Mar 31, 2009

More Non-Good News

And another West Coast titan (in my mind, at least) topples: Mead Hunter, literary jack-of-all-trades I got to know at the late, lamented ASK, has been let go from his perch at Portland Center Stage. His post about his departure is bracing, though, and even encouraging:
Fact is: I haven’t been out of work, as a theater person, since 1985. Even the short gap between the A.S.K. debacle and joining the PCS company was stuffed full of freelance gigs. 24 years is a good long run. But now it’s over.

...Virtually overnight it has become a brave new world. To quote The Bard. And Aldous Huxley. And Grace Slick. What am I going to give to it? The prospect is scary, and daunting, and – most surprisingly of all – exciting. You don’t get to reinvent yourself every day.

One option for this resourceful man named after an archaic libation: his side business as a sort of dramaturg-for-hire.

Beat Down

Former LA Times stalwart Don Shirley wrote to tell me that Los Angeles CityBeat, the most recent of several attempts to create a viable alternative to the LA Weekly, is "kaput," in his words. (LA Observed had the scoop, of course, but I missed it there.) The venue provided a post-Times forum not only for Shirley, a veteran of the L.A. theater scene with invaluable, irreplaceable--well, it could be called "institutional memory," except that now he's minus an institution--but also for classical-music titan Alan Rich, whose firsthand memory of the LA Philharmonic stretches back to the Mehta days. That's value you can't put a price on--and, sadly, these days it seems no one wants to.

Mar 27, 2009

Popcorn Faith

Playwright Michael Sargent with Hamish Linklater on the set of The Projectionist, opening tonight in L.A.

(Photo by Erik Patterson)

Mar 26, 2009

No Tears

It's a really rough week at The Los Angeles Times, and things don't look much better at The New York Times, either. So this Shirky-fueled blast from LA Weekly curmudgeon Marc Cooper is particularly, um, bracing:
While a few months ago I took the pro-Times side in a Times-sponsored online debate, I now have to officially announce that I am with bored with, done with, totally finished with any more grieving about the fate of the Times -- or any other newspaper for that matter...

As I wrote last month, I am completely convinced, indeed, I am certain that journalism will easily outlive the death of its current institutions. I'd much rather concentrate on what's here and what's coming rather than dwell on what has been.

I have also argued before that we are barely in the infancy of the digital revolution. In Byte Years, the so-called New Media is about 3 days old and anyone who claims to know exactly what is or what is not in the making is lying to you.

The printing press was invented to propagate the bible. Instead it produced the enlightenment. It took a couple of hundred years to mature, but history is much more patient than we are.

...We are in a transitional moment. The old system is dead. The new is still struggling to be born. We should be rooting for the latter and not kvelling over the corpse of the former.

"That Shaking Sound"

That's how Miranda, YouTube singing sensation, describes vibrato. And just wait until you hear her instructions on how to produce it. And for a spontaneous mini-playlet no sketch comic could write or act so well, don't miss this. (h/t Robby Stamper)

Hunka Bait

Anthony Lane on the letters of Samuel Beckett. Among the pleasures of the piece for me is the reminder that, as entertaining as AL can be on the subject of film, he is that much more incisive and substantive on literature. I'm especially grateful for such (previously unknown to me) Beckettisms as "eyedew," "daymare," and the punny title Whoroscope, but also for Lane's sobering, magisterial conclusion:
The youthful worrier of these compelling letters, who suggested that “the man condemned to death is less afraid than I,” was not lying; Beckett was neither a poser nor a hysteric, and there was precious little peacetime under his mother’s gaze. But from now on he would have friends condemned to real death, and would grow acquainted with forms of human behavior to which neither of his younger selves—the home-stricken solipsist and the frowning scholar—would have an answer.

