The Tragedy Of A Celebrity Posse


Play: Timon of Athens

Rating: 3 Stars

Timon of Athens is the deepest of deep cuts in the plays of Shakespeare. Some Shakespearean companies make a point of completing the entire cycle of his plays (37 plays in total). This can take decades. The OSF in Ashland has been around for some 80 years or so and I believe that they’ve only completed the cycle four times or so.

When completing the cycle, Timon of Athens is always pretty much the last holdout. At OSF, a play like Hamlet will play nine months out of the year. When they stage Timon of Athens, it’ll be lucky to have a three month run.

I’m not aware that Seattle Shakespeare Theater has any great plans to complete the cycle. A couple of years ago, they did do Titus Andronicus, which is another relative Shakespearean obscurity. I wrote about it in this blog previously. They took a Tarantino-esque spin on it, which actually placed it in a harrowing light. It was a pretty brilliant approach for a relatively small theater to take.

In the nearly thirty years of its existence, the company had never put on Timon before. If you need further evidence, that should again tell you about it’s relative obscurity. Considering the innovative spin that they put on Titus, I was interested in what they’d do with Timon. Not to mention the fact that there are so few opportunities to see Timon live that I thought that I should see it now while I could.

There’s some question regarding its authorship. There’s pretty much an academic consensus that Bill did not write all of it himself.  There is evidence that some of it was authored by another playwright named Thomas Middleton. It’s not clear if they collaborated or the play was incomplete and one of them finished it or one of them was serving as a script doctor or whatever.

Let’s start with a couple of words about the play. Timon is a very wealthy Athenian who enjoys nothing more than indulging all of his friends and is a patron to many artists. He spends his money wantonly and ends up deeply in debt. Confidently, he reaches out to his friends in his time of need. His friends, without exception, turn their back on him. Enraged, he quits Athens and lives his remaining days as a misanthropic hermit.

Usually multiple cooks does not improve a play, and it proves true here. The first three acts are actually pretty conventional. The last two acts just kind of fall off the rails a bit. It devolves into a number of semi-random people visiting Timon in his hermit state and Timon railing at them and driving them off. The plot doesn’t really progress. There is a side plot where Alcibiades, another of Timon’s friends, has been exiled from Athens and is now raising an army to conquer it. The Athenian leaders meet with Alcibiades and basically say, can’t we all just get along? Alcibiades says fine and all shake hands. It is then announced that Timon has died (he dies off-stage, ala Cormac McCarthy’s treatment of Llewelyn Moss in No Country for Old Men).

So, really very little plot and resolution in Acts IV and V. It barely qualifies as a tragedy. In Shakespeare’s typical tragedies, the stage is usually littered with dead bodies by the end. Here you have a guy, that by this point is not very sympathetic anyway, dying off stage.

Timon does have some lineage to King Lear and to Titus. In all of the cases, you have a powerful man knocked off his perch and he then becomes mad as a result. In the case of Timon, it seems like tragedy light.

With Titus, his remaining sons are executed or exiled, and in revenge he murders his enemy’s children and serves them to her in a pie. With Lear, you have his actual daughters turn on him and treat him with contempt. He ends up raging mad in a storm blasted heath.

In the case of Timon, his friends treat him poorly and he ends up cranky and living in a cave. It just doesn’t have even close to the same tragic scale as the others.

Having said all of that, the play is not without merit and, if anything, resonates to our modern world.

The whole profligacy of Timon and the way that he has hangers-on that basically exist just to leach off of him reminds me of today’s celebrity society. You have the celebrity who comes out of nothing, becomes insanely rich, and then surround themselves with friends / groupies that serve to build him up but also leads the celebrity to financial ruin. Think about Allen Iverson blowing through an estimate $200 million. Think about the following lyrics from Kanye’s Monster:

All I get is these vampires and blood-suckers

All I see is these niggas I made millionaires

Milling about, spilling they feelings in the air

All I see is these fake fucks with no fangs

Trying to draw blood from my ice-cold veins

Timon’s profligacy is reminiscent of our world. His generosity isn’t really based on altruism as much as on grandiosity. He likes showing off how much money he has. In fact, he shows off by giving away money that he doesn’t have. You can’t say that he was fooled by his advisers. His faithful steward, Flavius, beseeches him to moderate his spending, to no avail. He is the essence of conspicuous consumption. Haven’t we all had that friend that always insists on paying? That is not a mark of generosity but a demonstration of power.

How about a precursor to fears of sexual disease epidemics (be it Herpes, AIDS, or antibiotic resistant gonorrhea)? After Timon exiles himself to his cave, he finds a box of gold. Instead of re-burying it or using it to pay off his debts, he proceeds to give it away for a variety of dubious causes. He gives some of the gold to two ‘harlots’ and makes them promise not to give up their practice but to continue it even more, specifically to spread sexual diseases to as many men in Athens as possible.

On a lighter note, once he exiles himself, he resolves to live only on roots. Is Timon the first practitioner of the Paleo diet?

