The Spirit of Man

By Peter Barnes. This is actually three related one-acts: and Handmaiden of the Second Kind, From Sleep And Shadow, and The Night of Sinchat Torah. All of these plays deal with the issue of faith and religion being put to the test, and how people react under these circumstances. In the first, a woman being tried by the French Inquisition in the 1400s pleads guilty to witchcraft and terrorizes her oppressors. At the end she confesses to God (and the audience) that it was all sleight of hand and trickery, because she did not want to be tortured or die. The second takes place after the English Revolution. A man whose wife is dying enlists the aid of a Ranter with peculiar beliefs. The latter (played by Alan Rickman) summons the spirit of the former’s first wife (Sarah), who is keeping the spirit of the second (Abigale) from returning to her body. In the third, three Jews in 1800s Poland cast out God for abandoning their people.

These are three interesting scenes all of which gnaw on a similar bone — this isn’t a form I had thought to use, but seems ideal for a piece that comes out of an ideological need, or perhaps any well-formulated idea or need.

Platanos

18th and Guerrero. This is one of those Nuevo Latino places, a kind of hodgepodge of Central American foods that to the uninitiated (me) all seem, well, tasty. And tasty it was. We started out with the tostadas, some fried plantain discs with two kinds of salsa, one green, and one red. I found the red one a little overbearing and the green one a little weak, but I could alternate between them, which worked wonderfully. For the main course I chose a Guatemalan tamale, with some tender juicy chicken and onions, a grilled corn salad that was light and refreshing, and black beans with rice that was surprisingly sweet. It was a hearty portion, but I wanted more, so I got the custard with fresh raspberries, which was a perfect light way to end the meal.

The decor is very… orange. And the service is pretty good. It gets kind of noisy once the main dinner rush kicks in, and the high ceilings only make it worse. Expect to pay more if you get the dessert, like I did, or a beverage.

All in all, I would recommend Platanos, and it is a welcome addition to my list of Good Places To Eat In The Mission. But there are so many good places, and it didn’t have any one thing that stood out in my mind. But maybe next time I’ll try something else on the menu and have my socks knocked off.

Feel cultured

I was looking for my old favorite short animation, Strindberg and Helium, when I came across the 2003 Sundance Online Film Festival. It’s awesome! And the short films are a perfect 5 minute brain break. Maybe the Internet isn’t the bane on my productivity that I thought it was.

In other news, I saw the SF Mime Troupe show, Veronique of the Mountains. It was funny, but not as good as Mr. Smith Goes to Obskuristan, which was last year’s show. But theater in the park is always a fun summer activity, as long as you have plenty of water.

I’m reading White Teeth now, and learned from it what one of those mysterious curse words my father used to utter when he was in a bad mood actually means. Because, y’know, it was usually not a good time to ask for the etymology when I heard it.

Pho Hoa Lao II

333 10th Street, between Webster and Harrison. This is a pretty crowded pho place in Oakland’s Chinatown. I had the pho tai bo vien (flank steak and beef balls), which was about the best pho I’ve ever had in a restaurant. The broth was flavorful but not too heavy, the portions of meat were generous, and the noodles cooked just right. The menu is a little sparse as Vietnamese restaurants go, with none of the bun (vermicelli) dishes that you see at a lot of places. But they serve up a mean bowl of pho, and one that I’m willing to make the trip into Oakland for, given the sparse pickings in Berkeley.

The wait staff is friendly and not pushy, even though we spent 20 minutes after finishing just yakking away. They even taught Dave how to ask for his pho without cilantro.

Powell’s

Hayes and Octavia. Powell’s is a soul food kitchen, and a damn fine one. It’s almost the best fried chicken I’ve ever had, juicy with a crispy skin that is to die for. The corn muffins, albeit a little small, provide the perfect complement. There’s never been a wait in the several times I’ve gone here, and the staff is pretty friendly and prompt. There’s usually gospel playing from the jukebox in the front of the restaurant for added atmosphere. If you’re really hungry and want to spend the extra cash, the dinner plates should fill you up. But for under four dollars you can get two fresh pieces of chicken and a corn muffin that would make the Colonel run back to his kitchen crying. How can you go wrong?

