Friday, February 27, 2015

Portents of Sprinter

Last year I spoke too soon - I said it was an early Sprinter - the seasonette between Winter and Spring - on February 20, and then we got snow and bitter cold for three weeks. I remember it well, because I was spending my lunch hours during that time period walking around near the Kew Gardens courthouse in the biting wind, since I had endless jury duty. Has it really been a year already?

Anyway, this year there sure isn't an early Sprinter - according to my iPhone weather app the temperatures aren't going to get much above 30 degrees for the next week, and there's a chance of, what else, snow on Tuesday. But in spite of the frigid air tonight, I could feel the distant hints of Sprinter in the breeze. It will be here any day now.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

First Black Elected to Head Harvard's Law Review

From the NYTimes archives, February 6, 1990:


The Harvard Law Review, generally considered the most prestigious in the country, elected the first black president in its 104-year history today. The job is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School.

The new president of the Review is Barack Obama, a 28-year-old graduate of Columbia University who spent four years heading a community development program for poor blacks on Chicago's South Side before enrolling in law school. His late father, Barack Obama, was a finance minister in Kenya and his mother, Ann Dunham, is an American anthropologist now doing fieldwork in Indonesia. Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.

''The fact that I've been elected shows a lot of progress,'' Mr. Obama said today in an interview. ''It's encouraging.

''But it's important that stories like mine aren't used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don't get a chance,'' he said, alluding to poverty or growing up in a drug environment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The anti-Wellman jihad continues

Yeah yeah, I know, my complaints about Mac Wellman are getting old. What else is there to say beyond the fact that he hates the theater unless it's his kind of "theater" which eschews the expression of strong human emotions and the coherent plotlines that make that expression possible?

But as the world's only living critic of Mac Wellman, I feel it's my duty - if I don't do it, nobody else will, either because they've never heard of him or they're one of his sycophants.

I find it annoying that the New York Times quoted a glowing piece about Wellman from "Postmodern Culture" without mentioning the fact that it's written by a self-confessed "good friend" of Wellman. I guess allowing friends to publish pieces about friends is a very postmodern thing to do:
I am part of this community. I met Mac in a ‘Pataphysics workshop in 2003, after seeing a production of Hypatia and Soho Rep. I went on to study with him in the Brooklyn College MFA program from 2004-6, and he has remained a mentor and good friend.
I believe that I was also in the Pataphysics workshop that year, although I bailed out after the first disheartening session so I don't remember Karinne Keithley Syers any more than she remembers me.

Her piece begins like this, and if it doesn't make you tired then you my friend are ready for the theater of Mac Wellman.
Mac Wellman’s theater is filled by a weird array of voices that are neither strictly human, nor even strictly material. These pseudosolid voices map a topological obsession with holes, hollows, and the filling up of space by emptiness. This essay explores Wellman’s theater as a “strange hole,” where hollow spaces become receivers, openings for something unfamiliar to happen in our thinking, an event Wellman calls “apparence.” In The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, the extraordinary prevalence of holes bespeaks an intensification of a philosophical strand in his writing: a ceremonial concern with a weirdness that is wild, a weirdness gone feral in math-fictional space. This essay explores his strategies for writing us into these registers of thinking by examining two kinds of holes. The first is a “hole poetics”: the deployment of holey strategies in the poetic line. This holed line functions as both a preparation for thinking beyond the already-known, and as a scalar, fractal iteration of the topography of this beyond-space which is the second hole, a ceremonial, nasty, terrifying place that Wellman calls “Hoole’s Hole,” where the non-Aristotelian, non-Euclidian event of apparence happens.

Dear god. 

But of course this is exactly the pointless pseudosolid, pseudo-intellectual scheisse you can expect from an article about Mac Wellman in a periodical called "Postmodern Culture." Obfuscation and mystification are what the postmodernist writer ever strives for and Syers does not disappoint. And no true disciple of Mac Wellman can resist writing about the Master without passive-aggressive jabs at those modes of theater they despise - theater that deals with human emotions:
Wellman is a node of connection within the New York theater community. A loose assembly of younger writers has formed around him, through his MFA program at Brooklyn College, the ‘Pataphysics workshop series, and his generous presence in the scene. His influence is already profound and continues to grow, not as a “school of Mac Wellman,” but as a broadly cast license to think of plays in terms of language, and to value wrongness, ceremony, and a bit of demonism in the theatrical project (contra the overwhelming prevalence of psychological and moralistic drama). 
To the best of my knowledge Wellman has never actually cited the names of these plays that he detests, to make it clear exactly which plays are objectionable. Syers feels that psychological and moralistic drama prevails - so I guess it could be almost anything that is not written by Wellman. I certainly don't see why that couldn't include Shakespeare. I mean, sure, he engaged in plenty of word play, but Shakespeare also included psychological and moralistic drama in his work. Which is why people want to see his work 500 years later.

It's important for Wellman's admirers to let you know that in spite of appearances, Wellman isn't an effete poseur whose only interest is cutesy anal-retentive wordplay, they want you to believe that Wellman (and by associative properties, themselves) is a badass- because Wellman writing a play is like a demonic motherfucking Hell's Angel riding that hog down freedom's highway. Wellman was born to be wild. 

That's because Wellman is a rebel, Dottie:
The well-made play conforms to both psychological realism, which unfolds drama as a series of back-story reveals, and the structure of the dramatic arc as the climax and resolution of a central conflict. But beyond the habit of certain kinds of storytelling, what damns these plays for Wellman is their unwillingness to venture beyond already-known conclusions. In his essay “The Theater of Good Intentions,” Wellman attacks this as a form of high-ground moralism. In “Speculations,” his aphoristic landscape essay on theater’s wild spaces, the “Theatre of the Already Known (AK)” (or Geezer Theatre) appears as a kind of arch-dupe-enemy, hanging onto its “re” spelling as a signal of its unwillingness to abandon the boat of high culture. Instead of finding out once again that incest hurts or that racism is bad, Wellman suggests we allow theater to make us venture into spaces where we don’t already know the answer. If the AK, with its moral and emotional conclusions already on hand, requires no actual thinking, an unknown theater would demand it; the experience would be “open in a sense that is hard to even talk about.”
A play that deals with racism???- been there, done that, since A RAISIN IN THE SUN, and Wellman is too much the with-it hipster to care for your "Geezer Theater."

