Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Sondheim book reviewed by none other than Paul Simon!

Today's NY Times Book Review section cover is singer/songwriter Paul Simon's review of Stephen Sondheim's new book, Finishing the Hat, about the lyricist side of his career, and Simon's eloquent & insightful review is a terrific read.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wait, what?

Back east in June, picked up this phrase from my 17 year old nephew: "Wait, what?" It wasn't something I'd ever heard out hear on the West Coast.
Well, you know it's becoming ubiquitous when it appears in The New York Times (in a tidbit item today about the TV show "Mad Men").

Googling it came up with this interesting "Language Log" blogpost.

I'm hoping for a fuller etymological analysis in the "On Language" column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine soon!

Monday, October 25, 2010

You know it's an election year because OCMA is staging its Biennial...

One of the most highly anticipated events of Orange County's contemporary art scene is the OC Museum of Art's California Biennial, which assembles the works of dozens of new, undiscovered or fugitive artists throughout the state--tracked down mercilessly by OCMA's curator-du-jour and thrown willy-nilly against the stark white walls (and floors and ceilings and grounds) of the museum to see if they will stick.

At Saturday night's opening, I viewed only a fraction of the exhibition because this event is a mob scene of the hip and the restless, mashed into bar queues, ambushing the hors d'oeuvres trays as they emerge from the kitchen, and sidewinding their way through the tubes of party-loving art addicts as techno music blasts from one of the galleries.

I was distracted, too, because I was there in an "official" capacity: escorting my friend and colleague Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, Chair of the California Arts Council. Though she grew up in the OC, she lives up in Santa Monica these days, so I couldn't very well throw her into the mosh pit of this opening without a tour guide.

I look forward to returning when things have quieted down and I can absorb (or be happily repelled by) the works I saw only in a blur as I breezed past them. Luckily, the show is up until April!


"Shopping and..." [Content Warning!]

For his first full-length play, written in 1996, UK dramatist Marc Ravenhill hits the mark most of the time as he peers into the pathetic lives of penniless, aimless and addicted young people who have concluded that life consists of little more than dangerous transactions in which sex and drugs are equal opportunity employers. The glimmer of hope, at least in the case of one man and woman, is their fascination with hearing and telling stories--not that the stories themselves ever seem to end happily. But the play, Shopping and F***ing, also sports absurdly funny moments that occasionally balance out the pervasively grim lives of its characters. A few scenes Ravenhill needed to drive the plot forward exhibit some clunkiness--not unexpected from a then-novice writer. Yet the play demonstrates an overarching sophistication in its world view and a perceptive display of the lyrical argot spoken on the streets in Britain--the authenticity of which poses some challenges for the ear of American audiences. (I remember visiting family in Scotland many years ago, and I couldn't understand more than 25% of of what they spoke! As the saying goes, we are "two nations divided by a single language".)

Monkey Wrench Collective's production, staged by artistic director Dave Barton, takes the raw material of this play (and some of it is very raw indeed, though the nudity and heartless sexual encounters never appear gratuitous), and makes clear that Ravenhill's is truly "the well-made play" in its adherence to theatrical conventions. And even if the specific characters and the explicitness in the telling of their stories seems fresh, the structure and motifs remain planted in archetype and wholly recognizable. It bears some resemblance to the subject matter of the book Trainspotting, which preceded it (better known from the 1996 film about young heroin addicts in Glasgow, Scotland), and to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, which came out two years earlier. That's not to suggest that it's derivative of these--just my effort to provide you with some guideposts as to the subject matter and, to some degree, the style of Shopping and F***ing--my own obtuse "content warning," I suppose.

(Disclosure: the printed program for Shopping and F***ing says that I'm directing a play for Monkey Wrench later this season. Who knew?)

