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

27 November 2006

Enormous Word

In an essay I read today by Bert O. States, Mr. States used the word "entelechial."

I had to look it up. I don't usually have to do that.

Other terms in this text: pronominal, semiotically, cipher, Rube Goldberg machines, coup de grâce, American Agit-prop theatre, typology, rapprochement.

Sometimes I think I'm on another planet. Erik, you read shit like this all the time, right?

A poem I didn't write

From The Writer's Almanac:

"Where are Men When they're Not at Home?" by Reid Bush, from What You Know. © Larkspur Press. © George Braziller.

Where are Men
When they're Not at Home?

Different places.

Some are out at the barn checking on the mare that's about to foal.
I know, not many now.
A few.

Some are running down to the corner store to pick up something they forgot.
Be right back.

Some are in offices practicing pitches. Spiels.

Some are phoning from offices—saying they'll be late.

Of course, many are dead.
You suddenly think about them because you're back where you haven't been in 20 years
and go to look them up.
                                    But they're not there.
                                                                   Just some widows.

But most are way off somewhere searching for fathers who were never home

25 November 2006

Babel / Casino Royale

I quite liked Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu's meditation on language barriers and the small (and large) tragedies that can result from our inabilities to communicate with one another. The story, as with Iñárritu's previous two films (Amores Perros and 21 Grams) is told in smaller sections that (supposedly) add up to a whole. This is the director's technique, and he seems not to want to stray from it, so while Babel may be the most accomplished of these three features, it still feels in a lot of ways like a re-tread of Amores Perros. To be fair, Babel is told on a much larger scale than the other two films: Iñárritu is dealing here with global questions of language and communication. The film follows four separate stories, each revolving around a single rifle. The storyline furthest removed from the bullet is the tale of a young deaf girl in Japan who is dealing with her grief over her mother's suicide (murder?) and her sexuality. This story, which has the least to do with the meta-narrative was, for me, the most moving of the four tales, although I found each of them deeply affecting.
The problem with Babel, though, is not the power of the narrative(s), but Iñárritu's storytelling method, which feels old hat. It also suffers in the writing. Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote the scripts for the other two films (as well as last year's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), deals with exposition with no perceptible skill. He spends so much time obfuscating the truth of the narrative contained in the film, that when a truth comes to light, instead of it being revealed with quiet realization, it hits the audience like an egg hitting a stretch of pavement: interesting until the journey ends. Each of Iñárritu's little revelations comes across in this way as boring. By the time we find out what we wanted to know, we no longer care. Each bit of exposition is revealed as late in the game as possible and each time it happens, the audience asks itself why it wasn't told that earlier. So his filmic technique only half-works. He hides the truth for most of the time, cutting back and forth between his storylines, artificially preventing the characters from saying things they normally would, delivering things out of sequence. But this technique, while building suspense, gets in the way of the story being told. He cannot serve the story of Babel because he is too busy stylizing it.
The acting in the film, though, is uniformly good, with a beautiful performance from Brad Pitt (who I always think is good, but who, I'm well aware, has his detractors.)

The new James Bond film, Casino Royale is some kind of prequel, after having already had twenty Bond films: a kind of Bond Begins (everyone wants to be what Christopher Nolan is to the Batman franchise). I liked it for the most part, though I had a few huge complaints. Daniel Craig is great and he's gorgeous and cool. He makes Bond his own immediately and I never thought of Clive Owen once.
The movie is too damn long, of course--most mainstream movies are these days. This is a huge problem for the film, especially since cut between acts two and three is this ludicrous romance sequence that rings totally false and is completely out of keeping with the rest of the film. I cannot articulate the complete boredom and hollowness of this sequence. At some point I had my head in my hands and I was chanting "make it stop, make it stop."
Judi Dench is awesome, of course, though she's sort of too-much-of-a-good-thing. The movie is already too long and there are far too many scenes with her. The principle is this: if Judi Dench is onscreen, there aren't any bullets flying. I love her, but I'm at Casino Royale because I want to see an action movie.
Act two is problematic too, mostly because it centers around a 45-minute poker game. Instead of fighting or spying or doing reconnoissance, Bond is at a poker table in Montenegro playing—of all things—Texas Hold 'em. This is the second-most preposterous thing about the film. Maybe I don't understand international gambling trends, but does the international jetset really play Texas Hold 'em? The popularity of this game continues to baffle me. Poker has so many more infinitely interesting variations that a 10-million dollar tournament of Texas Hold 'em seems to me a truly ludicrous suggestion. It also sort of undermines the whole fighting-the-bad-guys thing by making war into a PG-13 game. I mean, instead of showing men dying in real war, Casino Royale abstracts war into so many diamonds, clubs and spades. I love what Joe Morgenstern said in his review: "If only Al Qaeda could be done in by a full house." It's silly.
Nevertheless, I kind of enjoyed it. I don't see action movies very frequently, so while I can intellectually pick it apart, I did have rather a good time. I mean, I sat in the dark and leered at Daniel Craig and made fun of the silly film conventions and laughed at some of the witty bits of writing. It was mildly fun as these things go. My companions were less forgiving. One even said that he liked the action in M:I:3 better.
Oh yeah, and the theme song for Casino Royale (written and performed by Chris Cornell) is truly awful.

