Monday, December 31, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
With the rels in town, the TRP staff had the perfect excuse to head to midtown for a lunch time get together at our favorite hamburger tavern, P.J. Clarke's, at E. 55th St. and 3rd Ave. Every once in a while one or the other of us wakes up from a dream about P.J. Clarke's burgers, and in a world where everything seems to change for the worse, it's hard to believe that the dream could possibly be a reality. Yet, everytime we go there, the folks at P.J.'s prove again that they continue to produce the most consistent, beautiful, tasty burger known to humankind.
The only problem is that a popular joint like P.J. Clarke's is mobbed during the week between Christmas and New Year's, so if you're suddenly inspired to go--wait a few days.
Also, for non-beef eaters, P.J.C.'s serves an awesome fish and chips, which is definitely big enough for two normal appetites, or one hungry diner. Size-wise, all those burger eaters at your table will be jealous until they take their first bite...
Monday, December 24, 2007
Never turn on the radio these days, it seems. But here it is, Christmas Eve and it's on. Good old solid Commercial radio playing the top 100 Christmas pop classics. CBS-FM. But it's kind of nice, in a nostalgic way. There was a lot of community that built up around radio music. I don't feel the same way about You Tube. Funny what happens when your choices are limited.
Christmas Eve in New York always feels a little lonely. You can tell on the streets: people are desperate, more foul moods, bad tempers and skells than any other time of the year. All day long. It ended with someone puking on the stairs in front of the house.
Dad's dying this year. Makes it tougher. You notice more, perhaps, or notice more of the negative stuff. If only it were snowing.
Well, time to stay indoors until the real madness breaks loose tomorrow. But between the waves of craziness are moments--just like any other time of year--where there's a chance for magic.
Posted by Three Rooms Press at 9:08 PM
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The New York Theatre Workshop production of Beckett Shorts sounded like it was to good to be true. I mean, how many times do you get a 5-time Obie award winning director (JoAnee Akalaitis) paired with the one-and-only Mikhail Barishnikov performing the work of the greatest playwright of the 20th century? One of the great things about New York is finding out about this production by walking down the street one afternoon, seeing a little sandwich board ad for this phenomenal event outside the theater, strolling into the lobby and buying tickets for four great seats for the first show after opening night.
Which meant the reviews were out that morning. After lavishing praise onto Pinter's "The Homecoming" three days earlier, the same three top NYC reviewers shook their collective heads and gave an overall thumbs down to the Beckett pieces. I'm not sure why. To me they were extraordinarily performed and conceived.
From the moment you enter the theater, you're swept away into another world. A world where shapes of light shift and shake on a full stage scrim behind which, you can make out the silhouette of a low-slung desert sand dune landscape. As the scrim rises the landscape lights up to an even more bleak desert visage onto which Barishnikov is suddenly thrown in Act Without Words I. He wanders, stunned and confused. An exit appears in a side wall. From off stage, a whistle: like a dog owner calling their pet pooch. He stumbles to the exit gets part way through it, and is thrust back into the desert. A series of learned responses follows as different objects appear, each accompanied by the same whistle: that a palm tree offers shade; a pair of scissors can cut fingernails; blocks can be used to sit on; put together they can provide access to a just-out-of-reach pitcher of water. Almost.
The force that brought us to this earth offers no guarantees about being able to maintain our happiness. All we are ultimately left with is ourselves--in the world of Beckett, everything else--even nourishment--is illusion. We live, we die, and in-between, we delude ourselves. Only a playwright of Beckett's stature could find the humor in this. And with Akalitis direction of Misha, the clear point comes across that a man, no: this man, is only able to maintain some degree of his own humanity by refusing to listen to the encouraging whistles of any exterior source, be it for food, comfort, or even a means of ending life itself.
Between each short work, the scrim lowered and images from the previous drama played across it to the accompanying Glass soundtrack, reflecting the resonating images that were playing in my brain. Or were they focusing the scope of such images?Restraining them, perhaps? Hard to say, because, without much delay the scrim opened on new desert landscape, onto which two body-like shapes appeared like corpses under shrouds. Were they dead? No, it turns out. A giant metal arrow-like form slowly inches in from the left side, proding the first lump it reaches into action. And what action! A little stretching, a little toothbrushing, a little eating, then a look around to try to figure out how to make the cause of action happen to someone else next time. As in the first piece, it was hard to take your eyes off Barishnikov as he provided the physical dialog of a man willing to endure suffering in his life if out of nothing more than habit and the sometimes comical instinct to survive.
The next short brought actual dialog into the mix--or rather, it brought the dark poetic musing of Beckett's mind into speech, and allowed the incredible Barishnikov to speak, as an itinerent blind violin player talking to an occsionally mad, wheelchair bound Bill Camp. Like two clowns, the pair illustrated the idea that, given complete free will, few will accept or even seek out beauty or peace, for the sole reason that it is more effort than it's worth, and that to endure the tyranny of day-to-day routine is preferable, because it is predictable.
