Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Stephen King & John Mellencamp Musical?

In Time Magazine's Q&A with Stephen King, we have this exchange:

Q. So you're a news junkie?

KING: I got hooked by my wife. You'd be surprised, or
maybe you wouldn't be surprised, being that I'm around John Mellancamp a lot — he and I are doing this play. But it's the news 24-7. Always on.

Q.What's this play?

KING:It's called Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. It's a

Q.What's the plan with that?

KING: Hopefully we'll open out of town next year. Maybe in Atlanta, if they have any water left.

Q:When next year?

KING: My guess it probably like June or July. We're at the
point where we've got the director. The music's set. The book's set. We're fairly set. At least until audiences turn up. If they turn up their noses then things change. We're supposed to be, maybe in Atlanta, maybe in Boston, I've
heard talk about California. But we've got to open out of town and see if people like what we've got.

Q:What's the gist of the story?

KING: [Mellencamp] had bought a place in Indiana by a
lake, and he said that the person had told him the place was haunted. Well, you hear that — when you buy a place that's been around for a while in the woods, people are going to say it's haunted. [Apparently], there was some kind of tragedy that involved two brothers and a girl in the fifties — one of the brothers shot the other one apparently in some kind of a drunken game. Killed him. So the other brother and the girl jumped in the car to take the kid to the hospital, because they thought maybe they could save him. They ran into a tree and they were both killed. So apparently the ghosts haunted the place. So John asked me, "Do you think we could turn this into a play?"In a way, he came to me at the right time. He's been doing what he does for a long time, and I've been doing what I do for a long time. John has tried things, he's tried to keep the music fresh, he's continued to release new music, [to] try different things and different formats. And he wanted to graze, to try this idea of doing dramatic music. I've always been up for something that was a little different — just keep turning the earth over, so you don't dig yourself a rut and furnish it, you know what I mean? That's how we got together.

Q: So you expanded that little snippet of a story?

KING: Yeah. That's my job, to take something like that,
which is fairly generic, and make a story out of it that's unique. I [wrote a little and Mellencamp did some music] and then I went to him and said, "We've reached a decision point here. Neither of us knows s--- about theater. The only
thing I know is that, at this point, it either becomes like Andrew Lloyd Webber — and everybody sings everything — or it can be like My Fair Lady, where people actually talk in between the singing. They go blah blah blah and then [he sings] "I could have danced all night." And then they blah blah blah some more.

Q: Well, if it opens in New York, I'll check it out.

KING: It probably will. We're a bit radioactive, because
it has a subtext about homosexuality and it's set in the fifties so they bandy about a lot of pejorative words that were common coinage back then. But, Tennessee Williams got away with it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Genius and Waiting

You would think that an actress should stop reading a review that starts out this way:

The abominable Western twang which is her apology for the English language, has already been accepted with indulgence by the admiring and lachyrmose observers - including the weeping writer - of her acting.

But you'd be wrong. The New York Times review of L'Article 47 goes on to read:

This was in 1882.

Many theatre historians have realized that Miss Clara Morris, while often the subject of this type of dichotomy in many of her notices, was simply way ahead of her time. While virtually untrained, she dominated the theatre world with a strange mix of method and naturalistic acting techniques combined with an almost superhuman intuition of emotional beats and rythyms and their effect on an audience.

Read Miss Morris's description of her triumphant performance as Emilia in Othello. Her secret, timing her delivery with the bells:

...I trailed about after Desdemona--picked up the fatal
handkerchief--spoke a line here and there as Shakespeare wills she should, and bided my time as all Emilias must. Now I had noticed that many Emilias when they gave the alarm--cried out their "Murder! Murder!" against all the noise of the tolling bells, and came back upon the stage spent, and without voice or breath to finish their big scene with, and people thought them weak in consequence. A
long hanging bar of steel is generally used for the alarm, and blows struck upon it send forth a vibrating clangor that completely fills a theatre. I made an agreement with the prompter that he was not to strike the bar until I held up my hand to him. Then he was to strike one blow each time I raised my hand, and when I threw up both hands he was to raise Cain, until I was on the stage again. So
with throat trained by much shouting, when in the last act I cried: "I care not for thy sword; I'll make thee known,/Though I lost twenty lives." I turned, and crying "Help! help, ho! help!" ran off shouting, "The Moor has killed my mistress!" then, taking breath, gave the long-sustained, ever-rising, blood-curdling cry: "Murder! Murder! Murder!" One hand up, and one long clanging peal of a bell. "Murder! Murder! Murder!" One hand up and bell. "Murder! Murder! Murder!" Both hands up, and pandemonium broken loose--and, oh, joy! the audience applauding furiously.

