Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 May 2005


Fellini's 8 1/2 is not exactly a mess. It's more like... a carnival. I have been avoiding watching it for a while now, and when I finally got up the moxie to put it into the top regions of my Netflix queue, I received it in the mail and just let it sit on top of my DVD player for three weeks or so. I watched it tonight, and I have to say that it was exactly what I expected it to be. It wasn't, for me, a work of genius the way La Dolce Vita and Nights of Cabiria are. (Truth be told I have only seen 4 or 5 of his films.) But 8 1/2 is very good. It isn't what I would call confusing but it is definitely about confusion in a lot of ways and it does a fabulous job of capturing the way memory and fantasy are so much a part of everyday existence: the scenes merge right into one another as Guido thinks of them. It's frequently visually arresting and yet at times it feels a lot like La Dolce Vita: perhaps it's the presence of Marcello Mastroianni. I dunno. I mean, it's excellent, but I didn't love it.

30 May 2005

Voice Mail Round-up

The following message was completely set to music:

Oh, everything is fine in Perrysburg, Ohio on this wintery oh wintery day.
You can take your time; there's never any hurry when you're living the dancer's way.
I just got done with rehearsal and I was just thinkin' of you.
Call me when you get this message 'cause I miss you oh so much and I want to see your face,
So call me when you get this. I hope you're having a great day. I think of you every five minutes.
I think that my life has turned into a musical; what do you think about this?
I wish that you were with me so we could do bell-kicks down the hall.
We could make everyone fall in love with us while we're traveling along in our lovely little song.
I love you.


I have an idea. Let's pretend that it's your birthday... and let's have cake and wine--'cause that goes really good with cake--and ice cream and streamers and blowers and... strippers and we can have a big birthday party tonight, so if you're available, you could call me and we could have your birthday party... 'cause it's your birthday today. (I'm very excited.) Yep, it's your birthday and today you're going to be... thirty-seven.
I think we should start practicing birthdays for when we're older so we know how to react. 'Cause birthdays when we're older are gonna be really hard, so we'll just practice and pretend that today you're gonna be thirty-seven. So I'm gonna go home and have cake and wine and strippers. Call me.


The two above are from my soon-to-be-married friend Jill. I have two messages from my friend Linda that I wanted to share, but their charm rests in the brilliant accents that she's doing. Plus she talks so damn fast I hardly know what she's saying.

28 May 2005

More Life

I watched some of Angels in America today. I've seen it before, of course, but I felt like it. (This goes directly contrary to my earlier post about not re-watching things, but this is a play, and, well, it was written by Tony Kushner. Stop judging me.) I watched about two hours of it. I fast-forwarded most of that Joe Pitt fucker and all of Harper. I mostly just care about the faggots.

And OH MY GOD IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS SIX-HOUR EPIC GO OUT AND RENT IT AND SIT DOWN AND WATCH IT. I sat on my sofa with my roommate and his friend sitting right outside and just bawled my eyes out. There is just nothing like this movie. Nothing. I swear to god. It means so much and it says so much. It's absolutely incomparable.

Personal Life?

What personal life? I wish there were something to share. Instead, I have only a Pisces' usual dreams. Everything is analyzed and taken to mean way more than it actually does and I end up, perhaps not frustrated, but at any rate without anyone with whom I can share my dreams.

It's a cycle, I suppose, and I won't really get over him until I find someone else to think about.


