Saturday, September 19, 2009

Culture Clash and Aristophanes, an Irreverent Mix

Peace. Culture Clash. The Getty Villa. 9/18/09.

In Peace at the Getty Villa, some of the greats of Southern California theater come together to create a ridiculous romp through ancient comedy and contemporary commentary. The show features Culture Clash, the irreverent Chicano/Latino sketch comedy-meets-performance art-meets-teatro theater troupe with their brilliant combination of site-specific localism and global commentary wrapped up in dick jokes. In this production, they are joined by the equally fabulous John Fleck (of Star Trek: Enterprise and the NEA 4, and a delightful local gay actor/performance artist) and Amy Hill (most recognizable as Margaret Cho's grandmother on All American Girl, and incredibly multi-talented in her own right). This amazing cast is brought together by Bill Rauch, who recently left us bereft here in SoCal to become the Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He is joined by the mad genius Ken Roht as choreographer and playwright and dramaturg John Glore as co-adapter of the play. And then, of course, there's Aristophanes, who is perhaps a perfect match for Culture Clash in the combination of fast-paced absurd romp, incredibly current social and political criticism, and dirty jokes.

Peace is a strange play, but its wackiness can be wonderful. The puppetry and costumes are fabulous and the actors themselves are hilarious, high-spirited professionals that make the show a delight. There are moments when the show doesn't work. Some of the jokes fall flat or go on too long and some of the choices don't make a lot of sense, but overall this contemporary-meets-classic story of a hippy pot farmer (Fleck as Trygaeus, aka Ty-Dye), a cranky Malibu housewife meets showtune-singing chorus leader (Hill), and three Guatemalan gardeners/Salvedoreño sh*t-slaves/Greek Gods (Culture Clash, of course) who set out to save the goddess Peace who has been imprisoned by War makes for a delightfully fun evening of theatrical magic. The political message (essentially 'make love, not war') is in no way heavy-handed or clichéd, and despite being thousands of years old, the play feels like a fresh and contemporary take on an old theme. Personally, I was shocked and delighted by the heavy-handed phallus humor and particularly John Fleck's fabulous tribute song to masturbation that became a chorus "dance" number. Overall, I highly recommend this show to anyone who can see it (an who can handle the adult content). I was absolutely gleeful throughout.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hitchcock goes Slapstick

The 39 Steps. La Jolla Playhouse. 8/30/09.

The 39 Steps is a delightful comic romp through the plot of a Hitchcock thriller. It's an infinitely entertaining example of suburb comic timing and high quality clowning. I found the play incredibly enjoyable and I highly recommend it. The production exhibited wonderful theatricality in its execution of a whole film's worth of characters, scenes, and stunts with a minimalist set and a cast of four. Ted Deasy playing the male lead ran and leapt and chased and sweated across the stage for the length of the play without much of a break besides intermission and did it all with an air of self-possessed English charm. Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson played every other male character (and some of the women). Their physical comedy, including quick swapping between character and carrying on conversations with themselves kept the play running at a breakneck pace and continually surprised and delighted me. I laughed through the whole show and enjoyed every minute of it.

What The 39 Steps isn't, however, is a theater version of Hitchcock. What got lost in all of the postmodern self-referential slapstick was the thrill of the thriller. Even though the production recreated every scene in the film, the idea of a spy thriller got lost entirely. So I left the play wondering if it mattered? This play is wonderful, but why is it The 39 Steps? Would it be receiving as much attention if it were just a spoof of the spy thriller genre? Why tie it to Hitchcock? What does it have to say about our relationship to film history? I don't have any answers, just questions, but I really did enjoy the play and I do highly recommend it.

CTG just announced that the touring production of The 39 Steps will come to the Ahmanson next spring and will be included in the Taper season. It's a solid, fun show and I expect anyone who sees it will enjoy it, but I'm not necessarily in a hurry to see it again.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Season Tickets

I just bought season tickets to the Geffen Playhouse. The funny thing about this is that I was thinking about getting tickets for the Kirk Douglas season since they (for once) managed to program two plays by women, and I will definitely have to see "A New Play By Lisa Kron." I let myself be talked into tickets to the Geffen instead because I knew I wanted to see Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas with some friends (it sounds delightfully silly) and Nightmare Alley could be fabulous, or at least intellectually interesting as a film adaptation. So I allowed myself to be convinced that even though I think Female of the Species might be horribly anti-feminist, it's probably worth seeing to find out, or to see what Annette Bening does with the wacky feminist role. The funny thing is, I've seen several truly awful, boring plays at both the Geffen and the Douglas, and yet I keep letting myself be lured back. I very much like having season tickets, but I wish I could be more proud of the theaters to which I'm subscribing. I should be supporting a season of risky, feminist or queer, not entirely narrative work, not grasping at straws whenever one of the major companies manages to program one or two plays by women. I'd love to get season tickets to the UCLA Live International Theater Festival, but the prices are nowhere near affordable for me. I might consider picking up a subscription to the Boston Court when they announce their new season (I probably would have liked their current season). Even though I usually scoff at the Geffen, or the Taper, or the Douglas, I find myself the eternal optimist when a new season is announced. I wish I could subscribe to everything. I love having theater on my calendar, knowing that I have to go because I've already bought the tickets, and challenging myself to see things that I might not have picked if I were buying single tickets. So, what would you subscribe to if you could? What do you recommend for me?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CTG and Experimental Theater

The LA Times reports today that CTG just received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to develop "experimental" theater by LA-based artists. I wonder if this is at least partially an expansion of the "Douglas Plus" program that was so poorly executed at the last minute last year.

They claim they intend to devote the grant to LA-based artists, and yet the only project they're ready to discuss is bringing in Phil Soltanoff from mad dog experimental theatre company to work with LA actors. While I think it would be great to have more experimental NY artists coming out to LA to do their work or show it, I definitely don't think CTG has the creative vision for this, and once again they're giving lip service to local artists while really fetishizing New York and pretending toward diversity while really only supporting (usually straight, white) men.

While this grant could be an amazing opportunity to see and develop exciting new work, I fear that it will only be another poor excuse to produce work by the same old people, but now with fewer words and more flashy projections and "technology." I would much rather have actually seen the production of Heddatron that they promised and cancelled this year than have this vague promise of new work in the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Outdoor Shakespeare

Twelfth Night. Classical Theatre Lab. Kings Road Park, West Hollywood. 8/9/09.

Summer wouldn't be complete without some good, old-fashioned outdoor Shakespeare. While New Yorkers could see a star-studded Twelfth Night in Central Park earlier this season, we here in West Hollywood have our own modest version of the same play. It's a solid production with good spirit and a few really strong performances.

Most notably, the production maintained quite good pacing, managing to keep my attention without feeling rushed and always making sense out of the language. The actors were combatting airplanes and street noise, and occasional bits of dialogue were lost entirely, and yet I didn't ever feel as if I'd missed anything.

Particularly notable in this production were the comic characters, led by Will Badgett as Feste and Michael Matthys as Sir Toby Belch. They were a lot of fun onstage and made more sense out of the comic bits than I generally experience, and I found myself wishing for more songs.

While this production was far from perfect, it's a good, fun outdoor Shakespeare performance, and not bad for the free show down the street from my house. Director Armin Shimerman did a good job forging a solid, faithful production of a fun play in a lovely outdoor setting.

My favorite Twelfth Night is still the 1998 Lincoln Center/PBS version I saw in high school starring Helen Hunt and Kyra Sedgwick (I really wish this were available on DVD!), but this was a nice pleasant afternoon of theater.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I just began restoring the links that vanished when I changed the design of this blog many months ago, so please take a look at the side column and let me know what's missing. If you read or link to me and would like to be listed, or if you have any recommendations for blogs I should be reading or linking (particularly those at any intersection of theater, academics, Los Angeles, and gender), I would be quite grateful for any suggestions.

Crushable Women

Julie and Julia. The Grove. 8/10/09.

