Welcome to my blog..

"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty

When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.

I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.

As of September 2013 I started teaching writing as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. While was blessed for the opportunity, after four years of being an adjunct, the lack of pay combined with heavy work load stopped working, so have transferred this teaching passion to private workshops in NYC and working with writers one on one, which I adore. I will die a happy person if I never have to grade an assignment ever again. As of 2018, I also started leading writing retreats to my beloved Orkney Islands. If you ever want two weeks that will restore your soul and give you time and space to write, get in touch. I am leading two retreats this year in July and September.

I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with a new book recently completed.

I now work full-time as a freelance writer, writing workshop leader, coach, editor and writing retreat leader. Contact me if you are interested in any of these services.

Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.

For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani

In 2017, I launched a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. You can also contact me through that site.

In May, I directed my newest play, On the edge of/a cure, and have finally updated my publications list, which now includes an award-winning chapbook of my short-story White shoe lady, which you can find on the sidebar. I also have become a certified yoga instructor in the Kripalu lineage. What a year!

And FINALLY, I have created a website, which I hope you will visit, The Unadapted Ones. I will keep this blog site up, since it is a record of over 8 years of my life, but will eventually be blogging more at the website, so if you want to know what I am up to with my writing, teaching, retreats and so on, the site is the place to check (and to subscribe for updates). After eight years I realized, no, I'm never turning into One Thing. So The Unadapted Ones embraces the multiplicity that comprises whomever I am, which seems to always be shifting. That may in fact be reality for everyone, but will speak for myself here. So, do visit there and thanks for coming here, too. Glad to meet you on the journey...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"to be an artist is a privilege" Louise Bourgeois

I am glad to report I began work on my Dick and Jani (grandmothers) book again today.  I remembered that it is meant to be written in dumb notebooks in pen so I don't get intimidated, that a lot of the writing can be crap and the point is to keep going.  And in doing it this way, I think I hit on a way to do what David Shields was suggesting of keeping in the forefront the questions about authenticity, truth, etc.  This includes talking about the process of finding my grandmothers as well as writing from their POV, so that there is no attempt at seamlessness or hiding what/how I am doing this.  Somehow this seems very important, as it does allow for all the questions about the project to emerge and about autobiography and biography to have their place, not to mention the thin line between fiction and non-fiction.  Just one incident of one of the Bukoskis telling me my grandmother (Dickie)'s father was a train conductor spawned pages of writing, because the census form shows him doing 'telegraphy' for the railroad, which presumably meant he was sending telegrams.  Or maybe not, as I write that now, I realize I need to check this.  Or the census could be wrong....and on and on it goes, and that's just one tiny so-called fact.

What I re-discovered today is that I write my way through issues rather than think through them.  Somehow, if I let it flow solutions arise.  Of course when I go to type all this stuff up, a lot is going to end up on the metaphorical cutting room floor, but that's OK.  This is so exciting, because I was getting depressed about it and afraid all the research and the dark emotions it brought up was going to stall the project out, but it looks like no, it does not have to do that, and I am really relieved.

Also, I discovered through the fictional/memoir bits, wherein I am writing from my grandmothers' points of view as children that I was somehow channeling photos I had seen but did not remember when I was writing.  I found them again when I looked through the albums for Jani's age and what she was wearing (in 1919 for example, her father and her, age 3, standing next to their first Ford - one of those glorious old-fashioned looking cars that I can't believe anyone actually had - they seem like they should just be in movies).  This proves to me that everything I see is somewhere in my brain and when I just let it rip with the writing, it comes out.  This is really exciting.

I'm happy, too, because I wrote in the middle of the afternoon after walking across Central Park, dealing with stupid banking stuff and walking around my old neighborhood on East 83rd Street.  And you know what I discovered - or more accurately remembered - I do not like that neighborhood very much.  It's loud, noisy, full of stupid stores and just basically annoying.  I was surprised to have this response, as usually I feel quite nostalgic, especially since I lost a rent-stabilized apartment that I had loved.  And I do miss that apartment, but not that neighborhood.

This was a good thing to remember, because I realized that the nostalgia I feel for it is just that - nostalgia, memory glossed over with cotton candy.  And for the first time I forgave myself for telling the truth when the landlord asked if I was coming back soon to NYC from London in 2006, and I said no, which was true, but lost me the apartment.  I forgave myself because I see very clearly now - I don't want this new adventure to be about going back to old things but instead about moving forward.

However, I am also disappointed tonight because an opportunity that looked like it might solve a lot of problems in terms of housing and finance does not look like it will happen.  I was so excited about it because it looked so good and felt so right, but the person who is making the decision has someone else in mind who is probably a better fit.  I found myself wanting to cry after that phone call, but did not because I talked myself out of it, which was dumb.  I should have just let myself cry and then be done with it.  Now, the emotions will gnaw around the edges of me for a while when they could have just cleanly moved through.  Sigh.

I am hoping this means there is something better around the corner, but of course I just now spent hours pouring over apartment ads instead of letting it go (another reaction provoked doubtless by not letting myself cry and be done with it) and now I am bleary eyed and light-headed.  I was also light-headed contemplating the possibility of the job/housing situation that most likely fell through, however, so I think perhaps this is anxiety and tension coming from wanting something a lot and being afraid I won't get it.

There are also some concrete steps I need to take to pursue ways of making money, some of which I have taken but many of which I have not.  Partly, this is due to seeing friends and finding out things that way, but also part of it is bad planning on my part and too much time checking emails and whatnot.

