Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reasons to love a musician

I ordered katastrophe's new CD, fault, lies, and faultlines as a little birthday present for myself and it arrived today. I haven't even listened to the CD yet, and I'm already in love with it, and katastrophe, because with the CD I got a handwritten note thanking me for the order and telling me "I hope that you enjoy the CD and you find a special song." It's a small gesture, but I found it totally sweet. It made me want to give him more money, or at least to order a new copy of Let's f*ck, then talk about my problems (a CD which I loaned to a friend and never got back). Maybe after the next paycheck. Anyway, I look forward to listening to fault, lies, and faultlines.

Monday, January 30, 2006

"There's nothing wrong with being alone"

"What gives you the audacity to believe you've failed if you can't make life or stop death?
Because I was taught if I was a good girl and worked hard I could" - An American Daughter

Wendy Wasserstein died. I'd been hearing for a while about her cancer, but it's still a great loss. She was only 55.

Her New York Times Obituary calls her a "Chronicler of Women's Identity Crises," which I believe does her a disservice, though the article itself below the headline does a much better job of explaining exactly why and how she mattered so much. She was one of the few women playwrights who consistently, sucessfully had plays produced on Broadway. And she wrote strong roles for strong women. Isherwood describes her as a predecessor to Sex in the City, but she dealt with the lives of women who, though equally privileged, felt very real to me rather than fanciful romantic constructions of wealth and glamour. Female friendships, family relationships, feminist politics, and single motherhood suffused many of her plays. I regret thoroughly that I have never actually seen a production of one of Wasserstein's plays, but as an undergraduate in college I read them and fell in love with them.

I will honor her by reading one of her plays tonight, and I hope others will consider doing the same. She was a wonderful female voice in a theater that remains very much a boy's club, and she deserves recognition as a major American playwright. She won a Pulitzer Prize and wrote roles for which actresses like Lynn Thigpen won Tonys, but I never studied her in a drama class and only discovered her when assigned a scene from one of her plays in an acting class. She, like many other female playwrights, was marginalized and underestimated because she wrote about women. I hope now she will get the recognition she deserves for her bold theatrical discussions of gender in our society today.

UPDATE: Jill Dolan writes a beautiful post about the ambivalences surrounding Wasserstein's feminism of the priveledged. She calls her assimilationist and questions her for not being more critical, but raises the question of whether or not that's a bad thing. It's a beautiful reflection on memorializing someone about whose work you've been critical in the past.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A happy birthday story

This story made me very happy. Yay!

L!: The Lesbian Musical!

The Breakup Notebook. Hudson Backstage Theater, Hollywood. 1/27/06.

Apparently, lesbian musicals are a good place to meet gay men. Or at least the audience was filled with them this particular night. The Breakup Notebook was a totally fun, funny, lesbian-themed musical and there was a lot of laughing out loud throughout the show. The music was fun and happy and generally really well done and the cast clearly worked hard and were quite talented. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening.

While everything layered on top of the basic structure of the play was pretty fun and fabulous, something about it deep down bothered me a bit. I think it may have gone through too many rewrites and its strayed a long way from its original concept. The whole "Break Up Notebook" of the title appeared in the first scene, but was never mentioned again. The play had nothing to do with a notebook.

What really bothered me, however, was the main character. She was constructed as this lipstick lesbian everywoman, but I didn't really sympathize with her. I frequently found her neurosis more annoying than endearing, and the conclusion. Heidi Godt performed admirably, but the conclusion in which the character takes charge and finally dumps a girl feels more like a therapy session than a dramatic accomplishment. Rather than learning to be independent, the character ends a relationship because the girl she's seeing doesn't want a commitment. Basically, the whole play builds to a very conservative celebration of monogamy.