22 November 2006

I Am Thankful For...

Safety Meetings
Thai Food
Relationships that work out
French Feminism
The Frankfurt School
The last bar that served me a Lemon Drop Martini
Karen Finley
My gay godfathers: Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Thornton Wilder
My favorite independent straight man: Wallace Shawn
My gay brothers: Ryan and Tito
An enormous calming force in my life: my roommate
Oscar Wilde and William Congreve
My favorite actor to watch bar none: Neil Patrick Harris
My best friends: Danny, Derek, Justin, Matthew
My best girlfriends: Ashley, Elizabeth, Wahima, Madison, Jaime, Anna, Linda
Takeshi Kaneshiro
Mary Karen Dahl
Nancy Pelosi
John Paul Stevens
Arianna Huffington
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences
Bombay Sapphire gin
My father and mother
My brother
My sister
My cousins Angela, Katie, and Emily
George Clooney
Isabelle Huppert
Virginia Woolf
Alan Hollinghurst
Richard Wagner
Tori Amos
Julie Taymor
Eric Whitacre
Wong Kar-wai
My students: the good ones
All the men I’ve slept with (no exceptions)
All the men I want to sleep with
Dozens more people who love me more than I deserve

Sad News

If you haven't heard, Robert Altman passed away last night. I am very sad about this and I'm having trouble typing out a response to how much I loved what this man was doing in cinema and how much I respected his work and his excitement, so... I thought I would leave you with this clip from last year's Academy Awards, when Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin presented Altman with (finally!) an Oscar—an honorary one, celebrating his outstanding contribution to the movies.

All He Does Is Work All Day... Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Read two plays tonight after proofing my rough draft for tomorrow. One is David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, which I know I should have read forever ago, but I just got around to it. It was Andy's favorite play or favorite role or somesuch, too, and yet I never did read it. Anyway, it's alright. Not brilliant or anything, but pretty good and definitely bold. I didn't fall in love with it, but I definitely appreciated it.

And then I read David Hare's Stuff Happens, which is absolutely incendiary. I loved it. I had a ticket to the show, too, when it was at the Mark Taper and I didn't go. I just couldn't stand to deal with Bush on a free evening. This was during the time when I would get so furious at everything he said that I had to turn off the radio when he spoke. So I skipped out on Stuff Happens when I had the chance to see it. And now we're reading it for a class and I missed out on an opportunity to actually see a show we're talking about. It's really a shame when I look back, but even now as soon as Bush started to speak, the fury rises and I want to reach through the pages of the script and throttle some sense into him. The play is a portrait of corruption and war-mongering and horror, of course: a document of the lead-up to the Iraq war could be nothing else, really. It's superbly written. Colin Powell comes across as a saint, Tony Blair as a shrewd, honest politician who made a giant mistake but who had good intentions. Bush comes across as a milquetoast leader operating at the whims of whomever he's last spoken with. Cheney comes across as the devil incarnate and Rumsfeld as blabbermouth (he comes across that way in the press, too, so that's no shocker.) Condoleezza Rice is an enigma at the center of the play: she's the secret in Stuff Happens. You never really understand what she's up to and no one really trusts her except the president. It's the best-written role in the show. One of the best things about Stuff is the references to god and religion that permeate the script. Every time one occurs it is pointed up by David Hare and each one sears itself into my mind and makes me furious at this administration. God, Mr. Bush says, directed him to invade Iraq. That's absolutely insane.