Having said that, I did accomplish a lot today and also managed to walk around in a gorgeous Central Park during another sunny blue sky day, so I think it's time to get ready for bed, finally have the little cry I need to have and sleep well.

Oh and I am so excited to know I am writing again - hooray!  When I am engaged creatively I feel this profound sense that every dinky stupid ass thing I have ever experienced, thought, read or felt will be somehow turned into art and that is such a great feeling.  It's like the great cosmic recycling project.  And thank God for that.  As Louise Bourgeois said on a documentary about her life (when she was scolding another artist for complaining that being an artist was hard), "being an artist is a privilege!"  I remember an alumna of my high-school writing that for her being an artist meant living with a sense of constant insecurity but also the greatest freedom.  That is a paraphrase but it stuck with me, and the older I get the truer it becomes.

So thank you God/dess for the privilege.  And help me continue to vacuum (Brits: Hoover) up my life and turn it into something for others.  And please, please, please, help me finish this book and don't let it be the fourth one that almost gets finished and sits on a shelf.  This is my humble prayer.  Sort of (humble)... And anyone reading this who wants to encourage me in that direction and pester me until the thing is finished, I hereby give you rights (and privileges!) in that regard.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

gorgeous day and very tired now

I stayed up crazy late last night watching an old-school bio pic of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I did that even though I was exhausted.  And it was worth it.  I had one of those moments I have every once in a while when I'm by myself doing something I'm fairly sure almost no one else would want to join me in doing, and think: this is great!  I can just choose to watch this endless thing, kick back and just be here.

I love that.

Got up late, though, and therefore did not meditate before the lovely cleaning lady Leopolda showed up.  My friend Julie hires her to come in twice a month, and I never know what to do in these moments, other than smile a lot and offer coffee.  So, I went to a meditation meeting instead, which was good, but I still feel the fact I did not do my own meditation, like a tangible lack in my day.

But I met my plane-buddy Rochelle in Central Park - it was her birthday, and in case she's reading - again - Happy Birthday!  We walked along the reservoir (see below) and chatted about how we both want to move here from London and hoping we can both work it out.  This time I don't have a visa problem, but remember the dilemma well when I first got to London, so wish her well.

a very full reservoir swamping small trees on the bank

East Side from the Central Park reservoir plus gushing geyser thing

The day was blue sky, cool breeze and sunny, just perfect.

I then went to visit my friend Alyssa and her husband Lynn for another Hurricane-Irene-inspired dinner. Many New Yorkers, told to buy 72 hours of food in case power went out, etc., now have incredibly full refrigerators so are making these gorgeous suppers.  Alyssa, too, roasted a chicken (like my friend Louise on Saturday night), made amazing vegetables and then Ivanna came along with three types of ice-cream.  I did not leave hungry.  We spoke of theater, art, politics and how to make theater and a living in NYC.   Always a neat trick.

And I saw Bushwick for the first time.  See below photo from inside Alyssa's building.

This signals: (a) smart landlord with Spanish as first and English as second language and (b) this area is not gentrified yet.  But, I loved it.  The view from the J train, which runs overground on the Williamsburg Bridge is fantastic, and the neighborhood - for those of you from London - has a distinct Dalston feel...as in Dalston circa 2000 not 2011, just to be clear.  It is now getting the overspill of hipsters from Williamsburg, so will gentrify, as all neighborhoods do fall to this relentless trend.  However, because I've lived in multi-racial areas in London for 8 years, the neighborhood as is does not freak me out.  I am looking for where I may end up in real life if I move back here (hint: it won't be the Upper West Side unless a strange occurrence happens wherein (a) I win the lottery or (b) I suddenly discover I am related to someone who is about 95 years old and has a rent-controlled apartment.  Any Bukoskis out there??  I could be your long-lost great niece!)

I have also received another intriguing lead that could result in a cheap place to live in Bed-Stuy, but as that is in the feelers stage, will leave out details.

So, it's all been about: how to move back to NYC today.  I am feeling more and more strongly every day that this is my path.  It's exciting and scary, but to be totally honest, mostly just really fucking exciting.  And a relief, because I'm finally taking the actions to make something happen I've wanted to do for ages but talked myself out of over and over for various practical reasons and/or fears.

So, wish me luck.  My sense of a higher power keeps telling me this: if you jump, I will catch you.  I am finally beginning to listen.  Though I am hoping this is not that old Jewish fable wherein the father teaches his son he will catch him when he falls, until one day the boy falls and he does not catch him.  He tells him that is the lesson - someone won't always be there to catch you when you fall.  I suppose I have to hope my higher power is not that guy.  Yikes.  I think I'll go with another interpretation of that story: the father is a human being and human beings cannot always be trusted.  Yes, that is true.  Anyway, with this amazing logic, you can see how I can talk myself out of even the most positive emotions and feelings.

Someday, Dear Lord, Someday, could I just be allowed to feel good for a while?  Could you please help me stay off my own back?  I'm just sayin'....

Lesson: tomorrow, I meditate first thing no matter what...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

all is well and the paradox of loneliness

Woke up today, after finally getting to sleep, to a relatively peaceful day.  No electricity out in all of Manhattan and so all the fears, in light of day, seem silly of course.  Moral of the story: don't stay up all night listening to the news.

