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.

Apr 27, 2006

Dead or Alive

My review of The Wedding Singer is here.

Apr 24, 2006

Back to School

My review of Alan Bennett's History Boys is here. Look who more or less agrees.

Apr 22, 2006

Feingold Barred

Great thread over at All That Chat about critics versus producers (act fast, won't last).

Apr 21, 2006

All the News That Fits

The always dapper Steven Leigh Morris, wearing Ann Closs-Farley's "paper suit" at the recent LA Weekly Awards.

Smokey Oscar's Café?

Just read Zev Chafets' LA Times Magazine piece about Leiber and Stoller (available here, I think.) Who knew they were working on a musical about Oscar Wilde? I'd love to hear it.

Empty Hall

My review of Peter Hall's Importance of Being Earnest is here.

Apr 20, 2006

Vile Weill

Not to make another L.A. comparison, but I found last year's Threepenny at Open Fist much preferable to this atrocity.

Apr 19, 2006

Tip of the Greenberg

My review of Three Days of Rain is here. It's not a stinker, but I did like the Evidence Room production of 2001 a lot better, frankly. UPDATE: Forget Thespis, Morpheus seems to be the god of theater, or at least theater criticism, these days (pace McNulty, below). From Ben Brantley's almost uncomfortably confessional review: "While I blush to admit it, [Roberts] is one of the few celebrities who occasionally show up (to my great annoyance) in cameo roles in my dreams." Opposite Harry Connick Jr., I have no doubt.

Dream On

Not to take anything away from his work at the LA Times so far, but this brief "ask the critic" item is probably my favorite piece by Charles McNulty yet. Especially this:
Appreciation isn't always immediate. Sometimes you can discover unexpected things about a play through dreaming about it, which is why a good night's sleep before writing the review is always a good idea, though crunch deadlines don't always make this possible.

Slap Judgment

Adam Rapp calls the Pulitzer shut-out for playwrights a year without Santa Claus.

"Red Light" Green Light

The first thing I noticed were the subway posters: spidery handwritten black letters saying RED LIGHT WINTER. They looked like they were advertising a new record or a new movie, but then I saw the names "Barrow Street Theatre" and "Adam Rapp." (I don't think the phrase "a play by" was used; that would be so old school.) Clearly this was a show that was reaching out to a different audience than, say, the Manhattan Theatre Club.

And then last night I attended the first (that I know of) "Blogger Night" at the theater. While I can spot some of my theater critic colleagues a mile away by now, I don't know who my fellow bloggers were last night—I couldn't stick around for the Q&A with Rapp and the cast, and the hosted bar. (I must blame some late-night copyediting work and the L train, which is not running to Brooklyn after midnight at all, and before that only rarely.)

For my part I found the play involving, sensationally acted, and finally a little tediously self-indulgent—not nearly as harrowing as I'd been led to imagine by the early reviews, but certainly depressing, in a rainy-day-haven't-showered-why-bother-to-go-out kind of way. (As my companion said, "This is Adam Rapp's romantic comedy." Indeed.) But the show is clearly connecting with its young hipster audience, and if bloggers are seen as one more way to reach that "demo"—because, after all, I know, only the hippest of the hip read this blog—well, I can't not support that.

Apr 18, 2006

Next: Reality Shows 101

Good to see that UCLA Theatre Students are studying important theatrical texts.

Power Scream

I'm reporting a story about some of the weirder arcana surrounding playwrights' royalties, and I just got a call from a well-known playwright who didn't want to talk about royalties at all but who said, essentially, that his income in the theater has been "destroyed" by Ben Brantley, Charles Isherwood, and Peter Marks, that he thinks the NY Times' coverage is "shallow and snotty," and that he longs for the days of Frank Rich, when serious plays and writers were taken seriously, and the theater was the place for "civic dialogue, not the place where Harry Connick Jr. takes off his shirt."


It's hard to know how to respond to all this, except to wonder at the disproportionate power that is ascribed to Times critics, both by detractors and admirers (this playwright also claimed, and I'd love to hear if anyone can back this up, that the Pulitzer has never gone to a play that the Times critics have "not done handstands for"). Is there any other field in which critics are perceived to have this much power? Is that a function of critics' scarcity, or of the relative fragility of theater, either aesthetically or commercially? I'm not asking all this rhetorically; this level of vitriol directed at two individuals—peers, as I think of them, in fact—is pretty new to me, except in the form of chatter on various blogs, and I'd like to try to understand it.

I do seem to recall that in his day, Rich was the object of similarly intemperate attacks (to the point that someone wrote a play called Frank Rich Is Dead).

Quote for the Day

From a busy L.A. theater director who's dipped his toes into TV directing and finds it surprisingly fun:
It's total prostitution, but I'm enjoying it and hope
there'll be lots more. Who knew fishnets and platforms would fit so well?

Apr 14, 2006

Torture and Other Stuff

My reviews of two Iraq-themed shows: Guardians at the Culture Project and Stuff Happens at the Public. Obviously my views of the latter have evolved since last year.

And here's my review of the labor-themed On the Line. A busy week.
Tonight: I'm very frightened.

Apr 6, 2006

Ochs on L.A.