20 November 2006

Soap Suds and Thatcherism

I rewatched Stephen Frears' brilliant My Beautiful Laundrette this evening for Dramaturgy. Just thought I'd share. The picture could be fleshed out a little, I think: the screenplay that is a required text for the class feels fuller and more developed, but it's a wonderful film nonetheless and a very insightful social commentary.
And I'm on page fourteen of my huge Wally Shawn paper. Hooray.

18 November 2006

Frustration for Saturday #1

I'm writing a twenty-page paper about Wallace Shawn's The Fever and I just realized that I don't think I'm adding anything to his text. Fuck me, this is hard. Time to re-write!

16 November 2006

The Library

I'm always shocked at just how many books they will allow me to take home from library here. It's astounding, really. I have three books on John Fletcher out and a book on Wallace Shawn, plus one by Annie Sprinkle, one by Karen Finley and a book about the history of performance art all checked out. PLUS I have one of Culture Clash's books out from the library at neighboring Florida A&M University. Then I went to the library this morning and they let me check out two more books with Wallace Shawn articles in them. It's out of control. I wonder what the limit is...

Christ, I'm boring. I'm posting about the library.

Lord, let me get a life so I have something to post about!

15 November 2006

Bernard Pivot Questionnaire

1. What is your favorite word?
2. What is your least favorite word?
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Dialogue with someone who has the vocabulary of an artist
4. What turns you off?
5. What is your favorite curse word?
6. What sound or noise do you love?
A chord about four minutes into the Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
7. What sound or noise do you hate?
Car horns
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9. What profession would you not like to do?
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Heaven does not exist, but in answer to the question: "Everyone else is already here. You're fashionably late, as usual."

14 November 2006

Kow Times

I thought of Kristy Winter McCaw today for the first time in I really don't know how long. I never think of her. But there is a girl here in Tally who reminds me of the Kow. Oh, Wahima, how I miss thee!

I am writing an essay on Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner that I just. can't. squeeze out of my brain. It doesn't want to finish itself. I sit at page two and then write another one an hour later. I've been at page four now for, like, three hours. My brain is mush.

AND the teacher of Intro to Theatre called me and asked me if I could stay around for 90 minutes after class tomorrow to proctor a viewing of Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror. Just what I want to do. I said yes, of course, but sheesh! All the more reason why I need to finish this Wally Shawn business tonight!

Cultural Studies Synthesis Paper

A new paper I finished tonight. I'm sharing these things because they're all I'm producing. Apologies.

Simon During in his introduction to The Cultural Studies Reader gives what he calls “a brief history” of the discipline (2). Of particular interest is During’s discussion of actual people in his section about French Theory: Bourdieu, de Certeau and Foucault. During writes that actual individuals are subjects on which material forces work, but that they are not only subjects. He says that in addition to being subjects, human beings are also physical beings interacting with the world. This, he argues, means that individuals can make choices in opposition to the cultural forces determining their identities. During gives four instances in which his “embodied social subjects” act against “the [material] forces they know to be positioning them” (10). Each of these instances deserves further exploration and analysis, for they seem, as a group, to suggest that though the subject is determined by a web of cultural (material) forces, there is yet some essential human ability to resist these forces and exert an essential and powerful individuality.

For his first instance, During posits that “in theory at least individuals can always make choices which take into account, and thus avoid, the forces they know to be positioning them” (10). Through our ability to recognize, then, that we live in societies determined by cultural forces, the line of thinking is that we have the ability to act in opposition to these forces or factor them into our decisions. The trouble with this argument is that by taking these forces into account when we make decisions as “embodied human subjects,” we still do not step outside of the forces that determine our identities. I may be able to recognize that what I refer to as my identity is determined by forces pre-dating my existence and outside my control. I may also be able to act in defiance of these forces. But neither the recognition of my self as an overdetermined subject nor any acts transgressing this position actually have the power to alter my determined identity. I cannot construct a new identity for myself free from cultural determinants, and even if I could, it would be a response to known cultural determinants and so determined all the same.

