How do you choose what plays you see?
How should people choose which plays they see?
What are three theater companies/organizations (either presenting companies or producing companies or both) that you are not affiliated with that you think people should go experience? Why these three companies?
So this is what it feels like to be a character in a Don DeLillo novel.
All day, planes have been buzzing overhead. I live in Brooklyn, near Brooklyn Heights (for those unfamiliar with the area... Brooklyn heights is where the Cosby's lived in The Cosby Show) in a neighborhood called Boerum Hill. Boerum Hill is the setting for much of the action of Jonathan Lethem.s Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn... we're a few subway stops away from either the Manhattan or Brooklyn bridges.
We are not normally in a flight plan, that's for sure. yet all day, planes flying overhead. I went to the television to see what was up. What was up? A power outage in Pennsylvania and New Jersey had shut down the NJ Transit. Seems thematically related, but not actually related.
The planes are flying at heights of under 500 feet from the ground over the housing projects that make up the Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens. Here comes another one right now. They are loud and terrifying. A knot of dread involuntarily forms in my gut every time it happens.
I was in NYC on 9/11, and any time there's a low flying plane, I guess I reflexively assume there's an attack...
The best I could figure out is that perhaps the power outage has led flights to be rerouted to JFK or LaGuardia, and this last-minute reroute (or perhaps circling) has caused these low flying jets. Or maybe the flight plan for the airports was changed without them telling me. Could happen in this city.
That was what I belived, anyway, until I saw a plane go overhead and then five planes, in formation, fly behind it. At least three of the five planes that I could make out were military.
I just can't shake the feeling that something is going on and we will never be told what it is unless something goes horribly wrong. I guess ignorance might be bliss in this case...
As I announced earlier on this blog, I am out of town (And, for the most part, away from internet access) for the next week or so (to all potential burglers... I have a house sitter, and he knows karate... and my cat will claw your fucking face off just for fun).
Anyway./.. rather than get a guest blogger or just shut good ole Parabasis down, I've decided to try something new with this here blog...
Every morning, the blog will post a new question (I'm writing them now and the blog will time-delay post them)... what I'm hoping to do is generate a little conversation around each question, get some comment threads going.
I only ask the following: be respectful of each other, try not to be dismissive or snarky and try to aim your comment posts more towards building a conversation and less towards proving yourself right.
Why am I doing this?
Well, in part in response to this, and in part because as I've constantly said on this blog, I'm sick of the negativity. I've had it up to here. I think what we've seen play out on the theater blogosphere on the past year is really a metaphor for the Left in America. We don't really know how to build anything positive or new, and rather than learn to do so or endeavor to create, we tear each other down.
In politics the easiest example of this is the DLC vs. Netroots fight that has been going on for a long time. If you look around the internet, you might be forgiven for having the impression that all we on the Left know how to do is eat each other alive. I'm not going to get into a debate over whose fault this is-- you know what my politics are and can probably guess.
I think we do this in theater too, and it is a symptom of how powerless we feel looking at the state of theater in America. So why not try to build something instead? In this case, why don't we work together to build a conversation centered around some questions I'll toss out? ***(Also... I think it could be a lot of fun!)***
So at 9:00AM every day I'm gone, we'll post a new questions, and let the comments threads develop.
if you have a blog aggregator, you might get all of the posts at once in the next couple of hours. Please come over to the site to participate!
So let's consider this an experiment, and see what happens. Enjoy yourselves and be good to each other. See you in a little over a week.
PS: if you didn't believe me about my cat, she is currently trying to bite into my wrists while lying + purring on my chest. She is about to dig her claws into my pectoral muscles and her name is Meshuggeneh. Don't fuck with her.
Our good friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute have another hilarious and ineffectual ad on their website. The petroleum industry funded think tank figured out that there last campaign (in which they laud all the good carbon dioxide has done us) was a total bomb, so now they just decide to cut to the chase and criticize Al Gore.
The ad is hilarious. Not only do they (A) seem to admit that CO2 is bad and (B) call themselves people on the global warming team, the ad is so snarky and unpleasant and hostile that there really is no way anyone who didn't agree with it (or them) would be conviced by it.
The ad basically accuses Al Gore of hypocrisy. Regardless of whether it is true (I know that the movie is carbon neutral, I don't know about Al Gore's speaking engagements) the personal habits of Al Gore aren't the issue. The habits of the human race, and particualrly the United States are.