A Phoenix Too Frequent

By Christopher Fry. This is a comedic one-act in modern verse, set in classical times. A widow of a prominent accountant/administrator, Dynamene, is grieving to death in her husband’s tomb with her oversexed maid, Doto. As Dynamene goes to sleep, Doto is interrupted by Tegeus, a soldier who is guarding some hanging bodies outside. Tegeus shares his food and wine with Doto, they get to talking, and Dynamene wakes up, convinced initially that Tegeus is a spirit or supernatural, then turns to abusing him when he reveals himself to be a poor soldier. He is in awe of her noble self-sacrifice, they end up falling in love, poor Doto is left out of the loop. Dyanmene renames Tegeus to Chromis, and he goes to check on the bodies outside. When he comes back he is doomed, since one of the bodies is missing and the punishment for that is death. Dyanmene volunteers her husband’s body to replace the missing one, and all is well.

This play is really funny and cute, and also in verse. Which makes it all the more cute, in my opnion, although I’m not sure how it would sound or look on the stage. Other free verse plays (like the Abbey’s production of Medea) tend to sound pretty natural, although the words are prettied up, and I get the impression this play would be like that as well. Fry has written a lot of verse plays, and I own several, so it will be interesting to see how the style changes from play to play.

It’s nicely constructed into two person scenes, basically, with some small transitions, but it all takes place in a single interval of time without interruption. Each scenelet has clear objectives and conflicts, and there’s a particularly cute “getting to know you” scene between Tegeus-Chromis and Dynamene. Doto’s comic asides and written in burps and hiccups are also charming. She reminds me a little of the maid in Noises Off, coming in and out with sardines and talking to herself. A little dotty, but pretty nice.

All in all, a cute fun play to read in summer. I laughed.

The Silmarillion

By J.R.R. Tolkien. This is the prequel, as-it-were, to the Lord of the Rings. It covers the making of the earth, the early days of the elves and of men, and revolves in the center around the elves’ quest to regain the Silmarils, which were jewels stolen by Morgoth, a god who Fell from grace. It was Tolkien’s attempt to create a mythos for England, that is centered in things English, and also to provide a theological framework for his world of Middle-Earth. As a result, The Silmarillion reads much like the Bible, say, or the epic of Gilgamesh. It’s full of names, all of which are etymologically described in the glossary, and very confusing. It’s not so much of the X begot Y who begot Z, but more like X was angry at Y’s slowness and slew him, and thus began X’s exile from the lands ruled by Z, who was Y’s father. Complicated, to say the least.

Recommended for those seeking some relatively clean (well thought-out) mythology, but it’s not light or easy reading, and it’s not very swashbuckling. It’s kind of nice in its grandeur though, and a lot happens, even if it isn’t described in the most colorful way. Some of the mini epics and romances within the main story are beautiful in the way in which they mimic other cultures’ stories.

Pho House

On University between Milvia and MLK. I went here with my friend Dave Nguyen, and we both agreed this was about the worst pho we’ve had out here. The broth was somewhat flavorless, there weren’t many noodles, and the bo vien (meatballs) were dry. It was a very unconvincing imitation of good pho. The spring rolls were a bit better, but all in all, this place isn’t worth trying in the first place.

Live in Kornbluthia

I saw Josh Kornbluth‘s new piece, Love and Taxes at the Magic Theater in SF last night. It was hilarious. If you haven’t seen his work before, check out the movie Haiku Tunnel, or read Red Diaper Baby, a collection of monologues. This autobiographical piece was all about Josh’s adventures in paying his taxes, from not filing 7 years in a row, to getting his big break only to find he owed $27,000, and beyond. And of course, love. Who can forget love? The Magic Theater is a pretty cool place, and I had never been. It’s where a lot of Sam Shepard plays were premiered, like Buried Child. Which I should also read.

A Short Play

[two children, BOBBY and SALLY sitting in the kitchen waiting for dinner, when all of a sudden two eyepatch-wearing villains in green swing in through though the window on ropes.]

PIRATE 1: Avast!
PIRATE 2: Arrrrr!
BOBBY: Who are you?
SALLY: Are you going to make us walk the plank?
BOBBY: I can’t swim!
PIRATE 1: Yer fate’ll be worse than that, ye swabs!
PIRATE 2: Ye’ll need a strong stomach to face yer fate,
PIRATE 1: Me name’s Broccoli Rob, and this is me first mate, Bruce.
PIRATE 2: But they calls me “Ell’s Sprouts.”
SALLY: Oh no, Bobby! I’ve heard of them! They’re the Green Sea Men!
BOBBY: What are you going to do to us?
PIRATE 1: We’re going to stuff you full of Vitamins A and K!
KIDS: Noooooooooooooooooo!

Ok, so it’s a work in progress. I blame Adam for the idea. Arrrr!