Friday, August 29, 2008

Hamlet 2 in Orinda

Shark and I took the Harleys to Orinda last night to see Hamlet 2 at the cool old theater they have out there, which apparently is a building in every SimCity game ever made because the software company that made them all, Maxis, used to hold offices in the same building. I have a friend who works for them. It's a very nice theater. A bit old-worldy.

Down the street from the theater is a bar, the oldest bar in town, a cowboy spot that used to be pretty much the only other structure in the city according to an ancient arial photo. We went in for a drink.
If the terrorists attack, Orinda will survive. Casa Orinda has more guns than a Kentucky whorehouse on a Sunday at churchtime. The old man with the white Stetson and the gray suit sipped his soup, keeping one hand on his beatin' stick even when he brought up his dirty martini for a wincing slurp.

Oxen yokes serve as lighting fixtures for this old saloon, leaving just enough light by which to tell the old man was squinting his eyes at me. The bartender said he didn't want his picture taken, but I took it anyway. He told me the 85-lbs shotgun over the bar was built by Remington for shooting 40 birds at a time. The old Stetson man grabbed his beating stick a little tighter, and a woman laughed somewhere. There were people having dinner in the nice restaurant part, and I noticed that the fireplace said "Whoever sits round these hearth stones shall speak no evil of any living creature."

"'Nother round?" asked the tender.
"Nah, gotta a show to catch. Thanks." I knocked on the bar and tipped an imaginary hat at the Stetson man, who winced at me.

Shark and I checked the bikes and went in to see Hamlet 2. I reviewed it for Should be up soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All's Well that Ends Well @ Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Every time I see "All's Well that Ends Well," I like it more. Shakespeare Santa Cruz is no exception. My friend flaked on me (poets!) at the last second, so I had to drive that crazy fast Lexus there myself and there was an empty chair next to me, but I soon forgot my loneliness when the lights went down. The scene between the Countess (Beth Dixon) and Helena (Rachel Fowler) was incredible, and I loved every second of it. Caitlin FitzGerald, who played Juliet in R&J, played Diana here, which is cute since their last names are so similar, and I liked that.

Everything was pretty strong. Lavatch (John Pribyl) and Lafew (Richard Farrell) were delightful, and Parolles (Allen Gillmore) was as wonderful here as he was in "Bach at Leipzig."

I didn't dig the soldier costumes that looked a bit camp or something, and I don't understand why people seem to think that a fistula will make a French king speak excruciatingly slow, but the offenses are forgivable in light of everything else.

My friend missed out. But you don't have to. "All's Well that Ends Well" runs until August 31st in the best-smelling theater the world has ever known. There are deer that hang out in front of the glen, and if you arrive early, there are several nice spots to watch the sunset on UC Santa Cruz's massive campus. If picnicking isn't your bag, or basket, you can check out Saturn in downtown SC, one of my favorite vegetarian spots in the whole world. Saturn is like a 50's diner but the shakes are vegan. So freaking delicious that I often click my heels and wish Saturn would sell the cafe and come live with me here. Sometimes I devise elaborate schemes in which I enlist a local to seduce Saturn and follow Saturn to Oakland, where I reveal it was not the local strumpet Saturn loved at all, but me, and now Saturn has to marry me!

Strong Finish!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Burn This" @ Shakespeare Santa Cruz

"Burn This" is good. I liked Yvonne Woods and everyone else in the play. I think it's a bit like "Friends" if "Friends" took place in a realer world with realer people who felt lonely even while they were barreling toward their dreams and surrounded by people who love them. The characters face issues so real, in fact, that it made me feel kind of empty at the end because it reminded me too much of the sadness and torture of an artist.

I don't mean to say that I disliked the play; I did. But the emptiness in my stomach at the end struck me a little harder than I expected.

