Oct 31, 2005

Seeing, Not Believing

My review of Michael John LaChiusa's newest music-theater piece here (and no, I haven't figured out how to get these links to open a new page).

Oct 27, 2005

Simple Simon

My review of The Odd Couple is up here.

Oct 21, 2005

Swimsuit Issues

It's not often that a playwright leaves a paper trail—of Time magazine essays, such as this one. My review of Roger Rosenblatt's new "almost a play" here.

Oct 14, 2005

Weird Harold

Of course Harold Pinter deserves the Nobel—for his playwriting, not for his politics. Though, as David Hare points out, the 75-year-old playwright will likely use his acceptance speech to bash Bush and Blair, that wouldn't keep me from lining up for his next play. Unfortunately, he has said publicly that he's given up playwriting for activism, and in the latter job description he has indeed proven unsubtle, nigh hysterical—a notably un-tightlipped figure that resembles none of the cryptic creeps, thugs, and ciphers of his plays. He's entitled to his megaphone, certainly, though I find this sort of takedown salutary, particularly for noting Pinter's fair-weather (or more accurately, foul-weather) support of the Kurds. (If you must know where I stand on the pressing issue of the day, it's more or less in this zone.)

Oct 13, 2005

Coming Up Rosie

My newest review here.

A Sign of the Apocalypse?

For some reason this news item knocks me over, though I guess I shouldn't be surprised (and yes, I have considered the lack of disinterest on the part of the researchers). The juicy bits (free registration required to read the whole thing):
A study released yesterday by Starcom USA found that 65% of consumers believe that advertisers pay for editorial mentions. Moreover, Starcom found, readers are receptive to reading about brands in articles... Advertisers, particularly automakers, have been increasingly pressing for ways to buy their way into the editorial pages of magazines, a heinous no-no for the American Society of Magazine Editors... "This study is not a permission slip," said Brenda White, director-print investment at Starcom Worldwide. "It's a warning." If readers already believe editorial content is for sale, she said, publishers who push the needle further could jeopardize what reader trust they have.... Said Janice Min, editor in chief at Wenner Media's Us Weekly. "The thing that's probably discouraging to a lot of editors is that much of the general public wouldn't even care," she said. "People who I consider pretty well-informed will ask me, 'What's wrong with paying for stories?' [or] 'Oh wait, they don't pay you to put that purse in the magazine?'"

I know there are more pressing problems in the world, but in my neck of the professional woods this is just depressing. Though, on a lighter note, there's this chestnut to remind us of the persistently high esteem in which the field has always been held:

The British Journalist

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
Thank God! the British journalist.

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's no occasion to.

—Humbert Wolfe

UPDATE: All right, this is actually more depressing.

Oct 12, 2005

Poem for a Rainy Day

Quiet as is proper for such places;
The street, subdued, half-snow, half-rain,
Endless, but ending in the darkened doors.
They who will be there always,
Quiet as is proper for such people—
Enough, for now to be here, and
To know my door is one of these.
—Robert Creeley, "Return"

Oct 11, 2005

What's a Fugleman?

At last my erstwhile Times colleague James C. Taylor not only likes something at the Center Theatre Group—he actually prefers it to its original New York production! The play in question is David Mamet's Romance and the review is here.

And for those who wonder what a "fugleman" is, as I did, here's what dictionary.com says:

1. A leader, especially a political leader.
2. Archaic. A soldier who once served as a guide and model for his company.

I think Mamet would prefer the latter definition.

Laugh, Then Not Laugh So Much

BYOOS (office supplies)

Just caught up with a colleague's blog and found this interesting tidbit. Sounds like the cutbacks at Times Mirror are trickling down. That's a detail I didn't catch here or here.

Oct 10, 2005

A Brilliant Mistake

Glittering songbirds of the Great White Way will gather for a Halloween benefit to salute that great Broadway tunesmith... Elvis Costello. I guess that's some folks' idea of a good scare. Seriously, this should be an interesting evening. I hope Alan Cumming does "God's Comic."

