Monthly Archives: January 2010

A House Dividing: Ford’s The Rivalry

Robert Parsons and Rick Foucheux

What ho, presidential history nerds: My review of Ford’s Theatre’s new production of Norman Corwin’s The Rivalry is up over at DCist.

Corwin is still alive, kicking, lecturing and teaching at the University of Southern California, by the way, at the improbable age of ninety-nine. Among the dozens and dozens of fine radio plays to his credit is one called The Plot to Overthrow Christmas that he wrote (in verse!) more than half a century before FOX News alleged the existence of any such thing. I used a little snippet of it in my audio holiday card the year before last. Sir, my hat is off to you.

Loneliest Number: The Four of Us

Dan Crane and Karl Miller

We’re supposed to forgive our enemies, drink less, play fair, love but one person at a time, measure ourselves not against others. When our friends succeed, we’re expected to be happy.

That is what is supposed to happen.

Of easy choices and pain-free obedience are boring stories made. Itamar Moses 2008 two-man-play The Four of Us is never dull, and given the picayune-ity of its stakes, that’s much more than the faint compliment it sounds like.

Moses’s deliberately paced narrative dissects a friendship among two boys-to-men over a ten-year period. We meet David and Benjamin in their mid-twenties. One’s a playwright, the other a novelist who, as comes to light during an increasingly fraught after-dinner chat, has just had the nullifying prefix “aspiring” blasted off of his title in spectacular, quit-your-day-job fashion.

David is still struggling, and Benjamin’s sudden promotion to a more rarefied realm of the cultural stratosphere — and his insufferable aloofness about it, believably conjured by actor Dan Crane — is tough for him to take. He worries aloud if his pal has considered that his $2 million payday mightn’t be, “in some way, totally spiritually corrupting.” It really isn’t about the Benjamins for Benjamin, but try telling that to a guy who doesn’t have any. Continue reading

Constellation’s Three Sisters, Give or Take

Amy Quiggins, Nanna Ingvarsson, and Catherine Deadman

Life is hard. Life is hard and long. Life is hard and long and cold and pointless, and so it shall be for our descendants a thousand years from now, until at last, perhaps, the mystery of creation is revealed. Until then, we must suffer and endure. Any respite from said suffering and endurance shall be brief, and shall chiefly take the form of alcoholism, gambling, infidelity, and should we be so lucky, duels.

No wonder Anton Chekhov thought his plays were comedies!

Constellation’s Theatre Company’s new production of his Three Sisters finds some levity amid its pervasive existential gloom, but not nearly enough of it to prevent this handsome but staid production from feeling like a march through the Russian winter. That isn’t automatically a reason to stay away, but we don’t feel the weight of its tragedy, either — the characters seem to be miserable mostly because their creator says so. The result, despite a handful of memorable performances, feels listless and underdeveloped. Continue reading

I’m with Coco, Too: This Time It’s Horribly Personal

Well, that’s that. Nothing important has happened in the world, but Conan and NBC have reached détente. Tonight’s Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien will be the last. Conan is walking away with more than $30 million in eff-you dollars, and NBC will pony up another $12 million in severance pay for his staff, said to number around 200 people. ($60k per if everyone gets an equal share.) A non-disparagement clause will bind Conan from talking any more smack about his soon-to-be-former employer, at least for a few months. Fear not, the rest of the world will pick up the slack, I’m sure. Best of all, he’ll be free to return to TV as soon as September 1st.

So far, so good-as-could-have-been-expected. But all wars claim casualties. I don’t just mean Conan’s lifelong dream. He understands now that the Tonight Show he coveted and the network that put it on haven’t existed for eons. Since he wrote that brilliant “People of Earth” letter last week rejecting NBC’s plan to put him behind Leno yet again, he’s been hotter than ever. While he clearly never would have chosen to have it go down this way, this whole saga has helped him shake off the mantle of history that seemed to hold him back at 11:35. We should all be the beneficiaries of such profound kicks in the creative pants — and be so richly paid to have them. Continue reading

Signature’s goodly Wife, Long on Persuasion

Whatever scenario Doug Wright had in mind when first he interviewed Charlotte von Mahlsdorf with the aim of writing a play about her, we can safely assume it was something more conventional than his prismatic meta-biography, I Am My Own Wife.

Wright’s single actor, multi-character opus won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2004, more than a decade after Mahlsdorf first began recounting her strange (and possibly tall) tale into his tape recorder. Along the way, the playwright grappled with a Berlin Wall of writer’s block, beguiled by premise-thickening revelations about a subject he’d initially hoped to venerate as a hero. But the complexity that so confounded him turned out to be the very thing that gives his play about a cross-dressing furniture collector in fascist East Germany an unlikely universal resonance.

Director Alan Paul’s absorbing new Signature Theatre production of I Am My Own Wife is — sorry — an ideal marriage of performer and material, entrusting its 36 roles to the versatile craftsman that is Andrew Long. Biographies seem more suited to the solo-performer approach than do other kinds of stories: We are vast, we contain multitudes, etc. Continue reading

A Cool Party, Until That One Guy Started Yelling About the IMF: Thievery Corporation at the 9:30

Another January, another Thievery Corporation residency at the 9:30 Club. Don’t forget:

1) Earplugs; and

2) Drugs (optional).

