Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quite Contrary

Whenever we go to a restaurant, my partner like to make a droll little game out of guessing what I’ll order. And damn it all anyway if he isn’t almost always correct. How does he do it? “Easy,” he will tell our guests. “I’m just look for the weirdest thing on the menu and I know that’s what he’ll order.”

I don’t mean to be contrarian. But the habit is long-ingrained. I first noticed it decades ago, because my musical self-education happened in isolation. Only gradually did I learn – for example – that it was good to be into the Rolling Stones except for the one out and out disaster of their career, the execrable Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967). Even my hippie roommate back then dismissed it summarily as “psycho-pukey!” And listening to it nowadays I can hear what we meant; yes, it’s a mess, a muddled mélange of tweetings and bleatings, but I love it precisely because of its excesses.

Plus my favorite Beatles song (after “Drive My Car”) is “Hey Bulldog,” how contrary is that??

Once an acquaintance severed contact with me for finding literary motifs in Patti Smith’s underrated album Wave. “What? You call that punk??” Well, no. Not then, not now, but somehow it spoke to me in a different way than her brasher, more consistently artful opuses.

Same with plays. Marat/Sade! How could you entertain such embarrassing twaddle! And The Fantasticks – now you’re being deliberately retrograde! And The Revenger’s Tragedy, well….now you’re just trying to be obnoxious.

Case in point: it’s true, I actually enjoy The Famous Life and Death of King Henry the Eight [sic]. As history it may be pabulum, but considered as a romance -- ! It has its moments.

And movies, don’t get me started. Let me just point out that in days of yore I was repeatedly bashed for loving The Big Lebowski (1998). How could I even refer to that blotch on the Coen Brothers’ otherwise sterling record! What a bumbling fumble, what a crass attempt to garner box office success. Now, of course, the movie’s been rediscovered and recuperated, and I am exonerated.

I expect to wait a little longer to be forgiven for my psycho-pukey proclivities.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You can get there from here

Check it out: fab graphic designer Michael Buchino has riffed on the famous New Yorker cover to display how the universe looks from our end of it. I find it especially endearing that the only two places in his cartography between here and Boston are Chicago and Louisville.

PS Having now failed several times to upload a photo you can actually see, I'm now making the illegal move of just linking directly to where the image lives: right here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

You are here

You know how in the past I’ve alluded to PlayGroup’s top secret, unassailable, never-to-be-scruted blog? Where we hang out our highest aspirations and most petty grievances out to dry, away from the jaundiced public eye?

Well, the post below (plus its photo above) is timely rrrrrrripped from that blog – with the poster’s permission, of course – one Steve Peterson. It’s too nice a thing not to share it on the intergalactic scale of my blog. [kidding] [blushing at my own cupidity] [anyway] Here it is:

I picked up the new issue of American Theatre, and I was pleased to see it contained four Portland theater references: a story on set design for Sometimes a Great Notion (with a beautiful photo by Owen Carey); a piece on ART's new resident ensemble, including pics of four Portland actors; a piece on Oregon Children’s Theatre's collaboration with a Milwaukee (WI) theater (the show--I forget the title--is going to play both there and here); and a JAW reference in the article on David Adjmi's play Stunning. Stuff on PCS, ART, and Milagro crops up now and then in American Theatre, but I was kind of thrown by so many references in one issue. Maybe some lobbying from those in the know could coax a story on Fertile Ground … It does have news peg in that the festival's kind of a unique cross between a fringe theatre festival and a music festival model (e.g., South by Southwest). Which would be tres cool. No?

But yes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The revolutionary costume du jour

Okay, so what about your promise to explain the bobble doll of two posts ago, you ax querulently. A thousand pardons – things are cranking up at PCS lately, so I’ve been buried by work and pursued by correspondence, to put it floridly.

Anyway. The little lady is “Little Edie” Beale, with whom I’ve become obsessed after recently re/viewing the legendary cinema verite masterpiece from the Maysles brothers, Grey Gardens. I saw this over 30 years ago, when I was a tad too young to understand what the fuss was about; I think I dozed through large sections of the movie.

