Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pre-occupied by Occupy, Part I

Our local theaters pretty much ignored Occupy Boston while it lived (it celebrates its first birthday this weekend, btw).  Indeed, the only actor or writer I know to have engaged with the movement directly was Danny Bryck, and his efforts came to a rather ironic end.  But now that Occupy is safely dead (or at least dormant in the U.S.), the Hub's various lefty poseurs (Company One, Central Square Theater, etc.) have come out in force to sing its praises, and most every local company has suddenly become pre-occupied with issues of class.

These efforts have run the gamut from the sweetly oblique (even the Lyric's Mikado found room for slogans from Zuccotti Park) to the well-intended but under-developed (The Civilians' Paris Commune at ArtsEmerson) to something close to self-satire: the high school clique that runs Company One, for instance, actually intimidated Bryck into giving up financial support for his piece on Occupy in exchange for hosting it.  That's right - they abused him financially before they'd produce his show on financial abuse.  It doesn't get much richer than that.

But you know, I'm pretty philosophical by now about the high-mindedness of the theatrical community (and the critics who cover it). For in the end, the theatre's political hypocrisy only reflects that of its audience (if all the people who actually claim to be committed to progress actually put down their programs and did something about our problems, much progress would immediately be achieved - which trust me, ain't gonna happen).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Blue-state Mikado at the Lyric

Bob Jolly cuts up as the Lord High Executioner in The Mikado.  Photos: Mark S. Howard.
I've no doubt The Mikado will be a joy forever; and right now at the Lyric Stage, where Spiro Veloudos has once more shoehorned an epic into his intimate space, the Gilbert and Sullivan classic is indeed a joy - well, off and on.  Much of this production is wonderful - either beautifully sung, or hilarious; but unfortunately there are frustrating gaps on both the musical and comic counts that ultimately compromise its success.  I left glad that I'd once more visited this evergreen garden of silliness; but at the same time, I can't pretend it's in full bloom.

G&S purists, however, should have no fear - strange as that may sound, given that the Lyric cast is defiantly non-traditional, the score is oft streamlined, and Veloudos has updated almost all the jokes to the current election cycle (on the poster, Yum-Yum even sports an "Occupy Titipu!" button).  Still, somehow his production feels comfortably traditional, and roughly true to the spirit of D'Oyly Carte, despite all the jabs at Romney, Republicans, and other blue-state bête noires; somehow there's a deep consonance between Veloudos' sense of humor and the Victorians' humorous nonsense (and their faith in masculine prerogatives) that makes everything hang together.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The slick and the raw at SpeakEasy Stage

Can you hear me now?  Trying to communicate in The Motherfucker with the Hat. Photos by Craig Bailey.
A kind of identity crisis has been creeping up on SpeakEasy Stage for some time now.  For years their brand as Boston's stylish, de-politicized gay theatre worked for them like a charm; indeed, SpeakEasy's smooth mix of "urban" New York hits and the occasional gay-ish musical gradually made them perhaps our most popular mid-size company.  SpeakEasy's goal was clearly to be the theatre you could take a date to (gay or straight) - and they met that goal reliably; you knew you'd never be embarrassed by a SpeakEasy show.

Now that's no small feat, and maybe it's identity enough; but slowly local politics caught up with the company's okay-we're-gay-we-go-to-Starbucks-too stance, and then seemed to pass it by - SpeakEasy looks conservative now, so the slight "edge" the theatre once had has crumbled.  Sure, the print critics kept swooning (for them, when it comes to edge, less is more), but the smarter theatre folks in town began to talk of SpeakEasy as not just smooth but slick; and a strange sense of datedness seemed to cling to their AIDS dramas and tongue-in-cheek revues.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On not really wanting to sit through Einstein on the Beach

Sigh. This weekend marks the final performances of Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

And I really thought I was going to go.

But somehow I just don't seem to be able to make myself.

 I don't really want to see it, you see. I just feel as if I should.  After all, Robert Wilson wound up imploding into a kind of pissy avant-garde Liberace.  (I know - the old queen finally came out of the closet; big deal.)  The idea of visual art as theatre has led to a fringe scene of slow, pretentious dumb shows, but little else.  And I've already heard much of the music, and like almost all of Philip Glass, it starts out fun but gets old fast.  And of course the scientific ignorance of Wilson's modernist-mystical bull is perennially irritating - all that clueless downtown-zen crapola about Einstein always drives me crazy.

I'd really rather be here, and see something new and interesting.  But when will I get a chance to sit through four-and-a-half hours of Wilson's silly but striking imagery again?

What can I say but "stay tuned"?