On the other hand, many other places outside of Manhattan have no electricity (because their power lines are not underground) and there is a lot of flooding on roads, etc.  But I was safe, of course.

What I realized this morning before and during meditation is this: that I was lonely last night and therefore was listening to the news in a way to somehow connect I suppose.  But as soon as I was able to say to myself - aha I feel lonely - I felt some warmth come over me and I didn't feel lonely anymore.  There is such shame attached to loneliness for me anyway, and to truly accept it is difficult but in accepting it, I get relief and the freedom from it.

I think so much of my life at times has been a way to avoid the sting of this feeling, and while I was in fact an only child and therefore had my times of loneliness, the paradox is this: in accepting that I felt lonely then and feel lonely now, I don't have to be driven by it any more.  In attempting not to feel it, whether by myself or with others, I only prolong the feeling and the shame of it.

Yesterday, when I was at a meeting of friends, one woman said that in having her loneliness witnessed, she could let it go.  And I realize now I am in a place where I can be my own witness, and I sense in this place might be true freedom.  That doesn't mean I don't need other people, because I do.  But I begin to sense a way that I do not have to be driven in this way, and that is good.

It is time for once to be on my own adventure in the world, and this is exciting.  Sitting through loneliness and sadness will be part of that journey, but I can already sense the gifts on the other side of this are immense.

So, Irene has passed, most everyone is well and I have learned something about the nature of loneliness.  Not bad really.

Now to my own writing and other projects for the rest of the day.  Need to make sure most of my energy does not go into this blog, which is where it has been for a long time now.

can't sleep so listening to wind at 5:30am

Haven't been able to sleep since hearing the scary tornado warning, you know the radio sound that means there's an emergency, then the warnings.  It was for Long Island but apparently there was one for here too, so now I have radio on again and listening to howling wind - and it is actually howling/whistling.  I still have power.  I wonder if I'd be awake if I wasn't alone, it's impossible to know.

Gave up trying to sleep, obviously, listening to people calling in to radio stations.  I realize listening to them that people are really scared and in way worse situations without power and alone.  At least I'm in the city and close to folks.  Also there is the less lonely feeling of seeing other windows with lights on, other night owls not able to sleep.

The storm hits here in a few hours, but already it's making it's presence felt.  Apparently most roads are impassable.  And NYC will be taking a direct hit.  So grateful to be uptown.

Update later when dawn happens I imagine.

Or if there is a tornado of course.

I should have ignored the radio and read a book, but did I?  No.

Will try to nap now...at least.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene arrives...

Hi folks,

Just want everyone to know I'm still OK.  Irene has begun raining and blowing but is not scheduled to hit full force until the morning.  As in last post, I have supplies, etc.  Had friends over for dinner and a silly movie.  They have left to their place nearby.  So, it's a little scary but realistically, unless something really weird happens, I should be perfectly safe.

However, the tornado watch is a bit unnerving...On the bright side, the chance of branches hitting a 10th floor apartment are fairly minimal.  The only image I can conjure is of the Wicked Witch on her bicycle laughing at me about my little dog too!  But I don't have a dog, so phew.  My favorite (not) thing is the suggestion to stay away from rooms with windows, which in most apartments is almost impossible, like in this apartment unless I slept in the foyer.  I'll take a risk and sleep in a bed.

So hard to know if to be afraid, in awe, excited or just read a good book.  Probably I should be doing (d) read a good book rather than listening obsessively to various news shows as if that will help, like, anything, which of course it will not.

So, here's hoping I do that...meanwhile I'm going to evacuate my papers into the foyer, I guess, to give me the illusion of doing something helpful.


Hoping after this that I can use the rainy-stay-inside day tomorrow to write.  Composition books at the ready, so electricity outage cannot deter me.  Only obsessive news listening (i.e., dumb ass illusion of control routine) can.

So, good luck everyone and wishing everyone safety, warmth and good stuff for this evening, especially on the East Coast, but of course everywhere else, too.

Irene, Irene who will you be?

So, here I am on the Upper West Side of NYC awaiting Irene.  Hurricane Irene, in case you live under a rock, or are in the middle of a war somewhere, like say Tripoli.  OK, but here, we have this hurricane.

Fact: NYC subway system will be shut down as of noon tomorrow.  That has Never happened before ever in the history of NYC ever, never.  Which makes one think: hmmmm.  This might be a really Big storm.  Or, perhaps Bloomberg doesn't want to see another Katrina in NYC.  But for whatever reason, there are evacuations, unprecedented and the mass transit system shut down.

As for me, I am in a non-evacuation zone, on a hill, on the 10th floor.  There is some back and forth about the wind 10 floors up and above, but I've decided to pretend that doesn't matter, because there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.

What I do have, as suggested:

Flashlights (Brits: torches) with working batteries plus extra batteries

Radio that works with batteries

Old school phone that can work without electricity (learned that one during 9/11, when I had such a phone and was one of the only people who had a working phone as cell phone masts were destroyed)

Bottled water and water I'm putting in bottles so I don't have to pay for it.



Coffee that I have pre-ground (I learned that from being in SF earthquake in 1989 and electricity went out and all I had was coffee beans...so my then-partner and I were literally hammering beans to attempt to make them into shards we could then put in a filter to drink as coffee.  Yes, it was that sad...SO, this time, with warning, I have pre-ground the beans)

Friends coming over tomorrow evening for a hurricane dinner party and probable sleep-over, because if you're gonna have to listen to 80 per mile wind all night, it's more fun with friends.

