Sunday, August 31, 2008

Memento mori

Autumn has arrived in a big way here in the Pacific Northwest. All I love about living here – the gentle showers, the bruise-colored skies, the ways colors become saturated from the soft light – it has all returned, after only the briefest of summer hiatuses. Hiati? Intermissions.

Ah, but my staycation is nearly over, too, such as it is/was. Basically I worked at home for a week, preparing for juggernaut projects coming up. That’s not as pitiful as it sounds. As my friend Matt puts it so well, basically I’ve lowered my overall stress level by parsing it out over a longer period.

Perversely, considering that I feel most myself during the fall season, during this transition into it I’ve been coping with a major case of wist. Can’t seem to shake it. Maybe it’s because come Tuesday the PCS season will be full upon me, which means embarking on 10-month emergency. Maybe it’s an ingrained pattern from childhood, when falls always meant another galling year of school was starting (I was a bully magnet.) Or maybe it’s because Mac, my absolutely fabulous Kerry Blue Terrier, has also been going through something, which reminds me that he won’t be with us forever.

Well, who will, right? And autumn invites us to mull that over that sad fact yet again.

Here’s a confession. For years I’ve had this game I play with myself, as I squire Mac around Irvington. I look at this house or that one and think: hmm, maybe that would be a good place to live alone, when Mac and James are both gone. It would be easy to keep up…it’s just the right size……etc., in that vein. And also for years, I’d catch myself doing that and think: how odd. Because it sounds like wish fulfillment, when I know for dead certain I don’t want to be without my two guys a second sooner than I have to.

Then just last night, walking past all these haunted houses, I realize what I’ve been doing all along. Not fantasizing at all – rehearsing. In anticipation of the unthinkable, when they’re both gone forever.

Indicative of my mood these days is a line I remembered from an old Rickie Lee Jones song: “years may go by….” From “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963.” Know it? Well, here it is, in all its elegiac beauty.

The most as you'll ever go
Is back where you used to know
If grown-ups could laugh this slow
Where as you watch the hour snow
Years may go by

So hold on to your special friend
Here, you'll need something to keep her in:
"Now you stay inside this foolish grin ... "
Though any day your secrets end
Then again
Years may go by

You saved your own special friend
'Cuz here you need something to hide her in
And you stay inside that foolish grin
When everyday now secrets end
Oh and then again
Years may go by

Thursday, August 28, 2008

July in August

Just a guess, but I get that many of the visitors to this blog have already treated themselves to the scintillating prose of glam Portlandian Miranda July.

{Notice how I intimated a lovely compliment to moi-meme in there? Never miss in an opportunity to indulge in megalomania.}

Well, Miranda is not merely a brilliant novelist, she’s also a ceaseless space monkey who enjoys playing with all forms of media. This woman put the hyper in hyperlink. To slip into one of her many blogs is to give yourself up to hours of fun, with one digression leading to another until you can’t remember where you started.

Any place at random will do, but I’ll share one of my favorites. This has to be the best book promotion ever. Plus, if the sequence starts with an opening line that would make you continue reading if it were its own novel, wouldn't it? Crafty Miranda. So go ahead. Surf this now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On vay-cay

Golly, a week since my last post and guess what: I got nothing for you. So in lieu of the staggering loquacity you're accustomed to here, I offer some light entertainment -- my favorite song du soir, "Burst Generator," by The Chemical Brothers. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Too good to be bad

One of Portland’s liveliest (and most ecumenical) art blogs – entitled Art Scatter, how’s that for eponymity – recently had a fun exchange of list makings, concerning movies that have moved us. I noted with some surprise that the first three that came to mind for me were, well, I guess, perhaps, you know, shall we just say…..not very good, in terms of production values, etc. And yet they were very effective, gauging by what they set out to do with their constituencies.

The spectrum between effectiveness/affectivity of an artistic product versus its score on the art-o-meter may be cause for a different posting. But Arts Scatter made me realize there are a lot of “bad” movies out there I’m very fond of. Such as:

1. Shock Treatment. Word is that the producing studio decided to dump Richard O’Brien’s ostensible sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show by slashing its budget so drastically that the whole thing had to be shot on the same studio lot. And voila, a concept was born. You’ll have no idea what’s going on for nearly the entire film – but not to worry, ultimately it rewards you for sticking with it. BTW, in the photo? That’s Barry Humphries seated with Patricia Quinn, pre-Dame Edna.