For the play staging itself, it was fine. From a woman’s point of view, this play is problematic because literally the only two women named in the play are the harlots. This staging rectified that by making Timon and Alcibiades women. The first three acts moved along briskly, but as expected, the fourth and fifth acts went sideways at best.

Without actually dramatically changing the play, this was probably the best outcome that could of have been hoped for.


Instant Theater


Title: 14/48

Rating: 3 Stars

The idea behind this is:

  • The night before the festival, a keg is tapped
  • All participants fill out a proposed theme
  • One answer is randomly chosen
  • Seven playwrights then write a 10 minute play based upon the theme; they must finish by 8:00 AM the next morning
  • The next morning seven directors randomly draw which of the freshly authored plays they will direct
  • The directors then randomly draw the actors that will be the players
  • The directors and actors have the day to prepare
  • There is one band and one group of set designers; they spend the day figuring out the music / sound and the set design
  • Each play gets to have one 20 minute rehearsal
  • The play is then performed in front of a live audience
  • That night, they repeat the process, for a total of 14 plays in 48 hours

As you can imagine, this is probably a pretty adrenaline filled 48 hour period for all participants.

All in all, they did a good job. There were no major disasters, and most of the plays had a structure and a message, that if you squinted hard enough, fit the theme chosen, which was “Whose Side Are You On?”.

One challenge that had to be surmounted was that a couple of actors came down with the flu this weekend, so were not able to participate. They had to dragoon in a couple of volunteers who were allowed to read from a script onstage.

The only true rule bending that I saw was that the last two plays were clearly a part I and a part II of basically the same play. Clearly, the two playwrights collaborated in their writing to basically create one 20 minute play, which kind of seemed to be cheating.

Since they were 10 minute plays authored in a 12 hour period, necessarily they were not going to be too complex. Waiting for Godot this was not going to be.

Some of the plays were more effective than others. The first one, about sea life trying to adjust to global warming, was very well done. It managed to include moments of character humor, the innocent cluelessness of environmental tourism, the bathos of death, and some inside theater humor (equating Starlight Express with global warming).

Another fun entry was about the misdirection of love. A woman is in love with a twitter handle, another woman is in love with her, a man is in love with the second woman, and a dog is in love with the man. It’s not quite “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”, but still it was a light and amusing tale of love.

Another play imagined the Republican congress as basically a glee club for Trump. They were dressed in matching colors and led cheers glorifying Trump. The fact that one of the members had angst because he heard Trump use the word shithole (which literally happened the day before the play was premiered) shows how timely a play written on short notice actually can be.

They weren’t all winners. One play, about a post apocalyptic journey, probably needed a couple of more minutes. It just seemed to end rather abruptly.

None of the plays will be making it to Broadway any time soon. It was a fun experiment. Both the cast and the audience relished the risks that were taken and enjoyed the experience.

Buttcracker III


Title: Buttcracker III

Rating: 4 Stars

I usually try to come up with some kind of ironic / humorous title for my posts, but since the event was actually called Buttcracker, I figured that I probably couldn’t top that. Plus, you have to love the fact that it’s III. Apparently one Buttcracker was not enough.

It’s basically a holiday show with interpretive dance. However, instead of Tchaikovsky, you have Ozzie Osbourne, Bon Jovi, and Ratt. Yes, it’s a hair metal interpretive dance holiday show.

There were probably about fifteen interpretive dances.

My favorite was entitled Happy Birthday. The setting was a traditional nativity scene. There is Joseph and Mary and a cradle. There are three wise man. There is an angel holding a trumpet. There is someone dressed as a cow.

Sweet Child of Mine starts playing. The characters start dancing. Jesus emerges from the cradle. Instead of an infant, it’s an adult, obviously female, but wearing an equally obvious fake beard. In the back of the scene is a full size movie screen. Projected onto it is God (old, white, long hair and beard). He is dancing and lip syncing to the Guns N’ Roses song.

Now, depending upon your level of sanctity, having God channel Axl Rose might be slightly disturbing. I found it to be quite amusing. In the same setting, they put a birthday hat on Jesus’ head, and gave him a birthday cake. Instead of blowing out the candles, he used it to light a joint. This then segues into AC/DC’s Problem Child.

I think you get the picture.

Even though they’re one of my least favorite bands, they also did a dance around Don’t Stop Believing, by Journey. First emerges Santa, who starts dancing. Next emerges a unicorn, followed by a leprechaun. Finally, the last person to emerge is Jesus. This is either an interesting statement about faith or it’s equating Jesus to a unicorn. I’ll let the reader decide.

They did AC/DC’s Hells Bells. It started as a bell choir being conducted by a nun in a wolf’s mask. From that initial start, the three dancers stripped down to classic Angus Young attire (think school boy) and ended in a frenzied dance. It was a good tribute to AC/DC and a nice interpretation of the song.

The Styx song Grand Illusion was also performed. Amusingly, as the dancers performed, a little six inch tree was lowered from the ceiling and once it landed, someone turned on the lights and it became the focal point of the song. It was very reminiscent of the Stonehenge scene from This Is Spinal Tap.

