Archive for September, 2012

Theater review: Sam Shepard’s HEARTLESS

September 23, 2012

My (somewhat belated) review of Sam Shepard’s new play Heartless at Signature Theater, featuring a terrific cast headed by Lois Smith (above center), has just been posted on Check it out here and let me know what you think. It’s quite an unusual play for Shepard, harkening back to his early, very wild and free plays — not to everybody’s taste but definitely to mine. The show runs only one more week, so if you’re inclined to go, don’t wait.

Good stuff online: Sarah Silverman’s election-year public service announcement

September 23, 2012

If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t hesitate to check out Sarah Silverman’s PSA about the Voter ID requirements that have been cooked up this year by nefarious anti-democratic forces. That Sarah Silverman has a mouth on her, but she’s really smart, really informed, and hilarious every step of the way.

Quote of the day: SHADOW

September 20, 2012

To proceed toward wholeness and manifest the promise only you can bring to the world, you must investigate your shadow. It contains values and perspectives needed to round out your conscious personality. It contains personal powers you’ll need when you befriend or wrestle with the inner and outer dragons and angels encountered on your soul journey.

In the encounter with shadow, your conscious personality will sometimes be overwhelmed or shattered. Your ego might experience a death, but it will thereby be enabled to later rise from the ashes like a phoenix endowed with new powers….

Before being reclaimed, the negative elements of the shadow appear to the ego as disagreeable and frightening. They show up as scary dreamworld characters and as dayworld people onto whom we project our own negative qualities, such as greediness, cowardice, rage, weakness, arrogance, or cruelty. We project our negative shadow onto nature, too: hairy beasts, dark forests, swamps, tornadoes, bats, snakes, and volcanoes. Yet the negative shadow possesses beneficial attributes we need in order to mature. Without these qualities, our personalities remain unbalanced, fragmented, or otherwise incomplete….

The positive qualities of our shadow – qualities we would consider virtuous, elevated, or otherwise exemplary – are also projected onto others. These are the exemplary traits we see in others but can hardly imagine for ourselves.

Often we discover our shadow holds something sacred: our deepest passion. This may be a longing to dance, to create magic, to sing in public, or to love with abandon. Donna Medeiros, a teacher at an alternative high school, says that when we are young, we name our passion something else — so we can suppress it. We name it foolish, selfish, odd, crazy, or evil. This misnaming protects us from social injury, from being rejected or marginalized by our family or peers. Donna knows this not only from her own story but also from her daily classroom experience with teenagers whom she guides through the process of self-reclamation. When awareness of their passion begins to return, they don’t recognize it at first because it had been mislabeled.

— Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft

In this week’s New Yorker

September 20, 2012

A weird thing about the New Yorker’s annual Cartoon Issue is that it pretty much always creates high expectations and doesn’t live up to them. This week, as in the past, the cartoons don’t seem as good as many regular issues, even though there are twice as many.

The best thing about this issue is “The Lie Factory,” Jill Lepore’s American Chronicles piece about the two individuals who created the whole industry of political lobbying . Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, a couple of right-wing conservative,  created Campaigns Inc. in 1933. They started out in newspapers and then figured out how to run political campaigns in favor of businesses by smudging the line between advertising, advocacy, and journalism. They were the ones who first undertook to persuade the American public that universal health care was “socialized medicine” and therefore unspeakably evil. It’s a fascinating and disheartening chapter of American political history.

Key quote from William Gavin, an advisor to Richard Nixon who wrote in a memo: “Voters are basically lazy, basically uninterested in making an effort to understand what we’re talking about…Reason requires a higher degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand. . . . When we argue with him we demand that he make the effort of replying. We seek to engage his intellect, and for most people this is the most difficult work of all. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable.”

I did also love this amazing photo by Martin Roemers that accompanied Mohsin Hamid’s short story “The Third-Born”:

Last week’s issue, by the way, had a terrific profile of Elizabeth Warren by Jeffrey Toobin, an excerpt from Salman Rushdie’s new book about his life under the fatwa that made him a target for assassination by Muslim fanatics, and a good piece by Hilton Als on Robert Wilson and the evolution of Einstein on the Beach.

