Friday, March 23

Snip, snip, snip.

Let it be known: I don't like Matthew Bourne. His work, rather, is what I don't like, seeing as how I don't know the man whatsoever.

My distaste for The Bourne has some history. When I was a senior in college, I spent a semester soaking up the arts in London, and went with a dancer friend of mine to see Mr. Bourne's new piece The Car Man, which was premiering during our time there. This seemed like a safe enough bet, knowing people who practically wet themselves over his all-male Swan Lake. So my friend and I travel to the Old Vic (or was it the Young Vic? Some Vic.), and this is how the show begins:

Onstage, there's a sign, handwritten, that reads, "Man Wanted." A man enters stage right, struts slowly across the stage, stops in front of the sign. Points at the sign. Points his thumb to his chest. Get it? He's the Car Man.

And so it began, this adaptation--yes--of Carmen set in an auto garage/pizzeria (yep) in 1950s America. After the Car Man points to the sign and then to himself, we see mechanics working on the cars. They wipe their brows with the back of their hands, because it's hot. Then, in the auto garage/pizzeria's communal shower (yep), they take off all their clothes, and run across the stage naked, whipping each other with towels, as Bizet's "Toreador Song" blares in the background.

My friend and I were amused and appalled, and spent the rest of the semester re-enacting our favorite, ridiculous, awful Car Man moments, of which there were many.

I came up with a nickname for the particular kind of work that Mr. Bourne does, and that is mime-dancing. His "choreography" is so excruitiatingly literal that it's like watching a play onstage, except without any words. In fact, he had a piece that came to BAM a few years ago, which I decidedly skipped, called: Play Without Words.

This season at BAM, he's got a "ballet" of the Tim Burton movie Edward Scissorhands. I was ready to decidedly skip it as well, but my subscription buddy wanted to go see it, and I thought, perhaps now I'm older and wiser, and I'll now have an appreciation for Matthew Bourne's work that I didn't have before, and I'll chuckle at how naive I was to have thought that this Great Artistic Master was anything less than a terpsichorial genius.

I was wrong.

Edward Scissorhands opens with an old lady walking across the stage. There's a projection of raindrops against the scrim, but she holds out her hand to the rain anyway, just in case we missed it. And so it goes. It's like the opposite of dancing.

I did walk into the show optimistically. I even thought, Edward Scissorhands...they call him that because, you know, he's got scissors for hands. So maybe this will be a good fit for Mr. Bourne's literal-mindedness.

The thing is, even with such painfully literal mime-dancing, the storytelling is not very strong. And even if you brought a competent director in to help stage the "choreography" and offer some pointers like how to focus the audience's attention to the important things on stage, there's a crucial thing missing in all of this. Yes, there are people onstage acting out an event: I see that a group of teenagers is breaking into a scary house. I see that a father creates some sort of person with scissors for hands. I see that a woman is flirting with him. But from all this pantomime, this wild gesticulation, I don't understand the why. And it's not the that that we go to the theater to see, it's the why.

Take Romeo and Juliet, for example. We all know what's gonna happen. But we go see it and we get so absorbed in these real people, their emotional lives, their needs, their psychologies--not what they do, but why they do it. In good productions, we know what's gonna happen and we think, "How can that happen?", and in great productions, we're so inside their psyches that we understand, deep within ourselves, why it happened, and how it could happen to us.

It's the reinforcement of that thesis, I guess, that made the supremely dull evening in front of Edward Scissorhands worthwhile. So I suppose, in some weird and begrudging way, I have to thank Matthew Bourne for that.

Thursday, March 22

Where are they now?

At the moment, I'm wracked with insomnia, and let me tell you, the internet is a lot like caffeine. For the past ungodly hour or so, I've been Googling random people from my past; in fact, I've been playing a game to think of the MOST random people from my past and Googling them to gain some insight as to what they're up to in life.

Needless to say, memories, both fond and less-than-fond (but mostly fond) have flooded through those magic, invisible cables of the internet and have been routed wireslessly into my brain. High on remembrances of things past, I'm compelled to shout-out to some random people I've lost touch with, who've re-entered the zeitgeist thanks to the meddlings of an internet search engine:

Gretchen Sauer...Gretchen was among the first people I met in college. We had classes together all the time, and spent our freshman year making theater, drinking wine and listening to Songs for a New World (I know...). When I met Gretchen she had long, beauty-queen hair, and halfway through our freshman year she cut it all off, and in doing so became not only the most badass, but the most beautiful girl in school. Last I was in contact with her, Gretchen went on to postgraduate studies in queer Latin American theater, a course we took together in undergrad, natch. But that was ages ago.

Brian Sette...Brian was one of the neighboorhood gang growing up in Baltimore. I haven't been in touch with him since I was 13 or 14, surely. We (that is, the gang) used to trade comic books and spent our summer nights playing hide-and-seek into the wee hours. A Google search reveals that he (or someone with the same name) is a visual artist in New York. Which, you know, is cool.

