starlady: Holmes and Watson walking around New York (springtime in new york)
A month ago when I was in New York I went to see Hadestown at the New York Theater Workshop. It's an expansion of a folk opera of the same name by Anaïs Mitchell, which I've never heard and which I'm given to understand is different in a lot of ways, particularly in the addition of Hermes to the cast who retell the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, including Hades, Persephone, and the Fates. "it's an old story, but we're gonna tell it again," Hermes says at the start, and it's a tribute to the power of this version that I honestly did hope against hope, despite everything, that maybe this time Orpheus would get it right and succeed in bringing Eurydice back to life.

The production is great and the cast is stellar, particularly Patrick Page, who is frankly terrifying but also completely magnetic as Hades. Everyone in the cast is frankly amazing at bringing the gods to life, and though Orpheus and Eurydice are younger and less experienced, they are portrayed in no less accomplished a manner. The semi-immersive staging just makes it easier to get caught up in the story, which is told in a kind of 30s Dust Bowl/New Orleans jazz Americana style which doesn't sound like it should work but totally does, and the show also has no fear about making contemporary political statements, which are most obvious in the song that could be about Trump, "Why We Build the Wall." The performance also leads hard and brilliantly on the particular power of the Greek conception of the gods, which is to say that they are both metaphors and examples of the forces they represent. And though the story is ostensibly that of Orpheus and Eurydice, the complicated, bittersweet marriage of Hades and Persephone is just as important to the plot, and frankly even more engrossing on some levels; we know how the former story ends, but the other is less clear. The costuming is brilliant too; we particularly loved the Fates, who carry their respective tools of the trade--scissors, a ruler, and thread--on their persons in the manner of weaponry and sing in harmonies that recall the Pointer Sisters. I can't wait for the cast album to be released next year.
starlady: Carl's house floating above the fields (always an adventure)
I got an email the other day (from the tour company I'd used for my daytrip to Machu Picchu, natch) reminding me that I was in Peru a year ago. There were many amazing things about that trip, Machu Picchu not least among them, but one thing that has stuck in my mind is the completely serendipitous and completely amazing trip I took to Teatro Yuyachkani (actually formally known as Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani) in Magdalena del Mar in Lima. As it turned out I had weeks before made a connection with the head of the Hemispheric Institute, which maintains a very well-curated archive of digital video of performances in Latin America, including many from Yuyachkani. Which is how I found myself piled in the back of a taxi with four other people including the head of the HASTAC network (we had a hell of a time getting taxi drivers willing to go to Magdalena del Mar from the Ministerio de la Cultura, and Yuyachkani actually held the show for us) driving across town to a performance which I had no idea what it was about beforehand. Sometimes when people in the know say "come on!" you just have to go along.

"Yuyachkani" is a Quechua word meaning "I'm thinking" or "I'm remembering," and based on putting things together online since that night I've come to understand that we were seeing a repertory performance of Con-cierto olvido, the group's 40th anniversary piece, more or less. My Spanish is crap and my Quechua is non-existent, and it didn't matter at all. Masks, instruments, and the human voice as well as their bodies and expressions got the point of most of the pieces and vignettes across perfectly. Yuyachkani is a populist theater group--they found their youngest member more or less in his village in the Andes during a performance/residency/workshop tour there, if I understand correctly--and in point of fact under the dictatorship they mostly went their separate ways in order to survive. So there was a lot about what is euphemistically referred to as "the internal conflict" and life under Fujimori, but there was also a lot of Brecht, Shakespeare, and more familiar experimental theater. It was, in a word, stunning.

I found a review of the show orginally published in Cultura on the Yuyachkani site, and it may help to convey what I'm trying to say (i.e. what I want to remember):

The result is immediate: an impeccable performance. Instruments that everyone plays constitute a melody of memories of past presentations. They treat each musical instrument as an extension of stage presence. The ritual on stage exploded by Edgard Guillén`s Peruvian theater, remains in force with the "yuyas". They have a well defined group culture, not only between the actors and the director, but they work at La Casa Yuyachkani. At Con-cierto olvido, mask work is impeccable: before, during and after use, are respected for their meaning to cultural tradition. Con-cierto olvido collected poems, songs and musical pieces that evoke texts by authors such as Edward Gordon Craig, Bertolt Brecht, Jorge Manrique, and the "yuyas" own plays. In this review of the memory of his service, the actors play different instruments like guitar, charango, mandolin, violin, saxophone, trumpet or clarinet. Great musicians and actors. Yuyachkani, which means "I'm thinking, I'm remembering", invites us to take a cultural tour and a tour of life we can not miss. This is one of the best theater groups in Peru and the world. True to form, seeking truth "not believing they are the owners of it" as they say. The play is over, but [I'm] still standing, clapping.