This is one of those rallying the base commercials. Which is fine, I suppose... but rallying the base to do what, exactly? Gore's not running for office. Are they rallying kool aid drinkers to continue to not believe in global warming?
Sorry for the lack of substantive posting lately, folks. I've been feeling a bit defeated by the whole thing. I'm going on vacation starting tomorrow and will hopefully be back refreshed and ready to blog away all our problems...
Dear Anyone Living in Cobble Hill/Downtown Bklyn/Boerum Hill Area,
It can be hard to find good Indian food in our neighborhood. Over the past year or so, several Indian restaurants have moved in, including a pretty good Baluccis outpost, a placed called "Bombay Grill" that has alright Briyanis and a really terrible Indian restaurant called Raga.
But over the weekend, I decided to try a new place (for me). Dhaka on Atlantic Avenue. It's awesome. Really great food, a good mix of take out staples (Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Korma) and more specialty dishes. Try it, if you get the chance. It is absolutely worth the two bucks more per dish (really, I mean the flavor is miles above the competitors, I've found) and they have a good selection of vegetarian dishes as well. Probably the best not-in-the-UK Indian takeout I've had.
I saw The DaVinci Code this weekend for two reasons:
1) My girlfriend wanted to see it and I'm crazy in love with her
2) I wanted to understand what this phenomenon is without having to read a really terrible book
I'm not going to review the movie because I've asked Abe to do it with his usual flair. In fact, perhaps we'll do a writing-each-other-e-mails-about-it kinda thing like Slate.com does with books. Who knows? But in the meantime, I thought I might offer a little bit of cultural analysis from my own perspective of someone who reads a lot of books, has studied religion most of my life (first as a believer, than as a non-believer) and is involved in a story telling art form (theater) as to why this book/movie is so damn popular.
This will contain spoilers. If you haven't read the book and want to save surprises for yourself, don't read any further
First... to talk to people who have read (and liked) the book I hear some variation of the following: it's a well-paced read filled with interesting nonfictional details about art and religion and history, so you don't feel cheap reading it... it's well paced... the mystery itself is quite interesting... it's fun... why are you judging me?...etc.
And of course there's all of that. But that doesn't explain how something becomes a world wide phenomenon. And I think I might've figured it out: at the core of the story is an endorsement of middle class "sunday morning" casual Christianity. The story is in essence about two people who undergo an immense journey of analyzing a religion from a historical perspective, only to say at the end that it doesn't really matter, because religion is, you know, pretty cool and faith is nice and stuff. The DaVinci Code therefore tells its audience exactly what it wants to hear-- you can be a good person, lead a good life, and be sufficiently religious without having to do much work at it or really thinking much about your beliefs.
The story offers as a counterpoint to this the antipodal antagonists in the form of Brother Silas (Paul Bettany) a psychotic murderous self-flagellating Opus Dei monk and Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan) the eccentric (eventually psychotic) atheist out to destroy the Catholic church. That both of these men are murderers and that both of them are eventually villains is no accident. See, to truly investigate faith, to truly look deep into the heart of religion can only lead you to one of two places, and both of them are forms of fanaticism.
What is so much better, then, is to ultimately decide that such questions aren't really worthwhile. It is odd that Langdon (Tom Hanks) decides at the end of the movie that actually the question at the heart of his life threatening journey (was Jesus mortal? did he have a wife and a kid?) don't matter. After almost dying several times and traipsing all over Europe, at the end of the day his answer is one big meh. What matters at the end is what people believe, or rather that people believe and not the substance, source or veracity of the belief.
This is a perfect moral for today's consumers to gobble up. Not only is it friendly (we don't have to disagree on matters of religion because they don't actually matter at the end of the day, so we don't need a series of wars over religion) but it also reinforces and appeals to the prejudices of its intended audience-- people who define themselves as religious but are casual about their religious beliefs.
(just in case you misunderstand me... I'm not coming out against casual religious belief. I have no, absolutely no problem whatsoever with casual religious belief... I'm just trying to understand the appeal of the book and film)
What is missing from The DaVinci Code are people who are seriously religious or seriously atheists who are sensible. Langdon is casually religious-- when he argues with Teabing about the history of Christianity it is from the perspective of a curious, spiky academic, not someone who actually cares about these things. They could be discussing Calculus proofs and he'd respond the same way. Sophie (Audrey Tatou in the film) is casually atheist.. she just sorta doesn't believe in God.