Food - some perishable, some non-perishable - when shopping for this food, one guy ahead of me was staying with a friend and had bought himself some Fruity Pebbles.  His friend commented it was a small box, but he said well I'm not going to be with you for a week but the other guy said, yeah, but you can go through that in one night.  I asked him if this was his special hurricane food, and we laughed.  They had chips (crisps), Oreos, bottles of water and the aforementioned Fruity Pebbles.  These were guys in their 30s, I should add, not kids.  I confessed that my 6-pack of Diet Pepsi was 'hurricane food' - something I decided was OK because of bad weather...

Which leads me to the funny mix of fear and excitement that seems to be pervading the city.  There are people out of sorts and fighting for no reason (two over-dressed men at Food Emporium who decided to get macho over bumping carts in the aisle - this led me to leave said food store because the vibe was just weird), there is the Whole Foods, who, delightfully took 10% Off their bottled water, instead of jacking up the price.  Nice touch guys.  I also noticed that in general this store is not more expensive than regular grocery stores and was impressed with that.

I got my batteries and water and such at a dollar store so was not ripped off there either.  Also good.

So, we all seem to be like a bunch of kids with a snow day but no one is sure how scared to be or not be, and that includes me.  I'm glad to be somewhere that should be safe and out of range of any visible stuff on a terrace.  I offered shelter to friends who are in the lower lying areas but everyone has places to stay or has decided to wait it out.

And we'll see.  Right now it's hot and as humid as all get out, so am looking forward to the rain, but I'm sure after about say 3 hours of it, I'll be done and it won't stop apparently for about 10-12 more hours.  A lot of rain.

Before all this, I met the playwright Ştefan Peca, who wrote the play I raved about on this blog Nils' Fucked Up Day.  He is a very smart guy, as I suspected he would be and remarkably young.  I was astonished that he was only 29 and had written this play when he was 19.  But then again he was 7 when Ceauşescu was executed in Romania in his hometown.  He did not witness the execution, but his grandfather brought him to the spot where he was executed a few days later and showed him the blood that was still on the walls.

That must make an impression.

When I was 6, I remember my first step-father George, bringing me to see the remnants of a crashed car, to show me why driving fast was a bad idea.  A woman had been killed in the crash and I remember her white high-heel shoe in the car, with blood inside of it.  The sky was bright blue and there were seagulls in the air.

I still don't drive a car.

But tragically this did not lead to me writing brilliant plays by the time I was 19.

We discussed, Stefan and me, the various issues surrounding funding for the arts in our various countries, Romania, UK and US, comparing and contrasting the irrational ways in which all these structures work and bureaucracy versus commercialism in terms of which is more deadening to the arts.  We also talked about directing and writing and various things about NYC, the US, Romania and the UK.  A lovely coffee all round.  He will be working in NYC this coming year for the Romanian Cultural Institute, so that is good news for NYC.  Keep an eye out for his work, folks.  It's really good!

OK, it's time to log off and continue Storm Watch 2011...the excitement, the fear, the fun, the panic, the realization that it will probably All Be OK!

Stay safe everyone on the NE corridor tonight and sweet dreams to everyone else too...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

riots, earthquakes, hurricanes oh my! (and that's before 9/11/11)

Fact:  I was in San Francisco for the 1989 earthquake, I was in NYC for 9/11, I was in London for 7/7... London again for recent riots, here for recent earthquake and now incoming Hurricane Irene.  As some might ponder: what is up with that?

Really, I don't get it.  Now, the good news is, anyone who knows me should know: I seem to get through these things OK, so if you are actually in my physical orbit, you should be OK.  I am also not part of the CIA or some alien species that affects the weather or whatever.  It's just weird.

Speaking of 9/11, I am happy to report that tomorrow, or soon anyway, Indie Theater Now will be publishing No One as part of its 9/11 play series.  I kind of love that play, because I wrote it in November 2001, and it was raw and just emerged and was effortless in a lot of ways.  There are mistakes in it and some bumpy bits, but I decided to not go in an revise it as that was more in tune with the time - which had done something profound, which is make me (and a lot of other people) realize: life is real and messy and happens and cannot be contained in nice boxes, no matter how sophisticated the wrapping paper may be.

What I mean by that is in my first play Word To Your Mama, which I'd written in 1998-1999, there was this sense of America living somehow 5 inches above the ground, there was an unreality to how everything felt, like somehow we were skimming along the surface - the internet being a perfect metaphor for this - the Net.  And then 9/11 happened and it broke the mesh.  I've written about this elsewhere in a text for a piece I created with Cathy Turner in 2003 called An Alliance, but it bears repeating.  Because there was this moment, and it was (badly) patched over pretty quickly, but there was this moment - that first month before Bush started pummelling the shit out of Afghanistan - when I thought - oh, really, maybe, can it be?  Can the US join the rest of the world?  Can we accept we are part of all of this and maybe like just be here and actually learn something from this?  When Bush took off his shoes to walk into a mosque, I did think - wow, maybe something can really change.

But, no.  No.  Emphatically not.  The US had to go in and create a useless war in Iraq, etc., etc.  We know how that sad take ends.  But it is sad.  Because we had a chance.  And the fact is this - that hole was blown through the mesh of our so-called security and everyone knows it.  But there are all these absurd attempts to forget it, masking tape mesh on top of other mesh and the like.