"One--two--three--four," I counted with closed lips, then with a
fresh breath I burst upon the stage, followed by armed men, and with one last long full-throated cry of "Murder! the Moor has killed my mistress!" stood waiting for the applause to let me go on. A trick? yes, a small trick--a mere pretence to more breath than I really had, but it aroused the audience, it touched their imagination. They saw the horror-stricken woman racing through the night--waking the empty streets to life by that ever-thrilling cry of "Murder!"

You can get that anecdote and much more at Wayne Turney's Clara Morris Web Page.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Since the War - American Theatre?

George Hunka's latest post for the Guardian laments the loss of book-length criticism of American Drama.

He compares the yawning void of our criticism to the recent publication of Michael Billington's State of the Nation. (Number 970 on Amazon in the UK.)

Forgive me if I indulge in a bit of woozy nostalgia, but it's hard to
resist. With the publication in England this month of Michael Billington's State of the Nation, his history of straight drama in the postwar UK, I have to confess a little cross-Atlantic envy. (And I just checked this morning on its sales rank at - number 970! Not bad for a book on drama and theatre in the electronic-media-soaked television age.) Meanwhile, in Australia, critic
Hilary Glow has just published a book about that country's recent drama (and "the public agenda," as the subtitle of the book has it), Power Plays.

We could use a book like Billington's about postwar American drama; a lot has happened here since 1945 too. But who would write it? Billington is the chief theatre critic for the daily print Guardian; if you're waiting for a similar volume from one of the current New York Times critics for theatre, for example, you may have a long wait.

Who would write that volume here in the U.S?

I have a perfect candidate. Arthur Holmberg taught a fascinating class I took at Harvard Extension called, appropriately, American Drama Since 1945.

Mr. Holmberg, aside from being a nice fellow, and one one of the best lecturers I have ever had, is author of several volumes, including The Theatre of Robert Wilson. (Which I believe he was writing when I took the course.)

Don't know where he is currently, but I believe he still works with the American Repertory Theatre and teaches as Brandeis.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thankful for this Gift

An old man speaks to us from a chaise lounge. He is going for a swim, he tells us. His doctors have warned him not to, but he does anyway.

"We have, in our lives, the opportunity to create our own spaces, not predetermine them by the calculations of how much stress the walls will withstand. The walls, can be light as air, membranes that we move about to our own best intentions. The supports for our habitations, merely have to come from other sources. Not the walls. Anyway, I am going swimming. Who cares what these experts think."

He swims and returns to his cottage, a house projected.

He thinks he is lost, his house is not there, but he meets a group of young men with an American flag, and starts talking to them. They think he is crazy to be looking for a house here on this empty lot.

Lights begin to shoot from the ground in circles, matching the position of the pillars and he begins to dig, projected is the inverse of his house, under the ground.

He sweats and digs, pulling out a raw block of concrete, browned from the rain. "Breton," he muses.

An Indian man appears. "Are you using that?"

"It appears to be extra. But I am not sure that they are finished."

"I am not sure I am finished. May I have it?"

"But they are building a city, friend. The city takes much material."

"And makes much waste. If this is material, and wanted, I will go, but if it is waste to you, it is not to me. And I will have it."

"For what purpose?"

"In the night, I take what is being built and build from it, under it and over it."

"Where do you build, in what area?"

"Chandigarh? You know of it?"

"Where in Chandigarh? I know of the place well, it is all somewhere up here, (points to his head,) most parts. This is exciting. Yes, I know of it. I have the plans somewhere here."

"The plans?"

"I, yes, I...planned the city, the capital, after the partition, I planned it and even designed some of the main buildings."

"I should go.

"Do you know it is a planned city, a new city."

"I am a road inspector. I know the plans."

"And the building you are building is where?"

"I need to be on my way."

"Are you in the city limits? What are you building, maybe it is in my plans?"

"My work is on the outskirts. District IV."

"The lake? Outskirts, no, that is part of the boundary. What are you constructing?"

"You misunderstand, me."

"There is no zoning there. A green boundary around the city to..."

"I am not constructing. And I know why the zoning was implemented. If you have no use for that stone, give it to me, please. If you have use, I will be on the road, now."

"Please, stay. Help me dig, would you? My house has been...inverted. I believe it has been inverted. It is under the ground, and I believe it is upside down."

The Indian Man helps him dig. The old man tells of how he gifted a lake to District IV. The Indian starts to tell of his work:

"I know the lake, and my work is there. When the city was reinvented, a new capitol, there was much left over from the old and the new. I was walking home one night and...a construction site, and all of its beams and concrete and iron bars in a heap. But I saw something there, in the rubble, a half moon of smooth ceramic, bowed out in the middle. Where would it be taken? I picked up another, and another. I put them into my vehicle and kept them there. I drove out though, several times, loading more and more."