I saw Julie and Julia last night, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but this post is really just as much inspired by this Daily Beast article and the Jezebel response to it that I just happened upon. Mostly, I want to point out that these articles are appropriating terms of romance to describe professional relationships and envy, which are strange usages of terms like "lust" and "crush." Female-female relationships can slip between homosexuality and homosociality, but it seems to me that both of these articles de-eroticize the "girl crush" in really unfortunate ways. For me at least, there is a difference between the women I admire because I want to be like them and the women I admire and might want to sleep with, even if that difference might occasionally be slippery, too. Both of these articles make me wonder if and where attraction might be in the relationships and whether the use of terms like "crush" might have something to say about the paucity of models for female friendship and mentorship.

Which brings me to Julie and Julia. I'm only talking about the film here, not the book or the blog, and certainly not the person, but one thing that I found particularly striking about the film was its portrayal of female relationships. At one point (and this isn't an exact quote), Julie asks, 'aren't you supposed to like your friends'? Julie's relationships in the film with other people, particularly other women, were distant, strained, impoverished. There were those three condescending women she had lunch with, whose relationship was never even explained. I guess they were supposed to be friends, but they didn't seem to even like each other.

In contrast, there was Julie's relationship with Julia Child, which bordered on the obsessive. Was this a "girl crush?" Probably not in the way Doree Shafrir describes it and probably not in a romantic way, and yet the relationship in Julie's head was the only well-defined female-female relationship in Julie's part of the movie. She had some dinner guests, a mother in the form of answering machine voice, and a woman she occasionally high-fived across cubicle walls. There were occasional scenes with friend to whom she vented, but there wasn't much a sense of friendship or support. Julia had female collaborators, a pen-pal, a sister, even a female nemesis of sorts and all of those characters felt much more rich than any of the women in Julie's life.

This might be a reflection of contemporary life, in which we've lost a sense of the possibilities of female friendships that aren't superficial, obligatory, or competitive, or it might just be a part of the failure of the film to develop the character of Julie Powell with the depth and complexity and vibrancy that Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child had, both of which I believe are problems.

Let me be clear that I really did enjoy the film Julie and Julia, but I also felt that it suffered from a generation gap. Amy Adams' Powell seems as so much less interesting than Julia Child, but that is at least partially because I don't think writer/director Nora Ephron really understood (or liked) the character. Powell is given long, boring scenes about what a blog is and how to start one that may be necessary if your intended audience is over sixty, but that seem incredibly simplistic and alienating to an audience of Julie's contemporaries. I find this LA Times article particularly illuminating in its discussion toward the end of the article about how Ephron had trouble "creating tension within Powell's narrative"; that failure is apparent onscreen in the difficulty I had liking or identifying with the character. I feel that there must be a way to have made Julie's quirkiness and affectations endearing, but the film portrayed her as self-centered and helpless instead. Again, I wonder if this is a reflection on the images and possibilities for contemporary women, or just a slight misstep. Any thoughts or insight would be welcome.

Either way, I very much recommend the film, but with the caveat that the portrayals of Julie Powell or contemporary female relationships are not why I recommend it. Go for the food, the cooking, and Meryl as Julia. Go for the fact that it's a movie about women, for once. I definitely enjoyed the film, and left the theater discussing dessert recipes with friends, and that in itself is a wonderful thing. Perhaps, even if this isn't a film that portrays non-competitive contemporary female relationships, it can be a film that helps build some.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chico's Chica's

Chico's Angels 2: Love Boat Chicas. The Cavern Club Celebrity Theater. 7/12/09.

Chico's Angels is probably the best show you'll ever see in the basement of a Mexican Restaurant, and the current installment, Love Boat Chicas exceeds my previous experiences with the show so much that I was blown away! There were more songs, more dances, more lesbianism, and the plot even made more sense! This was by far the best Angels yet! This Charlie's Angels meets the Loveboat crossover episode has all the '70s nostalgia you could possibly desire and all the campy drag and sexual innuendo you can stand.

Even better, this episode seems to have finally mastered the balance in campiness in combining drag queens and bio-girls. Cher Ferreyra and Nora Miller really brought the bio-girl camp and managed to gve the drag queens a run for their money rather than feeling like they were in a different show. It brought the whole production together in an explosion of fabulousness.

Of course, Oscar Quintero as the scene-stealing Kay Sedia is always the star of the show and didn't disappoint as a Charo impersonator in this episode, but the subplots with Danny Casillas' portrayal of Frieda Lay's budding lesbian experimentation and the forbidden love between Ray Garcia as Chita Parol and Alejandro Patino as Bossman were excellent enhancements to the plot and played extremely well. Overall, this was the strongest Chico's Angels I've seen so far and I highly recommend it.

If you can't make it to the theater to see the show (extended through August 2!), they're starting a web series, so be sure to check it out on their website!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It Came from Chicago

Hannah Free. Outfest. 7/10/2009.

Outfest 2009 has begun. On the spur of the moment, I joined a friend at a this evening at a screening of Hannah Free, a film about an older butch lesbian dealing with aging and recalling the love of her life. It was a lovely film with beautiful cinematography by Gretchen Warthen and the performances, particularly by Sharon Gless (the mother from Queer as Folk and Burn Notice. She makes a great lesbian.

There were some really refreshing things about this film, particularly that there were actual images of butch women and also older lesbians, both of which are rarely seen in mainstream films. The performances were truly excellent. Sharon Gless was, of course, fabulous, but so was the rest of the cast. Jacqui Jackson was charming and adorable as a young woman who adopts Hannah as a lesbian elder and Kelli Strickland as the baby butch version Hannah was seriously crush-worthy.

I'm really glad I saw this partially because it emerged from the Chicago theater scene. It was written by Claudia Allen, who is a lesbian playwright in Chicago at the Victory Gardens Theater. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know anything about her work prior to this (although I think I did see someone give a paper about her play Xena Lives!), so I'm really glad that this brought this work to my attention.

The film wasn't perfect; there were some cringe-worthy moments of awkwardness, particularly some really unnatural-sounding exposition at the beginning of the film. Some of the folks I was with complained that it felt a little stagey at points, although either I didn't notice or I'm interpreting the same moments as unnatural awkwardness that they consider theatrical. Overall, the film was just sweet and refreshing. It was also a bit of a tearjerker; I was crying from about 10 or 15 minutes into the film, but there were so many beautiful, funny, honest scenes between the ones that made me cry that I found the whole thing charming and really enjoyable rather than sappy.

Overall, Outfest is off to a great start for me.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Definitely a Children's Musical

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Orange County Performing Arts Center. 7/8/09.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a cute musical for kids, but for me as an adult it lacked the sense of effortless wonder that would have made me enjoy the show. The production's emphasis on spectacle over sense diminishes rather than enhances the show's whimsey, and while the sets and costumes were lovely, they felt like the star of the show rather than an enhancement to the singing and dancing.

This was the first time I have ever thought seriously about orchestration in a musical, but I think in this case the orchestration significantly harmed the production. This was a score that could have benefited from a full orchestra and instead the pared-down pit orchestra meant that there was far too much musical emphasis on drums and tuba (and a few reeds). As a result, far too many of the songs sounded like marches and everything about the singing and dancing seemed labored rather than effortless.

The cast itself performed well, particularly the kids, Jeremy Lipton as Jeremy and Aly Brier as Jemima, who had beautiful voices. I enjoyed Dirk Lumbard and Scott Cote as the comic henchmen quite a bit and wish they actually had more to do. The plot doesn't serve them at all, but the actors themselves had a good deal of potential as a comic team. Steve Wilson in the lead role of Caractacus Potts worked hard to carry the show, but he just doesn't have the huge personality and range of an actor like Dick Van Dyke (who originated the role in the film) or Tommy Tune. I wonder what Raúl Esparza, who originated the role on Broadway, was like?

Mostly, though, this show is pure children's theater. While I was bored that every song had an encore, the little kids behind me were singing along and seemed to be having a great time. While I was puzzled by events that happened offstage or that seemed unnecessary, they were delighted. While I thought the Baron and Baroness characters were weird and disturbing, they seemed to understand them as villains. Overall, I was kind of mystified by the show as a whole and why anyone would want a live action version of the movie, but the kids seemed to really enjoy it.

