The Blue Raccoon

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Regina Spektor must know Carytown on a hot day...

...but she's also missed somebody who means the world.

Summer in the city means cleavage cleavage cleavage
And I start to miss you, baby, sometimes
I’ve been staying up and drinking in a late night establishment
Telling strangers personal things

Summer in the city, I’m so lonely lonely lonely
So I went to a protest just to rub up against strangers
And I did feel like coming but I also felt like crying
It doesn’t seem so worth it right now

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"You think not telling a lie is the same as telling the truth?"
"No, it's simple economics."

A clip featuring Robert Redford and the familiar-face Cliff Robertson from the late great Sydney Pollack's 1975 Three Days of the Condor, based on the James Grady novel Six Days of the Condor. Lorenze Semple, Jr. adapted the novel to the screen.

This prescient and eerie scene is echoed in Stephen Gaghan's 2005 Syriana -- here Tim Blake Nelson is the morally bankrupt true believer and Terence Howard is trying to figure out the truth. Stephen Gaghan created this script from a book by former CIA agent Robert Baer, See No Evil.

"We have laws against it preciscely so we can get away with it...Corruption is why we win."

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Hey, Wa' Happened?
Crisis of Conscience After The Fact

There must be a term for this; the clinical and constitutional inability of those around centers of power to think with a clear head about playing a role in events that may contravene an individual's sense of what is proper behavior. Why he didn't speak up at the time, or just get free, and write his tell-all when the facts therein might've made an actual difference are all legitimate quesitons. Did he get clear of his Bush Administration-induced Stockholm Syndrome in a blinding flash of road-to-Damascus realization? Maybe, just maybe, his laggard summary of his White House years--titled What Happened-- is a way of trying to keep out of the defendants dock at The Hague. Present and past members of the administration are to a man, or woman, all puzzled that the Scottie they knew has dared to utter his version of the truth, when before he was a mere compliant milquetoast complict in his own getting played as a sap.

Below, an excerpt from A Mighty Wind.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)

Man With A Movie Camera: On location for 2005's The Interpreter.
Image via NicoleKidmanUnited.

Someone once remarked about how Merchant-Ivory, the renowned directing and producing team, had the sound of an exclusive catalogue company, like J. Peterman; from which you'd order quality but unusual items. You'd be intrigued and not disappointed.

When Sydney Pollack's name popped up as a producer of the recent HBO tele-film Recount (see my assessment in the previous post) I was pleased. This meant the film would at least be interesting, even if it didn't fire on all cylinders. Sydney Pollack was one of those names that seemed more a description of a solid, well-made film -- a sydneypollack. The Associated Press obituary is here.

He was a student of the great Sanford Meisner whose main premise was; don't act, react. Be in the scene and don't impose upon what's happening between the characters. Let it happen. He also worked in live television, back when that was a manic panic scene. So his films as a result breathe; there's no cynical distance, no over-emphasis of technique, though he was a superb technician (If The Interpreter is on when I'm channel-flipping I get caught up watching because of the way the images flow. And there's Nicole Kidman, before she turned into a fright doll). Pollack recognized storytelling, and that characters are action.

I also enjoyed his appearances on television and in cameos in films. Wherever he showed up, Pollack brought a sense of weight and authenticity to the role that looked easy and natural, but seldom ever is. Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut was disconcerting because, playing against type, he turned his affability into an underlying deviousness. I always remember him as Dustin Hoffman's exasperated agent in Tootsie.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars, bay-beee!

Phoenix Rising: The NASA unmanned probe eased on down to the surface
closer to the Red Planet's North Pole. No Martian elves or Santa sighted;
but if you follow the horizon line to the middle right I see what looks like
a light flare. Probably the glint off a beer can. Via Phoenix Mars Mission Gallery.

Mars is a place. We can go there. I remember as a kid looking at the pictures that the Viking lander sent back; the rust-colored sand and the Arizonian landscape of rocks. You almost expected to see sagebrush and cacti. At once alien and familiar, the pictures cannot convey the intense cold and the inhospitable atmosphere. There's no dew clinging to the rocks. No creatures spewing ice-crystal breath. At least, none that we know of.

After reading about horrendous catastrophes in China--earthquakes, death, pollution and the Olympics; the Myanmar cyclone recovery efforts and the tattered remnants of our godforsaken godespairing godhaunted rigged-to-explode tottering oil-drunk civilization (such as it is), I like to take a little solace in this news.

About 50 percent of efforts to land a vehicle on Mars fail, and this was a risk, because instead of air bags, Phoenix used retro rockets to break its fall and bring it to the surface. The chances were hight that of one of its three feet glancing on a rock and the whole device falling over, and becoming unable to deploy its solar panels.


"PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander survived a fiery plunge through the Martian atmosphere Sunday to make a three-point landing on the red planet's arctic plains, where it beamed back its first images to the delight of mission scientists.

"It looks as if the solar arrays have completely deployed, absolutely beautiful," said Dan McCleese, chief scientist at here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "It's just beautiful, crystal clear images."

The spacecraft touched down in the Vastitas Borealis plains within the Martian arctic circle, where it is slated to spend at least three months searching for water ice hidden away below the frozen surface. The descent and landing sequence went completely as planned.

"This team has performed perfectly...did you see that thing zoom down and then just touch?" said an exuberant Peter Smith, Phoenix's principal investigator of the University of Arizona. "It's not on a's in a safe place."

Mission scientists here at JPL received the signal that Phoenix had landed at around 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT) today, exactly when they expected to. (The probe's signals take about 15 minutes to traverse the 171 million miles (275 million km) between Mars and listening stations back on Earth.)

"Phoenix has landed! Phoenix has landed!" shouted a NASA commentator as the signal was received. "Welcome to the northern plains of Mars!"

The $420-million Phoenix mission, which launched in August, is designed to dig down to the rock-hard layers of water ice thought to lie under the Martian soil in the northern arctic region. Phoenix's arrival marked the first successful landing on Mars since NASA's twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers bounced to a stop in 2004 and the first powered landing in more than 30 years for NASA."

The Sweetest Thing: Mars, we have
arrived. Bring on the frozen microbes!
"Do-You-Want-To-Play-A-Game?"Via the BBC.

When I was a teenager and much more into speculative fiction than I am now, I had this half-formed idea for a story in which a probe learned that the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos were, in fact, constructed. They housed the memories and artifacts of the Martian civilization before it self-extinguished following a long decline due to some kind of environmental catastrophe that forced them underground.

But, these days, I'd be happy with a paradigm-shifting discovery of a bit of fossil material that was definitely from Mars, and not flown in by an asteroid. C'mon, just one little piece. A tooth or something. Heck with this bacteriological germ stuff. That's all Andromeda Strain. Check out this cool video from the Jet Propulsion Labs, here.