Strangely enough, although postmodernism is reflexively liberal, Wellman sounds a lot like right-winger David Mamet:
The theatre has become vastly political in my lifetime. Where once we had "weepers" (matinee structures featuring women abandoned, impregnated, deserted by their children or spouse, in a survival of the Victorian sensation novel), in the 1960s we began to see this love of melodrama recast as politics, giving the weeping audience not only the pleasure of a good cry, but also a pat on the back for knowing that group X were people, too. All right. The villain always has a waxed mustache, or can be counted on to stand for social positions that have vanished from our country everywhere but on the stage.

Old style:
"You must pay the rent."
 
"I can't pay the rent."
New style:
"You weak and unacceptable woman, homosexual, African American, go away, I do not want you."
"But, does no one see that we are people, too . . . ?"
 
Same thing. 
It is easy to write this play, as the course of events is known, and one may simply paint in the spaces, according to the predrawn, paint-by-numbers pattern. But the light is not good in the alley. And the alley is the dark, hidden, forbidden human. A trip down into that alley, for the writer or actor, may be disturbing, revolting, frightening – for that is where the monster of our self lives, and there we may find not only the falsity of our constructed personality, but also the truth of our feverishly suppressed perceptions.
Proving that being an asshole knows no partisan bounds.

Syers praises something called "landscape theater" which appears to be, basically, theater where nothing actually happens and says:
(Gertrude) Stein, as the original theoretician of the landscape play, laid a still-relevant and provocative groundwork for this means of composition; indeed, her essay “Plays” might be the most important essay on theater writing since Aristotle’s “Poetics.” 
I find it hard to believe that Syers considers Poetics to be important, other than as something to react against, since Wellman's only interest in the theater is to do the opposite of whatever Aristotle recommends.

Syers' essay is dense with obfuscation, but every now and then she gets out a paragraph that is nearly perfect in its postmodern impenetrability - a miraculous black hole of intraspecies non-communication:
If we accept the axiom that a Wellman hole fundamentally removes us from knowing where we are or where we are going, then the holed line prepares this form of disorientation. Paired with abrupt shifts and slips in the plot’s landscape, Wellman performs a smaller slipping away from the recognizable and stable whole operative at the scale of the sentence. These small slips undermine the stable experience of knowing where we are, and so reduce the friction that might otherwise slow us down when the plot too takes us suddenly to a place we don’t recognize.

One of my favorite aspects of postmodern prose is the way they throw around STEM terminology to gain credibility. That a Wellman hole fundamentally removes... blah blah blah isn't merely an idea - that would be much too peasantish - it's an axiom. You know, like in math. Because Mac Wellman's plays are rocket science.

What all that axiom twaddle means is that Mac Wellman's plots are incoherent. But Syers can't just come out and say that - much better to babble on about holed lines. And if you suspect that what it really means is that Syers has written herself right up into her own postmodern hole, it only proves that you're too stupid to get Wellman.

And that's what Wellman is all about, Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mac Wellman: "I don't like plays."

"I don't like plays" is not something you expect the Donald I. Fine Distinguished Professor of Play Writing to say. Now granted, Mac Wellman hasn't said that recently, but there's nothing in his body of work that indicates to me that he ever changed his mind.

Once again he reminds me of the Darren Nichols character in "Slings and Arrows." Here is an exchange from S&A
   Geoffrey Tennant 
You know, Darren, your problem is you hate the theater. 
   Darren Nichols 
I don't hate it, I pity it. Sad little medium struggling to be heard. More people listen to the radio than go to the theater and nobody listens to the radio.


NYTimes' latest article about Wellman is one more example of the fact that among theater gatekeepers, Mac Wellman is an untouchable - there is an unspoken rule that he may not be criticized, and the Times complies. Although the headline writer reveals what Wellman is all about:
Mac Wellman, a Playwriting Mentor Whose Only Mantra Is Oddity
Wellman expressed his dislike of plays before some idiot talked him into becoming a playwright. From the Times article:
Mr. Wellman, 69, came to playwriting accidentally. As he explained over a glass of rosé at a cafe near his Park Slope apartment, he was hitchhiking in the Netherlands during a junior year abroad when the Dutch director Annemarie Prins happened to give him a ride. He gave her a few of his poems, and she asked him if he had ever considered writing plays. “No,” he told her. “I don’t like plays.” But she persisted, and he obliged her, writing plays for Dutch radio.
Damn you to hell, Annemarie Prins. Mac Wellman is the ne plus ultra of the dread postmodernism that infected all the American arts beginning in the 1950s. And yes, it is explicitly postmodernism:
He loathes what he calls “the theater of the already known” — the predictable, the formulaic, the tasteful, the complacent. As a consequence, his work is strange. He favors, as an article in the journal Postmodern Culture suggested, “wrongness, ceremony and a bit of demonism.”
By "the theater of the already known" Wellman means human emotions, which have not changed since the days of ancient Greek theater. Human emotions - and so naturally, actual human drama portrayed on a stage - are anathema to Mac Wellman. So instead his work is devoted to inane prissy wordplay:
There’s an exacting attention to language — every sentence, every word, every syllable — that would seem exhausting if the works weren’t so mischievous, so exultant, so fun. (He signed a scheduling email, “See you tamale!” This was not a case of autocorrect.) And he’s fond of impossible stage directions like “something strange happens” or “a furry pause.”
It turns out that there is very little commercial - or any other kind of - demand for Wellman's tweeness, outside of Academia and the more pretentious circle of critics, but that doesn't matter. Wellman is well-connected. And then of course there are his sycophants:
To Mr. Wellman’s annoyance and delight, his students tend to treat him as a cross between a favorite uncle and a minor deity. He teases them, mispronouncing their names or kidding them when they turn serious, but when he offers one of his playwriting koans — “The theater is a very strange and elusive thing to do,” he told his seminar participants — they reach for their notebooks.
I got a snootful of this bullshit myself when I attended one of his seminars and didn't return after the first session.

