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Death and the Avant-Garde in Our Neoliberal Nightmare

The Ontology of Tantrum — On the eve of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 I happened to attend a performance of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis at UCLA and, oddly enough, it was the perfect work of art to draw me back from the brink. I thought of this again after finding myself on the edge of an even deeper abyss following the debacle of November 6, 2016, when two recent productions served a similar purpose. I’m talking about Marissa Chibas’s The Second Woman at Bootleg, and Letter to a Man by Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Both productions managed to cast new light on our increasingly dire situation in the US, reminding me in very different ways of the ferocity with which our right wing elite has been waging … [Read more...]

LA Theater and the Kool-Aid of Simplicity

Notes from a Stealth Revolution— Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to produce close to forty full runs of new theater in Los Angeles, many of which I also participated in as a director and playwright. I have moved several of these productions to stages in New York, Edinburgh, Atlanta, Prague and Berlin, and been thrilled and inspired by the results. A good part of my ability to work in this way has to do with the strong and largely unmediated collaborative relationships that can be forged in Los Angeles with actors and designers, and also with the comparatively low cost of working in an arena that everyone understands to be, quite simple, not a part of the commodity economy. It seems possible, however, that in 2015 all this … [Read more...]

Tis a Gift to Be Not-Simple

Early Shaker Spirituals, Wooster Group, REDCAT, January 2015, Directed by Kate Valk — I went to REDCAT the other night to see Frances and Liz and company sing Shaker spirituals but I decided not to write about it. I was intrigued for about half of the evening, but then things became a little less intriguing, so I left with a smile and a sigh and a tired kind of near-miss feeling about the evening, and it was this near-miss feeling that eventually gave rise to my decision not to write about the production. Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation, if you haven’t seen it, begins with four women in Shaker costumes entering from the wings. Grouping themselves on stage, they begin to sing along to tracks from a Rounder … [Read more...]

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: BAM Next Wave

“I don’t want to know why I do anything, I just do it and look at it and then do something else.”   —Robert Wilson In a darkened theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), a lone bard, standing beneath a spotlight wearing Elizabethan garb and exaggerated, Kabuki-like makeup, delivers the opening lines to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. In charismatic German she sets the tone, as all prologues should, for the evening yet to unfold. A production directed by the notoriously stylistic Robert Wilson, scored by the singer/songwriter/composer Rufus Wainwright and performed by the Berliner Ensemble, famously founded by Bertolt Brecht in 1949, Shakespeare’s Sonnets was imported from Europe this fall as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Five years … [Read more...]

Oncogenes and Irony in Western Society

Gob Squad: Western Society, U.S. Premier, REDCAT — On Instagram, my daughter watches six second clips of her favorite boy band – little video memes showing the young musicians' daily shenanigans — “O…M…G... Ashton slept shirtless last night!” — intercut with brief snippets of the band thrashing Green Day covers in concert. The other night she showed me a new episode of American Horror in which slasher movie motifs succeeded each other with such rapidity it felt as if I were watching a movie trailer stretched to fill a 54 minute series slot. The representational hooks of consumer culture are getting shorter and sharper, I notice — the number of neurological receptors required to create a convincing image of a stable world are … [Read more...]

The Cassandra Syndrome

Cry, Trojans!, The Wooster Group, Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, REDCAT,  February 27 - March 9, 2014 — The first responses to The Wooster Group’s Cry, Trojans!  I heard were strong, but then opinion began to curdle, finally setting into an unpleasant gel seeded with the landmines of identity politics. Arriving at REDCAT I was not sure what to expect - all the way back to LSD – Just the High Points in the late 1980s, I've enjoyed Wooster productions, but I typically don’t take issue when someone doesn't respond to the challenges of their work. Taking my seat in bleachers flanking the stage, I got a close up view of Scott Shepard, Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk and the other Woosters fully embodying their gestures and utterances, while … [Read more...]

Shun-kin

A production of Complicite and Setagaya Public Theater, Radar LA Festival 2013 Based on the writings of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki  [A Portrait of Shun-kin] — “...perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.” —  In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki The totally darkened stage is  the heart of theater, with the audience stilled, as though in a womb or a closet, in silence, breathing, waiting. The rest is what you must hear because you can’t suffer silence, what you must see because you cannot bear to remain in the dark.  In the formal training of a masochist,  the darkened closet and the blindfold are essential. Darkness is the ground of illumination or … [Read more...]

Incoming! Travis Preston Gives It To Us Straight

Prometheus Bound, World Premiere, A new translation by Joel Agee, Directed by Travis Preston CalArts Center for New Performance, Presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa — Pinned high on a gigantic metal wheel, Aeschylus’ ragged Prometheus has, for the past eighty minutes, been spitting out toxic denunciations of all-mighty Zeus and his dictates. Hermes himself just arrived with the Big Chief's final ultimatum, only to be met with more curses and maledictions from the unrepentant Giver-of-Fire. Finally, Prometheus pauses and looks out, seeing in the far distance the glow of Zeus’ destructive bolt on its way toward him like a heat-seeking missile. Lower down on the steel armature, the flock of women who have gathered in … [Read more...]

A Sign of Life from the Post-Dramatic

Wooster Group & New York City Players, Early Plays, directed by Richard Maxwell, REDCAT, February 21-24, 2013 — I’m in 7-11 – the one on Silver Lake Boulevard. I’m buying ice for a field trip my daughter’s 6th grade class is taking later in the day. There’s nothing unusual about the errand, but something about the way the sunlight slants across the surfaces of the Salt Snack displays and the Slurpee counter, or maybe it’s the warmth in the smile of the woman at the register as she hands me my change – she’s from the Indian subcontinent and seems so happy to be here I imagine she’s a new arrival still in the honeymoon phase of the American dream - or perhaps it’s the small courtesy shown me by the young woman who holds the door … [Read more...]

Repairs are Being Attempted

GATZ by Elevator Repair Service, Directed by John Collins  at REDCAT, Nov. 28-Dec. 9, 2012 — We reach a point in dreams sometimes of sudden precarious flight, the unfolding of an odd, slow-motion knowledge that we have become untethered, the way participants in car accidents are sometimes launched through windshields, and we can imagine ourselves filled with a kind of instant nostalgia for the firm ground just left behind, and for the time before our weightless freefall. Even before we make impact with whatever surface approaches — hard, or if we are very lucky in our dreaming, soft and giving, a warm embrace perhaps, the arms of a wise and trusted elder perhaps, wearing a soft cardigan with leather patches at the elbows possibly, and … [Read more...]