[Update - I stayed in town to see King Lear at Trinity and Paris Commune at ArtsEmerson.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Arrested development at Merrimack

What's past is prologue in Homestead Crossing.

William Donnelly's Homestead Crossing - at Merrimack Rep through September 30 - is the kind of new play that is just good enough that you wish it were even better.  It's steadily amusing - and to be fair, it's also, finally, intriguing; yet it almost cries out not to be produced yet, because it's only about two thirds of what it could be.

But how is that possible, you may ask, given the rigors of today's "development" process?  Well - you've got me there! But honestly, by now I have no faith in said process, and I wonder - can we just start calling it the "grooming" process instead? Because over and over again, I find scripts that have gone through development come out buffed to a high (superficial) sheen, but are still afflicted with their original structural and thematic issues (which are now in a way permanent).  If you doubt me, simply check out The Motherfucker with the Hat at SpeakEasy, which spent three years in development, and came out stuffed with hilarious zingers - yet structurally it could almost pass for a first draft.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's time for another time lapse, and this is a great one

Notes from John Eklund:

 I am a photographer from Portland, Oregon. I want to share the beautiful NW region through my eyes with time-lapse photography. I choose to shoot locations that appeal to the way I would like to interpret the story of time. Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are endless opportunities to document the magnificence of the world around us. I have discovered that when time is the storyteller, a special kind of truth emerges.

Various locations include ...
Mt. Shuksan, Crater Lake, Mt. Bachelor, Mount St. Helens, Oregon's Badlands, Painted Hills, Cape Kiwanda, Mt. Hood, Lost lake, and Cannon Beach

I started this project in July 2011 and shot the final scene in August 2012. I took approximately 260,000 images. I used 6.3 TB of hard drive space.

Song: Be Near
Album: Wonderfall
© RYTONE Entertainment, LLC & (P) Farish Music International (BMI)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Running on empty?

The Kite Runner feels as if it's in the dark politically.  Photos by Andrew Brilliant.
Watching The Kite Runner (through September 30 at the New Rep), you can almost taste the good intentions of every one involved.

But you can also sense the sweet savor of sentiment, and the aroma of commercial compromise.
On the one hand, the production represents a worthy attempt by this erstwhile theatre - which is embarking on a new era under the leadership of BU's Jim Petosa - to get beyond its political comfort zone, which is generally bounded (as is the case with most every theatre) by Martin Luther King, second-wave feminism, and, you know, "the gays."  Not that there's anything wrong with that - still, as someone once said, there's a world outside of Yonkers, and it's time the New Rep got out there, as ArtsEmerson, Merrimack Rep, and even the Huntington (to some degree) have managed to do.

So three cheers for programming a show like The Kite Runner, which is set largely in Afghanistan. The New Rep's core audience, however, is superficially liberal but deeply conservative, and aligned with Israel politically (a bare-bones production of My Name is Rachel Corrie proved divisive just a few years ago).  You'd think, then, that setting a production anywhere near the Middle East, much less in Afghanistan - nexus of so many failed imperial gambits by various superpowers, and of course Osama bin Laden's crib for years - would be folly.

But you'd be wrong, for The Kite Runner has been carefully calibrated to minimize these concerns.  On its surface it seems to engage with the recent history of Afghanistan - the collapse of its brief "republic," the ensuing coups and killings, the Soviet invasion, the U.S.-sponsored resistance to that invasion (which led to the rise of the Islamist mujaheddin, and, of course, bin Laden) - there is much, much to chew on here; Brecht himself probably couldn't do it justice.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Do tell . . . this week marks a special anniversary

It has already been a year since the military ended its policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and lifted its ban on gay men and women in the service.  And as was the case with gay marriage in Massachusetts some eight years ago, Western civilization did not fall, and in fact very little changed - except in the lives of those who had long suffered under the weight of institutionalized bigotry.

Of course, there have been some reported harassments, and there are still issues to be addressed (such as medical insurance for the wives and husbands of gay personnel).  But the new atmosphere is perhaps best summed up in the video above, which was posted last December, after Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta won the right to the coveted "first kiss" when the USS Oak Hill docked in Virginia after 80 days at sea. Officer Gaeta chose to share the very public smooch with her girlfriend, Citlalic Snell - to cheers from an enthusiastic crowd. The ensuing YouTube clip drew 1.5 million viewers. We're still waiting on the collapse of Western civilization.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shaking off the summer

It has been harder than usual this year for me to shake off the summer, I admit.  Or maybe it's just that this was a particularly lazy summer for me? Perhaps!

At any rate, I went to my first show of the season last night and thought - I'm just not ready for this!

