December 29, 2007

Shakespeareana du Jour

Since there are no first-hand accounts of Shakespeare's personality (unlike Samuel Johnson, he had no sycophantic Boswell recording his every move) early biographers had to rely on hand-me-down anecdotes from ancestors of next-door-neighbors of drinking buddies, etc. Filtering out all the inevitable augmentation and exaggeration as the stories pass from one ear to the next, many of these legends could conceivably have a kernel of truth in their origin.

My favorite, hands down, comes from a book called "Shakespeare's Jests, or the Jubilee Jester," published around 1769 in the flurry of memorabilia following Garrick's Stratford Jubilee, dealing with the friendship/rivalry between Shakespeare and Ben Jonson:

"Shakespear seeing Ben Jonson in a neccesary-house [on the toilet], with a book in his hand reading it very attentively, said he was sorry his memory was so bad, that he could not shite without a book."

Playwright Peter Barnes, in the intro to volume 2 of his anthology, calls it "the only good joke Shakespeare ever made... if he made it." Barnes, as you can probably guess, preferred Jonson.

December 23, 2007

Kevin Baconian Factoid of the day

The president of the Washington Shakespeare Company's Board of Directors is the linguist who invented Klingon.

Political Compass

I took a test on Facebook this morning to measure where I ranked on the Political Compass. I'm still as collectivist liberal as always, though I probably have drifted a bit over the years. On a scale of -10 (lefty) to +10 (righty), I measured a -6.12 for economic matters, and on a scale of -10 (Anarchism) to +10 (Fascism), I measured a -5.64 for social matters, which puts me in the middle of the green quadrant.

What I found interesting was the chart pictured here; the political leanings of the 2008 presidential candidates. I'm shocked that Kucinich and Gravel were the only candidates that even landed in my quadrant, and just how moderately conservative our mainstream "democrat" candidates are. Hillary isn't all that far away in her beliefs than Margaret Thatcher (who would land somewhere around Mike Huckabee). Even Ron Paul doesn't get a quadrant of his own.

Anyone else think it's time for a more-than-two party system?

LOLCat du jour

December 22, 2007

Not a Merry Christmas at the Shakespeare

Having opened the lavish $89 million Sidney Harman Hall, part of their effort to cement their standing as the premiere classical theatre in America, the Shakespeare Theatre Company inaugurated their second home with an ambitious repertory of two Christopher Marlowe plays, Tamburlaine and Edward II. Company regular Avery Brooks (of ST:DS9 fame) plays Tamburlaine.

The absolute last thing they needed was
this weekend's fiasco... Brooks suffered a "holiday-related injury" that rendered him unable to perform Friday night. With the original understudy departed due to a family emergency and the replacement understudy unprepared to step in, all performances of Tamburlaine have been canceled thru the 27th. It is still unknown if Brooks will be able to return, if the understudy will go on, or if the rest of the run (scheduled to close Jan 6th) will be scrubbed. I pity the poor box office staff who have to contact thousands of subscribers to relay the bad news. STC stands to take a significant financial loss, at perhaps the worst possible time for something like this to happen.

As for reports that tell a sliiightly different story about Brooks' injury... that's what holiday party gossip was invented for...
I'm keeping my big yap shut. ;-)

December 21, 2007

Stevie Brings The Funk To Sesame Street

Ah, harken back now to the early days of Jim Henson & Co., when Stevie Wonder performing a 7-minute extended jam of "Superstition" was more important than selling Tickle Me Elmos. So many highlights: the girl (boy?) flipping out on the top of the stairs, the false ending, Stevie's little "Go, Cookie Monster!" improvs... just sublime. Only a shot of Mr Hooper groovin' with Big Bird could make this more perfect.

Bite me, Elmo.

Best Drama Criticism Ever

Not since Woolcott...

This is Daniel Okrent's review of the 2002 Broadway revival of Man of La Mancha, in Entertainment Weekly. I remember laughing my ass off when I read it on the newsstand (or the dentists office, or wherever), and one Google search later, here it is. Mr Okrent, I tip my hat to you, sir...

