Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Review: The Hairy Ape | The Classics Theatre Project | The Core Theatre

Scene from The Hairy Ape
Drew Maggs (foreground) as Yank in The Classics Theatre Project's production of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. Lloyd Harvey and Louis Shopen in background. Photo by Kris Ikjeri.

Richardson, Texas – Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape effortlessly prefigures some of our ongoing sociological and ecological disasters. It was only a matter of time before The Classics Theatre Project, whose mission is “to produce socially relevant classic works” brought to stage the almost 100-year-old play.

In the dimly lit, sepia-drenched black box of Richardson’s Core Theatre, bare scaffolding lines three sides, caging in the actors. To the far left a house band made up of a drum kit and guitars provides a soundtrack to the drama. The original music by Braden Socia and Petra Milano ranges from reverb-driven lo-fi garage rock to plaintive folk and even Native American-inspired war drumming.

Director Joey Folsom imaginatively highlights the sound design throughout his new adaptation of the show, which he co-produced with Bren Rapp. One way he does this is by emphasizing the workers’ chanteys. The use of music lends a dynamic, multimedia element that both softens the sharper edges of the show’s expressionistic technique while also fleshing out the typically two-dimensional quality of expressionistic action in general. It also helps to bridge the lull between scenes. Stylized choreography supplements the work songs as the men shovel coal into the ship’s belly, though one actor near the back clearly hadn’t learned the moves.

The play opens onto a steam ship’s forecastle before moving on to the promenade deck, the industrialized hell of a stokehole, a corner of New York City’s Fifth Avenue, a prison on Blackwell’s Island, a waterfront union meeting hall, and finally the monkey house at the zoo. The protagonist Yank spends much of the eight scenes of The Hairy Ape questioning where he belongs. The audience easily grasps that even though the scenes may change, the cages of Yank’s mind—and his position in society—never do.

Drew Maggs’ Yank deftly modulates between the gruff and grumble of his lowly position and a cocky self-regard bordering on megalomania. The fluctuations come across all the more powerfully once the wind is successively knocked from his sails by the moneyed class, the police, the union workers, and the gorillas at the zoo.

Jackie Kemp strikes all the right notes in his performance of Paddy, especially in his wistful recollection of life on a sailing ship when “a ship was part of the sea, and a man was part of a ship, and the sea joined all together and made it one.” Paddy’s reminiscence, no matter how brief, is one of the few moments in the play that offers an alternative vision of the world, and when it’s flat out rejected by the others, he’s visibly dispirited.

Jon Garrard stands out as the agitator Long. And Devon Rose and Janae Hatchett smoothly convey the vapid affectation of spoiled heiress Mildred and her aunt.

Luisa Torres, Rhonda Rose, and Folsom contributed to the set design, and the scene change during intermission was both simple yet really nice. The choice to have Jim Finger’s hazy watercolor mural of the New York cityscape behind the scaffolding makes even clearer that the city, too, is its own type of cage, perhaps just with better grooming.

A favorite scene was the masked crowd clad in funereal black as they come from church, lending the action notes of surrealism peppered with the absurdist repetition of “I beg your pardon,” which registers less as an apology and more as a threat. The prison scene, on the other hand, seems too dark.

In this captivating adaptation, only one thing seems out of place: Yank’s practically omnipresent silver flask, which comes across as a bit too fancy and appears too many times on stage—admittedly a minor quibble for an otherwise strong production.

The show runs through November 6.

Frank Garrett
American Theatre Critics Association, Member

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Without Night

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org 
Asleep, I recited or imagined myself reciting lines (to be exact: though I was saying nothing, I was nonetheless in the same emotional state as someone reciting his lines); but upon waking (already half-conscious), discovering that I will truly have to invent my lines instead of merely acting as if I were reciting them, I come up with a compromise. I continue to speak, but only in order to speak about speaking my lines. (150-151)
Michel Leiris' Nights as Day, Days as Night made me smarter. (And I was already pretty smart.) Though I'm not sure just how much I would appreciate Leiris' book had it not been for the inspired choice to use Maurice Blanchot's "Dreaming, Writing" as a Forward.

I've read a lot of Blanchot in my life. I wrote a dissertation over him. But I can't say that I knew this work before. Now I can write that the eleven-page "Dreaming, Writing" is one of my favorite works by Blanchot and one of his most astute. To summarize: dreaming is a kind of writing; writing, a kind of dreaming.
 
In Blanchot's words: "Dreams are a temptation for writing because writing may well also deal with this same neutral vigilance that the nighttime of sleep seeks to extinguish but that the nighttime of dream awakens and maintains, even as it perpetuates being by a semblance of existence" (22). I have no idea how anyone who's never studied phenomenology can get anything out of that, but as someone who's studied phenomenology—I wrote a dissertation over that—I can say that this blows my mind with its simplicity and insight.
 
Blanchot writing on Leiris writing on dreaming as the dream of dream-writing. This is the book that Jacques Derrida tried to write with Of Grammatology. And Writing and Difference.
 