During also argues that “an individual’s relation to the fields [hierarchical systems] continually incorporates and shifts under the impact of contingent givens [. . .] and materials events (weather, illness, technological breakdowns and so on) which are not simply determinants of social or cultural forces” (10). He is suggesting that because humans live in actual bodies and live on actual earth, there are natural forces at work in the world that have an effect on us as subjects that are not determined by material forces. This, too, is a fallacy, however. During specifically suggests that technological breakdowns, weather and illness are outside the realm of material determinacy. All of three of these, though, can easily be shown to be manipulated and determined by cultural and material forces at work in society. The weather, just to take one of During’s cases, is affected by actions that human beings have taken in the world such as deforestation and pollution. The water we drink has been collected, stored and parceled out among citizens of any area where water is scarce. The edifice that protects a person from the weather was built with materials from the planet, the removal of which have had an effect on the weather. But even if we grant that the weather itself is not determined by cultural forces, we must concede that the weather’s effect on human subjects in the world is determined by material forces. Social and material factors determine how protected each of us is from the elements, the level of cleanliness of the air we breathe and the purity of the water we drink.

During’s third argument for individuality is that humans have an infinite capacity for using language. Language, he says, is a free, frequently exploited resource among all societies. “[L]anguage itself intervenes between the individual and the socio-cultural fields that construct his or her positions. Our sense of uniqueness is grounded on our sense that we can say what we like – at least to ourselves” (10). Language, of course, is not infinite. It has been determined by cultural forces, and though we can change it, that is, though an individual can have an effect on the language (by adding words, altering meanings or spellings, using words in new contexts, etc.), the language itself is still a social apparatus. All changes made to the language merely alter the apparatus. More accurately, these changes don’t act upon the language at all. Rather, it is the language that acts, incorporating changes into itself. A society evaluates which new words, spellings and syntactical uses it wishes to adopt and then does so, inscribing that which is avant-garde in language into the status quo. Anyone using language must use a materially constructed apparatus and is bound by its laws.

Lastly, During suggests that human beings have the capacity to believe that we are not determined by cultural and material forces and that this faith in individuality is proof enough of something deeper: “in a temporality which flows towards the unknowable and uncontainable, they may find in themselves ‘deep’ selves which cannot be reduced either to the managerial self that chooses styles, strategies, and techniques of self-formation or to the subject positioned by external fields and discourses” (11). But During is really speaking not of the human subject’s ability to see something deeper than cultural determinants, but rather his inability to comprehend that there is nothing deeper. When he says the selves found by human subjects “cannot be reduced,” he is really saying that the subjects cannot (or will not) reduce these “selves” to their material determinants, not that such a reduction is impossible.

To be fair, During states that “subjectivity primarily consists of practices and strategies” (11). Even in arguing that there is some essential self to which human beings can cling, he concedes that the subject is constructed principally by material forces. He also states that modern Western culture is fond of a subjectivity that is less determined by material forces and posits cultural studies in opposition to this view. It would appear, though, after an exploration of During’s arguments, that the case for the essential self, untouched by material determinants remains a weak one.

During, Simon, ed. The Cultural Studies Reader. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2000.

13 November 2006

Twenty-nine of My Favorite Films

Network by Sidney Lumet
Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson
Three Colors: Blue by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The English Patient by Anthony Minghella
Interiors by Woody Allen
Chinatown by Roman Polanski
The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick
The Grifters by Stephen Frears
The Lion in Winter by Anthony Harvey
Hedwig and the Angry Inch by John Cameron Mitchell
Croupier by Mike Hodges
Maurice by James Ivory
La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini
Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman
The Godfather: Part II by Francis Coppola
The Hours by Stephen Daldry
A Place in the Sun by George Stevens
All About Eve by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wai
The Hustler by Robert Rossen
Shakespeare Wallah by James Ivory
The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand
Talk to Her by Pedro Almodóvar
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring by Kim Ki-Duk
The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa
Raise the Red Lantern by Zhang Yimou
The Killers by Robert Siodmak
Howards End by James Ivory
The Burmese Harp by Kon Ichikawa

11 November 2006

Not Unexpected...