Walking Out

Observing three audience members linger during intermission and then decide to depart yesterday's performance of the Monkey Wrench Collective production of Marc Ravenhill's Shopping and F***ing made me speculate about their motivation.
Throughout my long career in the theatre, I've witnessed plenty of walkouts. There's a tendency to assume that people are leaving because they're offended, and a similar expectation that artists are smugly satisfied because of it.
While there may be some truth in those perceptions, the reality is, not surprisingly, a bit more complicated.
After all, these days, most people are fairly well-informed about what they're going to see and theatres go to great lengths to publish content advisories: caveat emptor. So it's rare that anyone is "duped" into attending something they'll find offensive; more likely that they make a conscious decision to attend in spite of it.
Even so, there are many reasons people leave early: they're tired, they're hungry, they're bored, they've actually "gotten" it by intermission and don't need to see the rest, etc. (Hey, I've left performances for the same reasons.)
There are, of course, those who willingly embrace the opportunity to be offended and to express their dissatisfaction. I think of Luc Bondy's production of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera last season that was roundly booed by the audience, especially when the director ascended the stage for his curtain call (as reported in The New York Times)
Perhaps the first time I'd ever observed such behavior was at a performance of Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay's play Damnee Manon, Sacree Sandra at Syracuse Stage, a major resident professional theatre company. Syracuse New Times critic Jim MacKillop described it recently as the most controversial production in the history of that theater--it took place 30 years ago!
At the performance I attended, a number of patrons rose from their seats within minutes of the beginning of the play--two alternating monologues about the sacred and the profane by a devout woman and a drag queen--and they did not leave quietly: some expressed their disgust to the actors on stage while others directed their venom to the audience for accepting this in "their" theatre. (Full disclosure: I will be directing this play at Monkey Wrench Collective later this season.)
It was thrilling to witness--and I must admit to similar adrenaline rushes when seeing theatregoers leave other plays I've attended or produced or directed. At least these were audiences with a "pulse"--unlike the tepid response accorded the premiere production of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom which I brought in to Hartford from Yale Rep. (The fact that they could not recognize his genius was genuinely upsetting to me.)
I used to consider it a "badge of courage" to find that my work was provocative enough to send theatregoers to the exits, but I'm far more circumspect today: I hate to drive anyone away from the theatre. I respect those who opt not to attend because it won't be "their cup of tea" (but that won't prevent them from returning to see something that is). I'm far less tolerant of those who pay no heed to the warnings, come anyway and leave in a huff. They've asked for it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spark-e! undergoes transformation

Starting next week, your weekly Wednesday e-newsletter about arts & cultural events in the OC will have a new name, a new look, and some new content.

In partnership with the Orange County Register, Arts Orange County will transform Spark-e! into OC ARTS, bringing the e-newsletter into conformance with best practices in the e-news field and adding editorial content to its listings. Links to OC Register features and reviews will be included in the newsletter along with the events listings you've come to expect from Spark-e! All listings will link to SparkOC's complete listings and our discount ticket partner, Goldstar, will continue to have a link for your convenience.

YOU MUST SIGN-UP TO RECEIVE OC ARTS since we are not able to transfer our subscriber list (in fact, we promised you we wouldn't, and we're holding to that promise!).

Tomorrow's Spark-e! will be your last, so SIGN-UP HERE RIGHT NOW FOR OC ARTS!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

de Angelis Season Opener Highlights Minimalist Compositions

Arvo Part, John Tavener and Henryk Gorecki works were among the dozen short choral pieces sung by the intrepid de Angelis Vocal Ensemble at the Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano at their season opening concert Saturdyay. Artistic Director Matthew Gray has not shied away from the unusual works that unnecessarily frighten some concertgoers, demonstrating that in the realm of vocal music, at least, these contemporary compositions hold their own quite well. To his credit, he has attracted an audience of well over 100 to soak up the atmospheric music in the atmospheric surroundings of the Basilica's blindingly gold retablo and live acoustics. His introductions to each piece gently ease the audience into what might, for many, be unfamiliar territory; their response, however, validates his success. Not every upcoming concert will push the envelope quite so far, with holiday music and tin pan alley scheduled later in the season, but this was certainly an auspicious debut and validates Gray's penchant for exploring new work. More power to him!
Coincidentally, this morning's New York Times Magazine included a feature on Arvo Part, whose work has gained favor by many mainstream orchestras and ensembles.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And why classical music IS elitist...

This is a very thoughtful and provocative analysis of the imagined barriers to classical music, one of which is the trend of using it in certain public places as a weapon against loitering youths and graffiti.