Teatro Luna : Living Large in a Mini Kind of Way

I saw Teatro Luna’s Living Large in a Mini Kind of Way, by Diane Rodriguez. Teatro Luna usually does pieces written by their own collective, so it was a shift for them to do someone else’s play. Living Large tells the story of Lilly, a Latina who has made it into a nice neighborhood in LA and is running for head of the neighborhood watch, but who has just lost her husband and cannot face the reality of her new lonely life — she hides bills in grocery bags in the closet and lives under the illusion that Joe has left her well-cared for. In the meantime, she tries to teach English and refinement to two domestic workers, Big Maria and Little Maria. She’s sure they have their papers (they don’t), and she strikes upon a brilliant idea to get one or both of them to move in with her. As the prospect of this increased contact looms, the comfortable deceits start to unravel. The play is a refreshing tragicomedy and strikes at the heart of the class differences and divisions in the Latino community. It’s well worth seeing, even if it is a little out of the way (The Viaduct near Western and Belmont).

Quote of the day : the folly of money as language

This post is a bit of a start towards thinking about things. The two things do not immediately connect, but they are both in my mind.

We have chosen the wrong weapon for our struggle, because we chose money as our weapon. We are trying to overcome our economic weakness by using the weapons of the economically strong – weapons which in fact we do not possess. By our thoughts, words and actions it appears as if we have come to the conclusion that without money we cannot bring about the revolution we are aiming at. It is as if we have said, “Money is the basis of development. Without money, there can be no development.”

Arusha Declaration (1967)

The president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, was the speaker at my commencement at MIT in 2002. While it poured rain upon us, he basically said “we messed up the world, it’s your job to fix it.” (I am paraphrasing). It was a non-startling abdication of responsibility, but it has stuck with me since.

Yesterday I marched in common cause (the meaning of the word “solidarity”) with a few thousand others against the militarization represented by NATO and its presence in Chicago. The Chicago media and the city have, through repetition, convinced many in the city that the protest is primarily a disruption of their lives. It’s like the snow, only one can blame someone for it. This media campaign is aimed so that people will not ask the questions. Why are people are protesting? What does NATO represent? What actions are being taken in out name? The city asks us to not think. It analogizes as animals — sheep who meekly follow, parrots who unthinkingly repeat soundbites : “the protesters are scary, I am afraid of being hurt,” “why do they have to come here and disrupt our city?”

Don’t be sheep or parrots. Be humans. Think and listen and try to understand. If you disagree with the message of the protest, take the effort to actually disagree. Don’t fall back on the petty concerns of how you are inconvenienced.

In The Family

On Saturday evening I saw In The Family at the Asian American Showcase. It’s a film by Patrick Wang, who I may have last seen in a production of Grand Hotel at MIT when I was just starting college. It’s a film that is definitely worth seeing — an affecting and truthful story, it may make you tear up at times. It will also make you believe that a deposition can be the most important moment in a person’s life.

The trailer for the movie is here:

The synopsis says

In the town of Martin, Tennessee, Chip Hines, a precocious six year old, has only known life with his two dads, Cody and Joey. And a good life it is. When Cody dies suddenly in a car accident, Joey and Chip struggle to find their footing again. Just as they begin to, Cody’s will reveals that he named his sister as Chip’s guardian. The years of Joey’s acceptance into the family unravel as Chip is taken away from him. In his now solitary home life, Joey searches for a solution. The law is not on his side, but friends are. Armed with their comfort and inspired by memories of Cody, Joey finds a path to peace with the family and closer to his son.

The trailer starts almost towards the end of the film, and I think doesn’t really show the things which are the most beautiful about it. There is a scene after Cody’s funeral when Joey and Chip return to the house, shocked. Joey sits at the kitchen table, and Chip (where do they get these child actors — the kid is amazing!) has a long silent scene in which he gets the mail, climbs on the step stool, gets a glass, gets the Coke from the fridge, pours himself some, gets his dad a beer, opens the beer with some effort, then clinks the bottle and glass for cheers, and that is what snaps Joey out of it and he start sorting the mail. This is what I mean by a truthful scene — in the face of trauma and loss, at some point we go on, as Beckett might say. Watching those moments is important.

So the film is 3 hours long almost. But it’s worth it, because it shows you that kind of truth. Moment by moment. You get to understand what is at stake in this story, why Cody and Chip mean so much to Joey. It’s a beautiful debut film, and was rejected from a number of festivals but they are self-distributing it and it’s going to appear soon in a venue near you, hopefully. Do try to see it — it will move you.

Home/Land at Albany Park Theatre Project

On Friday I saw Home/Land at the Albany Park Theatre Project. I’ve been raving to people about it because I think this may be the most important piece of theater I have ever seen.

