A semi-retired actor vaguely recalls theatre, and occasionally blathers about music and pop culture.
November 20, 2008
My $0.02 on Marriage, Gay and Straight.
A marriage ceremony performed in a church or by a representative of a church should thus be considered a religious ceremony. In that sense, a church has the right to approve or forbid same-sex marriage between members of their flock based on that church's particular dogma. Under the Separation of Church and State, Congress cannot pass any laws - nor can any proposition be voted upon - to grant or deny any rights or restrictions on a religious ceremony, nor is any religious union between two people legally binding in the secular world.
One isn't granted any civil protections or legal rights from a Baptism, Confirmation, Bris, Bar or Bat Mitvah, so why should (church) marriage be any different? The granting of any such entitlements on the basis of a religious ceremony - joint filing of tax returns, property/inheritance rights, medical insurance or any of the thousands of earthly benefits traditionally connected with marriage - is constitutionally indefensible.
On the other hand...
A marriage ceremony performed by a Justice of the Peace, Notary Public, Ship Captain, or any such layperson with the power vested in them by a civil authority, is a legally binding civil union and as such - be they M/F, M/M, or F/F - ought to be entitled to all the same legal rights, privileges and protections historically reserved for M/F couples. It is up to lawmakers (not the voting public, incidentally) to decide how these issues are to be legislated.
Couples with religious beliefs would then have two ceremonies, one in which their immortal souls are united in the eyes of God, and another where their mortal bodies are united in the eyes of civil institutions.
People opposed to same-sex (civil) marriage need to remove their religious dogmas from the equation. Traditional family values are not being threatened. The gays are not coming to bust up your marriage. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that the only reason that your husband married you instead of his fishing buddy is either fear of the wrath of God or the limit of the law.
What A Way To Run A Railroad
The three escalators at Foggy Bottom have been slowly (and I do mean slowly) refurbished over a period of several months. Ideally, one escalator would be replaced while two would function (one moving in peak direction, the other kept non-moving). But on several occasions the one escalator would be moving in the opposite direction, or both would be stopped, or the traffic on the two escalators would be so increased that we had a situation like today, where one of the two would break down. The worst case happened a few months ago, when all three escalators were broken and the station had to be temporarily closed.
If only the original system planners had foreseen that Foggy Bottom would be one of the most busy downtown stations that isn't a transfer point; with the various government organizations, non-profits, and GWU in the area, the designers could've added a second entrance on 22nd and I. With the giant construction project across from the hospital underway, I wonder how difficult/costly it would be to construct a new entrance as part of the building.
In the meantime, I'll go to Dupont Circle instead. Not much longer of a walk.
Ugh. Still, marginally less costly/troublesome than driving. For now.
November 17, 2008
November 7, 2008
November 6, 2008
Musings on Election Day
A lawyer from Illinois, imbued with radiant personal charm and natural charisma but virtually no political experience (save two years in Washington) and only a short time in the national spotlight, gets elected to the highest office in the land (defeating a powerful senator with two other unsuccessful presidential bids under his belt) during one of the most turbulent eras in our nation's history.
But enough about Abraham Lincoln... =)
October 13, 2008
Our Hero, in: A Jury of One's Peers
She could've paid it. She could've contested it in traffic court. And as a last resort, she had the right to hire a defense attorney and contest it in district court before a judge and a 7-member jury. She opted for the latter. Hence there I was this past Friday, one of said seven, wondering along with the other six, the judge, the prosecutors, the half-dozen witnesses and probably her own DA just what the fuck we were all doing there on such a lovely day.
Said her expertly-coiffed ambulance chaser DA: "Ladies and gentlemen, it's just a traffic ticket. But it's a matter of principle."
Some witnesses testified that the cop stopped at the median, others that the cop did not. Some witnesses testified that the woman was speeding, others that she was not. Some witnesses claimed that there were cars in the turning lane obstructing the woman's view, others that there were none. Overhead satellite photos of the intersection were examined. Photos of the crash scene were handed around.
Four hours later, after some 10 minutes' deliberation, she was found guilty and ordered to pay a reduced fine of $150 (plus court costs), and we departed for long-overdue lunches at various places along King Street.
Twelve prospective jurors were called in for this trial. Assuming they had to take a day off from work, the day's affair cost each jurors or their employers a full day's pay. Also, considering the court cost, taxpayer burden, lawyer fees, our $30 compensation, etc., the amount of money spent on this trial exceeded her fine by a factor of twenty at least.
But then of course, it's all a matter of principle...
October 11, 2008
Doctor Who Geekery Report - DVD leftovers
Or at least, that was my thesis statement before I did the math. Although they do seem to make some mind-boggling choices of titles to release (really, folks, Timelash? Twin Dilemma? Web Planet?), they do lean toward the more well-regarded titles.
Dividing the 136 classic-era serials that are releasable (i.e. complete, or at least half complete) into quadrants (in order of fan popularity)...
Quad 1 (Most popular): 26 out of 34 currently released, with another 2 in the pipeline
Quad 2 (More popular): 18 out of 34, with 1 more in the pipeline
Quad 3 (Less popular): 14 out of 34, with 3 in the pipeline
Quad 4 (Least popular): 9 out of 34, with 4 in the pipeline
I think my impatience about the remaining top-rank serials stems from, well, the fact that the cast is getting old, and time is taking its toll. The first three Doctors are gone, as are four companions and the two principal actors to play the Master. The survivng iconic lead actors and writers are hitting their 70's and 80's. I look forward to hearing Tom Baker, Nic Courtney, Terrence Dicks, Frazer Hines, et al lending their commentary to further serials before they transcend this celestial plane.
Here are the 67 remaining serials, in order of popularity. An asterisk indicates that a release is in the pipeline. The ones I shaded in red are the ten I particularly want to see released as soon as possible.
1. The Deadly Assassin
2. The Seeds of Doom
3. The War Games
4. Terror of the Zygons
5. Warriors' Gate *
6. State of Decay *
7. The Dæmons
8. Terror of the Autons (requires fresh re-colorization)
9. The Ice Warriors (requires reconstruction/animation of missing episodes 2 & 3)
11. The Curse of Peladon 12. The Masque of Mandragora 13. Enlightenment 14. The Tenth Planet (requires reconstruction/animation of missing episode 4) 15. The Face of Evil 16. Frontios 17. Day of the Daleks 18. The Mind of Evil (requires colorization) 19. Snakedance 20. Full Circle * 21. The Ambassadors of Death (requires fresh re-colorization) 22. Mawdryn Undead 23. Frontier In Space 24. Image of the Fendahl 25. Planet of the Spiders 26. Planet of Fire 27. The Sunmakers 28. The Romans * 29. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy 30. The Awakening 31. The War Machines * 32. Death to the Daleks 33. Invasion of the Dinosaurs (requires colorization of episode 1) 34. The Android Invasion 35. Attack of the Cybermen * 36. Revenge of the Cybermen 37. Planet of the Daleks (would require colorization of episode 3) 38. Terminus 39. The Ark 40. Nightmare of Eden 41. The Happiness Patrol 42. The Keys of Marinus 43. The Rescue * 44. Battlefield * 45. Colony in Space 46. The Krotons 47. Four to Doomsday * 48. Meglos 49. The Creature from the Pit 50. The Monster of Peladon 51. The Mutants 52. The Chase 53. Planet of Giants 54. Dragonfire 55. The King's Demons 56. The Time Monster 57. The Horns of Nimon
58. The Silver Nemesis
59. The Gunfighters
60. The Sensorites
61. The Space Musuem
62. Paradise Towers
63. The Dominators
64. Delta and the Bannermen
66. Time and the Rani
67. The Twin Dilemma *
(fan popularity is determined by an 11 Oct 08 visit to the Dynamic Rankings website)
October 10, 2008
Doctor Who Geekery Report - Brain of Morbius & Trial of a Time Lord
Robin Bland is a pseudonym used when Robert Holmes substantially re-wrote Terrence Dicks' original scripts to the point where Dicks demanded his name be removed.
