Sunday, November 25, 2007

That most wonderful time of the year


All right, so for me that "most wonderful time" would be Hallowe’en, but I know most people prefer the “holiday season” – Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. And this year we’re observing TMWTOTY with a new version of A Christmas Carol, adapted by none other than moi-meme. No one is more astonished than I am to relate, now that we’re about to show our first preview, that the whole adaptation experience has been so much…fun.

Why so surprised, well…frankly, I went into this process worried that it was going to be a perfunctory chore. After all, countless people have adapted Dickens’ novella before me; Dickens himself was the first, in fact. What could I possibly do with it that is new and fresh – especially given that we promised the theatergoing public a spectacular yet “traditional” version.

Well, we found ways to do both – “we” meaning Cliff Fannin Baker, who directs this production, and Rick Lewis, who composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the songs. To tell you what, precisely, is so different would be to give things away…so content yourself in the interim with these just-for-fun vids, courtesy of PCS.


Friday, November 23, 2007

It's just a ride

Love out to playwright and director E. Hunter Spreen for this snippet from a rant from the eloquent Bill Hicks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

L.A. Escapade, part two

First stop in Pasadena was to meet my good friend Raul Staggs, the noted “casting guru,” as the Angels Gate Cultural Center describes him. We got together at the famed Theatre@Boston Court, over on Mentor Avenue. In only a few years of existence, Boston Court has gained a near-legendary reputation for compelling new work, so I was excited to see something in situ at last. I was in luck: the Court was running a tense, eerie new piece by Carlos Murillo (that’s Carlos Murillo the playwright, not the composer, the inorganic chemist or the boxer) entitled Dark Play or stories for boys. Carlos is an inveterate structuralist who revels in word play – repeated motifs that develop (or remain static) in a viral mode, as stories are fractured, split asunder and rejoined in meaningful ways. The title of Dark Play is in itself a reference to imbricated layers of meaning; through dialogue we find out that the term comes from psychology, indicating a game of sort in which one player know he’s playing, and the other…does not.

As directed by Michael Michetti, the production was outstanding on all levels. I felt privileged to see it.

Later I met with Bryan Davidson, a playwright and literary manager I knew from A.S.K.’s golden age, way, way back in the 20th century. Between Bryan and Raul (another A.S.K. vet) I came away fully updated on L.A theater gossip. And later still I reunited with the fab Jessica Kubzansky (co-artistic director of the Boston Court, along with Michael Michetti) and later still with friends from the old neighborhood.

The Big Event, the reason for this whole descent into the L.A. megalopolis, came that evening: the workshop presentation of Part Three of Nancy Keystone’s epic work in progress, Apollo. By the time I arrived around 7:30 (with the performance slated for 8), Diavolo’s dance studio was already thick with groovesters clamoring for a seat. I was impressed but also intimidated; nearly everybody was wearing the same black pants. Was it going to be an arms-folded, ok-now-wow-me sort of crowd?

I need not have worried. A festive air suffused the studio lobby, like everybody felt as fortunate to be there as I did. For me personally, it was a lovely homecoming to recognized so many theater luminaries: Nike Doukas, Camille Saviola, Leo Marks, Angie Kim, to name just a few. Most thrillingly for me was getting to hobnob with the elegant and courtly Laural Meade, the playwright/provocateuse whose performance constructions I remember so fondly.

But the performance of Apollo. Brilliant. A thrill to recognize certain sections and motifs, which were experiments for Nancy during her Portland residency, now fully developed. And of course there were entirely new sections, one of which was deeply moving – something you don’t expect from intellectually layered work like this. I came away wishing to speed the clock up to the world premiere of the play, in January of 2009, when we’ll see all three parts performed together for the first time.