Of course, as fate would have it, Con-cierto olvido isn't in the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library. They do, however, have a YouTube channel, and you can get a taste of the mask work involved in the show (NB the actors changed into and out of costume on stage) from this talk show segment, filmed in 2011:


starlady: (compass)
Favorite plays, what you like about theater, etc. for [personal profile] via_ostiense 

I kind of have a type when it comes to plays--you might be able to figure it out when I say that my favorite playwrights are Tony Kushner, Tom Stoppard, and Mary Zimmerman. Honorable mentions to Brian Friel and Michael Frayn, too. And Shakespeare of course but that's practically a given. I really like plays that go after big ideas, that unite ideas and people, that think and dream big. I also really like wordplay.

Favorite individual plays? Stoppard's Arcadia, Frayn's Copenhagen, Kushner's Angels in America (I make no claims that my tastes are unconventional), Zimmerman's The White Snake (note to self, her Wikipedia page is badly out of date). I also really enjoyed the Beardo musical, and I've liked everything I've seen of Stephen Sondheim's so far--really, my theater education is pretty woeful, particularly for someone who once had her own one act plays performed in her high school.

I think what theater excels at is the fact that it's in the moment--which is obvious, but because it's a time-bound thing (even more than all art) it can bridge the gap between times and places with very little effort. The cricket scene in The Invention of Love is one such example--the finale of Mary Zimmerman's Arabian Nights, in which medieval and contemporary Baghdad are briefly one, is another. I don't actually know a lot about theater, so I can't speak from a place of any especial knowledge, but that's always the magic for me--how we can go anywhere without leaving the same room, transported by some people in costumes. It's a definite kind of magic.

Now I really miss Shotgun Players and Berkeley Rep. I never wrote up the last shows I saw there--Tom Stoppard's Salvage and Dear Elizabeth, respectively, both of which were really good. Salvage in particular was excellent, but then, I do love Stoppard. (P.S. Shotgun is doing an all-female playwrights season in 2015!)

starlady: (crew)
So as I have mentioned, I've been reading a manga about rakugo, which at least some people have called "tradtional Japanese stand-up comdey, done sitting down",  Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû by Kumota Haruko, but I had never really thought of going to rakugo because while my Japanese is pretty good, there's a big difference between being pretty good at modern Japanese and being able to understand spoken Late Middle Japanese i.e. Edo-ben, which is what a lot of classical rakugo monologues are in. But when I saw posters on campus for rakugo in English for free, I jumped at the chance, and I was really glad I did.

The rakugoka in question, Tatekawa Shinoharu, started off by telling us how he became familiar with rakugo at the age of 26, which is very late, but loved it so much he quit his job and became an apprentice rakugo storyteller. He's a journeyman now, and since he graduated from Yale, his English is perfect. He translates his stories himself, and did three of them--"Tenshiki," "Sakamon," and "Jugemu." It was really funny, and also really impressive how just one guy could create such a multitude of characters with only two props (a hand towel and a fan) and without moving. Shinoharu-san made some interesting points, namely that there being only one performer is what allowed them to play an infinite number of parts, and that wearing kimono means that they can be anyone in any time period. Apparently a few rakugoka like him write their own modern stuff, so that definitely comes in handy.

I didn't ask about women being rakugoka because, quite frankly, that seemed like it would be needlessly rude, particularly in a Q&A that already was getting into the heavy territory of whether rakugo has a future, given that the audiences are generally pretty old. Shinoharu-san seems to be doing a lot of things to try to bring rakugo into the modern performing arts world, including his English rakugo performances, although he's too junior to actually express an opinion about what rakugo should do. In any event, it was highly entertaining.
starlady: Kirk surrounded by tribbles: "What the crap is going on here?"  (kirk)
My sister and I went up (out) to Portland this weekend to see Trek in the Park, which is concluding its five-year mission this summer with The Trouble with Tribbles.  We had a really good time! I have missed her. 

Of course we went to Powell's on Friday night, and I was proud of myself for exercising restraint (I still have books from my first trip to Powell's four years ago that I haven't read) and only buying one book. We saw Only God Forgives at the theater across the street, which was…interesting. The colors were beautiful, and the story was interesting too. My sister loved it, and though I was not as enthusiastic, it was still cool. 

