Wednesday, September 27, 2006

LA Fall Preview

Several of the NY Theater blogs did a bit of a fall preview post listing the shows they're most interested in seeing. Here they are (in no particular order) from Parabasis, Superfluities, Mr. Excitement, Theatre Conversation, On Theatre and Politics, Joshua James, Adam Szymkowicz, and Jamespeak. I have my own list of the things I would see if I were in NY, but for today, lets focus on LA. I have no intention of limiting myself to 3 or 10 plays - I'm just going to ramble about what sounds interesting. LA's theater scene seems a little harder to capture and summarize that New York's. The LA Times Fall Arts Preview, was fairly limited, and revolved around major articles on Doubt and Edward Scissorhands. There are so many little (and not so little) theater companies around LA that don't announce a season but program all the time that it's hard to predict what I'll see until I get an email about it and it sounds interesting. So I'll try to do a round-up of both seasons I know about and companies I'm watching.

So, first off, I'll talk for a minute about the big one, CTG. I actually purchased student season tickets for the Taper this season. To be fair, I had season tickets for the first two years I lived in LA. When Ritchie arrived and announced his unappealing (straight white male-focued) season, I chose not to renew last year and the only shows I paid for at CTG last season were Water and Power and The Black Rider (my parents bought tickets to other shows at the Ahmanson which I attended with them). For the record, I'm not any more excited about this season than about last and part of me feels I should continue to boycott. But, I do believe in subscribing to theater, they offer a student discount that makes the tickets cheaper than any other way I could get them during the year (of course, the seats are lousy, but you get what you pay for), and I feel like even if I see a bunch of bad shows, I have more right to complain as a subscriber. So, I will be seeing Doubt and Edward Scissorhands, along with Nightengale, 13! The Musical, Distracted, and Yellow Face. At the very least, two of the plays are by women and one is by David Henry Hwang, so however much I doubt these selections, there's a little more diversity. If I didn't have season tickets, I might have seen Doubt and I would definitely have seen Edward Scissorhands and Yellow Face. I will probably also see Dogeaters at the Kirk Douglas.

The Geffen has a solid season but nothing that really strikes my interest. I might pick up tickets to a preview, but generally the Geffen is too expensive for me and terrible about student discounts.

The season is already well underway at The Actor's Gang with Love's Labor's Lost, which was in my opinion far from perfect, but interesting nonetheless. I'm curious to see what they do with Brecht's Drums in the Night and Gulliver's Travels.

Highways announces its shows quarterly, and their most recent list is winding down, but Rocks in My Salsa sounds interesting and The Discount Cruise to Hell could be either scary or fun (or both).

The UCLA Live International Theater Festival has great offerings. I want to see Tale of 2Cities and I will definitely see Mabou Mines Doll House. I'm not going to devote this entire weekend to seeing The Peony Pavillion, however, even though I should. Their scheduling is particularly idiotic this year. Two multi-part performances on overlapping weekends! ARGH! If they spread these fabulous offerings out over more than just fall quarter, I would be much more likely to see them. And if they offered a student season subscription, I probably would have bought tickets to the whole series, but since I get student tickets much more cheaply by the show, why should I subscribe? And then I miss shows because it becomes less convenient if I don't plan these things in advance.

Down in Orange County, I'm excited about A Marvelous Party at The Laguna Playhouse. Nothing really strikes me as a must-see at South Coast Rep, but they generally do a good job there with whatever they've got.

At REDCAT, the big must-see for the season is probably Michael Gordon and Richard Foreman's What to Wear, which I'm going to miss because of my slowness on ticket-purchasing. I might want to see Ann Magnuson's Pretty Songs and Ugly Stories.

Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse is probably the other must-see of the season that I've already missed.

The Theatre at Boston Court is still finishing up last season with The America Play by Suzan-Lori Parks, which I'm going to try to see.

Whew. That's just the round-up of what could be called major established LA-area theaters (and performance spaces) that are on my radar. Up next (after I get some work done) will be what I can dig up about the smaller LA theater companies, whose offerings are usually as if not more exciting. You've probably learned more about me and what I find interesting than you've learned about LA, but that's OK.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Benefit of Re-Viewing

Mapo Corpo. Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Pocha Nostra. Highways Performance Space. 9/15/06.

This piece was advertised as a Latino New Works Festival, which it honestly was not. It was two nights (Friday and Saturday) of a performance by Guillermo Gomez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra and one night of something else (Sunday). This is not what I think of when I think of a New Works Festival. But, that being said, I was really glad I got a second chance to see Mapo Corpo. You may or may not recall that I saw it in Irvine a while ago, but this was a much revised and expanded version of the same idea.

First of all, what was the first half of the piece in the last performance, with the beautiful and talented Violeta Luna dancing, became instead a pre-show performance in the Lobby/Gallery space. This was a wise decision in terms of changing the length and emphasis of the piece as a whole, but it was also a bit of a tragedy in that people (including myself) missed a great deal of Luna's captivating performance. It seemed like the mood of her performance changed significantly, too. This time she seemed more powerful, more violent but less of a victim, which I think is wonderful.

The other major change to the piece, however, was the addition of a second "diorama" to balance out Luna in the second half of the performance. With the edition of a young man's similarly inert body being ministered to and performed over, the piece had much more balance. It wasn't just Peña as a powerful voice drawing attention from the endurance of Luna as a metaphor for occupied territory. With the second performer, the piece felt much more equal, and much more visual attention was drawn away from Peña and focused on the other performers, encouraging the audience to actually move around in the space and change focus much more.