Stay tuned, it could get interesting in the next several months.

There are those out there that say: this is colossal waste of our money. I don't agree; because we just don't know what we're going to find. I also look forward to the 2012 arrival of another automated rover that can, like Phoenix, dig trenches and analyze soil but in different locations. And if while digging around up there, we find oil, well, imagine that Marscape sprouting Halliburton-built oil Weyland-Yutani, "The Company" in Alien.

Ben Stein's Baloney: "The Enterprise Is for the Young"

Ben Stein's essay in the Sunday New York Times, "Running Out of Fuel, But Not Out of Ideas," wasn't arch enough to be considered a "modest proposal" in Swiftian terms, and it was too predictable to be serious. Except, I think that he is. [Image via Flickr]

He writes: "Gasoline is unimaginably important in our lives in the United States. Without gas in virtually limitless supply, and at prices we could afford, American life would change...In a way, we would stop being America as we know it."

And Stein says this like stopping being the America as we know it would be a bad thing. He goes on to write about the addiction and dependence we have on oil. And his ambivalence and hemming and hawing about not wanting really to alter his own behavior reminds me of Thomas Jefferson's response to Edward Coles in 1814. (I came across this fascinating exchange in Alan Pell Crawford's Twilight At Monticello, about T.J.'s later years).

Edward Coles was an Albemarle County neighbor of Jefferson. At age 27, Coles was confronted by the moral and ethical issue of holding slaves. He sought Jefferson's advice on the best way to free the people he owned. Coles considered himself a Virginian, and didn't want to leave the country, but felt that perhaps the only way to give his slaves their freedom was to move all to Illinois. [Image of Coles via]

Jefferson couldn't really give him any advice -- though he did commend Coles on his initiative, and weasled out of giving him a straight answer.

... Your solitary but welcome voice is the first which has brought this sound to my ear; and I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavorable to every hope.

Yet the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds; or by the bloody process of St Domingo, excited and conducted by the power of our present enemy, if once stationed permanently within our Country, and offering asylum & arms to the oppressed, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over.

As to the method by which this difficult work is to be effected, if permitted to be done by ourselves, I have seen no proposition so expedient on the whole, as that as emancipation of those born after a given day, and of their education and expatriation after a given age. This would give time for a gradual extinction of that species of labour & substitution of another, and lessen the severity of the shock which an operation so fundamental cannot fail to produce.

For men probably of any color, but of this color we know, brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising young. In the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them. Their amalgamation with the other color produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent.

I am sensible of the partialities with which you have looked towards me as the person who should undertake this salutary but arduous work. But this, my dear sir, is like bidding old Priam to buckle the armour of Hector "trementibus aequo humeris et inutile ferruncingi." No, I have overlived the generation with which mutual labors & perils begat mutual confidence and influence. This enterprise is for the young; for those who can follow it up, and bear it through to its consummation. It shall have all my prayers, & these are the only weapons of an old man."
[The entire letter is here].

Jefferson told Coles what he needed to know. The younger man wrote back that he didn't agree that prayers were "the only weapons of one your age, nor that the difficult task of cleaning the escutcheon of Virginia of the foul stain of slavery can best be done by the young."

Eager to advance in life, young men too readily flowed "with the current of popular feeling" to make an independent, and indeed, controversial course. It was precisely because the antislavery position would be received so strongly that it could be advanced only "by those whose previous course of useful employment [gave them] the firmest footing in the confidence and attachment of their country." Only such men "have it in their power effectively to arouse and enlighten public sentiment."

Coles concluded that he'd not even thought of Jefferson's age, since Benjamin Franklin, to whom Pennsylvania owed its early abolitionist stance, was active and useful "in arduous duties after he had past your age."

There's no evidence that Jefferson replied to Coles' second letter--what could Jefferson possibly have said? Coles, thus satisfied, moved his household to Illinois and freed his slaves. Coles became the governor of the state and kept it free of the onus of slavery.

Ben Stein's solution to the present and enduring oil predicament is to just start drilling anyplace where we think oil is. I'm reminded of intravenous drug users who, having worn out their veins, start using other parts of their body--the genitalia, the eyes--to shoot up. Of course, what follows soon is death.

Stein writes:

"In my humble view, we are now in a short-term oil bubble. It will pass and correct, as bubbles do. And speculators will make millions, whichever way it goes. But the long run is terrifying. If we are at or past peak oil, if oil states stop or even hesitate to send us the juice, if Canada decides not to fill our needs, we are in overwhelming trouble.

So, what to do? First, we do not kill the geese — the big oil companies — that lay the golden eggs. We encourage them and cheer them on to get more oil. They need incentives, not hammer blows...

We need to turn coal into oil into gasoline, to use nuclear power wherever we can, and to brush aside the concerns of the beautiful people who live on coastal pastures (like me). And we need to drill on the continental shelf, even near where movie stars live. This must be done, on an emergency basis. If we keep acting as if the landscape were more important than human life, we will make ourselves the serfs of the oil producers and eventually reduce our country to poverty and anarchy."

So basically, Stein wants to turn our national parks into that Pennsylvania "ghost town" with the poetic and ironic name of Pithole City, Pa. This was an early oil boom settlement that after having exhausted their supply of oil, burned, collapsed and all but vanished. I guess this is the fate Stein wants to prevent -- but the fact is, and he alludes to this in his essay -- the only way out of this is to innovate-- but with new, creative technologies. And get off the petro-crack-rock -- which he doesn't say at all. He's all about coal and nukes. I'm all about finding what works best in each region of the country, and endeavoring to pleasing the greatest amount of people through variations on some alternative measures.

I go back to my cars-as-slaves analogy. Our dependence on automobiles is to me quite connected. True, motor vehicles are not people, as were slaves, but owners of slaves considered them investments, as means of production, as walking machines. We name cars. We baby them. We build garages for them. Some see cars as extension of their personality and for certain as status symbols. They are psycho-sexual machines. They convey worth. They are symbols of material wealth -- just as slaves were for their owners.

I'm reminded now, too, of a great apologist for slavery and patriot, Patrick Henry. He wrote in 1773 to a Quaker acquaintance Robert Pleasants, that yes, he did agree that Patrick Henry owning slaves was strange. Less eloquent than Jefferson, Henry says much the same thing, but with even more of a point:

"Would any one believe that I am Master of Slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by ye. general inconvenience of living without them, I will not, I cannot justify it. However culpable my Conduct, I will so far pay my devoir to Virtue, as to own the excellence & rectitude of her Precepts, & to lament my want of conforming to them.--

I believe a time will come when an oppo. will be offered to abolish this lamentable Evil.--Every thing we can do is to improve it, if it happens in our day, if not, let us transmit to our descendants together with our Slaves, a pity for their unhappy Lot, & an abhorrence for Slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished for Reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity, it is ye. furthest advance we can make toward Justice [We owe to the] purity of our Religion to shew that it is at variance with that Law which warrants Slavery.--" [See the whole letter here]

This is the line that jumps out at me: "I am drawn along by ye. general inconvenience of living without them, I will not, I cannot justify it."