And I've got such a backlog, too, of unfinished series about The Dark Knight (ugh), and the role of the critic in the free market, etc., etc.  Sigh - the usual suspects!  Are you getting as tired of these topics as I am? How many times do I have to ponder the role of the critic, for instance?  What will spilling a little more verbiage over our current cultural dilemma really accomplish?

Oh well, I suppose duty calls; but I'd really rather have another cosmo and hang by the pool while the world ends, thank you very much.

Preferably with that guy in the gif.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sex and the Sistine Chapel

The Prophet Daniel, before and after cleaning.

I returned to Rome first and foremost to see the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which I hadn't visited for something like thirty years, and which I've been eager to inspect ever since its popular (but controversial) cleaning.

From the many images in the press, I expected an utter transformation.  Still, it is one thing to see "before and after" photos, like the one above (of the prophet Daniel) - and something else again to encounter Michelangelo's entire masterpiece suddenly made luminous, and glowing in the flesh (or at least the fresco).  Indeed, the moment I gazed up at the fabled ceiling, I knew my 4,000 mile trip had been worth it.

Of course the cleaning and restoration has had its detractors - whose arguments were often passionate, for they hinged on a troubling question: had the cleaners (whose M.O. was to strip away the varnish applied over several previous "restorations," and get down to the paint-impregnated plaster itself) unintentionally removed some of the master's own a secco treatments of his imagery? (A "fresco" - Italian for "fresh" - is painted directly on wet plaster, so the paint becomes a part of the surface; "a secco" - or "dry" in Italian - paint is applied after the plaster has set.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dining out in Rome

The view from La Pergola is expensive.
As you may have guessed, I'm a bit of an epicure - and while the partner unit is not, we were joined on our recent trip to Rome by a serious foodie, my friend Marie, who has been going with me to Stratford for years.  So the pursuit of great food was definitely on our Roman menu.

Of course, as is the case anywhere, a superb meal in Rome comes at a substantial price.  At La Pergola (view from its tables, above), or Agata e Romeo - Rome's internationally-renowned restaurants - dinner for two will set you back some $400-500.

And - well, we're crazy, but not that crazy.

Still, we're also serious about our fleeting taste sensations, so we were willing to part with significant amounts of cash for the occasional moment of culinary transcendence.  And we enjoyed quite a few such epiphanies in Rome.  In fact, I'd hazard the following generalization (which must come with the same caveats as all generalizations): in a smack-down between Paris and Rome as a "top food town," I might give the palme to the Eternal City - by a Roman nose, of course.  This is not because the top restaurants are better in Rome - I couldn't judge that, I haven't been to the most expensive redoubts in either burg.  But my personal experience is that, of the second tier of restaurants, as well as the average ones on the street, the Roman eateries are more reliable.  To be blunt, I've had some really bad food in Paris cafés - greasy, stale, you name it - but I didn't really have a single bad meal in Rome, and I had plenty of absolutely delicious dinners, with wine and dessert, for under $50 (a rarity in Boston).

Another generalization, though - what's missing in Rome, it seemed to me, were superb sommeliers.  I'm sure they're out there, but we didn't encounter any - you know, the kind who can match a wine precisely to each course, so that it clicks into place like some gustatory gear, revealing new horizons in both chalice and platter.  On the other hand, however, we never had any bad wine in Rome, either, and we were struck by how often even a 20 or 30 euro jug (which would retail for maybe $12 in the US) of a Montepulciano or some Piedmontese rosso would open out in the glass into something complex and delicious.  With so much pleasure readily available, maybe Romans don't need sommeliers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I have returned . . . and I have heard your cries . . .

. . . and I promise to start writing again. I know, I know - with me gone, "there's nothing to read!" It is, alas, true; yesterday I did the rounds of the blogosphere and only woke up about four hours later (I was jet-lagged, but still).

How, how did the blogosphere get so boring - arguably even more boring than the print press?  I don't know, but I will once more attempt in my small way to change that dynamic and shake things up a bit.

First, though, I have to return to a few unfinished arcs from the summer, before I began seriously vacating (such as my analysis of The Dark Knight Rises).  Then on to the new season, which by now is already in full swing.  Plus I hope to engage the ever-charming Greg Cook in a little discussion of Os Gemeos at the ICA.  Then - I don't know what then, but I'm sure I'll think of something.  As always, thanks for staying tuned!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When in Rome . . . you don't blog much . . .

Yes, that's yours truly, with my buddy Marie (the partner unit was behind the camera), in front of something even older than we are, the Pantheon; the Hub Review is in the Eternal City for a week, which means blogging will remain sparse, alas, till my/our return.  I wish I could say I'm sorry about it, but I'm not, not really . . . . but I will tell you everything that happened when I get back!