He seems to be getting credit in this Times puff piece for the success of some of his former students, although there doesn't seem to be any real reason given - and in fact...
...Mr. Wellman’s program has the distinction of turning out audacious writers with very little in common with him or with one another. Try to find the overlap of Ms. Baker’s empathetic neorealism and Mr. Bradshaw’s scabrous provocations. Look for the intersection between Ms. Lee’s canny deconstructions of identity politics and Sibyl Kempson’s rapturous nonsense. Keep looking.
Even Alexis Soloski, an obvious fan of Wellman, can't find his artistic influence on his successful students. So has Wellman had any influence on their careers at all? I suspect he has, but almost exclusively through his contacts -  he's very well connected and ferociously revered and so I'm sure he was able to help his students make the connections they needed to get ahead in their theater careers. This is not spelled out in the article - but then that bit of realpolitik would not fit in well in the standard airy-fairy Wellman hagiography.

Wellman himself is still writing plays, although apparently enough producers are clued in by now that...
Mr. Wellman’s own work no longer receives the attention it once did, although he’s still writing plays, as well as poetry, novels and opera librettos. He’d like to see these new works staged, though he worries about taking opportunities away from young writers like his students.
I think Wellman would do well to avoid having his work produced. He's already been declared a legendary theatrical deity, and he can only go downhill from there. To the best of my knowledge I am his only living critic, although possibly because I'm one of the rare theater people who has heard of him, outside of Academia and theater critics. Whenever I ask actors or other playwrights what they think of Mac Wellman, I get a blank look.

Wellman and his admirers don't like human emotions, and thus they don't like theater - they pity it. And they are attempting to rehabilitate it, to free it from its sad little formal conventions, the ones that allow meaningful stories to be comprehensible to ordinary mortals. Playing with form and with words is all they care about, and fuck your "already known" feelings. Mac Wellman and his followers would like to drive theater into complete irrelevance. Only then can it be pure enough for them not to despise its grubby little earth-borne commonality.

Another Wellman sycophant, Alec Duffy, expresses the pity and desire for rehabilitation of the theater in this way:
Alec Duffy, the artistic director of JACK, enthusiastically described the work that emerges from the program as “plays that don’t really behave like plays, plays that feature an adventure in form.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Relief at last

I sat through the last performances of the dread short play festival and I hated the other three plays even more the fourth time around. I will never make this mistake again, entering my work into an evening of 10-minute plays. Just not worth it to be forced to sit through the other plays to get to mine. Why didn't I make this a rule for myself like 10 years ago?

Final thoughts on those plays:

Play #1

The guy cast in this is such a big-bellied schlub, he must be a friend of the director. He has no business calling himself an actor. And the other actor was so annoying - but it might be the way she was directed. She was naming some New Orleans bars and one had the word "Meow" in its name and instead of saying the word "meow" she made a meow sound. That maybe doesn't sound as annoying as it really was, but trust me, it was incredibly annoying. Just so utterly cutesy.

Maybe the most annoying moment in that play though was during the "flirty" exchange about cats in literature because the guy keeps trying to get the woman to give him her pussy, and the guy mentions T.S. Elliot and the woman says something like "there are no cats in T. S. Elliot."

I assume that was meant ironically, but neither of the actors played it that way, so the audience could be forgiven for not laughing - especially since it was such an inside-theater joke - T. S. Elliot is the author of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the inspiration for the musical CATS.

I imagine the author was patting herself on the back for getting that joke in there, but the audience completely failed to get it. This was no thanks to the director, but even if the actors had delivered the lines perfectly only the most fanatical musical theater audiences would get it, so what is the point?

And yes, the guy is moving to New Orleans with his wife because his wife is doing her residency there. There's a "deep" moment when the woman character says something like "you can do well in school and fail at life." Well hell yeah, this play demonstrates the truth in that although not, I think, in the way that the playwright meant.  This intern headed for New Orleans is driving a car around a block while her complete asshole of a bartender husband is hitting on some woman he just met because she was having a yard sale and came out to talk to him without any pants on. All that medical training and she's married to the world's biggest douchebag.

I'm thinking of writing a play about the intern just so she can get a divorce from this asshole, maybe even have her find him in flagrante delicto with Maggie the Cat. Damn I hate this play.


Play #2

I hate the two characters in play #2 almost as much as I hate the characters in play #1. Especially the guy. He's just such a horrible human being - although he's gay he was married and has two children, whom he refers to as "A and B." I noticed he didn't do the offensive Chinese accent this time around. I don't know if it's because the actor just forgot or the director finally got a clue. But the impersonation of a stroke victim is still there. And speaking of impersonations, at one point the woman tells the guy he could be the next Bradley Cooper, and the guy thanks her while doing an impersonation which sounds like it's supposed to be Sean Connery. Why?

Possibly the worst aspect of this play is that the most dramatic moment in it happens over the phone, when the asshole gay guy's boyfriend calls him to break up. And the guy's response is to sulk briefly, and then agree to have sex with his female roommate. I guess that's the level of emotion you can expect from someone who refers to his own children by letters of the alphabet.

Although let's not forget the idiocy of the fact that these two contemporary thirty-somethings don't realize that you can use an online service to call your cell phone. That's even lampshaded in the play - I missed it somehow in the first three performances - the woman can't find her cell phone either and she stupidly says "you could call my cell phone from your cell phone." I mean granted, the playwright is over 70, but the director looked to be in her 60s, surely she should have a clue - or one of the actors could have said something. What is wrong with these people?

Our play was well received in the last performance, but the audience was laughing at everything, so...

Play #4

They laughed their heads off for play #4, which was extremely irritating, it's such an absurd, unfunny play, trying so hard to be zany, about a couple of asexuals who force themselves to have sex with each other so they can write a realistic sex scene for their novel - and based on their reading parts of it during the play, it is a very bad novel indeed.