There were some homages to the actual Nutcracker. For instance, it started off by recreating the mice scene from the ballet. However, instead of mice, they were rats and they did Round and Round, by the band Ratt.

The crowd was very much into it. It was by far the rowdiest dance recital that I’ve been to. In fact, one guy (in his late 40’s if not 50’s) in the front row wearing a Viagra NASCAR jacket got so loud and belligerent that two large men came over and physically bum rushed him outside in an impressive display of bouncing.

When you’re pulling music from 1980s heavy metal bands, you’re talking my demographic. Sure enough, as far as I can tell, there was literally not a single minority in the audience. Seattle is pretty white, but I don’t know when the last time that I was in a crowd that size without at least one non-white person. Also, there were a lot of bald spots on the men.

…Sigh…my people, I guess….

You Are Now Entering…


Title: The Twilight Zone

Rating: 4 Stars

Theater Schmeater annually does a live reenactment of several Twilight Zone episodes. This was the first year that I checked it out.

I was interested to see if they would try to do a modern take of the episodes. For those of you old enough to remember, back in 1998 Gus Van Sant did a scene by scene faithful remake of the Hitchcock classic Psycho. What was interesting is that it was, in many ways, a different movie than the Hitchcock classic. For one thing, the acting was different. Thirty-five years of method acting has created a generation of actors that avoid the stylized acting more common in the earlier films.  Also, even though the scenes were nearly identical, both the actors and Van Sant made different enough choices that I found the film interesting to watch.

In this case, I watched some scenes from the original Twilight series and they seemed to be pretty faithful recreations. The only really big difference that I saw was the Rod Serling character himself. In a live setting, having the writer come in and comment upon his work like some kind of one man Greek chorus is at best a jarring experience. Knowing that, the actor playing Serling came in with a nonchalance and a gleam in his eye that signaled that he understood the ridiculousness of it.

Four episodes were shown. They were:

The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine

This was a pretty straightforward retelling of  Sunset Boulevard. An actress, once famous, now long forgotten, spends her time in a room in her mansion watching her old films. Her friends try to draw her out and even potentially get her a part in a new movie, but since the part is not the romantic lead, she refuses to even entertain the notion.

In another bid to draw her back into reality, her friends bring to her one of her former romantic leads. Initially she’s excited but then becomes horrified at how poorly he has aged.

Finally, through sheer determination and some Twilight Zone magic, she manages to somehow will herself back into the actual movies that she is screening. Her friends look on in horror as she calls out to them from the movie screen.

This clearly is about the fleeting nature of fame and how difficult it must be to live your life once your time has passed you by.

The After Hours

A woman comes to a department store to procure a gift. Mysteriously, she is sent up to the 9th floor, which only contains the one item that she’s looking to procure. Even more mysteriously, it turns out that there is no 9th floor at the store.

She ends up trapped in the store after hours. It’s there that the mannequins come to life and it’s there that she discovers that she’s also a mannequin. Apparently, mannequins are given one month off a year where they are allowed to live human lives.

She is late coming back and the other mannequins are upset with her. Eventually, she apologizes and obediently changes form back to a mannequin.

Originally aired in 1960, this is an interesting statement upon the unsettling effect that the rise of modern corporations have had. People were feeling (and still are) trapped in 9 to 5 jobs that were not physically challenging or dangerous but left them feeling unsatisfied and vaguely without purpose. Here, the mannequin only experiences life during the month that she’s not at work. At work, she is literally a piece of furniture.

Five Characters In Search Of An Exit

In a cylindrical prison awakes an army major. Trapped with him (although they’ve been there apparently much longer) is a clown, a ballerina, a hobo, and a bagpiper.

The major is desperate to escape, but it seems impossible. The other characters have all attempted the same things that the major is attempting but have become long since resigned to their fates and are actually annoyed with the major’s persistence.

They know that they are not alone because periodically a gong sounds which nearly deafens them.

Finally, the major does concoct a plan which does allow him to successfully escape.

In the next scene, a person picks up an army doll who hands it to the person who is collecting toy donations. The person throws it back into the donation barrel and comments upon the fact that so far, only five toys have been collected. He then continues to ring his donation bell.

This obviously prefigures Toy Story by about fifty years. It touches upon the ideas that toys only experience joy if they are loved, and once discarded, are left desolate and without meaning.

From the theme as well as from the title, it’s clear that Serling was inspired by Satre. Existentialism posits that our lives are void without meaning, just like the toys portrayed here.

The Midnight Sun

Here it’s been reported that the Earth has changed its orbit and is now heading closer to the sun. As a result, the planet is getting unbearably hot. People are fleeing North, even though there really is no hope even there. Finally, there are two women left in sweltering New York. They have to fight off an intruder who just wants water. One woman collapses and the other then explodes in grief at the thought of being left alone.

Cut to the next scene. The woman in hysterics is actually suffering from a fever. In fact, Earth has changed its orbit, but it actually is moving further from the sun, dooming its inhabitants to a freezing death.