AT LAST! One of my all-time favorite Dr Who serials is finally out on DVD. My favorite Doctor and my favorite companion at a time when the production team was (usually) firing on all cylinders; seasons 13-14 are the peak of the Classic Series. With Phillip Hinchcliffe producing, Terrence Dicks writing, and Robert Holmes script-editing, ratings regularly topping 10 million, they knew exactly what the show could and couldn't do, where it could & couldn't go due to budgetary and technical limitations, and drew from classic horror and sci-fi themes to produce an era of unequaled popularity and excellence, at least until the current revival.
The Brain of Morbius is a brilliant combination of horror pastiche and sparkling wit, sprinkled with a smidgeon of camp. A dark and stormy night, a castle on a hill, a mad scientist on the hunt for cadavers, a hook-handed servant, a... thing on a slab in the basement; this serial definitely wears its Frankenstein reverence on its sleeve. Add to the mix a coven of witches, a fountain of youth, and a maniacal talking brain in a tank.
Brilliant acting; regulars Tom Baker and Liz Sladen possess effortless chemistry. Philip Madoc as Solon and Colin Fay as Condo give multi-dimensional human faces to what could easily have been campy cliché mad scientist and hulking manservant. Cynthia Grenville generates pathos as Maren, matriarch of the Sisterhood, remaining stoic as her coven faces death with the dwindling of their Elixir. When the Doctor restores the Sacred Flame that produces the potion, there's a twinge of regret on her face. A lovely moment.
And of course fanboys have argued and debated about the "Mind-bending" contest in episode 4; just who are those faces that follow the images of the Doctor's first three incarnations?
The Trial of a Time Lord (by Robert Holmes, Philip Martin, Eric Saward, and Pip & Jane Baker, 6 Sep - 6 Dec 1986)
An ambitious concept that took up the entire 23rd seaon, and exceeded the grasp of the production team, even allowing for the behind the scenes chaos and tragedy. Intended as a metaphor for the series itself, but nobody thought things through. Any cliffhanger from a flashback tale that involves the Doctor is automatically robbed of its power, especially when given a line like "I think this could be the end!", simply due to the fact that it clearly wasn't. Constant cuts to the courtroom rob the various stories of their momentum.
Not that it didn't have its moments. The opening shot of the space station is actually quite marvelous even by today's standards. Glitz and Dibber are Robert Holmes' last great character pairs (even if his script echoes his first Dr Who story, The Krotons). The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is light and relaxed (not in the same league as Tom & Liz, but certainly a refreshing change from the previous season). Brian Blessed has some lovely subtle and gleefully eccentric moments that tend to be lost among all his trademark bellowing. Sil rocks. And yes, we know it's a bald-cap, but Peri's last scene before her demise is stunning. And we never quite know if the Doctor is really unhinged or if the Matrix has been tampered with. And the Master turns up in much more witty Delgado-eqsue form than we'd seen him to this point.
But the bickering between the Doctor and Valyard is stupid, the trial turns from an inquiry into the Doctor's behavior into a capital case on a dime, the "Mindwarp" section is a muddled mess, Melanie Bush is a trainwreck of a companion, and Pip & Jane should never be let near a typewriter (or a thesaurus) again:
- "I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum."
- "Whoever's been dumped in there has been pulverized into fragments and sent floating into space, and in my book that's murder!"
- "On the previous occasion that the Doctor's path crossed mine, I found myself involved in a web of mayhem and intrigue."
- "Fire alarms are not playthings for irresponsible buffoons."
- "There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!"
Still, not a set of DVD's I'll watch regularly. If ever again.
September 24, 2008
Garrison Keillor, I Friggin Love You.
"Poor Larry Craig got a truckload of moral condemnation for tapping his wingtips in the men's john, but his party proposes to spend 5 percent of the GDP to buy up bad loans made by men who walk away with their fortunes intact while retirees see their 401K go pffffffff like a defunct air mattress, and it's business as usual. Mr. McCain is a lifelong deregulator and believer in letting brokers and bankers do as they please -- remember Lincoln Savings and Loan and his intervention with federal regulators on behalf of his friend Charles Keating, who then went to prison? Remember Neil Bush, the brother of the C.O., who, as a director of Silverado S&L, bestowed enormous loans on his friends without telling fellow directors that the friends were friends and who, when the loans failed, paid a small fine and went skipping off to other things? Mr. McCain now decries greed on Wall Street and suggests a commission be formed to look into the problem. This is like Casanova coming out for chastity. "
September 21, 2008
Piercing Analysis from Random Myspace Apps
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR
I am a free spirit who is somewhat a hippie but I clean myself. I'd love to see a positive anti-war country that does not use up all of the natural resources.
Take this quiz yourself.
September 11, 2008
On Today's Anniversary, or Where Were You When...
So where was I? Uh-oh. Here we go again.
Monday September 10th was such a great day...
It was the end of my first summer in NYC, and I was having a blast. Since I moved to the city that May, I'd seen tons of Broadway plays, a bunch of concerts, met wonderful people, attended the Harold Pinter festival at Lincoln Center where I watched one of my idols perform in one of his own plays (Nic in One For The Road), and seen Ian Holm play the father in his archetypal play The Homecoming (only after it ended did I realize I had been sitting next to Jim Carrey). I was in the midst of rehearsing my NYC directorial debut, albeit in an unused third floor of a skeezy salad and hotbar restaurant near Rockefeller Center. But still.
After my sublet in Park Slope (Brooklyn) ended, I'd just moved in with a friend of a friend in Long Island City (Queens), also an aspiring actress (whose career path is much more steep than mine, here's what she's been up to lately). We both were remarking on that day's successes; she had a great audition in front of one of the most powerful casting people in NYC, and I had gotten into a very competitive acting class (Austin Pendleton's scene study class at HB Studio). We had friends over for dinner, and I was commiserating with a fellow Red Sox fan about how their season was going down the drain due to injuries and mismanagement. I renounced my citizenship in Red Sox Nation until GM Dan Duquette was fired (which happened soon after, leading to a hasty repatriation.)
I apparently was on the waiting list for Austin's class, since the first class was 10am the following morning. I had alerted my temp job that I would be coming in at noon that day. I planned to arrive early the next morning to get to HB Studios, since I hoped to persuade the administrator to get a refund from another scene study class that I'd signed up for (and had already started the week before), after I presumed that I wasn't accepted into Austin's class.
Tuesday morning, a warm, cloudless day. The hyperbole is true: the sky was a crisp and perfect blue. I left at about 8:30. I took the subway from Steinway St, taking the R to 59/Lex, and transferring to a 4 or 5 train, which I remember seemed to take a long time in arriving and seemed to crawl to Union Square, where I took the L to 14th St/8th Ave. I didn't even look up for several blocks, as I walked over to 9th Ave and down toward Bank St. Then eventually I did.
By then both planes had hit and the tops of both towers were engulfed in malevolent pitch black smoke that rose rapidly and almost perfectly straight upwards. Unable to process what I was seeing, the best I could come up with was... "Hmm, must be a grease fire at Windows on the World," the restaurant on the 103rd floor where my mom and stepdad treated me to a 30th birthday dinner some six weeks earlier. Of course, it was a very stupid thing to imagine, with both towers ablaze, but the reality of what was happening hadn't dawned on me yet.
Nor had it when I explained my situation to HB's administrator, who looked at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears (and would continue to do so for the entire duration of my study there). Of course I asked first about the fires at the WTC, and he said "two planes hit the towers", and of course I imagined a pair of ultralights wandering tragically astray. I look back at that conversation with a great deal of embarrassment. History was changing around us and I was more concerned about a refund on a $120 class than the thousands of people dying a few blocks away. But then, the synapses had yet to connect.
He wasn't exactly sympathetic to my plight, go figure, so I went to hang out on the sidewalk with the other classmates. Some people were checking their cell phones (still functioning; the cellphone tower that connected most of NYC was on top of one of the towers), and announcing reports that were trickling in. Another plane hit the Pentagon. Another had crashed in Pennsylvania. The realization washed across us like the tide. Oh. This was bad. Like really bad. Like epoch-shiftingly bad.