Butter Knives Out

Liberal Zionist Jeffrey Goldberg has an extensive, and very worthwhile, dialogue with his friend, Ari Roth, whose D.C.-based Theatre J will present a reading of Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children this weekend. I've posted on this controversy myself, and though I probably fall somewhere between Goldberg's and Roth's points of view, I would place the burden of proof slightly more on Roth. I found this his most persuasive line of argument:
Here's why we're doing it. The fact that, over eight pages, so many of the lines resonate not with the language of hate, but with the language of perception. Meaning she has overheard, she has seen, she has captured the language that Jews speak to each other with and that is astonishing...that makes her a ten-times better theatrical reporter than anybody I've ever seen. This is play written with extraordinary precision. She wrote a play that arrested my attention. And it has a problem title. I hate the title. It is a problem place where it ends, but it is subject to an incredible amount of interpretation. It's written with multiple characters. People argue with each other. It's not written as a diatribe. And so you have to allow for the art form of theater to have its way with her text. That is what's going to happen, that's what's happening in this rehearsal room. I struggle with the play...I don't think this is a great work of art, but I think there's a great artist doing something interesting here.

On the other hand, I liked Goldberg's blunt suggestion:
Maybe you could just get Caryl Churchill and David Mamet on a stage together with butter knives and see who comes out alive.

The L.A. File

I airlifted briefly into my beloved former hometown a few weeks ago, and had the great privilege to write up Michael Sargent, whom I blogged about a bit yesterday. Sargent is among the myriad reasons I'm glad I lived there so long, and also a nearly ideal poster child for how L.A. originals persist despite the paltry recognition and remuneration they get for their trouble. Rock on, sir.

I also chatted with Steven Leigh Morris, the LA Weekly's former theater editor, who I'm happy to report is still writing for them as much or more than ever before, and who will host the 30th annual Weekly awards next Monday. He's got an intriguing, and lengthy, piece about the state of the L.A.-born musical, which starts with this observation...
A truism heard around the country suggests that in times of hardship, people crave escapist entertainments. Yet over the past few years, L.A. has generated a wave of dark-themed musicals that have attracted local audiences for months — a development that suggests an openness to more serious, adult fare.

...and proceeds to this tendentious thesis:
These serious-themed musicals were presented on stages of 99 seats or less under economic circumstances — including token payments to actors — that are favorable to producers here, rather than in the financial pressure of New York. Producers there have concluded that dark-hearted musicals aren’t viable on Broadway or Off-Broadway; even our own larger theaters steer away from them, perhaps because they have Broadway on the brain...In fact, the economics of doing theater in New York are now so brutal, off-Broadway offers hardly any musicals at the moment, while Broadway musical fare consists of revivals and/or works that are comparatively escapist and lighthearted.

There’s nothing escapist about a large proportion of new musicals generated in L.A.’s smaller theaters. They take human agony by the horns and, utilizing song and sometimes dance, wrestle it to the mat. Is it the blinding sun, or the way it sets into the Pacific, that encourages such dark musicals on L.A. stages? And do they have a viable future?

It's worth reading the whole thing (and not just because SLM liberally quotes yours truly).

(Photo by Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times)

Mar 25, 2009


I don't know I missed this song when it came around the first time but I heard it the other day and I just can't get enough of it now.

An uncanny vocal solo version is here.

My last off-topic post for a while, I swear!

Is This Spam?

If so, it's really...subtle. Fresh in my inbox:
Dear Sir/Madam,
This is Paul Wise and I will like to order Self Dumping Hoppers.Do get back to me with the types and cost for the ones you do carry and let me know if there is an extra cost when using visa or master card.Kindly get back to me with your name and your direct phone number.Are you the sales manager or the owner?
Paul Wise

Is this a way to make me curious about the product? About Paul Wise? Color me stumped.

Five Points...

Sorry, skipped town for a week or so, just getting back into the swing of things. A few notes in the way of catching up:

1. Isaac seems newly energized after confessing his frustrations with his blog (which, we can learn here, is pronounced "puh-RAB-uh-sis"). Really, in terms of output, generosity of spirit, and intellectual honesty, it's his world and we're just linking to it.

