4 Mike Leigh Interviews In 1 Day

Today I listened to the film director Mike Leigh give four interviews. Or, to be more precise, I listened to him give three interviews. By the time I got to the fourth, I had to abort mission. I felt overwhelmed.Leigh is in San Francisco to receive the director's award at the San Francisco International Film Festival and stir up some buzz for his latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky which comes out in the in the U.S. later this year. I took the occasion of his visit to pitch my editor at The Believer Magazine the idea of doing an interview with Leigh. … [Read more...]

Suffering & Dominoes

For the last few days, I've been wearing a necklace fashioned from an antique dominoe. I picked the trinket up in a store in Sonoma a few months ago, but have hardly worn it until now. I'm wearing the necklace in response to an arresting article that appeared in last Wednesday's New York Times by Marc Lacey about how the game of dominoes has come to dominate the lives of many poor Haitians. What's striking are the strange and tragi-comic stakes for which the game is played. Writes Lacey:The beauty of dominoes is that it requires not even a … [Read more...]

The World is…A Globe-Shaped Mini-Bar (According to David Mamet)

David Mamet's brassy Broadway comedy about a president facing a tough reelection season, November, was more or less been savaged by the New York critics when it opened in January. Ben Brantley called it "glib and jaunty" and "an easy laugh machine" in his review for The New York Times; "the play rings false," wrote Jeremy McCarter in New York magazine. The play may not be as intelligent as Mamet's screenplay for Wag the Dog in terms of its satire on political spin, many of the jokes are cheap, and the plot may be as far-fetched as the outcome … [Read more...]

What’s Beckett Without The Laughs?

When Mel Brooks said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die," he probably had the plays of Samuel Beckett in the back of his mind.These words came flooding back to me last night after I experienced a preview performance of Beckett's Endgame at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.Director Andrei Belgrader's production features an all-star cast: the movie actor John Turturro as Hamm, The Sopranos regular Max Casella as Clov, revered stage actor Alvin Epstein (who, among other things, originated … [Read more...]

Dealing With Butterflies

Performers have all kinds of techniques for dealing with pre-performance nerves. Some do yoga, others meditate, a third groupp swigs Jack Daniels. Writers have their own issues to deal with like writer's block, but it's only infrequently, generally speaking, that we have to get up and perform in public.There's quite a lot of performance going on in this writer's life right now between various interviews, presentations and facing the prospect of singing my first solo vocal recital in a couple of weeks time.A dear friend of mine in New York who's … [Read more...]


I'm hard-pressed to find a more engrossing and accurate metaphor for the current state of play between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama than the World Wrestling Entertainment spoof wrestling match between the two Senators that's been making the rounds on YouTube for the last couple of days.Performers dressed as the two contendors for the Democratic nomination -- Obama embellished with a pair of large protruding ears and Clinton with a puffy wig -- duke it out in the ring in front of cheering crowds. Bill Clinton is on hand to give his … [Read more...]

The Greeks Were Much More Open-Minded

My editor at SF Weekly didn't approve of the second version of a review I wrote about a production of  Ellen McLaughlin's The Trojan Women at Aurora Theatre. He decided to go with the first version, which appears in the paper today, on the grounds that my re-written essay, with its London-focused introduction and conclusion "lacks relevance to a San Fran audience" and "seemed forced and tacked on."For the published version, follow this link. (Scroll way down the page to find the "stage" section.)I think I like the new version better though, so … [Read more...]

Going Going Gone

Today I was approached by a local theatre company asking if I'd help with its upcoming fundraiser. The company is planning on auctioning off an evening at the theatre...with me. The idea is that I will go to see a play with three of the highest bidders and then the four of us will head out for post-show drinks to discuss what just transpired on stage.I must admit that I'm very flattered to have been asked to do this and it sounds like a fun way to spend an evening. But I'm a little flummoxed by the proposal. For who in their right mind would … [Read more...]

The Deep-Fried Twinkie

A few days ago, after years of trying, I finally got to sample my first ever deep-fried Twinkie (DFT). I won't go as far as to say that it was a religious experience, but it was otherworldly -- a bit like experiencing unusual performance art, which is why the DFT deserves a mention here.Before I go on, I should probably take a moment to explain what a DFT is. It looks like a battered, deep-fried hot dog on a stick, but it's really a battered, deep-fried vanilla-cream-centered sponge finger cake on a stick. The regular, un-tampered-with Twinkies … [Read more...]

On Visiting MIssion Dolores

I've been to Mission Dolores in San Francisco several times over the past seven years to play the oboe in orchestral concerts, but never once have I taken the time to look around and think about the building. The Franciscan base, officially known as Misión San Francisco de Asís, was founded June 29, 1776 under the direction of Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784). This makes it the oldest original intact Mission in California and the oldest building in San Francisco. Serra established a chain of 21 missions up and down the California coast from … [Read more...]

On Wrestling Hildegard von Bingen

When I auditioned for a role in Hildegard von Bingen's musical drama Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues) I thought I'd be lucky to get a small solo part. Somehow though, I was offered the key role of "The Soul" in the famous German abbess' 12th century morality play -- the oldest of its kind existent in the world today. Exciting news indeed for someone who's never sung a solo role in a public performance (unless you count playing Peter Pan in a musical at grade school) much less done so in plainchant.Chant, I'm discovering, has its own set of … [Read more...]

A Bloody Good Show

As the home of Incredibly Strange Wrestling and the Faux Drag Queen Pageant, San Francisco is a natural breeding ground for the estoric genre of Grand Guignol theatre. Thrillpeddlers, the city's very own permanant company devoted to recreating the works of the now long-defunct Parisian Grand Guignol theatre (and its much shorter-lived sister, the London Grand Guignol theatre) as well as staging new, original plays written in the Grand Guignol style, should become a regular stop on the San Francisco trail for locals and visitors looking to … [Read more...]