While there's still a lot of room for feminist critique of this piece (the woman was land and the man was an alter- um...), and Peña remains the only one who gets to speak, I found the gender politics less disturbing this time around, and the piece in general much more interesting, although I do wish I hadn't missed so much of Luna dancing.

Hello and Welcome

Hello to everyone who found their way here after my little wave at P'tit Boo. It's great to hear from all of you, and I hope I manage to keep your attention.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


A Poor Player, a theater blogger out of Buffalo, posts a criticism of the NY-centrism of the theater blogosphere and theater community in general. Now, there are other kinds of -centrism in the theater world that I generally rail about on this blog, but I think that it's a valid criticism that those who get national (or international) attention for their blogs are a very small group (of mostly straight white men) blogging out of NY.

I think this has something to do with the nature of the conversation. Local theater conversations are most interesting to local audiences. There's some strange conviction out there that NY theater is something more than local, which is both true and untrue, but certainly problematic for those of us who don't live anywhere near New York. So ideally (for me), different theater scenes should have their own conversations. There should be a group of LA theater bloggers talking to each other, a group of Chicago theater bloggers talking to each other, theater bloggers from Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and anywhere else that exciting theater is happening. It doesn't have to be a national conversation, and NYC doesn't have to be more important than anywhere else. But it's harder to find each other than that. I don't know what else is out there, and I'm mostly disappointed in the few other theater blogs I've found in LA. I'd love to know of more and better contributions to the Los Angeles theater conversations. Right now I read The LA Stage Alliance Blog, Son of Semele Ensemble's blog, the CTG and Redcat MySpace Blogs, and the occasional review on LAist. Not much of a conversation, really. Most of the LA theater discussion occurs on a Yahoo group called BigCheap Theater. If there's more out there, I'd love to know about it.

The most productive thing to do is to talk more about the things going on outside of NY. Those of us in other places need to keep on talking, to each other and whoever's listening. The U.S. theater community suffers from the mindset that NY is the only metropole and the rest of us are nothing more than provincial "regional" theaters, but it doesn't have to be that way. Personally, I think there's great theater coming out of Chicago, and a really unique if nothing else scene in LA. We don't have to act like the only worthwile theater is in New York or that the only theater bloggers are in NYC. For reference, check out The Steppenwolf blog and An Angry White Guy In Chicago (despite the political implications of the name) from Chicago. There's P'tit Boo in Seattle. Intermission is in San Francisco. I totally miss the now defunct Staged Readings from San Francisco. I don't necessarily recommend or read all of these regularly, but it's good to know they're out there. What else should I know about? What's out there?

UPDATE: Frank's Wild Lunch seems to be the major LA theater blog that I completely overlooked.

Friday, September 22, 2006

One Year Review

Charles McNulty does an excellent summary and criticism of Michael Richie's first year heading CTG.

My favorite line, as a comment on Richie's termination of CTG's new play development (and its committment to diversity) in combination with mind-numbingly boring productions such as Pyranees:

Surely any of the dismissed Taper Lab playwrights could have bored the Douglas' audience just as effectively as Greig — with the compensation that they were local artists with a stake in the community rather than a British writer who has received his share of support at home.

Also, in response to Richie's committment (or lack thereof) to playwrights:
Certainly there would be no problem with more Mamet or Hwang if the programming showed more commitment to cultivating the next Mamet or Hwang.

The article, while harshly (and deservedly) criticizing CTG's last season and its upcoming season, is reasonably forgiving to Richie, encouraging him to hire a better support staff and recommitt himself to producing new plays and vetting them more thoroughly. I'm personally inclined to be even more harsh in my criticism of the offerings I've seen from CTG.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Statement of Purpose: Queer Feminist Theater Blogger

In my review of Arlington, a friend of mine who was involved in the production took offense at my comments on the gender issues of the play, accusing me of "slant" and "bias." Her comments have been bothering me for quite a while, and the conclusion I've come to is that yes, of course my comments are biased. My intention is this blog was originally just to keep track of my own ideas about theater I've seen. What this has evolved into is a brief critical analysis of shows from a feminist and queer perspective. These are not intended as mainstream reviews. I'm not writing them for a major newspaper or even a general theater audience. If I were to be writing reviews in a different venue, I would have a reason to be unbiased, but here on my own blog, I feel like I have a right to my own perspective and being opinionated.

Also, I think the world would be a better place if everyone approached all plays from a feminist perspective. Just because a show's treatment of women is "atrocious" (my word from the original post) doesn't necessarily mean that the show doesn't have redeeming qualities or make valid political points, but it does actually lower my appreciation of the play. The commentator asks "did she come to an anti-war play exclusively to see Rosie the Riveter?" Honestly, yes, I go to every play expecting and demanding equal, nuanced depictions of women. There have been far too many plays in the history of theater in which male playwrights write about the struggles of male protagonists and force women into the roles of wives, mothers, daughters, prostitutes, and maids. I think any theater written in this day and age has the responsibility to avoid these cliches at all costs. Just because it's a play about war, or brotherhood, or whatever, does not in my opinion, justify shortchanging women's lives and experiences. I feel that any play would be richer and stronger with a full consideration of the lives and perspectives of women, and that is what I ask to see when I go to see a show.