"Burn This" is written by Lanford Wilson. The play's about artists and writers living in the big city. Being a writer and artist in a big city, I identified myself too much with the characters. There's an advertising person who feels like a whore. I used to be in advertising. There's a rich novelist who's sold out and negative about his art, looking for something better. I've been there, though I've never written a novel, but I remember having too much money and developing a seething hatred for illustration and graphics. And there's a dancer who is good at what she does, but seems to feel like no one cares because maybe no one really does and when you're stuck in a tiny secluded world like dancing, it's hard to get perspective on anything. What can be more like the world of poetry?

"Burn This" is what would happen if all the people in "Friends" were artists whose worst fears were realities in a cruel and unforgiving world. Instead of the human tendency to self-destruct being on their back burners, it's right there in front. Instead of the slow burn everyone else feels behind their ribs, they're in flames and there's no amount of clever witticisms that can help.

I wish Lanford Wilson had written a play that included at least some of the good stuff about being an artist, but the way it is, I'm left wondering if there is any.

If you want to know kind of what it's like to be an artist, you should come see this play. It's running until August 31.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

M 4 M in Staunton. Like a Yin Yang and shit.

Something strange happened in the last production I saw in Staunton.
Why and how did actors I like playing characters I like suck so bad in the beginning of "Measure for Measure"? The whole first act just sounded like "blah, blah, blah." like no one in the play cared about what they were saying or even knew. I think it was because it was a matinée. I hate matinées for the most part. You know who goes to matinées?

The whole first half dragged along like a starved, tranquilized polar bear. The production was no better than a grieving caterpillar too tired to eat and too ugly to love itself; too lazy, too lethargic, the phlegmatic monster was too bored to do anything but hibernate in its hideous cocoon.

What was once the glorious Blackfriars Playhouse, the jewel of the Shenandoah Valley, was now disgusting to me. I looked around and wished that they would turn the lights off. Usually their slogan, "we do it with the lights on," is praised by this theater-going writer, but now it was filled with pink people. It looked like a factory farm. I just wanted to leave.

The bell rang, and the songs started. The American Shakespeare Center has a number of very good musicians in their company, but I was in no mood to listen to their acoustic renditions; I was contemplating the reactions a scathing review of this production would bring from people who have been so gracious to me as a guest in their world. My feeling of trespass would now bear fruit and I would finally be outed as a fraud and a meanie. I resolved to stay honest. No compromises on that. I was going to tear this one apart.

Then Gregory Jon Phelps came out and sheepishly said he would sing us one more song. He started in his mock-nervous way that endears him to audiences as Romeo and Antonio, a wonderful Poor Tom and a brilliant Claudio. I rolled my eyes and settled in, the only person in my row, for more of the same old-same old.

The song was "The Good Die Young," and I kind of chuckled a little because I like how closely it relates to "Measure for Measure." And the song says something about Virginia. Some back-up vocals sneaked out of the backstage area, and soon thereafter a couple actors came onto the stage to join Phelps. If you paid attention, you could start to see the butterfly wings poke out. With every repetition of the chorus, more actors came out. Eventually, they had the audience singing with them and clapping, like it was some kind of country anthem. It was really awesome, and I smiled through the whole thing so that my face hurt.

Then, as if the actors had all enjoyed the musical interlude as much as I did, they came out in character and the play had an energy and enthusiasm I have never seen before in a production of "Measure for Measure." It was like they had all realized what they loved most in life and came out to do it. I have always had faith that a production, like a football game, can be saved in the second half by the home team. And this showed me that my faith was not misplaced. I often think of leaving places during intermission. Poetry readings bum me out sometimes, and plays feel too long sometimes. But I will remember "Measure for Measure" from now on when I think about leaving in the middle.

I would have missed the best clown/executioner scene ever put on the stage.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lear in Staunton

Everyone in Lear was good. James Keegan has a voice that shakes you into goosebumps. It's exciting to see him on stage in any role, but he seems to have been born to play Lear. And he who called him Nuncle was still a genius despite having lines cut; John Harrell should never have a line cut. NEVER! NEVER! NEVER! John Harrel is the best fool I have seen in Lear. I have only seen Lear something like four times on the stage and a handful of times on DVD and VHS, but this guy was hilarious. In the end when he's not really around, and when Cordelia dies he's missed because Harrel does what the fool is presumably there to: keep things light and give perspective. When he isn't there anymore, the deaths in the end are given more weight and lose their sense. If the fool were on stage then, we would find a reason why Cordelia had to die, but without him there, it's just senseless violence that makes you want to cry, like when tanks are killing people in Georgia while our president looks like a fucking hypocrite. His bauble was a skull that looked around like a puppet wielded by a master.