Eventually, the group shifted into the basement classroom and we sat in silence. A crusty middle-aged guy of Irish descent punctured the silence when he announced, "Well, we all know who it was. It was those guys." If it's possible to italicize something vocally, he did it. I replied, perhaps more antagonistically than I intended, "We all 'knew' it was 'those guys' in Oklahoma City, but it turned out to be us." He conceded the point. Another person asked, perhaps rhetorically, "I wonder if this would've happened if Al Gore was president." A couple audible tsks were her only reply.
The news trickled in... one of the towers came down. Up to the street and over to the end of the block we went where sure enough, a mile down the road we saw a giant white cloud of dust surrounding a solitary burning tower. That image was perhaps more of an emotional sock to the gut than anything. Castor without Pollux. Romulus without Remus. Fred Weasley without George. One only ever though of the towers as a pair. Few of us had cameras, so we couldn't exactly snap pictures. Eventually we wandered back downstairs. Austin arrived, and obviously we couldn't focus on the task at hand, so we were assigned scene partners (I was paired with a sternly intense middle-aged woman named Zelda on a scene from Odets' The Country Girl) and sat in otherwise solemn silence. Lines formed at the payphone at the foot of the basement stairs.
Another news flash; the other tower was down. We went out to look, and yup. Gone. The universal reference point for New Yorkers, the omnipresent feature of the skyline from practically everywhere in the city, was no more. Before long the news came that everything below 14th St was being evacuated. After a quick run to the bathroom, I had to head back to Queens, and with the subways closed there was no other option but walking. I wish I had better shoes; both soles had split across the balls of my feet.
I paid a rather large sum for a large bottle of water that I later realized was most likely had been re-filled with tapwater. A bus sped down 14th St with smoke pouring out the back. I had no idea what to make of that, but it seemed to be an ominous sign that anything could happen and I'd better be ready.
I knew I had to venture northward and eventually eastward, toward the Queensboro Bridge, which I hoped was still open. But then I had to mentally note which landmarks to avoid, thinking that there may be more planes to come, so I had to plot my course well clear of the Empire State, Chrysler, and UN Buildings. Every payphone had a line of at least a dozen people; my cellphone was non-functional. I caught scraps of news programs from restaurants with open patio doors. A Taliban spokesman denied any involvement, etc.
Eventually I reached the Queensboro Bridge, which thankfully was open. I joined a mass exodus of thousands upon thousands of people crossing; all of us refugees in our own city. I recall the solemn, if tension-laden, silence. Two asshole teenagers walking along the tops of the barriers between lanes were cracking jokes, apparently their only means to comprehend the insanity of the day, "Dude, what's goin on? I was taking a shit, what's happening?" Nobody told them to shut up, but I suspect if someone had pushed them off the bridge, no one would bat an eye. To our right the entire tip of lower Manhattan was shrouded in white dust. Crossing the bridge was the only time I was actually nervous. The thought occured to me that an enterprising terrorist could have placed an explosive device in the middle of the bridge, and that prospect was like a stone in the pit of my stomach which only disappeared when I was safely across onto the solid ground of Queens.
Where in Manhattan I encountered shameless hucksters who were already selling gasmasks and five dollar bottled water on the sidewalk, the first people I met in Queens were handing out cups of water in front of a storefront church. Some subway service had been restored, as I saw some packed #7 trains along the overhead elevated rails. Around 2:30 or so I made it back to the apartment, having walked some five miles from the studio. I made sure the windows were locked, fearing looters. Our land line still worked, and I immediately logged onto AOL to send a quick "I'm alive, hope you are too" email to everyone in my address book. I then called my grandparents; Grampa's first words were "Thank God." I got thru to Mom and Dad, let them know I was alive, etc., and then turned on the TV.
I still reflect on the irony that I had been there, more or less in the thick of it, but I didn't actually see any of it until that afternoon, in the safety of the apartment on TV: the second plane hitting. The doomed people gathering along the gaping hole in the tower. The people falling. The first tower, then the second, crumbling. Reporters standing in the rubble. Over and over again. Becki arrived later that afternoon, her boyfriend a few hours after; her first words to me were "So does this mean it's World War Three?"
Also I found greatly ironic that I didn't lose any friends or colleagues that day, but people back home did. One of the pilots hailed from Dover NH, and my mom knew him vaguely or sold him a house or something.
As night fell, I fielded phone calls from close friends back home, and tried to figure out what dawn would bring. George W Bush's speech wasn't particularly encouraging, as the heretofore simpering national embarrassment suddenly turned war-hawk. We will not separate the actions of the perpetrators from the countries that harbored them. Or something. This meant blowing shit up. Lovely.
I figured there was no reason not to behave normally. I was temping in downtown Brooklyn and the G-train I took there didn't pass through Manhattan, so I resolved that I'd go to work the next day. I woke early, and listened to the radio, the DJ fielded phone calls from inspired people looking to volunteer for the rescue effort, etc. Eventually I got up, got dressed, and went to work. Several people were reading the NY Post, with the giant headline, "WAR!" Thru the window, lower Manhattan was still shrouded in white smoke.
I was one of two admins, the other was a 30-something African-American woman. That day she was constantly on the phone with relatives and friends, passing along all the ludicrous gossip that was floating around; OMG! Whitney Houston died! OMG! Riots in the streets! The building's cafeteria was giving food away, and despite the posted signs "Please be considerate, we are facing a crisis," people were walking away with ludicrous amounts of food, three or four whole pizzas, etc.
I left early, lying on the couch for the better part of the afternoon into the evening, in a daze. My love affair with the city had taken a spectacular nosedive, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay. Ultimately I did, though I resolved that if another major disaster came, I'd throw in the towel and go back home.
The following weeks were a blur of anthrax scares, water quality scares, erratic cellphone signals, bad air quality, etc. Turban-wearing cabbies out of fear for their lives had bumper stickers reading "Proud to be American and Sikh." On the day the airstrikes began in Afghanistan, someone poured blood-red liquid over the metrocard slot at the Steinway station. One of my actors called to ask "World War III started today, are we still rehearsing?" (Answer: Yes)
I never visited Ground Zero in the ensuing weeks, apart from one excursion into the general vicinity. The eerie sensation of taking the R train through the then-closed Courtlandt St station, just on the edge of the the area, was enough; with the big red signs reminding the train conductors "DO NOT STOP HERE." Once they rebuilt the #1 train line thru the 'bathtub', I rode it, and through the occasional gap in the wall, seeing the bathtub all around me was unsettling. And then years later I took a trip on the PATH train and got on at the temporary station, which also was built inside the bathtub with no attempt at concealing the area.
I watched a few documentaries in the ensuing months, watched the ceremony on the 1-year anniversary, and put it out of my mind, or at least to a deep recess. I haven't watched the various fictionalized movies about 9/11. Dunno why. Not interested.
People were a bit more civil to one another, but soon faded back to the default of indifference at best and hostility at worst. We stopped being self-obsessed for a while, and eventually resumed. Irony died for a bit, and then revived.
I avoided Manhattan for several days before meeting up with Zelda at the dingy Harlequin Studios (now demolished) to rehearse our scene from Country Girl. Emerging from the subway to see Broadway lit up again and looking, well, normal, was greatly therapeutic. So was rehearsing.
Becki did a cabaret show at the Duplex on Christopher Street the next month, and sang "Try To Remember" from The Fantasticks. I thought it was a lovely and very appropriate paean to the relatively worry-free days that were now a memory.
September 10, 2008
September 4, 2008
Long Live Cheap Art
Getting the Rights (or, on the Hegemony of Broadway)
In the past six months, WSC lost The Romans In Britain (worldwide rights had been frozen indefinitely due to an undisclosed reason, perhaps a West End revival or a film version), American Century Theatre had to scrap Harvey reportedly due to the rights being frozen for a national tour that never happened (much to the chagrin of my friend Brian Crane, cast as Elwood) and had started rehearsals for Deathtrap when they found the rights were frozen for a potential Broadway revival, and Ganymede Arts were refused rights for their proposed production of Sweeney Todd.