I'm told that the movie takes this idea even further than the book does by placing so much more weight on the reconciliation of Sophie and her family rather than on the historical, philosophical and religious implicatios of Sophie existig in the first place. Certainly, that the movie comes out even more strongly for casual belief is unsurprising... that a blockbuster about religion would take extra special care to be inoffensive makes sense.
It's interesting that when we are in a period that might as well be the Third Great Awakening that such a story would have such appeal. Perhaps Americans are secretly tired of all this public posturing about something many view as private.
Look, it's as simple as this... if the state of the Clinton's marriage is the public's business then shouldn't the state of other public figure's marriages be the public's business as well?
No... of course not. Only Democrat's marriages are subjected to serious scrutiy. Remeber that whole moment during the 2004 election when it was deemed that Howard Dean's wife was a serious liability because she was tending to her patients rather than out compaigning with him?
Atrios does a good job of writing a fake version of what the article examining the leading contenders for the Republican nomination's married lives. While Matt Yglesias gets to the heart of the matter by saying:
Frankly, I'd like to know why Healy can't just drop the silly insinuations and faux investigative methods. Both Clintons have official spokespersons, just ask them how often Bill and Hillary have sex.
Again, all I'm saying is that if we're going to have this standard that the private lives of public figures really really matter, that's okay (there's no golden rule handed down by the almighty that says we can't) but what I don't understand is why it's Democrats lives that are a liability and Republican's lives that are a resource to them.
How come everyone leapt on Howard Dean and whether he was "religious" enough, but no one did a serious examination of exactly what George W Bush's religious beliefs are and how he practices said beliefs (I mean... does he go to church? I'm not sure. I knew not only that the Clintons went to church but how often and which church they went to...). How come Gore's marriage to Tipper and that kiss at the convention was such a big deal, but the Bush administration's positively degrading portrait of Laura Bush gets a free pass.
Arg. Usually I try to avoid getting all worked up over double standards in the press. This is ricockulous.
The pseudonomous Fred has a question in the comments section that I thought might be fun to dwell on. So as I am working on the Rapid Repsonse Team etc. let us visit on this thought of the day...
" while I don't think they're right for the XXXXX right now,
I am a big fan of your writing and strongly encourage you to continue
sending your plays here. I like your writing because you actually deal
with ideas that are large in scope -- frankly, not many writers do these
days -- but it's the element of realism in your work that doesn't gear
it for us as much....."
so, should theatres have their own ideology about the formal nature of the work they perform, or should they respond more to content (and the form that it dictates..)?
The following three things don't have much to do with each other, except that upon first viewing or reaidng them, my first response was is this a joke or a parody?...
1) The Competitive Enterprise Institute has made two ads celebrating Carbon Dioxide in response to Al Gore's global warming movie. These ads really must be seen to be believed. You can get a quick article on/takedown of the ads as well as links to the two spots here. I just want to make this clear... the ads are striking back at environmentalists for badmouthing a molecule.
2) The following exchange actually happened between our President and a reporter for
the Washington Post NBC about Bush's low approval ratings:
Bush: People are unsettled. They don't look at the economy and say life is good. They know we're at war and I'm not surprised that people are unsettled because of war.
Gregory: But they're just not unsettled, sir. They disapprove of the job you're doing.
Bush: That's unsettled.
3) This preview for (god help us all) Oliver Stone's 9/11 movie is everything people were worried Flight 93 would be. The question with a preview like this is not "too soon?" or "too intense?" but "for the love of god, have these people no taste whatsoever?" from its corn-syrup score to its goofy "who's coming with me" scene, this preview must be seen to be believed. It is advertised essentially as a disaster film, with all of the cliches and signifiers that entails. Blech.
And on that note, I have to print out an application and hand deliver it before the deadline.
UPDATE: An anonymous reader (thanks anonymous reader, send me stuff anytime!) sent me this youtube link of Bush acting well... like a parody of himself. Which would be funny, were it not for the subject matter.
Saw Threepenny tonight. I don't really feel like discussing the production much, but it lead me to ponder this question:
Brecht really married deconstructionism and theater with the whole idea of the Alienation Effect. At the time, like putting a urinal in an art gallery, it was a real rebellion against a real problem with art. Now, however, alienating the audience from an empathic response to the work and deconstructing your drama are, shall we say, just another set of poses. Just as we sometimes forget that Naturalism is merely a style, we forget that deconstructism has become itself merely a style.