(Sung, of course, to the tune of The Impossible Dream, original lyrics by Joe Darion, music by Mitch Leigh)

To dream the impossible dream
To flee this unbearable show
To mourn that great Brian Stokes Mitchell
A star, could be brought down so low!

This is my fate, just doing my job
To listen to hokum
Tunes grate, at best throb
To wish for a whit
Of some wit to applaud
Or just maybe a smidgen of staging not hopelessly flawed!

Yes I know that others will love it
And will loathe these harsh words that I say
Be inclined to tell me to go shove it
Cry foul as I trash the whole play!

But the world would be better for this
That this show, which is hopelessly marred
Would ditch the full last 15 minutes...
As I reach (slower, will full orchestral buildup) for the keys to my car!


December 20, 2007

DC is, Like, Totally On Kafka's Dick

I think they like us...

Potomac Stages (We're a pick!)

We have a Pay-What-You-Can matinee at 2pm this Saturday (12/22), and again two weeks later (1/5/08) ... if you're cash-strapped from all that holiday shopping, this is probably your best bet to come see it!

December 19, 2007

Ruminations on the Art of Acting, over a Whopper

I've joked to my colleagues that someday I'm going to write a book about acting, called "Suck Less, Act Better."

I made a few notes on my theory of acting while sitting in the Burger King at Rosslyn a few months ago. The following is a condensation of these notes:

When it comes to finding an objective, consider the relationship between your character and the others. It's all a question of who's got the power. It may be within a household (family dynamics, husband & wife, parent & child, etc) or a kingdom, or what have you. It all boils down to power dynamics and control.

A character is either in control or being controlled.

The person in control wants at the very least to maintain control, or has to decide whether or not to risk expanding their control at the potential cost of losing control.

The person being controlled wants at the very least to survive under the conditions dictated by the controller, or has to decide whether or not to risk usurping control from the controller at the potential cost of worsening their condition.

Or, as a variation, the person is somewhere in the middle, controlled by some, in control of others, and slides up or down the spectrum.

Consider the plays of Pinter, Mamet, Shepard, etc. and the life-or-death power dynamics that govern the plots. Preferably over a chocolate shake.

The House Of Yes, or: When Artistic Success Can Be A Bad Thing

(Photo by Ray Gniewek - Washington Shakespeare Company)

The most recent play I've seen (actually the only play I've seen in several weeks) is WSC's The House Of Yes. It's running in rep with
the play I'm in; they came to our opening the week before, so it was only right and proper that we went to theirs. And hearing all the screams from the rehearsal room while we were working onstage (and vice versa) over the preceding weeks made me all the more excited to see this.

I won't provide an in-depth critique of the production (save the following paragraphs), because that's the province of critics. In short, everyone did a superlative job. Brilliant acting and tight, smart direction. They totally nailed it. And therein lies the paradox.

I see a lot of parallels with August Strindberg's Dance of Death, because both plays suffer from the same trap: when done well, they're unwatchable. To say that the actors were completely successful is a double-edged compliment, because this means that they succeeded in bringing completely revolting characters to life. And to say that they expertly told the story is to say that they expertly painted a repugnant and unredemptive portrait of humanity.

For all my pretentions about art... oh, sorry, Art, I still think there needs to be at least a dim ray of hope in the midst of it. For all the squalor, there needs to be an exit. Even a dreary and depressing play like Edward Bond's Saved ends on a note of cautious optimism. And as for the subtitle "a suburban Jacobean play," the Jacobean tragedy that first comes to mind is Webster's Duchess of Malfi, and even that bloodbath of a play ends on a redemptive note. So if there's any failing here -- and I'm not sure if the fault is with the play or the production -- it lies in the sense that there's no out; overwhelming nihilism wins the day.

So... congratulations?

Christmas Lolcat du jour

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

December 18, 2007

On Squishiness

The term 'Squishy Morph' in my blog title is a reference to two CUA professors' evaluations after my first semester of grad school.

"Morph" came from a professor I respect, and was intended as a compliment about my range as an actor.