As the woman, still recovering from her fevered dream, remarks how refreshing it feels to be cool, the other woman, shivering uncontrollably, can barely respond.

Aired even before the climate debate change really started, this is a precursor to the changes that the planet will be going through over the next looming period of years. It’s also a statement on how the human mind, when faced with the most horrific circumstances, still tries to find an escape to peace.

All in all, it was a fun night out. I can only imagine fifty years from now, there will be another theater company somewhere re-staging Black Mirror episodes. It’ll be interesting how the British Prime Minister fucking a pig scene will be staged.


Those Madcap Russians!


Title: The Government Inspector

Rating: 3 Stars

The Government Inspector is an adaptation of a play by Gogol.

A completely corrupt mayor receives a note that a government inspector is coming to his town to visit. In a panic, all of his cronies gather to determine what to do. There is the judge that takes bribes for convictions. There is the hospital director that has overseen the construction of a useless hospital. There is the school principal who has built a number of gymnasiums but very few classrooms. And there is the postmaster, who thinks nothing of opening everyone’s mail.

As they discuss how to best present themselves to the inspector, two men (Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky), apparently twins (but not really), burst in to tell them that the inspector is already in town. The mayor and all of his cronies immediately set out to meet the inspector and try to conceal their corruption from him.

It’s a case of mistaken identity. In fact, the man (Khlestakov) that is mistaken for the government inspector is actually an unscrupulous conman that has lost all of his money and is preparing to kill himself.

When the officials burst in on Khlestakov, there is confusion on both sides. The officials are trying to determine if Khlestakov is susceptible to bribes while Khlestakov is trying to determine if they are there to arrest him for crimes that he’s committed.

Ultimately, much to Khlestakov’s relief, before he confesses he understands that they are trying to bribe him. From then on, he leads the officials on a merry journey of bribery, drunkenness, and seduction. The mayor’s wife, desperately lonely, throws herself at Khlestakov while the mayor, thinking that Khlestakov is a great match, is setting him up with his daughter.

It’s all a merry madcap of tomfoolery and confusion. By the end of the play, Khlestakov has taken off with all of their money and the officials now have to deal with the real government inspector, who had been infiltrated with them all along.

This play is reminiscent of Scapin and Comedy of Errors. It’s fascinating to me the universal nature of comedy. You have the 19th century Russian, the 17th century Frenchman, and the 16th century Englishman all writing plays that could easily have served as Beverly Hillbillies plots.

This is interesting to me because I’m re-reading Nesteroff’s history of comedians. One of his theses is that comedy does have a shelf life. Comedians funny to one generation are lost to the next. This is true of even the greats. Even though his show is still in syndication and he’s an acknowledged greatly skilled comedian, no one goes to Jerry Seinfeld for new comedy. He still tours and still does new material, but even so the people that attend do so primarily for nostalgic reasons. Plays seem to have a different shelf life than the more immediate art of the comedian.

In the world of plays, there seem to be plays / themes in the comedic world that are timeless. For instance, the Government Inspector hits on several themes that are not out of place even now:

  • Corrupt venal politicians
  • Mistaken identity
  • The smart employee getting the better of her employer
  • The rustic provincial

Speaking of Seinfeld, one tenet of his show was that would be no hugs, no tears, and no learning. His characters go through life, getting caught up in all kinds of situations, and it leaves them fundamentally unchanged. The same is here in this play. There is no true love romantic plot. There is no moral lesson. There are no sympathetic characters. There is not even a protagonist. It is a pure satire.

This is also a play that probably would not be a successful movie. The characters are too thin and predictable. It is as if you need to have live actors selling the action to a live audience to really make it work. If I wasn’t watching this with an audience rollicking with laughter, I wouldn’t have had nearly the same amount of enjoyment.

As with all such madcap, frenetic hi-jinks, the play starts off on fire but eventually runs out of steam. The pace of such a play can only be sustained for so long. There are a couple of hallucinogenic sequences that were completely over the top and altered the mood of the play for the worse.

I did enjoy the fact that as we walked out, they were playing a Gogol Bordello song.

Thou Shouldst Not Been Wise Till Thou Hadst Been Worldly


Title: Julius Caesar

Rating: 4 Stars

My apologies for the pretentious title. That’s a paraphrase from King Lear. In King Lear, the great, respected and wise king decides that it’s a good idea to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughter upon the condition that they each verbally declare their love for him. This, in typical Shakespearean tragedy fashion, leads to pretty much everyone dying. Lear’s fool, in exasperation at the stubborn foolishness of the old king, pleads with him not to embark upon this destructive path by telling him, “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

Similarly, in this play you have Brutus. Brutus is recognized as one of the wisest leaders in Rome. The conspirators to assassinate Caesar need to have Brutus in their camp to lend it legitimacy.

First of all, they fool him by leaving anonymous notes for him to find that beseeches him to rise up against Caesar. Apparently random notes are enough to convince this wise man to a path of assassination.