Lately I've felt, again, a desire to watch (or rather to listen to) audio commentaries on DVD's. Perhaps I am becoming interested in filmmaking itself or maybe I am more broadly fascinated by the artistic processes of other people. Filmmaking, especially, seems to me to be something requiring collaboration, but it also seems to be a medium where success and vision are things that actually can be achieved.
I have been obsessed with Merchant Ivory lately, as I have said, and so I have been watching everything I can on the Merchant Ivory DVD's I've been getting. The Criterion Collection has released 18 of their films under something they've called The Merchant Ivory Collection, and these DVD's look great and have some nice extras on them: most notably interviews with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (and usually Richard Robbins as well). Very few have commentaries, but they all have these interviews as well as short films from the period or in the same vein. And I've been watching all the extras on these DVD's.
Last week I came home from work and watched The Householder, several interviews about The Householder and then I watched Merchant's first film The Creation of Woman and Ivory's second short The Sword and the Flute. By that time it was so late I had to go to bed.
Then the other day I finished watching Down by Law and noticed there was a Jarmusch interview on the DVD, so I just started listening to it. An hour had gone by before I snapped out of it.
I borrowed Heat and Dust from my boss the other day and I still haven't returned it because (unlike most of The Merchant Ivory Collection) this one has a commentary with Merchant, Greta Scacchi and Nickolas Grace. So I haven't given it back because I just have to watch it. (Obsession, remember.)
And then this morning, as is my usual custom on Saturdays, I watched a film: Paul Mazursky's first feature Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. It's really great and very Sixties and I am so interested in the making of it and so I turned on the commentary, which features Mazursky and Robert Culp and Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon. I started listening to it and then I just had to stop. I can't do it.
There are too many films to see. If I am going to commit to re-watching a film, I definitely want to listen to the commentary, but there are so many films I still haven't seen at all (For instance, I have Fellini's 8 1/2 and David Gordon Green's Undertow at the house right now, just waiting for me) and I need to watch those... not to mention all of the other films from decades past that I still haven't seen. I just can't justify re-watching a movie, no matter how good. There is too much I still need to see.

26 May 2005

I Feel Like I Just Got Punched in the Gut

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Filmmaker Ismail Merchant, 68, passed away at 4.30 pm on Wednesday at a hospital in London, surrounded by friends and family. He was unmarried, and had no children.

His brother-in-law Waheed Chauhan told that Merchant's ulcer burst, causing his death. Merchant had recently undergone surgery for abdominal ulcers. "His body will be brought to Mumbai in about two days for the cremation," Chauhan added.

'It is with great sadness that Merchant Ivory Productions announces that Ismail Merchant, our company founder and beloved producer for more than 44 years, has passed away after a brief illness in a London hospital where he was working on his latest film, The White Countess,' a note on the Merchant Ivory Productions Web site said. Merchant co-founded the company with filmmaker James Ivory.

Merchant was born in Mumbai on Christmas Day in 1936. When he was 22, he traveled to the US to study business at New York University, but was soon sidetracked into the film world.

Merchant's first film was The Creation of Woman, which was an official US entry in the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. The short film also earned an Academy Award nomination that year.

It was en route to Cannes that Merchant met filmmaker Ivory. The stated objective of Merchant Ivory Productions was to make 'English-language films in India aimed at the international market'.

In 1963, MIP premiered its first production, The Householder, starring Bollywood matinee idol Shashi Kapoor.

Merchant and Ivory, in tandem with screenwriter Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala, made close to 40 films together. They won Oscars for such efforts as the adaptation of E M Forster's A Room With A View, and Howards End (three Oscars apiece).

The two went on to earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema history.

Merchant's other love was cuisine; he is the author of numerous books on cooking, including Ismail Merchant's Indian Cooking and Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals.

He also wrote books on the making of films such as The Deceivers and The Proprietor. His last book was My Passage From India: A Filmmaker's Jurney from Bombay to Hollywood and Beyond.

Merchant was honored with the Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Bard's College, New York. For his outstanding contribution to cinema, he was given the title of Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French culture ministry.

25 May 2005

Violence, Man.

This evening's plan was to go see Ladies of Lavender, but I realized this was the last week Sin City was playing in my town and if I didn't catch it tonight I was going to be assed-out. So I paid my cheap $6 and saw the Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino noir-fest at the Academy theatre down the street. The movie was cute. It has loads of style, not a thing to say in the world, an extremely clever score (by Rodriguez, naturally), some very nice performances--Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rodriguez perennial Mickey Rourke, and Rosario Dawson who is fucking hot--but damn this movie is dumb. The Tarantino sequence stands out (not unexpectedly). It's the most hip and the most dangerous from a storytelling point of view. The other stuff is mostly just brutality after brutality with unforgivable acts being punished in kind. It looks fabulous, of course: you could tell that from the trailer--shit, you could tell that from the one-sheets--but it's not really much to get too excited over. It's exciting in parts (I guess) and it has a few nice visuals, but no moments that have anything whatever to do with reality in any way and--worse yet--I never really felt satisfied by the carnage the way I did in Kill Bill, or the way I did with Oldboy or even, say Infernal Affairs or Pulp Fiction.

Enough of that...