Spooky Action Theatre found out during their dress rehearsals that they didn't have the rights to do The Marriage of Bette and Boo (due to the recent NYC revival), the capper on a cavalcade of problems that plagued their production (a fraction of which was my doing, to my shame). After much begging and pleading, apparently to Christopher Durang himself, they were permitted to perform although they couldn't advertise or be reviewed.
Washington is 240 miles away from New York City, which depending on the situation is close enough or far enough; close enough that there are some NYC shows with sufficient cache to merit jumping on the Chinatown bus to go see, far away enough that NYC producers needn't worry about the drain on their box office from a smaller DC production.
Where there will always be the touristy plays (Phantom, Les Mis, Lion King, Producers, Spamalot and their successors) and the 'worth a bus trip' shows, (Daniel Radcliffe's penis in Equus, Ian McKellan's penis in King Lear, etc), most major cities - Chicago, DC, Philly, LA - have theatres that rival and occasionally surpass Broadway and Off-Broadway in talent, vision, and production values. New York City is still the capital of American theatre, but the hegemony of Broadway is in its declining days. These other cities shouldn't be so hamstrung; I challenge anyone at Dramatists Play Services Inc to demonstrate how the non-Equity production of Bette & Boo at a 99-seat community college blackbox theatre in Silver Spring, MD will have any effect whatsoever on the box office tallies of the Roundabout Theatre's revival. Find me one DC-area person who cancelled their plans to travel to NYC to see Roundabout's production when they discovered a much more affordable production in their own backyard. Find. Me. One.
It's not all NYC's fault; sometimes we do it to ourselves. There are the occasional challenges when two area theatres plan to produce the same play. DC's Keegan Theatre is currently touring Ireland with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but their plans to stage it at their home base on Church St on their return had to be postponed when Round House Theatre also announced Cuckoo's Nest slated for April 09.
DC Theatre Scene - high praise! (Tim Treanor, posted 9/4/08)
Potomac Stages - not a Pick, but still a rave. (Brad Hathaway, posted 9/4/08)
Washington Post - some reservations, but still largely positive (Nelson Pressley, 9/5/08)
August 25, 2008
John's next play...
Clark St Playhouse
601 S Clark St, Arlington VA
Metro: Crystal City (Blue/Yellow)
click here for directions
August 7, 2008
More Evidence That I'm Older Than You, Probably
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here 2 tell u
There's something else
A world of never ending happiness
U can always see the sun, day or night
So when u call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
U know the one - Dr Everything'll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cuz in this life
Things are much harder than in the afterworld
In this life
You're on your own
And if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down
Go crazy - punch a higher floor
Nobody in the room had a clue what I was talking about.
Tic... tic... tic...
Here's the video, for reference.
July 31, 2008
Squishyness vs. My Id
I've tended to complain that the characters I play are very passive. Rather than making things happen, things happen to them, and they have to react. I marvelled for a while at just how consistent this was, that I kept being cast in these passive roles, when it eventually dawned on me... the characters aren't necessarily passive, *I* am, and I inject this passivity into my characters.
In my classes with Austin Pendleton, he described my approach as "bringing the mountain to Mohammad," meaning, I think, that he noticed that the characters I played in the scenes I did for him tended to have my personality traits and physical tics, even if they weren't particularly what the playwright had envisioned, yet I still managed to make it work. Usually. (Don't ask about the train wreck that was my attempt at Stanley Kowalski)
We don't disappear into our characters; our characters tend to disappear into us. People with strong, forceful personalities tend to inject that forcefulness into their characters (like Patrick Page, the best Iago I ever saw). People with ebulient, bubbly personalities tend to make their characters chipper and perky. This also is the case for generally inassertive milquetoasts like me. We tend to make our characters inassertive and, well, squishy. It gets cyclic, since casting people tend to assume that these are the only types we can play, thus we get cast accordingly. For me, my greatest thrill is to break out of my squishy typecasting and demonstrate that yeah, I have range, and I can play kings, assholes and villains too.
A few years ago I played King Philip (the young French king) in The Lion in Winter, and I grew a beard and wore a long wig which completely altered my look. Chip Noon made my decade when he told me how he remarked to himself, "Wow, that guy's pretty good. Who is he? (reads program) Oh my God, that's John???" This was one of the first roles where I got to really push myself into some new territory, transcend my own limitations, and actually act. I have an id. It's an impish little shit, and I need to let it out more. Onstage and off.
What My iPod's Album-Shuffle Feature Brings Forth Today
That said, here's everything you need to know about this album:
In the first verse of the opening song-suite "Turnham Green," when McDonald sings about his girlfriend's "soft pussy," he's referring, without a trace of innuendo, to her cat.
July 28, 2008
How I Spent My Weekend
Friday night I hung out with my favorite radio queers in the dungeon of WGAY-fm, which is far less kinky than it sounds. Dave & Patrick, America's most adorkable married (well, as far as the law allows in Maryland) couple, run a radio show from their College Park basement. Dave has a huuuuuge record collection and plays obscure or geeky stuff, Patrick pulls articles from the most recent issue of Metro Weekly to discuss, and a gaggle of us gather to wax witty and catty.
Saturday I was up early for "Peace" rehearsal at WSC, then straight off to Annapolis for a callback for "True West" at Bay Theatre. They kept me there for an hour, reading several times (usually with Lee Ordeman or Parker Dixon) mostly as Austin, once as Lee. Lucia the AD took me aside afterwards, and told me that although I wasn't right for either role, she strongly recommended that I come back in a few months to audition for Shaw's Candida. I told her I'd done the play before (in '04 with Acadia Rep in Bar Harbor ME, a month before I moved to DC), and she assumed I meant as Marchbanks. She was surprised to hear that I'd played Rev. Morell, which led to my confessing my real age. Lately I've been enjoying watching people's eyes pop when they learn I'm about a decade older than I apparently look. Good genes, I tell them. I never lie about my age. Although I might get more dates if I did...
No tears shed about not getting True West. I'd certainly love to do it, but it conflicts with "Temptation," the first play in Constellation Theatre's 2nd season, and I gave a good enough audition to hopefully merit serious consideration. Allison Stockman (their AD) and I are on the same wavelength; I like her work and she likes mine. If I don't get cast, darn, though I wouldn't mind the rest.
Then straight from Annapolis over to Capitol Hill for a barbecue at Warren and Shannon's. Haven't seen them in months. Only meant to stay for a couple hours, but as Warren's BBQ's tend to go, I left about 10pm (bundled, as usual, with copious leftovers). Amazing to see JP and his wife's nearly 3-yr old daughter walking and taking, when it seems like yesterday that I heard that they were expecting. I've been here that long already. Wow.
And straight over to another party, at Christopher Henley and Jay Hardee's (dubbed Chez Hardley) for a party of mostly WSC people. Lots of the "Red Noses" cast was there, many freshly trimmed at long last (Tom Wood looks twelve). Rolled out around 1am.
Up early for brunch at Dave and Patrick's for our somewhat regular Dr Who brunch. I bring over old or reconstructed episodes, today was a reconstruction of The Macra Terror (no surviving episodes of this story exist, but it has been partially reconstructed from still photos and audio). Sentient giant killer crabs are the secret masters of a utopic human colony. We are such geeks.
So another Fringe has come and gone. I'd yammer about what shows were my favorites, but I must confess I didn't see a single show this year. I feel guilty admitting this, since most of my friends were in one show or another, but between Red Noses performances and Peace rehearsals, it just didn't happen. I also didn't see any Fringe shows last year. My bad. Maybe next year.
July 24, 2008
On Career Minor-Leaguers, at the Plate and Onstage.
His attitude made me reflect on my life, which isn't entirely dissimilar from his (except comparatively I'm chuggin' along in Single-A ball), maintaining my illusions of making it to the big dance, or at least a dance big enough to pay my rent.