Everyone was good in this Lear, but I just deleted a bunch of stuff about them because I want to talk about something else before you lose patience with this blog. Have you ever noticed that every Lear has people yelling and screaming through it? I asked Stephen Booth why everyone's always trying to out-yell each other, and he said, "well, they're angry." The thing is, I don't think most people yell when they're angry. Actors playing angry characters often yell; it's an easy way to portray rage and frustration. But people, when they're rrrreeeeally pissed off about something, are pretty quiet. They kind of spit their words. And Regan and Goneril are much too cunning to scream and yell. They are manipulating a large number of people in addition to their father, why risk looking hot and inconstant? If they are resolute and stern, wouldn't it work better? I think that Lear has to do a lot of yelling, but should anyone else be? Would anyone really yell at a king? Even a king only in title? Everyone always yells in "King Lear" and they will continue to do so, surely, but I don't think they should. Just Lear himself maybe.

Blackfriars has some fantastic acoustics going for them, so they can do things with volume and voice variations that can't be done in big outdoor theaters without mic.'s. Mic.'s add some artificiality in those theaters, so Blackfirars won't have to sacrifice anything if they decide to do something different from the norm. I think Lear needs it, and who else is intrepid enough but the ASC?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To B or Not to B at Washington Dulles

This was the advertisement on the wall at Washington Dulles when I was leaving Staunton, VA. I thought it was pretty funny. And it was very intense because of who I was texting at the time. Airports and train stations have always been places that threw me into a hypersensitivity.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Getting to and Going to One of My Favorite Theaters in America

I wanted to call this post "W3lc0m3 2 Fx1ng V1rg1n1a," but the one I used sounds nicer.

It took me over 36 hours to get to Staunton, Virginia, home of the American Shakespeare Center at and Blackfriars Playhouse, one of my favorite places to see plays. I have been there twice now, and I like doing it with the lights on, the slogan they paste on things reminding people that they are part of the action.
I was booked on five planes, two of which I actually boarded before being instructed to "deplane" after they found mechanical failures. I arrived in DC where it was pouring rain and 80º out. Hertz said they only had Mustangs and SUVs, and since it is against my religion to drive an SUV, I chose the Mustang. I started walking toward the space on the ticket hoping it wasn't a red one. Hot and wet like Vietnam in the summer. "People live like this?" It was a red one. It was a red convertible. The license plate was from New Hampshire. It said "LIVE FREE OR DIE!!!!!"

A state trooper gave me a speeding ticket as I looked at her with red eyes that had not closed for 35 hours. My voice cracked speaking with her, nourished only by recycled air and having not really been used for a long time.

But the sun came up and lit up what an amazingly beautiful state Virginia is, and I was not too tired to be thrilled by the blueness of the blue ridge and how it all looked like paper shadow puppets in Japan or like a talented child's panorama in a boundless shoe box. The names along the highway all remind you of stories you heard as a kid. Places that they talk about in "John Adams" on HBO. The rain had cleared and the view was simply stunning.

It was like that, ephemeral and stumbling, that I arrived in the early, early morning at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. I've stayed in Hotels all over the world. The Stonewall Jackson is one of the ones I enjoy particularly. I had seven hours. I am used to staying awake for long periods of time. But I had ten hours to sleep and shower and eat and get my head before the first play and dinner with people who are smarter than I am. "This is going to suck," I said to the hotel mirror, the red eyes, the black bags, the greasy airplane hair.