On Saturday we went to the coast, specifically Astoria at the point of the state, where we saw the Goonies house, and heard seals in the harbor but did not see them, and then down to Cannon Beach, where One-Eyed Willy's treasure is, somewhere. It got sunny by the time we got there, and we walked on the beach to see the famous rock, which was cool. We also had the Oregon version of salt water taffy, which is just sad, and tried the sea salt chocolate caramel apples. Too much sea salt. We also found a coffee shop with very tasty Aztec Mochas, and had a chestnut cream/banana crepe. If there's one thing I've learned about shore towns the world over, it's that they're all fundamentally the same, and it was fun. We also finally got to Lemongrass, a Thai restaurant in a house, and it was delicious. We drove around the fancy houses in the west hills before winding up at a fancy cocktail bar downtown, because what else was there to do.

Yesterday we got up and went to Slappy Cakes, and it was delicious, as usual. (Think Benihana except you're cooking the food yourself and it's breakfast.) We had to eat at the bar because it was so busy, so we were not able to cook our own pancakes, but it was still delicious. We went to Extracto Coffee both days. Our consensus is that it is probably the best coffee in Portland. 

Then we went to Pencil Test, which is a bra shop Spike had heard about at Reed, and got fitted for bras. Bras that fit! What a miracle! It really is true that Victoria's Secret bras do not actually fit most women well. So now we know what sizes we are in various brands, and can begin the slow process of replacing our VS bras with ones that fit. 

It has become something of a tradition for us to drive out to The Bird Hut to see the birds, so we did that (Spikeo was making friends with a rose cockatoo, unsurprisingly; they were both pink) and then drove way the hell out to Cathedral Park in North Portland. We got there at two for a five o'clock show to get good seats, because as I said, I didn't come all this way to get bad seats. One of Spike's friends showed up at about quarter to three and we sat around and hang out and drank his homebrewed beer before the show started. 

Trek in the Park! It was so great. The cast was good, and we could hear decently well, and the costumes and effects and music were very well done. A very minor thing that I enjoyed a lot was that Admiral Fitzpatrick was played by a woman, and that one of the security officers was female too, although I was sad that the helmsman (who apparently has no lines in The Trouble with Tribbles) was played by a white dude. I thought that Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov were the best among the lead cast members, although Uhura was awesome too; she just has too few lines in general. Spock was also good, though it seems clear that Gerrold was writing specifically for Nimoy's very arch delivery style, which this guy didn't quite achieve. But the scene with the tribbles in the storage compartments was amazing and hilarious (they just kept falling on Kirk's head!), and it had been long enough that I'd forgotten the denouement with the Klingon spy at the end, and it was really great, and I got a very nice T-shirt to commemorate the whole thing afterward. Long live Trek. Go boldly. 

And finally last night after eating Japanese food and going back to Powell's we wound up at Ruby Jewel Scoops, which is very tasty artisan Portland ice cream. This morning we got up very early (especially considering that my flight has been delayed an hour) and went to the airport, and so a good time was had by all. 
starlady: ((say it isn't so))
No Man's Land. Written by Harold Pinter, directed by Sean Mathias. Performed by Berkeley Rep.

I got tickets to a preview show of this very sold out performance the instant they went on sale in May because it stars Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Today I went and saw Captain Picard and Gandalf--excuse me, Professor X and Magneto--act on stage in front of my real live eyeballs! It was great. I spent the first five minutes grinning like a loon to myself, and then Stewart delivered the first laugh line and I was smiling for other reasons.

I'd never seen any Harold Pinter plays before, and he is indeed very much like Samuel Beckett. I honestly think seeing Stewart and McKellen on Broadway this fall in Waiting for Godot might be better in terms of the fannish angle, because their characters in that play are very definitely friends--sometimes they hate each other, but that's not an unusual part of friendship--whereas in this play it's never entirely clear whether their characters have ever actually met before they walk into Stewart's character's house and start drinking like fishes. For that matter, it's never entirely clear what's going on.

I very much enjoyed the play, despite my confusion--the Wikipedia article, when I looked it up afterward, seemed to match my impressions pretty well--partly because it was hilarious. Patrick Stewart in particular, given that he's fairly taciturn for most of the first act, had a lot of very funny, often very short lines, and he was wonderful in general. His character has hair! It's the first time since I, Claudius that I've seen him with hair. And Ian McKellen of course was also amazing as the more garrulous, more disreputable Spooner. There were some other people too and they were also great.

Although this was a preview, the production was very nearly flawless (McKellen almost flubbed one line in the first act, but saved it because he is flawless), but honestly, that one flub--which of course betrayed the artificiality of the whole enterprise--brought home just how far off the mark Pinter's original unkind critics were. It's still drama--it's still a play, even if it's a skeleton compared to the more fully-fleshed scripts that are still so much more common than this kind of modern stuff. Which is kind of cool.
starlady: (orihime)
Fallaci. Written by Lawrence Wright, directed by Oskar Eustis. Performed by Berkeley Rep.