I've got some similar life-of-a-struggling actor stories of my own, and that's definitely what I should be blogging about, rather than Youtube clips and LOLcats. To that end I can only say that I've been too busy living that life to write about it, juggling the full-time day job and struggling to turn my evening hobby into a career. My life, with not much exaggeration, is a perpetual cycle of work, rehearsal, and sleep. In the bits in between: feeding the cat, an occasional load of laundry, doing a dish or two, watching Doctor Who, and a lot of Chipotle burritos.
I spent many years in my artsy New England hometown, working in a tiny theatre with a rotating cast of fellow thespians. Although, yeah, technically I guess it was, I never thought of it as community theatre. Along with the requisite handful of incompetents and social maladjusts, many of my colleagues came from reputable arts schools, Tisch (NYU), North Carolina School of the Arts, or spent years working in NYC theatre off-off-Broadway; many were just as talented as any professional 'name' actors working today, or moreso. Yet they chose to come, or return, or remain, here.
This was my peer group. I learned far more by working with and observing them than I did at my undergraduate program (That's not a knock on my particular undergrad program, just a reflection on most B.A. drama programs in general). At the end of the run, we'd get a percentage of the gross, usually under $100. And this theatre was never dark. Each production had a two or three week run, and after one show closed on a Sunday, the next show would tech through the week, preview Thursday, and open Friday. This was my life for nearly eight years. I left seven years ago, and many of those same colleagues are still living that life (though some have passed away, moved to big cities, or are burned out).
A few that I knew tangentially, who usually worked at the nearly-Equity theatre across town, did go on to bigger things; some even to Broadway. Yet most of my peers chose to stay at the level that they are at. It's a question of priorities, I guess. Christopher, the NCSA grad, confided in me one night on a lakeside ten years ago that he wanted to be a Dad more than a professional actor (now he is a Dad, married to one of my undergrad classmates, and is from all I can tell entirely content. He still acts, just less). Kristan, whom I consider the finest actor I've ever worked with, couldn't conceive giving up her house and spacious yard to go somewhere like NYC. Her husband Chris, another fine actor, keeps claiming to be giving up theatre to focus on his painting, but never quite manages to. Eddie the eccentric visionary director (and former costumier at the NY Metropolitan Opera) emerges from his sculpture studio once every blue moon to throw some amazing theatre together on a budget of less than nothing. Tim, the aging Brit ex-pat, is slowly killing himself with overwork, exacerbating his failing health, but who would dare ask him to stop?
Although I could have been relatively content to stay home, eventually I realized there was nothing keeping me there, and I wanted to challenge myself to see just what I could do outside of this self-contained microuniverse. I dipped my foot into the water and got an internship, worked in summer stock, applied and was accepted into the Actors Studio MFA Program at the New School University (though I didn't attend), and finally packed and moved to New York City in the summer of 2001.
The people I met in NYC were a mixed bunch. For every career-focused tunnel-visioned hyper-talented person like my roommate Becki (now seen on prime time TV), there were dozens of talented unemployed (usually in my acting classes; they'd typically turn Equity and drop off the map), and hundreds of unfocused wanderers. The talented unemployed were usually the ones acting circles around me in Austin Pendleton's classes at HB, paying the rent as personal assistants to Oscar-winning actors. The wanderers tended to be grown up child actors, on the rare occasion doing the sort of store-front theatre in the boroughs that my CUA classmate Molly lovingly lampooned in "Ten For Hamlet." One of them told me how much I inspired him, apparently because even though I wasn't knocking on agents' doors, I regularly read Backstage, sent out headshots, and went to auditions. If, like them, I wasn't working, at least I was making the effort. Yet somehow I could never warm to the idea that showing up was particulary worthy of adulation.
My career in NYC was going nowhere so when the opportunity to pursue my oft-delayed MFA came around I jumped ship and came to DC. A two-year grad program later, I was out making the rounds, and almost instantly I was a steadily working non-Equity actor, basically having the life I had back home, just in larger theatres, for a (slightly) bigger paycheck, and getting my name spelled right in the Washington Post rather than misspelled in the Portsmouth Herald.
I'm still comparatively in the Minor Leagues, as befitting my status as a minor-league actor. I work in theatres where rats lurk, where the AC doesn't work in summer, I've had tech rehearsals interrupted by fires, homeless guys leave us roses and beer, and rehearsed in rooms in which we have to stay alert for parts of the floor that are too rotted out to support our weight.
I don't know if I'm a Major League caliber actor. I don't have leading man looks, I'm a decent singer but a terrible dancer, I have some issues with physicality, insecurity, socialization, etc. That said, I'm an intelligent, flexible character actor, can work in a wide variety of genres, have a strong voice and sharp instincts. I'm a well-rounded utilityman, a solid journeyman, not a spectacular power hitter or speedy base stealer. So at best I'll probably be like Dirk Hayhurst, toiling my career away in Triple-A. If I go Equity, I may work, I may not. I can see myself doing low-level Equity Regional theatre around the country. And unlike Dirk, who at my age would be considered at the twilight of his career, barring physical or mental infirmity I can act until I drop dead. So I still am on an upward career trajectory, albeit a gentle slope. I've got time. Knock wood.
July 23, 2008
I have little opportunity to mourn Red Noses which closed Sunday, because Monday night we dove right into our first read-thru of Peace.
Brian Crane and I are the only carryovers from Red Noses (though Amber and Kaleigh will do props, and Jack is now coming up with the season's graphic design), and we both found it very unsettling to come in barely 24 hours later to find the theatre empty. The platforms, drapes and blacks are all gone.
However, they did leave the small prop table and costume rack behind, and it still had a few props on it or near it. Flote's death mask, Toulon's wig and beard for when she played God, Bembo's drum, the Ravens' nooses, some tennis balls, a few damaged plastic noses, etc. A tiny island of memory in a vast empty room.
I think it would've been easier if that table wasn't there. We'll have various memories of putting on Red Noses, some joyous, some bittersweet, others just plain bitter. But there is an emotional pull in seeing those remaining items that I'd prefer not to have to deal with. It's over. Let's move on.
I recall working in an office some eight years ago, and dealing with the aftermath when a co-worker died in an accident at her home, and seeing her cubicle undisturbed for weeks afterwards (apart from flowers and stuffed animals left as memorials) grew increasingly distressing. The more we hang onto the past, the harder it is to move forward.
Impermanence is the nature of our profession. We work very closely, intimately, passionately together for a finite period of time, then we go our separate ways, sometime to work together again, sometimes to never see each other again. One thing I like about participating in a strike (in college or community theatre it's expected if not required) is the ritual of disassembly. It gives a definite sense of closure, like we're giving the production an honorable funeral. As I move up the career ladder of professional theatre, I don't participate in strikes as often; consequently I do miss out on the opportunity to definitively shut the door on one project before moving onto another.
The problem for me is that impermanence frequently bleeds into my 'real' life. For most of my adult life I bounced from job to job; restaurants and customer service for a while, then series of temp jobs with various companies. Working at the same place for more than a year is a rarity. In New York I lived in four different apartments in less than three years. Only one relationship in my life lasted longer than a year. Am I so accustomed to the impermanence of the theatrical life that I instinctively avoid commitments offstage?
Lately that's changed; I've got a full-time job (salaried, with great benefits), a new car, I've lived in the same place for nearly two years. This is the closest I've come to putting down actual roots. As for relationships, well, I'm working on that...
I was at some kind of dormitory/condominium complex, watching from my window some sort of festival or gathering on the grounds, several stories below. I recognized, sitting in a large section of aluminum bleachers, a young man that I recognized as a prominent figure in the Russian Mafia. He was short, not fat but could be described as well-fed. He wore a well-tailored dark suit, sunglasses, and long oily hair pulled back in a ponytail. Surrounding him was a rather imperious entourage of bodyguards. I stared at him through the window - I remembered him from an earlier encounter where I'd apparently run afoul of him (either in a previous dream or a bit of deja vu). Suddenly he looked up and pointed in my direction, and several of his entourage immediately broke off and ran into the building, presumably after me. I bolted down the back stairs, certain I'd be killed if caught. I exited the building, and ran through the crowd around back of the bleachers. The Russian Mob Boss also was nearby, but I managed to walk past him unnoticed. Perhaps it wasn't me he was after? Who knows.