The Indian tells of how he took the rubble to moonlit forest and laid the pieces out. As he tells this he pulls pieces from the dirt and begins to lay them out, adjusting them. "A straight piece here. A straight piece there, until... An indian woman appears, holding a basket. He is delighted.

"Beautiful. Beautiful. I began to see, in the rubble, a family, so I constructed more."

The old man and the Indian are interrupted by an official with a flashlight. The official has come in search of the road inspector.

"I am him." The Indian says.

"You are under arrest. The District IV lake region is not to be developed upon."

There is a confrontation. The old man steps in to the argument. He asks why this official arrest for just a few random sculptures.
The official answers:

"There had been reports of activity, constant leavings and goings at the lake during the night. Far up on the hills. You'll follow my story, now. Investigation is necessary. The reports increased, I sent several men to the area over the years, but they came back with no evidence of illicit leavings or goings. You'll appreciate my predicament. Reports continued, but the geography of the lake is difficult and to dispatch men to search such a large area takes them time of which I would appreciate being spent on other endeavours. You'll see my side of things. I went myself to the area. I saw, at first, a wall, with ceramic set into it. A curved wall that ran off to the right, under some trees. You'll imagine my surprise. I followed and came upon, you'll forgive my language, his damn sculptures. You will afford me the opinion."

The old man, says, "But arrest, for a few sculptures, couldn't they stay, hidden there. This man is helping me."

The Official: "You'll forgive my assessement of your capacity. You do not understand the magnitude of the offense. These things were on public land, a clear conservatory of natural beauty. A boundary and gift from those who designed our city after partition."
Old Man: "In his description there is beauty, though not natural, and it seems to me that a few figures may be delightful to come upon in the forest. I mean how can a few pieces of raw and discarded materials create such an offense."
The Official and the Road Inspector are silent.

The Official: "The reports, you'll remember from my detailed account just now, continued for years."


"When I came upon the group of sculptures, these figures, I noticed another curved path, which led me to a waterfall, at which were positioned another group of figures. Then more, and more. You will not misinterpret my awe, but there just seemed to be no end. No end at all. There were, at a rough count, some forty."

"Forty sculptures?"

"No, Forty Acres."

"How many sculptures?" The old man asks, looking to both men.

The road inspector: "I forget."

The official: "Countless."

During the preceding, figures appear, like the sculptures, and begin to help dig.

They finally unearth:

The Old Man rememembers a monastery he built on hillside, and the grass beneath it.

"Is this the offspring?"

Can beauty be made on the windswept plaza of this landmark? Will the mayor build his new monument on the waterfront?

The ability to fight City Hall takes on a new meaning when faced with an entity conceived in the solidity of brute materials.

Who will win?


The preceding was brought to you directly from the mind of a playwright trying to find dramatic and theatrical connections between different ideas that are starting to reach out to one another.

It may not be a play I ever write, it may be one I write and discard, or it may be that it ends up looking nothing like what you seeing here.

But this is the beginning, definitely the beginning. This is the part of the process where I am starting to see connections, hear dialogue, feel a structure/story.

Consider the above an action snapshot of how a play is birthed in my mind.

This is creativity, the gift for which I am thankful.


The architect Le Corbusier can be wikied here.

The inverted Villa Savoye is the award winning project, Park of the Lost Object by Jacky Bowring.

More on Nek Chand's fantasy Rock Garden in Chandigarh here.

Here is an interesting history and evaluation of Boston's City Hall from Walt Lockley.

Geoff Edgers' reporting on the City Hall fights with Mayor Menino is here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Boston Theatre - Streamers Opens

Streamers opened this week at the Huntington. File the reviews under: "Did they see the same show?"

Louise Kennedy is completely underwhelmed, as is Jenna Scherer in the Herald. While, Thomas Garvey calls it the Best Show of the Year.

Jenna Scherer in the Herald wins the I don't think this is exactly what you meant award:

But “Streamers” is not about war. It’s about untested young men thrown together in tight quarters and faced with an overwhelming possibility.

Nah, doesn't sound like war at all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

TV Writers Unite!

Theresa Rebeck's new collection of her plays includes an introduction that spends most of its time in defense of her writing for television.

She has a very interesting line of thought in the essay. When she first saw success on the stages of New York she kept being labelled as a "feminist playwright." She thought this was strange because she never considered her plays overtly feminist. (I agree there.) In fact, because one play, Spike Heels, incorporated an incident of sexual harassment it strengthened this view of her. However, as Rebeck points out, the play was not about sexual harassment.