I'd never heard of Oriana Fallaci before I went to see this play in three acts, which surveys her life and work and her turn to Islamophobic "clash of civilizations" fundamentalist rhetoric beloved by neoconservatives after 9/11 and doesn't come up with any easy answers. I liked the play, but I also had issues with it.

Some of these can be attributed to it being a world premiere--though Fallaci's cancer is a leitmotif throughout, it's totally unclear what kind of cancer she had, which is confusing given that in the play as in life she blames Saddam Hussein burning the oil fields of Kuwait for her developing lung cancer. That was a minor note; more important was the fact that the foil character, a young Iranian-American journalist, feels at times more like a caricature than a real person. Particularly given the arc of her development in the play--ably symbolized by her sartorial transition from short skirt and sleeveless blouse to full-on chador in the final act--I had problems with this. (It doesn't help that the performance of the actress in question was, I thought, a bit wooden in the first act.) It seemed to me too pat, too easy (and I particularly didn't like the very final bit at the end, about Emilia) in a lot of ways that were questionable.

It's hard not to admire Fallaci for her lifelong commitment to fighting tyranny wherever she saw it, regardless of her tendency to embellish her narratives after the fact. The play exploits this tension between her courage and her Islamophobia very productively; she was fascinating, uncompromising, and compelling because of that. At the same time, though, I know that I wouldn't be anywhere near as willing to cut Fallaci or the play any slack if it were about, say, a man like Christopher Hitchens. And I guess my problem with the play is that in the end, in the person of the Iranian-American journalist and her relationship with Fallaci, it seems to come down on the opposite side of the scale.
starlady: (justice)
Stoppard, Tom. The Coast of Utopia: Shipwreck. Performed by the Shotgun Players. Dir. Patrick Dooley.

The Shotgun Players continue their adaptation of Tom Stoppard's masterpiece. I liked it much, much better than their production of Voyage, the first play in the trilogy, which I saw last year, though that may be because I saw the last show of previews this time around, whereas last year I saw the second or first. Regardless, this is a much stronger cast in which Patrick Kelly Jones, playing Alexander Herzen, is no longer head and shoulders above his fellow performers.

The other thing is that this production has the great good fortune to piggyback on the recent cinematic adaptation of Les Miserables. Although that story centers around the failed student revolution of 1832, and Shipwreck has the great drama of 1848 at its center, the essential activity of revolution--barricades in the streets of Paris, people with tricolor cockades shouting "Vive la France!" and "Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!", the gutters running with blood and the buildings echoing with cannon fire--are similar enough that one feels, watching Shipwreck, a powerful sense of deja vu: I've seen this before, and this time it isn't going to work out any different.

I never wrote up my reaction to the Les Mis movie, but suffice it to say here that I found the politics of the denouement execrable, especially for an author who claimed to be a liberal, and by that measure Shipwreck comes out far ahead, for its would-be revolutionaries (with the exception of course of the inveterate rabble-rouser Bakunin, who nonetheless like Lucifer has his designated part to play) are much more intellectually honest about their positions, privileges and commitments than were the students of 1832--at least politically. In terms of their personal affairs, no one quite knows what the fuck they're doing or can be fully honest about it, particularly Natalie Herzen, Alexander's wife, who anchors the romantic plotline. I talked in my review of the collected play scripts about the gendered nature of revolution, but one thing seeing this play staged does make clear is that in the end the personal and the political aren't really separate for any of the people whose lives we follow, to their sorrow and our interest.

I also found myself having complicated and half-coherent feelings about history and revolution and just whose blood and sweat it is that must be sacrificed on the altar of "Progress" (I hate Hegel, and I cheered a little inside every time anyone in the play slammed Hegel), and I found that this post at [community profile] ladybusiness, or at least the first half of it, echoed a lot of my sentiments about why these are always questions we should be asking ourselves, and especially now. (When she gets into the song-by-song analysis of the movie, I stopped caring and agreeing quite so much.)

The nineteenth century was wild, as some of my fellow grad students and I agreed at lunch today. This production was excellent, and there are still some tickets available.
starlady: Ramona Flowers wearing her delivery goggles (ramona flowers is awesome)
Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright. Written by Dan LeFranc, directed by Lila Neugebauer, performed by Berkeley Rep.

I have generally enjoyed my season tickets to Berkeley Rep, and I genuinely loved this play. Bottom line: if you like Scott Pilgrim or Calvin & Hobbes, you'll like this play. It's like Scott Pilgrim, but in middle school, in working-class Rhode Island, in the 90s. (Nineteen mighty-four, to be precise.)