And that's what I'm here to write about. I approach any theater I see as a women (and a feminist, and femme, and queer), and I feel compelled, as a woman, to rail against misogyny, homophobia, chauvanism, and the neglect of women's voices in any performance I happen to see. I don't consider the experiences of straight white men to be universal, and I will continue to condemn any theater that tries to treat them as such. I don't want to revisit Arlington in this post, though I would encourage you, if given the opportunity, to view the play and decide for yourself and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Art Works

OK, I totally missed posting this before the openings of these two shows, but there are two queer art shows happening right now that are super-cool and I would totally go to if they didn't involve travel. So if you have any reason to be nearby, check out:

Paper Play at Pine Street Art Works in Burlington, Vermont. A collaboration between Alison Bechdel and Phranc. On view until the end of October. Here's a YouTube video of Bechdel's drawings, and here's a quick walk-through of some of the pieces by both artists.

Love Full of Life by Jackadandy (aka Chris Carrher) at Art Queen Gallery in Joshua Tree, CA. On display through Nov. 26.


Support queer/trans speakers and performers!

S. Bear Bergman is currently working on booking the upcoming year in performances, lectures, book tour, etc. Ze will be promoting hir new book Butch is a Noun, which I can't wait to read. Ze also has a new performance piece called Monday Night in Westerbork. Having read Clearly Marked but not seen hir live, I'm dying to get hir out to LA. Does anyone have brilliant ideas on who has the power to do this and/or how to make it happen? Anyone out there with connections to appropriate performance venues, campus organizations, etc? Any brilliant ideas that I could help out with? Anyway, if you're interested in bringing hir to your town (even if it's not LA), now's the time to get in touch with hir and make it happen.

Kate Bornstein is also currently booking the upcoming season. Again, if you're looking for performers or speakers, check her out.

And, I will once again put in a plug for my personal very very favorite trans performance artist, Turner Schofield. I don't actually know what he's up to, but he's probably booking for the fall or spring. If you have the power to bring him to you, do not hesitate even for a second. And again, if you have a brilliant idea or way to bring him to LA, please let me know what I can do to help.

UPDATE: Here (on the book's website) is a fabulous interview between Turner and Bear. It starts off hilarious and moves into sweet and serious with some interesting discussions of different gender categories and identifications (mostly butch, femme, metrosexual, dandy and combinations thereof). It throws a lot out there to think about. These two are quite a pair. They're both clever and funny and well-read, and I look forward to more great things from both of them.

UPDATE 2: I emailed A Different Light Bookstore and told them that since they were doing a reading with Bear and Thea Hillman in San Francisco, that they should totally bring them both down here as well. I don't know if it will work, but I encourage others of you out there to try, since the more voices they hear on this mattter, the better the odds that they'll listen.

Comedy and Queer Space

Three Dollar Bill. Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. 9/15/06.

Three Dollar Bill is a monthly late-night queer comedy show. I attended this month's show mainly to see The Miracle Whips, a group of super fun and sexy femme feminist burlesque performers. Though they only did one number, and it's one I've seen before, they're still great to watch. I can't wait to see them perform more.

I was suprised to have also enjoyed the rest of the queer comedians who performed that night. I don't feel comfortable doing a full review, because I walked in late and thus didn't see the whole show, plus there wasn't a program so it's hard to tell who's who, but the whole show was fun and funny, as it should be. The show was also very quick, which can be nice (there's nothing worse than comedy that drags on too long), but I think a little more show for my money would have been nice.

My major observation, though, was how nice it was to be out at a queer event watching a range of queer performers, and more importantly being a part of an audience that consisted of a wide range of gender expressions. Call it the femme in me, but I love getting dressed up and going out to a late night show where I can talk and flirt (even though I'm bad at it) and see and say 'hi' to some of the cool queer folks I see around who aren't really my friends but I wish they were. Both the show and the community that surround it combine to make me feel more welcome and comfortable going alone than a club would be, and it makes me happy to be part of that audience. All in all, it was a good show, but it was an even better audience. I can't wait 'til The Miracle Whips' next (longer) show, to test my theory that they foster this kind of audience and environment.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?: The Investigation of Show Business by the Un-American Activities Committee. USC. 9/13/06.

This was a staged reading of the play Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? presented by the USC School of Theatre and USC's Arts & Humanities Initiative as part of a program called Visions and Voices. It's a program dedicated to sponsoring cultural events at USC throughout the year that encourage dialogue around "core values." While I'm generally dubious about the assertion of "values" as a conservative gesture, the value they're focusing on this year seems to be a focus on freedom of expression. It feels almost revolutionary to see a University encouraging students to speak out and to believe in free speech, and to be aware of violations of that freedom both historical and contemporary.

The play is by Eric Bentley, a prominent theater historian of another generation, most famous for his scholarship on Brecht, who he met at UCLA. Bentley wrote Are You Now or Have You Ever Been in 1972, not too long after he came out of the closet (Theater Scholarship: A Proud Tradition of Liberals and Queers!). The play is composed almost entirely of transcripts and documents from the House Un-American Activities Committee, and as such it can be slow at points, but this production was well-acted by a cast of familiar character actors who really brought the play to life.