This problem of being identified as a feminist or woman playwright soon went away, but only because it was replaced with a new identity that she has yet to shake until this day. She wryly explains, "I became known as the Playwright Who Writes for Television." This label was affixed after she wrote an essay about her decision to write for NYPD Blue. That essay made its way into the pages of American Theatre and, well, all hell broke loose.

She writes about how very few reviewers can write a review of her work without somehow mentioning this fact.

While that is the overall structure of her introduction, the piece does contains several contradictions and unsupported toss offs that make it appear incredibly defensive. She keeps saying it is no big deal for her to decide to write for television to point where, (I am sorry to any of her fans and to Ms. Rebeck herself,) it really starts to sound as if she is trying to convince herself that it is OK.

For the record, I could really give a crap less if a playwright also writes for television. One blogger put it so succintly, (I can't remember which one):

If Diana Son or Theresa Rebeck were having to take a job in a
bank or as a waitress to support their playwriting we wouldn't be having these discussions.

And I'll go even further: there is some damn good television being written out there.

In The Huffington Post, playwright Jon Robin Baitz pens more or less an open letter to Charles Isherwood, the Critic for the New York Times, in response to Isherwood's article (that was half-facetious by Isherwood's own admission) about how playwrights who are currently writing for television should use the strike to maybe write a few plays.

Baitz criticizes the critics at the Times, as we all do. His main thesis is that the power of Times's critics, and their hostility playwrights doesn't help the situation. But then, surprisingly, Baitz gives a slap in the mouth to an up and coming playwright, and Pulitzer Prize finalist Will Eno.

As a critic, Isherwood is not without value, though many people are still scratching their heads over his almost Olympian celebration of an inscrutable monologue a few years ago at a Union Square theater.

That "monologue" would be Will Eno's Thom Pain which had more bravery in its concept than Baitz's last three plays combined. (Baitz had to back off and publish a P.S. apologizing for taking a swipe at another playwright, probably because he got a lot flack. But he still doesn't name the playwright in his apology.)

At least Rebeck has no problem actually naming those she is outright envious of as far as reviews go. In the aforementioned introduction to her anthology she calls Mamet a misogynist, and admits she was angry at Frank Rich for expressing relief, upon the opening of Mamet's Oleanna, that somebody had finally written a play about sexual harassment. After all, Rebeck says, she had written a play about sexual harassment.

But wait a minute, a few paragraphs before wasn't Ms. Rebeck insisting that her play wasn't about sexual harassment?

After reading these apologies by two leading dramatists I start to feel a little embarassed for them. It seems pettiness and jealousy tend to get the better of them over a real discussion of the issues.

It is depressing on another front as well. It seems that two dramatists who are incredibly successful, (Rebeck has a play on Broadway and Baitz just had one there a little bit ago,) let the critics get to them.

I will admit, I have no idea of the pressures of being a playwright that collects commissions from around the country and is able to get a reading of their latest plays at any number of regional or New York-based theatres. I am sure it must be hell. However, I do empathize with the pain of a bad review, but please.

I can never tell what Baitz and Rebeck are really complaining about here. Reviews are really in the eye of the beholder sometimes. Baitz and Rebeck rarely receive horrible reviews from the Times. From what I have read over the years, the reviews range from mixed to very positive.

Here is Ben Brantley on Rebeck's Omnium Gatherum: (Review titled "A Feisty Feast of Wicked Wit.")

But for a work that might at first be taken as an exceedingly talky allegory, ''Omnium Gatherum'' sustains a fluid, frantic sense of paradox that feels remarkably close to everyday life in the wake of 9/11. Its characters are irresistibly given to breaking off from discussion of cosmic truths to devote equal passion to the taste of well-cooked salmon or Lydia's riveting confessions about her love life.

Ms. Rebeck and Ms. Gersten-Vassilaros savor these moments of pleasure, refusing to discount them as merely frivolous. The most refreshing surprise of ''Omnium Gatherum'' is that it doesn't merely reiterate Sartre's dictum that hell is other people. It hints that heaven, however fleetingly it is felt, is other people, too.

Not a mention of her television writing in the whole review.

Here is a sample of Charles Isherwood's positive review of Rebeck's The Scene:

Ms. Rebeck’s dialogue bristles with biting observations about the obsessions of aspiring New Yorkers who continually rub up against more successful versions of themselves. ...

But “The Scene” certainly makes up in forceful comedy what it may now lack in psychological nuance, and Ms. Rebeck’s dark-hued morality tale contains enough fresh insights into the cultural landscape to freshen what is essentially a classic boy-meets-bad-girl story.

