HOME     BLOG VIEW     ABOUT     CONTACT     SUBSCRIBE

Hysterical Historiography

In this, the first of a two part interview, playwright and Times Quotidian contributor Rita Valencia speaks with Gunfighter Nation Artistic Direct John Steppling about his motivations to form the new Los Angeles based laboratory theater group. In Part Two Valencia will be speaking with Lex Steppling about the youth connection and contributions to Gunfighter Nation. Gunfighter Nation presents The Alamo Project An Interview with Rita Valencia and John Steppling The Alamo Project is an evening of short plays about the Alamo. The Alamo, the legendary 1835 seige of a Texan mission, is emblematic of the ease with which past events can become myth, and how myth serves the purpose of the mythmakers. As part of this process, history, real … [Read more...]

Ignited

Reflections on Götterdämmerung, Los Angeles Opera – Conceived of first and executed last Götterdämmerung, brings to a conclusion the weighty and consummate Der Ring des Nibelungenby Richard Wagner. Last week I had the extraordinary happenstance to attend two performances of this Los Angeles Opera's production featuring the baton of James Conlon with sets and direction by Achim Freyer. This is a really big show that attracts opera pilgrims from far and wide and I jumped at the chance for a second go around. Thrilled to settle into my splendid founders seat, I was set to experience a most satisfying, up close reprise. First impressions were allowed to settle down and reformulate with a second viewing, but there are certain things that … [Read more...]

LeCompte and Co.

North Atlantic, Wooster Group at REDCAT, February 10–21, 2010 – Many things went through my mind walking away from REDCAT after seeing the Wooster Group’s North Atlantic, but one of them was surely hats off to the company’s artistic director, Elizabeth LeCompte. First created by LeCompte and company in 1982, North Atlantic holds up remarkably well. The writer, James Strahs, pulled from texts by Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill and Gertrude Stein, and the company, anchored by Francis McDormand, Kate Valk, Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd, hit their marks with style and precision. Set on an aircraft carrier moored off the coast of Holland, the piece juxtaposes tough-talking military exchanges with kinky sexual banter, … [Read more...]

Language and its Opposite

The Walworth Farce – The longer you work in theater the more intriguing it becomes. The basic fact that audiences are able to look across an imaginary line and see into a different time and place becomes more remarkable the longer you ponder it. The embodied nature of theater - that there are bodies up there speaking the words - also seems to accrue significance. In a subtle way the embodied present of the speaking actor pulls against the basic truth claim of the words themselves, opening a little window of freedom. The fact that dramatic characters are almost never attuned to this freedom only makes statements on stage inherently poignant and ironic in a way they can never be on the page. When playwright, director and performer are … [Read more...]

The Ukrainian Surprise

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – The process by which a child learns how to navigate the world is, from beginning to end, profoundly theatrical in nature. The child imagines herself into the world of pencils, bookshelves and full-moons-in-the-sky by embodying them in the eyes of another, making the felt experience of the object personal, direct and surprisingly immediate. Watching this kind of "imaginative play" is completely engaging ("baby TV, Eliza channel," my wife and I used to call it) and there is never any doubt that your witnessing presence is allowing the learning to take place. When a piece of theater is very, very good it attains a similar kind of startling immediacy, the performers drawing on the attention of the … [Read more...]

Applauding in Poland

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – At a performance of Gospels of Childhood by the Zar Theater Company in Poland you are spared the indignity of applause. As the piece ends the performers fling open windows and exit, the sounds of the city filtering in, joining with the space. You feel the collective awareness that has formed in the room drift out into open air. The lights rise. After a time people stand as if on cue and begin to walk back into their lives. Gospels of Childhood was part of this year's Grotowski Festival in the city of Wroclaw, as was a second Zar piece called Cesarean Section. Essays on Suicide. The two pieces were billed as a diptych, but a third piece, a work-in-progress that I saw, but whose … [Read more...]

Shipwrecked – A Response

Agreed. – Wooster Group's Sci-Fi mashup of Cavalli opera La Didone offered little sense of transcendental satisfaction for the die hard opera lover (of which I am one!). And really the whole conflation felt gratuitous. But as sheer entertainment...I had a great time! First off RedCat feels the perfect spot for this kind of hyperactive performance. Wooster really makes the most of all the technology available. The sound is amped and so are the cast, ready at any moment to take one for team Wooster. Probably my favorite performance was Scott Shepard as sir Piggy. He ran around snorting and grunting executing one prat fall after another, all the while clinging to his ukulele. When at last he is shot down, he belly flops onto … [Read more...]

Shipwrecked on Planet Kitsch

La Didone, The Wooster Group, Redcat Theater, Los Angeles, June 6 through June 21 – Open on a post industrial-style stage and a lush, restless soundscape of way-distorted noise levels with smooth pulsing undercurrents of Baroque chamber opera. The sensual meets cold steel, curvy bods are clad in nicely shaped silver bodysuits. The overall effect has some charms, but like most things that charm, there is a vacuous center. In the case of “La Didone”, a 1641 Baroque opera by Francesco Cavalli, you might argue that the voiding of content began in a palliated retelling of the Dido/Aeneas romance when adapted for Carnival by librettist Giovanni Francesco Busenello. In that opera, the tragic fate of Dido, the beautiful spurned … [Read more...]

Take That!

Achim Freyer's Redemption through Geometry, Metaphysics and Light Sabers Although I am focusing on design and direction in these notes on LA OPERA's Ring Cycle, it would be a travesty here not to applaud the spectacular vocal performances last night. I would single out Anja Kampe, whose performance was jaw-droppingly powerful, tender and transfixing...but then that would leave out Placido Domingo's powerful, expertly polished performance with its subtly Italianate flourishes so right for the part of Seigmund; or Linda Watson's spectacular Brunnhilde. Eric Halvarson (Hunding) has a basso so profound I would be terrified to be in the same room with him singing, and Vitalj Kowaljow performed a nuanced and complex Wotan. Michelle DeYoung … [Read more...]

Here’s Looking at You Wotan

The Dilemma of Watching Wagner – Theatrical eminence Achim Freyer has an astonishing portfolio: please check out the photos of the productions he's done at his own company Freyer Ensemble. http://www.freyer-ensemble.de The task of staging the mythic, grand and otherworldly works of the Ring cycle involves scholarly mastery and a theoretical rigor. Any major opera company needs to engage a theater artist who is credentialed and bears the imprimatur of a cultural establishment. Wagner after all is the epitome of a grand master, a model for the hyperinflation of artistic importance...big themes set to brilliant grandiose music, and backed up by the most refined musical skills that Western culture can provide. The musical … [Read more...]