The play consists of three members HUAC representing all the committee members over the course of its existence rather than portraying any specific Congressmen (such as McCarthy). Gregory Itzin as the Chairman, however, totally looked like a composite of McCarthy and Richard Nixon. While the Committee members were amalgamations of all the Congressmen who served on the committee, the witnesses were extremely specific. The play presents in aggravating detail some of the ways people responded to the Committee and the ways the Committee attempted to bully witnesses to answer. Act I ended with an moving testimony by Patrick Breen as Larry Parks, who battled with the committee and his conscious and was blacklisted despite his cooperation. This scene was excellent and emotional without being histrionic and it felt deeply like a tragic defeat, as if you could hear this man's life and his spirit breaking thoughout his testimony

Other witnessses depicted in the play included Arthur Miller (played by John Jackson) and Elia Kazan (played by Mark Deakins) and writer/director Abe Burrows played by Stephen Spinella. Laurie O'Brian read Lillian Hellman's famous letter to the HUAC hearings, but buried in text the way it was, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashion" didn't have the rousing effect it could and should have had.

In contrast, the show closed with the testimony of Paul Robeson, played by Russell Hornsby. This testimony was a stunning exploration of how Robeson's Communism stemmed from and coincided with his dedication to the rights of African-Americans and people of color throughout the world. It became eerily evident that even if Robeson had no ties to the USSR or the Communist party, just his belief in racial equality and his criticsm of the US as unequal would have been enough to damn him in the committee's eyes. Hornsby portrayed Robeson skillfully, with attention to his deep and powerful voice and striking physical presence. It was a rousing and terrifying conclusion to an impressively interesting play, considering that it is composed entirely of court transcripts.

Thoughout this play, the abuse of power of the government was evident, but almost secondary to the very human responses of very real people. They argued and pleaded and stood strong and broke down. Most importantly, they made strong points about how their involvement with the Communist Party stemmed from idealism and hope and belief in free speech. It demonstrated an awareness of the global situation at the time and a vigorous opposition to Fascism. The government, in contrast, chose to use the techniques of Fascism in interrogating, imprisioning, and frequently destroying the lives and careers of many who had committed no crime. Noticeably, many of the victims at least in the play were Jewish, queer, female, or African-American, or born outside of the U.S. The committee would noticably snicker when any Russian or Eastern-European-sounding name was mentioned. Most terrifyingly to me, when Larry Parks broke down and named names, the chairman very noticably invoked God, making it disturbingly evident that this was a Christian Crusade against godless liberals, who, just because they belonged to a certain organization, were charged with plotting to overthow this country's government. It all sounds very familiar. Bentley's play was a simple but powerful commentary on a disgusting moment in our nation's history that rings all too true and relevant today.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Vaughan, Brian K.Y: The Last Man. Pia Guerra, illus. Vertigo Comics. Vol. 1-6.

I've been completely addicted to Y: The Last Man all summer. I picked up the first graphic novel on a whim (partially from a recommendation from my ex-girlfriend and partially due to general good buzz) and I've become pretty compulsive with them, especially for a time when I cannot really afford to be buying graphic novels. This is really exemplary, extremely literate graphic storytelling and I would recommend it to anyone, even those who might not generally be graphic novel fans. Its premise is very simple: Yorick Brown is the last man on earth. All the other males of every species have been killed off by a mysterious plague and no one knows why Yorick survived. He must survive while doing his best to help discover what killed the men, why he survived, and how to perpetuate the human race while avoiding various factions attempting to kill him, capture him, or mate with him.

While it's kind of ironic that even in a world where all (at least all but one) of the men have been killed off, the man is still the hero of the story, this story is so well-told and well-drawn and intelligent and complex that I am completely in love with it and don't mind a male lead at all. This world has such rich possiblities for telling the stories of women and what they do and how they survive, and every single one of the supporting characters creates a glimpse of that. Guerra draws rich diversity in the female characters, making them strong without reducing them to comic book super hero body types. One of the images from Vol. 6: Girl on Girl is so striking that I paused to wish I had it as a poster. Of course, I personally wouldn't complain if there were even more girl-on-girl action thoughout the series, but it does exist and it treated nicely as an obvious fact (if there are no men, some girls will start sleeping together, some will transition in order to fill a need or make money). The representations of queerness and feminism are interesting and complex, ane while there are some fairly evil anti-men feminsts, there are many good representations of fascinating and many-layered female characters.

So, I have some Y-related links. Bookslut posted a link to Pop Candy (a pop-culture blog from USA Today) which contains a podcast of Brian K. Vaughan being interviewed by some fans of Y: The Last Man. It's quick and fun and quite interesting. In it, I learned that Vaughan has written a screenplay for Y: The Last Man that's in early stages of development. Yay! I also learned that Vaughan has a new graphic novel, Pride of Baghdad, that is being released today. It's apparently about a family of lions that escape from the Baghdad zoo in the middle of the bombing and occupation. It could be good. Here's a 10-page preview of it. In this format, the muted desert earth tones are strangely soothing in conjunction with the exteme violence of the bombing, which creates a powerful effect. I would be a little nervous that the story ends up being kind of Lion King-esque or juvenile, but I suspect Vaughan is much more intelligent than that, and thus it has the potential to be an interesting and challenging political commentary. But, I'll personally wait until it comes out in paperback. In the mean time, apparently Vaughan has also been writing a series of comics and graphic novels called Runaways about a group of kids whose parents are supervillians. Apparently, he's leaving that title but Joss Whedon is replacing him! Eek! So now I totally have to read that. (Plus, it's part of Amazon's 4 for the price of 3 special, so I'm totally ordering them).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

mystery package

I ordered a video from Amazon. It arrived today. In the box, which appeared to have been opened and taped closed, in addition to my video, I recieved a nascar-themed pop-up laundry hamper and the hardware (screws and wingnuts) and assembly instructions (but not the actual product) for something called "Love's Abiding Joy Theatrical Standee" which appears to be some sort of theatrical diorama. It's terrifying. How in the world did this end up in with my copy of The Celluloid Closet. What am I supposed to do with these things?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Sensitive Play Against War

Arlington. Company of Angels. 9/9/06.