After reading the latest writings from Mr. Baitz and from Ms. Rebeck, I am only left to conclude that they simply want the reviews Mr. Mamet occasionally gets or that Will Eno received for Thom Pain.

So do I, but it is not that simple. At all.

In other words, Baitz and Rebeck don't really have a problem with Times reviews, they just have a problem with who is getting good ones. After all, how can they not get raves when they are being produced all over the country and on Broadway?

Oh, it must be because they write for television!

Boston Theatre Artists - Today is the The Deadline

Just a public service announcement to fellow Boston Theatre Artists who are freelancing or cobbling a living together from multiple part time jobs that provide no benefits.

After today, having no health insurance in Massachusetts is NOT an option.

November 15th is the deadline to avoid a $200.00 penalty on your state income tax.

If your yearly income is $31,000.00 or under you can qualify for a subsidized plan.

Up until even this week it is amazing how many freelance artists I meet who are completely unaware of the mandate. So this is just a friendly bulletin.

Of course, the $200.00 penalty pales in comparison to the cost of some of the plan options if you make over the $31,000.00. For instance, if my employer decided to drop health insurance as a benefit right now, my expenses would go up about 3-4K a year. (My employer covers a portion.)

For those in Stagesource, you may want to look at their health plans which, at last look, seem as reasonable as those in the MA Connector.

At any rate, get familiar with the MA Commonwealth Connector website. Or call them.

Any David Hare type playwrights in Massachusetts? Start sharpening your pencils and you could come up with a play with about this experiment in Health Care.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Boston Theatre - Miracle on 34th Not in the Curriculum

The Herald has more on the Winchester Middle School cancelling the trip to the Miracle on 34th Street at the Stoneham Theatre:

Good point actually, although I doubt that the curriculum had as much to do with the decision as he is letting on here.

But, in fact, the school is not cancelling their trip to the North Shore Music Theater's A Christmas Carol. Dickens is a part of the canon and that seems enough to override the small minority protesting that trip as well. With Miracle, the principal is on shakier ground educationally.

“It is something we teach in the sixth-grade curriculum. They read an abridged version of the Dickens classic,” French said. “None of that is true for ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ ”

One of the saddest things I have read in the coverage of this whole incident is that they are reading an "abridged version of the Dicken's classic." After all, the unabridged version doesn't take much longer to read than a trip to North Shore Music Theater to see the work on stage.

Hey, at least its Dickens, whereas Miracle on 34th Street is not.

But, not so fast.

Miracle on 34th Street, while I am not arguing for its canonization, is about a lot more than Santa Claus. Remember, the film's conflict arises when an iconic image runs afoul of the corporate entity that has coopted it for profit.

And the courtroom drama that sits at the center of the film and the discussions by adults about Kris Kringle are actually not a bad introduction for children to the philosophical debates over existence, reason, and the individual versus society and the dangers of corporate expansion. And here in a movie made in 1947 you have a child of divorce.

Why aren't more Christmas plays being written by today's dramatists? It seems a ready-made subject for the supposedly left-leaning corp of playwrights and theatre practitioners. (The blogosphere is buzzing about a column in the Guardian blog about the dearth of conservative plays.)

Christmas isn't going away, in fact the spirit that is at the heart of it, is under attack more than ever. The Christmas Holidays are a remarkable combination of religious celebration, warranted and unwarranted optimism, corporate perpetuation of images, etc.

Is Dicken's classic, (as Harold Bloom would put it,) an unscalable barrier in the the world of his anxiety of influence? Or is it simply the market leader, the massive head before the long tail. In Boston we do have alternatives in the form of The Santaland Diaries, (with John Kuntz, above left,) and Ryan Landry's Silent Night of the Lambs. (At right.)

I suppose that Miracle on 34th Street is not quite in the curriculum, or the canon, but at least the creators were trying.

Jose Rivera in his 36 Assumptions about Writing Plays said the following:

Don't be afraid to attempt the great themes: death, war, sexuality,
identity, fate, God, Existence, politics, love.

To which I'll add Christmas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Boston Theatre - Stoneham's Controversial Play

Read Michael Graham's blog today.

A middle school in Winchester is cancelling a planned trip to a controversial show at Stoneham Theatre. The show has "objectionable" content.

Read the e-mail from the principal of the school here.

Oh, by the way, the show is Miracle on 34th Street.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Another Country Productions and Company One are combining for the SLAMBoston at the BCA on Tuesday Night!

Comp, John Shea's Somerville-based play that explores the bonds between working class brothers continues at the Boston Playwrights Theatre.

The Lyric's production of Dying City, continues through this weekend.