I believe we are supposed to think that by the end of the play, they've forced themselves to feel sexual desire by describing sex acts to each other. But this makes no sense - they clearly don't have any sex drive at all, so much so that the guy doesn't even know what the word fellatio means.

And we are supposed to believe that there are two college-aged people who also happen to know each other, who are so uninterested in sex they've never looked at pornography, ever, let alone never "made out" with anybody ever.

Back when I used to run readings with feedback sessions for NYCPlaywrights, this would be the moment where somebody says to me that I "think too much." Theater audiences never seem to have a problem with thinking too much.

Now I realize that many playwrights are also blissfully unafflicted by an excess of thinking. This festival has convinced me of that.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

More theatrical torments

My daughter and her girlfriend made it to the short play festival Saturday and were predictably appalled by the other three plays. They did praise my play, although I can't help but worry that it seems good only by comparison to the awfulness of the rest of the line-up.

Luckily we had the full compliment of actors for the night's performance. Nobody was arrested Saturday.

I did get to chat briefly with the director of the first piece, the one about the yard sale. He happened to be sitting on the bench outside the theater next to me. He looked pretty young.
   ME
So do you do a lot of directing? 
   HIM
No. 
   ME
(In my head: I'm not surprised!)
I overheard him talking to the playwright, who came all the way from Memphis, and he told her all the changes he made to the blocking for the evening's performance - yet again more changes! This time the lawn sculpture cat was on a block instead of directly on the ground. On the plus side, there was no longer any yard sale junk on the ground - it was all on the table.

I spoke to my therapist today about this play and she asked if the cat statue was supposed to have some kind of meaning, since the man keeps insisting he wants it. I hazarded a guess "it symbolizes he wants her pussy." I really can't think of any other possible interpretation.

This play is a perfect illustration of the problem of these voting festivals - the author is a teacher and a whole bunch of her former students came out to see her play, and presumably will all vote for it. I almost asked the playwright what her inspiration for writing this play was - it's hard to avoid assuming that it's supposed to be based on her, since she's also an English teacher from Memphis (I mistakenly thought originally that the play is set in New Orleans. Mostly because there's more talk about New Orleans than there is about Memphis.)

Just when I thought I've determined all the reasons why I hate these plays, I discover another. What really annoyed me this time around about the junk sale play is that the guy mentions his wife went to medical school... and even, I think that she's an intern. And that he is a bar tender. Now there's no reason to mention what the wife does, she's not even a character in the play, just The Wife, an obstacle preventing these two annoying people from immediately having sex on the junk sale table.

But why would an intern be married to a bar tender? I'm not saying it could never happen, but it's so unusual it warrants an explanation of some kind. Or, if you aren't going to offer an explanation then don't mention it at all in the first place!

Dear baby Jesus.

And I also heard the playwright tell the director that she was going to bolt as soon as her play was over. Which she promptly did. Hey bitch, I had to sit through your lousy play every single night, the least you could do is have the courtesy to sit through mine!

I asked my daughter and her girlfriend which of the evening's plays they hated the most and they couldn't decide between the first and second plays. I can't decide either. I always end up thinking the second one is worse, but that's possibly because I hate most whichever one of the two plays I've seen most recently.

The second play is more offensive though. Not only the idea that a gay man can just be talked into having sex with a woman he clearly doesn't find attractive at all, but the gay man is a creep who does an impression of a stroke victim and then a Chinese accent. And the director for this play has not bothered to do any reblocking at all. It's the same hideous busy mess every time.

Another really annoying thing about the second play is that there's a big deal made about the gay guy's phone being lost in the messy room. The phone is clearly on and charged because it rings at the top of the play and then half-way through, when it is finally found. The author of this play has apparently never heard of the online sites that will call your cell phone for you. Although the author of this play kind of has an excuse - I met her, and she's in her 70s at least.

The author of the last play has no such excuse - I googled her and it turns out she's a recent college graduate (!) The last play is also very bad, but I tend to let it go because the first two are so spectacularly awful. But I said to my daughter: "doesn't it strike you as weird that these are supposed to be a couple of college students and they've never seen porn?" And she said: "yes, this is one of those plays where if you think about it, it's really stupid."

In spite of the lengthy build-up to the boy and girl having sex at the end of the play, I don't actually believe they're going to have sex. Never has foreplay been so incredibly anti-sensual. The only reason they have sex is because they want to research it so they can write about it.

I mean, here's how bad it is - these people are supposed to be nerdy and literate. But there's a joke about the guy thinking that the word "fellatio" is a misspelling of the word "fallacious." If he's a literate nerd who hasn't had sex because he's simply never had the opportunity, well that wouldn't prevent him from knowing what the word fellatio means. If anything he'd spend more time looking up dirty words out of sexual frustration.

And then there's the fact that when the characters do see porn for the first time, they both seem grossed out by it.

The way the play is written, acted and directed, it appears that both characters are virgins not out of a lack of opportunity, but because neither has ever felt any actual physical desire to have sex.

So are they supposed to be asexuals? Such people exist, so it isn't impossible. But such people are pretty rare, so you would have thought the playwright would mention it if they were.

As my daughter said, it's stupid, if you actually think about it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The show must go on!

Well that was fun. 30 minutes before Friday night's short play festival call time and actor Doug texts me to tell me he has been arrested. And get this - just for walking his bicycle through the subway station emergency door without paying for a ticket.

Clearly the police slow-down is well over. I sure miss it.

I went through the emergency door myself once (although I had a monthly pass in my pocket) and I got a fine - a $100 fine, which wasn't pleasant but since when are cops arresting people for stiffing the MTA a whole two-fifty?

They finally released him at 10PM but this whole thing was just a ridiculous waste of taxpayers' money.

Luckily the folks at the festival were able to scrounge up a substitute actor on short notice, and he was miraculously almost off book by the time our show was up. His name is Steve but I didn't catch his last name - I need to thank him for his good work. I paid him too, of course.

And I did sit through the other three plays again. The first two plays had some fairly substantial blocking adjustments since Thursday night - especially the second play, where the female actor dropped the bit where she mimes fellatio with the male actor, who is supposed to be gay. That cut a whole 15 seconds off the run time - which was still close to 30 minutes. Not counting striking the excessive set.