This show is for you if you have children under the age of 12 who would enjoy some silly musical theater, or if you're particularly nostalgic for the 1968 film version but don't remember it well enough to be a purist (my mom loved the show).

Skip it if you're in the slightest bit cynical or critical or prefer your musicals to make sense.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Good Tribute to Great Music

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra. Laguna Playhouse. 7/7/09.

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra features a quartet of good singers singing the best songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, so it's an evening of excellent music delivered in pleasant, if not brilliant or revolutionary, manner. It's a good show and the performers do an admirable job singing all of Frank's hits. Go to this show if you want a nice concert of Sinatra music. The cast members have great voices, particularly John Fredo as Man #1 who displays the spirit and vocal quality of Sinatra, and though his dancing wasn't particularly Sinatra-esque, it was fun to watch. I also enjoyed the work of Casey Erin Clark, even though she's terribly miscast as Woman #1 who should by all rights be older considering the songs she sings.

Beyond the songs and the singing, which are good, this production isn't anything to write home about. When confronted with the understated cool of Sinatra, the conventions of the musical revue seem far too staid and artificial. The old familiar format of two guys and two girls in formalwear singing in mixed couples makes a lot of sense for the songs of Sondheim or Noel Coward, both of which I have seen to good effect, but it doesn't make sense for Sinatra, whose voice and personality are as important as the songs themselves. The four people all dressed up and hanging out singing feels particularly inappropriate as performances of or about Sinatra. Though the performers are consummate singers, they're not necessarily the ideal actors for paying tribute to Sinatra's persona. Karen M. Jeffreys as Woman #2 in particular overperformed, with dramatic arm gesturing, facial mugging and hip wiggling that detracted from rather than enhanced the songs. Between sets of dubiously grouped songs, the patter of Frank Sinatra quotes and anecdotes addressed directly at the audience were a little awkward and at the end of the show they got maudlin in trying to pay tribute to Sinatra and his legacy. The emphasis on tribute was heavy-handed to the point that it detracted from the strong sense of life that the music itself conveyed.

Overall, the show was a nice concert of Sinatra music, but it had little of the spirit of Sinatra to it. The sense of Sinatra as the Chairman, his homosocial Rat Pack cool, even his way with the ladies was missing from this particular production. If you're looking for a better sense of the man and the myth of Sinatra, this isn't the show for you, but if you just want to enjoy the music, these kids put on a pretty good concert.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Star is Born meets Vegas

Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara. The Geffen Playhouse. 6/25/2009.

Everyone in the world may already know this, since it's seriously late in the show's run, but Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara is a wildly entertaining, incredibly performed romp through Vegas in the '50s and '60s and I absolutely loved it. It's a sweet little cabaret show about the intertwined career and romance shared by bandleader Louis Prima and singer Keely Smith. The complexities of a real life romance and marriage are shoved into the plot of A Star is Born, but like the songs onstage, old familiar standards get a new life through truly inspired performances.

Jake Broder as Louis Prima and Vanessa Claire Smith as Keely Smith are also listed as co-creators and their unique talents and personalities absolutely bring the show to life. Broder as Prima sings and swings and sweats through an hour and 40 minutes onstage without respite. His performance emphasizes Prima's hard-working manic energy and dedication his performance and his audience. The real delight of the show is Smith's Keely; she brings a charm and delight that brightens the stage and defines the show. She plays Keely with a combination of naivety and brashness that make her a fascinating character. The performances in this show define the piece and make it unmissable.

Other delights of the show include Frank Sinatra (played by Nick Cagle) as the villian, who apparently wasn't in the original production at Sacred Fools and Brian Wallis and Michael Lanahan who I've seen often enough recently in Magnum Opus and Serial Killers at Sacred Fools that they feel like old friends. This is another show where I should have brought a musicologist to talk to me about the music, but it seemed like a lot of fun to me.

In terms of gender, I like that Keely was a strong character, but I think that the show put too much emphasis on Prima discovering, teaching and "creating" Smith. It was a bit too much a show about Prima and his art and ego when Smith should have been the star. That was in its way appropriate to the ideas of the show and the spirit of '50s Vegas, but still not something that I like. It's also not how Keely herself tells the story, at least according to the 2000 interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I also think that setting the beginning and end of the show with Prima's death dragged down an otherwise buoyant show and made the beginning a bit rough; this was, first and foremost a love story and idea of looking back on a life didn't add much for me. But despite a few intellectual quibbles, this is a truly fabulous, perfectly entertaining show and I highly recommend it to anyone; my parents loved it!

This show is excellent, and totally worth seeing. They just extended the run until August 2, so get your tickets now!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Space Opera

The Wooster Group. La Didone. REDCAT. 6/16/09.

I find the Wooster Group's work so intellectually and visually stimulating that it nearly overwhelms me. La Didone combines the opera by Francesco Cavalli and Giovanni Busenello from 1641 with Planet of the Vampires, a 1965 Italian horror/scifi film. It's an amazing, surprising combination that explores ideas of gender, technology, and art.

The two pieces resonate together beautifully to implicitly equate love with parasitic alien possession and I'm pretty sure in the climactic sex scene there were giant glowing green penises onscreen onstage. It also deals with the fragmentation of the body through the use of filmic closeups, particularly focusing on hands and arms as characters pass from live to screen in order to interact with the 1960s scifi technology.

As for gender, there were great female characters and a lot of interesting commentary (particularly from the opera) about women as weak, emotional, and faithless in a way that seemed really funny, but was also reinforced by both plots. The sexism seemed intended to be so blatant that it was absurd, particularly when Dido was the center of the entire show.

My thoughts on this piece are yet mushy and unformed. The Wooster Group's work generally takes me a lot of time to absorb and contemplate. There are so many loose threads of ideas to pull on that I don't yet have a full picture of what the piece means to me, but one of my first reactions is that this feels a lot more like a direct mash-up, putting two pieces together to create something new and beautiful in the resonances between the pieces, than a deconstruction and commentary in the way that earlier Wooster Group pieces were. I could be wrong about that, and it's certainly not a negative judgement in any way, but I wonder what other people think.

Anyway, this piece is beautiful and weird and amazing and I wish I had brought some musicologists with me to have a discussion on the relationships between Baroque Opera, '60s scifi and contemporary reality. I've always been a little skeptical of the Wooster Group (even though they're in my dissertation) because they're not nearly as queer and feminist as I am or as I think they should be, but this piece definitely reminded me that they are so intellectually stimulating that perhaps it doesn't matter if I agree with their politics. If you have a chance, please do see this; it will blow your mind in a good way.

Friday, June 12, 2009

127 Easy Steps

One of my favorite performers (and friends) happens to be performing at Highways this weekend and I'm super excited. Scott Turner Schofield's Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps is a new show that hasn't yet been performed in LA and it's an ariel acrobatic choose-your-own adventure romp through multiple genders and identities as Schofield explores what it means to become a man in terms of both gender and maturity. I've read parts of the piece in Schofield's Lambda Award-nominated book, Two Truths and a Lie but I haven't seen the show itself, plus, it's different every time. Schofield allows the audience to choose the stories he tells each night. Schofield's performances are always smart and funny and wonderfully charming and I've thoroughly enjoyed them in the past. You should totally be there!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Voice Lessons

Justin Tanner. Voice Lessons. Starring Laurie Metcalf and French Stewart. Zephyr Theatre. 5/22/09.

Voice Lessons is billed as a romantic comedy of sorts. Perhaps it is, but it's real strength is as a showcase for amazing talent in acting and writing. Tanner's weird, pathetic characters are brought to vibrant, disturbing life by three incredibly talented actors and anyone fortunate enough to sit in that tiny theater for 65 minutes to watch the show unfold is fortunate indeed. The run has been extended until June 28, so if you can, I highly recommend that you rush out and see it while you can.

The show itself is a strange little piece about a troubled woman (Metcalf) who appeals to a local voice teacher (Stewart) to turn her from a community theater bit player into a rock star. Her unorthodox behavior and lack of talent soon result in more talking than singing as both characters become unravelled and quickly surmount normal social boundaries.

