Wednesday, March 31, 2010

But Is It Art?

Recently, two comments on two different blogs got me to thinking about this odd thing (I think it's odd, anyway) that's going on in New Orleans since The Storm.

First, there was the comment from sussah on Kyklops, in which she said,
I even think that the Cafe Brasil is pretty. ... A friend of mine calls this the romanticizing of urban decay, but I'm seeing beauty everywhere. ... [In] a strictly visual sense, New Orleans is constantly changing, especially these days as its being rebuilt.
Then Claudia from Brazil remarked on a photograph of a colored tin sculpture:
Man, you people are so creative! The very idea of doing art with Katrina's Junk is awesome!
This odd, "awesome" thing I'm thinking about today is the explosion of colors and shapes that have appeared on the facades and sides of buildings, in the streets and on the sidewalks, on telephone poles and window panes. The outlaws of the city have laid out a feast for the voracious visual gourmet. It is as if a great number of people who will never have a name remembered by history are proclaiming, "I was here. See what I have left as I passed by."

In the early days following the storm, people began to waken to Banksy murals appearing on the sides of buildings in their neighborhoods. Only a few of these paintings remain today, the rest having been obliterated under the bland primer wielded by our Gray Ghost. Although initially protected by the NOPD, the Ghost met his match in Michael Dingler, aka, NOLA Rex, who ultimately beat the rampaging, self-deluded savior of the city in the New Orleans courts.

Since then, it seems the sun has shone brighter than it did before the summer of 2005.

Oh, there was the initial movement to draw advantages from the storm  in order to rebuild the city in the image of other Southern urban centers (Can you spell A-T-L-A-N-T-A? Would you want to?). This provoked such outrage from the citizens who were busy rebuilding their homes and neighborhoods with little or no assistance or subsistence from the three tiers of government that the idea dried up and died on the proverbial vine. This soulless urbanization concept had no chance of survival in the face of such protest since its proponents had no vested interest in its outcome other than profit.

No, New Orleans initially sprouted out of the muddy marsh, and it would do so again. The nameless people would leave their marks, others coming upon these marks would take inspiration from them, and something new would grow. Something colorful and chaotic, built on the hopes of a people with little to lose in the way of possessions or rights, but a people filled to overflowing with outlandish dreams and fruitless hopes beyond reason.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quote of the Week


"Keep your act clean, but loud."
- June Havoc
Recalling the signs posted in the Vaudeville Houses she played
as Baby, then later, Dainty June
From The Washington Post, March 29, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hey, Those Are My Kids Up There!

Under orders from Bobby that I get out to the theatre more often ("You need to network!" he says), I trundled  myself off to Le Petite Theatre yesterday afternoon to catch a production of two one-act plays written by Tennessee Williams. It was really only right, since one of the plays, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen, featured Keith Launey and Liz Mills. I had to be there. These are my kids.

And, okay, I admit that after the show was over, I might have made a nasty comment that, while I was familiar with the two plays, the people involved in their productions were not; that was only an envious bunch of sour grapes talking. That was me thinking, you'll never get anywhere without me guiding you.

That, of course, is bullshit.

So what if I would have directed the plays differently? Anybody would have. That's life, and I need to get over it. There. I'm done and feeling all better now.

Luckily, for their sakes, they were able to wake up this morning to this review in the Times-Picayune:
Among the running themes at this year’s Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival is the view of Williams as a poet-playwright. Cripple Creek Theatre Company’s presentation of “American Blues,” a pair of early one-act plays, vividly captures Williams’ poetic use of language to explore what would become recurring topics throughout his body of work – love, death, the fallen nature of humanity and repressed desires. ...

With “Talk to Me Like the Rain,” Williams created another pair of lonely, lost characters – so lost that they are only named Man and Woman. Though apparently lovers, the scene opens the morning after or merely later in a sleepless night. There is little affection but pained despair expressed as the two share their lives through a pair of lengthy monologues. Nearly soliloquies, they are not spoken to one another so much as to themselves. Even the audience feels that it is uncomfortably intruding.

Keith Launey and Liz Mills are utterly compelling as the couple, establishing, paradoxically, both a remote distance from one another, while sharing a genuine chemistry onstage. Previously seen together in a superb production of “The Glass Menagerie” last year at the Marigny Theatre, they each have a particular feel for the lyricism of Williams’ language. Like a rainstorm, the words come at points in light mists, to be followed by torrential downpours of emotion.