This is Ben Stein's argument! Getting off oil, cold turkey, would be a "general inconvenience." Doing without our cars would cause us, oh, to live closer together and not pollute and walk more and invest in transit. Oh, this could save the world, and perhaps what's left of our humanity, but no, let's go drill off California. On an emergency basis. It's the Paint Your Wagon argument. Mine out the natural resources underneath your civilization, then what it's done, go on to the next one.

Ooops! No place to go! Until people build their own rocket Conestoga Wagons and start wildcatting on Mars.

I am reminded of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall's fear...I cannot recall the letter. He is referring to the obstinacy of Southerners where slavery was concerned, and he feared--this is around 1834-ish--the question would only be solved through civil conflict.

Likewise, this issue of contemporary life with its dependency on oil will not be resolved without some kind of conflict. Right now, it's pretty much overseas and out of mind except for those who are participating in the wars or are family members and friends of the men and women who've been sent to fight.

It is preposterous to think that a nation of 300 millions can continue to exist with three motor vehicles for every man, woman and child. This notion is just absurd. Nature cannot bear the weight of such disastrous habits. Ben Stein--and those like him--know it's impossible to continue as we have. They just don't want to face...inconvenient truths.

Utah hopped his last freight

A great character of the U.S of A. died this past week, at home, in bed, next to his wife. Utah Phillips, folksinger, rail rider, poet, outsider maker of culture and a real working class hero. He was 73, and packed several lives into one. You can read more here.

Like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, he was a true individual, and one who strove for authenticity in a world covered over more and more by the humongous corporate hegemon.

He was a veteran of the Korean War and that experience turned him into a peace activist.

There's much to cause despair when one looks about; Phillips wasn't immune. He said if you looked around, you came to the conclusion that the world was going to hell in a wheelbarrow. But, if one traveled, and met others, he realized that there were too many people doing good things to surrender hope.

He was nominated for a Grammy for his collaboration with Ani DiFranco.

U. Utah Phillips died following heart problems that developed in 2004.

Amy Goodman at "Democracy Now!" ran an interview with him taped during the last election cycle on Tuesday, here.

And The "Clackers" Just Worship Her

About as far as I can go from the ethos of Mr. U. Utah Phillips is the homage to consumption and career opportunity that is The Devil Wears Prada. I mention the 2006 movie because this morning while eating my oatmeal the movie came on, and I found myself sucked in. I even saw this on a big screen. It isn't that the Message, such as it is, means anything: Be True To Yourself And That Is The Best Reward Provided You Can Be Fabulous and Rich.

But Anne Hathaway! She may even be related to Shakespeare's wife. The stylish look of the film, the editing, the jazzy/disco soundtrack, Meryl Streep at her most imperious, Stanley Tucci making me forget he's Stanley Tucci, redheaded Emily Blunt, and New York, oh New York looks so lovely--all this, and Paris, too. So I get a twofer threefer or so. Eye candy, as Amie says.

I even like that Pavolvian ring-tone on Andy's telephone that signifies Miranda is calling with more of her impossible demands -- maybe because I also associate the aural cue with a clever HBO promotion from months ago that highlighted the newest round of movies airing, and it made a rhythmic roundelay of several of them. Funny and attention-getting.

I also love the way "Andy" refers to the girls in stiletto heels walking in the marble halls as "clackers." Never fails. Whenever I've been in an archive or library, and the guys hear the "click clack" of heels, everybody's head swivels. Can she be as good as she sounds? Kind of primal.

For the record, though, I liked Anne Hathaway just fine in the racer back T, tanktop and jeans outfit that you see in the video at :57, though the Northwestern hoodie is a bit much. Maybe it's cold in that apartment.

She just looks good, glammed up or dressed down. At least, far as I know. And here she is in a T-shirt.

I'm fed up, too. [Image via Flickr]

Plus, she makes a hat look great. And I love me some hats, and girls who can wear them.

I Want A Recount

So last night, I almost stayed awake through all of HBO's Recount. It was one of the late night repeats and, well, I lived through this shameful white-knuckle event of our recent political history. Considering all the hell that has followed after the 2000 un-election-- this movie just made me sad. This is before 9/11, the Iraq-Afghanistan wars, the Patriot Act, FISA, Katrina and just a whole rasher of scheit that probably wouldn't have happened, or not quite the way in which it came out, had that election gone the other way.

Tthe acting in the tertiary roles was uneven. The dubbing is really atrocious in some parts; particularly when we're looking behind Al Gore, or George W., and even in some master shots, where the looping just is wonky. I thought the emphasis on the fluorescent-lined ceilings of the Democratic party strategy centers was a direct homage to the Washington Post newsroom in All The President's Men. There are numerous scenes in which people's faces are reflected in table tops, and other shiny surfaces. And there was some sense of that film, mixed with a John Grisham thriller, like, say, Runaway Jury, or Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter.

Laura Dern just about disappears into Katherine Harris, and aside from some Dern mouth-twists, its scary how close she resembles the Harris who all the sudden appeared on the television during that fateful time like some mad scientist bursting into the programming to announce she's going to take over the world. And Assistant Director Walter Skinner! -- I mean -- Mitch Pileggi playing Chicago's William Daley. I really expected Scully and Mulder to show up, or, perhaps more appropriate, the Lone Gunmen. The 2000 election was, if nothing else, an X-File.

Yet for all the effort to sleek up the clunky and chad-hanging process, I felt kind of like I was watching a movie from the 1970s. Something about the lighting, maybe, that dubbing, the clothes, even the look of the characters. Had kind of a Parallax View feel. Maybe I was just projecting. Not so much actual time has passed, but indeed, an entire country, a world and a way of acknowledging the future is dead and lies moldering in the grave.

"Someone will have to measure the wreckage. Someone will have to walk through the ruins. Someone will have to count the cost."

I direct your attention to this month's issue of Esquire. Not because of the Rachel Radha pictorial or the "What I've Learned" with Gore Vidal : "We're the most captive nation of slaves that ever came along. The moral timidity of the average American is quite noticeable. Everybody's afraid to be thought different from everyone else."