The piece isn't particularly queer and is only sort of campy, but it showcases excellent acting and characterization. It takes an everyday situation and exaggerates it to the extremes in a way that is fabulously compelling to witness. It definitely made me want to see more of Tanner's work (I missed Oklohomo a couple of years ago and I've been regretting it ever since). I already knew Metcalf and French were fabulous, and I would gladly go see them anywhere in anything, so this was just an extra special treat watching them demonstrate their craft masterfully.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Fun at Sacred Fools!

I should go see these:

Madness in Valencia
MAY 22 - JUNE 28, 2009
Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm
plus Sunday Matinees May 24 & June 28 at 2pm
PREVIEW: Thursday, May 21 at 8pm - $12.50

Call 310-281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online

Lust, love, madness, nobles, peasants, high and low humor, and mistaken identities abound in this delightfully earthy play. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Lope de Vega's hilarious play is for anyone who’s fallen in love at the wrong time - and asks, aren’t love and madness really the same thing?

Starring Juliette Angeli, Joseph Beck, Jay Bogdanowitsch,
Wil Bowers, Paul Byrne, Craig Calman, Brandon Clark,
Matthew Garland, Michael Holmes, Vivian Kerr,
JJ Mayes, Laura Napoli & Tyler Tanner

Understudies: Jennifer Fenten & Paul Plunkett


the return of MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: "Abi's Choice"
Fridays @ 11pm, May 29 - June 26

and the start of the SERIAL KILLERS PLAYOFFS!
Saturdays @ 11pm, May 30 - June 27
and Saturday, July 11 @ 8pm
Playoff shows include "A Cat Wrote this Play" and "Seamen! The Musical!" which are awesome and "Vatos in Space!" which sounds fabulous

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fools! Infidels!

Teenagers from Outer Space, "Toast to Our Brother," and "Island Sunrise." Outfest Legacy Project Screening Series. UCLA Film & Television Archive. Hammer Museum. 5/17/09.

The Outfest Legacy Project's tribute to Tom Graeff was awesome! I totally expected there to be huge crowd of '50s scifi fans with lobsters and Rocky Horror-like responses. Instead he audience was a couple dozen queer film enthusiasts (including some cute girls! yay!). The whole event was fabulously entertaining and educational and you (in a vague, general sense) are all fools for missing it!

The thing I found most notable about this screening of Teenagers from Outer Space was the large amount of Gargon action. There were totally more giant lobsters than I remember in previous viewings of the film.

The fabulous Gargon

I learned lots of things at this screening, including the fact that David Love, star of Teenagers from Outer Space, aka Chuck Roberts was Graeff's boyfriend at the time of filming; he disappeared completely in 1959. Ooh! Mystery!

David Love, star and boyfriend to the director

In addition to Teenagers, which is totally better on the big screen, we also watched Graeff's short film about fraternity life, "Toast to Our Brother," which wasn't as homoerotic and campy as I had hoped, but it was still pretty entertaining. It was fun to watch footage filmed on the UCLA campus in the '50s. The short "Island Sunrise" was even more educational; it was intended to be a showcase of the talents of Chuck Roberts and it was strange and depressing short supposed to be about eternal love. It was apparently set to the song "Ebb Tide" but this particular screening was done to Erasure's version of the song, which I suspect gave the whole thing a very different feel.

But the most exciting tidbit that I learned at this film screening was that the last film Graeff worked on was Wizard of Mars, a 1965 scifi version of the Wizard of Oz. According to IMDB the tagline for the film is "Three EARTHMEN and a GIRL encounter the horrors of MARS!" Doesn't that sound awesome!?! We definitely need this for bad scifi night! Of course, it could be as dull as Robinson Crusoe on Mars but I think it's worth checking out.

The Mission Inn

Wow! The Mission Inn is like a cross between the Winchester House and The Madonna Inn!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tim Miller on Meat and Marriage

Tim Miller. Lay of the Land. Highways Performance Space. 5/16/09.

Tim Miller is good at what he does. What he does is perform political performance art that melds the personal with the political. Lay of the Land is his meditation on the current state of his own civil rights, primarily in relation to marriage. It feels as if it should be performed at protest rallies in front of huge crowds rather than at Highways surrounded by rich supporters (we went to Highways' 20th Anniversary Benefit performance, so the audience was full of Miller's and Highways' friends and family). This show will be great at college campuses and for audiences where everyone doesn't already know Miller and his work. In this case he was preaching to the converted, but it's still a good show to watch. Miller displays excellent skill weaving stories together and advocating for civil rights.

What I was impressed with in this particular performance was an awareness of race that I don't remember from Miller's earlier performances (I could be wrong). Some of this was problematic because it implicitly (if not explicitly) compares Don't Ask, Don't Tell and marriage rights to slavery, Japanese internment, and the genocide of Native Americans. I can understand that this is important in establishing a history of oppression and unequal citizenship, but sometimes I wonder if such comparisons help or hurt in making a case for our civil rights. But overall, I'm glad Miller is at least talking about race and marking his own whiteness, which he did.

Overall, Lay of the Land is a strong piece advocating for marriage rights using Miller's own queer body as the site of the story and the state of the union. Bring anyone and everyone who isn't sure about marriage rights.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How we remember our past tells us who we are

SITI Company. Antiogne. The Getty Villa Malibu. Villa Theater Lab. 5/15/09.

The SITI Company does amazing work. Any chance you get to see them is worthwhile. I'm sure when it's finished, Antigone will be fabulous, but right now it has its good points and its bad points. Tonight's show was a work in progress, basically a staged reading showing what they had been working on while in residence at the Villa. Right now, it needs editing; the script was wordy and awkward and the whole thing ran a bit too long.

Despite some trouble with the script, the show itself promises to be striking when it's ready. The performers are good at what they do and make an excellent ensemble with fascinating physical control and aesthetic choices.

In the script as it now stands, they've adapted Sophocles' Antigone to focus on contemporary politics surrounding warfare and personal versus civic duties. I find that this minimizes the emphasis on the relationship between Antigone and Ismene, which I think is just as important as the conflict between Antigone and Creon or Antigone's relationship with Haemon. I'd like to see more emphasis on the relationship of the sisters in this particular production, and less time spent on the history of the curse on Oedipus' house.

Overall, I think this show will be lovely in the future and I look forward to the final result.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On My Calendar

Looking ahead, I have a crazy schedule of shows to see, and I'd thought I'd share my wacky plans. Let me know if you want to join me. I already have tickets for/plans to see:

The SITI Company doing Antigone at the Getty Villa

Tim Miller's new piece, Lay of the Land at Highways Performance Space

Laurie Metcalf and French Stewart in Voice Lessons by Justin Tanner at the Zephyr

A big queer tribute to Tom Graeff, director of Teenagers from Outer Space at the Hammer.

Plus, I'm trying to figure out when to see:

Our Town at The Actors' Gang

Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara at the Geffen

Serial Killers playoffs at Sacred Fools

Plus, in June there's:

The Wooster Group in La Didone at the REDCAT - opera + scifi = awesome!

Scott Turner Schofield at Highways June 12-13

a new Magnum Opus at Sacred Fools

and Pride (June 12-14) and Outfest (July 9-19), of course.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Octavio Solis. Lydia. Mark Taper Forum. 4/28/2009.

I didn't go in expecting much from Lydia. The advertising for the production was pretty terrible; it just suggested the show was a family drama set in Texas on the U.S./Mexican border. I was glad CTG was doing something that wasn't by and about white people, but I didn't have much hope for the show itself. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

Lydia tells the story of a Mexican-American family that has been devastated by a car crash that left its youngest member brain damaged and helpless. When a beautiful young woman joins the family to care for the injured daughter, all of the family's secrets and pains are slowly revealed. All of that sounds fairly mundane, but what makes this play exciting is that it gives voice to the disabled daughter and addresses all sorts of issues of sexuality. Its portrayals of sexuality are risky and disturbing so that they challenged me as an audience member. I'm still unsure how I feel about the gender roles in the play; they were far from perfect with Celia as the damaged and idealized daughter and Lydia as the beautiful young woman who brings change. The girls act as foils for each other surrounded by angry, repressed, violent men. My reaction to the play was complex and conflicted; it made me want to think and didn't supply me with easy answers about how I felt about it. I found the fact that this play challenged me to think about it particularly refreshing; I admire the play very much for that.