Sheila Callaghan's Dead City, of which I have heard good things, goes into its second weekend at Apollinaire Theatre Company (Formerly Theaterzone) in Chelsea.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Boston Theatre and Cezanne in the Herald?

The Herald's web presence has revamped the Arts section known as The Edge.

It is mostly Associated Press content, but Jenna Scherer is regularly covering theatre of all sizes there, while also still filing her reviews at the Weekly Dig.

Interesting enough, the Herald allows comments on articles and reviews. Will the Globe be far behind?

You Don't Like Torture, Move to... Cuba?

This morning on WRKO Tom Finneran and Wendy Murphy were debating torture. Murphy's line was basically of this variety: Torture is done, it always has been done and, who are we kidding, we will do it in the future.

A Marine Major called into the show to say that he resented Wendy saying this because, in his experience, that is not the truth. (He actually said that he wanted to reach through the phone and throttle her.) Marines are not trained to torture and it doesn't happen all the time on the battlefield.

Wendy said that it does, of course, happen.

The Major countered with the key point in the discussion: (Paraphrasing, no transcript.) "That may be so, but then they are committing an illegal act, and I would have them arrested. It is illegal!"

To which, Wendy Murphy replied, (to the best of my memory,) "Oh come, on, illegal? It is done all the time. If you don't like it move to Cuba!"

That's right, folks. To a Marine Major, with almost two decades of service to the United States in uniform, Ms. Murphy's sentiment is that he can move to Cuba.

Tom Finneran rightly called her statement outrageous.

The Major rightly pointed out, (he got the last word,) he may not have to move to Cuba, because with talk like this the United States will eventually be the same thing.

It was one of the most shocking exchanges I have heard on talk radio with regards to torture. This Major seemed truly disturbed with what he was hearing from the callers and Ms. Murphy.

Tom Finneran is usually the first one to back down and qualify his positions when faced with an onslaught of callers and a guest opposing him, whether it be a liberal or conservative position being debated. (His political genetics have hard-wired him this way, possibly forever.) But up until this Major's call at least he was holding the line that this debate is "not academic."

Finneran was actually making a great point against the substance of the majority of the pro-torture callers. The major point, and the tone of their conversation, was "why are we even having this discussion?"

Finneran kept arguing with Murphy and the callers that without the DISCUSSION we are then in Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Castro's Cuba.

Right now, in Boston, we have three plays with men in uniform.

David Rabe's Streamers opens at the Huntington Theatre Company. Intimate and shocking, the play explores the violent impulses that extend through society, and how these impulses are magnified and anxieties are ratcheted up a notch when a civil society finds itself in armed conflict.

Veteran's Day is Sunday.

If you go to see Streamers at the Boston University Theater on Huntington Avenue this weekend, walk down to the front of the auditorium before the show or at intermission. Look from the first row back at the audience. (890 people)

Now, picture every person in every seat in a military uniform. And dead.

Then times that auditorium by 4 and one third. (3858 to date.)

Christopher Shinn's Dying City at the Lyric deals with the death of a soldier in Iraq, and the first part of The Kentucky Cycle at the Black Box at the Boston Center for the Arts, deals with the Civil War and, specifically, the guerilla tactics of William Quantrill and his Raiders.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sad Nostalgia for My Essayons Brothers and Sisters

This from the Seattle Weekly Blog:

As we first reported a month ago, Oddfellows Hall—the Capitol Hill home to the Velocity dance studio, Century ballroom, and a number of other arts organizations—has been sold, and there's been much anxious murmuring since about what the plans might be. Well, the buyer, Ted Schroth of GTS Development (which also did Trace Lofts), tells me he plans to send out a press release on Monday outlining his plans.

Some insight can already be gleaned from the permit status report
for the project on the Seattle DPD Web site. As our Sandi Kurtz observes, it proproses changes to the 1st and 4th floors of the four-story building.

Specifically, the developers (via their architects) are proposing to change the usage of some spaces from "assembly" (theater, meeting space, etc.) to B (business use, usually offices).

Says Sandi: "The changes that are germane to the arts use of the
building are the ones on the 4th floor, where Velocity operates the old Seattle Mime Theater space, now called the Chamber Theater. [It's where Ghost Light is putting on Rosencrantz right now.] It's been a relatively popular space for artists who self-produce — it was fairly inexpensive, both as a theater and as a rehearsal space, it came with a lighting set-up in place, it's in a well-know building.It looks from the job description that the new owners would be closing that space if they follow through with their proposed remodel."

Also, more at The Stranger.

Bernice Snell will stop at nothing to rise to top rank of architects in the country. With a vicious, bullying leadership style, (and a little help from her perscription drugs.) she pushes a new cathedral to its completion,

Bernice is hard-assed, foul-mouthed, brow-beating and...a nun!

