27 April 2008

c'est la meme chose

Hey, don't I feel like a big boy blogger! Lisa meme'd me. So, tag, I'm it.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

The nearest book: King Lear, Signet Classic edition and counting sentences rather than lines,we end up with:

Lear: Then let them anatomize Regan. See what breeds about her heart. Is there any cause in nature that make these hard hearts?

But why stop there? I'm in the mood for a meme extravaganza. So I pick up the book right beneath King Lear, which is The Samurai, by Shusaku Endo:

Velasco and the three envoys knew that they were still a great distance from the site of the Indian revolt. Hills spattered with white boulders, patches of earth baked and cracked by the sun, river beds where withered trees lay like bleached bones -- once they left these parched landscapes behind, fields of corn appeared, blanketed with a layer of dust. None of these scenes resembled the soft, gentle landscapes of Japan.

I'm stopping right there with that pile and turning to the one on the righthand side of my computer, and I realize why my house is always such a mess, for there on the top is the libretto booklet for The Rake's Progress (Igor Stravinsky Edition), which I carefully placed there back in October, before posting about SF Opera's production. Page 123 has the French translation of Baba and Anne meeting up at the auction. Line counts are a little approximate here, what with the line breaks and the stage directions:

Anne (se retournant): Sa femme!
Baba: Son jouet --
Qu'importe a present. Viens mon enfant, ma fille.

And once again, why stop there? Here's the meme for the book I'm officially reading right now, the David Cairns translation of The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz:

At last I heard of a Sardinian brig that was on the point of sailing for Leghorn. Some pleasant-looking young men whom I met in the Cannebiere told me they had booked passages on her, and suggested we mess together. The captain would not undertake to feed us, so it was up to us to make our own arrangements.

And here's my "in case it's quiet enough on BART ever again to read" book, Paradise Lost, and I'm going to count lines rather than sentences here:

But say I could repent and could obtain
By Act of Grace my former state; how soon
Would height recall high thoughts, how soon unsay. . .

And from the latest book I've bought (which means I'll get around to reading it in about ten years), Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples by Michael Robertson:

The final visit occurred in December 1891. On the twenty-first Bucke received an urgent telegram from Traubel; less than forty-eight hours later he was entering the ramshackle Mickle Street house. "Maurice Bucke, Maurice Bucke, Maurice Bucke," Whitman had said from his bed, "how glad I am to see you, how glad I am."

Wow. Enjoy all the found poetry. And I did try to pop it up a bit by looking for a nearby copy of Entertainment Weekly or Men's Health or something, but I couldn't find one that both reached 123 pages and didn't have pictures on that page, not that I searched all that strenuously. It's odd how taking a random passage can highlight the strange process of submersion in a book's style. About a year ago my mother picked up Volume 3 of my Everyman edition of Clarissa and read a passage out loud, and it sounded archaically eighteenth-century in a way that it hadn't after reading over a thousand pages in the same style.

Now I'm supposed to tag five people. Hmm. I hate to lay that sort of obligation on people. I will tag Vicki and Marin, and CMB can leave his in the comments section if he wants since he doesn't have a blog, and you can too, if you care to.

26 April 2008

act like a man

I was interested in a couple of plays that Thick House Theater was doing this season, but I ended up subscribing to the whole series, mostly because their managing director, Hilary Cohen, was so incredibly prompt and detailed (note to arts groups everywhere – efficiency is appreciated!) in answering my e-mail asking where exactly the theater is located and how a non-driver would get there. It turns out to be quite easy – you just get out at the 16th Street BART station and take the 22 Fillmore to the corner of 18th and Connecticut, and then you walk down a hill. Frankly I was expecting a black-painted basement in a dicey neighborhood, but it’s a pleasant, fairly recently gentrified area of Portrero Hill, and the small theater is comfortable and even elegant in an understated way. I enjoyed walking around the area before the rain showers drove me into the theater lobby.