About 20 people stayed behind for the talkback I moderated, and the audience turned out to be warm, smart and supportive. Nancy's science advisor participated, and was cogent, humorous, sanguine. In him I could see the Sloan Foundation's vision at work -- Sloan seeks to put a public face on science and the scientists who seeks to advance human knowlesge, and they could hardly have found a better rep than Craig Peterson. In addition to being an engaging personality and a compelling speaker, the guy has the best title in the universe: Spacecraft Systems Engineer. That's his actual title at JPL. I was ready to beam up on the spot.

By the way, Apollo's premiere will be one of the linchpins of Portland’s first-ever citywide New Works Festival. Stayed tuned for details about that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What's Mead's Big Trip, you ax?

Last week, as you recall, Will Robinson, I returned to Los Angeles after an absence of five years. It turns out L.A. is like riding a bicycle. Imagine my bemusement to discover I was hurtling down the 5 at 85mph without so much as a by-your-leave. Evidently not even a brace of years in Portland OR, where a 10-mile drive is considered a trek, can blunt a former Angeleno’s "freeway" "skills."

Actually the drive from Burbank Airport (now rechristened the Bob Hope in an unintentionally ironic act of twee homage) was the only death-defying act of my three-day stay. Since I was quartered in Pasadena – at the cozy Comfort Inn (not), I spent most of my time down south in a lovely green bubble, like Glinda the Good Witch. Pasadena and South Pasadena (the latter's my erstwhile home), are verdant and sleepy; coffee is excellent, you can get around on foot (to an extent), there are Greene & Greene houses with actual residents. In short, the area has little to do with the rest of L.A. County.

As with anyone or anything I love, I’m highly critical of L.A. But that doesn’t mean I disapprove of it. I really enjoyed the delirious sense of vertigo that suffuses life there. It’s nuts – which again is why I appreciated having the calm oasis of South Pasadena as a base. A single day in L.A. might find you coping with the smug claustrophobia of Encino, the alarming cheery pastels of Long Beach and the eerie outward calm of the South Central (please don’t feed the pit bulls!), but as long as you manage to wind up back at your retreat….

A writer who describes Los Angeles better than anyone else I know is Geoff Manaugh; check out his remarkable BLDGBLOG. As Mr. Manaugh says with exquisite accuracy:

Los Angeles is where you confront the objective fact that you mean nothing; the desert, the ocean, the tectonic plates, the clear skies, the sun itself, the Hollywood Walk of Fame – even the parking lots: everything there somehow precedes you, even new construction sites, and it's bigger than you and more abstract than you and indifferent to you. You don't matter. You're free.

That’s what I liked about the place so much. When I first went there in 1988, I was utterly alone and invisible as a wraith. I feel free to reinvent myself yet again with total impunity, and I proceeded to do that. So do many that find themselves there, whether by choice or through the apparently random machinations of career, love, etc.

Oh – Polly’s put the kettle on. Got to go. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, Will Robinson, Will Robinson.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Now Hear This

We at PCS are launching a monthly reading series next week, called NOW HEAR THIS, to try out plays that excite us and to invite our friends into our script consideration process. Our arrangement with Equity dictates that audiences must attend by invitation (as oppposed through general advertising), so as a member in good standing of this blog, you are hereby personally invited.

Our first outing is the outrageously scabrous Bingo with the Indians. Here are the details:


Portland Center Stage's monthly reading series
invites you to a concert reading of


A play by Adam Rapp


November 17, 2007
Noon to approximately 2 pm

@ Portland Center Stage
128 NW Eleventh Avenue (between Couch & Davis)

Admission is free, but space is very limited, so reservations are vital -- please call Megan Ward at (503) 445-3845 or e-mail to reserve your seat.


Bingo with the Indians is about Wilson, Dee and Stash, a trio of desperate downtown theater geeks who travel to an upstate rural community with the aim of knocking over a bingo parlor. In this way they plan to fund their next black box show, but the cooler-than-thou thespians don’t reckon on the local yokels: terminally teen-aged Steve, his raving sapphist girlfriend, and his checked-out mom.

This play is a rarity among Rapp’s scripts in that it is an out-and-out comedy, but it has all the razor-sharp insight of the bleaker plays for which he is better known, such as Red Light Winter, Blackbird and Nocturne.