Then, when planning the assassination, the conspirators decide that they should also murder Antony, since it’s known how loyal Antony is to Caesar. Brutus says no, it’s better to shed only a minimal amount of blood. It sends a better message to the Roman people that the conspirators are not bloodthirsty.

Antony is clearly grief stricken by Caesar’s death and asks to give the funeral oration. Cassius, the main conspirator, thinks it’s crazy to let Antony speak to the people over the body of Caesar. Brutus says no, it’ll look better because the conspirators will look magnanimous letting Antony speak and anyway, he (ie Brutus), a great orator himself, will speak first and will pacify the people. What could go wrong?

Of course, immediately Antony gives a speech that turns all of Rome against them. They have to flee and a civil war commences.

Finally, on the field of battle, Brutus’ forces are nicely arrayed in fine defensive position waiting for Antony’s / Octavius’ forces to attack. Cassius advises Brutus, since they are in such fine defensive position, to let the battle come to them. Brutus says no, we are at the pinnacle of our strength right now, so we should leave our fortifications and attack them at Phillipi.

Multiple suicides later, both Brutus and Cassius are dead and Antony and Octavius reign supreme.

Brutus is the classic example of someone with great wisdom, judgement, and respect but just absolutely horrible gut instincts.

Cassius, who is portrayed here more of a sneaky character, does not have Brutus’ gravitas but clearly knows how to get the best of a situation. Unfortunately, his respect for Brutus is so great that he always yields against his own judgment.

This actually reminds me of…Night of the Living Dead. Now, bear with me. For those of you who haven’t seen it, there’s a group of people trapped in a house as zombies are trying to break in and get to them. The two main sources of conflict are between Ben and Harry.  Ben is the conventional heroic type (a young black man in a very early effort at actually representing minorities non stereo-typically) and Harry, who’s kind of a sniveling coward.

Ben is all about trying to figure out to fight the zombies and get out of the situation. Harry just wants to go into the cellar, barricade it, and wait for the authorities. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if they all went down into the cellar and then spent the night playing pinochle or whatever, so Ben inspires them all to fight the zombies. Of course (yes, spoiler alert for a 50 year old movie), they all die except for Ben. Ben himself dies when he is shot by the authorities who mistake him for a zombie (and well, probably also because he’s black).

The point here is that, although Ben is a indisputably a brave and wise man, Harry was actually right. The zombies weren’t all that strong, the cellar door was solid, and the authorities were coming. If they’d just spent the night in the cellar they’d probably have been perfectly fine.

That connection was also probably triggered because in the play, Brutus was played in a wise, brave, heroic manner by a black actor and Cassius was played by a kind of middle management snivelly white actor. There’s probably a message here that leaders can’t be completely driven by some abstract concept of morality and sometimes have to do things that others might perceive as cowardly and weak. I could connect this even more to events in the 100 years war, but I’m going to stop now because it’s already getting too long.

I’m always a little suspicious of Shakespearean plays that place themselves in the current day, but here Julius Caesar really does seem weirdly relevant, which is bizarre for a 400 year old play. It’s a testament to Shakespeare’s genius and maybe to some common notes of humanity that stretch across centuries.

Here you have, in the background, 24 hour news channels continuously blasting events as they occur (including spot on imitations of how somber news channels get upon the death of a popular leader / celebrity). Here you also have leaders overtly manipulating the masses for their own political ends. Here you have the war hero Caesar, all ego and bluster, pretending not to want the crown while obviously secretly aching for it (every military dictator ever). Here you have the unthinking masses, all fired up in anger, literally tearing to pieces an innocent person in a case of bad timing and mistaken identity.

Also, I like the race / sex neutral casting of the play. Brutus is a black man. Antony is a black man. The Roman senators, Casca and Cinna, are a black woman and an Asian woman, respectively. They all were effective. I have no idea if there are Shakespearean canonical purists out there anywhere that raises a ruckus about this (considering the fact that there was a somewhat defensive note about it in the program, there must be), but if so, they need to get over it, or would you prefer that we go all the way back to the original and have prepubescent boys in drags for all of the female characters?

So, why not five stars? It’s not the players’ fault. The first three acts is where all of the interesting things occur, in my opinion. Acts IV and V have plenty of military action, but the moral questions have been answered, decisions have been made, and the final two acts is just the play heading towards its foregone conclusion. Everything after the intermission just seemed anticlimactic, even if well done.

Miss Congeniality – Indian Song And Dance Style


Title: Chitrangada

A person that I work with is appearing in a play being put on by The ACT Theatre. This is kind of a big deal. It’s a musical / dance play written by an Indian playwright way back in the 1890’s. I went primarily to support a friend / co-worker, but was curious to watch an Indian play.

It pretty much surpassed all of my expectations. It was engaging, entertaining, and somewhat surprisingly for a musical, a bit thought provoking.

Chitrandaga is an Indian princess. Her father, the ruler of Manipur, decided that, instead of bringing her up in feminine ways, that he will raise a great warrior. Therefore, she is brought up learning how to lead and to fight. She grows up to be a strong young woman that her subjects respect for her fighting ways.