There were two bonus plays added to the four-play season (six plays for $40 – that’s a bargain!). I subscribed just in time to miss the first one (five plays for $40 – still a bargain!), but I did get to David Greenspan’s Dead Mother, or, Shirley Not All in Vain at the Traveling Jewish Theater, which is actually trickier to find than Thick House, until I realized it’s just a ten-minute walk down from the 16th Street Station. I’m not quite sure why anyone would suggest the bus rather than walking; the sidewalks didn’t seem any more filled with annoyances than the 22 Fillmore, and you have to wait around until the bus shows up. I was glad to have the preliminary expedition, since Cutting Ball’s production of Endgame was also at the Traveling Jewish Theater before they make the Exit Theater their new home.

Dead Mother is the story of Harold and his family; Harold’s brother Daniel persuades him to impersonate their dead mother Shirley so that s/he can reassure Maxine, Daniel’s fiancée, that she approves the marriage. Harold’s wife Sylvia, Maxine’s Uncle Saul, and the widower Melvin are also involved; this is more Theater of the Absurd than Charley’s Aunt, though that reference may be part of the whirlwind of literary and dramatic references flying by in an ultimately distracting way: every minute your mind is annotating each scene and speech – there goes Twelfth Night, there’s Godot, Aristophanes, Dante, Don Juan in Hell from Man and Superman, Gertrude Stein, back to Dante, back to dozens that I noticed at the time but have now forgotten. . . .

I felt the constant annotation ended up emotionally distancing me from the action, which frankly is a little thin to start with; the assumption of Shirley’s persona frees Harold to speak the sort of forbidden truths that date quickly; shock has a very short shelf-life. Most of these terrible truths have to do with Harold’s troubled marriage and his attraction to other men, and to the racial prejudices of his middle-class Jewish father. After realizing what the painful family secrets amounted to, I suspected that this was not a new play; sure enough, it’s from 1991. It’s to Greenspan’s credit that the play avoids the cheap logic of therapy-think, where the family would be healed merely because someone dared to speak The Truth, or whatever cliché passes for it, but despite the excellent acting all around (particularly from Liam Vincent as Harold/Shirley) it was a somewhat unsatisfying evening.

A fluid presentation of truth is the strong point of Blade to the Heat, which is set in “the world of boxing” in 1959, shortly before boxing started to recede as a major sport and therefore metaphor in American life. Before that, boxing shows up in all kinds of surprising places, like silent comedies; there’s an extended sequence in City Lights, and it’s the focus of the entire plot in Buster Keaton’s Battling Butler, another of his brilliant, emotionally tortured comedies about a slight and effete man who goes up against a massive, physically confident and somewhat brutish opponent; the film ends with a surprisingly fierce and realistic boxing match. Ironically, the wiry and gracefully athletic Keaton is closer to our masculine physical ideal than his large but doughy opponents. Before I go back to Blade to the Heat, I’ll also recommend WC Heinz’s superb novel The Professional, which is like the novel Hemingway would have written if he’d been able to overcome his horrible boys’ school snobbishness enough to write a good novel.

Blade to the Heat gets described as “the gay boxing play” but it really is more about masculinity in general, a subject it examines with greater depth than just the usual panicked jokes (much like Fight Club, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both involve one-on-one fights). Anyone listening to the posturing tough talk that passes for our political discourse, or the swaggering attempts to justify our criminally insane and disastrous adventures in Iraq, must have noted our society’s need for such a discussion. It’s a psychological cliché to talk about “compensation”, but sometimes things become clichés because there’s a basic truth there: it’s difficult not to see America as the classic bully who swaggers and punches carefully selected weaker victims to cover his own weakness and fear. The iconic image of masculine panic from the last few years is of course our War-Criminal-in-Chief, who carefully avoided even his National Guard service during the Vietnam War, wearing a flight suit on the deck of a destroyer to declare our mission in Iraq accomplished. A (female) journalist at the Wall Street Journal, in one of the most truly embarrassing articles I have ever read, went on and on about how Our Leader “looked, well, hot” and how her tired middle-aged husband lying in his Barcalounger just couldn’t compete. My skin was crawling, but I read on in horrified fascination. It reminded me of a movie I saw years ago, called I think Paris Is Burning, about drag queens in Harlem. I only really remember one segment of the film, because it was so unbearably poignant: part of their traditional drag shows involved the guys dressing up and parading in the suits and ties that were standard business wear back then; here were men so alienated from any sense of normative masculinity that for them the standard male uniform was as exotic as their girly sequins and feather boas. And that’s why when I think of George W Bush, who loves to play dress up (I'm a cowboy! I'm a fighter pilot!), in the back of my mind I see black drag queens. The crisis in confidence is the same. (I should probably make it clear that I don’t have any sympathy with those who “blame” the feminist movement for the confused state of masculinity – obviously if you change the roles for one gender you affect the other, but it’s ridiculous to think that women should be held down because the manly men are threatened by them. Both genders have more than enough need to control and regulate others and more than enough delusion and self-destruction to go around. It probably all comes down to economics as much as anything else.)

