Friday, May 28, 2010

New OC Theatre Reviews group launched

Just like the post-performance conversations we all have with our friends, some folks in Fullerton have launched OC Theatre Reviews and are podcasting such discussions. The first two are of Monkey Wrench Collective's pool (no water) and STAGEStheatre's Steel Dragnolias, and are archived here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is there "objectivity"?

When I produced the Michael Frayn play Copenhagen at Laguna Playhouse in 2002 (and then on a national tour), some audiences were mystified by it. I saw it really as a contemporary version of Rashomon, the classic play in which an event is related differently by the three people who witnessed it. Of course, Copenhagen throws in a lot of physics, too, for pseudo-intellectuals like myself who like to say they understood it while others scratch their heads. (:-)

According to the Slate review of a new book, Quantum:

Much of the debate between Einstein and Bohr revolved around Einstein's
intuitive rejection of the implication of the Copenhagen interpretation -- which
is that objective reality, independent of any observer, doesn't really exist.
Bohr, by contrast (and sounding a lot like Wittgenstein), insisted that physics
isn't concerned with what is but solely with what we can say about it.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Are you man enough for Rachmaninov?

(My apologies to the creators of The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, which I produced in its West Coast Premiere at Laguna Playhouse several years ago, from whence the blog title lyric.)

For many people, Rachmaninov (or Rachmaninoff, if you prefer!) = Heavy Russian Music.

Sunday evening's Pacific Chorale introduced OC audiences to the Rachmaninov (they prefer the "v" as in...) "Vespers", an hour-long work more reverential and sonorous than flamboyantly Slavic.

Program notes suggested that the composer created this a cappella work in a way that transforms a chorus into its own accompanying orchestra, and even my tin ear could detect a fluidity of sound that, at times, sounded like strings or blended winds.

All in all, it was a lovely piece, and a nice conclusion to the Chorale season.

"pool (no water)" - Monkey Wrench Collective

Wayne Booth's landmark 1961 treatise on literary criticism, Rhetoric of Fiction, was a reaction to critcal trends that erased the authorial voice as a defining (or, at least, recognizable) presence in fiction. I have always tended to agree with his conclusions. No matter how much an author tries to divorce himself from the work he is crafting, there will always be telltale signs of his own DNA.

Sometimes, the deeply-rooted angst of the writer is obvious from the public individual we see or read about. But even reclusive authors like the late J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon tell us much about themselves through their fiction without our having to read the details of their private lives splashed onto tabloid covers.

[Booth was also a moralist who happened to believe that authors should be accountable for the moral stands they take and that amorality was an unpardonable sin (James Joyce's Ulysses was not exactly one of his favorite books, as I recall)--I've always had a more difficult time agreeing with him about that.]

I mention these points because the inaugural production of Monkey Wrench Collective in its own new space on North Harbor Blvd. in downtown Fullerton prompts a discussion of them.

British bete noir dramatist Mark Ravenhill has gained attention by pushing people's buttons, while at the same time attracting critical favor at the artful way he does it. pool (no water), first produced in London in 2006, is the latest of his works to be produced and directed by Dave Barton, Monkey Wrench's founder and a co-founder of the now-defunct Rude Guerrilla Theater Company. Dave's had a fascination with Ravenhill's drama and has become regarded as an expert on the subject.

pool (no water) concerns a circle of friends, bohemian artists all, who find time passing them by. The growing success of one of their number, whom they adore, reveals an underside to their feelings that thrills them but also repels them: jealousy & hate. She invites them to her home where she now has a pool and implores them all to skinny-dip as they did when they were younger. Their reluctance (their bodies are saggier now) gives way to her pleas and they gleefully strip down, surround her and toss her into the pool.

To disclose more of the plot could be a bit of a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the narcissistic and self-destructive behavior of this group of friends, as described by Ravenhill, inevitably makes one wonder if this is a sort of coming-of-age story by its author--reflecting on, perhaps, his past bohemian ways and his current success.