One day in the forest, she meets Arjuna, a warrior monk. She instantly falls in love with him but he is on some kind of penance and has taken a vow of chastity. He declines her affections.

Thoroughly smitten, she does not give up. She prays to the god Madan to turn her into a beautiful woman. He does so and she once again ventures into the forest. She meets Arjuna, who this time promptly falls in love with the beautiful woman in front of him and they end up together.

Over time, Arjuna becomes discontented. He feels languid. He’s losing his warrior ways. He hears of a great battle fought of invaders attempting to raid Manipur. The warriors of Manipur fight off the invaders. Arjuna asks them who their leader is, and they describe this great female warrior.

Arjuna longs to meet such a strong woman. Chitrandaga, also wanting to be herself again, begs Madan to change her back. He does so and she meets Arjuna as herself.

As expected, Arjuna and Chitrandaga are still in love and they live happily ever after.

A couple of things.

First of all, I found the strong Indian female protagonist interesting. You hear about the gender imbalance in India as a result of sex selected abortions. You hear about the violent crimes against women that take place there. You hear of the old tradition of Sati, where a wife would throw herself upon the funeral pyre of her deceased husband.

Yet here is a strong story of a woman. Sure, there is the interlude where she thinks that the trick to getting a man is by being beautiful, but ultimately she realizes that the only way that love can last is by exposing her true nature. Without a doubt she is a strong leader and a fierce warrior to her people. She comes out of the play as a strong woman.

Although I do have to admit that I was a little amused at the idea of a strong woman feeling the need to fem it up to catch herself a man. I felt like I was watching possibly weird grand step-uncle or something like to Sandra Bullock’s Miss Congeniality.

Arjuna does not fare so well. He’s this great warrior monk doing penance, but hey, a beautiful woman comes along, and fuck that! He throws aside his warrior nature and whatever religious penance he was practicing and promptly takes up with her. Ultimately, he gets bored with the dull life of actually being with a woman and longs for his life again. He hears about Chitrandaga and promptly starts obsessing over her. When she does appear (and remember, she looks totally different than the woman that he supposedly instantly fell in love with), he falls in love again. Sure, it’s the same woman, but to him, it’s a completely different woman. Maybe at the end of the day, Arjuna is expressing men’s not so secret desire to be able to cheat on their loved one in a manner that is not cheating?

But…now that he’s with Chitrandaga, will he at some point start longing again for the beautiful woman that first stole his heart? Will Chitrandaga recognize that, and with heavy heart still have to make occasional supplications to the god Madan to change her back to that beautiful woman? Or will Arjuna end up bored with both women and will she have to assume yet a third (or more) identities? If you look close enough, the play starts developing Lynchian overtones.

I found the fight scenes quite amusing. There is nothing like trying to re-enact a battle in dance. This was the best fight action scene expressed in dance since Michael Jackson’s Beat It.

The play was well acted and well danced. Arjuna, with his bright eyes and happy countenance, makes for a perfectly feckless hero. The girl that played the child Chitrandaga was actually an amazing dancer.

My friend, who had multiple roles, danced outstandingly well. I had no idea of his talents.

What other secrets lurk in the hearts, minds, and bodies of my fellow co-workers?


Class Will Out


Title: My Man Godfrey

Rating: 2 Stars

This play took place at Theater Schmeater, a small theater in Belltown. It sat maybe fifty people. With ticket prices less than $30, this was indeed a play running on a shoe string.

Given all of that, it was a valiant effort. My Man Godfrey is a classic 1930’s era screwball comedy. As far as I can tell, the plot of the play married up pretty exactly with the movie.

I think that this is actually the crux of the problem that I had with it. There were many, too many in my opinion, set changes. The actors would utter a few lines (and being a screwball comedy, would utter them very rapidly) and then the scene would end, lights would dim, people would scurry around, and then open up to a new scene. Being that this is a very low budget play, the actual scenery changes were minimal, but still, pretty distracting. I’d guess that there were at least 30 scene changes.

Fundamentally, this movie doesn’t translate well to play form.

In a way, this reminded me of watching Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra on stage at Ashland. Now, obviously, this play was designed for the stage. However, action in the play takes place in Alexandria, Rome, Syria, Actium, Parthia, Athens, and military camps throughout Egypt. This is just way too much stage management for a play. Even Ashland, which is one of the world’s best playhouses with a tremendous budget, couldn’t pull it off. It was by far my least favorite Ashland  play.

The second problem is the fact that the acting in the original movie is iconic. William Powell and Carole Lombard are at the top of their form. This is especially true of Lombard. This is her signature role. Her great strength was as a screwball comedian, and she absolutely rocks the part.

There was just no way that actors from a local theater could ever hold a candle to Powell and Lombard. They give it their gamest efforts, but they fell far short.

In the words of that great early twenty-first century philosopher, Omar Little: “You come at the king, you best not miss”.

Outside of the performance, I found the actual plot / characters of My Man Godfrey to be fascinating.