Back to Blade to the Heat, which seems to be loosely based on the fight in which Emile Griffith accidentally killed an opponent who allegedly was taunting him for being homosexual, but so thoroughly is the incident thought through that it wasn’t until the end of the play that the connection occurred to me (unlike my experience with Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, about a gay baseball player and filled with incidents obviously based on baseball’s recent past, such as John Rocker’s racist outburst; I kept thinking, No, that’s not quite how people really did react to that action. . . .). It’s a beautifully constructed play, conveying with complete naturalness a wide range of complicated emotional interactions and personified masculinities that come across not as markers across a theoretical range but as actual human beings, with a fluidity of identity that Virginia Woolf would have recognized and appreciated (a fluidity captured so much more effectively in this play than in Berkeley Rep’s ridiculous recent adaption of To the Lighthouse). Every time you think you have a character pegged, sexually, ethnically, or emotionally, he or she shifts a bit and shows you a different side, and it’s all handled in an amazingly rich and economical 90 minutes.

I know it’s obligatory to praise boxing dramas as “a knockout punch!” and suchlike, and I’d like to resist, but this really was a pretty outstanding evening of theater: sets, music, costumes, acting, and script all came together in a way that’s supposed to be standard but really isn’t. The boxing matches were not only convincing and exciting, which is pretty tough to do in a very small theater where you’re only about three feet away from the action, but they flowed seamlessly into the rest of the action instead of being obviously choreographed and practiced much more than the rest of the show, so here’s a big salute to Johnny Moreno as Pedro Quinn (the “gay boxer”) and L. Peter Callender as his rival, Mantequilla Decima, both of whom managed to maintain character even while throwing realistic punches.

I trekked out to Traveling Jewish Theater one more time that week for Cutting Ball’s Endgame, and director Rob Melrose really outdid himself with this one. I’ve been going to Cutting Ball for years now, and this was one of their best productions and a welcome return to form after the somewhat disappointing Taming of the Shrew last summer. And lots of credit should also go to Avery Monsen and David Sinaiko as Clov and Hamm, reunited after their summer foray as respectively Grumio and Petruchio. I didn’t much like Sinaiko’s Petruchio or his Doctor in Wozzeck; I felt he relied too much on a manic energy that seemed more like shtick than anything the characters would actually do, and he seemed to be giving the identical performance with each character. But as Hamm he gave the best performance I’ve seen from him in many years of attending Cutting Ball shows – a modulated, subtle portrait, with his be-ringed fingers and insinuating air of authority, of the dandy at the end of days. Avery Monsen is a really exciting actor: I thought he stole Shrew with his high-energy commedia; here, it was his quiet and inward air of exhaustion and suppressed exasperation that made him compelling. At one point, Hamm starts off on an anecdote, and Monsen just silently closed his eyes for half a second at the beginning of the recital, and you knew immediately how many, many times he’s heard this same story, told this same way, and how patiently and inexplicably he puts up with Hamm.

I meant to write about Blade to the Heat and Endgame weeks ago, but events intervened and I couldn’t until now; the productions are over and their moments of insight and beauty gone; I can’t go back and re-view (or review) them the way I would a movie; they take place purely and poignantly in my memory now, along with a lot of my life; for me going to the theater is like the ancient Japanese samurai going to view the fleeting cherry blossoms, an aesthetic lesson in appreciating the essential quality of life.

