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.

Linkage

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I am going to try to post more regularly now, but as usual, things start out slowly, so here are some links. I’ve been working on massaging the schedule for the 2012 ITA Workshop (registration is open!) as well as some submissions for KDD (a first for me) and ISIT (since I skipped last year), so things are a bit hectic.

Chicago Restaurant Week listings are out, for the small number of you readers who are in Chicago. Some history on the Chicago activities of CORE in the 40s.

Via Andrew Gelman, a new statistics blog.

A paper on something called Avoidance Coupling, which I want to read sometime when I have time again.

Our team, Too Big To Fail, finished second in the 2012 MIT Mystery Hunt. There were some great puzzles in there. In particular, Picture An Acorn was awesome (though I barely looked at it), and Slash Fiction was a lot of fun (and nostalgia-inducing. Ah, Paris!). Erin has a much more exhaustive rundown.

News from UChicago Statistics

In a further procrastination about Allerton blogging, I want to share two items from the UChicago Statistics department.

The first is that there will be a conference in early December in memory of Partha Niyogi, who passed away last year. Registration is free, so if you are in the area, you may want to come.

The other is that Patrick Billingsley passed away in April. I had no idea that he “also became an accomplished actor of stage and screen” (ideas are now percolating in my head). He was in the The Untouchables! The next time I am over there, I will take a picture of a poster they have up advertising his tenor voice performing a “tragicomic rendition” of ergodic theory and coding. I gotta find a new shtick for myself, I think.

Linkage

Cosma reviewed Networks, Crowds, and Markets by Easley and Kleinberg for the American Scientist. I have had the book for a while and just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I should. Its a weighty tome, perhaps a bit too weighty to take to the beach (or on a plane, or…). Alex Dimakis said he reads a little bit before going to bed at night. That’s a heavy glass of warm milk. A fun quote from the review:

What game theorists somewhat disturbingly call rationality is assumed throughout—in other words, game players are assumed to be hedonistic yet infinitely calculating sociopaths endowed with supernatural computing abilities.

Ah, game theory. I anticipate experiencing the unease Cosma feels about the “realities behind the mathematics.”

MIT wants to teach math writing. I thought I learned how to write math by having my Phase II paper draft doused liberally in red ink by Prof. Kleiman. But this is something else entirely. I think a more important thing is to help those who work in mathematical fields or who use mathematics. Perhaps this will be a resource that engineering graduate students can use to improve their own writing.

The Connected States of America, including an interactive map showing how much people in place A talk to people in place B. Via MeFi.

Since I am moving to Chicago this fall, it’s time to get familiar with the L.

Our Paperwork Explosion – an add for IBM. Very weird. Also, vaguely menacing. I love the music though! AVia MeFi.

A mountain-climber’s axe! A mountain-climber’s axe! CAN’T YOU GET THAT THROUGH YOUR SKULL? (Trotsky dies. Bell.)