From Point Reyes Station to Berlin

Don't you love getting turned on to beautiful things in unlikely places?The other day I was wondering around a store in the tiny touristy Northern Californian town of Point Reyes Station looking for a birthday gift for a friend when my ears pricked up at the sound of the music on the store's stereo system. I was so transfixed that I lingered in the store for about half an hour. The shop keeper must have thought I was casing the joint.The songs were instantly recognizable to me: Most of them were lovely, old Brecht/Weill standards that I had … [Read more...]

Should Theatre Programs Be Equipped With Glossaries?

The British playwright Mark Ravenhill just wrote about his experience of directing one of his own plays in Armenia. The process is apparently going well despite the language barrier: Ravenhill speaks neither Russian nor Armenian and the actors don't speak English.But when it comes to staging plays for English-speaking audiences in English, language can prove to be an issue. I've found this to be true on many occasions over the years as I watch American companies produce plays by British dramatists. (I'm sure the reverse is true too; I just … [Read more...]

Avalon

If this country weren't going to through what it's going through right now, watching Barry Levinson's 1990 film Avalon would probably just make me feel a bit misty-eyed and queasy. Based on the director's memories of growing up around his immigrant grandparents who came to the US from Eastern Europe at the start of the First World War, the film is good, old fashioned sentimentality. It's a bit like Woody Allen's Radio Days but without the sense of humor.But at this point in US history, as we watch the tenets of the so-called American Dream, … [Read more...]

Vogon Poetry

A strange item in Ohio's Springfield News Sun, via Yahoo News, caught my attention today.The story concerns the punishment facing a 24-year-old man, Andrew Vactor, for playing rap music too loudly on his car stereo in July.Champaign County Municipal Court Judge Susan Fornof-Lippencott absurdly offered to reduce Vactor's $150 fine to $35 if the miscreant agreed to spend 20 hours listening to classical music. The thinking behind this idea was to give Vactor a proverbial dose of his own medicine by forcing him to listen to something he might not … [Read more...]

Jack Sprat Would Eat No Fat, His Wife Would Eat No Lean

An experience I had at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center last night reminded me of seeing people file into the his and hers changing rooms at my local swimming pool.The theatre, which specializes in putting on shows aimed at gay audiences, has two productions running in tandem at the moment: Alan Bennett's play about a group of precocious British schoolboys revving up to take the Oxbridge entrance exams, History Boys, and That's What She Said -- a musical comedy revue starring two Los Angeles-based performers, Amy Turner and … [Read more...]

I’m A Believer?

It seems to me that you don't need to be a believer in order to sing religious music masterfully. Plenty of great singers bring tears to the eyes of listeners while singing songs written within various world spiritual systems without necessarily subscribing to those beliefs. They do this by finding their own way to connect to the music and lyrics, which is, in a way, a form of acting. And no performance of any kind worth its salt is without some element of acting.It was interesting, therefore, to interview a bunch of people from the gospel … [Read more...]

Maverick-Sick

I am always saddened when powerful words like "love," "terror" or "tragedy" lose their strength and even eventually their meaning owing to overuse, bowdlerization and/or general carelessness.I've been feeling this disappointment particularly strongly of late with respect to what was until recently one of my favorite words: "maverick."Maverick was once a wonderful word. It sticks on the tongue and in the heart. It reminds me of wild, empty plains; of life lived on the edge. The way in which the McCain-Palin junket has seized the word and made it … [Read more...]

First Impressions

Like many things in life, people often judge an arts experience by the entrance that a performer makes on stage. Whether it's the members of the male a cappella vocal ensemble Chanticleer all traipsing on stage in perfect tuxedo-sporting synchronicity with black folders neatly tucked under their right arms, or Katherine Hunter loping on with a scowl as the malignant, hunchbacked Bolingbroke in a production of Shakespeare's Richard III I witnessed in 2003 at London's Globe, performers tell us much about what to expect within the first few … [Read more...]

Wilde About Vera

Chris Jeffries' stimulating, funny and clever musical Vera Wilde juxtaposes two seemingly very different characters from the same era. The quirky, homespun-melodied work, produced by the Berkeley-based company Shotgun Players and featuring a five-piece folk band comprising of upright bass, guitar, banjo, fiddle and drumkit, extrapolates on the lives of Oscar Wilde and Vera Zasulich.Za who? I hear you ask. The the story of the great Anglo-Irish playwright is well known throughout the world. But Zasulich, despite being dubbed the "mother of … [Read more...]

The Four Manifestations Of Beauty

There's a passage from Amy Tan's novel The Bonesetter's Daughter which won't leave me alone.It's the section describing a book of Chinese brush paintings called "The Four Manifestations Of Beauty." According to an interview with the novelist in Fate! Luck! Chance! , Ken Smith's new book about the making of the opera version of The Bonesetter's Daughter, Tan filched this idea from her friend Bill Wu, an Asian art expert. Wu had developed his ideas about aesthetics through studying the calligraphy of the famous Chinese artist C. C. Wang. I'd like … [Read more...]