The successful artist, mostly known to us from her friends' comments, does not especially seem to be rubbing her good fortune in their faces to warrant their ire; but when she eventually lashes back in a brief display of anger towards their behavior, I suppose it's natural to wonder for a moment if there wasn't just a little something about the person she's become that justified it. If so, perhaps we're capturing a glimpse of conscience (and self-consciousness) on Ravenhill's part.

Then again...the structuralist critics could be right, and the whole thing has nothing to do with Ravenhill "the man".

As for Monkey Wrench's production...their tiny, brick-walled storefront on the main street is a lovely space for this kind of work. Dave Barton and two other credited directors Melita Ann Sagar and Lee Samuel Tanng have taken Ravenhill's 70-minute musings and woven into them a kinetic, lively and engaging production, carefully choreographed and infused with music. The cast is a well-oiled ensemble that never misses a beat. It's playing to full houses on the weekends through June 6, and is a welcome addition to Fullerton's bustling scene of small, hip theatre companies.

Fullerton Museum in a Purple Haze

I had about 45 minutes to kill before seeing Monkey Wrench Collective's production of "pool (no water)", up in Fullerton, so I walked around the block and discovered the Fullerton Museum Center, which I had not yet visited in my 23 years living in the OC. And I'm glad I did.

I had heard about their permanent exhibit about Leo Fender, creator of the legendary Fender electric guitar, who was born in Anaheim and went to high school in Fullerton.

Programmatically, it made total sense, then, that they are presenting an exhibition of psychedelic posters from 1960s San Francisco (and a few from London). Most are two-color showcards that reflect the initial influence of Art Nouveau and the woodcuts of Aubrey Beardsley (books of his work were very popular in the 60s and 70s). But it's interesting to observe their evolution as they embrace a typography that is more contemporary and, alternatively, submerge the type into the design to the extent that it is almost unreadable, concealed within the fluidity of the illustrations. I have to think that it was less important to know which band was playing (Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Who, Big Brother & the Holding Company, etc.), dates, times and ticket prices, than to see a poster like that and just know that it stood for the next lineup at Fillmore.

You only had to see the contrast between them and the one poster on display from Woodstock--in which the marketers ruled the design so that everything was readable in an instant--to realize that, for presenter Bill Graham, advertising was more about the mystique he created--and that brand was recognizable instantly to the market that mattered to him.

The exhibit is punctuated by a few flat screen TVs with looped videos of Jimi Hendrix playing his (Fender?) with his teeth and the inimitable voice of Grace Slick piercing through the Jefferson Airplane instrumentals.

In further homage to the period, black light paintings by a contemporary artist, Adam Slater, are also being exhibited.

It all reminded me of the song Incredible String Band (also featured on some posters in the exhibit) called "Way Back in the 1960s" which came out in 1967 and wryly satirized all those who were taking themselves just a bit too seriously.

PS--tie-dyed t-shirts are on sale for $44 in the museum gift shop!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Inventive Program from de Angelis Vocal Ensemble

The plucky de Angelis Vocal Ensemble, just a few years old now, concluded its current season with a concert in the Mission San Juan Capistrano Basilica that featured songs based on Shakespeare by 20th century composers.

The hour-long program commenced with slightly challenging music (by Swiss composer Frank Martin, 1890-1974) and then moved on to more lyrical, melodic pieces (by Finnish composer Jaakko Mantyjarvi and American Matthew Harris).

Artistic Director Matthew Gray has assembled imaginative groupings of traditional and contemporary vocal music before, but focusing on the theme "Shakespeare: The Eternal Bard" enabled him to share a large number of brief songs inspired by the writer's poetry.