Your Movie Buff Quotient: 96%

You are a movie buff of the most obsessive variety. If a movie exists, chances are that you've seen it.
You're an expert on movie facts and trivia. It's hard to stump you with a question about film.

A Few Brief Thoughts on Things I've Seen This Week

Before I go off to the office to compose a lecture for Monday morning...

Running with Scissors is alright. Actually, it's not that good. I mean, I liked it okay, but it isn't nearly as shocking and outrageous as the book, and the film has trouble finding Augusten Burroughs' voice. The book is awkwardly written in the first place, and lacking in an overarching narrative, so I understand why it would be difficult to film the book, but the fun thing about Burroughs' book is how outlandish everything in it is. The ridiculous things that go on in that doctor's house are so funny and so horrifying at the same time. In the book this really comes through, but in the film it doesn't work. I think this is due to cinematography, frankly. The movie is too pretty, and the audience never really gets an idea of the squalor that exists in that doctor's house. I don't know. I was never shocked or surprised in the film, and although it's funny in parts, it's no great shakes. Annette Bening is wonderful as usual, and Alec Baldwin is great, but I think the movie is awkwardly done.

The Queen is a brilliant movie, though. I saw it yesterday and absolutely loved it. Helen Mirren is superb and surely getting an Oscar nomination (she'll probably take the statue home, too.) Michael Sheen as Tony Blair is also really great. This film (directed by Stephen Frears) is a subtle, fascinating portrait of the monarchy and of human nature. I highly recommend it.

I also saw FSU's production of As You Like It. Blech. I think I've decided, after discussion with Roomie, that I hate this play. I think it is probably the most difficult of Shakespeare's plays to direct and though I don't think it's very poorly written, I do think it's boring and over-written. The characters are fun, but the play is no good. The ridiculous deus ex machina at the end, the silly cross-dressing construct: I'm over it. And FSU's production... sheesh. Let me not say too much about it, but I actually think it was worse than Six Degrees of Separation.

And this morning I watched Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa. Mankiewicz followed A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve with this nonsense? Whatever. It was a strange star vehicle with an incoherent plot, like something Gene Tierney would have done, only the star was Ava Gardner. Humphrey Bogart is good (this is the same year he made Sabrina), but the film is too long and too bloated... and frankly, not very interesting.

Am I being unkind this morning? Did I say how much I loved The Queen?

Off to write a lecture...

05 November 2006

A Resource Compiled for My Documentary Theatre Class

Culture Clash: Chicano Docu-comedy

Culture Clash is a group of three comedian/actor/dramatist/documentarians who have been collaborating together for twenty-two years. Their work explores Chicano culture and the intersection of other cultures with Chicano culture. The group is known for being able to both poke fun at and lionize Chicanismo (Mexican-American pride.) With its roots in El Teatro Campesino of Northern California, Culture Clash attempts to begin political dialogue about culture and differences between cultures. Broad topics include racism, homophobia, machismo, revolution, and violence. Perhaps more significantly, Culture Clash has created dialogue about important political topics in Chicano communities across the western United States as well as in Latino diasporic communities on the east coast. Most importantly, Culture Clash’s unique brand of performance is infused with self-effacing, gender-bending, pop culture-filled, satirical humor. Their work also exhibits a profound belief in the theatre as a form with the ability to build community, and a faith in its audience as a powerful force for exacting social change.
Spanning over two decades, their work includes the plays Radio Mambo, Chavez Ravine, Bordertown, Nuyorican Stories and an (extremely free) adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds. Also widely performed is a compilation piece of five of their shows, which has toured as Culture Clash in Americca. Two separate anthologies of their plays have been published by Theatre Communications Group and the group has performed across the country.