Contrast this with the interview Amy Goodman conducted in 2004 with the late U. Utah Phillips:

"It’s a damn shame, though, that we have to be alternative. But then, we’re in a capitalist environment, we’re in a capitalist system that’s built on—that’s built on the least commendable features of the human psyche, greed and envy, rather than the best. We in community radio, in pirate radio, in alternative music distribution, we reach for the best in people, you know, we don’t—not lowest common denominators. And we are building a new world within the shell of the old.
I don’t feel pessimistic about that at all. There’s simply too many good people right here in this room, too many good people on the street, close to the street, doing too many good things for me to afford the luxury of being pessimistic. I’m going to—I’ll tell people that tonight, damn it. I’m glad it came up.
If I look at the world from the top down, from FOX, God help me, or CNN or—there ought to be a CNN Anon to ween people from that idiocy. If I look at it from the top down, I get seriously depressed. The world’s going to hell in a wheelbarrow. But if I walk out the door, turn all that off, and go with the people, whatever town I’m in, who are doing the real work down at the street level, like I said, there’s too many good people doing too many good things for me to let myself be pessimistic about that. I’m hopeful, can’t live without hope. Can you?"

An excellent question from Mr. Phillips.

Unlike him now, you, billion-eyed audience, can read Charles P. Pierce's "The Cynic and Senator Obama." Pierce to my mind takes the cadences of Obama's speech writing and puts into an essay about the candidate, and turns the whole hope thing on its head. He also put into words what's been bothering/inspiring me about Obama.

Some quotes:

Pierce, the Cynic, is listening to Obama speak over a car radio and through poor reception. Poetry.

"The sound quality is erratic, as though the engineer were putting down the volume at the end of every line. The applause sounds like water rushing through rusty pipes. The rudimentary transmission makes the stump speech sound both fresh and timeless. All of the same laugh lines and punch lines and applause lines are there, but they sound to the cynic like something different, as though he were listening for the first time to something out of the Library of Congress, a recording recently exhumed from an obscure archive. The cynic decides that politics is better on the radio, the same way baseball is, where you have to construct the scene in your own head. Radio is for dreamers. Television is for hucksters, and it has leached from American politics all of its creative imagination."


“I look forward as president to going before the world community and saying, ‘America is back. We’re ready to lead,’ “ Obama says on the radio, the static crackling and popping and the transmission fading, and it takes a moment for the cynic to wonder whether or not the world wants America to lead. Maybe the world wants America to sit down and shut up for a while.

. ...........................................................................................................................................

How we didn't get into this predicament just during the past eight years; oh no, there's plenty of blame to go around, including who you see in the mirror:

"There is no point anymore in blaming George Bush or the men he hired or the party he represented or the conservative movement that energized that party for what has happened to this country in the past seven years. They were all merely the vehicles through whom the fear and the lassitude and the neglect and the dry rot that had been afflicting the democratic structures for decades came to a dramatic and disastrous crescendo. The Bill of Rights had been rendered a nullity by degrees long before a passel of apparatchik hired lawyers found in its text enough gray space to allow a fecklessly incompetent president to command that torture be carried out in the country’s name."

The ownership of the people over their politics -- and, therefore, over their government -- had been placed in quitclaim long before the towers fell, and the president told the people to be just afraid enough to let him take them to war and just afraid enough to reelect him, but not to be so afraid that they stayed out of the malls.

It had been happening, bit by bit, over nearly forty years. Ronald Reagan sold the idea that “government” was something alien. The notion of a political commonwealth fell into a desuetude so profound that even Bill Clinton said, “The era of Big Government is over” and was cheered across the political spectrum, so that when an American city drowned and the president didn’t care enough to leave a birthday party, and the disgraced former luxury-horse executive who’d been placed in charge of disaster relief behaved pretty much the way a disgraced former luxury-horse executive could be expected to behave in that situation, it could not have come as any kind of surprise to anyone honest enough to have watched the country steadily abandon self-government over the previous four decades. The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable. The people of the United States have been accessorial in the murder of their country."

"The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable," a-men, brother a-men.


"In 2007, when asked about the possibility -- just the possibility -- of impeaching George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney, Obama scoffed at the idea, not entirely because it was constitutionally unsound but also because it was impolite and a nuisance and might make many people angry at one another, and he was, after all, running to help save us from ourselves.

“We would, once again, rather than attending to the people’s business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, nonstop circus.”

He was offering a guilty country a nolo plea. Himself. Absolution without confession.

The cynic declined the deal. There were not enough people in handcuffs yet."


Pierce with deft dispatch describes the field of candidates and how they narrowed down to these three, and his observations are trenchant and accurate -- except he left out the other--and perhaps the only one true idealist of this cycle--Ron Paul. Which surprises me.

"Mitt Romney of Massachusetts spent an entire campaign revealing himself to be the Piltdown man of American politics. Mike Huckabee, a likable preacher who played bass guitar, was an appealing fellow with dangerously loopy ideas. In the end, the Republicans settled on John McCain, who’d traded his shiny armor from 2000 for a tattered choir robe, and who was promising to run on being better at everything at which George W. Bush had been bad. The cynic had spent time with McCain almost a decade earlier, and he had liked him tremendously, and now the cynic didn’t recognize him at all.

On the other side, an equally sizable field thinned itself down pretty quickly. Hillary Rodham Clinton was bright and enthusiastic, and her campaign seemed to be doing everything correctly, but she was engaged without being particularly engaging, her campaign something out of 1972. Barack Obama, as the tennis coaches say, wrong-footed her almost from the start."


"The cynic wondered if Obama’s campaign had not found itself in a blind alley of its own devising. By offering his complicit, fearful nation and its complicit, brutish people absolution without confession, without penance, Obama guaranteed that the sins would stay, and they would be committed over and over again, and against him this time. Poor bastard, thought the cynic. When the cynic heard Obama talk about Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now,” he wondered first and always why Obama spent so much time talking about great men -- Abraham, Martin, John, and Bobby -- who’d all been shot in the head."

And Pierce wrote this before Hillary's Bobby Kennedy-primary ending in June kerfluffle. In the New York Deli a few days ago, I overheard an older gentleman striking up conversation with a college-age kid. The older man was more of a Ron Paul guy, so was the kid, and the Paulite said, he actually said this, "I feel so sorry for Barack. Even if he gets elected, somebody's going to shoot him."

Why do we think these things? Because in our hearts we don't really want any change. Anybody who tries is either marginalized, vilified -- or killed. Now who sounds cynical?

Read Pierce's article.

For a portrait of the Paulines, if your Sunday, May 25 New York Times is already in the recycle bin, you'd do well to dig it out to read Alex Williams' description of the Paulists and their man.

Note the image, by David R. Lutman via The New York Times. There's more than a few people who sympathize with the sentiment -- but not enough to vote for Paul.