"Squishy" came from an instructor that I didn't particularly respect (and who never learned my name, and no longer teaches there). I assume s/he was calling me out for a general lack of a definitive and/or assertive personality as a human being. I can safely assume it wasn't particularly complimentary.

Consider a quote from a fellow CUA grad student, a year ahead of me... we were working on a show together after graduation, and I'd gotten a very short haircut to suit my tiny role as a guard... "You should keep your hair short; it makes you look kinda bad-ass. Until you open your mouth and wreck it."

This same person a year later conceded that my work as an actor had grown extraordinarily in the time s/he knew me. I think it might be more of a case where s/he came to appreciate that whatever talent I possess as an actor is not entirely overshadowed by my laid-back and somewhat milquetoasty demeanor.

In life, as well as in theatre, I appreciate how the more successful people are the more often the ones with the assertive, aggressive Type-A personalities. As demonstrated in an in-class visit by Broadway star Patrick Page, the most riveting acting involves single-minded pursuit of an objective, and the actors who are the best at this are typically just as relentless offstage. I can improve to a degree, but that's just not me. I'm squishy, and that's my cross to bear.

First post

It's the end of 2007. I used to post blogs on Friendster and Myspace (remember them?) fairly regularly, but I barely touch them anymore. Cripes, I barely even blog on my Mac website. I've finally joined the rest of the universe and left those Mostly Dead entities to start what I hope will be a regular blog over here. I'm getting a jump on my '08 Resolution to write more regularly. We'll see just how long this lasts.

I have a lot to look back on and be grateful for in '07. Just thought I'd start off my forward-thinking blog with a look back.

My postgraduate string of steady (and generally rewarding) acting work has continued unabated (knock wood), and there appears to be no end in sight. I can pick and choose my projects. No disrespect to the companies that I've declined, but I fucking love that.

I was able to cultivate a circle of friends that are only tangentially connected to theatre or guys I met on the internet.

I actually got to go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

I directed my first Shakespeare play.

I bought my first new car. Gotta love the gas mileage. But I still take Metro to work every day.

I got a real live day job, with health insurance, vacation time, retirement plan and everything. (Which means no Shakespeare Theatre, Round House, Arena or Olney in the near future.) And I even respect the company I work for, an environmental nonprofit.

My goals in 08:
To actually start going to the gym. (my token goal every year)
To direct something in DC.
To keep acting (which is pretty much a given thru the end of June).
To solidify relationships with a select bunch of theatre groups.

To see more of my friends' plays.
To keep blogging.

So, there we are. A beginning.

December 15, 2007

Amy Winehouse Blah Blah Blah

(I posted this on my Myspace blog last week...)

I'm calling bullshit on Amy Winehouse.

Until she is found dead in a pool of her own vomit, I can't shake the suspicion that Amy Winehouse is pulling the wool over all our eyes. All these arrests, missed concerts, mumbled performances, man trouble, etc are nothing more than a shrewdly calculated and carefully crafted media image.

Judging her purely on her voice alone, she's a talented singer. So is Norah Jones, and the pack of dozens of other similar old-school female vocalists. But what sets her apart are her tabloid exploits. More people have heard of Amy Winehouse and her troubles than have actually heard her music (just like Pete Doherty). Suddenly people are snatching up tabloids, agonizing over her health, casting her as Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, and Billie Holliday all rolled up into one, and can't download her albums fast enough. She may be a decent singer, but she's a genius marketer.

Compare and contrast: Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Mike Tyson and Michael Jackson. Their dysfunction is real enough, in the sense that if it's otherwise, then it's incompetently crafted. Their public fuckups are damaging their stock value, whereas Amy's stock value is skyrocketing. Maybe it's the accent. I dunno.

Twenty or thirty years from now, I predict Amy will be long-since retired, lounging on the deck of her villa on the Riviera sipping herbal tea, counting her money and laughing about what suckers we all were back then.

This is, after all, a world where Cher parlayed Sonny's death into her escape from infomercial hell, where George Michael turned jacking off in a public bathroom into a publicity blitz for his "Best Of," where David Bowie's greatest talent is being a few seconds ahead of the Big Trend Machine, where careful crafting of their own public image makes icons out of mediocre singers like Madonna and Mick Jagger, where Milli Vanilli wins Grammies, and where wastes of DNA like Paris Hilton are famous, and even Screetch from "Saved by the Bell" has a sex tape.