This morning I was reading without a pencil, and since I didn't want to disturb the cat who was asleep on my lap, I dogeared page 145 to remind me to go back to this page for something else I'm working on. As I continued reading on to page 148, the morning sun shining through the window made the page translucent. I could see the fold on the previous page through the page I was currently reading: a lambent-trace of a shadow-mark remaining, shining-through in writing's unnightly dreamreading…

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Peanut Butter Whiskey

Peanut butter whiskey is apparently a thing. And our friend Chris wanted to try some cocktails with pbw during her visit. So today, in the name of science, we conducted a hidden-label taste test with the five brands I was able to source in 50 ml bottles.

We sampled the options with and without ice. Then we ranked them, tallied the scores from the three of us, and here are the results, with some cursory comments.

With a score of 6 (1+1+4), our top choice was Skatter Brain (70 proof). You can see from the score that two of us ranked it highest of the five, though the other ranked it quite low. All three of us said it was sweet, but we also found all the brands a bit too sweet.

No. 2, with a score of 7 (2+4+1), was Skrewball (70 proof). We thought this one had the best pb taste with a very nutty, complex profile, though it also had the darkest caramel color. All of the brands use caramel coloring.

Perfectly in the middle was P'Nutty (70 proof) with a score of 9 (3+3+3). Without ice, I thought the taste was very kerosene-y, but with ice it mellowed nicely.

Tying for last place with scores of 12 each were the 99 (99 proof) and Sheep Dog (70 proof). I thought the 99 was terribly flat in both pb and whiskey flavor; the others said its taste was too artificial, chemical-y. The Sheep Dog was harshly astringent, but someone ranked it second.

We were back at the liquor store this afternoon and saw several other brands available, but maybe our ranking can help if you want to try peanut butter whiskey but don't know where to start. I'm not a fan of flavored whiskey, so I probably won't be purchasing a bigger bottle anytime soon, though I may change my mind after trying some recipes for mixed drinks later.

Happy drinking!

Friday, February 5, 2021

A Year in Art

For the past few years I've tracked all the art events that my partner and I attend together. We are avid supporters of the arts. All of them. In 2020, despite social distancing and the pandemic pandemonium, we tracked at least 109 events.

Genre/Medium

  • Architecture - 1
  • Art/Gallery/Museum - 20
  • Audio/Sound Art - 2
  • Concert - 4
  • Festival/Event - 44, split among 3 different festivals
  • Film/Video - 30
  • Lecture/Author Talk - 6
  • Literature - 1
  • Museum/History - 2
  • Music - 5
  • Performance - 8
  • Theater - 11
  • Workshop - 2

That's 136 individual works or exhibitions in total. The reason there are only 109 events tracked is because we block some things together; for example, a block of short videos during a video festival only counts as 1 event even though we may see 8 works.

The genre/medium designation is loose also, since some of the films and theater pieces were part of a festival. Forty-seven events were before quarantine (around the beginning of March); the other 89 were well under the specter of COVID-19.

I usually list my top 10 plays of the year, but since this was the (first) year of Covid, and because I saw so few live theater events, I'll instead focus on the artists/groups who made the best of a terrible situation and still managed to offer something artistically transcendent and technologically competent. Here are my Top 14 of 2020, in no particular order:

Editor Joshua Rothes put together Sublunary Editions Presents, a live reading of original works that spanned the globe. This literary event was early on in the pandemic and put to shame a lot of traditional art groups with much larger budgets that were still scrambling to put quality work together at the end of the year. I had fully anticipated on watching only a handful of the readers across its 4½ hours, but I ended up riveted to the screen because of the utter talent of the writers gathered together.

Another early event was Cold Spring Pandemic Dream with Bird by Dean Terry and his performance art collective therefore. This live video performance on Instagram perfectly captured the surreal and uneasy mood of the early days of the pandemic.

I've long sung the praises of Teatro Dallas, and 2020 made me appreciate and respect them even more. They managed to early on make available online several archived projects, from an early 1990s film Frida Kahlo: A Ribbon Around a Bomb to the audio project Pizcas about child immigrant laborers. They also were able to produce original works, both in video form, like The Monster in His Labyrinth, and in a safe(r), socially-distanced live/in-person performance of A Grave Is Given Supper, based on the poetry of Dallas writer Mike Soto.

If it weren't for Ron Athey, I'd be a much less interesting person. I've been a fan of his work, and his work ethic, since the early '90s. Just by following him online across various social media platforms I knew about several things going on that I'm glad I didn't miss, including the film Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies, the Johanna Went: Passion Container exhibition at The Box in Los Angeles that we caught before lockdown, the performance video of Self Obliterations I, II & III: Ecstatic, Sustained Rapture, Mortification on Vimeo, the Queer Communion book launch, and Pauline Oliveros' Full Pink Moon produced by Opera Povera. I'm looking forward to reading Ron's new book and hopefully seeing his retrospective later this year. 

P•P•O•W Gallery curated an online exhibition of video art called Hell is a Place on Earth. Heaven is a Place in Your Head. that made explicit the connections between Reagan's manufactured health crisis and Trump's.