Much more interesting than Helen, however, were Patrick Bristow as Helen's gay best friend, Bob, and Melody Butiu and Jacqueline Maloney as Helen's lesbian friends were wonderful. Each delivered a nuanced and hilarious performance. I was more interested in the saga of Monica and Joanie's wedding than I was in Helen's tribulations. Monica (Melody Butiu) played the only even vaguely butch role in the whole play, and she did so masterfully. Patrick Bristow as Bob was wonderfully funny but not horribly stereotypically campy, which was nice. The only problem I had with him was that in the hilarious "Chicks and Dicks Bossa Nova" in which Bob and Helen make fun of the stereotypes of lesbians and gay men respectively, Bristow does a great impression of a lesbian, including many stereotypes that could apply to Helen, but then Helen neither mocks Bob effectively nor evokes stereotypes remotely similar to Bob. She mimics circuit queens and twinks, while Bob is a nice gay nerd with glasses.

Christine Lakin gave stand out character performances, especially in her rock star solo, "I'm on Fire." The only problem was that compared to Helen, she looked to be about 12 and thus the whole scene had a weird dynamic. I wondered what it would have looked like to have that role played by someone a bit more butch and less manic.

Speaking of butch, this show wasn't. This was clearly promoting the L-Word version of Los Angeles lesbians, all with long hair and too much makeup. The only conceivable relationship within the play seemed to be very vanilla, very monogamous, very conservative. Even the supposedly butch Monica ended up getting married in an L-Word reminiscent tight-fitting girly suit.

So while I've complained a lot about some fairly nitpicky issues related to this play, the music is great, the performances are fabulous, and I spent a large portion of the evening laughing out loud. Even though it bothers me a bit politically, I still very much enjoyed the show and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun queer-themed night at the theater.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sound and Fury

"Teenage Papi: The Remix." Butchlalis de Panochtitlan. Highways Performance Space. 1/26/06.

Watching the butchlalis develop is like a relationship. There was that first flirtation in Akbar oh so long ago. Their first Highways show was a casual party hookup, when we were both too drunk and fumbling to know better but it ended up being hot anyway. This show had the awkwardness of a hot date, long after that one night stand. The things that went wrong before went better, but there's still a lot of communication and mutual exploration that needs to happen.

The butchlalis are some pretty hot boiz, and this time they manage to carry the whole show all by themselves. There were high moments and low moments, some awkward scenes that were a little flat, but overall the show was fun and wonderfully sexually charged. The two pieces right before intermission, "Enema" and "BDSM" were quite kinky, which was challenging to watch.

Many things about this show improved from their last performance. The pace, especially at the beginning, was stepped up to make the performance flow and music maintained the energy between scenes. The video seemed to be more effectively integrated with the live performance. Some of their pieces were much more clear, though they still have a tendency to be abstract rather than direct about what they're trying to say. And may of the pieces are static, with too much emphasis on words detracting from their hot macha physicality.

The butchlalis claim to be interested in connecting their performances with the geography of the gendered and racialized city, and that also came through a lot of their pieces more clearly this time. Gentrification and the changing landscape of "Los Scandales" (LA) became a more vivid in the connection between lesbian softball and Chavez Ravine, and in the metamorphasis of a Chicana Lesbian club into a punk club. Their excavation of Redz as a lesbian bar was fascinating, although a strange note on which to end the show.

Anyway, I highly recommend you head on over to Highways and enjoy the butch stlyings of these little papis while they last. I highly suspect that Friday and Saturday nights will have the rockin' and enthusiastic audience that the Thursday show lacked and these bois will definitely have you squirming in your seats with all of their mind-fucking performance action. I would gladly have gone home with any of these bois, especially when they were brandishing cocks and whips. Hot.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

99 Cent Spectacle

Roht, Ken. Route 99: Orange Star Dinner Show. The Evidence Room. 1/13/06

The 99 cent show is an Evidence Room Holiday tradition, and I hear that it is always fabulous. This year's version is quite spectacular. It was fun and in general an amazing experience. The concept behind the show is that the sets and costumes were made from materials donated by the 99 Cent Only stores. This included A LOT of aluminum foil on the sets, and the costumes seemed to be made mostly from tablecloths or shower curtains, something strange and plastic-y anyway. While this all sounds like a weird concept, the show itself was wonderful. The plot was wacky and campy, the huge cast was quite talented, and the show moved incredibly quickly.