Quotes for Today

O how feeble is man's power,
That if good fortune fall,
Cannot add another hour,
Nor a lost hour recall!
But come bad chance,
And we join it to our strength,
And we teach it art and length,
Itself o'er us to advance.
—John Donne, "Song"

When you base your life on credit
And your loving days are done
Checks you signed with love and kisses
Later come back signed "insufficient funds"
—Funkadelic, "Can You Get To That"

Harriet used to keep a humidor full of M&M's in her West Wing office. It wasn't a huge secret. She'd stash some boxes of the coveted red, white, and blue M&M's in specially made boxes bearing George W. Bush's reprinted signature. Her door was always open and the M&M's were always available. I dared ask one time why they were there. Her answer: "I like M&M's, and I like sharing."
—Desperate defender of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers

The Painter Principle

I hired her as an editorial assistant back in 1995, but she quickly became a fixture at Back Stage West and duly ascended the ranks, from writer to Features Editor, then to Editor in Chief. And now Jamie Painter Young has been named National Editor of Back Stage and Back Stage West, replacing publishing veteran Julia Kagan (whom I wrote about when she took the newly created job, just eight months ago). I send my congrats to Jamie, and I wonder if this decisively shifts the focus of the Back Stage "brand" from the East to the West Coast, and from theater to film.

My beef with the direction the paper started going around the turn of the millennium, in case anyone cares anymore, was never a theater vs. film thing so much as a movie-publicity vs. acting-jobs focus. The former emphasis has coincided with large movie ad revenues, to be sure. The latter emphasis, though, is what the Back Stage and Back Stage West brand was always about. Well, there are still casting notices and such. But have you seen anything like this in BSW lately, for example? A free tip: I think that just may be an actor's trade story.

Oct 9, 2005

A Walk on the Wilson Side

A lot of nice bits in this remembrance by Oscar Hijuelos, but the one that sticks with me is the image of Lou Reed playing "a couple of his songs one evening on a nylon string guitar" for August Wilson. I'd donate a major organ to find out what the playlist was. "White Light/White Heat"? "Waiting for My Man"? "Dirty Boulevard"? "Metal Machine Music"? The mind reels.

From One Invalid to Another: Dying Is an Art

It has become fashionable in some quarters to prophesy the end of movies, or the end of movies as we know them, or, for the really cautious Cassandras, the end of moviegoing as we know it. Look, the doomsayers say, at the rate of DVDs flying off the shelves—it's rising, though not, alas, as exponentially as it was last year. And just look at Hollywood's bleak summer of 2005, in which theatrical releases made a few hundred jillion dollars less than they made last year and the year before.

Before long, goes the conventional dig-erati wisdom, we'll forgo the communal experience of the neighborhood cinema, with its sticky floors and chattering teenagers, and stay home to watch Hollywood blockbusters on plasma screens as big as bay windows.

Forgive me if I find these obituaries for the movies premature. Why, just down the street at the local cineplex, that film with the guy from TV is still playing, and so is the one with the penguins. And just a few blocks away, a warehouse-sized store has more titles on tap than an insomniac could watch in a year.

On the other hand, maybe the movies should welcome these death knells, premature or not. Dying can do a lot for an art form. Just look at the theater: It's been pronounced dead, or dying, for many centuries now. And the theater is not just pulling off the longest, most enthralling death scene in the history of drama; it is fairly thriving in its mortal throes, if Broadway box-office receipts are any indication.

Death becomes the theatre. So why can't the movies, wobbling as they are on their Olympian heights, learn a few things from the fabulous invalid for whom dying is an art?

1. Scarcity. Like a trendy restaurant that has foodies bartering body parts to land a table, theater drives demand with scarcity. There are only so many seats at a certain finite number of performances of any show, except possibly Mamma Mia. This simple economic trick, the oldest in the playbook, allows theaters to charge for just one three-hour tour more than what customers might pay for a DVD player, presumably good for thousands of hours of entertainment. What are your high-end movie theaters up to per ticket, $15? That's candy money at a Broadway show. Lesson for Hollywood: Limit your release, spike demand, and watch your per-seat income explode. Admittedly, you won't see the volume you're used to, but dying in style has a price.

2. Immediacy. Yes, some shows feel the need to gestate and grow for several dog years before they're ready to reach the stage. But once a show gets a green light—and a piece of real estate to sit down for a while (see above)—you're talking a six-week rehearsal period, some tech and previews, and it's showtime. Lesson for Hollywood: Development is overrated. And postproduction? Leave special effects to the gamers. There's no reason a perfectly good film with a great script and great performances can't be made in, say, two months. And if you're looking for scripts and actors, the theater is a great place to steal from; if you haven't noticed, the theater has been looting Hollywood like an unguarded Wal-Mart for decades now. When you're dying, see, you've got nothing to lose.