As I’ve said, the movie was released during the Great Depression. It’s the story of a very wealthy Bullock family hiring a homeless man as a butler.

The Bullock family patriarch (Alexander) is a weak, passive nonentity. The matriarch (Angelica) is an empty-headed ditz. One daughter (Cornelia) is a spoiled, bitchy princess. The other daughter (Irene) is the most likable and is good-hearted, but still is vacuous, frivolous and pretty much completely self-involved.

Godfrey comes into a madcap house, and in his serious way, manages to not only cope with the hi jinks but begins to bring order to the house. In fact, through his actions, he directly saves the family from disaster and their own homelessness by recovering the business investments that Alexander had apparently let passively collapse.

Irene falls in love with him and basically shotguns him into marrying her.

Isn’t this a great message? A family gone soft and flabby with its wealth, about to collapse under their own incompetence and frivolousness, is saved by a common man on the street? Isn’t that a great message about how we’re all people and that people of merit will, through hard work and a bit of luck, rise to the top.

Oh wait. It turns out that Godfrey isn’t just another ‘forgotten’ man. He’s actually the scion of a rich Boston family who has fallen because he has suffered heartbreak. In fact, the other ‘forgotten’ men that he talks to are all formerly successful men who have just fallen on temporary hard luck.

The message here is that it’s actually OK for Irene to fall in love with Godfrey and for Godfrey to be such a masterful savior for the family precisely because he’s not of the common sort. He’s one of their own class who is just hiding for the moment. He is the prince turned into a frog that is just waiting for the kiss of a princess.

This really triggered something in me because I’m in the process of reading White Trash, which is a history of class in America. The author makes a compelling argument that class has quite literally existed since the very first days of America settlement. Whether it’s the waste people of the 17th century, the clay eaters of the 18th century, the mudsills of the 19th century, or the trailer trash of the 20th, there has always been a group that is looked down upon, despised, and given no hope for advancement.

So, here we are, in the midst of the Great Depression, the great leveler of the 20th century, and even here, we have to make sure that the ‘forgotten’ people that show up on the screen have the proper pedigree.

Class will out.

From Saigon to Fort Chafee


Title: Vietgone

Rating: 5 Stars

When I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year, this was one of the plays that I wanted to see. For the past several years, they’ve sponsored a new play about a different part of the American experience. Vietgone was this year’s play. Unfortunately, it was sold out, so I didn’t get to see it in Ashland.

I saw that it was playing at Seattle Rep, including most of the players from the Ashland play. I went on-line, searched all dates, and got literally the last ticket available. So, yes, I went to a matinee on a fucking Wednesday to see it.

And yes, it was totally worth it.

To boil it down to essentials, it’s a love story between two recent Vietnamese immigrants to America after the fall of Saigon. That’s a gross oversimplification. It’s a story of loss. It’s a story of resilience. It’s a story of family. It’s a story of adjusting to a new life.

The young man is Quang. He is a helicopter pilot in the South Vietnamese army. He has a wife and two children. His plan is, if the North Vietnamese invade, is to fly his helicopter, rescue his wife and children, and fly them to safety. However, the invasion happens too quickly. He has to fly his helicopter to save other women and children first. He never gets to rescue his family. He has to leave them behind.

The young woman is Tong. She is a tough, independent woman who refuses to conform to Vietnamese stereotypes of women. At her job, she manages to get two passes to escape Saigon. She tries to convince her brother to go with him, but he refuses to leave his love. Instead she takes her mother, who is a very traditional woman.

All need to come to terms with the fact that effectively their family is dead to them or they are dead to their family. That’s the price that they need to pay for escaping Vietnam and starting a new life in America.

The presentation was creative. When acting as Asian characters, they spoke perfectly flawless, unaccented English (which was them speaking Vietnamese). The American characters spoke horribly broken, occasionally nonsensical English (which was them attempting to speak Vietnamese). The Asian characters would speak broken English when it was clear that they were attempting to speak English. I’m not sure if what I just wrote made sense or not, but it had the result of integrating the audience into the difficulty of assimilating into a new culture and language.

There lines were spoken in a street vernacular. So, instead of some stilted or formal sounding English, there was lots of shits and motherfuckers. Again, the intent was to make it real that these were real people living real lives. There’s a universality in their struggle and in their love that transcends nation of origin or culture.

I must have skipped over the part where it said that it was part musical (my bad). I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but in this case it was effective. Instead of conventional singing, the songs were hip hop rap, in which the actors could freely express their rage, pain, and frustration in a format recognizable for characters within their age group. Somehow, this made the singing seem more real to me, as opposed to the more conventional musicals in which the songs seem to be more disruptive then integrative.

The unaccented English and the hip hop was probably also a statement by the playwright regarding his own background. Assuming there’s some germ of personal truth (one of the characters in the play acts as the playwright), he is a first generation Vietnamese. So, the perfect English and the hip hop is the language that he knows. The play, and he himself is a synthesis of Vietnam and America.