There were things I didn't love; Celia's sing-song voice irritated me and I found some of the dream/memory scenes problematic, but overall the play was more complex and interesting than I expected, and I found myself recommending it to people. If you have time to catch it before it closes this weekend (May 17th) it's definitely worth seeing and thinking about. I'd love to know what other people thought.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

CTG Cancels Another Show!

I was disappointed and enraged to discover that CTG had cancelled Heddatron. This was the second show they cancelled this season for which I had tickets already. I am, once again, extremely disappointed in them. This was the show in which I was most interested and now it's not happening, and I have ANOTHER "credit" to get tickets for a show that isn't the show I wanted to see in the first place. They won't even refund the money! I am really furious and disappointed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bruising for Besos - extended!

Adelina Anthony. Bruising for Besos. LA Gay and Lesbian Center. 3/13/09.

Adelina Anthony's Bruising for Besos has been extended until April 19, so now that you can still see it, perhaps you should. It is a lovely, melancholy piece about love and emotional and physical abuse, which means it is extremely difficult to watch. I was at first reluctant to write about it, because I love Anthony's work and commitment in general, but I had some mixed feelings about the piece. I was thoroughly impressed by Anthony's skill at weaving in and out of various characters to make this a one-woman show with many roles and many voices. Her skill as an actress is beautifully demonstrated in Bruising for Besos; watching her deftly switch between characters could be reason enough to go see it while you can.

It's an intensely personal play, however, and sometimes that sense of the personal is too heavy-handed. At points, the piece seems overwritten, as if it were trying too hard to be literary and therefore felt self-conscious. Sometimes it felt as if there weren't enough distance between Anthony as playwright, Anthony as actor, and Yoli as character.

The play takes place on a beautiful, haunting set depicting a broken down car on the side of the road outside San Antonio and that in itself spoke to me. The set is so powerful that I wish I were more inspired by the play's sense of space and time. Something about it as a memory play didn't work for me, even though it should have. I wonder if perhaps I am just temporarily frustrated with solo work and would have preferred this to be a play with multiple actors playing the multiple characters. I may wish for more theatrical magic and less monologue, but what Anthony does, she does well.

Despite my mixed feelings, I think this play is absolutely worth seeing and thinking about and discussing. It is lovely and contemplative and at times stunningly well-acted. It's a powerful departure from Anthony's previous work and as such, deserves recognition and celebration. I'm so glad it's getting the audience to extend (twice!) and if you haven't seen it, you should go.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fabulous Things To Do

I went to the Charles Phoenix show tonight night and it was awesome, but more on that later. First of all, a friend of mine and I are working on a list of kitchy, touristy, retro, or otherwise fabulous things we have to do in Southern California. Help us list!

Angel City Drive-in - drive-in movie on the top of a parking lot!
Vineland Drive-in
Cinespia cemetery screenings
Dinner and a movie at cinespace

Medusa Lounge
The Edison Bar
Saints and Sinners Lounge
The Dresden
The Derby - I think the Los Feliz location still exists, but it's unclear what's going on there now or if it's worth visiting

coffee shops/diners/restaurants:
Dinah's Family Restaurant - on Sepulveda in Culver City. Since 1959.
Bob's Big Boy (Burbank)
Pie 'n Burger
Encounter restaurant at LAX
The Pantry
Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles
Oki Dog
El Coyote
The Gardens of Taxco
Carny's - in a train!
Pink's Hot Dogs
House of Pies
Japanese curry - Hurry Curry?
The Apple Pan
A&W Rootbeer - Norwalk and Buena Park
Angelo's Drive-in - Anaheim - an actual drive-in!
Musso and Frank
Phillipe's - the original French Dip! - absolutely magnificent. Perfect texture, very tasty!
Cafe Jack - Sushi and coffee in a Titanic-themed restaurant shaped like a boat! The sushi was good, but the beverages were a bit overpriced. The pizza cutlet was weird (breaded chicken cutlet with cheese, tomato sauce, and veggies on top).
Coles (Pacific Electric Buffet) - the sandwich wasn't quite as perfect as Phillipe's, but it did come with jus for dipping. Plus, the atmosphere was way more snazzy.
Swingers Diner - great milkshakes and lots of vegetarian options. Great for late-night food.
Pann's Restaurant and Coffee Shop - Built 1958. The food was good in this original 1950s diner.

Dale's Donuts - Atlantic Ave. and Alondra Blvd. in Compton
Bellflower Bagels - 17025 Bellflower Blvd.
Randy's Donuts - by the airport!
Kindle's Donuts - The giant "do-nut" was bigger than I even imagined! And the donuts were tasty, too.
The Donut Hole - La Puente- you drive through the donuts! It was super yummy and generally awesome, but not as cheap as Randy's or Kindle's.
Donut King II - Cheap and yummy.
Doughn-t Hut - Magnolia and Buena Vista, Burbank
Frittelli's - high end donuts in Beverly Hills
Earl's - Chatsworth
Donut Man - Fresh fruit seasonal donuts, along Route 66 in Glendora
Primo's Westdale Doughnuts - "Best Donuts in LA since 1956," on Sawtelle
Stan's - Wow! This is right next to UCLA and I never went in!
Bob's Coffee and Doughnuts - Los Angeles Farmers' Market
Nickel Diner - Bacon donuts?
Angel Food Donuts -3860 Long Beach Blvd and 3657 Santa Fe Ave, Long Beach, mini giant donut
The Daily Grind Espresso - Long Beach, giant donut, possibly pink glazed?
Carl's Do-nuts and Burgers - 784 W Holt Ave, Pomona

tourist attractions:
The Gamble House - Greene & Greene Architecture, 1908
Cabazon Dinosaurs
Barnsdall Art Park/Hollyhock House - Frank Lloyd Wright (1921)
Chinatown - not as cool as other Chinatowns. We tried various odd pastries, which were weird and awesome. Lots of vaguely interesting "chinese-y" architecture including a way overdone Bank of America (we decided chinoiserie was too fancy a word for what we saw)
Watts Towers
The Hollywood Bowl
Hearst Castle
The Magic Castle
Moonlight Rollerway
Hollywood Adventist Church - (1961)
The Mission Inn

Museum of Neon Art
Museum of Jurassic Technology
cake lady mini cake museum

Burlesque at El Cid
Serial Killers and Magnum Opus at Sacred Fools
Something wacky at the Steve Allen Theater

New for summer! Ice cream, gelato and milkshakes:
Scoops - the best, hands down, in my opinion. Always new and interesting flavors!
Mashti Malone's - long time favorite! Interesting flavors like Rosewater Saffron.
Carmela Ice Cream - Hollywood and Culver City farmers' markets
Gelato Bar - 4342 ½ Tujunga Avenue, Studio City
Silky Smooth Ultra Creamery - "microcreamery" in the Beverly Center
Delicieuse - 2503 Artesia Blvd Redondo Beach, goat milk ice cream flavors
Fosselman's - 1824 W. Main St., Alhambra
Glacier Ice Cream - 1605 Sepulveda in Manhattan Beach
Gelato Bar - 4342 ½ Tujunga Avenue, Studio City
Saffron Spot - 18744 Pioneer Boulevard, Artesia

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Fringes-Margins-Borders. Highways Performance Space. 3/6/09.

I promised a report, but only have time for a quickie. The show was overall quite strong. Sean Dorsey and Scott Turner Schofield both performed pieces I'd seen multiple times before, but they were so well done that I found myself laughing and delighted anyway. Rumor has it Dorsey is looking for a bigger dance space to bring a full length show to Southern California, so someone should jump on that. Schofield will be performing his new piece, Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps at Highways in June! Be sure to go!

Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa, aka devil bunny, performed a piece about the expectations of femininity called "Big Pink." I like the concept a lot, but the text was really dense and rant-y. I want to see it again and think about it more.