Launey’s monologue reveals the Man to be an alcoholic, self-absorbed and even cruel, though unintentionally so, lost within his own haze. Mills, whom the audience wants to embrace and protect, shows an emotional fire and brilliance that is illuminating. Combined with her previous portrayal of Laura in “The Glass Menagerie,” Mills is clearly the go-to actress in this town to play Williams’ vulnerable heroines.
Congratulations, kids!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Perks

All kinds of things can happen to you when you publish a blog. Sometimes you can make people very angry, so angry they will devote their lives to tracking you down so they can find you some dark night and inflict lasting damage to your face. But I have noticed that if I follow my mother's advice and play nice, I have little to worry about.

What I get instead are visits from some very good and kind and fascinating people who find themselves on my street and stop to chat with me while I'm sitting on my stoop. The very best of them come back often and trade quips and recipes over beer and gumbo while we party on the banquette (that's New Orleans for sidewalk). Why, I've made lasting friends from as far away as Canada-in-Japan and Greece. There's a wonderful senhora from Rio who lights up my front porch whenever she drops by. Let me not forget the lovely young free spirit from Portland (the city on the left of the U. S., not the one on the right) who's a warm and cuddly tree- and bear-hugger. Why, I even manage to attract others closer to home like the formally elegant librarian from the uptown university district.

These are people I have never met face to face (and perhaps never will), but we meet often, soul to soul, here in the ether. And that is a good thing.

Just yesterday, my senhora pointed me to a blog post written by a young man from Rio di Janeiro in which he compares his current life in Houston to the experience of visiting New Orleans on the eve of this year's Super Bowl. It's a lovely piece. It ends on a foggy night at the edge of the Mississippi River where a musician is playing a lonely saxophone. The young man says, "Mas a felicidade há de chegar e eu tô bem na mira dela." According to Google, that means "But the happiness is here and I'm all right in the sight of it."

Yes, and so am I.

Oh, I see we need more rice!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quote of the Week

Writing in The Guardian today, Alfred Hickling observes:
As the world of showbusiness adjusts to the news that the seven-year marriage of Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes has ended, one is left to reflect on the rarity of long, stable, thespian relationships. Prunella Scales and Timothy West (47 years and counting) have proved that perhaps the only way to maintain unity and sanity is never to appear in the same play at the same time; though it can be done – Jonathan Pryce appeared alongside his wife of 36 years, Kate Fahy, in the British premiere of Edward Albee's The Goat, an Oedipal drama about a man who fantasises about a farm animal. When asked in an interview what he was thinking of, Pryce replied: "I was thinking of fucking a goat."
Way to go, Mr. Pryce.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Kin Haz Healf Insuwans?

It was months (if not years) of some of the ugliest political cat-fighting I have ever seen in my life between some of the worst leadership [sic] in this country's history; but we might - I say, just might - be about to join the rest of the civilized world.

We'll see.

Friday, March 19, 2010

On Being Overwhelmed

Do you see what time it is? It's nearly eleven in the morning. I've been up and about since before five, and I'm only now beginning to log this post.

What have I been doing all this time, you ask? I've been digging myself out of the depths of Google Reader is what I've been doing.

I noticed yesterday when I got onto the Internets that I had 833 "news" articles waiting for me to read. Today, there were 972!  There have been times when I've had even more. This is ridiculous.

I mean, how many opinions can there be about the possibility that the Pope may have been a pedophile enabler? Think about it. Isn't being a pedophile enabler a bad thing? That's the only opinion anyone should  have, and every article and blog post I read held it. Get together people, select one person to write the article, and all of you sign your names to it.

Now, here in town, there is a big news story developing about systemic dysfunction in the ranks of the New Orleans Police Department. It seems some of our finest may have murdered innocent civilians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. You'd think there could be no more than one opinion about a thing as horrific as this, but if you read the comments to the various articles appearing on the Times-Picayune's website, you'd be surprised that many people hold onto a different belief that these officers were well within their rights to mow down unarmed people in the baking sun. Listen up, you idiots. You're wrong. Now shut the fuck up.