Paul's lure to the young, swing and independent is noted, and how Paul's grassroots groups resemble the one that erupted around Barry Goldwater in 1964 -- even Hillary Clinton was a "Goldwater Girl." Paul is anti-IRS, pro-legalization of marijuana and thinks the Roe decision should be left up to the states.

"At a recent mixer at a bar on East 15th Street in Manhattan, it seemed as if Paul supporters had built a community without the help of gates.

Don’t you feel like an evangelist sometimes?” asked Rain Chacon, 36, a television writer and former Kucinich Democrat who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “It’s like, ‘Here’s The Book, have you read The Book?’ ” she said, wearing a Fleshtones T-shirt and cat’s-eye glasses and hoisting her copy of “The Revolution” into the air.

The assembled — a few women and about 15 men — cheered with approval. They talked about their beliefs in spiritual terms, using phrases like “seeing the light.” Those who follow “the movement” are termed “awake.” The fact that their candidate has essentially zero chance to be president did not seem to faze them."

He's more libertarian than Republican, but the Libertarians just nominated former Republican Bob Barr of Georgia. Newsweek interviewed him, here. I remember Barr only because of how he was in the thick of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Between Paul and Barr, the Repubs may have their own version of Ralph Nader.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dans Toute Sa Gloire!

French poster for Prix de Beauté (1929-1930) via The New Coven of Louise Brooks.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Glorious Spring Afternoon

So you were asked to go to this soirée at the mansion of the King and Queen of Hollywood by this other person in your life, and it's not quite a romance, and not really a friendship, but you keep up the appearances because of such invitations to the mansion of the King and Queen of Hollywood.

Then the person in question calls you on the eve of the day, and Aunt Mavis is sick and a train back East is the immediate plan, but, you're told, you can still go to the lawn party at the mansion of the King and Queen of Hollywood, it's OK if you go stag.

And so you dress out in your best whites and you pull up in front of their palatial Tuscan digs and there's a whole assortment of LaSalles and Packards and Duesenbergs and your motor seems motley and embarrassed in their company.

On the pleasure lawn there's an assortment of colony people, pretty, lean and tanned, and a record player has been brought out, and people are drinking gin. You realize that without your able guide you don't know any of them. The conversation is insular and superficial and if you'd not been invited, you wouldn't have bothered. The King and Queen are nowhere to be seen. In the house, apparently, settling some kind of tiff, so the buzz goes.

Your nose tingling from a couple of the drinks, you wander away, to take a smoke break, and the swing band on the record fades away. You come to a humped Japanese bridge over a brook, and you clump over it, and there, like a sylvan creature, she is leaning against the incline of a tree which seemed to have grown right there to provide her with support and setting. She's wearing a summer dress of peacock greens, yellows and reds. Her hair is gleaming black and arranged in a sharp bob.

She has a cigarette in her fingers and she's holding it up and saying, toward you, "Look at me, and without anyway to light it."

Labels: ,

Friday, May 16, 2008

Newsflash: The Governor-Mayor won't run again

Any celebration round Richmond may be short-lived, however. Though the Governor Mayor made his official announcement this morning, who will run to replace him is an open question.

So far we have:

• An elder career state politician who is yet another sanctimonious demagogue, who can exhort his congregation to vote for him

• A crazy person who used to work for the Governor-Mayor and accepted being on his payroll without qualms (But -- maybe -- crazy is what we need? Really? )

• A well-meaning but unknown architect

• Dirt Woman

There are others waiting in the wings, and with the playing field now leveled by the departure of the Governor-Mayor, they'll be rushing to declare.

Whoever runs must carry five of the nine districts and that means the candidate probably will need to be an African-American. Except...where is our magnetic, magnanimous, knee-weakening stem-wending oratorical visionary, less-talk-more-action candidate?


That person doesn't exist, or isn't running.

Why? Why is Richmond so impossible to govern? Or why must we again and again subject ourselves to loonies and mediocrities? The city's political class didn't descend upon us from on high. They were not foisted upon us. They come out of the population.

Because, as some have suggested to me, Richmond chased away its potential black leadership base during the 1950s and 1960s. Certainly Arthur Ashe thought so; in one of his memoirs he made a list of Maggie Walker High School graduates who'd gone elsewhere to become surgeons, symphony conductors, university professors, museum directors, civic leaders, etc. This example was his way of saying: see what you did? You drove out some of the best with your short-sighted policies and ignorance. Now you're really stuck, Richmond. Because both black and white parents want to send their children to good schools, and would prefer safe streets.

The ones who stayed behind; well. And there've been exceptions. Ask yourself, why was it that the great Oliver Hill served just one history-making term on City Council--1948-1950--and he was defeated by just 44 votes when he ran again. How different might Richmond be had he attempted another run; or somehow, that he could've won in '50? He didn't make the effort again; that he was the only black man on Council certainly had something to do with his decision and he was outvoted by six whites. And there were greater issues to tackle--like integrating the schools. Still, since then, when has such intelligence and courageousness taken seat in Council chambers? That's a long, long time -- and just one man.

For the most part, we've seen a leadership fatally flawed and too easily taken in by consultants and schemers and anxious to use the positions of public trust as ways to advance themselves. These are people who've risen to Council level who've been for some reason convinced of the "bomb the village to save it" way of approaching urban improvements.

The list is long and sad: Sixth Street Marketplace, the Coliseum and Project One Building -- all realized while there was a majority African-American City Council--I'd even go so far as to criticize the decision to place the James Center and Omni where they are, as they defaced and permanently ruined the potential to restore the Great Turning Basin, (three blocks long, two wide and 50 feet deep), and wiped away the Tidewater Connector canal locks. An unknown tourist revenue was forsaken, and an aesthetic quality that no other East Coast city could match. At least when the Reynolds Metals Corporation built its plant along the canal, that firm chose to preserve the locks unearthed there. You can walk among the dry, antique locks today.

Then in the later 1990s somehow the electoral process delivered unto Richmond a Council composed of winners beginning at the top with the Rev. Leonidas Young, Jr., --later indicted and accused to stealing the life savings of one of his parishioners while on her death bed.

Under Young's watch, the horrendous 1995-1998 "Ministry of Fear" Crestar bank complex was placed upon prime bluffs overlooking the river. Crestar was bribed with $25 millions of "incentives" to build there; and that later became SunTrust. To paraphrase, those perjuries against architecture ought not to have been authorized, then they should never have been built-- at least on those properties, and not in that sleek, featureless Tysons Corner Baroque style. [Image via Richmond City Watch.]