I saw the Third Annual Alpha Psi Omega production last night (a tradition Allan (and Marcos) and I started our senior year at CSUP.) Last year was Cloud 9. This year it was Matthew Reidy's Growing Up Johnnie and Stosh. It's a fine choice for a play, and I think it's a very nicely-written piece about Midwest ennui, violence and prejudice (something I know next to nothing about, thankfully.) It has an excellent ending at any rate and a very nice setup. Some stuff is not as tight as I would have liked--one of the young people's dads is far too prominent a character for his own good--but it's an interesting piece. I don't want to review the production here, but I wanted to mention it in case any of you were planning on going. It has one performance left: Saturday at 8:00p in Room 110 at CSUP.
Lots of old-timers were there: Ryan Schauer (who lit our first show), Wahima Lino (who bought my ticket: booyah), Caroline Collins, Christina Russo, and Jensen Kong.

23 May 2005

Reading PhDs.

Yikes. I will be directing Two Gentlemen of Verona in less than two months and I've started to do my work. I'm currently reading the (copious) notes in The Arden Edition of the play, penned by William C. Carroll. The guys who write these things are so... I'm not sure what the word I am looking for is: perhaps "specialized." This guy is going on and on about Ovid and other writers that pre-date Shakespeare. It's not boring by any means, but it sure is dense. I started reading the notes over some Panang Chicken down at the Thai restaurant next to my house. I am trying this new Thai restaurant because I decided that I don't like the food at my old Thai hangout.

I have been watching a lot of movies, too. This weekend it was Jarmusch's Down by Law which is really great (I've decided that I really like Jarmusch), James Ivory's Heat and Dust (My Merchant Ivory obsession continues unabated) and Blake Edwards' Days of Wine and Roses, which I advise you to avoid. It's supposedly a classic alcoholic movie (along with The Lost Weekend which I also found dreary), but I didn't like the characters and alcoholism is nothing if not frustrating as a condition. Read Dry instead.

These recent hot days are nice. The reason I think I love them so much is that they compel me to do absolutely nothing. On cooler days I feel I must be out and run around and go to the grocery or the dry cleaners or visit people I like. When it's hot like this. I don't feel the need to do any of those things. I feel the need to be in my house and sit on my ass... like I did all weekend.

22 May 2005

I Have Joined the Dark Side

I have seen Star Wars - Episode III: the Revenge of the Sith. It was really bad. I know we've all been told that Episode III is better than Episodes I & II, and that is certainly true, but being better than laugh-out-loud stupid is not very difficult. In this case, "better" means that while watching Episode III, the audience only laughed at the movie about half a dozen times.

It's like someone took a book you love and made it into a shitty movie... that's the only way I can think to compare the Star Wars prequels to anything. I already like and care about the characters, I have a pretty good sense of the plot, and I want the movie to be good--all when I walk into the theatre, but like Alexander or A Home at the End of the World, I leave the theatre going "I can't believe I sat through that piece of trash."

Lucas has no subtlety whatsoever. He neither has any ability to develop character. He has a kind of visual style, if you can call it that. He crams a billion little completely useless bits of information into each frame so that the picture is so busy you don't know what to look at. But strangely, his frames are very rarely beautiful, if ever. (To be fair, Attack of the Clones and Phantom Menace both had really cool costumes: Revenge doesn't have any.) And instead of writing a screenplay, he just choreographs fight scene after fight scene--I couldn't tell you who was fighting whom and why. And the fight scenes are the best part.

I know many have complained that the dialogue was bad in Attack of the Clones, myself included. But watching Revenge of the Sith, I was more aware that what didn't work wasn't the dialogue, it was the moments in the story when Lucas tried to use no dialogue at all to tell the story. There were several quiet moments when something very serious would happen and no dialogue was necessary: Anakin stares out a window at the Republic he loves and makes a decision while the woman he loves stares out a different window worrying about him. These scenes were much, much worse than scenes with dialogue. This is where Lucas's weaknesses as a filmmaker really reveal themselves. He can't create character, so he can't ever be serious, so when he tries to get us to feel something, he falls flat on his face. The audience at the screening I attended, I am sorry to report, laughed out loud at these scenes.

They're showing the trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Episode III. Very cool.