The playwright sat in the row in front of me so she didn't see me banging my head against the wall.

And I can't believe I missed another piece of furniture in that set - a table, in addition to the two chairs, a sofa, two blocks to represent a coffee table, a room divide and a cart full of crap. WTF were they thinking?

Only two more performances to go. Oy.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Amateur hour in Greenwich Village

It was my own fault, really, for not reading the fine print for the Short Play Festival. This festival is one of those where audience members vote for their favorite play - and what that always means is that the biggest amateurs win, because they get the most people to come out and see their show - because their having any play at all being performed, even a short play, anywhere, much less in New York City, is still an exciting novelty for them, their friends and usually, their actors.

So the worst plays and worst performances and worst direction win. That's democracy in action, in the arts.

The acting, directing and writing of the three other plays in the line-up tonight were just abysmal. And I'm not saying that SODOM & GOMORRAH: THE ONE MAN SHOW is the greatest play ever  written - I entered another play into this festival, about a struggle between a prostitute and a john, called JASMINE, and it's a much better play - but serious, not wacky, and I assume wacky is what the judges were looking for so that's why it was rejected.

But S&G is damn tight - there is not a moment or a line wasted. It's a silly sex farce, and a sex farce has to be tight to work. And my actors know how to act. And my direction was better than all the others if for no other reason than it wasn't completely stupid.

I don't usually notice bad direction because I'm too focused on the quality of the play script but I was amazed at how bad the direction of the first play in the lineup was.

Here's how bad the direction was - but wait, first the horrible plot: a woman is having a yard sale, a man shows up early, they flirt inanely with references to good literature (the woman is a teacher) and much much better famous plays, and some pointless negotiating over a cat lawn statue (I think that's what it was supposed to be) some moronic references to panties, and then they agree to meet up in the future and have sex. It is revealed that the man is married and his wife is in a car circling the block (I think because there's no parking - I don't remember but that must have been the reason although when I drove a car to New Orleans, the pointlessly specific setting of the play, I don't remember parking being all that hard to come by) and honking every so often.

OK first the horrible acting though - this idiotic plot can only work if the man is incredibly hot. The actor cast was not only not hot, he couldn't act and he had exactly zero charisma. Thanks to this bad piece of casting, I'd sooner believe a scenario where a garbageman shows up making his weekly rounds and a woman agrees to meet up with him later to have sex.

And speaking of bad casting - Jesus was this bad direction! The woman is having a yard sale, and so the director could have put almost anything on stage as a for-sale item - and the director actually had a whole bunch of "junk" strewn across downstage, as well as some stuff on a folding table. So at one point the woman recounts a conversation she had in the past and uses her hands to mime talking mouths - when the director could have put puppets or figurines or any number of other items on the junk table and could have used them to mime talking - and would have been actually funny!

And about those sets - every other play except ours had these pointlessly busy sets! The first play was bad, but the second play was even worse!

But first the stupid, stupid, ridiculous plot - the plots of the other plays made Sodom & Gomorrah seem like complete kitchen sink realism by comparison. In the second play a straight woman talks a gay man into having sex with her. And then he forgot where he put his stash of condoms. That's the whole play. These were the set pieces for this ridiculous play: a sofa, a room divider, two chairs, blocks to make a coffee table, a cart of crap, AND crap strewn around the stage to give the impression that the characters are slobs. It took them like five minutes to strike this mess, and I was especially annoyed because my play went on next. And then, even though I had personally asked the actors before the show to leave one of the chairs on stage so we could use it - and a chair is our ONLY set piece - they started to strike the chair and I had to yell from the audience "leave the chair!" Jesus. H. Christ.

The last play of the evening, which came after ours, was only slightly less obnoxious than the other two - it was about two virgins who decide to get intimate. The play was still badly written though, and took much longer than it needed to, and you could see what was going to happen a mile away.

The set was less busy than the other two, but it was still pointlessly busy - there was a bed AND a table and chair - the table was for the female character to type on her laptop - like they couldn't have simply recycled the fucking sofa from play #2 in the lineup.

But the most absurd aspect of the play is that these two characters, played by actors at least in their mid-20s, not only never had sex but seemed completely unfamiliar with porn. There is one point in the play where they watch some online porn (with obnoxious loud sex noises played during) and they seem amazed by it. I can only assume that the author of the piece is incredibly old or from another planet, to be unaware of the fact that free online porn has been available for at least 10 years and virtually all 20-somethings alive in the United States today have seen every sex act known to humanity by the time they were at least sixteen.

So now I'm torn - I want to support my actors and I do enjoy watching them do my play, which not only takes the least amount of time to set, but also has the shortest actual playing time. But it will be torture to sit through those other three plays even once more, much less three more times.

What to do...






Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wednesday's play list

  • Wild Thing - Tone Loc
  • Groove Me - Salt N Peppa
  • The Message - Grand Master Flash
  • Jailhouse Blues - Sleep John Estes
  • Baby Get Lost - Billie Holiday
  • Paying the Cost to be the Boss - B.B. King
  • It Ain't Me Babe - Johnny Cash
  • Rock Me Mama - Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
  • I'm Just Lucky That Way - Arthur Cray
  • Gonna Lay My Body Down - Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In Our Times podcast: Schopenhauer

I found this very interesting discussion of the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer from where else, the BBC.

And check out that photo they used - I've never seen that one before and it's quite surprising. It presents Schopenhauer with an almost playful expression, and - dare I say it - kind of sexy.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Here comes your man

Now I'm suddenly gripped by Pixies nostalgia...

90s Brunch Playlist

I had a nice Presidents Day brunch with my daughter - we had planned it in advance so we went out into the icy cold to LIC Markets in Long Island City. I had a frittata - it was very good but what were they thinking with the music selection? I mean, I like the Pixies and Sonic Youth - those bands' members are my contemporaries, or even a little older than me in several cases. And I consider Pixies' album Doolittle a masterpiece.