As an anti-war play, Arlington by Garry Michael White has moments of elegance and subtlety. At a few points, it is clear and interesting and powerful. Unfortunately, it is equally often convoluted, preachy, or wordy, creating a complex but flawed production that could, with a few rounds of revisions, be fascinatingly compelling. As it is, it left me engaged but contemplating what could have been.

Arlington, at its strong points, depicts the ravages of war on the home front, including its effects on soldiers before and after battle and the impact on families. According to the author, "In this play, no battlefield blood is spilled; no foreign soil is touched," and yet a history of violence looms large throughout the play. It very powerfully made the point that there has been no time within the past century when there weren't people alive who lived through and fought in wars. As a person born since Vietnam, that's not something that has ever really hit home for me, despite my father's stories of being in the national guard, barely avoiding being drafted, and despite the constant reminders of everyone's vetran status every time a major election roles around. A stylized version of Arlington National Cemetrary lurks in the background of this Company of Angels production, directed by Curtis Krick and Sean Dillon In the moments in which the faceless white tombstones coincide with the plot of the play, this a haunting testament and tribute to those who have fought and died, while strenuously objecting to those deaths.

The play depicts vignettes from 5 different time periods: 2008, 1972, 1953, 1945, and 1917, moving backwards in time while following a few intertwined characters that intermittently act as a through-line to the play. It initialy appears to center on one family, the Smiths, as they navigate a family history of millitary service and a national history of war. When we reach 1945, the show diverges from this seeming through-line into an incongruous depiction of World War II with an appearance by Judy Garland (played by Sarah Zoe Canner, who lacks the vibrancy of the real Judy). The scene from WWI returns to a family ostensibly named Smith, but if and how this family is related to the one from more recent decades is unclear. Personally, I wish the play had continued to trace the same characters backwards through generations and wars, exposing how the military and the national ceremony grew to importance through generations. The frustrating thing about this play was that no through line went all the way through. Even Arlington disappeared after 1953.

The most powerful moments of Arlington came at the heart of the play, in 1953. Tricia Allen gave a moving performance (as Joanie, I believe - the program makes it profoundly difficult to follow characters' names though different scenes and I strongly reccommend that the company list which actor plays which character in each scene) as a mother who loses her husband in the Korean War. For me, this was easily the strongest performance and the strongest scene in the whole show.

Also excellent and consistent in the strength of his performance was Colter Allison. He was fabulous as the perpetual soldier in the 1972 and 1953 scenes, conflicted by loyalty and family, and I would have liked to see him continue to play similar, related but different characters back through the family tree. He was equally compelling in the 1917 scenes as a slightly mentally-challenged baker-turned-farmer, though this role overly-simplified his symbolism as a representation of innocence.

This 1917 scene brought up a few fascinating issues and most successfully demonstrated the uses of past wars as a metaphor for the present. The brief reminder of the atrocious Espionage Act of 1917 and atmosphere of surveillence feel chillingly contemporary, providing links with the present political climate that were mostly missing in the other scenes. 1917 was, however, a little disingenuously portrayed as a more innocent time. As the final scene in the play, it ended in a strange wimper, with the main character not going off to war. It left me as an audience member asking, if this is a moment bittersweet of triumph in which the young man eludes the spectre of war hanging over him, how does this relate to the rest of the play?

While Arlington develops fascinating (if inconsistent) stories about the relationships of Americans to war, its portrayals of women are atrocious. Not only does it mostly ignore female contributions to the war efforts (as soldiers, in factories, as nurses and ambulance drivers), it portrays them as perpetually pregnant, only serving to breed new soldiers and to mourn the dead (or as a Judy Garland obsessed with her contribution of entertaining the troops). In 1972, 1953, and 1945, pregnacy is a major issue and the women's lives seem to revolve around it. While the macabre image of women as baby factories perpetually producing children to send off to war is a disturbing basis for an argument against war, this doesn't seem to be the argument Arlington is making. It doesn't seem to question the fecundity of its women, using it mainly as a device for portraying the connections between generations, decades, and wars. Courtney Elkin as Sunsong in the 1972 scene is not only pregnant, but ends the scene pleading her desire to get married. Joanie from 1953 is the only female character with any strength in the whole show.

The play in general needs significant reworking to be the truly powerful, sensitive plea against war that it has the potential to be. I'd like to see it cut some of the more direct speech-making and exposition, and maybe even a few extaneous characters. There are many unnecessary elements that could be trimmed or eliminated while keeping the play simultaneously epic in scope and profoundly intimate, but Arlington shows a great deal of hope as a theatrical response to war that avoids being bellicose. In its best moments, Arlington demonstrates the possibilities for political theater to be passionate and moving without being overly didactic or strident. It may not consistently hit that mark, but the moments when it does are breathtaking.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Decent Play Showcases a Beautiful Venue

Hippolytos. The Getty Villa. 9/6/06.