Our outstanding cast includes:

PLEASE READ THIS: Bingo with the Indians refers to sexual
situations some may consider unsavory, and it contains language that would make Mamet blush. Do not bring the kids.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lost in Space, already

As foretold, I’m heading down to glam L.A. County this weekend. I have not been back to L.A. since I left in fall of 2002; I expect to be totally intimidated by the freeways, to take a wrong turn and wind up lost in the trackless wilderness of Valley Village. Mercy!

I'm aiming for Pasadena, actually, and later to Boyle Heights in East L.A., where I'll see Part 3 of Nancy Keystone and Critical Mass Performance Group’s epic theater piece, Apollo. Follow this link and it will direct you to a site about Part Two, which was developed at PCS, and from that page there’s a nifty page all about Critical Mass’ remarkable work as an ensemble. (For some reason, you can’t get there from here, sorry.)

This leg of the adventure was funded partly by a grant from The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, through its connection to San Francisco's fab Magic Theatre. In recognition of that, I’ll be leading a post-play discussion with Nancy and an affable man named Craig Peterson. Craig, who is a JPL astrophysicist, recently served as a science advisor to the project. The discussion happens right after the Monday performance (see below), so for all you blogomaniacs who live in the area – come on down! Here’s all about it. Photos to come!

C R I T I C A L MASS performance group
presents a WORK–IN-PROGRESS:

APOLLO [part 3]: Liberation
written and directed by NANCY KEYSTONE
original music by RANDY TICO

An epic narrative of America, exploring the U.S. space program, its relationship with Nazi rocket engineers, and the surprising intersection with the Civil Rights Movement…from the U.S. Civil War, to Nazi Germany, to the American South of the 1960’s, to the reaches of Outer Space…

performed by & created in collaboration with:
• • • • •
@ the Brewery Arts Complex
616 Moulton Ave. LA 90031
Main St. exit off the 5 Freeway, just south of downtown

TICKETS $15 / $10 (students w/ ID) • cash at the door • snacks included
rsvp & info: 323.993.7263

Please join us for a workshop presentation of the final part of the trilogy. Parts 1 & 2, which explored the relationship of Nazi rocket engineers and the U.S. space program, premiered at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2005 (under the title Apollo [Part 1]: Lebensraum). Part 3 will premiere at Portland Center Stage in Oregon, where the entire trilogy will be performed together.
• • • • •
Apollo [Part 3]: Liberation is being developed through the generous support of the Flintridge Foundation;
Partly commissioned with support from San Diego Repertory Theatre and Magic Theater/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Science & Technology Plays Initiative;
Partly developed at Portland Center Stage with the support of Theatre Communications Group and the Pew Charitable Trusts through the National Theatre Artist Residency Program.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Blogophilia, case study 1: Splattworks

In case you don’t have the [time / inclination / scientific curiosity / existential dread / procrastinating skills / insomnia] to constantly monitor my additions to the list of other people’s blogs, over there to the right, allow me to draw your attention, from time to time, to one of my many favorites. These days my fave rave is Splattworks, the virtual lair and mental lumber room of playwright and blogoholic Steve Patterson. I love this guy’s writing, and any day that Google Reader fails to provide me with a fresh installment of his musings, I feel peevish and froward and start attempting to hack into Steve’s site meter.

Okay, I don’t really do that, but my own blog has a devotee who does attempt this almost daily – knock it off, Mr. T!

Anyway. If you only have time today for a taste, check out his blog entry of October 17, entitled “Flashback: Winter Cascades," which is full of somber wist. Or his Halloween post about the success of our Frenching the Bones escapade. (Yes, it went splendidly and was SRO, thank you, not that you asked or anything but thanks all the same....)

And this Sunday lucky Portlanders will be treated to a reading of Mr. Splatterson’s latest opus, Turquoise and Obsidian, at Miracle Theatre Company, as the posted poster postulates below. Come on down!