When a timid, art school drop-out, Charlotte shows up looking for a job, it seems like Bernice has a new victim to terrorize. But Charlotte may have just the thing that the good Sister needs...

The perfect mural!

Sister Snell by Mark Troy (Directed by me and Starring Ebony A. Mills, Leeta White, and Kara Dunne,) is just one of the short plays on the bill at the SLAMBoston this coming Tuesday, November 13th at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The evening's offerings includes a play by Writing Life x3 blogger and playwright Patrick Gabridge.

The Slam is a co-production of Another Country and Company One.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Boston Theatre - Dying or Dead?

This weekend, if you can't get enough of a Dying City, then you can always check out a Dead City.

Film On Stage - Donnie Darko

In her review of the American Repertory Theatre's adaptation of the film Donnie Darko, Louise Kennedy thetorically asks, "Why not?" Then she answers:

Well, for one thing (and stop me if you've heard this one before),
movies are different from plays. This movie, in particular, derives most of its appeal from exactly those qualities that are impossible to translate to the stage: the way it looks, the way it sounds, and its deft marriage of cinematography and soundtrack to create a polished, subtly off-kilter, and utterly idiosyncratic representation of 1980s suburbia. And its weaknesses, unfortunately, land precisely in those areas most likely to be highlighted by adapting it for live performance: the lapses into pretension and incoherence of
its text.

Thus many lines, lines that sound vaguely cool or Meaningful when
heard in passing as we're immersed in the gleaming surfaces of Kelly's cinematically surreal world, thud with painful portentousness when they're uttered by a person standing right in front of us onstage.


But in attempting to evoke the look of a quick cut or a two-shot, Stern sometimes ignores the imperatives of theatrical space: We're asked, impossibly, to focus on both outer edges of the stage at once, or we're reduced to watching Donnie and his girlfriend (the suitably brooding Dan McCabe and coltish Flora Diaz) stand dead center, with nothing visually going on in the vast spaces around them, as if we could crop out the background as effortlessly as a camera does. We can't, and imaginative theater doesn't ask us to.

I have an idea of what she is talking about, but it is difficult from the the description to completely agree. I haven't seen the production of Donnie Darko, but I have seen hundreds of theatrical productions stage moments in the ways she is mentioning.

For instance, having two people with nothing visual going on in the vast space around them can be used as a powerfull suggestion of overwhelming circumstances or a feeling of being small in the scale of the universe.

Anybody out there seen the show yet, and comment on what the review is mentioning.

***As a side note, film critic Jim Emerson, I believe hits the nail on the head with his analysis of why the film Donnie Darko is so lasting, in a cult sort of way. Here he talks about Frank, the gigantic Rabbit that haunts Donnie throughout the film:

There are other bunnies and stuffed animals (and Smurfs and cartoon rabbits from "Watership Down" in the deleted scenes and "Director's Cut") throughout the movie. But the big one is, of course, Frank. Donnie knows his sister isn't just sleeping with her cuddly stuffed bunny anymore -- she's sleeping with a full-sized and (relatively) hairy man. That Frank has the body of a stuffed animal and the head of a vicious metallic animal seems to be an indication of Donnie's mixed-up feelings toward him (fear, arousal, rage, respect, envy), as the male who's bedding his sister.


Frank is a manifestation of that ambivalent aspect of Donnie's own erupting id, his stifled/frustrated hormonal urges, his feelings of being trapped in his own body and his own brain between childhood and the full-blown sexuality he so desires but knows he can't act on (with Elizabeth, anyway). How appropriate that he's attending Middlesex High School; when it comes to sex, he's stuck in the middle.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Disease and the Cure

Serious artists are inevitably aware of kitsch: they fear it, are
constantly on guard against it, and if they flirt with kitsch it is with a sense of risk, knowing that all artistic effort is wasted should you ever cross the line. No artist better illustrates this than Mahler. Time and again in his great symphonies he finds himself tempted: he himself admitted it, though in other words, to Freud. The mass-produced nostalgia of the Hapsburg empire is waiting at the door of consciousness and could burst in at any time. Waiting, too, is that winsome, folk-inspired evocation of adolescent love, with its horn chords and lingering upbeats, its lilting rhythm and familiar tonal phrases. Listen to the slow movement of the Sixth Symphony, and you will sense it hovering out of earshot, held back by phrases just that bit more angular than the cliché requires, by Wagnerized harmonies, and by an instrumentation that lets in a breeze of saving irony. In the adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, by contrast,
kitsch is triumphant. The result is film music par excellence—and used as such by Visconti, in his kitsched-up version of Mann's Death in Venice.