The moon rose over the trees as the lights dimmed on the gorgeous new Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa. The Getty's production of Euripides' Hippolytos showcased a beautiful new venue with a dramatic classical play. The Fleischman Theater is a beautiful outdoor theater in the classical stlye, but with all the modern theatrical equipment including lighting and projections, and as such it makes a lovely venue to view classical drama. The Getty has dedicated the space to producing one classical play in traditional style each summer, of which Hippolytus is the first, plus staging readings of more experimental versions of Greek plays during the year.

The production used a new translation of Hippolytos by poet Anne Carson, and as a result the show was more vibrant and less misogynist than Hippolytus tends to be. I was initially dubious of the skinny blonde Phaidra pining away in her bed, but Linda Purl is a true professional who performed the role with strength, passion, and nobility. This Phaidra was the victim of Hippolytos' youthful arrogance and Aphrodite's vengence, not the manipulative and lustful siren that she can occasionally appear to be. She was very much the star of the show. In addition to Phaidra as a strong female, Blake Lindsley gave a very compelling performance as Artemis. Her deep voice and striking demeanor made her fascinating as the virgin goddess in her speech at the end of the play.

Stephen Sachs' direction moved quickly with striking visual images and a great deal of movement. While it suffered from inconsistency, the play did an excellent job of filling and showcasing its striking venue.

Many aspects of Hippolytus were suprisingly inconsistent. The movement of some of the actors, especially the female chorus (Erin Bennett, Melody Butiu, Elizabeth Tobias, Shannon Warne, and Jules Wilcox) were beautiful and fluid, while the male chorus (Stuart Ambrose, Michael Dalager, Josh Gordon, Noel Orput, and Sterling Sulieman) was generally stiff and rigid, without much to do, until Hippolytus' dramatic death scene choreographed by Tamica Washington-Miller. I would have liked them to have a more dramatic and memorable dance upon their first entrance, when they go to pray following the hunt. If the stiffness of the male choreography was intentional and gender-specific, I have to question the choice.

The costumes, designed by Ann Closs-Farley, were also weirdly inconsistent. Though the saturated colors were an excellent choice in making the stage visually interesting and the relationships clear, some of the design />''''''';choices were profoundly odd. The female chorus wore fairly traditional-looking layers of red-orange robes, while the male chorus wore inexplicable teal kilts with facial makeup that made them look like extras from Braveheart. Phaidra And Artemis wore beautiful silk dresses that were vaguely reminiscent of the 1930s, that, while lovely, didn't really fit in with the rest of the production. That said, I did absolutely love these dresses, and I liked that Phaidra's deep purple gown looked simultaneously like a nightgown and formalwear. Worst, however, was Aphrodite, who wore what amounted to a diaper.

Paul Moore as Hippolytos did an excellent job of combining youthful arrogance with well-meaning earnestness. In many ways he is the object of a fight between two goddesses and a queen, rather than a subject of his own, but Moore managed to be somewhat likable and forgivable despite his pride. In contrast, Morlan Higgins as Theseus was stiff and hard to understand. He also looked vaguely Scottish, which was odd.

My major complaint about this play, however, lies in the racial dynamics. Though the chorus was wonderfully multi-racial, all of the leads were white, with the excpetion of Fran Bennett as Phaidra's Nurse. While Bennett gave an excellent performance, she was placed in what amounted to a mammy role. While it may have been more-or-less historically accurate for a wealthy Greek family to have an African Nurse (see Black Athena for more info on the relationship between the Greeks and Africa), it seems like a poor choice for this to be one instance in which they chose historical accuracy when they deviated from it in many others. Sarah Ripard, as the other non-white actress in a prominent role, was in a weird orientalizing role as the vindictive Aprhodite. Her diaper-like costume was nowhere near attractive, making her seem like a cross between a comic book villian and a Hindu goddess. The casting choices for these two characters, though the actors who played them were powerful and talented, gave the show disturbing racial politics.

Overall, the show was visually compelling and an excellent showcase for the new venue, and it demonstrated a wonderfully dramatic translation of a classical play, but some of the specific details of this particular production were dubious. It's a lovely beginning for a welcome venture into classical theater by the Getty, and I look forward to seeing what they do next, but I'm not sure the show stands well on its own.

Friday, September 08, 2006


If you were organizing a short (1 hour) lecture on queers and film, what would you be sure to cover? If you could only pick two films, what would they be?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Love for Brother and City

Water and Power. Culture Clash. Mark Taper Forum. 9/5/06.

Water and Power poses a problem for me. It's not the same problem that seemed to be posed for Charles McNulty in LA Times Review, which seemed to be a problem with the fact that Culture Clash expected its audiences to intimately know the ins and outs of Los Angeles politics, which is a lot to ask. McNulty says

The bombardment of topical local references, a Culture Clash specialty and a source of easy guffaws, distracts from the narrative flow. From a hot-off-the-press Mel Gibson crack to jabs at elected officials (from Gloria Molina to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) to jokes about convoluted bus routes, Scientology and the narrow aisles of Trader Joe's, the work keeps elbow-nudging its audience with Angeleno hominess.