Deadlee surprised me by linking the two songs he performed with a funny and intense personal monologue so that his performance was more than hip-hop, which was nice.

Stephanie Cooper, who performs as Thisway/Thatway, did some interesting work that was kind of a burlesque performance related to minstrelsy and set to contemporary rap/hip-hop. The costumes were fabulous and the piece had something to say, but it was a difficult thing to be an audience for in this context. I think it probably works well in a show with a lot of other burlesque numbers but it was a strange intervention for this particular context.

Saleem seems to still be working out what he has to say.

Ian MacKinnon did a piece that was for gay men. It was over the top and campy and fabulous and the audience was really laughing and enjoying it, but it wasn't for me.

That was, overall I think the problem with the evening. There wasn't a good clear establishment of tone. I suspect a lot of the artists would be happier with a loud, boisterous, supportive audience and we all loved it but were for the most part quiet and reflective. The show wasn't sold out, so come tonight and be loud! The show is definitely worth it (and if you ask real nicely, they will probably still give you Pay What You Can tickets, so don't let the money stop you. Go! It's a rare chance to see good artists who don't perform in LA nearly often enough.

Friday, March 06, 2009

To Do List

A la David Cote's dance card, I thought I'd let you know what theater I'm planning to see in the next few weeks.

First of all, I will be going to Highways all weekend this weekend for Fringes-Margins-Borders: Queer Arts Exchange. Sean Dorsey and Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa rarely perform in LA and are not to be missed, and I've been a booster for Scott Turner Schofield for years. I'm seeing all three performances with three different groups of friends and I'd love to see more friendly faces. Tune back in late tonight for my thoughts!

I was also planning on attending the Forrest J Ackerman Tribute Double Feature of Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman and The Time Travelers at the Egyptian, but it seems to be sold out. Boo! If anyone has knowledge or advice on how I might get a ticket, let me know.

Next week I'm seeing Adelina Anthony perform Bruising for Besos at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. I should have promoted this here earlier. It looks to be much more serious and intimate than Adelina's work that I've seen in the past and I'm excited to see what she does with it. It's getting great reviews. It closes March 15, so get yourself there ASAP!

I haven't bought tickets yet (trying to convince someone to go with me), but I'm also going to try to see The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Ark theatre sometime in the weekend of March 12-15. The play is by camp queen Charles Busch and is a hilarious spoof of murder mysteries. Two actors play several characters each and there's a lot of running back and forth and theatrical magic. I've read it many times, and always wanted to see it performed.

On Thursday, March 19th I'm planning to trek to Pasadena to see Charles Phoenix's Southern Californialand! Slideshow. I got a taste of Phoenix's work at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater tribute a couple of weeks ago, and I'm dying to see a full Charles Phoenix show, especially one focused on Southern California history! It's part of the Sidney D. Gamble Lecture Series, and I'm impressed with their taste. Phoenix is fabulous retro fun, complete with the most amazing suits I have ever seen!

Then on the 20th, I'm going to see Mike Daisey perform How Theater Failed America. My roommate assures me that this is a wonderful, inspiring show, even though I have very mixed feelings about his polemic against MFA programs, which seems at least partially to be an attack on professors. There have been responses and follow-ups all around the theater blogosphere. Anyway, I'm definitely curious to see the show, and the talkback on the state of Los Angeles and American theater afterward. I'm also going to see Daisey workshop his new show, The Last Cargo Cult. Mostly because I want to encourage the Kirk Douglas to have more $5 tickets for work in progress.

That's my theater plan for the rest of the month. Thoughts? Recommendations? Feel free to join me at any of these shows!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Movie Reviews? Ask the Internet

The Rotten Tomatoes Show.

I found myself watching The Rotten Tomatoes Show, a new movie review show on Yes, it's an internet tv show based on a website. Sounds silly, I know, and I probably wouldn't have watched it if I didn't distantly know some of the people involved and if I hadn't been able to Tivo it to watch on my TV via Time Warner Cable's deal with current. But I was actually pleasantly surprised. The show got off to a slightly awkward start - it was cute and clever but the tempo was a bit off at the beginning. Host Brett Erlich at first didn't have quite the energy for a host/announcer, but by the end of the show he had picked up and I loved him. Ellen Fox was OK at the beginning and grew on me as the episode progressed. I suspect after a few episodes, their banter and comfort levels will improve and they will be rockstars.

The real advantage of this show, in addition to harnessing the web 2.0 power of community input, was the cleverness of its segments. The haiku reviews and three sentence reviews were fun with potential for awesomeness. The Top 5 list was surprisingly clever and film literate. And some of the clips of webcam reviews by viewers were great. As they build an audience, I suspect there will be some good hilarious commentary. Mostly, however, I want to request more enthusiasm for the badness of bad movies. As a bad scifi fan, I'd love to see more commentary on the insanity of B-movies and other wackiness. You'd think commentary on Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li and video game movies would be the most opportunity for clever sarcasm, but for me this first segment disappointed. I will, however, be enthusiastically Tivoing this show in the future. It feels young, clever, and entertaining.

Do I want to consider this as the future of criticism? Well, I don't think crowdsourcing is a substitute for my favorite NPR film critics (or local newspaper film and theater coverage), but I haven't watched entertainment news on TV in many years, and this has definitely gotten my attention, and I suspect it will only get better.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Wacky Late Night Theater Antics!

Serial Killers! Sacred Fools Theater. 2/28/2009.

Almost randomly, my roommate and I found ourselves at Sacred Fools Theater tonight for Serial Killers, a late night theater smackdown in which a plethora of actors perform five ten(ish)-minute plays in a madcap fashion, and then the audience votes which 3 serials continue in the next installment. There was a wide range of skill and style in both the plays themselves and the actors performing them, but there was a ton of wacky fun regardless of petty notions like "quality" and "logic." There were inside jokes, crazy nicknames, outlandish concepts, and musical numbers! What more could you ask for in a night of theater?

As an audience, we witnessed:

"Hi Hun, I'm Home!" by Anna Baardsen and Ari Radousky, a sitcom in which Attila the Hun seems to be the patriarch and Mr. Mom of a contemporary American family. It's a fabulous concept, and I totally would have loved to see more, but the episode we watched felt like a conclusion and the audience voted it out.

"The Pembridge Place Panic: A True Story" by Sean Sweeney, a campy horror story about a couple moving into a haunted house, then hiring a TV show host and his crew to investigate the mysterious phenomena. As far as I was concerned, this show starred Michael Holmes' (I think, I wasn't so clear on which character and actor were which) eyebrows, which were awesome.

"The Nitro Hour" by JJ Mayes, a variety show hosted by incompetent hosts. It didn't have much of a plot and seemed mostly to be inside jokes. But Chairman Barnes' announcer voice was awesome! This will not be making it to episode two.

"A Cat Wrote This Play!" by Padriac Duffy, an absurdist romp through a cat's stream of consciousness as imagined by a human playing a cat. This made no sense whatsoever, but it was both charming and hilarious nonetheless. It will be continuing on to episode 6, and deservedly so.

"Seamen! The Musical!" by Joe Jordan, a musical about men on a ship who just happen to like to dance. This was by far my favorite, even though nothing really happened and it may have just been an excuse to make gay jokes. This show was delightfully retro (sort of On the Town meets The Village People) and will continue on to episode 5!

The next installment isn't until March 28, and I may be tempted to go again. And apparently they're doing a playoff between the longest running serials of the year in May and June, which sounds fabulous! Anyway, I totally recommend Serial Killers as rousing theatrical good times where nothing matters as much as a good (usually dirty) joke. This is one of those shows that reminds me why I love theater and theater folks so much, and it's definitely worth the ($7) price of admission.

Now, all I need is a queer version of this. Basically, I wish I could be in New York to see Room for Cream at La MaMa. It sounds awesome.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Delightful Deaf West Production of Pippin

Pippin. The Mark Taper Forum. 2/24/09.