This comes to a head at the end when he’s interviewing his father (Quang and Tong are his parents). He casually says that the war in Vietnam was a mistake and his father erupts in anger. All that he is today (and by reference, so many others like him) is a direct result of American intervention. He is grateful for the opportunity that the American ‘mistake’ gave him.

The playwright and his father make up by hugging and singing a Waylon Jennings song together.

I found this play to be a poetic, amusing, and moving experience.



Watching Macbeth In The House That Shakespeare Built


Title: Macbeth

Rating: 5 Stars

I watched Macbeth today at Shakespeare’s Globe. Now, I know that that isn’t really the same play house that Shakespeare performed in. It burned down 400 years ago. This incarnation was completed in 1997 about 750 feet away from the original and it was built using modern construction techniques, so the probability of it burning down is substantially reduced. However, the architects / designers did make a special effort to make the reconstruction as historically accurate as possible to replicate the feeling of going to an Elizabethan play. So, yeah, my title is not exactly accurate. So sue me.

Late last year, I was in London and went on a tour of the Globe. It was a wonderful experience and lit in me a desire to see a play there. Six months ago or so, I just happened to do a random check of the Globe web site and I saw that they were doing Macbeth as part of their summer schedule. On an impulse, I bought a ticket, with no idea of whether I would actually be able to attend the play or not. Well, things worked out and here I am!

First things first, the play was pretty awesome. Even though the character’s attire was relatively modern and there was some updating of dialog (I don’t think that even Shakespeare was a brilliant enough tragedian/comedian to include a Trump reference). I didn’t see anything happen on the stage that couldn’t have been staged in Elizabethan time, which preserved the basic essence of the event for me.

I was also struck by the fact that the actor playing Macbeth was black while the actor playing Lady Macbeth was female. Not shocking now but clearly a very real demonstration of progress that has taken place. I wonder if, like there are for the superhero comic books, there are Shakespeare equivalent geek fanboys, that get all upset to see a female playing on the stage, shrilling that the Globe is straying from the Shakespeare canon? And, ultimately, will the complaining purist comic book fanboys ultimately look as ridiculous as such theoretical Shakespearean fanboys?

At the Globe, you can buy seated tickets or you can stand in the pit (playgoers in the pit are called groundlings). In Shakespeare’s time, groundlings were the common riffraff while the seated were the people that could afford to splurge. I was tempted to do the groundling route (tickets are much cheaper and it does seem a more authentic experience), but the idea of standing around in three hours, regardless of the weather, deterred me and I went the Elizabethan one percenter route and bought a ticket. I’m glad I did. The weather, for the first time since I’ve been here, was cold and wet. Also, my seat gave me a wonderful view of the proceedings.

The groundlings were interesting. I think that their tickets were something like five pounds. It skewed, for probably obvious reasons, to a younger crowd. They did not seem at all deterred by the rain, wind, and cold. The Globe sells rain gear that many were wearing. Several others were willing to just get wet. It seems like a great tradition and a fantastic way to introduce young people to the theater experience.

I don’t how it was in Shakespeare’s day, but many aspects of the performance were devoted to the groundlings. After the intermission, there was a call and response between an actor and the groundlings. This was a great way to get the crowd back plugged into the rest of the play. Several times, individual groundlings were asked questions by an actor on stage. Actors, at times, mingled with the groundlings during the performance. The groundlings at one point were used as the army getting ready to attack Dunsinane.

The weather played to the play’s advantage. The cold, the gusts of wind, the occasional bursts of rain added to the dark, mysterious qualities of Macbeth. Although more comfortable, performing Macbeth on a bright sunny day might have actually been detracting.

One thing that I find interesting, now that I’ve seen many Shakespeare plays and I’m now starting to repeat, is how different actors / staging leads to almost different plays, even though the same words are being spoken.

This Macbeth was a fine example. The character playing Macbeth plays him with much less indecision than I’ve seen previously. He’s a strong man ready to take action. After the weird sisters’ prophecy, he almost immediately, with great confidence, begins to picture himself as being regal. He still has a momentary doubt, which Lady Macbeth successfully dispels, but after that, he’s always moving forward and confidently.

The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, as played here, is predominantly a romantic one. They are clearly in love with each other and support each other as needed. At the end of Act III, after the disastrous dinner where the ghostly Banquo (expertly done) appears, there is the final scene of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appearing together, when they understand that the path that they have taken together is doomed, you can see their shared grief. It’s a heartbreaking scene.

Duncan, the King of Scotland, who’s usually played as a gentle yet wise king, is played here almost as if he’s a lightweight nonentity. Similarly, Malcolm, his heir apparent, until the final act shows nothing of leadership. You can imagine how such a strong person like Macbeth could have been chaffing under such weak leadership, and given a little push by fate, leaps at the opportunity to reach for the glory that possibly deservedly should be his.

The decision, six months ago, when I semi-randomly decided to buy a ticket for a play in London with absolutely no idea of how I was going to work it, has turned out to be a truly personal highlight. It’s a great memory and I’ll always be glad that I did it.