At times, the politics seem as insular as a county board meeting. It's not simply that the play is intended for an L.A. audience steeped in municipal mayhem. The background of the Garcia brothers' conflicted public consciousness is never adequately fleshed out.

Gilbert makes fun of his own struggle ("No, I've been a Chicano since 1998 — well, I stopped in '95, and after recovery I started again"). But the resonance for the brothers of the Spanish song "De Colores" or the example of Miguel Contreras is assumed rather than fully addressed. You're either on board or you aren't — a sign that the writing hasn't created a self-contained world.
Personally, I would argue that this show never had any intention of creating a self-contained world, and actively works against that. Most of the information you need to understand the local references is provided in the program, so personally I didn't find the fast-paced local references at all disorienting; it seemed rather educational, to me. Culture Clash is joining in a political discussion through a fictionalized narrative, but the external narrative of LA history and politics is just as central to the play.

What bothers me is that all the reviews focus on the play being about LA and its politics, which of course it is, but ignore the fact that it's really a play about masculinity. It's the story of two brothers, played by Richard Montoya and Herbert Siguenza, and the kind of men their father raised them to be. It's play about power, power wielded through physical violence and power wielded through back room deal-making. It's a play about male friendship and brotherhood, and as such it completely excludes women. The only female even mentioned in the play is Gloria Molina. In many ways I loved the show and what it's trying to do, but I must ask why it has to do so completely without women? Is the struggle for Chicano and Latino power and community in Los Angeles completely devoid of female participants? Of course not. So why must they represent it as only a story of men and masculinity?

The men in Water and Power are arrayed in a hierarchy of masculinity inversely proportional to their political power, with the queer, white, effeminate fat cat the Fixer (played by Dakin Matthews) weilding his power like a comic supervillian, demasculinizing Richard Montoya's Gilbert Garcia (aka Water), the young Chicano politican, by forcing him to give up his dreams. While political power compromises Gilbert's masculinity, his brother Gabriel (Power) is a cop who can beat his brother up and who takes the law into his own hands. While Water is debased in political dealings, Power has all the guns.

The play itself is a departure from Culture Clash's tradtional style, which tends to be less narrative and more comedic. As such, I feel that it's an extremely well-crafted step toward a more mainstream style (which may or may not be a good thing). Director Lisa Peterson, as the one woman involved in this project (not couting set designer Rachel Hauck who crafted a beautiful, spare, evokative set), worked with Montoya, Siguenza, and Ric Salinas (the third member of Culture Clash, who offered a fascinating portrayal of NorteSur, a wheelchair-bound Cholo poet, friend and assistant to Power) did an excellent job of crafting this into a mostly sensitve representation of LA politics and Chicano brotherhood. Overall, the show was quite powerful, though it had moments of being overly-invested in its poesia. I felt that the play was weakest when it stepped out of the action and offered reflection and interpretation, escpecially in monologues at the beginning and end of the play.

While Water and Power is the story of LA in all its seediness and corruption, with Water and Power as the twin forces that keep it running, it's also a story of men and Chicano masculinity. It's well-done, powerful, and quite entertaining, but isn't it long past time to stop pretending that women don't exist?


I love this LA Times article on the noir stylings of Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia, even though it doesn't say much about noir that isn't common knowledge. I totally need to see these films.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Links and books

I've been working on doing (or at least averaging) a post every day. But I'm behind on some work, so even though I have a show to review (Shear Madness) and a couple of books I've read to post about (The Devil Wears Prada, Wicked, Necklace of Kisses, Tithe - all of which I've read a while ago now), I'm going to send you elsewhere at the moment.

Kate Bornstein has a blog. I bought Hello, Cruel World after reading this fabulous interview on Susie Bright's blog. I'll review it as soon as I finish Neuromancer and some homework.

Here's a brief early review of S. Bear Bergman's Butch is a Noun. I pre-ordered this book and I can't wait until it arrives. In the meantime, here's a moment of delight from Bear's livejournal that made me swoon.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Full Disclosure

My most recent review, for Because They Have No Words, was the first review I've written (including the one published one) for which I've been officially asked to attend and review the show. I was absolutely delighted to get the invitation, and to receive not only a reviewer's comp ticket but also a press pack. It's not a play to which I would have automatically been drawn, but I very much appreciated it and was glad I went.

Though it was only one show that I was asked to review, and my blog readership isn't so powerful that others are queuing up for my attention, this is something that I didn't even imagine when I started this blog mostly to keep track of the shows I saw. It makes me want to enter into a larger conversation. I may not be anything like a professional reviewer, but I think I write about theater at least as well as the theater reviews they post on LAist, which tend to be few and far between. It makes me wonder if there's a way to be a little more public about this blog, wonder if it will grow somehow as I review more shows, wonder who's reading, wonder what I should be doing about it if anything. Are there other LA theater blogs out there that I don't know about? Other queer and/or feminist theater blogs? If so, I'd love to find them.

Though my current career path doesn't exactly lead to being a professional reviewer, in many ways it would be my dream job to attend plays and write about them for a living (or read books and write about them for a living). Just the thought of receiving comp tickets to the theater or review copies of books makes me nearly ecstatic. Of course, I'm not sure how well my queer, feminist perspective and my tendency toward wacky performance art would mesh with a real reviewing gig, but a girl can dream, can't she?