On a lighter note (not to belabor a cliche), the NOLA Blogging Community (talk about your cliches) is getting riled up over the local production of the HBO television series Treme. You see, the crews are moving into their neighborhoods and disrupting their lives, making it difficult to find places to park. Try living in the Quarter. You know, the Quarter, where you all like to come and play and take up spaces in the residential parking areas so I can't find a place to leave my own damn car.

Not only are they upset with the production crews, they're now deciding the series won't be any good. Ladies and gentlemen, let's wait until it's broadcast. Then we can give it a look-see and make what might be called, for want of a better term, an informed decision.

Sorry for all the hate this morning, but cut me some slack. If you had to read through what I've had to read through, you'd be full of piss and vinegar, too.

Thank you. I'm feeling better already.

Friday, March 12, 2010

El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos

I was going to write today about the reading of Louie Crowder's new play, O Domine Miserere, that we did last night. The specially-invited audience took it to their hearts. The play is beautiful. Diana Shortes was lovely as Marie Laveau, shimmering in that far-away time in our history before she was transfigured into the legend we imagine her to be today. Nick Slie played Pere Antoine as a man past his trials of self-doubt and now firm in his belief in God and his commitment to social justice, even in the face of the clerical and secular powers of law striving mightily to bring him under control.

Me? Meh. I played the bishop of New Orleans, the nemesis to the good friar. The instant I opened my mouth, I realized I sounded like any old ham pretending to be some barnstormer like Donald Wolfit, touring the British provinces during World War II in a Lear loud enough to drown the drone of the German Bombers overhead on  their way to London.

But I don't want to talk about that today. I mean, I did. That is, I did until I fell asleep this afternoon and had the mother of all nightmares.

In my dream, I found myself in a dark place where a party was going on. People jostled people in a frenzied crowd of merrymakers until the crowd began to part to admit a line of women entering the space. They were gaunt, thin-faced, pasty women, not like our New Orleans women with full, flushed faces. They were more like Hollywood women, skinny, skinny, skinny. It turns out that was who they were, a line of Hollywood women, making straight the path for their leader, Julia Roberts.

Julia Roberts entered the party imperiously. Of course, she would. She was Julia Roberts, with all the entitlement that being Julia Roberts entails.

I found myself in a dark restroom. I was washing my hands. I turned to find Julia Roberts confronting me. She spoke to me, but I cannot remember what it was she said. She reached out to me and stroked my face. I felt a dampness there. Then Julia Roberts began to chuckle with a deep rumble gurgling from her throat. The chuckle grew into mad laughter. She reached into a pocket and came out with a watch that she held in front of my face. I couldn't understand what it was she meant by doing this to me.

Soon, however, as I caught my reflection in a darkened mirror across the room, it hit me. My face glowed! It was streaked with some essence that made it shimmer like the face of a Timex watch in the dark. Julia Roberts had marked me. She had branded me as a murderer for a crime I had never committed. I would have to free myself from this horror or die on the gallows, another innocent martyr to New Orleans justice.

I ran. I ran a lot. I ran all over the city. Sirens whined. Guns were pulled, and bullets whistled past me. Gaunt-faced women pointed me out to their companions who joined the chase as I ran and ran and continued to run. How was I ever going to save myself?

Finally, faintly, just an insinuation of a sound, I heard a telephone ringing insistently. This might mean my salvation. The ringing grew louder. Then a voice.

"Hello? Hello? Is anybody there? Hello?"

A click. The telephone being returned to its resting place.

I opened my eyes, asked Bobby, "Who was that?"

"Don't know. Go back to sleep."

"No way," I said.

I pulled myself up out of the Barcalounger and tottered into the bathroom.I studied my face in the mirror. No glowing streaks.

It was only a dream.

But - Julia Roberts! Damnable Julia Roberts. I'd always thought she was the ultimate good time gal, everybody's bud, the whore with a heart of gold, the busty paralegal who'd get you that goddamn million-dollar settlement or die trying.

Lies, all lies.

That succubus.

God, I'll never sleep again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Still Alive - If Barely

I woke up with the unmistakable stirrings of a cold beginning to bubble in my head. Why? Didn't I just get rid of the mother of all colds a few weeks ago? What's up with this?