Beckett's "Eh, Joe," the only piece Beckett ever wrote specifically for televion, closed the evening with an incredible four-dimensional staging that brought to the forefront the power of live theater. Barishnikov, seated on a bed in a squalid room with the voice of the woman he drove to suicide. This time, the dialog was pure poetry, and different from anything I've ever imagined could be on television. The sexual imagery was shrouded like death is in life: hidden, yet present; structuring every move. While I agree with reviewers that the physical onstage presence of the woman--Karen Kandel--was unnecessary (Beckett's script calls for a voice only), her acting, with an economy of movement, was mesmerizing.
The front scrim stayed down during this piece, and every movement of Barishnikov's face was enlarged and projected on it. Or was it a live projection? Audience members I spoke to afterwards were all certain it was a "live" projection, I swear, I saw a few minor differences between the projected images and the man on stage, which made the experience that much more stunning. Also images projected on the rear walls, which at first glance appeared to be the same as the extreme enlargement on the front scrim, at times, they were a little different as well.
The question arose: What is reality? The voice in your head? the image you project to other people? the reflection you see of yourself in a mirror? No, the only reality is the actual person sitting there, breathing, living on the bed. Everything else is illusion. That is why the presence of the woman took away from what was otherwise an extraordinary piece. Because she was present, and speaking, her voice itself had to be defined as reality as well, and the idea of the solitary experience of life was somewhat blurred.
Still, when this last piece built to its climax, and the lights went out, I couldn't leave my seat for a long while. It was a rare and extraordinarily moving theatrical experience that I only wish was possible on the stages of New York more often.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
For the first Son of a Pony reading of 2008 at Cornelia Street Cafe, we're going to do something a little different and have a tribute reading to Charles Bukowski, in addition to the open reading. In case you don't know him, poet Charles Bukowski was truly one of the few and far between: a champion of the outsider, the lost and lonely, the outcasts from society. His work resonates well in the post-holiday drip that we feel each year, especially since his passing in 1994.
At this special tribute reading, you are welcome to bring your favorite Bukowski poem, or read an original poem that was inspired by Bukowski. We'll be showing videos of Bukowski, giving away books and other prizes. So please be sure to come on down and join TRP poet and Son of a Pony Host with the two-toned pencil, Kathi Georges.
What: Charles Bukowski Tribute Reading
Where: Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia Street, between West 4th and Bleecker)
When: Friday, January 4th, 6-8 pm (sign up for open reading starting at 5:45)
Admission: $7, includes free house drink
Harold Pinter's masterful work, "The Homecoming" just opened at The Cort Theater, and it is definitely a not to be missed event. With strong performances throughout, the dark humor of the 1967 play shines link onyx, and all the beauty its horror unfolds right there before your eyes.
I've read the play 100 times, seen the 1973 filmed version with Paul Rodgers, Vivian Merchant, Ian Holm 25 times, and directed a solo version of it at San Francisco's sorely-missed Marilyn Monroe Memorial Theater. Yet seeing this version was fresh, exciting and a real treat.
Even brought along a couple of Pinter neophytes, to balance my extremely-biased favorable opinion of it. At intermission, one friend leaned over, puzzled, and asked, "This is really your favorite play?" By the end of Act 2, when all hell had broken loose, and all preconceived expectations were eclipsed, she was extremely moved herself, and kept thinking about the play for (so far) days.
Read the review. Buy tickets. Go. It's just that simple. It's the most positive, glowing review Ben Brantley has written for a while, and it's well deserved, for a stunning 40 year old.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Philip Schultz, founder of the estimable Writers Studio, launched his new book, "Failure" last night to a packed house of students, fans and poetry admirers. The response was expected: after all this was an audience of believers in Schultz, whose tireless work as a promoter and teacher of the craft of poetry has earned him a well-deserved reputation as one who practices what he preaches. Yet, the work in "Failure" is so touching, moving and harmonious, that Schultz probably could have read to a group of geese and held them spellbound. His poetry packs magic with every line, and "Failure" is highly recommended. Here's a brief excerpt from the title poem:
To pay for my father's funeral
I borrowed money from people
he already owed money to.
One called him a nobody.
No, I said, he was a failure.
You can't remember
a nobody's name, that's why
they're called nobodies.
Failures are unforgettable.
An uncle, counting on his fingers
my father's business failures--
a parking lot that raised geese,
a motel that raffled honeymoons,
a bowling alley with roving mariachis--
failed to love and honor his brother,
who showed him how to whistle
under covers, steal apples
with his right or left hand. Indeed,
my father was comical.
Also on the bill was the remarkable Gerald Stern (pictured), who packs a wallop with his "biting" sense of humor and his incisive slicing off of the facade of everything he speaks or writes about. I think the word "charming" was invented to describe him! Edward Hirsch, who got his first job from Stern teaching poetry in the schools, hosted the evening. Talk about a beautiful night! Whew!
Posted by Three Rooms Press at 11:56 AM