The play follows the adventures and misadventures of its eponymous hero Bradley Boatright, who's on his way to being branded a troublemaker (or, as the parlance of the local correctional school has it, a "moubletaker") as he and his best friend Mikey battle the blond, rich and evil Jake Miller, with the help of local intel specialist Loretta Beretta.

One of the best things about the play it the sheer verve of its language; rather than not use swear words, which anyone who survived sixth grade knows is completely unrealistic, LeFranc invented a whole new set of swear words of his own. The characters are wickedly knowledgable about some things (race, for example), and totally oblivious about others in a very realistic way, and it's a tribute to the play that we don't even realize that, Calvin & Hobbes-like, Bradley's reality isn't the same as that of everybody else until the beginning of the third act. Indeed, one of the other best things about the play, aside from the fact that it was hilarious and the characters were awesome, was that having set up a series of grand and awesome versions of alternate reality, LeFranc knew enough to puncture them for maximum effect when it counts.

The play had its world premiere with this production, and there are still some kinks to be worked out. It's too long (the magical realist beach sequence in act 3 should be the first thing to go), and as someone else said in front of me as I walked out, there needed to be more Loretta Beretta because she is amazeballs, and some of act 2 could have been streamlined, I thought. But as well as being dangerously smart, the play has a heart, and I would happily see it again.
starlady: the philosopher's garden (obligatory china icon)
The White Snake. Written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Performed by Berkeley Rep.

I have previously enjoyed shows by Mary Zimmerman at Berkeley Rep, and this show was a significant part of the reason that I subscribed this season. I was not disappointed.

I was not familiar with the story (the program calls it a fairy tale; not sure I agree with that) of the white snake, which apparently originated in the Tang Dynasty as the tale of a snake-succubus in the form of a woman who entrapped an innocent man into marrying her but was eventually imprisoned beneath a pagoda on the West Lake. By the time the story reaches us, things are significantly different, and much more feminist.

I was still slightly tipsy from the department holiday party in the first half of the show, which is partly the source of the strength of my initial conviction that it really reminded me of Avatar: The Last Airbender. ([livejournal.com profile] swan_tower, I think you would like it a lot too.) It's an American take on a Chinese story done, to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, with wit and respect, and a lot of heart. Although the story is a romance between White Snake and her chosen pharmacy assistant Xu Xian, for me the real heart of the story was the bond of devoted friendship between White Snake and Green Snake, who decide to go down from their mountain together to the world of humans, just for one day. We all know how that goes.

The cast was uniformly excellent, and the Chinese pronunciation was pretty good--I especially liked one of the intervals in which they read from a Chinese theater manual and projected the text onto the back wall and I was able to read most of it!--and the staging was really interesting and innovative, but again, White Snake and Green Snake. They were just so awesome. The play was hilarious until the end, when, in that way that Zimmerman has of rolling all of life into a mingled yarn, the fore-ordained ending for the story played out and then I found myself weeping into my scarf at the last lines. I'm not being very coherent here, but it was excellent, and if you can see it--the current production has been extended until December 30--you totally should.
starlady: ((say it isn't so))
An Iliad. Dir. Lisa Peterson.

I went to see this show at Berkeley Rep on Tuesday night - I splurged on season tickets this summer when I was feeling rich, but I totally forgot to go see Chinglish. D'oh.

Overall, I liked the play, and I especially liked the authorial decisions to have the play mostly be retold in modern language, and that it was a one-man show with the Poet himself as the one man (though, how else could it have been done?). The Poet stumbles in compelled to tell his story, though as he admits, "Every time I tell this story, I hope it's for the last time." It's never for the last time, and I liked that this production had clearly been updated to take the ongoing wars around the world since it was written (on the brink of the Iraq war) into account, though of course one deplores the necessity. It's not hard to make the Iliad speak to our time, and I liked that it did. I also liked that they used the Fagles translation as their base, since the Fagles translation is my favorite.

That said, why no one in the production could be bothered to ask anyone how to actually pronounce Greek - not even Homeric Greek, but classical or even modern Greek - was really annoying to me. Granted I"m over-educated, but to hear the Poet mispronounce the fourth word of the entire poem, and keep mispronouncing words and names, really grated. The other thing is that, powerful as this show was, I don't know how much that was new it really added to the Iliad, y'know? Though, I'm not sure that's the standard by which I ought to judge this play. It certainly does bring the Iliad to new audiences, and it does make the Iliad into an anti-war story, which, as I've said before, I'm not convinced that the actual Iliad actually is. (I'm happy to go on about why, if anyone wants; just ask.) And that's probably the Iliad we need right now, inasmuch as we ever need the Iliad. Maybe one day it really will be told for the last time; but not yet.
starlady: Toby from the West Wing with a sign that says, "Obama is the President."  (go vote bitches)
Assassins. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Performed by Shotgun Players.