What a revelation seeing it again now. Spellbound by the film from start to finish, I couldn’t take my eyes off these two daft ladies living together in squalor amid the ruins of a formerly opulent mansion in the Hamptons. Raccoons (which Big Edie and Little Edie feed) peek through holes in the walls; the once formal gardens are now thickets that grow right up to the front door. In one infamous scene, a cat defecates behind a grand portrait of Big Edie from her glory days.

Because the Beales were close relatives of Jackie Kennedy (aunt and cousin), many people reviled the filmmakers, back in 1975, for being exploitive and sensationalist. Seeing it now, though, have to wonder if the charge can stick when you’re filming people who so very much want to be exploited. Little Edie mugs for the cameras, showing off her unique fashion sense, warbling away whenever possible (she actually had a cabaret act in New York, briefly, following the death of Big Edie a year after Grey Gardens was made), even dancing in costume. The Beales were thrilled with the movie; when Big Edie was asked for a statement on her deathbed, her last words were: “Everything I have to say is in the film.”

Perhaps what fascinates me nowadays is wondering what it takes to devolve into the daffy reclusivity of the Beales. How long would it take me, really, if I decided never to leave my house again? Not so much as I’d like to think, I bet. We have a light bulb over the stairs to the basement that has been burnt-out for a year. And a water-damaged ceiling in one room we haven’t repainted in over five years. It’s not hard for me to envision a time of life, a state of mind, a state of sheer desuetude from which, one fine day, I would simply shrug say: oh well.


Just for fun, after you’ve looked at the clip above of Little Edie from the original film, check out how the moment is interpreted in the musical adaptation of the same name starring the one and only, absolutely fabulous Christine Ebersole.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fade to white

This past Friday, maverick writer David Foster Wallace hung himself. If you’ve never gotten round to reading his writing, you have wonderful experiences ahead of you. And if you have, perhaps you feel like I do – stunned, bereft (since to read his work is to feel you know some small part of him) and also angry. To think of all the works to come that will now never manifest.

For years I’ve been meaning to write to Mr. Wallace and ask him if he’d ever thought of trying his hand at playwriting. He’s written so much dialogue into his novels, and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is all "dialogue," after a fashion. I feel he could have really run with the ball in writing for live performance.

There’s a terrific tribute to the late author, written by Laura Miller, just posted on I recommend reading it in full, and then reading her excellent interview with him from 1996, which contrasts poignantly with the news of his untimely end. Here's an excerpt from the tribute:

He was my favorite living writer, and I know I have plenty of company in that. His detractors accused him of being show-offy, of calling attention to his own cleverness, but they, too, were wrong. He meant, with his footnotes and his digressions, to acknowledge the agonies of self-consciousness and the "difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know." Point taken. Still, I read about his characters, each tennis prodigy and recovering addict and transvestite hooker and yuppie and ad exec and game show contestant and closeted political aide, and thought: Hey, I know you. Maybe it was an illusion -- Wallace would have been the first to admit as much -- but it made me feel less alone, too.

David, I'm so sorry. I never knew you really meant it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For fashionistas only

Some say the poplulation of the U.S. can divided into just two psychological profiles: them's that recognize the figure to the left, and those that do not.

Hint: the cat and the raccoon at the base of the bobblehead can be adjusted any way you like. Kind of like the outfit, in real life, once upon a very dirty mattress.

Why all this has recently invaded my consciousness (such as it is) will be revealed in a few days. Until then I'm going to be away at an undisclosed location with my art peeps. Really! Let me know what I missed at TBA.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Just flew in from Tilburg, and boy....