19 May 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

I saw Kingdom of Heaven last night and I think it's definitely worth catching.
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On a purely visual level, the film is a must-see. The cinematography is beautiful and the art direction is just exquisite. I love the way the film looks. What the film has to say is a little more suspect, although I think that works too, to be honest. Orlando is a little bit miscast (although unbelievably handsome)... I think the actor who played Bailion should probably have been older, or at least looked older. Orlando looks about 25. Eva Green is great in the film, though, and Edward Norton as her brother is very affecting (although that effect is all costume.) I also really liked Ghassan Massoud, Jeremy Irons and David Thewlis (who usually creeps me out). The score is brilliant as well. I recommend this one, but only, I think for what it will do to you visually. The battles are really cool and everything Ridley has to offer is excellent. The politics of the film, while admirable, seem, unfortunately, unrealistic to a fault. I am not sure how closely this film resembles history, but I tend to think that the politics of the film are the one area where realism was given short shrift in favor of politics that make sense to our modern sensibilities.
Definitely worth seeing.

17 May 2005

Gallop Apace You Fiery-footed Steeds

Some theatre people are weird theatre people. Like people who can quote obscure Shakespearean monologues. And people who have read all of Shakespeare's plays. And people who can discuss various interpretations of Richard III for longer than twenty minutes. Those people are very strange to me. (Notice how I distance myself from them. I am not a weird theatre person.)

I didn't hold auditions for my show. I'm not planning on it, either. But I did attend the auditions for King John. Both shows are being produced under the same heading, though they are, as far as I can tell, completely unrelated productions.
And, for the most part, all of the actors we saw rose to the occasion quite nicely. I said very little (as I am wont to do at other people's auditions), and allowed the evening to move very slowly. I was not in charge and did not wish to be, but it was frustrating nonetheless. There was a very low turnout, which wasn't really disappointing to me, but sad, I guess for Mr. Uribe, the director of John. Whatever.
I wish Uribe well, but King John as a piece of theatre holds no interest for me... and it was kind of a waste of my time to see all of the people he's going to use. I have my own show to people, and I am more than halfway done. I've gotten answers from most of my actors now and I am quite excited.

15 May 2005

The Future?

I'm feeling sort of... "settled" is always considered a bad word for an artist--as is "comfort"--, but I feel as though those are the two words that best describe how I'm beginning to feel. There must always be a hunger, a "queer dissatisfaction" is what Martha Graham once called it, but right now I'm feeling settled. Perhaps this is where I need to be right now. Perhaps the things on which I am working are things on which I am supposed to be working. This is--just maybe--the right place for me right now. The accounting job is bearable and fine and is allowing me to build up my finances and giving me the opportunity to live where I wish to live. It is also giving me time to read plays... two this last week and see movies... at least four this last week. And being between theatre jobs might be a perfect feeling. There is this wonderful anticipation: I am on the verge of beginning a new project and right now all of what I am doing is recruitment and planning, schedules and concepts. It's delightful.

If all works out with the summer show at CSUP (under the moniker of the Southern California Shakespeare Festival) I will be working mostly with fellow alumni from university. If things go as planned, I think I will have so much fun rehearsing this show. I had a blast rehearsing Shrew last year with a miserable producer and a temperamental cast. I don't see how 2Gents can be anything but fun.

14 May 2005

Fuddy Meers

Bad title.
The play (by David Lindsay-Abaire) is okay, though, and is very funny. It should've been titled something else, even something fifties like "Who Am I Today?" would have been better than Fuddy Meers. Ah well. I saw a production of this piece at my university today. It was directed by one of the faculty, Bernardo Solano. The acting was uneven--I'm being kind--and the directing was an absolute mess, unfortunately.
It is a tendency of some directors (I have noticed) that they take a very funny piece and try their hardest to bring out the "really serious elements" in the script. This refusal to direct comedy does not serve comedy at all well and never seems to really deal with the serious issues in which the director is interested. In the end, what the audience is left with is a play that isn't as funny as it could be, and often has no idea why it exists at all.

I met Linda Bisesti (CSUP faculty) and Marie Maslowski (Department Secretary) before the show up at Kellogg Ranch on campus and we had a glass (or two) of wine and some nice appetizers. I love that restaurant. I think I will try dining there when I am in town on Sundays for 2Gents.

I will say this about Fuddy Meers, though, Joe Ngo, Matthew Guerra and Ms. Mary Schneider were all wonderful. They just sparkled.
There was a moment late in Act II when Joe Ngo exited the stage--his last line in fact--where I leaned over to Linda and I said "lovely."