Can we escape from kitsch? In real life, it surrounds us on every side. Pop music, cartoons, Christmas cards—these are familiar enough. But the escape routes are also kitsched. Those who flee from the consumer society into the sanctuary of New Age religion, say, find that the walls are decorated with the familiar sticky clichés and that the background music comes from Ketelbey via Vangelis and Ravi Shankar. The art museums are overflowing with abstract kitsch,
and the concert halls have been colonized by a tonal minimalism that suffers from the same disease. Nor is the world of politics immune.


Art resists the disease; if it ceases to resist, it is no longer art.
The writers, composers, and painters whom we admire are those who portray the uncorrupted soul, who show us how we might feel sincerely, even in an age when fake emotion is the currency of daily life. The task of criticism is surely to guide us to these artists and to teach us to measure our lives by their standard. It should dwell on the art of the past, which offers such moving instances of humanity in its exalted and self-redemptive state. And it should select from our contemporaries poets like Rosanna Warren and Geoffrey Hill, composers like Arvo Pärt, and novelists like Ian McEwan: not that they are without faults, but they have retained the ability to distinguish the true from the false emotion and so offer comfort to the contrite heart.

Believe It - Or Not

Leonard Jacobs writes a post on the tolerance thresholds for the bungee cords of disbelief:

If we don't believe Cyrano or any man could have had a nose that size, Rostand's climax is risible, too. If we argue with regard to Long Day's Journey that all of those conversations, all of those confessions, all of those concerns, all of those discoveries, all of those speculations and emotional disfigurements, all of those cataclysms and superlative arias could not possibly have occurred within the space of a single day, O'Neill's best play (some say) is fruitless to fathom.

And this is the challenge critics face: What is the tripwire for dramatic plausibility? I'd argue that Adam may have one tripwire and I another -- vive le difference, as they say. To demean A Bronx Tale because it may indulge in literary or dramatic liberties with a set of known facts for for the purposes of storytelling, however, has to be viewed as a little bit hypocritical; O'Neill did rather the same thing.

Vive le difference is right!

Indeed, I am grateful for this observation of Leonard's because it helps explain to me his very positive review of Theresa Rebek's Mauritius. (Much as Leonard wrote his post to explain a disagreement in a review of one of his colleagues.) Unfortunately, when I saw the production of the play here in Boston my suspension of disbelief only hung on by a thread after the first scene or two, and then it snapped soon after. However, for others the suspension obviously held steady enough for them to enjoy the play and many of the themes and elements Mr. Jacobs points to in his review. For me, untethered from plausability, all of those themes seemed like, well... just that, themes - abstract concepts disconnected from each other, the world outside the theater and my life up to this point.

One of my favorite Movie Answer Man columns on Roger Ebert's Site was the following exchange about the Michael Bay Movie Transformers:

Question from Reader: A unique thing happened while I was watching "Transformers." I was not drawn out of the reality of the scenes by the digital effects. Certainly there were digital effects present, but Michael Bay handled them with a different mindset than most contemporary action directors. My biggest issue with computerized F/X is that it breaks the magic of movies by isolating the action from the drama. By staying close on his digital subjects, slowing down and limiting their movements, and maintaining human perspective within the shots, he was able to produce some amazing effects. Vincent Santino, Burbank, Calif.

Roger Ebert. I confess that when a Chevy Camaro turned
into a towering robot, I was drawn out of the reality.

Let's Get Clear on Waterboarding

Yesterday, The NY Daily News ran an op-ed from a former Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) Master Instructor and Chief of Training.

I know the waterboard personally and intimately. Our staff was required to undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception.
I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of
hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school's interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques employed by the Army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What is less frequently reported is that our training was designed to show how an evil totalitarian enemy would use torture at the slightest whim.

Having been subjected to this technique, I can say: It is risky but
not entirely dangerous when applied in training for a very short period. However, when performed on an unsuspecting prisoner, waterboarding is a torture technique - without a doubt. There is no way to sugarcoat it.

In the media, waterboarding is called "simulated drowning,"
but that's a misnomer. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim IS drowning.

(Emphasis is from the original quote.)

I have had the experience of being in a simulated POW experience a couple of times. As Military Intelligence linguist we did this annually as a joint training exercise combined with the Military Police and Military Intelligence Interrogators.

While never submitted to anything like what goes on at SERES, I have been shoved, hogtied, left in the sun with no water, been forced to kneel on gravel for hours, and much more.

I have written a play about these experiences, but it isn't finished yet. I started it before 9/11, and now, with the torture debate so critical and present, it seems very topical, but it needs some changes. Though I did have, at its core, an idea of examining what confinement and information and intelligence gathering mean to us as a society.