Or, I'm wrong, and she's a few months shy of becoming this generation's Janis Joplin. In either case, I just can't work up the effort to give a shit.

October 16, 2007

Nanny's Lament (or, Roald Dahl, Prophet)

(From the book Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, 1972)

This mighty man of whom I sing,
The greatest of them all,
Was once a teeny little thing,
Just eighteen inches tall.

I knew him as a tiny tot,
I nursed him on my knee.
I used to sit him on the pot
And wait for him to wee.

I always washed between his toes,
And cut his little nails.
I brushed his hair and wiped his nose
And weighed him on the scales.

Through happy childhood days he strayed,
As all nice children should.
I smacked him when he disobeyed,
And stopped when he was good.

It soon began to dawn on me
He wasn't very bright,
Because when he was twenty-three
He couldn't read or write.

"What shall we do?" his parents sob.
"The boy has got the vapors!
He couldn't even get a job
Delivering the papers!'

'Ah-ha' I said, 'this little clot
Could be a politician.'
'Nanny,' he cried, 'Oh Nanny, what
A super proposition!'

'Okay,' I said, 'let's learn and note
The art of politics.
Let's teach you how to miss the boat
And how to drop some bricks,
And how to win the people's vote
And lots of other tricks.

Let's learn to make a speech a day
Upon the T.V. screen,
In which you never never say
Exactly what you mean.
And most important, by the way,
Is not to let your teeth decay,
And keep your fingers clean.

'And now that I am eighty-nine,
It's too late to repent.
The fault was mine the little swine
Became the President.

(originally posted on my Myspace blog)

April 25, 2007

I Have Seen The Light, People.

I now see that the VA Tech massacre could have been prevented by one simple measure: arm everyone.

If the other students and teachers were armed, they would have taken Seung Hui Cho down in a hail of gunfire. Or better yet, Seung Hui Cho, knowing that everyone in that lecture hall was armed, would have calmly and rationally re-evaluated his actions, and calmly and rationally hung himself in his dorm room. Because Seung Hui Cho was known all his life for his calmness and rationality.

I now realize that the key to a safe, secure, calm, ordered, law-abiding society is to relax all restrictions on carrying defensive weapons. That way, there will never be any more shootings in nightclubs, bars, fast food restaurants, commuter trains, churches, or any other place where madmen might contemplate mass slaughter. Because the knowledge that everyone in the room is packing will force all potential troublemakers to re-evaluate their decision-making processes and find non-violent solutions for their disagreements. Or if they are mentally ill, they will voluntarily submit themselves for treatment.

And of course, there would never be any crime. Home invasions and carjackings would cease. Potential criminals would go back to school and get jobs.

And just think! If everyone on those four airplanes were armed, 9/11 would have never happened. Those nineteen potential hijackers would have seen the error of their ways, realized the futility of their animosity against the benevolent superpower that was, is, and always shall be the United States of America, gone back home, converted to a much less hostile sect of Islam, and then all Jews and Muslims would live together in peace and harmony.

And of course, that's the definition of peace: everyone armed to the teeth. Just like in the final scene in Reservoir Dogs. That's my perfect world right there.

I'll finally feel secure walking through the hordes of people in Adams Morgan on a Saturday night, knowing that every single one of them is armed.

Of course, with every American adult being armed, there may be a slight rise in fatalities due to handgun accidents. And there are studies that suggest an unfortunate relationship between gun ownership and suicidality. And just maybe a few regrettable incidents of people being caught in the crossfire as people defend themselves from each other. Sure, 30,000 people a year are killed by handgun violence or accidents, and that's really really tragic and stuff, but come on, isn't a slight rise in that rate worth the price of security? I mean, suppose that figure were to double or triple, we could live with that, couldn't we?

If you don't like it, you could live in a repressive totalitarian dictatorship that has gun control. Like England, Canada, or Australia.

(originally posted on my Myspace blog)