2. Liquid Sky. Send-up of trendy new-wavers or dead-on allegory? This is the story of a spaceship full of itty bitty aliens who come to earth because they get something they need the energy emitted from human orgasms. They start hanging around a rag-tag group of libidinous junkies (now there’s an oxymoron for you), and every time an orgasm somehow happens, the climaxing human vanishes. Considering the film was made when so-called “gay cancer” was only a rumor (it wasn't released until 1983), the story is eerily prescient.

3. Brother Sun, Sister Moon. The word for this film is…………sweet. When I saw it, as a mere slip of a lad, I was seated between two strangers. Some guy on my left was laughing derisively at the pan shots of the Florentine hillsides (underscored by the exceptionally sappy Donovan song in the video below). At the same moment, a woman sitting to my right was sobbing uncontrollably, she was so transported by Zeffirelli’s vision of young sainthood. Catholic propaganda or high art? You tell me.

4. The Exorcist. If this kitschfest actually frightened you, we cannot be friends. How anyone could be scared by such uproarious fun is beyond me. Back when the movie was first-run, and was regarded by some as a kind of inverse gospel, I nearly got thrown out of a Santa Barbara movie house because I couldn’t keep my guffawing to a subvocal level. PLEASE.

5. No list like this would be complete without mention of The Bad Seed, a movie that succeeds because it knows it’s schlock and plays it straight anyway. My favorite moment of many in this film occurs when a besotted mother invades the McCormack household to accuse cute little Rhoda of murder. The woman can barely stagger around the room, but when she demands a drink, Mrs. McCormack pushes out a fully stocked drink cart and begins preparing her a cocktail!

I could go on. And on and on. But I’d rather read about your guilty pleasures. So come on. Spill it. You know you want to.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mimsy were the borogroves

Extraordinary theater experience this weekend. I caught a kind of double feature at the Lilliputian Shoe Box Theatre over near Ladd’s Addition. First in the bill was a truly transcendent production of Carlos Murillo’s mobius strip of a play, Mimesophobia, or Before and After. Significantly rewritten since its first Portland appearance in JAW 2004, the script is a dizzying combination of suspense story, Po-Mo Gordian knot and (apparently) (and deceptively) free-falling deconstruction of narrative style. If that sounds heady, it is. It’s also endlessly compelling, funny and scary, often all at the same time.

As directed by Kristan Seemel, you enter the tiny house to find you seem to be in a gallery – a passageway lined with film house seats on either side, and audio speakers posted in front of every other seat. Then you notice odd bits of Chinoiserie here and there – a kitschy sconce, a suggestion of red lacquer. Mostly strikingly, a proscenium bisects the space at a crazy angle.

The settings gels for you with the opening lines of the play. Out of the darkness, a woman (Paige Jones) welcomes you. Though she’s standing in a bright spot, you don’t locate her right away because her words are disembodied – she’s miked, and seems to be inside the nearest speaker. This queasy sense of dislocation will turn out to underscore much of the play’s meaning, but for now, she’s informing you that you are in Graumann’s Chinese. Aha. You’re about to see the premiere of a new film, whose artful yet commercial qualities are about to make its screenwriters the latest darlings of Hollywood’s glitterati.

From there the play will weave a sinuous path through several interdependent stories. One of them has a particular schadenfreudian frisson for me, since it makes gleeful fun of writer’s retreat I used to curate for A.S.K. Theater Projects. But Murillo is up to much more than parody. The play is a rare invitation to revel in the mystery of language, the power of storytelling, and the sheer ingenuity with which we attempt to make sense of our lives.

Not to mention across-the-board superb performances. That’s the awe-inspiring Brittany Burch in the rehearsal photo (by Yolanda Suarez); Brittany plays the feverishly brilliant and spooky Shawn, who unwittingly unites the play’s multiple fractured narratives. The play closes next weekend already (Aug. 23); don’t you dare miss it. This is likely one of the best theater events to happen in Portland this year.