I think I know what's bringing this on. As you know, if you've been reading anything I've written over the past few months (recent years?), I don't get out much anymore. I'm a stay-at-homer pretty much all the time now.

But - what's happening now is this: every time I leave the house and step out onto the street, somebody rushes up and kisses me. They're glad to see me, they say. They've been wondering what happened, where I've been hiding myself, what's been going on; but, golly, gee, seeing me out and about again just thrills them no end that they have to rush up, grab me in a big old hug and plant a sloppy wet one on my lips. I no sooner turn to walk away than someone else is grabbing me and repeating the scenario. A few yards further down, and people start falling out of doorways to get to me. Soon, strangers are rushing up to me, thinking I must be someone, otherwise, why would all these people be showing me so much love?

It's a conspiracy, that's what it is. There is a black-robed cabal at work out there with one overriding goal: to obliterate me from the face of the earth. These kisses are nothing more than assassination attempts.

Well, you've done your work well, you masters of deception. I've caught that cold you've worked so hard to infect me with.

So what is there left for me to do? I may soon be out, but I'll be taking some of you out with me. I intend to start hitting the streets with as much regularity as my time left on earth will allow me. I'll be kissing you all back, returning each wet sloppy one of yours with one of my own. This cold will carry and spread among you all, and soon I'll be riding your backs down the slippery slopes of hell, sneezing and coughing deliriously!

Mess with me, will ya?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sound Familiar?

Can it be the future is both here and now? From The Guardian:
On Monday, the iconic industry trade paper Variety sacked chief film critic Todd McCarthy and chief theatre critic David Rooney. Cost-cutting, explained Neil Stiles, president of the publication; reviews will henceforth be farmed out to freelancers. New York's critical community was left aghast. Variety has effectively told the world that it doesn't care about having an authoritative critical voice. The implications are grave. ...

You've seen the books speculating on what our cities would look like if humans vanished and nature were allowed to spread unchecked. Let's imagine a world without critics (please indulge my paranoid prognostication). In a few years, if this trend continues, only the stupidest among us will believe a critical rave. We'll know that reviews are just part of the marketing arm of a movie studio, theatre producer or TV programmer.

So we'll turn to the blogosphere, or those we follow on Twitter and other social networking sites, to find a consensus. But there will be no consensus, just a pullulating buzz of artists promoting shows, audiences offering their opinion, badly written amateur reviews, friends promoting friends, and maybe – just maybe – a few informed theatregoing bloggers whom we trust. But guess what? Those citizen critics will be bought out by media companies, or they'll eventually quit, because they're not being paid to filter the culture. And then we're back to square one: emerging voices drowned out and the lowest common denominator triumphant. Money talks and quality walks.

We critics, reviewers, consumer reporters – call us what you will – are the dung beetles of culture. We consume excrement, enriching the soil and protecting livestock from bacterial infection in the process. We are intrinsic to the theatre ecology. Eliminate us at your peril.
Now I know I may have had a differing opinion or two with a certain local theatre critic - or two or, maybe, three - but there was never any question that he - or they - possessed a knowledgeable background and a range of cultural values that colored his - or their - discourse even when he - or they - were wrong about one or two pieces of my own oeuvre. (So there, Mr. C., you old poot!) His - or their - potential disappearance leaves us with - what? Second-rate jazz-handers and an incestuous closed-shop community of self-styled theatre artists performing exclusively for one another?

Coming Down from a Novocaine High

Last month, on Ash Wednesday (the day before Mardi Gras, for crying out loud, which made it imperative that I not party down since I didn't want my breath to assault the technician as she peered past my lips into the maw she'd be scouring), I went into my dentist's office to have my teeth cleaned. My new hygienist introduced herself to me and told me her name was Peggy. Peggy was attractive, on the younger side of middle-age, with bottle-lightened curls. She was also personable and efficient, blessed with the gift of small talk.

Small talk is often looked down upon or taken for granted, but it is a worthy goal to try to attain and a skill that takes time and study to master. It is also something that is imperative to have if one works in a dental office where total anesthetic immersion is not generally the rule.

Like I said, Peggy had it down, and I was able to relax as she scoured and buffed, and probed and prodded my inner oral orifice.