3. Artistic license. Theater doesn't have a ratings board, have you noticed? While Hollywood is contorting itself into the missionary position to cater to the "family values" audience, the mainstream theater is home to libidinous puppets, suspected pedophiles, nihilist barbers and calculating dance hostesses. And that's just the tourist trade; veer only slightly off the Main Stem and you've got naked boys singing and trailer trash-talking. Lesson for Hollywood: Do you really think you're fooling Middle America with that exorcism mumbo-jumbo? You can find an audience for any story you want to tell, even if the score is by Adam Guettel (if you're dying, after all, why not have some pretty funeral music?).

4. Immortality. The art of the theater isn't just scarce in space but in time. It is ephemeral, and lives on only in the memories of theatergoers, and in the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library (see Scarcity). But the memory of a theatergoer is a precious thing; it can never end up in a remainders bin at the local video store, or be edited to fit the format of your screen, or be dubbed into Italian. In short, it is a far more forgiving place to be remembered than in the eternal freeze-frame of a DVD. Ever meet anyone who saw Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie? Try to get them to shut up about it. Lesson for Hollywood: Relax about film preservation, already, and think more about preserving the arts of performance and storytelling. Narrative art exists in time, like music. Leave permanence to sculpture. And instead of conniving to get your film in front of every eyeball on the planet, why not settle for doing your best work in your chosen craft, sharing it with the people who appreciate it and enjoying their company in the limited time we've all got here together? Don't take it from me. That's just what any dying man, or art form, might tell you.

Oct 8, 2005

The Feel-Good Hit of the Summer (circa 1980)

This hilariously sunny trailer for The Shining makes the mind reel. Maybe Kubrick would have had more hits if he'd had better marketing.

"My Resumé Is Full..."

"...but it's in pieces right now."

As my friend John Zalewski warned when he sent this my way, don your Pathos Protection Suits for this voice message from a delusional, and apparently distracted, actress.

Oct 6, 2005

Getting "Naked" Again

My debut on Broadway.com is with my review of Richard Greenberg's new comedy, which, for the record, I previously reviewed here. The play's gotten tighter and better in transit, but it's still not a must-see.

Too Much Information

Sorry for light blogging. Been working in an office for the first time in, oh, years. Offices have their unsung joys, though. The camaraderie, the air conditioning, the found art. Like this nigh-novelistic bathroom sign:

What I appreciate the most? The lack of spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. So many chances to go wrong, and each one gracefully sidestepped (c'mon, "accidently" had to be a temptation). A real rarity in the workplace of today.

(Just because I have more regular employment doesn't mean I don't have time on my hands.)

Oct 2, 2005

Come and Gone

I posted some August Wilson links when his terminal condition was first announced, but now with the news of his untimely death, I thought in particular of the lead for my Gem of the Ocean preview:
August Wilson told me a secret: how to keep a character alive for centuries.

When I'd heard that Aunt Ester, a death-defying 300-year-old healer mentioned but never seen in Wilson's Two Trains Running and King Hedley II, would be the central character of his new Gem of the Ocean, opening at the Mark Taper Forum this week, I wondered how this supernatural character would fit into the naturalistic world his plays usually occupy.

"Obviously nobody can live to be 300, but her memory is kept alive--it's passed on from generation to generation," he explained. His solution, then, is to make her a sort of human talisman--an identity passed like a mantle from one "Aunt Ester" to the next. So by the time Gem opens in 1904, there have already been "about four or five Aunt Esters," and though the Ester we see (played by Phylicia Rashad), puts her age at 287, she's really "about 72 years old," said Wilson. "She has been consciously carrying the memory, the tradition of Africans."

Who will carry on that memory now that August has fallen? I'll give him the last word, from this 2000 interview:
I don't believe there's any idea that cannot be contained by black life, or any of the full variety of human experience; I believe that world is capable of sustaining you, so that when you leave your father's house you are fully clothed in manners and a way of life that is sufficient. Only when you are centered around self-sufficiency can you make a contribution to the society in which we all live.