23 April 2008

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes

23 April 1564 - 23 April 1616

. . .
Chief Poet! and ye clouds of Albion,
Begetters of our deep eternal theme,
When through the old oak forest I am gone,
Let me not wander in a barren dream,
But when I am consumed in the fire,
Give me new phoenix wings to fly at my desire.

from John Keats, "Written Before Re-Reading King Lear"

22 April 2008


So here's something to look forward to: A new disc called Lorraine at Emmanuel: Celebrating the Lives of Craig Smith and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, containing selections from Bach's cantatas and arias from Handel's Hercules, including the famous mad scene. The performances are from 1992 to 1999.

Oddly enough I found no hint of this album on either Amazon (USA) or Emmanuel Music's website, but according to Amazon UK it's coming out on May 27. Avie is the label and I actually googled them to make sure they weren't a pirate label and it doesn't look as if they are. I know I keep vowing to catch up on CDs before I buy another one, and I know the exchange rate is bad, but I also know I need to have this.

Earth Day Ironies

Arbor Day -- now, that's a day that makes good sense. You go out, you plant a tree. And that entails taking care of it, initially more and then gradually less, as it settles in. And so you can figure out a few things about trees. But Earth Day? What is that? Just another excuse to delude ourselves.

Years ago, it used to be common to have big "Earth Day" concerts, which of course produced massive environmental wear-and-tear in the form of a major expenditure of power (because nothing can be celebrated in America without really bad music played really loud), tons of trash (how many tons was always duly reported in the papers the next day), the poisonous mills needed for all the souvenir T-shirts (just as necessary as bad music), plus of course all the cars required to get you to and fro. I think there was a vague sense that it was all about the sun, in some sort of healing way, possibly though not necessarily connected to solar energy. I remember seeing an ad for I think Hallmark that said "Send Earth Day cards printed on recycled paper!" Or don't send cards for the phony holiday at all, I thought, and spare the paper use that way. My favorite memory of this holiday is walking past the Hynes Convention Center in Boston and reading on the big marquee The American Chemical Society Salutes Earth Day!

Everything is a marketing opportunity, which is the daemon of consumer capitalism. Believe me, I have as hard a time with discipline, cutting back, doing without, and all those other necessary virtues, or virtuous necessities, as anyone else. But even in the almost ten years I've lived in this house, I've noticed significant weather changes: there are far more days of truly strong winds, for example. The winters seem colder longer (or is that just a sign that I'm aging? and how odd that that would be preferable to the climatic alternative).

Yes, among the duly noted ironies is that I can type this on a computer and send it around the world. But you might as well live in the world you're in while you can, always remembering the motto of the doctors (or is it art restorers?): first, do no harm. That's not an easy rule. At the gym I belonged to until I quit in favor of paying off my plumbing bills, I used to feel silently indignant at guys who would run the sink at full blast while shaving. Growing up in drought years I learned to turn the tap off until I needed to rinse the razor. Then one day it dawned on me that since I tend to take long showers (I like water, despite what it's done to my house -- see, we have no chance against "Nature"), I was in no position to direct indignation anywhere, since I was probably using gallons more water.

On my way to work I pay my quarter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and as I leave the BART station (I'd love to point out how virtuous I am for not owning a car, but between my poor depth perception and my tendency to get road rage even as a pedestrian, it just wouldn't work out -- and it really has affected where I live and work, in a way that most people wouldn't accept), I'm handed a free copy of the Examiner. One day last week, the Examiner had a big Earth Day insert. You can figure out the amount of paper, ink, power to run the presses, and so forth, behind that. But what caught my attention was that this annual section was stuck in the middle of the weekly Automobile section. What was that line from Fight Club, about arranging the deck chairs (or polishing the brass?) on the Titanic?

Years ago, I walked out of the skyscraper in which I was temping. It was one of those "DARE to keep kids off drugs" weeks. I forget what DARE stood for, since the program was mostly in the schools and would only occasionally make its presence known in the corporate world, usually through sponsorships. There was a woman, obviously a bit unclear on what exactly she was saying, wearing a huge "DRUG-FREE AND PROUD!" pin. And she was huddled in the entrance, poisoning herself and anyone passing by with the nasty stench of the cigarettes to which she obviously was hopelessly addicted. Sure, she was sold on the idea of smoking, but she was willing to buy, I'm sure without the thought that she was becoming hooked on a drug far worse than some of the banned ones she was so proud not to take. First do no harm, if you can even figure out in time where harm lies. . . . The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices / Make instruments to plague us. . . .