I have no recollection of what she talked about. I'm sure it included her asking me about my Fat Tuesday adventures, but since there were none, and since I couldn't respond with her hands in my mouth, anyway, she gave up any semblance of a conversational exchange and went about her business of polishing and rinsing, accompanied by her cheerful chirping about this and that.

Every now and then, she would stop and tell me that she wanted the good DMD to see me before she cut me loose. (DMD, for those of you unfamiliar with the finer elements of dental acronyms, is Mississippi dental college language for DDS.) She would exclaim, "Let me see if the doctor is free," and skip out of the room, only to return a few moments later with the sad admission that he was engaged. But, brightening, she would add that she would not let me escape until she had brought him into the room to decide if I needed anything more than what she was providing.

It occurs to me now that she probably cleaned my teeth for a lot longer time than was necessary simply because the good DMD was unavailable for consultation. Eventually, a shadow blocked the light at the door to Peggy's cubicle, and it was he.

He seemed brusque with Peggy, impatient, as if his time were too valuable to be wasted on the natterings of a bottle-lightened "bimba", which is a woman past the "bimbo" phase of maturity but not yet at the height of her fully-flowering "bombo" stage.

She gamely mentioned that she thought she might have noticed a tiny cavity in tooth number something or other in the upper left side of my cranial structure.

"Well, of course, you would," said my dentist. "There's another one in tooth number such and such in the upper right side, too. We're going to make an appointment to take care of that before he leaves."

And he was gone from the room.

Peggy gamely gathered herself back together, told me we were done, set me up with appointments for my next two cleanings, and brought me to the reception area where the lovely young lady who looks like Cate Blanchett collaborated with me on a date to have my cavities filled. [Sigh]

That day was yesterday. I arrived on time, which was no small accomplishment seeing as every road leading to my dentist's office is under construction, and was soon ushered into her usual cubicle by Carmen, one of the two assistants working for my good DMD.

Like everyone in that place, Carmen is an adept at small talk. Being Spanish, she is also an adept in dealing surreptitiously with the male ego. If you're a guy who has never had the experience of being tended to by a female of Hispanic extraction, you do not know what it is to feel like a man. You could be standing in six-inch stilettos, encased in a two-bit knockoff Givenchy, and sporting an iridescent green synthetic wig. It doesn't matter. A Spanish woman will have you convinced in no time at all that you are the macho hombre of her dreams, and she is only there to serve at your pleasure as your pedestal for as long as you care to have her there. Carmen is that good.

Soon, my doctor sauntered in and did a little small talk of his own. He seemed to like Carmen better than Peggy. Much better, in fact. But then how could he not? He asked her for the "instrument" and injected me with Novocaine, first in my upper left gum, then in my upper right. Then he left me in Carmen's care while the drug worked its insidious magic in my skull.

My right side was fine. But there was a problem with the other side of my face. The left side of my upper lip grew heavy and elongated. It soon draped itself along my left left shoulder. My nose began to harden into pitted plaster. My eyes became numb and began to glisten. Soon, my frontal lobe decided, hey, who cares, man, just go with the flow ... this is copacetic, duuude ...

I heard my voice mutter, "Carmen, demasiadas drogas ..." (and I don't speak Spanish).

She whispered, "No, no, mi querido. Estás haciendo muy bien. Disfrutar."

So what could I do? I did.

The drilling went fine. My DMD packed his silver paste into my cavities like a pro even though it felt as if he were drilling a tunnel through the Rockies. When it came time for me to spit, I drooled, but Carmen was there to wipe my lips dry. I wish I could have felt her soft Spanish touch.

At least, I was able to feel her strong yet tender Spanish hands as she held my arm to help me sit up and rise from the mechanical chair and led me out to my car.

Ah! Carmen! Ma Carmen, adoree!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Have I Forgotten Something?

Oh, yes. A week ago today, The Gambit hit the streets with the announcement for the latest Big Easy Theatre Award Nominations for work done in 2009. Lo and behold, The Glass Menagerie didn't do too badly. There was Lyla Hay Owen again nominated as Best Actress in a Drama and Liz Mills as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. They were joined by Leon Contavesprie as Best Supporting Actor in a Drama.

Congratulations to each of you. You are richly deserving of your accolades.

Unfortunately, Keith Launey apparently sucked lemons, while I neglected to suck anyone, I mean, "thing".

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!
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