I woke up this morning and I thought, "It's Thursday. [counts on fingers] That means there's only six more days including today until the election will be over! Over!"

I went to see this musical last week with some friends, and it was both just what I needed and even more timely than I expected it to be. The assassins are the dark underside of the American dream (or so the director's notes tell us), which I actually agree with, and after Occupy, it's impossible to hear their woes with quite the same equanimity one might have felt before. They're still deluded and lost, of course, but most of them are right that maybe it's not entirely their fault.

The staging was really clever, and I especially liked that this production did away with the extras and had the other assassins play the nameless cast of everyday Americans throughout history who are bystanders to these events: of course their audience is each other, and of course the other assassins are just everyone's fellow citizens. John Wilkes Booth is the exception to this, of course, and I thought the musical did a less skilled job with him than with the others…until Lee Harvey Oswald showed up in the last act and blew the roof off the whole thing. In this production, doubling the roles leant Oswald's emergence onto the stage an extra (and strong) charge of inevitable horror.

All in all, another excellent production from Shotgun.
starlady: (but it does move)
Stoppard, Tom. The Coast of Utopia, Part 1: Voyage. Performed by Shotgun Players, dir. Patrick Dooley.

Tom Stoppard is probably my favorite living playwright, but this is unquestionably not his best play, and the Shotgun Players production--while quite good, and admittedly still in previews--fails to hit the mark 100% of the time.

The Coast of Utopia is a trilogy of plays about the intellectuals and revolutionaries of Russia's 19thC other than Marx and Lenin, the artists who created Russian literature as we know it and the non-communists whose thought and actions would eventually result in the first of Russia's 1917 revolutions: the February Revolution, which was itself overthrown by the more famous October Revolution. That they failed doesn't invalidate them; indeed, the remarkable thing about Russia, as in so many communist revolutions, is that the communists succeeded at all. As with so many Stoppard plays, it's a drama of big ideas uncomfortably inhabiting people whose souls are rarely sized to match, and the play is particularly good at articulating the gender and status divide the Romantic revolution makes apparent among its devotees. All that being said, I think the central problem with this play is that its hero, Alexander Herzen, doesn't appear until the start of the second act, and then (because he's exiled for sedition) only appears in one other scene after that.

What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, it's Russia! )

All that being said, however, I would definitely recommend this production, and this play, to anyone to whom it sounds interesting.
starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)
Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare. Dir. Kenneth Kelleher.

I trekked out, along with a motley crew of awesome people, to the Presidio to see S.F. Shakespeare do Cymbeline, which is one of the romances (i.e. later, Jacobean, tragicomedy) and that almost no one in our group had either seen or read before. Seeing or reading it before would not, I think, have done anything to alleviate the utter ludicrousness that is the plot or make it more sensible. I literally said "This is ridiculous!" out loud when they handed out the programs and I read the plot summary, a sentiment that was aptly echoed by Cymbeline in the play in Act V when he says, dumbfounded, "Does the world go round!?" If I start saying this, rest assured, what I mean is, "What the fucking fuck!?"

I'll let you read the Wiki article to attempt to grasp the plot; what I want to talk about is the production, which was nothing short of amazing. The costuming and set design went the route of a sort of Dickensian steampunk look and feel, which worked very well in context (I support modern AUs in Shakespeare costuming in perpetuity), and the actors and the director all performed things with a sort of giddy OTT attitude--though not, let me hasten to clarify, emotionally one-note--that really made the ridiculous plot shenanigans emotionally credible. They also made the very smart decision to have just about every actor but Emily Jordan, who did an amazing job with Innogen, double parts, which certainly helped sell things like Innogen mistaking her stepbrother's beheaded body for her husband's, since they were both played (brilliantly) by Craig Marker. The music was also amazing, a mixture of very well done settings of the music in the text (music is such an important part of the romances, seriously, they're half-masque in some ways) and playing of samples of contemporary things--I recognized at least one Magnetic Fields song, which is fitting since I tend to blame Stephen Merritt's score for the "Coraline" musical for the toy piano that featured (in a suitable way, yes) in the set design in this production.