12 May 2005

Professor for a Day

Allan Fortes and I were invited to return to CSUP today (along with Christine Reifer) as "Alumni Professors for a Day." I thought it would at least be interesting... I mean, I am not a serious working director who doesn't need a day job to support himself, but I do have advice to share and experiences to relate (and so did Allan, although I don't think either of us thought we did before they asked us to do this.)
Or so I thought...
Instead of putting us in a class with senior or junior actors who might have questions for us about acting in Hollywood or working in Los Angeles as theatre artists or applying to graduate schools, they had us talk to a bunch of non-majors who were in an acting class to suffice one of their GE requirements. Dumb. I didn't have anything to say to them and I don't think they would've cared if I had. Allan had more to say than I did, but I felt like it was seriously wasted time. They gave us a very nice lunch, though, and I spent some time with Linda and I got to see my friend, so it wasn't a total loss.

And then I spent the rest of the day reading Two Gentlemen of Verona, which I will definitely be directing this summer.


I knew when Linda said "Lisa thinks it's good," that I was in trouble.
"Lisa who?" I said, even though I knew exactly who she meant.
"Lisa has bad taste," I almost said, but thought better of it. For a moment, too, I thought of the other Lisas she could have meant and it reminded me that the director of the production I would be seeing was Lisa Peterson, someone I find as problematic as Lisa Wolpe (and Lisa Loomer, come to think of it.)

If you want to see a piece of theatre I found to be incredibly offensive, go see Luis Alfaro's Electricidad at the Mark Taper Forum. It is based on Sophocles' Electra, but I don't know why he bothered. He is unapologetic, infuriating in his racist attitude toward his characters, worse yet, they are characters he claims to love and revere. But they're all cartoons, and basing his comedy--for that is what Electricidad is, no matter the source material--on Greek archetypes is only an excuse to further racial sterotyping and prejudice. Perhaps the jokes are meant to be self-deprecating, but just because a Mexican wrote the jokes and Mexicans are delivering the jokes doesn't mean I have to laugh at a joke at the Mexican community's expense. He even uses (as so many playwrights have been doing lately) the Spanish language as the punchline of many of the jokes. This show pissed me off. I hate to be a bad sport about the whole thing and I am sure that the East Los Angeles community can handle a little gentle ribbing from one of their own, but I got all the jokes, and I speak Spanish well enough to understand everything that was said onstage... I just didn't think it was funny.

It was poorly directed, too, but I always seem to be ripping Lisa Petersen apart, and this show was so pointless I don't even feel like dissecting her work, which I thought missed Sophocles' point as well as Alfaro's.

Skip this one and go see Play Without Words or I Am My Own Wife.

10 May 2005


Yesterday I heard a very moving story on All Things Considered about adoption. I left Avjet around 5:30p and was just arriving at Hollywood and Highland when the story ended. So cool. I love that show. I was driving into Beverly Hills to see a film in the Academy's "Great to Be Nominated: Part Two" series. It's a selection of restored films (one for each year) that didn't in the Best Picture Oscar but got a Hell of a lot of nominations: The Grapes of Wrath, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 7th Heaven, The Song of Bernadette, etc.

Last night's film was Wilson, the only film in Part Two that I hadn't seen. It was about early Twentieth century prez Woodrow Wilson, he of WWI, the League of Nations, and the 40-hour work-week. And it was THREE HOURS LONG. I swear I thought dawn would be breaking when we all left that theater.

I want to say something brief about old people, since most of the audience at these Academy screenings is over sixty. Old people always are the first to arrive to things: they either have nothing to do anyway and so being early is relatively simple, or they have some sort of built-in resistance to tardiness that comes with retirement. Old people also want to sit on the aisles of a theater (usually because they want to be sure they can easily get up to go the bathroom during the feature). The combination of these two truisms is what I witnessed last night at the screening: a theatre all of whose aisle seats were filled first and whose center seats were cumbersomely filled much later. I looked out over the theatre and just laughed.

As for Wilson, I have a new respect for him and I have forgiven him for World War I, but I wouldn't recommend the feature--not that you'll have an opportunity to see it anyway. I've been actively trying to see the picture for a couple of years and this is the first opportunity I've had. It never plays on TCM and it's not on DVD.

Off to work. Cheers, y'all.

08 May 2005


Oh. My. God.