Following Mimesophobia, it’s well worth your while to stick around to see the rarely performed Amiri Baraka masterpiece, the short play Dutchman. In addition to excellent direction (by Megan Ward) and noteworthy performances by Nasir Najieb and Julie Jeske (that's Nasir at right, in the Christine Siltanen photo), opening night got a great assist from the weather. On an unusually humid night for Portland, the tiny Shoe Box did indeed feel as sticky as a Manhattan subway in August. So do yourself a favor; when the weather breaks here next week, hie yourself over to these shows and rediscover that live performance is all about.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More of yore

Not to be a total necrophiliac about Storefront, but I'm indebted to the mysterious MightyToyCannon of Culture Shock (see the comments in the previous post) for leading us to the small cache of YouTube footage of some of these ancient performances. The "divine decadence" of Ric Young's productions was not all that went on back then, but if you want to see what the fuss was about (in his regard at least), feast your eyes:

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Harrumph. My previous post about Sunny is certainly a disappointment. I hoped it would scare up a few haints from my Storefront days who remember Sunny fondly, but alack the day, there really are very few of us left in the theater. Some; there is the fabulous Robin Lane from Do Jump! We met whilst working on "my" opera, Epsilon Eridani, where she introduced this brand new thing called a bungee cord. Eric Overmyer has long since moved on to “other media” (he was actually just in one show, I think, The Tooth of Crime). Plus there's the fabulicious Wendy Westerwelle! Actors Ted Schulz and Ted Roisum are here in town again, and are at the top of their game. Likewise with John Steinkamp (who was a teenager at the time), all grown up now and a consummate actor working mostly with Third Rail Rep.

I was barely out of my teens myself when I worked at Storefront Actor's Theatre. It was a vivid time, one I've often likened to living in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And of all the people associated with the place back then, I was probably the last anyone expected to be a lifer.

Life’s funny. Is it not.

Well. If it feels like this blog’s currently taking a netherward twirl, you could try one the Crow started, Portland Dramaturgy Cabal, which I’m trying to resuscitate. Give it a look-see.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dead Man's Cell Phone as cinema verite

Turns out blogs are good for more than displaying one's own megalomania. Never again can shoestring relations or peripatetic pals claim they had no way of reaching you and touching you. The mother and child reunion is only a Google away.

To wit. Not long ago I was contacted via email from a man who had a friend who had tripped over my blog (figuratlively and psychoactively) and wondered if I could possibly be the same Mead Hunter he had known in his wild youth. The friend had studied Gwenn Seemel's portrait of me, but was unable to see any vestige of the skinny feckling he had known back in the 20th Century.

Still, the alleged friend had his representative reach me, via the contact link on this very blog. The fact that the rep had an attorney's signature block didn't exactly assuage my concerns, but I said sure, put us in touch. And lo, the mystery man turned out to be a major Portland board-trotter from days of yore. Does anyone reading this blog hail from those halcyon, Halcyoned days, and did you know the fabulous Sunny Sorrells?

Among many other things, Sunny was famous for his glorious mane of honey-colored hair. The teeny pictures I dug out of the basement tonight don't do him justice. In the first one you can guess at his mane's fullness and length; in the second one he's just been shorn. Back then I think that style was actually called a SHAG, can you believe it??

The occasion for the drastic cut was that back in 1978 (79?), Sunny and I were blowing this popsicle stand and moving lock, stock and crockpot to the BIG CITY: San Francisco (!). New Wave was the big vogue at the time, and I loved the fauvist shenanigans of it all. Sunny, however, thought it was a horror show, and moved on to Hawaii. We lost touch.

Flashback to Portlandia: Sunny was legendary in his own time here, so it's a testament to the evanescence of theater that he and most of the others from his era are not really remembered anymore. Well, a few are: Peter Fornara; Ric Young; Luna Pettebone. All now dead, alas.

And this is what made Sunny's recent resurrection so gobsmacking. When I returned to Portland to work at PCS in 2002, I tried to track Sunny down, only to hit an immediate dead end. I was informed -- with the greatest gravity and with absolute authority -- that Sunny had died of AIDS in the early 90s. His sister Cindy had been at his side. It was beautiful passing, straight out of La Dame aux Camelias, just as Sunny would have wanted it.