So it isn't a situation of me going "the young people's music today is just noise" but damn they cranked up the music and if you are at all familiar with those bands you'll realize that few people would consider their stuff to be ideal brunch-eating music - luckily I had my Shazam app so I could determine exactly which songs they were - I'm not a Pixies/Sonic Youth scholar the way I am with say, the Beatles or Steely Dan:
  • Tunic - Sonic Youth 
  • Bone Machine - Pixies
  • Bodysnatchers - Radiohead
  • What We Know - Sonic Youth
Judge for yourself if you would consider this brunch music, and remember it was played loud.

My taste in brunch music runs to Bach or early Fleetwood Mac.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Elevator selfie


All the elevators in my office building are completely en-mirrored like this.
You do not want to get in one on a Monday morning before you've had your coffee.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Take back the Rom-Com - new logo



I have to admit, I'm pretty pleased with the latest version of the logo I created for the NYCPlaywrights TAKE BACK THE ROM-COM project coming up March 28 - although I am waiting for confirmation from the theater before I make the official announcement.

The first logo was OK, but this one is so much more modern and colorful. I will have the web site up very soon. Yay!

Friday, February 13, 2015

When will the New Atheists denounce the Chapel Hill killer?

As I've blogged about in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, atheist Islamaphobes love to blame all Muslims for acts of terrorism by Muslim extremists.

Let's see how they like it:
“It was execution-style, a bullet in every head,” the women’s father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist, told the Raleigh News-Observer. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”
Abu-Salha said his daughter, who lived next door to Hicks, wore a Muslim head scarf and told her family a week ago that she had “a hateful neighbor.”
“'Honest to God, he hates us for what we are and how we look,’” the distraught father quoted his daughter as saying.
There is some doubt about whether vocal atheist Craig Hicks killed them specifically for their faith, although the New Yorker's Philip Gourevitch has an excellent, bitterly humorous observation about that:
We’re being told to believe that the vigilante killing of three young Americans is socially and politically meaningless.
It seems we are also supposed to be relieved by the fact that Hicks, who carried a gun to earlier confrontations with his neighbors, was not a religious fanatic. Are we then supposed to ignore the fact that he was an anti-religious fanatic, who was said to have taunted the women he later killed for dressing according to their traditions and beliefs? We are told that he was in favor of gay marriage, as if that negated his militant intolerance of others. He spent most of his time on Facebook heaping contempt on Christians, who are more numerous by far in Hicks’s neck of the woods than Muslims. And yet with law-enforcement sounding like Hicks-family spin doctors, we are being urged to consider this murderer as a figure of all-embracing American assimilation—a man who did not care who they were but hated them as he would hate anyone and everyone, equally and without fear or favor, for the way they parked.

Craig Hicks' Facebook page, which is still available to the public as of now, displays his "likes" which includes Penn and Teller: Bullshit, Sam Harris's Facebook page (Harris, predictably, refuses to take any responsibility for his own demonizing of Muslims, including a proposal to profile anybody who "looks Muslim.") and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Official) on Facebook.

There's also some joker on FB with a profile named God. The profile owner is undoubtably an atheist because he/she keeps posting these smug little self-congratulatory items, like the one below, typical of the toxic combination of superiority and historical ignorance (of, for example, Stalinism) of your standard new Atheist. 

I couldn't help posting on the thread associated with this item: "guess you're not omniscient after all."



And of course if the shooter had been Muslim - well, Gourevitch has already said it perfectly in the New Yorker:
Far more Americans are killed each year by the shooters in our midst like Craig Stephen Hicks than have ever been killed by all the jihadist terrorist outfits that have ever stalked this earth. That’s the price, or so the rhetoric goes, of our wild freedom. But maybe to understand the Chapel Hill murders better we need to imagine how it would be playing out if it were the other way around—if some gun-toting Muslim, with a habit of posting hate messages about secular humanists, took it upon himself to execute a defenseless family of them in their home.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The latest Neanderthal news

It appears there is more evidence for human-Neanderthal sex:

Kolbert mentions this disturbing but plausible theory for their disappearance:
It had been comforting to think that the Neanderthals were inferior to modern humans—less clever or dexterous or communicative—and that that’s why they’re no longer around. It turns out, though, that the depiction of Neanderthals as hairy, club-wielding brutes—popular ever since the first Neanderthal bones were discovered, in the eighteen-fifties—says more about us than it does about them. With each new discovery, the distance between them and us seems to narrow. Probably they are no longer here precisely because we are. And that only makes the likeness more disquieting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

WHY????

Jon Stewart has meant a lot to me over the past fifteen years or so - especially, clearly all nine years of this blog.

I'm really worried too, because several months ago he took a day or two off for no explained reason and he looked upset - I hope he isn't sick.  I was afraid they were going to announce something was wrong with him and I was just starting to forget about that. And now this.

I know it's just a TV show, but I have to admit - I cried when I first heard. I counted on Jon Stewart's sane, comforting presence - more than I even realized. This is like a knife through my heart. Especially since they won't say why he's leaving.


NO! No! NOOOOOO!!!!

Jon Stewart Leaving ‘The Daily Show’

NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Big Bust on Morningside Heights

I've been pondering for years how I can write a play that can use material from Marvin Harris's article for The Nation, "Big Bust on Morningside Heights."

And I think I finally came up with something. Unfortunately I won't be able to get to it until April at the earliest - I have way too much theater stuff going on in February and March.

I'm excited though - I'd love to combine my love of the work of Marvin Harris with my theater work.

I read a copy of the piece which I retrieved from The Nation archives several years ago. Since it is under copyright, it was removed from the Public Anthropology web site, but luckily the Wayback Machine had a copy.

I have a current subscription to The Nation, so I suspect I could get a copy again from there, but it's more convenient online.