Why does Richmond seem persuaded that it either cannot deliver, or doesn't deserve, better? As I've written before on glossy pages: for most of its history, Richmond was governed by a white majority that sufficiently mismanaged the city to almost wreck it. From 1977 on, Richmond has been governed by a black majority that has sufficiently mismanaged the city to almost wreck it. We are running out of colors and running out of time -- if Richmond should join the sorority of great cities to which she could make rightful claim, next to Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. Instead, the city and its leadership has hurried us along to become not the best Richmond, but a fake one, a copy of the Charlottes and Atlantas and Northern Virginia suburbs that are long on add-cement-and-reflective glass-and-mix building and short on character. As a Richmond Grande Dame once said of the family moving into one of the new mansions off River Road, "Well, I'm sure they have good plumbing."

"It would be side-splitting if it were not so heart-breaking..." as Richmond novelist James Branch Cabell once observed.

If I were to run--and I'm not--but if I was going to, well, I would've started months ago. And my campaign would've been to walk every street of the city, from east to west, working north to south, shaking whosever hand, asking what is on people's minds and taking notes. I'd have a backpack filled with flyers and DVDs of me talking about who I am and why I'm doing this, a laptop and a video camera. I'd establish a web site about the excursion--my 'scanning' of Richmond. I would make no promises, but try to offer some approaches to solutions, and see whether people actually understand that politicians are just people, not miracle workers.

At night, I'd seek to stay with whomever would let me, wherever they happened to be, and I would learn about them and their part of the city. I'd update the website. I'd accept whatever donations were given to me and hand them off to whoever was assisting me.

And that's what I'd do. No real speeches, no campaign per se, and when I ended up back home I'd sit on my porch, go through the research I would have accumulated during my journey, consult with people smarter than me about possible actions, and wait for whatever happened in November.

Instead, we're going to get the same old tired thing delivered by the same tired, old people. My city, my city, I weep for it.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

M.C. Kollatz Rockin' The Mike

If you happen to be out and about on Sunday, I'll be front and center stage as master of ceremonies for the very firstest Broad Appétit event that nonetheless is long in the tradition of Richmond's street parties. But we've not had one on Broad in the middle of town, quite like this, in a good long time.

It's a three ring circus of food and fun and I'll be in the middle of it; I may even eat a bug.

The shed-ule and other tasty morsels of information are available á la carte, here.

There's a big exhibition at the Quirk Gallery, and across the street at Art6, between 3 and 5 p.m. there's a poet and artist's salon called Bend Your Ear. The salon is free and open to the public.

The weather is calling for "isolated storms" at a 30 percent chance. So, carry a bumbershoot, just in case.

And if you don't have a good time, I'll eat my hat. Well. One of the old ones. OK. I'm lying. But I may eat a bug.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"It Is Impossible To Have Progress Without A Conscience."
Robert Rauschenberg dead--The sordid sad mess of current politics

Still life with dancers: "One of the seminal figures of modern art, visual artist Robert Rauschenberg was resident designer for Merce Cunningham Dance Company for ten years. His piece Minutiae was his first stage design for the company and was created in 1954 as the set for the Cunningham-Cage dance performance."

Artist Robert Rauschenberg, 82, one of the few protean makers of art this nation has produced, died Monday at this home in Captiva, Florida.

The expected death of an old man is not a tragedy, but one is reminded that the generation of the Deperession and World War II --and Rauschenberg went through both -- is packing up and leaving, like those scenes of departing trains in the old movies, where the person remaining on the platform runs alongside in the steam, trying to glimpse the lover's/spouse's face one last time.

"One of the last, there is no art anymore today, just repetition, pose, people posing as artists," commented Fisch, from Germany, on the New York Times page announcing Rauschenberg's death. I dunno, Fisch, I think there is art today, but the gallery system can function like the music industry, which is to say the entertainment industry, which is to say that the young are both product and consumer. It's a damned difficult, wearying and even wretched business, and it is a business, and Rauschenberg came along at a time when something new was being sought. Not just new, but an altering of fundamentals. And he was versatile. And his talents were important.

Rauschenberg was part of not just art history, but contemporary culture, from Black Mountain College to Merce Cunningham and John Cage to designing a Talking Heads album cover. Eulogized the Times' Michael Kimmelmann, "A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked."

Unlike the Abstract Expressionist painters who painted the world in pieces, he took pieces of the world and put it back together through his Combines. If a painting is to be about the real world, it must be made out of the real world, he said. He lived long enough to go from being a kind of Peck's Bad Boy of art to an institution. That's a curious path to travel.

I'm still not sure how I feel about his white canvases that were more about how they were viewed than what was stretched in the frame. Or how his Combines, often built of flimsy, deteriorating materials, can stand up to art of the ages. Or even they are meant to. Rauschenberg spent much of his life in the shadow of nuclear annihiliation, which, as Gunter Grass once put it, renders ridiculous the baroque notion of timelesseness. If it's all going to end in a pfffftph!, what's the point of making art that's supposed to be eternal? But I'm not resolving that issue here.

From the Times: “I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop,” he said in an interview in the giant studio on Captiva in 2000. “At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore.”

The Chariot Race

Speaking of irresistible possibilities that can't be ignored, today the voters of West Virginia are supposed to vote in astonishing numbers for Hillary Rodham Clinton because...beause she's not Barack Hussein Obama. Thinking about this political mishigas makes me tired. I see no good coming out of any of it. Even if Barack wins, which, to me, would be better than any other outcome given the brute realities with which we are saddled. The appalling mess of our politics is a bit like a Rauschenberg Combine, all pasted together borrowed images and found objects, the meaning of which seems, at times, ambiguous.

In awful desperation she has so much as said that the Democratic party has to nominate her because non-white people are unelectable -- forgetting for a moment that Barack Obama is as much white as he is black.

As James Howard Kunstler puts it, in rather purjorative terms, as directed to West Virginia and Kentucky:

"The spectacle of Hillary's un-making has been pretty horrible to witness, the efforts to stage her as a lumpenprole Nascar mom drinking boilermakers while celebrating her latest hunting exploits. (How worried is Hillary about making her mortgage payments, or filling her gas tank?)

Naturally, the final act of this nauseating play takes place in Hillbilly Heaven, the states of West Virginia and Kentucky, where Hillary expects to make a big "statement" about exactly whom voters will go for. She'll win big and the effort will symbolically disgrace her.

...Whatever America's fate may be in these very trying times of peak oil and climate change, a consensus seems to have formed that we can't afford to leave the same old cast of characters running things."

Thing is, I don't think she is going to get symbolically disgraced. You can read his whole post here.

But, though members of the billion-eyed audience have probably already seen it, I happened across James Wolcott's current Vanity Fair column about the political to-ing and fro-ing in the Democratic blogosphere being symbolic of the rift in the party, offline. In "When Democrats Go Post-Al" he compares this dueling for the party's nomination, which wasn't suppose to go like this, as the final grueling stretch of the culminating chariot race in Ben-Hur.