TBA:08 continues apace. Yesterday I took in a felicitously conceived walkabout conceived by Khris Soden, entitled "The Portland Tour of Tilburg." Huh? From the Festival web site:

Tilburg, in the province of Noord-Brabant, is the sixth largest city in The Netherlands. Like Portland, it is home to bicycle boulevards, punk rock bars, public squares, and a vibrant do-it-yourself arts and music scene. For TBA:08, Khris Soden invites you to join him on a historical and cultural walking tour of the city core of Tilburg, and you won’t even need to purchase a plane ticket. The Portland Tour of Tilburg traces an exact route of Tilburg’s streets from about 9,000 miles away; Powell’s Books becomes Tilburg Central Station, Pioneer Courthouse Square rests on the Old Market, and the Bus Mall becomes the cultural heart of the city. Soden’s tour weaves a narrative of the two cities, bending the ideas of perception of place. After TBA:08, Soden will board a plane to Tilburg in order to conduct The Tilburg Tour of Portland for that city’s ZXZW Festival.

The above image shows the one city superimposed over the other. Nifty!

Part of the fun of this piece was the reaction of puzzled passerby catching Khris’ patter out of context – as, for instance, the moment when we stood amassed together in front of Portland’s most notorious gay bathhouse while Khris explained that in Tilburg this is the site of city’s wildest alternative music scene.

For an excellent account of what the walk was like, I can do no better than Megan Kate Grace, so I refer her to you.

Got your tickets to Built yet?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Built for fun

TBA:08 is getting off to a great start this year with a number of events that simultaneously critique and celebrate Portland as a unique social experiment. I got a jump on the action tonight by catching the preview performance of Sojourn Theatre’s ingenious and fun new piece, Built.

The setting for the play is in South Waterfront, Portland’s glossy new development that reclaimed a blighted marshland -- long assumed uninhabitable thanks to decades of industrial waste dumped there -- and constructed a space age village of riverfront high-rises (many facing Mt Hood) built according to rigorous Green standards.

Built interweaves performed sections with game-playing activities that capture audience statements and use them in the evening’s narrative. Some of these activities are individual; I opened a kitchen drawer, for instance, to find a grid, a box of figurines, and an instruction to place a figurine in whichever quadrant represented my experience (raised in a city, in a rural environment, a small town, etc.). Later I wound up in a group of spectators where we were asked to choose which city services we wanted closer to our residences, and to arrive at a loose consensus with the others in the group.

One of the most breathtaking performances involved a couple literally walking a tightrope (actually two parallel cables) who gradually grow into disaffection as their attempt to buy a home reveals prejudices and fears that had never come to light before. Here, as elsewhere, the inventive choreography kept your eyes engaged and left your ears free to consider a series of overlapping dialogues. I especially remember one person saying a community should develop, not be developed, and then a counterpoint argument challenging that notion as a reactionary bias.

The whole event echoed a civic dialogue that’s been brewing here for years. We’re often reminded that the popular image of Portland, which is ballyhooed these days in everything from The New York Times to Bon Appetit, is the result of meticulous planning that was begun 30 years ago. How is that discussion proceeding today? Who is safeguarding what we’ve gained, and who is making sure it continues to evolve along with its citizenry?

Built is a heady and entertaining launch into these issues, and I hope you can see it. Performances are free, but only 40 can participate at one time, so reserve your space tonight.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

And now for something...

Tonight’s post was intended for the Dramaturgy Cabal, whose constituents have been big fans of a certain cult hit from Canada, but I feel a need to lighten up the joint after the decidedly late Octoberish gloom of my previous post.

And so.

If you’ve ever worked in the theater and somehow missed the fabulous Slings & Arrows when it ran on the Sundance Channel, the collected three seasons are currently on sale at Amazon. As outrageous as the show sometimes got, it never failed to be well-observed and wickedly satiric. For theater folk all over the continent, it was plain to see that S&A's episodes could only be written by bitter, bitter veterans of the wicked stage.

Yet here's the twist. As much as the show lampooned the foibles of playwrights, administrators, actors and especially directors, it always delivered on the goods by the end of each season. To show that ultimately all the satire was a love letter in disguise -- to the extended family that theater represents, and to the enduring power of live performance.

One of my favorite moments (among so many) comes early in the second season, when the New Burbage’s managing director, in a desperate bid to pinch pennies, announces that under the new “Austerity Plan,” everything will now be done by interns.

Watch it and weep. And laugh.