But OK, wait, that was not what I wanted to say, what I wanted to say is: when I wrote that play, I did feel to some degree a connection with something and the beginning of a very real desire to disinvest from the patriarchy at a molecular level.  It changed the way I made work.  I accidentally moved to the UK and even more weirdly ended up doing a PhD (not precisely disinvesting from the patriarchy, that move, it must be said) and now I am back spinning through life, wondering where the bouncing ball may come to rest again.  Disinvested?  Not sure.  Don't think so if I'm honest.  If I was disinvested, I wouldn't care about my reputation or getting recognition for my work, or - gasp - paid for it.  And I do.  I suppose to truly disinvest I'd have to live off of nuts and berries in some remote corner of Canada or New Zealand or something.  And I don't.

What I do know:  I love NYC still, again, wildly, absurdly, abjectly.  Which just keeps shocking me, the depth of it.  I kind of fled in 2003, didn't realize that's what I was doing at the time, but was so freaked out by US foreign policy and what was happening with the flags Everywhere - even in NYC - I just felt I had to get out and I did.  Now, having lived in London for 8 years, I see this kind of thing happens everywhere.  It's not a US specialty.  In London right now, there are young people being put in prison for writing "pro-riot" related stuff on their Facebook page or Twitter account.  That's scary.  That is frankly scarier than the riots.

So perhaps in this global capitalist world the moral of the story is it is truly global and it is incredibly hard to live outside of its logic, like say in the Middle Ages if you weren't a Christian in Western Europe.  Very tricky that.  So, too, not buying into the dictates of capitalism.  But it is a problem, because the logic of capitalism (profits above all else) is like killing the planet not to mention the vast majority of its inhabitants.  Why not then live here in its beating heart, along with every other whacked out artist and misfit who can't fit in anywhere else on the planet?

But what shall we do?  Me, I write plays, direct them and write other stuff, like a blog and prose, take photos, perform strange solo shows every once in a while.  Does that amount to two shits?  Honestly, right now, I don't know.  I used to think my work could change a lot of things, I still believe in the power of artistic expression, but I don't know if I believe in it as much as what was accomplished by the direct non-violent action taken by the young people in the Middle East.  On the other hand, there must have been a creative thought process at some point, stimulated by something that conceived of non-violent action in the first place.

I do know that writing matters, because it communicates ideas and feelings, and when done cogently people in power are more threatened by words than anything else, whether that's political, corporate or familial power structures.  Speaking one's truth, no matter how directly or indirectly, through stories or other more non-narrative strategies, can really freak people out.  So, I hope what I am doing with words matters.  I also hope that what happens in some theater spaces matters, too.  That is less quantifiable, but I suspect living bodies in a room, tapping into the rules of that room, do matter.  But in a very subterranean way - viral but not in the Youtube way - in the underground circuitry that no one advertises on...a very different channel altogether.

What I do know matters, too, though, are the amazing people who raise children in happy homes - I am thinking now of my cousin Darcy and her husband James and their sons Simon and Leo.  Living with them for a week showed me what true love is in action, no saccharine, no bullshit, just for real love.  And that, that is incredibly important.  So much that is important, like this kind of love, is unnoticed, and maybe that's the point I'm writing myself into now...

It's probably the least visible, least iconic, least 'momentous' or credited stuff that is the most important, is the most non-violent and leads to whatever is good in the world between people happening more.  Anonymous stuff, in my experience, being some of the most profound actions taken.  And probably the most meaningful.

The opposite of celebrity.  Anonymity.  Long may it continue.

However, having said that, I do not mean by that invisibility, because many people, and I'm thinking now of sexual and domestic abuse survivors, have been scorned or frightened into invisibility, and that is scary in a different way.  But there is something about principles above personalities and attraction rather than promotion that I find to be important and perhaps that is the key to disinvesting from the patriarchy at a molecular level - letting go of ownership of an Image or a Way to be Seen, including an Image of 'disinvesting from the patriarchy' etc.

And so is there a way of being seen that does not involve celebrity?  And by that I don't mean Celebrity but the kind of weird presentation of self on Facebook and the like, like say, oh blogs...I am trying very hard not to fall into that trap, but is it possible?  Can I put my name on something and be really truthful?  And by 'truthful' I mean divorced from image or trying to convince me and you of a certain 'me' that is ready for the public domain?  I think perhaps that level of purity, if that's the right word, is probably impossible.  And perhaps the word purity is a good tip off as to why it's not gonna work.  Because as I heard someone say recently, principles before personalities is a great idea, but we're personalities, not principles!  Principles are platonic, are ideals, we are not ideal.  We are impure.  And so we are.

So perhaps it is the principle of anonymity in action but within an all-too-human human, which of course we all are, even if Nietzsche wanted us to grow out of it.  Can we?  Really?  Is it perhaps better to accept ourselves as limited, incomplete, conflicted?  Or is that a cop out?  Too much acceptance?  Or is the opposite just arrogance?

How I got here from upheavals of earth and bombs, I don't know, but I did.  And as much as I'd love to wrap it up in a bow, it's just not gonna happen.  I could do that, but it'd be wrong and nowhere near true, just another made up fiction...

So, instead, I log off.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

a day to get through

Don't have much to say tonight.  It was one of those days you just have to get through.  And I did.  Thanks to the fact I'm nearby friends and a phone call away from special people like my cousin Darcy.

There are many people to thank for getting through this day actually but I cannot name them as that is the nature of the situation.  But thank you if you are reading this, you know who you are.