But the ASC production of "Twelfth Night" did not suck. It was an all around pretty strong production, I thought. Before curtain, they played songs like "Boys Don't Cry" and others that are appropriate if you listen to the lyrics. I liked that very much, and I am seriously surprised that there are so many talented musicians in the company. They cut some things out of the play I rolled my eyes about, but my condition didn't allow me to take as accurate notes as I wanted to, and I don't remember what they cut now. But John Harrell, who played a wonderful and original Malvolio , should never get a line cut—NEVER! And if anyone cuts any of his lines in any character that he's playing, that director should lose sleep over it for the rest of his/her life. In this case, Rob Clare is the director who should be losing sleep, riddled with perplex guilt and existential doubt.

Sasha Olinick was a good Feste, and Alyssa Wilmoth was a cute and sweet Viola/Cesario. Sarah Fallon was a nice Olivia, too. Gregory Jon Phelps was phenomenal as Andrew. Last time I was in Staunton, he played Romeo (the last good one I saw) and I was glad he was still in the company. He's hilarious.
I was tired and annoyed easily by René Thorton, Jr. because he seemed not to like any of the women in the play or something. There was no chemistry between him and the women. Usually I like him.

After the play I had dinner with Stephen Booth and Ralph Cohen and a woman named Freddie. I was a bit brain dead at dinner, and I felt bad about being so tired. I hope they couldn't tell or think I was being a jerk or something. I was trying to think about the play, but I couldn't, which is why this post is all about getting to the show. Hunter S. Thompson would have reviewed it like that. But there would have been drugs. All I had was Tanqueray and tonic and some wine at Zynadoa. Zynadoa kind of makes me want to live in Staunton.

The bartender there remembered me from my last visit. That's nice. I go there as much as possible when I'm in town I guess.

I am going to write about all the productions I saw while I was in Staunton last week.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Theatre

They think the found The Theatre. Pretty crazy. I wish I could go see it. Here's the link to the very short AP piece on it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Winter's Tale in Marin

"The Winter's Tale" at Marin Shakespeare was not the best Winter's Tale I've ever seen, but I think I had the most fun I've ever had watching it.

Marin Shakespeare is all about the whole theater-going experience. They have a package that they offer called the "Ultimate Theater Experience," which I thought was funny at first, but went on said ultimate experience I found out its title is pretty apt. It includes a dinner and desert, and they have a vegan option which is quite tasty. You eat out of doors with some people you've never met, and they're all talking about Shakespeare and the plays they've seen and having pre-show drinks. It's fun. Managing Director Lesley Currier or her husband Artistic Director Robert speak about the play you are about to see. I usually never like to hear what the runners of theaters have to say about the plays, but these guys are OK. They keep it kind of personal, what problems they had and what they thought about while producing, and they keep it pretty short. They reserve you the best seats in the house with cushions and take good care of you. You can tell they love what they do, and that adds to the enjoyment, too. It gets fairly cold in Marin, so bring a coat even if you think it's warm enough.

Rather than review this one, since I recommend going to Marin Shakespeare irrespective to what I think about their production of "The Winter's Tale," I am just going to put some notes here that I took while in the theater without names of actors or directors. The only things in this list I felt strongly about were Autolycus and Time, which came very close to ruining the whole production and the "Ultimate Theater Experience."

Things I hated:
  1. The sheep shearing festival is loooong and booooring with too many games.
  2. Time is on the stage the whole time doing things. Sometimes what he does is cool/funny/necessary, and he gives good speeches, but he's moving the whole time and making noises with sticks and things, so we are constantly aware of his presence, which sounds like a good idea, but it isn't. The magic of time is that we don't always notice it, time surprises us. It should be like that person you forget is at the table and shocks you with a perspicacious remark when you least expect it. If you want Time to stay on stage the whole time, let him sit still so that he doesn't become tedious and annoying.
  3. The thief has no understanding of comic timing. Everything is so slow with him that you can't wait for him to get off the stage.

What I liked:
  1. Perdita was good, and her surrogate father, too.
  2. The shepherd clowns are funny.
  3. Costumes were nice.
  4. Tiny lambs gag made me chuckle.
  5. Leontes is a million times better at the end of the play.
  6. They played the statue scene straight without gimmick. Refreshing!