At the home opener of a five-night stand, DC’s veteran purveyors of instant, worldly, ambience for your dinner party or client presentation delivered the fair-trade goods for 135 minutes, at fidelity-obliterating, sternum-rattling volume. It’d be tempting to say the often listless affair was a comme ci, comme ca concert but a good dance party, if not for the inconvenient truth that an only slightly larger portion of the crowd was shaking it than on a typical 9:30-hosted night of indie rock. That couldn’t have been great for the video shoot taking place. Continue reading

Separated at Blitz, a ghost is born Again

You probably noticed this last year when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s It’s Blitz! came out, but I just caught it now. Is its egg-crushing cover intended to portend a sequel or rebuke Wilco’s 2004 a ghost is born?

Probably not. About the only commonality that leaps out at me among these two albums is that both found their makers using synthesizers and what I’ll call, for want of a better descriptor, more self-consciously artificial sounds than they had in the past. Wilco’s prior outing, their 2001/2 breakthrough yankee hotel foxtrot, probably had as much or more studio-generated soundcape on it than ghost, but the bleeps and bloops were less conspicuous, disguised as found tape or intercepted radio interference. And foxtrot didn’t have a 12-minute ambient “sound installation” (as Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy called it) embedded in its penultimate track.

Mike Daisey: Deleted Scenes

Before you ask Mike Daisey’s opinion on a subject, make sure you’re sure you want to know! (I am, and I do.)

Remember when I wrote that Daisey, raconteurius nonpariculus, was “one of the most imaginative and entrancing talkers in America”? Dude, I was totally right. Daisey generously gave me an hour of his time, and he had way more interesting things to say than I could possibly use in my preview of The Last Cargo Cult, his latest solo show at Woolly Mammoth.

After the jump, luxuriate in the cogent and persuasive glow of a few more of those glorious “lucid, flowing paragraphs” I mentioned, which Daisey freestyled live and uncut into my iPod one week ago.

Enjoy. I’m seeing the show tonight. Can’t wait. Continue reading

Money Talks: Mike Daisey and The Last Cargo Cult

Mike Daisey has a money problem.

It isn’t that he has too little, or, God knows, too much. To hear the 36-year-old raconteur tell it, his money problem is the same one that afflicts us all.

“Money — currency — is corrosive to human relationships,” he says flatly. “It corrodes the human connections that create communities, and replaces them with fiduciary connections.”

Strange talk from a man who once made his living as a business development executive for Amazon, an experience he chronicled in his 2002 monologue and memoir of the late-90s tech bubble, 21 Dog Years. But on a break from preparations at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, four days before his latest solo show opens here, Daisey has the confidence of certainty, however provocative his premise. Even in what is ostensibly an informal chat, he unspools his argument in lucid, flowing paragraphs, seldom restarting a sentence the way amateur conversationalists are prone to do. Continue reading

Julian Casablancas at the 9:30: Is This It?

The New York City that birthed The Strokes, fully formed and never better than on their 2001 debut Is This It?, was as bright and prosperous as the NYC of 23 years earlier — when Strokes singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas was born there — was broke, decadent, and dangerous. Their first album managed, improbably, to conjure both Blondie-era risk and pre-9/11 ennui. It’s lately resurfaced on just about everyone’s list of the aughties’ top ten. Continue reading

A . . . Masterpiece!

One of the things I lament about the steep drop-off in newspaper movie ads — aside from the obvious, which is that it’s hurt newspapers I’d like to see survive — is that we’re not seeing as many ads wherein studio publicists dig deep to find reliably nearsighted pseudo-critics whose endorsements of shit like Old Dogs or the punctuation-offending Law Abiding Citizen they can quote. I always wondered if the people putting these ads together actually believed that anyone inclined to plan their weekend around a screening of Leap Year cares what film critics have to say.

I like it even better when publicists take real critics’ words completely out of context. I’ve been pull-quoted myself once or twice, but wouldn’t you know it, my meaning has always been preserved intact.

Publicists practice context-ignoring pull-quotery all the time, I know. But to me, at least, it never fails to amuse. Continue reading

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life, or Something

Noire et blanche by Man Ray, 1926

You there: Settle a bet. Would this be art imitating life, or life imitating art? Or life imitating art imitating life?

This is going to take some explaining, so please be patient.

Round House Theatre’s production of Thomas Gibbons’s Permanent Collection, about a racially charged struggle for control of a museum, doesn’t open for three weeks. But the Phillips Collection is hosting a preview of selected scenes this evening. Why the Phillips? Because it’s about to close Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens — a brilliant, unconventional exhibit that touches on many of the same issues vis-à-vis how race impacts art’s perceived value that Gibbons’s 2004 drama does. Continue reading

Unlisted.

I’m not much of a list guy. Because it’s universally agreed we’ve just closed out a year, and somewhat more controversially posited that we have in fact, cut the lights and bolted the door on an an entire decade, critics both pro and semi- have been gunking up the interwebs with their lists of the year and decade’s best movies, albums, songs, whatever.

I get it. People read these. Moreover, unless one takes the list-making enterprise to an absurd extreme, lists are the easiest things in the world to write. The biggest problem of writing — structure — is already solved for you.

I tend to react more strongly, to movies, plays, albums, and concerts than most people I know. (Yes, I read, but I seldom get around to books in the year they’re published). But to the list-making, I am resistant. Maybe if I’d made a few more lists I’d have got myself somewhere in life by now. But that’s all spilled milk under the bridge. Continue reading