And thank you, too, to the weirdly bounteous universe for shepherding me through this rough time.

And for those of you reading this in search of theater reviews, you can find them listed in the past few days' post.

Now, to blessed sleep.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

and the reviews are finally done!

So, you can find my reviews for Facebook Me and The Town of No One now on nytheatre.com.  I am so relieved to be done with all the reviewing for now.  It has been quite an experience, and right now I feel completely saturated with theater, like a sponge that can no longer absorb another drop of liquid.  If this changes, I may go see more before FringeNYC ends, but if not, I will let it hold.

I just finished doing an hour of yoga in the living room and what a relief that was.  I also updated my photo for whatever reason one does such a thing.

I'm listening to Jonathan Schafer's New Sounds series on WNYC of Eastern European music and it's all good right now.  Nothing like a little breathing with movement to make me feel better.

Oh and speaking of Eastern Europe, I should mention I heard back from Peca Stefan, the writer of Nils' Fucked Up Day and he said they made the show for 500 euros (his own money), because it was banned in Romania, so basically a typical fringe budget.  They did get help for travel costs and such, but the original show was created the way we all create ours.  Just thought you'd like to know that!

So onward and upward indie theater folks.  See you on the flipside of the festival and all like that.

Oh and a couple days ago, I had one of those breathtaking NYC moments that makes me want to move back here.  I came up from the subway onto Delancey Street and there was the Williamsburg Bridge and the light in the sky was pre-post thunderstorm/twilight grey/blue and the lights were orange in that just so way and it was just spectacular in only the way NYC can be.   It literally takes my breath away.  And then there is of course the New York drip, the random drips from wherever, whenever above and below ground, that provide the comic relief.

But it feels so good to be here, so good.

Review of American Vaudeville Theatre

Trav S.D., who has written, directed and produced The American Vaudeville Theatre 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza at FringeNYC has been staging vaudeville shows for over 15 years, bringing back the spirit of the Ellis Island era of downtown NYC (some of which can still be seen on Coney Island today).  He has had great success over the years in staging these performances, writing and lecturing about vaudeville in order to ensure the form of vaudeville does not die, which is no small task. 

This show is made up of a series of revolving vaudeville acts that are showcased between entr’actes written and directed by Trav S.D.  There are the kind of bad jokes and MC behavior from him and his troupe that one would expect from vaudeville, my favorite being a sketch wherein some businessmen who rhyme ferret out the intruder in their midst by the fact he does not rhyme and beat him up for the transgression.  There was a very funny, and weirdly affecting lip-synching act by a man, who also lip-synched the accompanying voices with sock puppets.  The featured acts on the night I attended included a young woman, Poor Baby Bree, singing traditional Lower East Side songs, The Leroy Sisters doing a long melodrama sketch and A.C. Prouser (I think – if the program is accurate – though I cannot tell if he, too, is the ‘juggling genius’) juggling balls, plungers and toilet seats.  There was a mentalist sketch by Rory Raven and some dancing with red flags by the Five Sizzling Fajitas. 

There is something deeply charming about this whole project, and it is quite interesting to think about how this type of work played at the time when it was wildly popular at the turn of the 19th to 20th century.  I do wonder what its relevance is today and if there is not some nostalgia involved for a time gone by, but there is a living museum quality that clearly people enjoy.  The audience was quite engaged and lively throughout the many acts.  And there was a lot of skill involved in many of the acts that was refreshing to witness.

Back to my obsession with dissecting irony, though, I did wonder about the song at the end ‘New York’s a Patriotic Town.’  It was funny, yes, and of course it was ironic.  The patriotism implied was not so much for the U.S. as for NYC itself, and anyone who’s lived here, as I have, can relate to that feeling.  I do wonder aloud, again, though – why do we have to say things in this way?  Why must there always be this wink and a nod, and it’s OK because we’re all smarter than that kind of attitude?  I am afraid I must seem quite pedantic by now, banging on and on about this, but it keeps bothering me, probably because in the past I’ve been a purveyor of it myself, or perhaps because I don’t like it as a self-protective stance and feel somewhat put out by the fact that others do protect themselves this way.  Either way, I do think it’s worth looking at why this is the main way we communicate and if there is another way.  Also (and this comes from having lived outside of the U.S. for eight years), the wink and a nod patriotism, which on the one hand mocks itself but on the other hand asserts itself seems quite blatant.  There is a way in which satire can confirm rather than undermine its so-called target, and I think this is an example of that.  If this is the intention, than so be it, but if not, then perhaps it can be re-thought.

However, the more important message here is that what is charming about American Vaudeville Theatre is that it seems to come from love of this form, and for that I commend it.  It is not easy to stick it out, keep a form alive that is on the edge of extinction and continue to bring in new acts that find new ways of keeping an old form fresh.  I was also impressed that there was an audience for this that seemed engaged in particular with certain acts.  Some of these audience members felt free enough to talk at the stage, and that engagement seemed quite appropriate to the form.

One of my favorite moments of the evening was when one of The Leroy Sisters was asking the audience for help finding the criminal and she reminded us we were all here and it wasn’t a film.  There does seem to be an interesting challenge in this time of the virtual to bring about engaged audience response.