Now the exciting thing about the production was that it really was a dinner theater show. As in, you had the choice of paying an extra $10 for a meal with the show. The four course meal (appetizers, salad, chicken, and dessert) was wonderfully tasty, though sitting onstage eating while people were dancing around you was a little awkward, especially at first (they cleared the appetizers before I really felt done with them). And those of us having dinner really were in the middle of the show, including being frequently asked by cast members whether we liked the meal or not. While this was a little strange, the show itself was worth awkward moments of audience participation.

I highly recommend this show, though if you don't like audience participation, you might not want to eat dinner there. But if you're not shy, go ahead and do it; the food is quite good. The cast was wonderful, singing and dnancing their hearts out through a strange and silly, but totally fun plot. The show I attended was sadly underattended (they had a sold-out run before Christmas, but I'm not sure that it's doing as well after the holiday). So the show is extended through the end of the month, and rush out to see it while you can. If nothing else, the fabulous wigs and strange plastic costumes are enough attraction to make it worth your while.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sister Insider

Carr, C. On Edge: Perfromance at the End of the Twentieth Century. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1993.

On Edge is a collection of C. Car's essays for the Village Voice, mostly covering performance art. Ironically, her introduction claims that underground performance peaked in 1985, but all of her articles come from the late '80s. The articles are incredibly valuable as documents of the work of Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, Annie Sprinkle, Chris Burden, etc. And a few of the articles are quite brilliant and really well-written (I particularly enjoyed "Splendour in the Crass" and her pieces on Mapplethorpe and censorship). Overall, I very much recommend this book for those who are interested in '80s performance artists.

I did, however, have a problem with a lot of Carr's writing. While I appreciate the immense value of these essays as a cultural record, I didn't quite enjoy her tone. She seemed to be trading mostly on her freindship with these artists. Her attitude verged on the superior and condescending, invested more in demonstrating how hip and in with these artists she is rather than thoroughly examining the work. There's a strange way in which these articles are not reviews and aren't really analysis, they're just a strange, not always complete description. Carr seems to be trading on her insider status and the cache of the 'bohemia' about which she writes, but doesn't quite capture or even seem to understand the energy and the politics that animated these performances.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Intellectual and Erotic Stimulation

Bright, Susie. Mommy's Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn & Cherry Pie. New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 2003.

I've been reading Susie Bright's blog for a while now, and I generally enjoy it very much. She is often interesting, clever, and insightful with a wonderful combination of useful information about the world of sexuality and culture and delightful tidbits from her personal world. In fact, I get enough pleasure out of Susie Bright's blog that I felt like maybe I should be supporting her in some way. I did donate an almost insignificant amount to her "change jar," but as a grad student not actually making enough to pay for my schoolbooks, I thought that the least I could do was buy a couple of her more recent books to offer me some delightful diversion from the history and theory that I should be reading.

At first I was dubious about Mommy's Little Girl; the last thing I wanted was my favorite liberal, nonmonogamous, radical sexpert doing was telling me all about how cute her daughter was or how great it was to have a nuclear family. Bleh. But Mommy's Little Girl is nothing like that. Susie Bright remains as fun and brilliant and insightful as ever, and this book contains some truly delightful tidbits. Her reflections on the 1940s pinups by Alberto Vargas were vibrant and wonderful, though dimmed by the fact that images she referenced could not (for money and copyright issues, I'm sure) be included in the book and were difficult to locate online. While the first section of the book does include several essays on different aspects of motherhood, Bright reveals herself to be the cool liberal mommy that one might imagine without preaching proper parenting in any way. A later section of the book includes an tiny little travelogue in the form of a book tour diary and Bright's succint description of her visit to each city was clear and insteresting and beautiful. I do have a question, however; in one of the final essays of the book, Bright mentions seeing 'her' brand of vibrator, condom, lube, etc. By 'her brand' she means the ones she has been recommending for years. While I'm well aware of her promotion of the Hitachi Magic Wand in terms of vibrators, why do I have no idea what she was talking about in terms of condoms and lube? Did I somehow miss these in earlier writings, or disregard them as irrelevant to my life in some strange way? If I go back and reread your older books will I find them, magical recommendations buried somewhere among your insights? Because of this reference, I feel like I need to know. What are Susie Bright's favorite condoms and lube?