At the concert, attended by about 150 enthusiasts, de Angelis's new season was announced--expanded to five concerts--beginning in October.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

OC's Gay Theatre Tackles Renaissance Tragedy

Theatre Out, which moved last year to the Empire Theatre in the Santa Ana Artists Village from Fullerton, has been producing an eclectic 8-play season there. Though musicals, camp and drag have found their way onto the lineup, Theatre Out has also committed itself to some ambitious dramatic work--like the Christopher Marlowe play it just opened last night, Edward II.
Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and some scholars consider him to be superior to the Bard as a dramatist and poet. Many believe that he was gay, based in part upon his treatment of the subject in his works, such as Edward II. (Shakespeare, too, has had such speculation about his sexuality based upon his Sonnets--but historians often characterize Elizabethan-era notions of love between men as distinct from our own contemporary concept of homosexuality.)

Edward II was one of England's least successful monarchs, ruling in the early 14th century. His favor for one of his knights, named Gaveston, contributed to rumors of his homosexuality, though he also married and fathered children.

In Darcy Hogan's verion of the Marlowe play (which she adapted & directed at Theatre Out), the King is so love-struck by Gaveston that me makes unwise decisions that anger the court, the Church and his pricipal rival, Mortimer. Hogan has shortened Edward II, but otherwise allows it to breathe as a period piece rather than contemporize it, and she has cast it mostly with actors capable of handling the Elizabethan verse in which it's written, and it dwells somewhere between the presentational demands of Renaissance theatre and a more naturalistic style which most contemporary actors (and audiences) consider to be a comfort zone.

Her cut of the play makes for a long first act (one hour and twenty minutes) and a short second act (30 minutes), and there was at least one earlier moment that seemed a more fitting point to break.

In this production, it appears that Theatre Out has attracted some committed and talented artists, and the whole experience--from ticketing online to lobby decor to welcoming staff and cleanliness of the facility--was professional and caring.

Like Edward II, Christopher Marlowe met an untimely, violent death speculated to be related to political intrigue (he was rumored to be a spy) or to a jilted lover. Nobody knows for sure, but there are some critics who believe that had his life not been cut short, Marlowe would have surpassed Shakespeare as the greatest of writers in the English language. Some have argued that Marlowe collaborated with Shakespeare on one or more plays while others believe that each of the writers borrowed heavily from each other.

Edward II really doesn't quite rank with Shakespeare's major tragedies, but it is certainly a compelling enough piece of theatre to devote an evening to. And since it's so rarely performed, Theatre Out is providing a valuable opportunity to experience it. It runs through June 5.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iconic photos at OCMA

Yes, yes, my new headshot represents my 15 minutes of fame. It was taken at the OC Museum of Art exhibition opening last Saturday. I rather like it, even if I cringed a bit at the thought of having my picture taken there--thematically it fits with their exhibition, but it also is sort of theme park-ish (and as a matter of fact, the prior Sunday, my photo was taken similarly as I entered th Pacific Symphony Gala at the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland).

All that aside, I cannot recommend highly enough the photography on display in OCMA's show. You may be lured by the names Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol in the title of the exhibition, but they represent just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens and dozens of photos by some of the world's best-known art photographers--some familiar works and others I enjoyed discovering for the first time.

As always, it's hard to really absorb it all at an opening, with socializing weighing heavily upon the agenda. So, I've made up my mind to return for a closer look.
Photo of James Earl Jones by Lawrence Schiller.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy 50th Anniversary: "The Fantasticks"

Try to remember the first time you saw The Fantasticks...I'll bet you were callow and life was mellow!
Today is the 50th anniversary of its original off-Broadway opening, and after zillions of performances and thousands of productions, this little show retains the heavyweight title of longest running musical anywhere and is still running in NYC.

It's a testament to Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones, its creators, that they chose not to work against the simplicity of the source material on which they based their show. These talented men went on to create a number of other memorable musicals, like the hits I Do, I Do, 110 in the Shade, and lesser-known but still revered works like Celebration.

Back in 2000, I had the pleasure of hosting these two gentlemen (and, believe me, they are gentlemen!) for a summer at the Laguna Playhouse in their retrospective revue The Show Goes On. What a delight getting to know them.

So, here's a toast to Harvey & Tom, and if you remember, "then follow!"