I suppose this would be the most interesting challenge for the next 15 years of AVT (and I hope there are at least 15 more years) – get the audience as involved as they used to be in the old music halls.  Somehow create that raucous atmosphere and voluble comments that characterized the old-time vaudeville.  It seems like these days perhaps stand-up comedians and their audiences are the closest equivalent we have, but there seems to be room here for that, too.

For schedule and tickets for remaining shows, click here: AVT

Monday, August 22, 2011

more reviews tomorrow...today am too tired

Have seen three shows in under 24 hours and so cannot write about any of them yet in depth.  I can say this, though:

Facebook Me, which is a show created by junior high-school and high-school aged girls about That social networking site is quite fascinating and creepy - in a good way.  The acting is generally pretty strong and the subject matter is about as uncomfortable as you can imagine.  Brave stuff from young girls.  More on nytheatre.com tomorrow.  They got a standing ovation from their sold out audience.  This gives me yet more reasons, as if I needed any more, as to why I am NOT on Facebook.  Scary stuff.

American Vaudeville Theatre (truth in advertising: I know some of the people involved quite well, so this is not entirely objective) is a lot of fun especially if you have nostalgia for old-fashioned vaudeville with a modern twist, especially enforced rhyming with sanctions for lack of rhyming, lip-synching with sock puppets (more weirdly affecting that one would imagine) and juggling toilet seats and plungers in jockey shorts.  Plus bad jokes and puns.  Hooray!

The Town of No One is good, solid Brechtian-sorta theater, that is not my personal favorite, but the sold-out audience liked a great deal.  I do like Brecht, but not Brechtian-like with a 4th wall.  However, potent political message, etc.

I watched two of these shows with people I've met in the past week, which is kind of amazing really, including one woman, Rochelle, who I met on the plane coming to NYC.  Amazing.

I have gotten really interesting feedback both on the blog and by email on the reviews and am glad of that.

The conversation about irony in the comments on the post a couple days ago is worth a read.  My step-father Tom wrote in with this quotation from David Foster Wallace, which is worth quoting in this post, as it may shed some more light on the subject:

"As far as I can tell, for my generation and maybe the kids younger than us, there are different things that we’re afraid of. We’re afraid of being trite, we’re afraid of being sentimental, we’re afraid of being mawkish, we’re afraid of being stale and formulaic — unless we’re stale and formulaic in a way that pokes fun at its stale, formulaic quality. I mean, we have been taught, so much, both by the lessons of television and the saturation of television, what are the things to be afraid of. And one of the big reasons why irony — and it’s been kind of the mode of discourse in the culture — has really ceased to be palliative or helpful, is that irony is this marvelous carapace, that I can use to shield myself from seeming to you to be naive, or sentimental, or to buy the lush banalities that television gives. If I show you that I believe that we’re both bastards, and that there’s no point to anything and that I was last naive at about age 6, then I protect myself from your judgment of the worst possible flaw in me: sentimentality and naivete, the way a proper appearance of decorum would shield me from your judgment of me as deviant or offensive 30 or 40 years ago."

David Foster Wallace, replayed in BBC Radio 3’s 2011 documentary 

DFW, for anyone does not know, was a brilliant writer, whose book Infinite Jest is in my not so humble opinion a masterpiece.  Some folks like his essays (which are also brilliant) better.  It's all good.  What sucks is that he killed himself in 2008, and that was a horrendously sad thing, as he's the kind of person you want to see get older, even wiser and read the book he wrote when he was 80.  Tragically, this will not happen and when I think about that it makes me cry.

So, pace where you may be, David Foster Wallace, you are one of my all-time heros.

And with that, I am over and out for tonight, more reviews tomorrow and perhaps something a little more coherent.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review of Nils’ Fucked Up Day

First things first, the last FringeNYC performance of this amazing show is tomorrow (Monday) at 3:45pm.  So, go to the listing and buy your tickets now by clicking here: Nils' Fucked Up Day. 

Oh where to begin about all the things that are right with this show?

First, I suppose I need to wonder aloud why the last two pieces of theater I have seen and felt so excited about I almost bounced of the theater were from Eastern Block countries.  The last show was created by Belarus Free Theatre and was showing in London (see older July post for review).

I don’t have a real answer for that, but I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that both of these countries are on the knife edge of globalization, spent years prior to their violent introduction to rampant capitalism as nominally communist (though in fact more totalitarian) countries, and so see things perhaps more clearly.  In other words, they are not the slow boiled frogs like we are.  They’ve been tossed into the boiling water as live lobsters, so they know what’s happening to them.  We are all being boiled alive, but they can tell it hurts and it isn’t pretty like at all.

But to Nils’ Fucked Up Day and the extraordinary writer/director Peca Ştefan and the cast of very talented actors, led by Radu Iacoban as the eponymous Nils, who leads us through three ‘takes’ on his day.  His flatmates, family and friends are played by an excellent ensemble Cătălin Babliuc as friend Hans, Mădălina Ghiţescu as flatmate Heidi, Ilinca Maolache as flatmate Lola and Tudor Aaron Istador as uncle Pops.

When entering the theater, there is video playing run by VJ Cinty.  When I arrived, there was a video of George Carlin soliloquizing about the use of the word Fuck, followed by a cartoon, which was in the form of a language lesson about the versatility of the word Fuck as verb, adjective, noun, etc.  In the midst of this Nils appears, setting up the stage using small props from a plastic bag, including a phone, a gun and some other small items.  There is a plastic sheet covering the floor, which is made up of a patchwork of corporate logos, such as L’Oreal, Mercedes, Ikea, Doritos and the like.