Deaf West Theatre and CTG have produced a truly magical production of Pippin. An extraordinary cast and a thorough reworking of Stephen Schwartz's 1972 musical make this show captivating and refreshing. They streamlined the show's book, cut some songs, did the whole thing in sign language, and made me fall in love with this musical all over again.

Most striking in this production were the actors playing Pippin: Michael Arden (singing) and Tyrone Giordano (signing). By doubling the character, these two actors made Pippin into a much more compelling character than he often appears. For the first time, I didn't find Pippin vapid and self-centered as a character, and I wasn't bored during his long, solipsistic solos. Arden's voice was strikingly beautiful and incredibly expressive while Giordano's signing and acting allowed the character to emote with his body at the same time. Usually, Pippin is the least interesting thing about Pippin, and in this production, that wasn't the case. The decision to bifurcate the character was a stroke of genius, and while I'm not entirely convinced by the decision to have the two versions of Pippin interact at the climax of the play, watching the two Pippins enlivened the whole production.

The revised book, including the added song "Back Home Again" solved many of the problems with Pippin's pacing. They did the whole thing straight through without an intermission, which is the way it should be (otherwise Act II drags - a lot). Unfortunately, this means they cut "Extraordinary," which is a fairly important song to express Pippin's character, and which is echoed frequently in the show's book. I think they'd be better off keeping at least one verse of the song to help develop Pippin's character.

Visually, director Jeff Calhoun's production emphasizes magic, literally, rather than the spectacular theatricality that generally frames the show. Instead of actor/dancers, the the Leading Player (played by Ty Taylor) is costumed as a magician with some of the players as magicians' assistants. While the production does its best to emphasize this idea of magic through recurring stage tricks, shortchanging the theatricality undermines the sense of the ensemble as a theater company and the sense of group bonding and character that Pippin usually has. The players are usually a lot more compelling than Pippin, and that certainly isn't the case here. The ensemble, like the Leading Player, are less seductively threatening than usual in this production. Although Taylor's performance was fine and his voice strong and sexy, I just didn't find myself compelled to watch him. This may have been because the staging placed him front and center while my seat was off to the side of the 3/4 round thrust stage. Because this show was originally a Fosse show, replacing the dancing with signing makes for a few disappointments. Without the dancing, "Magic to Do" and "War is a Science" are a lot less fun than they could be, although "On the Right Track" had just the right mix of choreography and sign language to be a joy to watch.

My major concern with the production was that the emphasis on magic casts the female players as magicians' assistants. Pippin is already not a very feminist show (although the show-stopping star turn for Pippin's earthy grandmother, played in this production by Harriet Harris, is always fabulous); reducing the female ensemble from a group of sexy Fosse dancers to four girls who flourish a lot with their hands is extremely disappointing. This LA Times blog article emphasizes how the production replaces dancing with hands, and that first moment in which hands emerge from the stage is indeed a pure moment of theatrical magic, but I think the production overuses this gimmick at the expense of fragmenting the women's bodies, reducing them to just hands and arms rather than whole people. The girls were fine, but I felt like they were just there to make 'ta-da' gestures and fill out the orgy scene. Similarly, the much-needed trimming of the second act reduces the role of Catherine (played by Melissa van der Schyff). Portraying and costuming her as a country-western star was an extremely clever decision that showcased van der Schyff's voice well, but the role as ordinary housewife and love interest is still only moderately developed and serves as a marker to frame Pippin's story. From a feminist perspective, the women in this play almost might as well not be there, and this production exacerbated rather than ameliorated their irrelevance.

Despite some minor complaints, however, I give this show a hearty recommendation. I thoroughly loved the performance and I'm delighted by Deaf West's innovative theatricality.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Shameless Promotion: Fringes-Margins-Borders LGBT show at Highways

OK, I'm going to post the press release, but I want you to know that I personally stand behind this show and proudly, vociferously encourage you to attend. It's a great collection of artists, and I have seen performances by Scott Turner Schofield, Sean Dorsey, and Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa (aka Devil Bunny in Bondage); they are charismatic, intelligent performers who will make this show truly fantastic. If you don't believe me, Schofield and Otálvaro-Hormillosa have great video clips on their websites.

They're even offering tickets at a “pay what you can price” if you make reservations by Friday, February 27 by calling the reservation line – 310-315-1459 and saying “pay what you can.” So hurry and reserve your tickets now before they sell out!

Highways Performance Space Presents
Fringes-Margins-Borders, a Radical New Works Performance Project Designed to Initiate Community Across Artificially and Socially Constructed Identity Divides
Friday and Saturday, March 6 + 7, 2009 at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 3:00 p.m.
Highways Performance Space
at the 18th Street Arts Center
1651 18th Street; Santa Monica, CA 90404

Highways Performance Space Presents the Los Angeles leg of a four-city tour of Fringes-Margins-Borders, an exchange of Queer Artists from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The show will feature LA artists Deadlee, Ian MacKinnon, Saleem, Scott Turner Schofield and San Francisco Artists: Stephanie Cooper, Sean Dorsey Dance, and Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa. Fringes-Margins-Borders is a multidisciplinary performance project of new works drawn from personal narratives designed to initiate community across artificially and socially constructed identity divides. For the tour, Highways is partnering with San Francisco’s Queer Cultural Center and San Diego’s Sushi Performance and Visual Art.

L.A. Artists:
Deadlee is a wordsmith, actor, activist, and entrepreneur. Deadlee quickly earned a position as a key player in music's latest underground movement, gay rap/hip hop. His involvement in the first ever regional tour of GLBT hip hop artists sparked mentions in the press from the New York Daily News, Rolling Stone, Wired Magazine, XXL Magazine, The Advocate, L.A. Weekly, Philadelphia Gay News, Urb, Instinct, and Variety. He was interviewed not once but twice by CNN regarding homophobia and hip hop and the launch of the HomoRevolution Tour 2007. He was also one of the 18 gay hip hop artists featured in the landmark documentary film on gays in hip hop called Pick up the Mic which was picked up by the LOGO network after making the festival circuit. He has performed in several movies including Vengeance and Dead Men Walking, and just completed his first starring role as “Lazy” in the just released film Hoochie Mamma Drama.

Ian MacKinnon is a gay centered performance artist and curator of queer theater events in Los Angeles. He was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for "Best Off Off Broadway Performance" for his piece, SPANKED! at the New York International Fringe Festival, which he also toured to The New Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. MacKinnon appeared in the premier episode of the TV show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and in the short film, "Heart: A Karaoke Fantasia" (Outfest). MacKinnon's musical performance collective The Discount Cruise to Hell was named "#1 Best Indescribable Artist in LA" in Frontiers magazine and "Most Outrageous" at UCLA's 2006 Carnival at The Fowler Museum.

Saleem is an award wining Middle Eastern performance artist, best known for his GLAAD award wining play Salam Shalom A Tale Of Passion, a love story between an Arab man and a Jewish man based on his own biography, the work is being developed as a film. As a dancer, he has developed his own dancing style, which incorporates Middle Eastern dance, gypsy movements, flamenco, and jazz. This mélange produces what he terms “free style belly dancing.” Also equipped with a masters in business administration from Colorado State University, he manages and runs his own events promotion company "club La Zeez " which promotes world music and Mediterranean beats.

Scott Turner Schofield is a man who was a woman, a lesbian turned straight guy who is often called a fag. Since 2001, Schofield's three major works, Underground Transit, Debutante Balls, and Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps - as well as readings from his book, Two Truths and a Lie - have entertained feminists and fratboys, season subscribers and people who “don't like theater” in big cities and small towns across the US. His performance work spreads empathy and education about gender identity and sexual orientation with shows that are as hilarious as they are touching, thought provoking, and beautifully performed. Almost entirely grassroots supported and the recipient of major mainstream honors, Schofield's is a simple complexity: one that must be engaged to be fully understood.