Just as I felt a powerful surge of missing the City of Angels, Phil Ochs turned up on my iPod with his searing tune "The World Began in Eden and Ended in Los Angeles," which I quote in full:
Don't you think it's time that we were leaving?
For another chance, another place to start
Desperate ones that went across the ocean
And they wondered how it would all turn out.
If you have to beg or steal or borrow
Welcome to Los Angeles, City of Tomorrow

They landed on the coldest of the colonies
But still they wanted better than the rich
They built highways on the houses of the homesteads
It happened that way moving west.
If you have to beg or steal or borrow
Welcome to Los Angeles, City of Tomorrow

So this is where the Renaissance has led to
And we will be the only ones to know
So take a drive and breathe the air of ashes
That is, if you need a place to go
If you have to beg or steal or borrow
Welcome to Los Angeles, City of Tomorrow

Apr 5, 2006

The April March

Was it T.S. Eliot who called April the cruelest month? The warm weather came, and just as suddenly faded. As I write, the snow is pouring down.

I once ran into the engineer for Harry Shearer’s brilliant Le Show, who told me that the between-sketch song playlist was a pretty reliable barometer of how the host was feeling that week.

I also have a good friend (who just started his own blog, incidentally) who used to do a “CD divination” back in the high-tech days of the five-CD changer: You’d pick five CDs you liked from his collection, then the random playlist would “say” something about you. All I remember about the one I did was the Sinead O’Connor’s “Jump in the River” came up. Thanks a lot, man.

Since it’s almost invariably stuck on “Shuffle,” I’ve done my share of iPod “divinations” to start my day. This morning the little fella seemed to be in a country/gospel mood. To wit:
“Kikuchiyo To Mohshimasu” — From the latest Pink Martini record, this seemed like an exotic start to the day. But then…

“Sister Jack” — I can’t quite figure out Spoon’s appeal, but I just go with it.

“If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” — Cat Stevens.

“A Minha Menina” — The Bees. Doesn’t McCartney have something to do with these blokes?

“Strawberry Jam” — Michelle Shocked, with Doc Watson.

“Sulky Girl” — Elvis Costello.

“Raising Arizona” — Carter Burwell’s irresistible opening theme, with the yodels and the banjo riffing on “Petrouchka” and Beethoven’s Ninth.

“Big River” — OK, now the iPod is settling into a groove with this rendition of Johnny Cash’s classic, performed by Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson on Letterman.

“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” — The Carter Family classic. The iPod is kindly trying to purge the memory of Ring of Fire from my brainpan.

“In My Room” — The Langley Schools Music Project version.

“Glitter Gulch” — Elvis Costello, with some of the other Elvis’s band.

“Les Enfants Qui S’aiment” — Juliette Greco, for a slight departure.

“In the Mornin’ ” — The Charles Ives spiritual, sung by Jan DeGaetani (I think).

The commute from Greenpoint is a bit longer than from Cobble Hill, but with a crypto-deejay like this, how can I complain?

Apr 3, 2006

Compelling Evidence

The Evidence Room is closing down. I don't have time at the moment to comment on it extensively. Suffice to say it makes me very, very sad. I cherish my memories at this venerable location, both as a critic and as a performer, as highly as any I've had in the theater, anywhere. (I don't even mind that I was once mugged in front of the theater—I think I can break my silence on that now, don't you think?)

Here's the message, in its entirety, from Bart DeLorenzo:
Dear Friends --

Please forgive this group email, but I have some sad news and it'll probably be in the papers soon and trickling out, and I don't have time to talk to everyone, but I wanted you all to know.

The Evidence Room company will open its final production in the current space in May. Yes, unbelievably yes, our final show. As some of you may know, for several months the theater company has been struggling. Although our last season was our most successful ever, both critically and financially, there have been leadership issues that have made progress difficult. And suddenly, over the past two weeks, we found ourselves in the middle of an irreconcilable lease dispute. By mutual consent and with respect, we all decided to end the relationship between the Evidence Room company and the space that we have called our home for the past six years. The landlords have generously allowed the theater to carry out our planned spring production, but we will depart by July 31st.

Because the news is so sudden, we do not yet know whether we will seek a new home or disband the organization, but the current idea is to plan a fantastic closing event, absorb the new situation, and when we are ready, announce what is to be.

As I look back over the past eleven years and all that we have accomplished with an initial investment of $15,000, all the artists that we have worked with (so many of you), all the new work that we have brought to life, and the scene that we have struggled to create for a certain kind of theater in Los Angeles, I feel pretty good. But then I also think about all the plays I was still hoping that we might get to (so many of you, too), the many other mind-blowing artists who might have joined us, and how much work still remains in raising the caliber and profile of Los Angeles theater, and I feel nipped in the bud. And really sad.

I do not yet know what I will do personally, but I want to continue to work in my super-cool adopted city of Los Angeles, which has been so good to me over the years, in this great sprawling family of artists and raconteurs.

If you write back, please know that I'm probably not going to be able to respond for awhile. This sudden turn of events has added many new chores to my already maxed daily list, but I will respond when I can.

So at your next meal, please raise a glass to the Evidence Room, if you care to. And make plans to come to a great closing firecracker of a party in July. And in between, please come to our last production in our home, before we have to leave. It opens the last week of May. We're doing my favorite play, THE CHERRY ORCHARD.

My love,


At an Ebb

Sorry for the light blogging. A little under the weather emotionally, I guess you could say. Here's my review of 70, Girls, 70 at Encores! I pause to note that Charlotte Rae (pictured above), who made such a splash in the production, was on the cover of the very first Back Stage West, Feb. 10, 1993, along with TV mother figure Marion Ross, for the very first "Actors' Dialogue."