Animal Tales

Because They Have No Words. Weirdsmobile Productions. The Lounge Theatre. 9/3/06.

Tim Maddock wrote Because They Have No Words as well as playing its main character. He went to New Orleans three weeks after Hurricane Katrina to volunteer in animal rescue, and he has crafted those experiences into an earnest and poignant play. That, in iself, is the major accomplishment of this play; this is the first theatrical response to Hurricae Katrina that I've seen (though I know there have been some, especially in more closely affected areas). Stories from Katrina are good stories to tell, and this play feels vey much like Maddock's exploration of those events and a way of coping with the intense experience of witnessing the aftermath of the hurricane.

It's a production full of honesty and humor, emphasized by a talented cast. Tisha Terrasini Banker, Rufus Bonds, Jr., Lanai Chapman, LeShay Tomlinson, and Colin Walker each play multiple roles across race and gender (and occasionally across sexuality or species) and do so mostly without relying on stereotypes or charicatures (although one moment of imitating an Asian person running a yard sale was a bit awkward to me).

Interspersed with the story of his trip to New Orleans after Katrina, Maddock related an earlier trip to the same city, making it the site of his coming out story. Colin Walker in the dual roles of a gay waiter who picks up the young Maddock and as Maddock's present-day boyfriend creates a sensitive contextualization of Maddock's sexuality that adds depth to the play. This story framed the trip to New Orleans really well

At over two and a half hours, Because They Have No Words could still use some editing. It relied strongly on narration rather than dialogue so that at times it felt more like stoytelling than theater, but parts of the storytelling were so well-crafted that that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Especially in the first act, Maddock, with co-writer Lotti Louise Pharriss and director Emilie Beck, balanced difficult and tragic moments with upbeat humor so that I was on the brink of tears several times thoughout the play, but immediately drawn back into the story with a laugh. Other moments were not quite so successful; I was especially disturbed by the fact that I was more moved and touched by the play's stories about animals that I was by Maddock's discussion of his mother's death. I actually think that the moment when Maddock confronts his mother's death by vising her grave near the end of the play should be cut, though that's a rather harsh thing to say. The major drawback of the play was its tendency toward moralizing; It really wanted to do all the interpretation for you and put words into everyone's mouths. I felt that the ending was a bit awkward, but it was a heartfelt play and I applaud those that made it happen, now, a year after the event.

By telling the stories of animals and animal-rescue volunteers after Hurricane Katrina, Because They Have No Words is also telling the story of the people affected by Katrina. It tells of those left behind and ignored by the govenment or by other people, it tells of people separated from pets who were members of their family, it tells of volunteer workers who thought they were doing the right thing, even when they weren't. All of these are stories that need to be told and retold, so that hopefully this never happens again.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I think they took "Dirty" too literally

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Orange County Performing Arts Center. 8/31/06.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was fun and funny, and I believe a great deal of the audience with whom I saw it loved it. It has it's strong points, and I certainly didn't hate it, but it wasn't for me. What bothered me throughout the show were profoundly weird class politics. The play, based on the movie with Steve Martin, is the story of two con men in the French Riviera. Tom Hewitt plays Lawrence Jameson, a high class con artist who cheats women out of only the diamonds they can afford to lose, while offering them in exchange dreams of romance on the Riviera. Norbert Leo Butz, reprising the role he originated on Broadway, for which he won a Tony, plays an upstart young American con man with no class and no self-restraint.

My complaint is that this show has the emminently talented (and well-accoladed) Butz playing a slightly-less-lovable Jack Black character. If they had toned down the vulger and ratcheted up his charm, this could have been an awesome musical. At the few points where his singing talents shine through, Butz could be a show-stopper, but I fell that this show fails to give him a chance. As it is, it trades on the basest humor to the complete exclusion of probability or sensitivity.

The other significant flaw in this show is its failure to properly build the relationship between the two con men. The best song in the show, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" comes at the very end, and its the only song they really sing alone together; this song reminds me of "Two Lost Souls" from Damn Yankees, which I liked, but I think it should have come earlier in the play. Unlike "Wicked," or even "The Producers," where the friendship is a major issue throughout the play, these two men failed to sing to establish their friendship, and if they're not going to sing about it, what's the point putting it in a musical?

There were some other structural flaws in this play, primarily that the opening song didn't set an appropriate mood. It might have worked with a super-famous lead in the role, but someone less well-known, such as Tom Hewitt, needs to earn the audience's attention. The show didn't really seem to start until Butz sang "Great Big Stuff" well into the first act.

While the show itself has serious flaws (personally I'm kind of sad that it was such a success, since I think they really need to go back and rework it and it might actually be a good new musical), the touring cast is superb. Several of the cast members from the Broadway production are performing with the tour at the moment, so I was fortunate enough to see people comfortable and familiar with their roles. Though it took some time for him to earn my respect, I loved Tom Hewitt, and he did a great job with a couple of fun and challenging patter songs. Drew McVety as the overly-accented French policemen in league with the con men was hilarous, and had an excellent and highly entertaining with Hollis Resnik as a gullible divorcee from Omaha. I also wish they had a more memorable, more fun song together. Jenifer Foote as Jolene Oakes, an heiress from Oklahoma, led a fabulous high-spirited spoof of a hoe-down number. Laura Marie Duncan gave a solid performane in the somewhat muddled role of Christine Colgate.