Vague fuzzy dream where my friends Sean, Suzanne and I are walking through an old train station that had some section converted into some avant garde art museum.
Another peril sequence of fleeing someone trying to kill me, although I seem to have landed in a cliché action movie. Again the definite sense that my pursuer was a recurring character (though I don't recall dreaming him before). I am halfway up the stairs when he cuts me off at the top. He has a bomb in a suitcase. A shot rings out and he pitches over. Behind me at the foot of the stairs is his girlfriend, apparently having seen the error of her ways. I grab the suitcase and run up the stairs to a cluttered living room where a friend is playing a computer game or surfing the web on a laptop. I open the suitcase and find the device. We have moments to spare, but he's too involved in whatever he's doing to particularly care. I run out, leaving him to his fate.
July 21, 2008
Fun With Anagrams = Human Was Farting
This one is particularly clever, but I didn't come up with it.
To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Scramble the letters around and it becomes:
In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.
My favorite anagrams for John Arthur Geoffrion:
Father Foghorn Junior
Fathering For Our John
Join A Further Foghorn
John North Our Giraffe
Join Gaffer Hurt Honor
Hot John Fearing Furor
Roof Fear Hurting John
Heating Off Horn Juror
Hanger Jiff Honor Tour
Fourth Earring Of John
Orange Jiff North Hour
Ranger Hoof Fruit John
Hernia Off Thong Juror
Thane Foghorn If Juror
A Fourth Reign For John
Gonorrhea Jiff Hot Run
Urethra Jiff Goon Horn
Innate Horror Huff Jog
Jean Frothing For Hour
A Fuhrer Forgot Oh Jinn
A Goner Jiff Honor Hurt
Hog Off A Thinner Juror
Hornier Fag Fur To John
Honor Giraffe Horn Jut
Thane Griffon Ho Juror
John Foreign Fart Hour
A Foreign For John Hurt
July 20, 2008
Piercing Analysis From Random Facebook Apps, Volume 4
You attract unstable people!
Congrats, you are an 'insane' magnet, and you probably have no idea why. Something about your mix of styles, how you walk not just 'one' lifestyle, but appear to have a foot in them all. To the insane, you appear to be a beacon of hope and they will flock to you, like it or not. But, they ARE insane. Lucky for you, the insane tend to be the best sexual lovers, just the rest of the package deal may not be for you.
You are a decent person, who generally strives to do the right thing. But you have a little evil streak that sometimes shows its face. Usually, this tiny villain only expresses itself in small or petty misdemeanors and mischievous acts, and because of this you aren’t a huge threat to the wellbeing and goodness of humanity. But in a way, your impishness is even more dangerous because it can be charming, entertaining, and even amusing. So we have to keep a careful eye on you to make sure that little devil stays under control.
You're so not crazy.
But that's a bad thing. You're boring. Dull. Some more boring. Soome more dull. Get some crazy medicine or some Cocoa Puffs to get coocoo for!!! YOU ARE SO NOT CRAZY, IT'S NOT NORMAL!!!!
July 18, 2008
July 13, 2008
Shakespeare en Français, a Geekery report.
Consider that unless you're fluent in Russian, you've never really read Chekhov; only someone else's translation/interpretation. Unless you're fluent in Ancient Greek, you've never read Oedipus Rex or Electra.
I have never experienced the actual words written by the playwrights that gave birth to modern theatre; Ibsen, Chekhov, or Strindberg; nor for that matter Brecht, Havel, Pirandello, Fo, etc. I have some familiarity with French, but still I've never really read or seen Molière, Corneille, or Racine. So apart from the universality of their themes, or recognizing the ancient comedy roots in Moliere, I'm not getting the pure unfiltered mind of a playwright who works in another language. So the intricacies of how they use language is lost on me.
It works the other way as well. We blather about Shakespeare's use of language, how the text is the key to unlocking the characters' emotional life, how the rhythm and alliterative devices in the verse are rich with detail, color, and life. Translate it into another language, and that disappears. You get a fuzzy outline instead of a sharp picture.
Some months ago I picked up a copy of Jean Anouilh's translations of three Shakespeare comedies, As You Like It (Comme Il Vous Plaira), A Winter's Tale (Le Conte d'Hiver), and Twelfth Night (La Nuit Des Rois), because I was so curious to see what Shakespeare sounds like filtered through another tongue, and through the perspective of another playwright.
Here's Jacques' famous speech from As You Like It (II.7)
Le monde entier est un plateau de théâtre et tous les hommes et toutes les femmes ne sont que les personnages de la pièce. Ils font leurs entrées, leurs sorties et chaque homme y joue plusieurs rôles, car la pièce a sept actes qui sont les sept âges de la vie. D'abord le bébé pleurant et bavant dans les bras de sa nourrice; ensuite l'écolier pleurant avec sa figure bien lavée du matin, se traînant à contrecœur comme un escargot sur le chemin de l'école; puis c'est l'amoureux qui soupire comme une fournaise en composant une mauvaise ballade en l'honneur des sourcils de sa belle; puis le soldat plein de jurons étranges, moustachu comme un léopard, jaloux de son honneur, prompt et hardi à la querelle, qui va poursuivant la bulle de savon de la gloire jusqu'en la gueule des canons; et enfin, c'est le juge qui s'avance dans son beau ventre bien rond, bourré de bon chapon, l'œil sévère, la barbe fleurie, débordant de vérités premières et des dernières nouvelles du jour. Le sixième âge vient alors et le transforme en une sorte de pantin maigre, en pantoufles, lunette sur le nez, vastes bajoues, aumônière au côté, perdu dans les hauts-de-chausse du temps de sa jeunesse, bien conservés mais trop larges, hélas! maintenant pour ses jarrets fondus. Sa grosse voix mâle est redevenue grêle comme celle de l'enfant rend un son de fausset et chevrote. Enfin la dernière scène, celle qui termine cette fertile en événements étranges, c'est la second enfance, l'oubli pur et simple: sans yeux, sans dents, sans goût, sans rien.
The original, for comparison:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Translating the French back to English, just for fun, via Babel Fish:
The whole world is a stage and all the men and all the women are only the characters of the play. They make their entries, their exits and each man plays several parts there, because the play has seven acts which are the seven ages of the life. D'access the baby crying and dribbling in the arms of its nurse; then the schoolboy crying with his well washed morning figure, trailing himself unwillingly like a snail on the way to school; then he is the lover which sighs like a furnace by composing a bad ballad in honor of the eyebrows of his beloved; then the soldier full with swearwords strange, with a moustache like a leopard, jealous of his honor, prompt and bold with the quarrel, which is continuing the soap bubble of glory until in the mouth of the guns; and finally, he is the judge who advances in his beautiful quite round belly, stuffed of good capon, the severe eye, the flowered beard, overflowing of truths first and the breaking news of the day. The sixth age comes then and transforms him into a kind of puppet thin, in slippers, glasses on the nose, vast bajoues, aumônière at the side, lost in top-of-fits time of his youth, preserved well but too broad, alas! maintaining for his molten bulges. His large male voice is become again spindly like that of a child returns a sound of falsetto and chevrote. Finally the last scene, that which finishes this fertile in strange events, he is it the second childhood, pure and simple lapse of memory: without eyes, teeth, taste, anything.
LOLcat du jour, Shakespeare Geek edition
This picture, by the way, is about as entertaining as Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Julius Caesar. Very solid JC and Calpurnia, however they're gone after intermission. And my old friend Pete was Cinna the Poet. But Brutus was boring, Cassius was sorely miscast (though he did fine considering), and Antony. Oh lordy. The understudy, who had to finish the run after Andrew Long tore his Achilles. You want to root for the guy, because this is what all understudies dream of; the chance to go on. But he basically marked it through. I could've slept through "Friends, Romans, Countrymen". He was better in "Antony & Cleopatra" the following week (STC is doing the two plays in repertory), but still. Come on, dude. Step up.