You would think the people who put together the Columbia 1968 web site could have gotten rights to reprint it, seeing as how they link to it, and how it was an eye-witness account by a prominent member of the faculty, of what went down back then when... I'll let Marvin Harris tell it:

At 2:30 A.M., Tuesday, April 30, a thousand New York City policeman attacked an approximately equal number of students barricaded inside five Columbia University buildings. The action lasted three hours and injured at least 148 persons in varying degrees. Many students were thrown or dragged down stairways. Girls were pulled out by the hair; their arms were twisted; they were punched in the face. Faculty members were kicked in the groin, tossed through hedges, punched in the eye. Noses and cheekbones were broken. A diabetic student fell into a coma. One faculty member suffered a nervous collapse. Many students bled profusely from head wounds opened by handcuffs wielded as weapons. Dozens of moaning people lay about the grass unattended. At one point an estimated 2,000 spectators were set upon by the police and pinned against the gates. Outside the campus, mounted police chased screaming knots of people, young and old, up and down Broadway in a scene from Planet of the Apes. It took a line of paddy wagons stretching along Amsterdam Avenue from 118th to 110th Street to carry off the 720 persons who were arrested. They were driven away, unrepentant, beating on the bars, cursing the police, President Grayson Kirk and Vice President David Truman.

Later Harris explains:
The failure of the administration to act quickly and seriously in response to various student charges concerning the university’s complicity in the detested Vietnamese War contributed heavily to the breakdown of trust and communication between the student activists and their administrative counterparts. Columbia’s destiny up to now has been under the control of a Board of Trustees consisting almost entirely of top-ranking businessmen - directors for more than sixty banks, insurance companies, utilities and manufacturing corporations including IBM, C.B.S., Con Ed, Ford, Equitable Life, Shell Oil, AT&T, Metropolitan Life, Irving Trust Co. and the Chase Manhattan Bank. Insofar as these men are leaders of bureaucratic empires which our best students associate with massive acts of social irresponsibility, evasion, hypocrisy and exploitation their image is unsuited to attempts to establish cross-generational dialogues under the present circumstances. Nothing which the trustees of Columbia University have done during the past two years has indicated that the negative impression which they create on young minds thirsting for principled commitments to life and humanity is incorrect.
Combine this with my recent watching of the later episodes of Eyes on the Prize and I think I can create a story involving young black students and an anthropology professor (based on Harris of course) that deals with these issues. I'm looking forward to starting it. After I finish DARK MARKET and my Marilyn Monroe play and my play about jury duty. Sigh.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Schopenhauer gets another shout-out

In the NYTimes
If you want to have love in your life, you’d better be prepared to tell some lies and to believe some lies. If honesty is what matters most to you, you might as well embrace a life of silence and become a Trappist monk. These are, of course, options: Immanuel Kant, who argued that it was always wrong to lie, was a lifelong bachelor. And the notorious misanthrope Arthur Schopenhauer, also a champion of truthfulness and opponent of romantic love — he argued that to marry meant to do everything possible to disgust each other — saved his greatest devotion for his uninterrupted string of poodles.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

S&G - it's official now

Just got an email from the Players Theater, although unfortunately they abbreviated the name of my play from the full SODOM & GOMORRAH: THE ONE MAN SHOW. And they listed me as Nancy McClernan instead of N. G. McClernan - but at least they spelled my name right.


Players Theatre Short Play & Musical Festival

WEEK ONE (Feb 5th - 8th)
  1. Sammy and the Transvestite by Jordan Barsky 
  2. Love Story For Two Players/Four Personalities by Ivan Faute 
  3. Distance in Space by Patrick McEnvoy
  4. Happy Escort by Michael Hagins
  5. Feelings: the Future of Communication by Richie Alfson 
WEEK TWO (Feb 12th - 15th)
  1. The Desk by Chelsea Holland
  2. The Red Lioness by Chris Chaberski
  3. The Collision on Venus & Mars by Lynn-Steven Johanson 
  4. Brad Pitt by Michael Long
  5. I Love Myself: The Masturbation Musical by Jaime Summers 

WEEK THREE (Feb 19th to 22nd)
  1. Early Birds by Natalie Parker-Lawrence
  2. Spring Cleaning by Carol Kahn
  3. We Are Warriors by Patrick Blake
  4. Sodom & Gomorrah by Nancy McClernan
  5. Sex Scene by Jenna Waltuch

(calendar)

Tickets $30Special Offer $25 (use code PTNEWS)BUY TICKETS NOW!By phone 212-352-3101

For more info visit www.shortplaynyc.com

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Ayn Rand was not erudite

I bought "Radicals for Capitalism, A Freewheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement" by Brian Doherty and read a fair amount of it yesterday. 

For some reason I thought this would be an even-handed view of libertarianism, perhaps due to the word "freewheeling" but Doherty is a true believer, a senior editor at the Koch brothers-funded Reason magazine, and a big fan of Ayn Rand. 

You can tell he's in the Objectivist tank because he makes the usual complaint made by Rand fans and followers - poor Ayn Rand was misunderstood and disrespected - with the implication that the cause is liberals who are just too stupid to get Rand. 