07 April 2008

This Just In

Don't think we don't have international connections here at the Reverberate Hills, because we do; oh yes, we do indeed. Check out our Moscow correspondent's review of the Bolshoi's Nabucco.

04 April 2008


I'm hardly the blog of record for stuff like this, but since I just heard this, I thought I would offer congratulations to Kaija Saariaho, the latest recipient of the Nemmers Composition Prize.

The press release says this was announced April 2, but I haven't heard anything about it. From the release:

"Saariaho was cited by the selection committee for 'transforming avant-garde techniques into a world of luminous, shifting color and emotional depth, mirroring the human experience.'"

Saariaho's response was, ". . . I was especially happy to read the prize citation because it indicates that I have been successful in reaching some of my musical goals."

She will be in residence at Northwestern University's School of Music next year, and during the 2009-2010 season the Chicago Symphony will perform one of her works. We can start placing bets (such as, when the little demons buy themselves little iceskates) on when L'Amour de Loin or Adriana Mater will show up at the Opera House. But the Symphony will probably come through for us, eventually.

03 April 2008

my bosom swells with pride

A thoughtful friend with a suspicious amount of free time on her hands (may I just remind her, and you, that idle hands are the devil's workshop) informed me that after I posted my last entry, there was at least a twenty-four hour period in which googling "crack whore in the back alley" turned up your Reverberate Hills as the #1 destination, among all of the undoubtedly numerous mentions of crack whores and back alleys across the seedier districts of the Interwebs!

I felt a glow of pride and accomplishment, and this time it might even have been unironic.

02 April 2008

the crack whore in the back alley will consider interviewing you, but would like to see some higher-class personal references

I’ve been baffled by Cal Performances’ fund-raising methods in the past; several years ago, for example, they actually sent out a letter with a glossy brochure asking me to look for an upcoming phone call in which they would ask me for money. I guess that faux-personal touch works for some people. I never pledge money over the phone, because I figure that’s the best way to discourage people from calling me and asking for money. I couldn’t be the only one to feel that way, so I don’t know why the glossy brochure and letter didn’t offer the choice of just sending in money in response to said letter (and glossy brochure).

I would have thought that an arts group, particularly in these parlous times, would not be too proud to accept money any way they could get it. But then I got their latest request. As I was filling it out, because even in my own financially parlous times I like to satisfy my Medici delusions by giving to arts groups, I noticed that the form was labeled “Membership Application.”

What’s the matter, Cal Performances? My money not good enough for ya? Too proud to beg for it? Bitch!

I assume the rigorous application process pretty much involves making sure the check doesn’t bounce/the credit card isn’t declined. And I didn’t even notice the silly label at first. But it still irritated me. A lot.

Is anyone seriously going to give, or give more, because of this sort of embarassingly cheeseball luxury-vehicle-with-fine-interior-leather tactic? Because I’ve been sitting in their audiences for years, and believe me, the club is not that exclusive (you can supply the relevant Groucho Marx quip, I’m sure; even that is commonplace).

But what really bugs me is that this trend is both antiquated (does anyone seriously rent a box at the Opera for social reasons anymore? I mean, anyone who doesn’t have a weird Edith Wharton fetish?) and inimical to art (those who truly and deeply respond to such lower-class beings as singers and musicians and even, God help us, actors, tend not to be the sort of people who take high-society-veneers seriously).

One of the things I love most about theater is its democratic nature: given a credit card and an interest in going, anyone can attend, end up sitting next to a CEO or a student, and see the same performance. This whole “pay the extortion fee for the right to buy premium seats” disgusts me on a deep and somewhat irrational level (because these forced “donations” are tax deductible, whereas a higher-priced ticket is not). And over the years, I've seen Cal Performances move unofficially towards the official policy of the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet that reserves subscriptions in the premium seating for big donors. And while I realize such tactics are necessary in a country that has plenty of money for bombing Iraqi children and bailing out spendthrift bankers but pennies for arts funding, I hate to see companies wallow in it more than is absolutely necessary.

Cal Performances, you’re better than that, or should be. Examine yourself: Would Walt Whitman respond to an “Application for Membership”? If not, why should I, or anyone else?