The Early Years: Comedy Fiesta

Culture Clash was founded on Cinco de Mayo in 1984. This day is significant as a holiday celebrating Mexican victory in battle that is celebrated more in the United States than it is in Mexico. The original six members were first brought together by René Yáñez, the curator of Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, California. The original members of Culture Clash—then called Comedy Fiesta—were José Antonio Burciaga, Marga Gómez, Richard Montoya, Monica Palacios, Ric Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza. They performed at the Galería’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, bringing comedy to a venue mostly concerned with political change and serious issues. Sigüenza says of the first performance: “What happened that night was truly magical. I mean, I think the audience knew, we knew, that this was something really exciting and new and different, you know? There had never been Latino comedy, urban comedy, like that before” (CC, Life xv) A year later on May fifth, 1985, the group had renamed itself Culture Clash (an homage to British pop music group Culture Club.) By late 1988, the group’s number had been reduced to three: Richard Montoya, a Chicano, influenced as a child by the United Farmworker’s Union movement in California; Ric Salinas, a Salvadoreño who immigrated to California with his parents and grew up in San Francisco; and Herbert Sigüenza, a Salvadoran-American who returned to El Salvador to live before getting a degree in art at the California College of Arts and Crafts. The three were from various artistic disciplines: Sigüenza is a visual artist, Montoya a comedian, and at the time Culture Clash was founded, Salinas was “rapping bilingually and break dancing” (CC, Life xi).

Early Forays into Narrative Theatre

In 1988, after Culture Clash had been touring as a stand-up comedy and cabaret act, they decided to write their first play as a trio. The Mission is a full-length original comedy about three out of work actors in San Francisco who are unsuccessful in all of their artistic endeavors. After a series of failed and hilarious auditions and odd-jobs, including a sketch where Herbert gets a job at Taquería Serra: Heavenly Tacos (where the customers want quesadillas without cheese and mistakenly order tacos al cabrón), the three turn to kidnapping as a way to become famous. They decide to kidnap Julio Iglesias, who turns his back on his Latino identity and changes his name to “July Churches.” This contemporary Latino frustration with San Francisco’s Mission District is juxtaposed with the oppression of the native Indios by mission-builder Junípero Serra in sequences traveling back to the days of the Spanish settlers in California.
A Bowl of Beings is less of a unified narrative than The Mission, exploring a wide range of topics, centering on Chicanismo. Bowl incorporates dance sequences, spoken-word poetry, and music sequences with ridiculous but politically charged skits. “The First Chicano Opera, 1492” is an entire sequence criticizing the celebration of Columbus Day that is sung operatically by the three comedians. Later in the show, Chuy, a Chicano activist, through some suspect voodoo magic, resurrects Ché Guevara in order to restart the Chicano revolution. The show closes with a sequence entitled “Stand and Deliver Pizza (The Last Chicano Movie, 1992)” a politically charged send-up of the 1988 Edward James Olmos.
Other works during this time include Carpa Clash, a Christmas show with an immaculate conception among Chicano workers: “even if their child turns out to be the Son of God, he’ll be deported as an illegal alien by Gov. Pete Wilson,” and 1992’s S.O.S.: Comedy for These Urgent Times, a show in response to the Los Angeles riots in April of that year (Everett). All four of these shows have been criticized for losing steam. They start strong, reviewers seem to say, but run out of energy as they progress. The laughs, as well, are easily won in these shows, but at the expense of deeper analysis and honest exploration of cultural gaps.