2. Doing some purging/consolidating at home, and I'm intrigued by what this list of duplicate books may say about me and my wife:
Midnight's Children
Darkness at Noon
A Handful of Dust
Angels in America (both plays)
Anna Karenina
The Satanic Verses
Too Many Songs By Tom Lehrer

3. I reviewed Darrell Dennis' Tales of an Urban Indian some weeks ago, and took note of a word he used for his grandmother in the show. It sounded something like "cat" or "ket." I looked it up in the script and found a curious spelling: "Ke7te." Not a typo, it turns out (though I chose to spare the copy editor at Time Out and left the word out of my review).

4. Michael Sargent is a sui generis L.A. original, a sort of latter-day love child of Warhol and Williams, and I think he's (over)due for national consideration. If you're in L.A., rush to see Grand Motel with Dennis Christopher and Shannon Holt at the Unknown Theatre--the playwright himself directed, and it's not quite an ideal production of all the play could be, but it's a rich, bittersweet cocktail and it deserves a future. If you miss that (it closes this coming weekend), then don't miss The Projectionist, a disarming, sardonic play with Hamish Linklater that opens this weekend in the lobby of the Spartacus--sorry, the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

5. Stumbled across John McWhorter's 2001 book Word on the Street (it was literally lying on the street in my neighborhood), and it is quietly blowing my prim little editor's mind. Expect another post soon about what Language Log would call "prescriptivist poppycock," and one about McWhorter's persuasive chapter on translating Shakespeare into modern English. (OK, a preview: The singular, non-sexist "they" is simply not wrong! The way we all use "hopefully," not wrong! Even "a whole nother"--not necessarily wrong! And sad old "whom" is better off dead! I'm telling you, this stuff may be elementary to many better-informed folks than I, but it is rocking my Strunk-and-White-schooled head.)

Mar 19, 2009

Man Oh Manifesto

I must agree with Isaac: This Matt Freeman post is genius.

Outliving One's Child

I have little to add to the mourning for Natasha Richardson, whom I never had the good fortune to witness onstage. I do recall admiring her fearless performance in The Handmaid's Tale lo these many years ago. Having seen her mother, though, in Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, a show in large part about dealing with the loss of loved ones, I can't help but recall how beautifully and starkly Redgrave embodied someone else's grief, and I can only guess at the terrible enormity of her own and her family's now.

It's perhaps a shallow analogy, but if the Redgrave/Richardsons are English acting royalty, this sudden, untimely death of the clan's golden princess gives one a Di-like shudder.

(photo by Chester Higgins Jr. for the New York Times)

Mar 17, 2009

Kareem of the Crop?

Playgoer says he doesn't know who Kareem Dale, the president's new arts & culture honcho, is, but a little digging turned up this, from Jodi Shoenbrun Carter:
Very active in community work and affairs, Dale served as chairman of the board of directors at Black Ensemble Theater for three and one-half years, and prior to that, served in various other roles at the theater, such as secretary and vice president. Under his direction as chairman, Black Ensemble secured a $6 million TIF from the City of Chicago to purchase the theater's current building, located at 4440 N. Clark. Also under his chairman leadership, the theater began its $20 million capital campaign.

Dale also served on Obama's arts policy committee.

Mar 12, 2009

Flashback, 1999

Evie Peck and John C. Reilly in Exit the King at the Actors' Gang.

(Photo by Ray Mickshaw)

Mar 11, 2009

Haggard Was Here

Upstaged has a fascinating report about Ted Haggard's visit to the Civilians' This Beautiful City:
The actors weren’t filled in until after the show. The nonperformers of the company and theater, however, were understandably curious as to how Haggard would react. “Because you could walk into the back of the Vineyard pretty easily without the audience noticing, the staff here were slipping in periodically and checking,” Cosson said. “And they would come back and say, ‘Oh, he laughed at this line. He smiled at that. He’s sticking around for the second act.’”