Given this, what are we to do in the theater now that deconstructionism is now another amongst many stylistic choices that can be deployed brilliantly (as in, say, WELL where the deconstructist aesthetic brilliantly and perfectly mirrors the themes of the play) or poorly or whatever?
(I ask this because I think in fiction there has been the realization that we need something that moves us, or tries to move us beyond the aesthetic of postmodernism while still grappling with the postmodern tradition. I think in theater we could be having that conversation more)
Actually, that's a bit of a misleading subject. I don't *really* care about awards. They are, essentially, a marketing tool. Some (The Helen Hayes Awards in DC, for example) are more open about this than others, but frankly I think that the cultural importance placed on things like The Golden Globe Awards or the Tonys is clearly ridiculous.
What I will say is that the most exciting thing about awards season are probably the OBIE Grants, which tend to go to really great companies doing distinctive, interesting work. Past winners include companies like The Mint which mounts lost classics and neglected plays of yesteryear, The Civilians whom readers of this blog will know I think might just be able to save America...
And this year it goes to two other deserving groups who really should be getting more exposure... Soho Rep, one of the few resident theaters still dedicated to producing unconventional work that is writer and director driven and Redbull Theater, which produces bold and theatrical versions of Elizabethan and Jacobian plays. Check 'em out, if you have a chance!
Quick note to say that the Rapid Response Team will NOT BE HAPPENING tomorrow. It will instead be May 23rd (my younger sibling's b-day!). We're still at Galapagos. We're still at 8pm. We're still awesome. We're just a week later.
Thanks for your patience/sorry for any inconvenience
In the following exchange (which is actually quite old) DFW is David Foster Wallace and LM is Larry McCaffery:
DFW: ... You can see this clearly in something like Ellis's "American Psycho": it panders shamelessly to the audience's sadism for a while, but by the end it's clear that the sadism's real object is the reader herself.
LM: But at least in the case of "American Psycho" I felt there was something more than just this desire to inflict pain--or that Ellis was being cruel the way you said serious artists need to be willing to be.
DFW: You're just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think it's a kind of black cynicism about today's world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what's always distinguished bad writing--flat characters, a narrative world that's cliched and not recognizably human, etc.--is also a description of today's world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend "Psycho" as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it's no more than that.
LM: Are you saying that writers of your generation have an obligation not only to depict our condition but also to provide the solutions to these things?
DFW: I don't think I'm talking about conventionally political or social action-type solutions. That's not what fiction's about. Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being. If you operate, which most of us do, from the premise that there are things about the contemporary U.S. that make it distinctively hard to be a real human being, then maybe half of fiction's job is to dramatize what it is that makes it tough. The other half is to dramatize the fact that we still "are" human beings, now. Or can be. This isn't that it's fiction's duty to edify or teach, or to make us good little Christians or Republicans; I'm not trying to line up behind Tolstoy or Gardner. I just think that fiction that isn't exploring what it means to be human today isn't art. We've all got this "literary" fiction that simply monotones that we're all becoming less and less human, that presents characters without souls or love, characters who really are exhaustively describable in terms of what brands of stuff they wear, and we all buy the books and go like "Golly, what a mordantly effective commentary on contemporary materialism!" But we already "know" U.S. culture is materialistic. This diagnosis can be done in about two lines. It doesn't engage anybody. What's engaging and artistically real is, taking it as axiomatic that the present is grotesquely materialistic, how is it that we as human beings still have the capacity for joy, charity, genuine connections, for stuff that doesn't have a price? And can these capacities be made to thrive? And if so, how, and if not why not?
What I like about this quote (or really when taken in the context of the full interview) is that David Foster Wallace isn't exoriating difficulty or thorny/problematic/offensive subject matter. In fact, he repeatedly praises (for example) AM Holmes (who is referenced in this interview, incorrectly, as Amy Homes) who repeated deals with such subject matter. It is the shallowness of some writer's treatment of this subject matter that he has such a problem with. He isn't, in other words, willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater, which I think so many critics of Bret Easton Ellis (or In Yer Face Theater) want to do. There are bad, shallow In Yer Face playwrights, but that doesn't mean that In Yer Face as an aesthetic idea is inherently wrong.