Performance diary: Amanda Palmer, INTO THE WOODS, and EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH

September 18, 2012

September 11 – Amanda Palmer first made her name as half of the Boston-based theatrical punk-cabaret duo Dresden Dolls. Most recently she achieved internet notoriety by raising over a million dollars with a Kickstarter campaign intended to raise $100K to finance the current tour supporting her newly released album Theatre Is Evil. In between she carved a major niche for herself as a DIY breast-baring grass-roots ukulele-toting championship social-networker, acquiring not only an ardent fan base but also a geek-idol husband, the charming, prolific and equally media-savvy science fiction-fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. I’ve been watching from the sidelines as Andy, a huge Gaiman fan, got intrigued and then swept up by the Kickstarter campaign. And I was perfectly happy to go along with reconfiguring September 11 as Amanda Fucking Palmer Day this year, even if it meant enduring the rigors of standing up for four hours straight at Webster Hall. (I swear I’m not going to say it, I refuse to say it, you’ll never hear me utter the words, but of course I’m thinking: I’m getting too old for this.)

It was a whiz-bang show, with three opening acts. We missed the first one. The second was a really young power-pop trio called the Pleasant Surprise led by AFP’s guitar player Jherek Bischoff. The third was Ronald Reagan, “Boston’s premiere ‘80s-rock saxophone duo” – a classic one-joke-two-song opening act who wailed out “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while half the audience sang out all the words (including my sweetie). Palmer had been traipsing out in her dressing gown to introduce each act and to whip up interest for the inevitable live-streaming webcast. Introduced by Meow Meow, an Australian female-impersonator-impersonating female, Palmer entered borne aloft through the crowd (above) and led her three-piece Grand Theft Orchestra through most of the new album, whose destined-to-be-some-kind-of-hit is the Bowie-esque instant earworm “Do It With a Rock Star.” There was stage-diving and crowd-surfing, there were costume changes, and there was the obligatory hilarious cheesy Top-40 cover encore (“Call Me Maybe”). Palmer made the pre-emptive strike of addressing an issue that would be all over the internet and the New York Times the next day – that she’s enhancing her touring band with crowd-sourced string and horn players (“crowd-sourced” meaning volunteer, meaning unpaid, meaning uh-oh, here comes the musicians’ union out for blood…). I think she’s handling the evolving music-world economy pretty well (giving her new album away online, trusting that fans will pay for it, for instance), but if she gets as big and successful as she seems to want to be, there will have to be some rethinking of all this.

September 15 – Andy has never seen Into the Woods, the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine show, and he was dying to get tickets to see the production in Central Park this summer. We never managed to (which may have been a blessing), so we hunkered down instead with the DVD of the 1987 original Broadway production. The songs continue to dazzle, the performances hold up (especially Joanna Gleason as the Baker’s Wife, Danielle Ferland as Little Red Riding Hood, and Bernadette Peters as the Witch), James Lapine’s book….not so much. With the distance of time and home video, the holes in the second act gape like chasms. Without her magic powers, how does the Witch disappear in a puff of smoke? And the subtext related to AIDS, supplied by the zeitgeist when the show first appeared, is now completely imperceptible.

September 16 – Revisiting masterpieces is always worthwhile because they’re never the same twice. The original U.S. performances of the Robert Wilson-Philip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach (only two of them, at the Metropolitan Opera in 1976), epitomized the saying, “The legend is created by the people who weren’t there.” I heard about it as a college student in Boston, devoured the original cast recording, was thrilled to hear a concert version performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble at a church in Harvard Square, and couldn’t wait to actually see the first revival at BAM in 1984, in the early days of the Next Wave Festival. It lived up to all my expectations. This revival seemed, well, not exactly tamed but certainly different. My memory of the earlier production was that the music was extremely loud – body-bracing loud, rock-concert loud. This production is definitely not deafening (maybe because Glass isn’t playing in the band, for the first time ever?), and it’s funny to find that a little disappointing. Also in my memory of the first BAM revival, the performers maintained neutral facial expressions, which perfectly matched the Steinian prose of the spoken texts (by Christopher Knowles and Lucinda Childs, anyway) and the wordless vocals (all numbers and solfege syllables) as well as Glass’s monumentally release-avoidant score. In recent years, Wilson has been working a lot with German theater companies and incorporating much more expressionistic acting – white-painted faces, garish makeup, and exaggerated expressions at times virtually indistinguishable from clownish mugging. I didn’t like seeing that stuff in Einstein on the Beach. I wished the performances were as cool and sleek as the sets and the imagery and the lighting. But what the hell, to paraphrase what Paul McCartney said about critics who grumble about The White Album – “It’s fooking Einstein on the Beach. Shut up.” I was surprised that the music that grabbed me most was the choral music during the Knee Plays (maybe it helped that we could see the singers in the pit very clearly from where we were sitting). Four and a half hours without a break didn’t seem arduous at all. And I felt an unexpectedly strong wave of emotion when Wilson, Glass, and Childs came out and took bows at the end – three brave artists now old and gray who created a massive piece of work decades ago that still looks exceedingly strange and fiercely original.

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