Paul Caiola...It took a little memory jog to remember Paul's last name, but Paul was a boy from college that I met when he was doing a play in rep in the same theater I was doing a play. Paul looked like Edward Norton and I had a palpable crush on him. My one lingering memory of Paul is in a diner somewhere, me sitting across from his puppy-dog eyes. I think perhaps Buffalo wings were also somehow involved. Or perhaps I'm mixing my memories, as it were. Remember how fun it was to have crushes on people? Now there's only dating, which is considerably less fun. Or maybe I'm just dating the wrong people.

Kate Donadio...Kate and I had an absolute fucking blast in London our senior year of college. We laughed and looked at castles, invented soap operas inspired by the soundtrack to Magnolia, had an unhealthy fixation on Australians. I remember in some class or other, we were doing some exercise where we had to say something nice about another person in the class (God knows what kind of exercise this was -- this was theater school, people), and I said that Kate had a flair for the dramatic. I think Kate was momentarily offended, but I meant this as the biggest compliment possible. A couple years later she moved to Atlanta and we lost touch, but the internet tells me she's still acting up a storm down South.

It's funny, these moments when the past tugs at you, isn't it? I have these spells where I become obessesed with the past. It's not nostalgia; it's fascination. Fascination with how the past is a launching pad to the present, and how the present is, one day, in a moment similar to this one, going to be a launching pad to some future, yet to be known. It's like in that movie Donnie Darko, where Jake Gyllenhaal has that inexplicable, gellatinous line that he follows as if he's following the trail of his own future. I can see lines shooting forth from all these memories, as if my memories are all dots that are longing to be connected into some kind of linear path. A Great Progression. The Meaning of Life.

Or maybe that's just me hallucinating because it's 4am and I should be asleep.

Wednesday, March 7

Have issues, will travel.

The L train tonight was rife with interesting relationship dynamics.

First, on the platform, I noticed a couple who seemed, at first glance, to be practicing calisthenics very close to the platform edge. As I watched a few seconds more, I realized they were performing some sort of intense trust exercise, wherein they were cantelevering their body weight in such a way that if one let go, the other would tumble onto the train tracks.

Fortunately, this display resembles my past relationships in metaphor only.

Then, on the train, there was another couple chatting, carrying matching black plastic hardcases that I only assume contained film equipment. (And this I assume because the same cases were ubiquitous in the basement of the Tisch School of the Arts, where all the film students had their equipment.) Anyway, they're chatting, chatting, when suddenly the guy dives in for an intense peck on the girl's lips, and it is instantly clear that this is the first time their mouths have ever touched. This is a fascinating moment to watch, ladies and gentlemen, and one we are rarely witness to, especially in such close quarters. I feel as if it should have been narrated by Pierce Brosnan as if a Discovery Channel nature special. There's the first moment of disbelief, then recognition, then embarassment/shame, then avoidance of eye contact, then blush, then smile. As a sweet end to my train ride, the girl, after what feels like an eternity, gives him a quick peck back, launching them into a long, awkward silence.

It's somewhat relieving to know that awkward first kisses are a) not unique to me and b) sometimes rather charming.

Friday, March 2

Take a bow.

I went to a Broadway play the other night, and happened to have seats in the very front row, and I realized at the end of the peformance that perhaps my favorite part of going to the show that night was the curtain call.

It's not that the play wasn't any good; in fact, it was quite good. But there was something about the actors coming out at the end -- it's that moment that makes the dramatic experience of the theater the most different from one in any other medium. You get to see the actors not as their characters, but as themselves, and for a minute or so, the set they've just performed on, the costumes they're wearing, all cease to become the world of the play and become...a set. And costumes. And the characters become people. Different people than they were as you watched them for two hours prior. It's kind of surreal and kind of great.

I read an article about playwrights who write for television -- and I know a bunch personally -- and in the article, Marsha Norman, a fancy, fancy, successful playwright, talked about how playwrights are gravitating toward TV because that's where the audience is; that's where their stories really get out to the people. (That, and -- let's be honest -- the fact that they can make a year's salary writing a single hour-long episode.)

Reading that article made me think about my experience with the curtain call the other night. That undeniable, intangible magic of watching live theater. And maybe it's because I'm a musical theater writer, and so probably am not gonna be writing for Law & Order anytime soon, but there really is no other place than the theater that I'd like to be.

And believe you me, it's hard to explain why. I went to theater school with lots of theater people, and as the gap widens between the time I graduated and the present, more and more of my friends leave the theater for more lucrative climes: television, law, accounting, you name it. I'm fast becoming the stalwart of my former classmates who's still doing the theater thing. And the thing is, I've honestly never had one second where I didn't think theater was the place for me.

I can't explain this feeling at all, except in some cheesy, abstract musing about a Broadway curtain call, but maybe that inexplicability (did I just make up that word?) is the very reason I know I'm doing the right thing. I could easily explicate a multitude of reasons why any rational person would abandon the theater, but I'm not swayed by a single one.

This is not to say they're aren't days when I'm down with the I'm-In-Theater blues. But somehow, I sit at the piano and start to write, and I can't imagine doing anything else.