July 10, 2008
Doctor Who Geekery Report: Season Three (2007)
The third season of the new series is a mixed bag, with some absolute low-lights balanced by some top-notch Doctor Who, some of the most emotional moments in the program's history, and one episode that might just be one of the most clever time-travel stories of the entire genre, let alone in the pantheon of Who-dom.
This series is dominated by a character who isn't even there, as the Doctor attempts to move on without Rose, and Martha can do nothing except pine for a man clearly in love with someone else. I actually like Martha a lot. She's intelligent, resourceful, level-headed, witty, and gorgeous, but gets a bum rap by fans who pine for Rose as much as the Doctor does.
Let us flit through the episodes...
The Runaway Bride - A jolly romp that provided little other than an preview of Catherine Tate's feisty Donna Noble and a fun Christmas story for viewers. If you think too hard it all falls to bits, so don't. B+
Smith & Jones - Very clever, even if the story is stricly a means to introduce the Doctor to his new companion. Martha's ability to not panic and make sense of the situation around her clearly impresses the Doctor. Highlights are many, but I love the sweet little old lady with a very sinister straw, plus the little squeak made as the Judoon mark the hands of their subjects with an X. B+
Shakespeare Code - Yeah, as a certifiable Shakespeare nerd, the nighttime performances considerably irk me, but that's balanced out by using a play title, Love's Labours Wonne, that has a sole contemporary reference to suggest that it ever existed, though I like to think that it had to have been written, the ending to Love's Labours Lost being so unresolved. Its presence in this episode makes me smile. But the rest of the episode is fairly unremarkable. B-
Gridlock - The frikkin Macra? Good lord, of all the Doctor's former adversaries, I can't imagine who was clamoring for their return, especially given that their only other appearance was in a missing story over 4 decades ago. The concept of a traffic jam lasting for generations is a considerable stretch on my suspension of disbelief, but you can't help but surrender to it. And I can't tell whether it's an acting choice or a character choice, but the Doctor's utter panic and desperation at Martha's kidnapping seems a bit... much. True, Martha's the Doctor's guest, not having 'earned' full companion status yet, and he could be overcompensating for his fear of being alone after losing Rose, but still. The story only exists for the Face of Boe to deliver his revelation to the Doctor that would bear fruit at the end of the season: "You Are Not Alone." C+
Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks - Oh lordy. Nice subtle continuity with 1965's The Chase which also, if briefly, connected the Daleks and the Empire State Building, and the American dialects are a bit better this time around, but damn. Dumb dumb dumb. Worst episodes of the New Series. D
The Lazarus Experiment - Apart from all the plot points about the mysterious Mr Saxon, and the use of Martha's mom as a wedge, Meh. C
42 - Apparently this didn't go over well with most fans, but I actually like this. Gritty, dark, reminiscent of the "Aliens" movies. The 'real time' scenario works quite well. Still, the Doctor's desperation when Martha gets ejected is a bit too much; still can't decide if it's the Doctor's over-compensation or Tennant displaying his raaaaange. The yelling & screaming as he fights the alien entity's attempt to take over makes me suspect the latter. Still, fast-paced and chilling. B+
Human Nature/Family of Blood - A bold concept never addressed in the classic series: the Doctor wipes his memory, changes his physiognomy, and lives as a human. Martha, posing as a maid, can only watch as he falls in love with the school nurse, and her race actually becomes an issue. And as the aliens that caused him to transform in the first place start to close in, Martha's desperation to get the Doctor back to normal builds nicely. Great cliffhanger as a humble schoolteacher who has no concept of his actual identity is confronted by aliens threatening his new girlfriend. Nice subtle fanwank by refering to his parents Sydney (Newman, the show's creator) and Verity (Lambert, the show's first producer). The montage of the Doctor's happy married fantasy life reminds me of Last Temptation of Christ. His agony over giving up the life he had is Tennant's best acting in his tenure in the role, and is the most heart-rending moment that we've ever seen the Doctor go through since the end of "The Green Death." And of course, the means by which he conceals his identity comes up again a few episodes later... A
Blink - If the previous episode was more soap opera than sci-fi, then Blink is a pendulum swing back, and damn if it doesn't present the most clever sci-fi concept in the show's history, if not the genre. I adore Sally Sparrow, and she'd've made a brilliant companion. I could go on yammering, but I'll stop and merely say that I love this episode. Love it love it love it. A+
Utopia - This story exists as prologue to the series climax, and is merely a means to introduce Captain Jack and re-introduce You Know Who. Credibility gets stretched by the connection between Professor Yana and the Face of Boe's message (You Are Not Alone), but still, what a chill we get as we figure out the revelation at the same time as Yana does. B
The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords - Something that goes unremarked upon is that basically everything that happens in this story is the Doctor's fault. After "The Christmas Invasion," the Doctor's whispered question in a single person's ear leads, like the sneeze of a butterfly, to the downfall of Harriet Jones and the political instability that would ultimately lead to Harold Saxon's rise to power.
Unfortunately, Russell T Davies tends to fall into the trap of writing season-ending stories in which he writes himself into such a corner that he can only resolve it by a deus-ex-machina device that stretches credibility to, and occasionally beyond, the breaking point. He did it in Season One with the Bad Wolf Rose-Is-God thing, he narrowly evaded it in Season Two, but really goes overboard in Season Three (from what I gather, he does it again in Season Four). The Doctor is reduced to Tinkerbell, resurrected by Martha as Peter Pan. And that's a shame, because John Simm as the Master is so damn fun, and Martha's family pays the price for their mistrust. A season that takes a while to get going but then recovers with two all-time knockout stories back to back, stumbles at the finish line. C-
Doctor Who Geekery Report: Sea Devils & Warriors of the Deep
The Sea Devils (starring Jon Pertwee, 26 Feb - 01 Apr 1972)
A virtual re-write of "Doctor Who and the Silurians", introducing another dormant reptilian race, this time an amphibian one, that seeks to reclaim the Earth. Additions: The Master, the ocean. Subtractions: Moral dilemmas.
There's nothing particularly wrong with The Sea Devils. The scenes between the Doctor and the Master are witty and biting, there's that iconic cliffhanger image of the Sea Devil force (well, when I say force, I mean six guys in rubber suits) rising out of the sea, the Master playing the part of prisoner when he's actually running the prison, him watching kiddie TV (which would be echoed 35 years later in The Sound of Drums). The acting is strong, the effects are decent, even the jarring electronic music doesn't particulary bother me.
So what's missing? Why aren't I as gripped (or even engaged) by this serial as I am by most Pertwee stories? Why does my interest inevitably begin to flag about two-thirds of the way through? Where's the joy?
Maybe it's the Master and the flagging, threadbare retread of his usual storyline: he attempts to rule the earth by introducing an alien menace (Autons, Mind of Evil, Axons, Azal, and later Kronos & the Daleks), but loses control of the situation and relies on the Doctor to save his sorry ass.
More likely it's because the central plot thread that made "Silurians" so engaging, the moral dilemma of the Doctor trying to make peace between two mutually xenophobic parties with an equal claim to the same planet, is given only a cursory nod while the production team place more emphasis on macho action sequences (oooh, swordfights! hovercrafts! blowing shit up! sailors running around! diving bells! submarines! speedboat chases!)
Warriors of the Deep (starring Peter Davison, 05 Jan - 13 Jan 1984)
God-bloody-awful. And the bonus features on the making of this serial don't even pretend that it's otherwise.