As James Branch Cabell wrote, if it were not all so heart breaking, it would be side splitting. And Wolcott did make me laugh aloud in parts though, it was rueful.

He addresses the two versions of the candidates: "Hillary’s candidacy promised to make things better; Obama’s to make us better: outward improvement versus inward transformation. With Hillary, you would earn your merit badges; with Obama, your wings. Hillary’s candidacy was warmed-over meat loaf—comfort food for those too old or fearful to Dream."

And concluding:

"Democrats have pulled their punches for so long that they know only how to hit themselves in the face, earning the reputation for masochism that gives Dick Cheney a good chuckle each night at bedtime as he’s being packed in ice."

For the juicy meat in the middle, go here.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Art and Theater and Life
A good weekend to be in either in St. Augustine, Fla., or Richmond, Va.

St. Augustine is the nation's oldest continually occupied, European-settled city (founded by the Spanish in 1565 (!)); and also near Florida's beckoning summer beaches. Thus, it is right and appropriate that my partner-in-art-for-life, Amie Oliver, and our friend, Ruth Bolduan, should have an exhibition titled "Drawing From History" opening there and that their work features the figure and often historical or classical settings. And you have almost the entire season to get down there to the Dow Museum and see the show.

Unlike Amie's and Ruth's work, the Firehouse Cabaret is in its last days. For members of the billion-eyed audience who think in terms of a 2 million number possible audience and a rotating cycle of bus tours, it's Richmond, and a smaller market, and we're a strained shoe-string non-profit. That all said:

Last Two Weekends! "The Firehouse Theatre Cabaret"

Better than Botox!*

Does The Firehouse Cabaret , directed by and starring Scott Wichmann, have magical properties? Can you actually leave this show looking years younger? Can you afford not to find out?!

Read the stellar reviews below and make up your own mind! (Then buy some tickets!)

"The sort of program Richmond can use more of." - Mary Burruss, Style Weekly, in her review, "Snacking on Actors".


"Firehouse Theatre Project Courts Controversy With Latest Production" - S.E. Parker's interview with staff and cast in RVA Magazine.

Quick! You've only got until next Saturday, (the 17th) to see for yourself what the hubbub is about - and be seriously entertained in the process.

*not verified by scientific means.

Actin' up:
(top to bottom)Jude Fageas, Alia Bisharat, Lisa Kotula & Scott Wichmann Image by Jay Paul Photography

Special Events: See Firehouse Theatre Fire Ball auction winners Caroline Gottwald (Thursday, May 15) and Debbie Walton (Friday, May 15) onstage in The Cabaret!

Short on cash? No problem! Sunday, May 11 is "Pay What You Will" matinee day! Doors open at 3:30 for a 4 p.m. matinee. First come, first served!

Tickets & Showtimes:
General: $25, Seniors: $22.
Students $10 with valid ID. Click here to buy tickets online, or call the 24-hour ticket line at 1-800-595-4TIX (595-4849) Showtimes: 8:00 p.m. Thursdays - Saturdays. Sunday matinee at 4:00 p.m. Doors open a half-hour before showtime.

Readers Theatre is Back!
Readers Theatre, Tuesday, May 13th, 7:30 p.m. - Free. Kerrigan Sullivan directs John Tyler Community College students performing this scaled-back, staged reading of Baby with the Bathwater by playwright Christopher Durang.

Mother is a frustrated novelist; Father's an unemployed alcoholic; and Nanny's a warped Mary Poppins who gives Baby rattles of asbestos and Red Dye #2. Durang's wicked wit sheds light on our foibles and follies as no one else in theatre can.

Do You Know Where Your "UGG" Is?
Hey, we know times are tight, and you'd support us if you could. Fret no more, dear Firehouse friend - Ukrop's Golden Gift program is in full swing, and for the price of a postage stamp, you can support your favorite theatre.

Your UGG certificate is lolly-gagging around the foyer, or lurking in the home office, waiting to be useful, so help it find a home! Drop it in the mail by May 31 to:
Firehouse Theatre Project/UGG
1609 W. Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23220

Lazy friends? Rescue their UGG certificates from the recyle bin, and send them on, too! Thanks for your support!

About The Firehouse Theatre Project

The Firehouse Theatre Project, a non-profit theatre company, was founded in 1993 to present important contemporary American theatre pieces with an emphasis on plays not previously produced in the metropolitan Richmond area. The company, which is under the direction of Carol Piersol, Founding Artistic Director, is housed in the former Richmond Fire Station #10 at 1609 West Broad Street. For more information about the Firehouse Theatre Project's 2007/08 season, please call 804.355.2001 or visit the website.

The Firehouse Theatre Project
Stacie Birchett
Public Relations and Marketing
phone: 804-355-2001

And this wonderful piece from a concerned journalist, via RVA Magazine in which it is revealed all the actors keep their clothes on. Fort this show, anyway.:

Firehouse Theatre Project: Cabaret - S.E. Parker
Firehouse Theatre Project Courts Controversy With Latest Production

Actors Remain Fully Clothed in ‘Cabaret’

The fingernails of Founding Artistic Director Carol Piersol have seen better days. She's nervous, and despite her calm exterior, her hands betray her.

"This is the most normal show we've done in years at the Firehouse," she says, over a cup of chamomile tea and a scone in a popular Fan District coffee house. The tea calms her nerves, she says, and the scone is a guilty pleasure. "I knew we might offend some patrons by doing this kind of show, but it was a risk I was willing to take. I think our audience can handle it."

She's talking about The Firehouse Theatre Cabaret, an entertaining assemblage of ten-minute plays and songs, accompanied by jazz music that opened April 24th and runs through May 17th. Unlike the generally expected Firehouse plate of edgy, thought-provoking drama however, "The Cabaret" dishes up a night of pure, unadulterated pleasure. "There's absolutely nothing to think about afterwards," Piersol says, "and that might disappoint some long-time season-ticket holders. But I've seen

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Catastrophe in Burma
More than 100,000 thought dead

"Images from a NASA satellite show the impact of Cyclone Nargis on southern Burma. Before it hit, on 15 April (top image), features are sharply defined. In the aftermath on 5 May (bottom image), much of the Irrawaddy river delta region is clearly flooded." Via BBC.

We cannot even imagine the immensity of this event. As horrendous as Katrina was to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, or hurricanes that pounded Florida in recent years -- those people perhaps have some inkling. But the rest of us can't fathom...100,000 dead. That's if I walked out into my neighborhood and all I saw was stacks of bodies. Like the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake that triggered incomprehensible tsunamis, killing some 225,000 persons through eleven countries, such death and devastation in such a short time--outside of war-- seems unreal.