Idaho Dreams


This morning I watched My Own Private Idaho. I see where Gus Van Sant is going, but it's no fun to watch. This portrait of America is terrific and desperate: a journey without hope or mercy and with no end in sight. The lonely homosexual is forever doomed to gain sustenance through the perversions of others and never to find lasting happiness, even temporary happiness. Keanu Reeves is really good in this, but though he received numerous accolades, I think River Phoenix is ill-suited to Van Sant's dialogue. He has none of the Shakespearean ability that Reeves has. Keanu has a timeless quality and delivery that make Van Sant's script seem to work--even the sequences that make no earthly sense.
Two--or was it three?--years ago, Van Sant directed two amazing films back to back: Elephant and Gerry, both of which I loved. As for My Own Private Idaho, when the last frame of the film was eclipsed by the final title card "have a nice day," I couldn't do anything else but look at the screen and say "Fuck you." Painful.

07 May 2005

Y Generation E-val

My show Voices from the Y Generation will close tonight after what can be termed, I suppose, a successful run at CSU Pomona. I always feel as though I ought to hedge my bets when a show opens, always feel dissatisfied with what is going on and nervous about my audience's reaction to the work. And then, my family cannot be trusted chiefly because they have bad taste and secondly because they are so rarely honest with me. I think they picture me as some sort of über-sensitive artiste who might fly off the handle and into a rage or retreat into self-loathing and despondency at any moment. Nothing could be further from the truth, but then, families always believe they have a grasp on their kin and so often we understand our relatives much less than we understand people to whom we are not biologically linked.

But last night, all the playwrights were present, as was their writing teacher, and all were pleased. Audience reaction was wonderful. There was laughter from the first ten seconds of the first show and it continued through the end of Act I. Some of it was nothing short of uproarious and there was, occasionally, applause at this or that actor's joke. It's as though the audience is its own element of the show, needed as much as light or music, for the show to become what it is intended to be. This is, obviously, not a new theory about theatre, but it was certainly driven home to me last night. Friday night's show did not differ from last night's hardly at all from our side of it, yet the audience was hugely different in its response. Tonight's show will be different, I think, as the actors will feel residual success from the feedback they got last night.

Best of all for me, what I do as a director is showcased really well by this show, and all of the faculty will have seen it after tonight, securing me a job again for next year: a good thing, as I have nothing lined up after the summer. Perhaps I should try to get A.D. work somewhere... or not. That time could probably be better spent reading, writing or otherwise improving my scholarship.

Thank you to all of my friends who came out to see the show. I appreciate your constant encouragement and support. Especially my peeps on LJ: Elizabeth, Tito, Kirsten, Ashley, Allan, Danny, and Kim. Thank you, guys.

05 May 2005


The show opened tonight and it was so-so. Opening nights are always like this for me, I think. I'm so keyed up and nervous that I can't appreciate what the show ends up being.

I think after the dust clears, I will think the shows turned out rather well. Tori came and liked all of the shows a lot. Allan came too. Word.

AND my parents brought me flowers. Sometimes they do the right thing.

03 May 2005


Voices from the Y Generation runs four nights instead of the usual three. It will be at 8:00p beginning Wednesday, May 4th and closing Saturday, May 7th.

Call 909-869-3900 for tickets, or just come to the show and buy tickets at the door. It is in the Studio Theatre (Rm. 25-110) at Cal Poly Pomona.


01 May 2005

Trip to VA

The training for the actors at Shenandoah Shakespeare was evident and amazing. They perform it very near the manner in which we who care about such things assume it was performed in Shakespeare's day. It was a lively, mostly interesting production with more laughs than I think I've ever seen in a production of Shakespeare, least of all Measure for Measure, which is rarely considered one of the Master's funniest. I want to stress the energy of the actors, which was, frankly, through the roof, and their own understanding of the text, which, in most cases, was exemplary. I also feel it important to mention a few Shakespearean performance techniques that the company employed: the house-lights in the Blackfriar's were kept on, as they would have been in the Seventeenth Century, and role-doubling, -tripling, -quadrupling was employed liberally, not surprisingly, to the delight of the audience.
This being said, I still don't think I would call it a good production of Measure for Measure. The doubling and the house-lights, though great assets for a troupe putting on a comedy--the early ones would especially benefit from such a tack--seemed like drawbacks for a troupe attempting to do a play about power, inner turmoil, rape and bawdry. The severity of the play was lost completely; even the most emotionally-wrought moment in the show, when Isabelle kneels before the Duke to beg for Angelo's life, got a laugh from the audience with which I watched the show. It seemed like a disservice at the time, or perhaps poor directing.
Shakespeare's theatre was a popular theatre--we all know that--and it's easy to see why Shenandoah Shakespeare's productions would be quite popular. But their performance techniques seemed mostly like gimmicks--for better or worse--and the show was hugely dependant on sight-gags. All of this is great comedic acting; I know that. All of Shakespeare's comedies were meant to be done in just such a way: at breakneck speed, rife with energy, to everyone's enjoyment. But Measure for Measure is more dangerous than most comedy, and Shenandoah Shakespeare ignored that.
More than anything, the staging reminded me of my own approach to The Taming of the Shrew last year. Shenandoah Shakespeare's Measure for Measure was my Shrew taken one or two steps further. It tells me that I'm on the right track when it comes to directing the comedies, and--always a minimalist--that I can do with even fewer set-pieces and, perhaps, fewer cast members.
I haven't mentioned language at all, yet. I think it important to note that before I go on to my interview with the Mary Baldwin faculty.