This is a play built out of stories collected from all over Chicago about immigration and the struggles of families and communities who have come here from all over the world. The actors are high schoolers, the youth of those communities and they bring with them an urgency that is palpable. These stories need to be told, and it is precisely that need that transforms the theater for those two hours. The interior imaginations of these performers is rich, surprising, and incisive. This is a kind of total theater — physical movement, song, and ritual — that you would not expect to come from, well, kids. And you wouldn’t expect to see it in the commercial theater.

The first clip in this profile of the show on PBS was one of the most moving moments in the piece — when I saw it each beat came perfectly timed, the choreographed raw anguish casually brushed away by two guards righting the door. These are real things that happen to real people, and we too can brush these things off. As the saying goes, “attention must be paid.”

The show has been extended but is sold out. Get on the wait list. They will call you if there is space, and if you get in, you will not regret it. If you don’t believe me, read some other more professional reviewers.

He Who (Theatre Zarko)

On Saturday, I saw He Who, a Kickstarter-funded production by puppet symbolist theatre group Theatre Zarko playing at the Steppenwolf Garage Rep. A dream-like meditation on contemporary politics, motherhood, responsibility, and depression, He Who at times feels too serious, but I think the group manages to find the humorous moments inside the pathos.

The main character is a giant infant, mostly a globe-like puppet head made of wire and partially skinned in rags, tilted askew with a single eyeball and and mouth that can open to plead for food or attention or issue commands. It’s clear that this is not necessarily a literal baby, but more of an infantile being — at times a baby, and at times something else that is demanding and incapable of taking care of itself (our political system?) The baby is cared for by a mother played by 4 women in parallel, representing perhaps 4 different aspects of the same mother. She is tired of caring for this huge baby and tries to escape into fantasy, only to be dragged back into line and interrogated by an authoritarian lady in red. One of the most affecting moments of puppetry / mask for me was when one of the mothers dons a coat, hat, and mask holding a cigarette and dances. The physicality was so expressive it almost made the mask seem to move. An absent father figure, also masked, appears and disappears, adding to the dreamlike quality of the piece.

The synopsis claims that the play is about “an old man’s dying few seconds, [in which] he experiences the distorted and painful dreams of his most influential acts and their consequences.” I think this gives far too much credit to the baby, and more or less turns the mother(s) into scraps of his memory, rather than their own characters with agency (whatever that means in this context). I think this play is really about the women, or rather, that it should be about them.

It is definitely a strange work, but I highly recommend checking it out. It will most likely be unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Pierrot Lunaire and L’histoire du soldat (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

Because I needed more highly stylized 20th century Austrian art, I saw the performance of Pierrot Lunaire and The Soldier’s Tale at the Chicago Symphony last night — wow! Pierre Boulez had to bow out on the advice of his ophthalmologist, but Cristian Macelaru did a great job replacing him. Pierrot is one of my favorite pieces, and Kiera Duffy gave a stellar performance — the only thing that was missing for me was more embodiment of the character of Pierrot. This was clearly a choice, and maybe in a big performance space it wouldn’t work, but one thing that makes this piece pop in the chamber setting is the singer taking on the character of Pierrot, especially in the later movements, packing tobacco into the bald pate of Cassander, or rubbing the spot on moonlight on his black coat. The other element of the production was the projections on three screens behind the performers — rather abstracted visual compositions with the English translations moving and fading in and out in a distressed Courier. The affect reminded me a bit of those mid-episode breaks in “darker” anime shows like Lain. Perhaps a bit over the top?

The second half of the program was The Soldier’s Tale, featuring John Lithgow as the narrator, Kevin Gudahl as the devil, and Adam Van Wagoner, Demetrios Troy both playing the soldier, and Lindsey Marks as the princess. This was the best performance of this piece I have seen, even though I had an obstructed seat in the second balcony. The screens were put to good use here, helping demarcate the acts and providing some great moments for silhouettes, especially as the devil played the violin at the end.

They Are Dying Out (Trap Door Theater)

I caught a production last night of They Are Dying Out by Peter Handke at the Trap Door Theatre in Chicago. I’ve read Kaspar and Offending The Audience but hadn’t heard of this play until I saw the review/notice in Chicago Theater Beat. It’s a dark absurdist piece, meditating on the moral emptiness of business. But rather than trying to get our sympathies, to feel for Hermann Quitt and his existential angst, Handke exposes the hypocrisy of the language used by corporate power to justify itself. The resulting performance is cerebral but stylish, effectively using the space and social Gestus to lay bare the positions and relationships of the characters. The themes speak to our present situation, but it was more of a rhyme than a direct attack. The murkiness of the the lighting gave an unsettling noir element to the piece, but I felt that it didn’t quite work all the time. Recommended if you like Brecht (like I do).

One could, of course, make a longer critique about the way women are used in the play, but I’ll table that. This is definitely men’s avant garde of the 70s stuff.