In the meantime, a humanitarian crisis is piled upon an already desperate situation concerning food shortages that are affecting large swaths of the nations along the southern side of the globe. I thought of these rolling enormous disasters while watching the most recent returns on the shabby, pathetic horse race that is the present U.S. Presidential election process. And how, on the major news outlets, here wasn't much discussion of anything substantive. Not by the moderators and really not by the candidates, either.

I'm these days reading newspapers of a century ago, of a typhus epidemic in Italy during early 1909, and of earthquakes, volcanoes and floods, and thousands dying, with seeming appalling regularity. People desire explanations or reason or see in these occurrences symbols and signs from beyond. I don't know about any of that.
What it is demonstrated with these history-altering upheavals is that Nature makes quick work of what we'd call civilization and proves just who is the guest here.

I recall how in 2002, during a visit to New York City, when Amie and I saw Albee's The Goat, a thunderstorm booming and rolling over the towers of Manhattan. And how people in that city still nervy from the 9/11 attacks, jumped, and some on the sidewalk near us said, "Woah," or inhaled with sharpness. Something was bigger than even New York.

Burma is called the Union of Myanmar by its military junta, in power since 1989. The Blue Raccoon noted the protest of Buddhist monks this past fall, and the human rights situation there is horrendous. Perhaps this horror will cause the government's collapse, but as it often goes with these things, what replaces the strongman rule may not be any better. Civil order--even in the best of circumstances--is often an agreed upon illusion.

Mourn for the Burmese people. Help if you can. And understand, billion-eyed audience, that none of us knows what could happen next to us, or anybody, anywhere.

See descriptions here,
and here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Firehouse Gets Style Appreciation
On trying to make art and theater in Richmond, Virginia

The Ensemble: Lisa Kotula, Jude Fageas, Scott Wichmann, Alia Basharat

Style Weekly's reviewer Mary Burruss gave the Firehouse a positive mention in this week's issue, on stands now, as they say.

Mary also interviewed TheatreIV/Barksdale's Bruce Miller about the recent kerfluffle about the Barksdale's production of The Little Dog Laughed and even TheatreIV's Peter Pan. How strange it is, to me, seeing a kind of role reversal. The Firehouse has had people naked on its stage, and produced plenty of plays with strong language.

Now, the Firehouse has on its boards a musical revue with short plays, directed by and featuring Scott Wichmann, that may have a total of four PG-13 words involved, no nudity, and one slinky spangly outfit with a pleated skirt. And Alia Basharat is a red head, with a powerful voice. She also wears the pleated skirt. There's also a clown nose and wig--Lisa Kotula dons those--and some frightening clown make up--Alia puts that on. A scary Ferris Wheel ride is simulated, with Scott and Lisa. And some rap is also presented by Jude that may jar some people, though the words have an ultimate positive message. And, among my favorites, a musical number in which the ensemble wears hats.

I recall how, way back in 1976, when what was then known as Virginia Museum Theatre presented Romulus Linney's Childe Byron and the word "damn" and caused a ruckus. Similarly, in Peter Pan the word "ass" is used, in reference to, well, a donkey. Horrors!

Which is why there wasn't a professional presentation of, for example, Glengarry Glen Ross until the Firehouse gave it in 2002 (!) That show did quite well, as did I Am My Own Wife, which also featured Scott Wichmann, and he performed most of it in a black dress. And between them both was Hedwig and The Angry Inch. And I could go on.

When Edward Albee visited the Firehouse a few years ago, he said in his remarks that it is the duty of a little theater like ours to not produce art that people think they want to see, but give them art they should see. So, the newspaper fulminated a few days later that Albee was an elitist who just wanted to insult people. Sigh.

I would argue, however, about what is more elitist than expecting all facets of art to resemble nothing more than watered-down entertainments that require no more thought or consideration that turning on the television and curling up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn? Sometimes, of course, this is what we want; to enjoy something, and sometimes what we seek is comfortable, reassuring or at least, familiar. And that's fine, but should we live in a city where that kind of theater (or art) was the only thing offered, it'd be like living where there's only one television station to watch, or one movie theater that only showed musicals.

Sure, we've had a few people walk out of shows in our 15 years. But mostly, they know what they're getting because the Firehouse is the Firehouse. And there is a certain amount of self-responsibility here; read the season brochure, for example, or a review. Some people in Richmond--and I really remember this from attending TheatreVirginia productions--would come to the show just so they could walk out in a cloud of indignation. That the Barksdale produced The Little Dog Laughed is to the theater's credit. But they're a big house, with overhead we don't have, and reactions like this in Richmond, Virginia, makes producing theater--or art--a challenge. Sometimes it feels like cultural mission work. But, we keep doing it because, well. Somebody has to.

The contrary view isn't new. In 1909, Richmond novelist James Branch Cabell's The Cords of Vanity: A Comedy of Shirking was published by Doubleday. He'd intended to write a droll comedy of manners, as though Oscar Wilde was transferred to Williamsburg and Richmond, which in the book are rechristened Fairhaven and Lichfield.

At one point, the protagonist, Robert Townsend -- a snob, though on occasion amusing-- and his mentor, the novelist John Charteris, are attending a production of Romeo and Juliet at Fairhaven's Willoughby Hall. Afterward they encounter Mrs. Adrian Rabbet, wife of Fairhaven's rector. "A most enjoyable performance," Charteris says, not thinking anybody would say different. Not so, with Mrs. Rabbet.

"Such a sad play," she chirped, "and, do you know, I am afraid it is rather demoralizing in its effects on young people. No, of course, I didn't think of bringing the children, Mr. Charteris --Shakespeare's language is not always sufficiently obscure, you know, to make that safe. And besides, as I often say to Mr. Rabbet, it is sad to think of our greatest dramatist having been a drinking man. It quite depressed me all through the play of him hobnobbing with Dr. Johnson at the Tabard Inn, and making such irregular marriages, and stealing sheep--or was it sheep, now?"
I said that, as I remembered, it was a fox, which he hid under his coat, until the beast bit him.
"Well, at any rate, it was something extremely deplorable and characteristic of a genius, and I quite feel for his wife." Mrs. Rabbet sighed, and endeavored, I think, to recollect whether it was Ingomar or Spartacus that Shakespeare wrote. "However," she concluded, "they play Ten Nights in a Barroom on Thursday, and I shall certainly bring the children then, for I am always glad for them to see a really moral and instructive drama. And that reminds me! I absolutely must tell you what Tom said about actors the other day --"
And she did....Mrs. Rabbet said toward the end that it was a most enjoyable chat, although to me it appeared to partake rather of the nature of a monologue. It consumed perhaps a half hour; and when we two at last relinguished Mrs. Rabbet to her husband's charge, it was with the feeling not altogether unakin to relief."

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,