It being the Presidio, I'd be remiss in not mentioning the weather, or more precisely the fog, because fog in the Presidio does not mess around, and is doubtless the reason why the grass we were sitting on was the cushiest grass I've seen in the state of California. It was a bit chilly by the end, but by no means intolerable since I'd dressed appropriately. There are lots more performances this month; if you can check it out, you totally should!
Originally posted at Dreamwidth Studios; you can comment there using OpenID or a DW account.
starlady: An octopus solving a Rubik's cube.  (original of the species)
Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare. Dir. Kenneth Kelleher.

I trekked out, along with a motley crew of awesome people, to the Presidio to see S.F. Shakespeare do Cymbeline, which is one of the romances (i.e. later, Jacobean, tragicomedy) and that almost no one in our group had either seen or read before. Seeing or reading it before would not, I think, have done anything to alleviate the utter ludicrousness that is the plot or make it more sensible. I literally said "This is ridiculous!" out loud when they handed out the programs and I read the plot summary, a sentiment that was aptly echoed by Cymbeline in the play in Act V when he says, dumbfounded, "Does the world go round!?" If I start saying this, rest assured, what I mean is, "What the fucking fuck!?"

I'll let you read the Wiki article to attempt to grasp the plot; what I want to talk about is the production, which was nothing short of amazing. The costuming and set design went the route of a sort of Dickensian steampunk look and feel, which worked very well in context (I support modern AUs in Shakespeare costuming in perpetuity), and the actors and the director all performed things with a sort of giddy OTT attitude--though not, let me hasten to clarify, emotionally one-note--that really made the ridiculous plot shenanigans emotionally credible. They also made the very smart decision to have just about every actor but Emily Jordan, who did an amazing job with Innogen, double parts, which certainly helped sell things like Innogen mistaking her stepbrother's beheaded body for her husband's, since they were both played (brilliantly) by Craig Marker. The music was also amazing, a mixture of very well done settings of the music in the text (music is such an important part of the romances, seriously, they're half-masque in some ways) and playing of samples of contemporary things--I recognized at least one Magnetic Fields song, which is fitting since I tend to blame Stephen Merritt's score for the "Coraline" musical for the toy piano that featured (in a suitable way, yes) in the set design in this production.

It being the Presidio, I'd be remiss in not mentioning the weather, or more precisely the fog, because fog in the Presidio does not mess around, and is doubtless the reason why the grass we were sitting on was the cushiest grass I've seen in the state of California. It was a bit chilly by the end, but by no means intolerable since I'd dressed appropriately. There are lots more performances this month; if you can check it out, you totally should!
starlady: Hana of Gate 7 (hanamachi of kyoto)
I tend to be either indifferent to Heian-jingû or to find it vaguely disturbing: it's another of the grand Meiji-era shrines built by a government intent on promulgating a very narrow, and narrow-minded, ideology, the Kyoto cousin to Yasukuni in Tokyo, enshrining "Japanese culture" rather than the war dead. That said, the gardens (a national treasure) are lovely, and last Friday they were free to the public. Takigi noh, with photos )

I apologize for the lack of captions & alt-text; I need to mess around with Picasa some more, but not tonight. More photos later!
starlady: (utena myth)
Eonnagata. Conceived & performed by Sylvie Guillem, Robert Lepage, and Russell Maliphant. Costume design by Alexander McQueen.

I had no real idea what to expect from this show, but I knew I had to go. I wasn't disappointed, either.

What I know about the Chevalier d'Eon comes from the anime Le Chevalier d'Eon and the section about the Chevalier in Marjorie Garber's book Vested Interests (though there's also a great section on the Chevalier and Marie Antoinette in Caroline Weber's wonderful Queen of Fashion), and to be quite frank my standards for this show were essentially, how does it compare to the anime? Which is sort of a weird standard to have, but there it is, and I think that in the end both the anime and this show are their own things, but that Eonnagata has a much less rigid approach to gender in general and to the gender of its protagonist in particular.

Eonnagata is a multimedia show that tells the story of the Chevalier's life more or less in order, with the three dancer-choreographers each portraying the Chevalier at different times and in different costumes and genders. The show incorporates ballet, modern dance, fighting, a life-size bunraku-style puppet giving a monologue, classical music, pre-recorded monologues and slide projections, and…well, it's brilliant. The fluidity of d'Eon's gender is perfectly matched by the choreography and the sensitive handling of the story, but I thought of Caroline Weber's description of the rigid gender roles of French society more than once, and in the end I'm not sure whether d'Eon's challenging of those gender roles or the roles themselves had the triumph; the Chevalier died poor in exile in Britain, and the underlying social mores of France weathered the Revolution intact.