This Randroid attitude is possible thanks to Objectivists' mind-boggling obtuseness. Here Doherty gripes about philosophers' attitude towards Rand:
Rarely do other philosophers comment on her without hostility or incomprehension. The first instance of measured criticism was an edited volume by Den Uyl and Rasmussen with critiques and commentary on Rand by a variety of scholars, most of them disagreeing with her conclusions or methods. But the book at least treats her as a fellow player in the philosophy game. Barbara Branden says that she knew NBI's main goal had been achieved when Rand's New York Times obituary called her a "novelist and philosopher." It is not an honor many professional philosophers would grant Rand.
What Doherty neglects to mention - deliberately or out of standard Objectivist obtuseness I cannot say - is that Rand refused to participate in any of the scholarship required of professional philosophers. In her delusional arrogance she thought she would simply be accepted as a philosopher, since her sycophants had declared her to be one, and because she wrote a shitty sci-fi fantasia of a novel that sold well. Her one-time friend (until she ex-communicated him for publicly disagreeing with her) the philosopher John Hospers wrote:
I told her that if she wanted to become known in philosophical circles, she should write a piece or two and submit it to the Journal of Philosophy or the Philosophical Review or the Review of Metaphysics. After its publication, I said, it would be studied, commented on, and probably criticized. She would then respond to these criticisms, which again would evoke more from others, and at that point, I said, "I guarantee that you will be known as a philosopher." But she never did this. She did not want to enter the arena of public give-and-take with them. She wanted them to come to her. What she wanted of philosophers, other than recognition, is not easy to say. I am sure she would have cursed them soundly if they offered criticisms. Even a mild criticism would often send her to the stratosphere in anger. 
Doherty's own incomprehension is apparent when he writes:
Many may identify themselves with Roark and Galt without the real stuff to back it up, which is the root of the popular disdain for the Randroid; a Roark type who isn't actually an accomplished genius can be insufferable.
This is a perfect description of Rand herself. She claimed that she and her husband and the Brandens were the living embodiments of the Ubermensch "producers" in Atlas Shrugged, at war with the "second-hander" moochers and parasites. Meanwhile Rand got almost all her understanding of philosophy second-hand, and Doherty knows this, and yet that somehow still doesn't give him a clue. He writes:
Rand was not erudite; most of her education in contemporary philosophy came from things she was told by philosopher friends, like Peikoff or John Hospers (before he was banished.) Modern culture, except for her beloved detective and adventure novels, drove her to fits. She didn’t read much, and most of what she knew about the world in the last decades of her life came from the New York Times. Her library, Hessen recalls, consisted largely of “books autographed and sent to her from other Random House authors, like Dr. Seuss or whatever, and books from research done in connection with railroads or architecture or steel. She never went to bookstores.
"Not erudite" is an understatement. This is a woman with pretensions to philosophy, and yet she utterly lacked intellectual curiosity and made no effort to read anything but pulp fiction. There are cab drivers and domestic workers who read more widely than Ayn Rand did. 

Another is-it-deliberate-or-not sign of Doherty's obtuseness is his apparent mystification over why Rand's work provokes the response that it does, even from conservatives:
Still, critics such as Whittaker Chambers (and many other Rand critics share this view) who hear in Rand's writings a stern voice commanding "To a gas chamber - go!" are themselves revealing a crabbed sensibility.
This isn't the first time I've wondered if a Randroid has actually read "Atlas Shrugged." 

The reason Chambers said that is because in one chapter of the novel Rand literally sends characters she hates - she lists their sins against Objectivism - into a tunnel full of carbon monoxide. Then she blows up the train. And the cause of the disaster is a politician who is trying to get to a voter rally on time - apparently Rand's dystopia is a fully-functional democracy. And the sins against Objectivism include taking a government loan to start a business, writing a play that criticizes businessmen and being married to a man with a government job - Rand kills the woman and her children too for that sin. 

Rand was a deranged extremist, and you have to wonder what is wrong with people like Doherty that they don't get that.

One of the favorite Rand-fan defenses against her critics is to mention how well "Atlas Shrugged" sells, as if popularity indicates excellence. Doherty:
Her books continue to sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year and will continue to enthrall future generations - and continue to lead a certain savvy percentage to appreciate the necessity of personal liberty and limited government.
I wouldn't be so quick to crow about the popularity of Rand's work, if I was her fans. The Bible is consistently the top book listed as a favorite of Americans. Rand herself was an  atheist (I like to think that besides her love of cats, it's the only thing we have in common), and I would argue that the continuing greater popularity of the Bible over Atlas Shrugged merely indicates that Shrugged doesn't have quite as much mythology, right-wing wishful thinking and violence to satisfy the ignorant and the stupid as well as the Bible does. But you can't fault Rand for not trying.

Monday, February 02, 2015

CIRCLE.... MIRROR..... TRANS.... FORM................. A.......... TION

I saw my actor buddy Doug perform in a small production of Annie Baker's CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION this weekend, and my opinion of the play still stands from a few years ago - another name for the play might be "How We Learned About Ourselves and Each Other Through Acting Games."

I thought I would like the play more, actually, based on reading it. But the pace really dragged - Baker's Pulitzer Prize-winning play THE FLICK was notorious for having incredibly long pauses in the dialog and this play also had incredibly long pauses. Which of course you don't experience in a reading.

I have to wonder if the long pauses are part of Mac Wellman's influence on Baker. Wellman is opposed to what he calls the "sentimental melodrama" of contemporary theater but that's what CIRCLE MIRROR is all about - the stuff of soap operas: romantic relationships and family troubles.

Thanks to Baker's formalist experimentation, with all the pauses and almost complete lack of direct interpersonal confrontation, the emotional quality of the play is muted - and I assume that is the case with THE FLICK too, based on the (mostly glowing) reviews I've read. So I suppose that might be a sign of Wellman's influence. He really hates strong, clear human emotions.

Wellman avoids human emotions in his plays through inscrutable plots which dispense with the cause-and-effect necessary for a satisfying story or for sympathetic characters. Which is why only critics love his plays - and why you can't pay most audiences to sit through his work. Baker has avoided that problem - she provides standard coherent plotlines, which is why people do want to see her work. Audiences fill in the great big blanks left by Baker's plots, because they can see the realistic human scenarios in them. And Baker gets plenty of mileage out of standard tropes - the surly teen-ager who learns a lesson being the main one in CIRCLE MIRROR. It takes very little effort for audiences to fill in the blanks of that scenario.

As I expected, the biggest laugh of the show was the line the critics adored and always mentioned - when the surly teenager asks "are we ever going to do any real acting in this class"?

Kids say the darndest things.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Krugman defends blogging

Krugman:
...you can, with effort, maintain a blogging style that makes regular readers feel that they’re part of an ongoing conversation yet makes individual posts meaningful to people who aren’t reading everything you write. A blog can be a floor wax and a dessert topping, if you work at it.
Krugman of course is a big part of my "blogging style" in that I mention and quote him at least once a month - although I mention him even more on Facebook, much to my FB friends bemusement. 

But while Krugman has millions of regular readers for his blog, I have about maybe 20. Two of whom read this blog pretty much every day, and about five more who read it on weekdays - so I assume they're reading it from their jobs.

Well maybe one day when I am an internationally-known, Nobel-prize winning economist...