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The M.Litt/MfA program at Mary Baldwin College is all about Shakespeare in Performance. The program is called "Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance." It's a relief, because I wouldn't be the least bit interested in studying the plays for what they look like on paper. Hardly any of them read very well, yet almost all of them perform splendidly. MBC is teaching actors, directors and teachers how Shakespeare was performed while Shakespeare was alive. This is their chief interest. They have this stunning, gorgeous replica of the Blackfriar's theatre two blocks from the college, and when that was built, the program began, the question always being "how close can we get to the way the plays were originally performed?" This is done through intense study of Shakespeare's teachers, his contemporaries, and the history of Elizabethan, Jacobean, and pre-Elizabethan England. As a footnote to this--at least it seems like a footnote in discussion with the faculty and upon reading the university catalogue--experimentation is done in the Blackfriar's theatre itself. The head of the program used the following example: we have two versions of a play--the first folio and the second, let's say--and a character enters in a different spot in the text in each. Which is correct? "Well, we go down to the Blackfriar's and we check," says the headmaster, " and we usually find out that the first folio is correct." The space changes the lines of the play. Performing in an authentic space like the Blackfriar's does something to the way language is delivered. Naturally this is so.
What I am unsure of is the value of this kind of study. I mean, after all, what good is it? Is it really beneficial to know that a character enters here instead of there in the original text? I'm not trying to say it's not an interesting question: I think it very intriguing. But once again, I'm unsure of the value of such information to a production outside of the Blackfriar's. I assure you that I won't be directing at the Blackfriar's anytime soon, and when I direct in a theatre near where I live, large or small, I will ask myself on which line the character should enter, and I will decide which entrance serves my production and my theatre best. And that is where he will enter.
And now I come to the language. My assumption is that intense study of the kind offered by MBC would be of value most for its effect on language. However, I find that this is not the case, at least with the actors at Shenandoah Shakespeare. It is possible that the effect is profound on students of the M.Litt/MfA program, but if Shenandoah is the paradigm, then I find that attention to language is one element of Shakespearean staging that is given short shrift. The language becomes less important than the style in which the piece is performed, a style which, to me, seems as much a gimmick as, say, setting The Taming of the Shrew at the beach.

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For myself, my chief query is of what use all of this Shakespearean obsession is. I'm still not convinced it is of any great value to the modern theatre. I asked the headmaster who the other writers they taught were--the "Renaissance Literature" portion of the title--and he said that they don't teach anyone else. They only teach Shakespeare, although I assume they must touch on (at least) Fletcher a little. I told him that I asked mostly because I was really interested in the Restoration as a period in the history of dramatic literature. I meant Congreve and Wycherly, but he was still talking about Shakespeare: "Yes, they did a lot of weird things with his plays then, didn't they?"
While I applaud the devotion to the Master, it all seems a little bit Star Trek Convention to me. Which way the doors open in the Blackfriar's is not a question that interests me in the least, and it has no impact on the modern theatre.
There is great value in doing the plays of Shakespeare. The writing is incomparable, and I would recommend that anyone passing through Virginia stop in Staunton and see a show at the Blackfriar's, but I am sure now, that I don't want to study Shakespeare for another two years. It seems a very conservative, even reactionary, line of study, and I think I'd rather do something else, even if it means I won't have that PhD by age thirty.