Eonnagata takes its portmanteau name from the kabuki techniques by which men portray women, and the show's hybridity at all levels is dazzling. It was brilliantly done--the lighting and the music were amazing too--and not quite like anything else I've ever seen.
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
The Arabian Nights. Written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, performed by Berkeley Rep.

I went to see this because [personal profile] troisroyaumes raved about it, and I'm so glad I listened, because it's truly fantastic, and it's also hilarious. I laughed so hard I cried.

I know I read excerpts from The Book of a Thousand Nights and One Night in sixth grade (as part of our focus on Islamic civilization, we also attended services at a mosque), but all I remember of the stories of Scheherazade is that "The Enormous Fart," which is one of the stories dramatized in the play, was so scandalous that we weren't allowed to read it, because of the title. Ah, middle school.

Mary Zimmerman foregrounds the violence, sex, and humor that run through the tales and their frame-story, in which Scheherazade schemes to delay her murder by her husband the king at the end of each night, beginning with the first night of their marriage, by telling him stories that always end on a cliffhanger: the king's first wife committed adultery, and after murdering her for it he swore never to trust women again, vowing to marry a virgin each night and to kill her at dawn. Scheherazade is very nearly the last virgin in the kingdom when the king commands her father to bring her to him, and with the help of her sister, she manages to delay her death for nearly three years, 1001 nights. I was impressed by the sheer physical courage of Scheherazade, and of her sister Dunezade, who accompanies her; she knowingly confronts her own death with only words for her weapon. But they're extraordinary words.

A thousand nights and one night more. )

*crosses fingers for more revivals/productions of Mary Zimmerman's plays*
starlady: (serious business)
Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead. Brought to the stage by Lemony Snicket, Phantom Limb, Tony Taccone, and Geoff Hoyle. Directed by Tony Taccone. Performed by Berkeley Rep and Phantom Limb.

I went to see this with [personal profile] troisroyaumes. I'd never heard of Berkeley Rep before I started seeing ads for this show on the BART, and it's clearly a fantastic company. The Composer Is Dead is the holiday/children's show, and it's pretty cool--it's basically a one-man show for actor, puppets, and orchestra, and if it wasn't quite enchantingly magical, it was still pretty cool, particularly since I like puppets and the orchestra quite a lot.

I read the first few books of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and enjoyed the movie, but never quite got in to them, and I've never read the book on which this show was based, but it was really cool to see it brought to life simultaneously through film, acting, puppetry, and orchestral music; it's not like any other show I've ever seen. Daniel Handler was in the audience, and we gave him as well as the one-man cast and the puppeteers well-deserved rounds of applause. If you like Lemony Snicket, puppetry, or innovative theater, this is definitely a show to keep an eye out for.

*crosses fingers for a revival of Brundibar*
starlady: (look up the number)
Stoppard, Tom. Travesties. 1974.

So I went with [personal profile] via_ostiense and her friend M last night to see a student production of Tom Stoppard's play Travesties, which is set in Zurich in 1917 and concerns the interactions of minor British diplomat-dandy Henry Carr with a notable cast of future and current revolutionaries: Tristan Tzara, Romanian poet and one of the founders of Dada; V.I. Lenin, Russian revolutionary desperate to get back to Russia and his rendezvous with (overcoming) history; and James Joyce, Irish pacifist novelist genius already at work on the novel that would become Ulysses. Joyce at one point actually staged a production of The Importance of Being Ernest with Carr in the lead role (no, not Ernest, the other one), and the play revolves around a very old Carr's very unobjective recollections of all of them and of the times, Zurich in springtime at war, as the dogs of Europe bark, and bark, and bark. Da, da, da. Dada dada dada dadada. Dada.

I love Tom Stoppard so much. This play was new to me, but like all Stoppard it's hilarious, and obsessed with questions like what is art? and the nature of freedom and the place of art in society and who the artist is and why. This is an earlier play than most of the Stoppard I've seen so far--The Invention of Love, Arcadia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead--and in some ways that thing I've sensed in some of his other works, the abyss of non-meaning, nonsense, that lies beneath his witty discourse and sometimes threatens to irrupt through--it's usually associated with politics, and especially with political nihilism of the sort practiced in communist countries--is less present here; this might be because Lenin is less present in the play than one might hope. Regardless, it's an amazing play, as usual; it took me rather longer than it should have to realize that Stoppard was entirely pasticheing scenes from Ernest into his text (as well as the usual suspects, like Shakespeare), and since it wouldn't be Dada without a food fight, there's a food fight, because it's Dada. Also, you haven't lived until you've seen James Joyce pull a rabbit out of a hat, because the artist is after all a magician.

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