There's a decent premise at its heart; the Silurians wake up their Sea Devil cousins, infiltrate an underwater base, and attempt to launch a missle strike that would plunge the two unnamed hair-trigger superpowers into mutually assured destruction. What went wrong? Well, mostly everything. The production staff pretty much sleep-walked their way through this, with such a rush to throw it in front of the camera ready or not that they couldn't stop to second-guess any of their ideas, most of which were half-assed at best. And nobody involved with this serial appear to have seen either of the stories that inspired this one. So here's a laundry list:
The terms "Silurians" and "Sea Devils" were concocted by humans, not by the creatures themselves, yet in this story they refer to themselves as such.
The re-conceived Silurians' third eye, originally used as a weapon or a psycho-kinetic tool, only serves to blink to indicate which of the three is speaking. This wasn't a problem in their original story, and there one voice actor played every part! The re-conceived Sea Devils look awful, and the actors can't disguise the top-heavy nature of their headpieces which frequently lean to one side or another.
How do they attack the Sea base? By walking. Very. Very. Slowly. Down. The. Corridors.
The pet monster, the Myrka, was unfinished (the paint was still wet, as evidenced by the green paint on some actors' costumes when they get near it).
The rubber airlock doors, the over-bright lighting, the horrible costumes and heavy eyeliner.
Ingrid Pitt's ludicrously fatal attempt to stop the Myrka with a karate-kick.
Since the writers couldn't decide on (or wouldn't risk identifying) the two counter-opposed power blocs, the enemy agent Neilson actually announces he's from "The power bloc opposed to this one."
The foreshadowing, in pure "Show the gun in Act One so it can be used in Act Three" style, of the hexachromite gas, which takes most of the piss out of Davison's otherwise moving closing line. ("There should've been another way.")
Of course, I bought it. But then, the BBC Video/2Entertain team tend to release stories with little regard to demand; they're just as likely to release classic stories as clunkers. This one will do little save collect dust on my shelf.
On order for August: The Time Meddler (solid Hartnell), Black Orchid (solid Davison), The Five Doctors special edition (25th anniversary of the 20th anniversary story. Man, I'm old.)
On order for September: The Invasion of Time (flawed but enjoyable), The Invisible Enemy (flawed but not-so-enjoyable), K9 and Company (early 80's attempt at a spinoff, thankfully didn't happen)
Due for October release: The Brain of Morbius (one of the all-time best!), Trial of a Timelord (the clunker to accompany the classic)
July 9, 2008
Piercing Analysis From Random Facebook Apps, vol. 3
You are Piglet, the adventurous but weary little pig. You are quick to agree to do new and exciting things but then become apprehensive. Nevertheless you never back out.
You are Artemis, the goddess of hunt. You are independent and know what you want from life. You respect nature and sometimes may test your skill at target shooting.
July 8, 2008
Red Noses Reviews, or Musings on Drama Critics
Critical opinion is decidedly divided over our production of Red Noses (runs thru July 20th). On the whole, the larger the circulation, the more vitriol.
The Good: Potomac Stages Sun Gazette
The Moderate: Metro Weekly DCist
The Fugly: Washington Post City Paper DC Theatre Scene
I've been a critic. And I can defend the notion of dramatic criticism. There does need to be an evaluative voice to override the shrill shreik of the publicist. Word of mouth can only go so far; someone has to say that Theatre A, with millions of dollars in the bank, Broadway-quality production values, major actors in the lead roles, and a huge publicity machine occasionally does substandard, patronizing, passion-free productions, while Theatre B, with a non-Equity cast, and pennies to spend can occasionally do work that is exciting, daring, and moving. (and sometimes not)
But the professional drama critic works in a vacuum. They're not theatre people, although they may have acted in high school or undergrad. They can't be familiar with the hundreds of actors in this town, lest they find themselves with a conflict of interest. The nature of their profession leaves them on an island.
They have scant insight into the creative process, thus they assume that everything they see onstage is exactly what the producers intended to put there, that it's always a full conceptualization of the director's vision, and have no concept of the compromises that are a regular part of the process, particularly for groups that skew toward Theatre B's end of the spectrum.
I've encountered one critic who wrote a negative review in which he singled out a painting that was a major plot point for being "very obviously blank." What the critic failed to realize was that the performance he attended was a preview. The props mistress simply hadn't painted it yet. By opening, it was complete. Yet he took the show to task for its sloppy production values, mostly based upon his failure to realize that not every set, prop, lighting cue, sound effect, etc., is 100% complete during previews.
Specifically in regards to Red Noses:
Most of the major critics came to the same performance. Most were scheduled to come to the opening, but didn't, and came the next night. Our opening was packed, they laughed riotously, loved it, etc. And virtually no press. The next show: less than 20 people, including the critics. Not our best show, low-energy cast and barely a chuckle (some castmembers claim that the principal chuckler was actually one of the critics, the same one who would go on to complain that the play wasn't funny.) Every performance is different, the audiences all have a different energy, actors may be collectively energetic or lethargic, someone might screw up their lines, a set piece might fall over, a lighting instrument might fail, the sound computer might go haywire, etc. Thus is the nature of live theatre. Restaurant critics may dine 2-3 times before writing their reviews, but drama critics come once. And if it happens to be on a bad night, sucks to be us.
Many critics complained of the length of the play. It runs about 2 hrs 35 minutes, or about half the length of your average Eugene O'Neill play. A critic would have no way of knowing (unless they'd read the play) that we cut approximately an hour's worth of material out of it. We cut an entire scene, about three quarters of another, and made dozens of internal cuts.
Some critics (especially the ones who write for major papers) complained about the heat. We have one functional AC unit in the building. It makes a difference, but critics accustomed to the cushy & cooler conditions at Shakespeare Theatre still will grumble. WSC doesn't have $10k or so to upgrade their HVAC, and even if they did, they're moving out next year anyway, so there's no point. And of course the critics complain about the heat, having to suffer the ignominy of sitting in a comfy chair with a pen in their hand, not even considering the discomfort of the actors who have to spend that time running around in heavy costumes (one actor nearly passed out from heat exhaustion one particularly hot night).
The irony is that from the outset, we were under a strict directive from the artistic director (who is also in the play) to cut it down to 2 1/2 hrs, with the tolerance of the critics for the heat in the building in mind. So we were thinking of you. We actually had to make artistic choices based on the quality of our HVAC. Wrap your minds around that concept.
(Of course, one could raise the legitimate point that maybe WSC shouldn't use Clark St Playhouse during the summer. Certainly a valid point, albeit a moot one since this is their last summer there.)
One critic acknowledged the unusual situation under which our play was produced (Red Noses was a last-minute replacement for another play, The Romans in Britain; see earlier posts on the subject). Yet that critic went on to criticize our fairly low-tech set & lights, which to me is like pointing out that someone is a midget, but then blaming them for being too short. They failed to conceptualize the challenges inherent in switching out one play for another two months before opening. In our case, we lost about a third of the "Romans" cast to other projects, tried to find the best fits in "Red Noses" for those who remained, and then had to find capable actors for the open roles who weren't already committed to Cap Fringe, Source Fest, Forum's Marat/Sade, or any other show (success rate: B+). We lost most of our design team, leaving one person to create some four dozen costumes (success rate: A-). My co-director and I did a rough design of the set, and tried to find someone who was available to build it (success rate: D+), and roped together a sound designer (success rate: A-), props master (success rate: D), and a lighting plot based solely on the lights we had (no time/$$ to borrow or rent more, success rate: B+). Our early production meetings were spent haggling over what we could afford to do, how many actors we could afford to hire, etc. and our tech week was spent deciding what as-yet-unbuilt set pieces we could cut.
Thus is the critic's dilemma. They sometimes have an inkling of the process and its challenges, but they don't understand the full significance. Ultimately they're just professional audience members, with better writing skills. Usually.
The opinions that I do value are those of my fellow actors; especially the really perceptive, experienced, learned ones. Thanks to C.M. who said that no play in years had moved her to tears like ours. Thanks to L.Q. and L.S. who said this was one of the best plays they'd seen in DC. Their praise (or not, sometimes) is tempered with perspective. They know what we go through, because they do too. So you can guess whose opinions I listen to, whose criticisms I take to heart, and whose praise I value above all others.