Lena Herzog collaborated with Marco Capalbo and Mark Mangini on Last Whispers: Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes, and a Falling Tree, a sound installation and meditation on silence and the human voice. 

Culture Hole produced a video/performance series called Culture Hole TV that tapped into the melancholia of life in quarantine.  

Mimir Chamber Music Festival had an outstanding opening night by programming musicians from Auckland, Melbourne, Berlin, and north Texas.

In July Headlands Center for the Arts presented 7 Sounds/1 Sound, a live audiovisual work-in-progress collaboration between filmmaker Sam Green and musician JD Samson. 

Diamanda Galás' Broken Gargoyles, a quadrophonic soundwork-in-progress, premiered at the Fridman Gallery and was a collaboration with sound engineer Daniel Neumann and video artist Carlton Bright. It featured photography of disfigured WWI soldiers and excerpts from poet Georg Heym's Das Fieberspital.

Animator Don Hertzfeldt released the third episode of his World of Tomorrow series entitled The Absent Destinations of David Prime that made us feel lost all over again.

Chris McKim's art documentary Wojnarowicz: Fuck You Faggot Fucker screamed its way to the head of the class and taught us a thing or two about governmental policies of abandonment. 

The San Francisco Symphony, directed by Esa-Pekka Salonen, showed us the future of symphonic music with the world premiere of Nico Muhly's Throughline. This outstanding, creative feat was dynamically edited and visually powerful, and the rest of the music on the program—by Ellen Reid, John Adams, Kev Choice, and Ludwig van Beethoven—took us places. 

Organist James McVinnie wowed us live from Concert Hall 'Latvija' in Ventspils, Latvia, where he performed exquisite pieces by Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, Johann Sebastian Bach, Marcel Dupré, and Ferenc Liszt.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Watching

Despite watching hours of television every week, rarely do I watch it for entertainment's sake alone. It's one of my many failings as a human, as an American. Instead, I tend to watch TV for what I can learn about others.

For example, did you know you can learn about the waning days of Trumpismo by watching Succession? It's all there: an utterly unlikable roster of characters who are trying to game a system where the one in charge is so senile and incompetent that he pisses all over the place.

I did, however, have to stop watching after a handful of episodes because it became more and more apparent that they were letting the interns write the shows. Rookie mistake: having a character have some kind of impossibly lucid epiphany after taking fistfuls of drugs.

A series that taught me about the goat-fucking underbelly of 4chan and QAnon was PEN15. Watch the "Vendy Wiccany" episode (S2E3) if you don't believe me: hysterics blended with wishful thinking all because mom and dad are getting divorced. (Only some of those words are used metaphorically here.)

If you want to understand solidarity, then perhaps there's no better show than the unconvincing, naively counter-factual miniseries Hollywood, where the Blacks, Asian Americans, young gays, and feminists all conspire to usurp power from shitty old straight—and gay—white men. You did not see that twist coming!

Or for a less fantasy-based miniseries, also about solidarity, check out Mrs. America, where the Black lesbian feminists don't get along with the Black non-lesbian feminists who also don't get along with white feminists who also don't get along with white religious feminists who are feminist in the same way that Reagan and Bush and Bush and Trump were conservative. Kudos for showing that cunt Phyllis Schlafly being thrown under the bus by both her husband and Reagan. (Sadly, more metaphoric language.) It's the exact opposite, more believable, more historically accurate story about solidarity.

I wish more shows were as cutting edge as The Conners when it comes to cutting out reprehensible people from the cast. It truly has been a sweet few months not hearing or seeing Roseanne. If only America were as competent at so-called cancellation.

Most shows I abandon after one or a couple of episodes. One show I watched entirely this past year was The Americans, which was violently terrible, especially when it became a teen drama and an infomercial for est. Credit, though, for the writers who came up with the will they/won't they story line about fucking a teenager. Said in thick Russian accent: "You have to do it for the Motherland." Yuck!

Silicon Valley was maybe the only sitcom that offered me any delight this past year, though some of those episodes were sheer drudgery. Part of what I enjoyed about it was assigning various Twitter friends roles, sort of like what boring white women in mid-management used to do with Sex and the City. I think you all know who our Gilfoyle is.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Books Read in 2020

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA Luminous History of the Palm by Jessica SequeiraSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDitch Water: Poems by Joseph DelgadoSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMusic & Philosophy by Gabriel Marcel

My reading this past year was all over the place. I began 2020 participating in an in-person reading group called something along the lines of Books Your Parents Probably Read that ended with the pandemic. That's why you'll find Judith Krantz, Erich Segal, Mario Puzo, and Jacqueline Susann on this list. It was revelatory rediscovering how sexist, homophobic, and racist New York publishing was in the Sixties and Seventies. What a fucking garbage industry, no less to blame for shit American culture than Hollywood. Alas, times haven't really changed all that much.

The year ended with a couple of titles by Toni Morrison, whose voice is painfully missed. The few philosophy titles, also mostly garbage, were primarily for research on my phenomenology of music book that I'm still, and slowly, working on. Then even fewer literary works that I reviewed.