One thing that suprised me greatly was the amount of reflection on Los Angeles in this book. Considering that Bright lives in Northern California and geography and travel aren't exactly the main subjects of the collection, her insights about my current home are both brilliant and tragic. She describes LA as an "illusion-factory incarnate" and notes the tyrrany of perfect femininity that is part of the local culture. But it was heartbreaking and true to read "There is no love here! Anyone can get laid, but no one can have a realtionship. Everything is ephemeral; passion doesn't last...When you live in a town that's based on the values of a stage, what do you expect? I don't know how to fall in love in LA anymore, either." I'd very much like to believe that the desolation and illusion are not all there is to LA, but I'm not so sure.

The magic of this book, despite the bits with Los Angeles (and New York certainly doesn't fare any better), is that it is joyful, hopeful, celebratory throughout. Even in Bright's reflections on the death of a good friend, her writing is life-affirming. Bright takes such obvious pleasure in friends, family, sex, and cherry pie that she communicates that joy and openness to her readers. This book made me want to dance, to scream, to make love; anything to appreciate the simple pleasures of the world that are so profound, yet so easily neglected. The book made me fall a little more in love, both with Susie Bright and with the world.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Junk Reading

This Winter Break, I have read Terry Pratchett's newest paperback, Going Postal, Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe (look for a brilliant post comparing these two sometime soon), Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets #13, Chester Square, a graphic novel called Charm School about a teenaged lesbian witch, Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, and Lucifer book 3, A Dalliance with the Damned. For those of you keeping score that is TWO scifi/fantasy novles, FOUR graphic novels, and absolutely NOTHING academic or relevant to post-WWII theater. Eep.

This article, however, makes me feel much better. Just call me a book slut!

New Year, Not so Resolute

I'm not a big one for resolutions - I'm too undisciplined in general, and it always feels a little trite somehow. But over a very late brunch on New Year's Day, I made some sweeping statements that would actually be fairly nice to follow through with throughout the year. They included:

1. More Brunch! I think this is an excellent resolution. There are many, many brunch places in Los Angeles that I would love to explore and I always love suggestions for new ones. While Toast is always wonderful (though I love the sandwiches as much as if not more than the brunches) and you can't beat House of Pies, I would love to find new and exciting favorites. I've been to the Griddle once and would love to go back. There's a Jinky's by my house that I've never been to. We keep meaning to go to Prasadam in Silverlake. I hear Bread and Porridge is great. And then of course, there's always potluck brunch with my friends, which is an excellent thing to do at any time.

2. Explore LA. Going to San Francisco always makes me long for cheap and easy and amazingly good Indian and Mexican restaurants in LA. They must exist. I have no idea where. I want to find more of the tasty, kitchy, wonderful holes in the wall throughout Los Angeles. Perhaps I should keep a list of places I'm meaning to try so that I'll have them when we've got no idea where to go or what to eat. Again, recommendations always welcome.

3. Get out of Los Angeles. No, I'm not moving anytime soon, and I don't mean going to Orange County to visit my parents, but there are a lot of fun places to explore both near and far. I'm hoping to get to Chicago for a conference or two, and up to San Francisco once every few months. Maybe I'll be able to go to New York for research over the summer. I hope to go up and visit friends in Santa Barabara sometime soon. A recent day trip to San Luis Obispo for wine-tasting and exploring was and excellent start on the wacky daytrip with friends motif, which I love.

I feel like these resolutions are fun and do-able. And there will, of course, being no keeping track so I can't feel guilty about them. But they all encourage spending time with friends, which is always excellent and a high priority in my life.