UPDATE: Isaac was there, too.

Mar 10, 2009

Lahr on Callaghan

This strikes me as a big deal: The New Yorker's John Lahr gives a mostly positive if slightly puzzled mini-review to Sheila Callaghan's That Pretty Pretty; or The Rape Play. An even bigger deal, and a sure sign that she's arrived, is this frame-able portrait by Pablo Lobato:

Mar 9, 2009

God Talk

A few weeks ago, I received what for me ranks as a great compliment. At a matinee intermission, I was browsing through a copy of America, a national Catholic weekly, and an usher asked me, "Are you a Jesuit?" I'm not, but I got some of my most significant education from the Society of Jesus and have admired them pretty much unreservedly ever since. Brophy College Prep is not only where I acquired a much broader and, yes, more catholic (small "c") approach to my faith (a sea-change in perspective, in fact, which I can credit for sustaining my connection to institutional religion in spite of it all). It's also where I did my first bit of theater (Macafee in Birdie and Moonface in Anything Goes, if you must know) and committed my first acts of journalism (the Roundup is now online).

All of which is a circuitous way of introducing my first story for America, a critical essay about two religion-themed plays currently on the boards, The Savannah Disputation and This Beautiful City. Thanks to culture editor Jim Martin (unofficial chaplain to The Colbert Report and no stranger to the theater himself). (NOTE: Obviously it's not a column about "Film"--they just haven't had a theater story in their pages for a while and haven't changed the heading.)

Mar 4, 2009

Alla That

Speaking of Hedda Gabler, this poster for a 1907 production caught my eye today.


"His What Hurts?"

A fascinating and frank pair of interviews with stars of the critically slagged Hedda Gabler: Michael Cerveris, who rallies to his company's defense, despite confessing that initially "it just wasn’t a play that spoke to me" and that "it probably doesn’t hurt that our Hedda sells weed on television"; and Mary Louise Parker herself, who tells that she caved in and read Brantley and, amazingly, that she "went and talked to" Post bottom-feeder Michael Riedel, who gleefully printed the worst gossip he could find about Parker's state of mind ("Not All Right in the 'Hedda' " was the charming banner for his column). I haven't seen this Hedda--life is short--but I am impressed by the candor and good sportsmanship of these interviews, which don't seem to me to have the smell of self-justifying spin.

I'm less sure about's interviewer duly transcribing Parker's cell phone chat with her son's nanny, and then with the little man himself--though not so unsure that I think it unworthy of a complete excerpt:
His what hurts? Ohhh. [speaking to her son] Hey buddy! How are you doin’? Not so good? Hey, you know that sticker you put on me before I left? I still have them on. They look pretty funny. What bunny? It’s OK, we’re going to make it better. And I’m gonna bring you home a little piece of candy, okay? I love you, I’ll be home soon.

(h/t Linda)

Mar 2, 2009

Misspelling of the Day

A TDF customer just sent in a check for tickets, indicating the show in the memo line as Blight Sprit. Not a lot of laughs in that version, I don't think.

Immodest Proposal

I'm with Ian David Moss: It really does seem like Jon Robin Baitz is auditioning for the post of NEA chair with this succinct, stimulating LA Times editorial. It's formidable, straight-faced, provocative without rancor, specific but not mind-blurringly wonkish. Even when it seems he's being impish, Baitz is being admirably sensible:
I would wear a suit and tie all day, every day, and entertain cultural figures in my Georgetown brownstone and raise money through small private fundraisers there, in addition to initiating an Obama-like Internet fundraising machine for the arts, made up of small donors. I would solicit donations of small works on paper from important American artists to be auctioned online at this site, with money to go to the arts-in-the-schools program.

I particularly liked this personal touch:
I would make sure that I was a frequent guest at the White House, and I would always bring presents of art for the first children, so that when they grow up, they would include art into whatever magnificent endeavor for the public good that their marvelous parents helped shepherd them into.