderingly set up the tale of an unwed mother; the bitter peasant who loves her; the rakish cad who, as Elvis Costello would put it, gave her his child but wouldn't give her his name; and her severe, tragically meddling stepmother. But the last act, in which figure a joyless wedding, a dead baby under the ice, a near-stoning, and a beatific act of double forgiveness (sorry for the spoilers) had me on the edge of my seat, and beyond it. I was extaordinarily moved. It certainly didn't hurt that Karita Mattila as Jenufa, Anja Silja as the unyielding Kostelnicka, and Jorma Silvasti as the lumpen Laca were all exquisitely on point, and Jiri Belohlavek's conducting was both stirring and sweeping.

It got me thinking, though, about this slow-build genre. I know there are some major plays in this realm, but when I think of works I've found a bit of a slog to get through but ended up slaying me with their payoff, I can only think of other media: Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies, Gorecki's Third Symphony. Can you, dear readers, think of other works, particularly for the stage, that have this kind of glacial-crawl-to-a-giant-cliff-drop feeling?

Feb 16, 2007

Steam on the Table

In an entertaining interview with Peter O'Toole in this week's Back Stage, the sage thesp starts off with this withering dimissal:
I avoided the Royal Shakespeare Companies and the National Theatres and all that rubbish. I don't like any of them; I have not liked them for half a century...There was a period--a generation, indeed--30-odd years in which the Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre and the Royal Court, all that lot, they were mediocrewhich is unforgivable. Mediocrity is just disgusting. Within the last five, 10 years, they've become bad. And that is such a relief...They've got a very high opinion of themselves. They live in an isolated little community. All it is is a young bunch of mediocrities who are being exploited because they get no money; all the money goes into production or some director's pocket when it's transferred to London.

The interlocutor, clearly stunned, moves on. I don't know how I'd respond myself. There are several sharp, witty comments throughout, but my favorite had to be O'Toole's colorful phrase, which is new to me: "Whether theatre or cinema, acting is what I do for a living. It's how I put steam on the table" (italics mine). Somehow captures the ephemerality of it all, doesn't it?

Feb 9, 2007

Prayers for Uma

Playwright Erik Patterson has just alerted me that one of L.A.'s essential theater actors, Uma Nithipalan, is in a coma after a sudden brain aneurisym a few weeks ago. Signs are apparently positive but Erik is asking religious folks to pray, irreligious folks to think good thoughts, and outright anarchists to commit minor vandalism in Uma's name. I think I'll stop short of that last bit--but having admired Uma's work in Leopold and Loeb: A Goddamn Laff Riot, and particularly her long string of roles at the Evidence Room, from Pentecost to The Cherry Orchard (the picture above is from ER's production of The Blacks, which I regret not having seen), I have no problem with the thinking-good-thoughts approach.

Oh You Know Why

A taste of Doyle's Mahagonny in L.A. Wow.

Feb 5, 2007

Pluto's Not a Planet Anymore Either

Though the style of this musing-at-the-piano is uncomfortably close to the unanswerable Family Guy parody of a few years back (link), I humbly offer this musing from our country's preeminent misanthrope.

Booth Theater

New Yorkers, tell me: I've only been here a year and a half, so can you let me know if it's a common thing to see waiters in greasy-spoon diners change into their uniforms in the dining area, then stow their street clothes under a hollowed-out, easily removable seat at an unoccupied booth? I've now witnessed this odd, humanizing, but rather gritty workplace ritual twice now, in two separate diners in Manhattan. It almost evokes something I've seen in a play--or maybe the line between the stage and public space has blurred so hopelessly in my mind that it just seems that way.

Harold Louis Kendt, 1907-2007

Of the many things to be said about my grandfather, who was just a few months shy of the three-digit birthday when he passed last Friday, the best I can say is that he was among the sunniest, friendliest, most industrious men I've ever known. And that I got at least half of my fashion sense from him.

Seriously, he was a great man, and not least because, in the midst of the rampant white flight from Gary, Indiana, that began in the 1950s, he and his wife Theresa remained lifelong members of St. John's Lutheran on 10th Ave., where both they and my parents were married. By the time they opted to move to a nursing home some years ago, Harold and Theresa were the only remaining white congregants, and proudly and happily so. As a child of lily-white Arizona, the first state to rescind the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I have always been deeply impressed by my Christian grandfather's matter-of-fact, and altogether too rare, living out of Paul's injunction to the Galatians: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." On that, and on so many other counts, Grandpa can rest in God's peace.

Feb 2, 2007

The Pot Thickens

Screenwriter Michael Tolkin contributes an odd and illuminating tribute to Robert Altman, "a misanthrope who loved having people around," and the way a certain recreational drug helped determine his aesthetic. Altman once told me (pardon his French), "I don't give a rat's fuck about plot." Pot, however, he did. Drug angle aside, I particularly liked this quote:
There are directors whose movies are just delivery systems for their self-confidence, in which self-confidence is really the thing that entertains, because it takes a bold confidence to successfully tell a stupid story, and for sure there are useful energies we suck from awful films that begin with the director’s amazing love of himself. The films of such directors are always the same, until they lose their confidence, and then their movies fail in every way—no fun for us, no money for them. Altman never told the same film twice. To Altman we can apply Jean Giraudoux’s insight that only the mediocre are always at their best.