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).
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.
How to Survive in a Science Fictional Universe (Charles Yu) – Not the book you think it is. This was a fantastic read, a meditation on loss and time and memory and connections. Sure there is a time travel, but it’s more about what that means psychologically than technologically. Highly recommended.
Carter Beats The Devil (Glen David Gold) – A fictionalized biography of stage magician Charles Joseph Carter, this is a real page-turner, especially if you like the attention to historical detail. I quite enjoyed it, despite the rather abrupt ending.
Daemonomania (John Crowley) – Book Three of the Aegypt cycle. This one was slow going and hard to get into, but it really picks up in the middle. The costume party towards the end of the book is all worth it, as is the mission to rescue Rosie’s daughter Sam from the cultish Powerhouse. Crowley may be accused of injecting the mystic into the mundane in an artificial way, but I think what this book did was show how desperate circumstances amplify and distort our perceptions to make events seem mysterious or magical.
Tango (Slawomir Mrozek) – a somewhat absurdist allegory about reactionary tendencies. The setting is a rather bohemian family living in a house in disarray, with the father Stromil putting on ridiculous art shows (“experiments”) and ignoring the fact that his wife is cheating on him with a roustabout, Eddie. All of this is very frustrating to Arthur, his son, who longs for a return to the old classical ways. He gets his way by holding them to higher standards at gunpoint, but then realizes the futility of it all. I imagine it’s funnier performed with more dramaturgical context. It takes place between the wars, so that clearly has something to do with it, but my play-reading chops are not up to snuff to say anything insightful.
Complexity and Information (J. F. Traub and A. G. Werschulz) – a gentle, if scattered, introduction to information based complexity, which I had heard about but didn’t really know too much about. It somehow feels “old fashioned” to me (perhaps that’s the machine learning kool-aid speaking), with comparisons to Turing machines and so on. But the central question of how to appropriately estimate integrals from samples is pretty interesting, given my recent forays into using MCMC.
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.
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.
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.
More content-ful posts to come soon, I swear. I got sidetracked by job applications. ‘Tis the season, you know…
Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls gets panned. I should mention that the play was done at MIT my first year there and I still remember it as one of the most affecting pieces of theater that I saw during my time there (and maybe after as well).
Scott McLemee on the poverty of the Rally to Restore Sanity.
Winners of the SD Asian Film Festival “Interpretations” contest. Like contentless scenes from your acting/directing class, but with film!
SAALT put out a report called From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse (PDF). Reading it is keeping me up past my bedtime. (via Sepia Mutiny).
On Thursday I went to the last preview performance of Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company‘s production of Yellow Face, by David Henry Hwang. If you live in San Diego, go see it! It opened last night and plays through the end of the month.
The play is a fictionalized autobiography, with Hwang as the main character, played by Greg Watanabe. Searching for an actor in his new play Face Value, Hwang casts Marcus G (Brian Bielawski), whom he thinks might be Asian. When he discovers Marcus is white, Hwang tries to give Marcus a backstory as a Siberian Jew (and hence Asian), but eventually fires him. The play flops weeks later, and Marcus and Hwang go their separate ways. Years later, Hwang discovers that Marcus has started to pass himself off as Asian and has become active and a bit of a celebrity in the Asian-American community, especially for political causes. Hwang finds Marcus toxic; he berates his ex for dating Marcus, he feels isolated. Hwang’s father and Marcus both become persons of interest in a congressional probe into Chinese financing in the US. In the end, of course, everything has to come out in the open.
In part, I read the play as Hwang dealing with the discomfort of being the spokesman for Asian-American theater and the expectations that come along with that. It also brings up the discomfort felt by Asian Americans (or anyone, really) when their struggles or concerns are co-opted by well-intentioned but overzealous white people. The historical context encompasses three moments in the 90’s : the casting in Miss Saigon of Jonathan Pryce, a white actor playing in yellowface, the 1996 campaign finance investigations into “Chinese influence” in US elections, and the 1999 railroading of Wen Ho Lee (the program has some dramaturgical notes in case you were asleep or too young in the 90’s). The play uses these events to frame Hwang’s vacillation between caring about the issues and being repulsed by Marcus’ involvement; Marcus uses his “yellowface” for good ends, but in the end he’s a poseur.
There’s a lot going on, and director Seema Sueko does a great job of keeping all the balls in the air while maintaining the narrative thread. The play is a farce, and while the madcap energy that the actors bring to their performances felt a little too extreme initially, in the end it felt necessary to keep the momentum going. I found the text a little uneven; the major climactic scene in which Hwang has it out with the yellow journalist from the NY Times is almost too measured and serious. Perhaps it’s the political climate we live in now — in a muckraking environment, an argument about blatant bias feels real, rather than absurd (or even hyperreal).
However, this production works well. All the technical details: the set, use of video projection, sound, lights, and so on, are well-suited to the space they have there. The ensemble (Albert Park, Michelle Wong, Jacob Bruce, and Maggie Carney) really work their butts off providing the diversity of performance and characterization needed to tell a decades worth of political and personal stories. Sueko uses the physical space of the theater to great effect, heightening the absurdity of situations, and using physical distance to complement and accent other sorts of “distance.”
So if you’re in San Diego, see this show — you’ll learn something!
UPDATE : I edited a bit above and realized that you could describe the NY times reporter as practicing “yellow journalism.” An implicit double entendre? I laugh!
This looks like an interersting book on the homeless, especially given all the time I spent in the Bay Area.
Tyler Perry has shortened the title of his film adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
Max really digs in to directed information.
In other news, after ITW I went to Paris to hang out and work with Michele Wigger on a small story related to the multiaccess channel with user cooperation. While I was there saw some fun art by Detanico/Lain and caught a show by Fever Ray at L’Olympia. In fact, I’ll be headlining there soon:
Have a good Sunday, everyone!
Storyteller/performance artist, def poetry jam performer, national poetry slam champion robert farid karimi — supported by an amazing soundscape spun live by Chicago DJ and Violator All-Star DJ D Double — mixes together stories, movement, and music to tell the tale of a first generation child of Iranian and Guatemalan immigrants learning how to survive the cultural imperialism of the United States on his quest to find wholeness in the fractured atmosphere of the 70s and 80s.
It’s a coming-of-age story that seems to have a new relevance given the current tensions between the US and Iran and the heated rhetoric around immigration. I usually enjoy solo performance, and although this is technically a dual performance, the “style” is similar to other narrative solo performances (c.f. Josh Kornbluth). What was particularly effective is the way in which DJ D Double weaves the soundtrack and effects into the narrative. It’s rapid-changing and pulls samples, beats, and songs from every direction, providing an structure to support Karimi’s performance while commenting and in an effect becoming its own character. In terms of “solo performance,” it’s some of the best use of sound I’ve seen.
The show only has a few more performances, starting tonight and going through this weekend. If you’re in San Diego and reading this (probably 5 people total), then go check it out!