I always doubted the "wanting it" part -- Sunny was as histrionic as the next thespian, but few actually want an early check-out, beautiful or not. But apparently he was gone.

Not! The experience of conversing with someone you believed to be dead for the past 15 years is thunderously quotidian. Maybe this comes from years of watching Six Feet Under; visitations from Valhalla just come with the territory. Fortunately, Sunny was amused to hear of his untimely demise. He's a writer now, and I'm encouraging him to memorialize Portland theater of back in the day. Maybe he'll visit, to jog his memory.

Meanwhile, rest assured that Sunny Sorrells is not dead, just living in Sacramento.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My lost weekend

Going on the assumption that there is nothing so absorbing for one’s acquaintances as the enumeration of [one’s own] medical idiopathies……allow me to tell to fill you in on My Lost Weekend. Were I in the mood for jollity, I’d paraphrase Douglas Carter Beane by saying that it has only been a long walk up a steep hill with a cross. But to be more prosaic about it: the past two days have been one long headache.

Yep. For those of us who suffer for severe migraines, life can indeed be like a Ray Milland movie, only without all the entertaining cocktails. No, it’s more akin to a long, long hangover without any wild adventures to boast of.

Some at least get collateral phenomenon to enliven matters – auras, flashes of light, even hallucination. So I’m told. Not me. For moi-meme, it’s just constant torture – one minute subdued, the next suddenly acute, and back and forth ad nauseum. The Latin reference is literal, by the by. The most thrilling part of my lost weekend has been the vomiting. It’s something I looked forward to eagerly, simply because it tends to be followed by a period of lassitude, during which I can at least slip into an oblivious twilight reminiscent of rest.

Equally literal is the reference to The Lost Weekend, since migraine episodes almost always happen to me on the weekends! How come? There are theories, naturally, including this one:

Those migraineurs who experience "weekend" headaches or headaches precipitated by oversleeping should try to awaken at the same time on weekends as they do during the week and to maintain a regular sleep pattern throughout the entire week. Moreover, it is essential for the migraine sufferer to get enough sleep, as fatigue can provoke a headache. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common triggers of migraine headaches.

Then too there’s the belief that if you’re used to overstimulating yourself during the work week with caffeine, a sudden weekend dearth of caffeine can lead to abrupt vasodilation and a " withdrawal" headache.

And there’s the theory that I both prefer and believe, which states that people who have a stressful work week they successfully resist are in for punishment the moment they relax. It’s a rebound headache, essentially – you force your body to power through the crises du jour, and it exacts its revenge when you finally let your guard down.

How to cope? How, Ray, how??

Now aren't you glad you asked how I'm doing?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

You asked for it.

And now you’re gonna get it.

I mean all right already. In recent weeks I’ve lodged several complaints – well, good-natur’d enough complaints, but still – about the devolving content of this blog. In the main, the demurrers mention one or all of the following:

1. Too much stuff about theater in general.

2. Too much stuff about PCS specifically.

3. Not enough about you (you meaning ME).

As my friend Kim put it so crowcrastinaciously, “I signed up for pu pu, and I’m only get the won tons.”

Okay. Seems to me I may be forgiven for going on about JAW; it occupied nearly every minute of my waking consciousness for at least a month before it opened, and then, well. And also….why not admit it, the Festival was convenient for me, content-wise. It’s embarrassing to go on about oneself! It feels self-aggrandizing. No matter what I say or how I couch it, what I hear myself saying is best expressed by a song from Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharma’s underrated film Shock Treatment:

Deep in the heart of me
I love every part of me
All I can see in me
Is danger and destiny
I pray every day to me
And here’s what I say to me
This is the me of me
Me me me.

Now: I wouldn’t mind so much if I could manage to be as bracingly forthright as Josh Friedman’s blog, i find your lack of faith disturbing. Or if I could achieve the camera’s eye of Art Scatter, or the camera obscura effect of Splattworks. How can I live up to the perspicacity of Parabasis, the carnivalesque abandon of Bamboo Nation, the clinical eroticism of Roissy in DC or Jeffrey Jones’ erudition. I aspire to all the above, in different ways, but NooooOOOOOoooooo. I got nothing here, people. Just me. Me-meaning-me.

So here goes nothing.