Documentary Theatre: the Americca Plays

1994 marked a turning point for Culture Clash. At the behest of a group called Miami Light, the Clash was invited to perform A Bowl of Beings for the Miami community and was then invited back, supported by a Rockefeller grant to write a show about the Cuban immigrant experience in Miami. Culture Clash “invaded” Miami, did seventy interviews, and built a show based on these interviews and the conflicting (and communal) points of view their interviewees shared. The result of this project: Radio Mambo, is a huge shift from the way that Culture Clash had previously worked. Rather than a series of broad comedic sketches, Radio Mambo is a portrait of the city of Miami: a poignant exploration of the tensions in the city between races and among people of the same race. Always complex, Radio Mambo looks at Miami as in interconnected web of immigrant communities: Cuban, Haitian, Jewish, with varying goals and dreams, and how those communities interact with the established inhabitants, white, black, and Cuban immigrants from earlier generations.
The three comedians had always played numerous characters, but had restricted their portrayals to Chicano/Latino and white characters. The Miami project required that Culture Clash take on an even wider array of roles. Montoya, Sigüenza and Salinas move with ease from playing WASP socialites in one scene to black prison inmates in another to portrayals as outrageous as a sequence where Salinas and Sigüenza play a Cuban-American couple with Montoya as the family dog. The effect is extraordinary. Like the work of Anna Deavere Smith (an obvious inspiration for the Clash), the three men are able to cross cultural boundaries, effecting sensitive, powerful portrayals of cultures reacting to other cultures. When a Salvadoran-American man performs the gestures and words of an immigrant from Haiti, ideas about essential “blackness” and cultural divides seem to disappear at least for a moment. Radio Mambo, then, is at once painting a picture of a divided city: displaying images of a region with a wide array of opposing views. At the same time, all of these racial, sexual, cultural, age and gender differences are articulated by the same three men. If a group of Latino comedians can perform all of these differences, how far apart, Radio Mambo asks, can all of these points of view really be?
Culture Clash, having hit upon a sought-after format with Radio Mambo, continued to exploit this writing technique and performance format. San Diego Repertory Theatre in California commissioned a theatrical project about the city of San Diego utilizing a similar method of exploration: monologues and short scenes based on interviews with the residents of the city of San Diego. From this commission, the Clash crafted Bordertown, not simply the story a single city, but a duet of sorts between two cities: San Diego, California on one side of the United States border and Tijuana, Mexico on the other. The show deals with the relationship between these cities and the specific issues the cities and their residents deal with as neighbors. Similar projects appeared in the following years as Arena Stage commissioned a city project for Washington D.C., INTAR Hispanic American Arts Center commissioned one for New York City, and BRAVA! for Women in the Arts commissioned one for San Francisco. The resulting shows, Anthems: Culture Clash in the District, Nuyorican Stories and The Mission Magic Mystery Tour, after being performed in their respective cities, were all eventually combined with Radio Mambo and Bordertown into a single evening of theatre that the group toured as Culture Clash in Americca.

Newer Documentary Work: Los Angeles and Beyond

Since Culture Clash in Americca, the group has been working on new methods of site-specific exploration. Chavez Ravine is a documentary work that investigates the Chicano community that was living in the downtown Los Angeles area of Chavez Ravine. In the 1950s, the people residing in the area were removed from their homes to make way for what became Dodger Stadium, an enormous arena and eventual home of the city’s baseball team (purchased from the city of Brooklyn.) The show is at once an exposé of corruption in 1950s Los Angeles, an affirmation of the Chicano contribution to the city and a hilarious, thought-provoking history lesson based on interviews, historical data and radio broadcasts. Chavez Ravine is framed by world-series winning 1981 season of the Los Angeles Dodgers, where the Rookie-of-the-Year and Cy Young Award winner was Chicano pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.
Their subsequent works have also been California-based shows. Water & Power, an exploration of corruption in Los Angeles that centers (as most corruption in the city does) on water has been called “an exciting venture for Culture Clash, a movement away from satiric sketch comedy to more traditional drama” (McNulty E1). Zorro in Hell is a comedic play that Montoya says is “unmasking a myth and asks us all to find our inner Zorros and fight for social justice” (qtd. in Welsh E1).
The Clash have called these most recent three works, Chavez Ravine, Zorro in Hell and Water & Power, their “California Trilogy”; the term seems to signify that the group has reached another turning point in its history (Welsh E1). It seems safe to assume, however, that Herbert Sigüenza, Ric Salinas and Richard Montoya, who have been going strong and working tirelessly together since 1984, will remain committed to the work that has defined Culture Clash for over a decade: irreverent comedy, the Chicano perspective and documentary theatre.

I'm All Over This Poem Right Now

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of allnothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

I know this piece is about belief in god for cummings, but for me it is not.
I think the poem is lovely.
I'm listening to a new recording of this poem set to music by Eric Whitacre and I'm in love with it.

Adventures in Teaching or "Why They Shouldn't Let Me Near a Classroom"

An email I got from a student whose initials are J.P.R.:
is there a reason why i dont have a grade for my second response paper?

My response:
'Cause I haven't graded the 'R's yet. Patience, my son.