San Francisco Artists:
Sean Dorsey is an award-winning San Francisco-based choreographer and dancer. Recognized as the nation’s first out transgender modern dance choreographer, Dorsey has blazed a new trail for transgender and queer bodies and stories onstage. Dorsey has been awarded two Isadora Duncan Dance Awards and the Goldie Award for Performance. He was recently named Best Dance/Performance Company by the SF Weekly, and has also been named one of the Top Ten in Bay Area dance by both the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Bay Area Reporter. BalletTanz, Europe’s leading dance magazine, named Dorsey one of the international dance scene’s most promising choreographers. Dorsey is the subject of a recent PBS ‘Spark’ episode. Dorsey is also founder and Artistic Director of Fresh Meat Productions, the nation’s first organization that creates and presents year-round transgender arts programs. Fresh Meat’s programs include the outrageously popular Fresh Meat Festival of transgender and queer performance, Sean Dorsey Dance, visual arts exhibitions and co-presenting the annual Tranny Fest film festival.

The consummate candy-fag, Thisway/Thatway (aka Stephanie Cooper) is an intermedia performance artist who enjoys the messy collision of glitter and theory. They launched into performance with the finest of Washington, DC's drag king and burlesque scene before wandering to the Bay area. The child of Black-Panamanian immigrants, their work explores the perils and possibilities of interstitial spaces through voice, video, and movement. Thisway/Thatway has performed with the National Queer Arts Festival, SF Fringe Festival, Climate Theater, Counterpulse, Voice Factory, Garage Artspace, Femme Conference, Toronto Pride, Great Big,and International Drag King Extravaganza. Thisway/Thatway is currently preparing Laye(red), a show commissioned through the Queer Cultural Center set to debut in the 2009 NQAF. When not on stage, they can be seen as "smarty-pants student" at Mills College pursuing a bachelor's degree in Ethnic Studies. Cooper will continue in the Performance Studies doctoral program at UC Davis this fall.

Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa, also known as the Devil Bunny in Bondage, is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary performance artist, video artist, cultural activist, curator and percussionist of Filipino and Colombian descent. She is originally from Miami, Florida and received her B.A. from Brown University where she created an independent concentration entitled "Hybridity and Performance." She has worked with non-profit arts organizations and HIV prevention service agencies such as the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, Proyecto ContraSIDA Por Vida, New Langton Arts, Galería de la Raza, the Queer Cultural Center, Asian American Theater Company and the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. She has worked on various artistic collaborations under the mentorship and direction of performing artists such as Pearl Ubungen, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Elia Arce and Afia Walking Tree. Her work in performance, video and writing has been presented nationally and internationally. She has received grants from the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art (2000-2001), the San Francisco Art Commission Cultural Equity Grants Program, the Potrero Nuevo Fund Prize and the Zellerbach Family Fund.

Highways Performance Space presents the Los Angeles dates of the tour Friday + Saturday, March 6 + 7 at 8:30pm and Sunday, March 8 at 3:00pm.

“I find that in our LGBTQ community we tend to isolate from the other,” Highways’ artistic director Leo Garcia says. “We find comfort in being with those who are like us. Fringes-Margins-Borders is a new kind of Highways’ performing arts program designed to initiate a creative community-building public dialogue. It’s our ongoing effort to promote understanding and mutual respect across artificially and socially constructed identity divides. The production’s artistic goal is to express and reflect California’s new multicultural social paradigm by commissioning 8 individual artists to create coherent, intelligent and insightful narratives rooted in their observations, complaints, experiences and discoveries. We’re touring four cities with this project, San Francisco, L.A., Claremont and San Diego. We couldn’t do it without the support of the Irvine Foundation and the National Performance Network.”

Fringes-Margins-Borders reflects the contradictory opinions and values generated by California’s profound demographic changes of the past forty years. The artists attempt to capture this complex moment in California’s history, when the state’s social fabric and its cultural landscape are being transformed into something entirely different than they were before the Millennium. Because people of color comprise the majority of California’s population and because the state’s LGBT residents are equally distributed across all demographic groups, the art being created on what were formerly regarded as California’s “margins” is now moving to center stage.

Highways Performance Space is in its 20th year as Southern California’s boldest center for new performance, promoting the development of contemporary, socially involved artists and art forms from diverse local, national and international communities. Artistic Director Leo Garcia continues to affirm Highways mission of developing and presenting innovative performance. For more information, photos or interviews, please contact Leo Garcia, Artistic Director @ 310-453-1755.

The project is sponsored in part by the James Irvine Foundation and is a National Performance Network Creation Fund Project.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reviews: Bad Scifi Night

So every week or two, a handful of musicologists and I get together and watch old scifi movies. Most of them are truly awful. They are generally chosen with no criteria whatsoever, although a scandalous title or provocative cover art tend to attract our attention. I tend to gravitate toward movies from the '50s or ones with female characters, one of my friends prefers movies set in space. Barbarella and Teenagers from Outer Space have been our favorite choices so far. I can't promise reviews of all our viewings, since I am frequently not paying full critical attention while watching, and many of these films defy all attempts at comprehension, but I thought I would share my experiences when I can.

She Wolves of the Wasteland (1988). aka Phoenix Rising: The film is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which all of the men are dead. A tribe of evil bounty hunters ruled by a creepy Reverend Mother pursue a pair of leggy blondes, one of whom happens to be illicitly impregnated with stolen sperm that will produce a male child. The bounty hunters are delightfully dyke-y in their fashion choices (that's how you know they're bad), while our renegade heroes wear bikini tops and loincloths while they fight to preserve the heterosexual family. The main point of this film is its scenes of girl-on-girl fighting and topless waterfall frolicking. There is a tragic lack of lesbian relationships considering a world without men, but if you're into post-apocalyptic sexploitation films and girls with guns, this one's for you!

Assignment: Outer Space (1960) aka Space Men. In this film, Rik Van Nutter plays Ray Peterson, a self-centered reporter who is assigned to report on a space station mission, immediately clashes with the station captain and finds himself entangled in a disaster that threatens to destroy the earth. Although there are several bases and colonies on other planets, apparently the destruction of Earth implies the end of civilization and thus several people must risk their lives to save the planet. The convolutions the plot takes to get the characters into high-risk situations make no sense whatsoever and for some reason everything is much slower than it should be. There is exactly one African-American in the movie who is kindly, wise, and self-sacrificing and one woman for whom the men risk their lives. This film was a little too slow for me and the special effects were absurdly low-budget and hard to follow. Why in the world couldn't they set fire to the models to show the ships being destroyed? At one point we took to counting how many times the same shot of the spaceship taking off was used. This is not a particularly good movie, and the hilarious terribleness of the special effects is diminished by the plodding pacing.

So those are my responses for this week's scifi selections. I'll take recommendations if there's anything out there you'd like to suggest for reviewing, but all final screening decisions are reached by consensus. As usual, my reviews will tend to come from a queer/feminist perspective, so if you don't want to hear how this movie could be made better by more female characters or explicit homoeroticism, look elsewhere for your recommendations.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another Season at the Ahmanson

CTG announced the new season at the Ahmanson, and I don't even really have the energy to complain about it. It's boring, but fine. Nothing new, nothing interesting, just transfers of shows that got a lot of attention on Broadway: Spamalot, August: Osage County, Mary Poppins, South Pacific, and, as a "bonus" not included with the season, An Evening with Patty LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. If the tickets are cheap enough, I might actually consider seeing some of these shows (South Pacific is dissertation related), but they feel like giving up. The Ahmanson is telling us they have no interest in producing new work or programming interesting, quirky, or offbeat productions, they have no interest in making L.A. anything but a second or third stop for Broadway shows before they go on full national tours. Fine. I think the Ritchie quote in the Times summarizes it perfectly: "What's not to love?" Ritchie said. "You look at that season and there isn't anyone who doesn't say: 'I want to see those five shows.'" Even he isn't arguing that these are good choices or a good season; they're just the things people have heard about. He sounds like a slightly more eloquent George W. Bush - self-satisfied and unintelligent.

Saying that, my real point is, what's up with this season programming? They're announcing the Ahmanson season now and it begins in June, but I just this week subscribed to the current season at the Taper that starts now and goes through next October. WTF? Couldn't they at least be consistent across one organization about when the year starts and stops? Plus, as an academic, I really wish they could either follow the the academic year - it's really hard for me to commit to shows for next October.