The actor playing Nils (Iacoban) explains to us that we are to see this play that was originally in Romanian now in English and Romanian with surtitles.  He says that while this experience will be new for us, for them (the actors) it will just be difficult.  Iacoban was very good with the audience, able to handle incidental movement, latecomers and the like.  He made sure to make eye contact or close with everyone.  He had us laughing very quickly.

Take One of his day is Nils’ ‘fucked up’ day and was an extraordinary representation of total nihilism, which involved drug taking, brilliantly written idiotic rambling, references to pedophilia, meaningless sex, objectification of both men and women, and culminating in the killing of two people onstage, including Nils.  The slow boil went from kind of shocking to completely shocking, from funny to uncomfortably funny, to not funny at all.  And all of this in a mixture of English and Romanian with surtitles, which described the action and the ideas behind it in an overly literal or understated way rather than the actual words.  The effect was riveting, as it felt like it took the ironic, never-satisfied-consumerist stance and brought it to its logical, nihilistic conclusion. The playwright himself walks on periodically with one line: Suck my dick.  He is the usually unseen other flatmate who pays the rent and who Nils respects because he is a playwright.

The lights come back on after Nils himself is killed, he avers that this was not the best of days and suggests Take Two: Nils’ Seraphic Day.  The female flatmates who were lascivious lesbians earlier are dressed as schoolgirls.  Uncle Pops who was a drug addict is now a professor who ‘teaches’ the girls, which clearly implies pedophilia, but all are smiling throughout, looking geeky, well dressed and as if all is well, when it is clearly not.

At the end of this briefer sequence, Nils also gets killed by the nice little boy down the road who was delivering the pizza, but all the rest smile through it, walk over his corpse and go off to eat at a restaurant.

Take Three, which Nils suggests after the lights come up once again, is one of happiness.  He is alone on stage, now back in his suit, in which he entered before devolving into drug-addled Nils, and asks us to concentrate on him, that we sleep “in profound consciousness” and awaken as more creative beings who will understand one another and be better people.  He ends the show, as it began, with the statement “This is a show – a show of illusion.”  Is this a plea to become better people or a marketing ploy?  I would like to believe it was sincere, and I think it was, but still references the possibility of the eternally present advertising machine.

Throughout the show, video is used to extraordinarily good effect.  The images, words (including surtitles), continual ‘news feed’ that is predicting the end of the world within days (in the first section), and the use of video ‘blood’ for the violence was very effective.

This is mere description, and I cannot capture the event itself, but hope that this will lead you to go and see it.   Our fellow human beings from the former Eastern Block are seeing things quite clearly, and I think we best be listening, especially when there is an effort made to speak in English (the “language of globalization” as Nils explains). 

Finally, I should mention that Nils also says at the beginning to not worry, they will not emigrate so our bartending jobs are safe.  This is both funny and sad, because as all of us working in theater know, this is true, not only for immigrants but for most of us who work in the arts in NYC.  My suspicion, because I have been working in London and have worked some in Europe, is that this play probably received more funding than many of the other FringeNYC shows that were locally grown.  This is the great situational irony that never fades about downtown NYC theater.  Experimental artists are always economic immigrants.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Irony and its Discontents: Smoke the New Cigarette, Theater of the Arcade, Antrobus & Gone

Before I describe the three shows Smoke the New Cigarette, Theater of the Arcade, Antrobus & Gone by three very talented writers and companies, I want to frame them within a discussion of the use of irony.  So many performances these days protect themselves with a thin but impenetrable layer of irony, which serves as a kind of Kryptonite/Teflon shield, which deflects all criticism of “seeming like an asshole” (Smoke the New Cigarette) or any kind of accusation of sentimentality or emotionalism or whatever other dread thing one might be accused of, such as oh say vulnerability or failure.  It also protects from taking anything like a real risk, while simultaneously – in the case of New Cigarette – appearing to be taking risks.  However, as the artist/performer Robert Rauschenberg so aptly put it “You can’t have risk without risk.”  In other words, risk of failure, risk of looking like an asshole, of falling flat on your ass, etc.

Sometimes a show steeped in irony is grappling with this very subject.  The ‘new cigarette’ in Smoke the New Cigarette is meant to signify - from what I could gather from Kirk Wood Bromley’s very well-written mixture of cut-ups, nonsense and riffs, as voice-over and lyrics (both said/sung by Bromley) – a place wherein risk can happen and repetition cannot, a place that does not whistle a happy tune or protect itself.  However, that idea itself is encased in irony, questioned, criticized and then ‘accepted’ but in quotes.  So, there is a valid question left hanging: is there such a thing as a new cigarette or is this an old cigarette in new clothing?  For putting that question in the air at all, the piece deserves credit.  But, because it is not actually grappled with in the performance itself, it is lacking. 

The two primary performers, Bromley and Leah Schrager, in character as two musicians who have formed the band The New Cigarette, kept themselves at an ironic distance from what they were doing.  By maintaining this stance, the moments when one perhaps could believe they were actually exploring the potent provocation of the possibility of ‘the new cigarette,’ they instead were protecting themselves.

The piece is divided into five ‘songs,’ which are bracketed by a voice-over (also Bromley) discussing the merits and demerits of ‘the new cigarette,’ the band and the idea.  The voice has tracked this band by recording them at ‘the house of’ in Gowanus, aside from the third one, which is a radio interview and the last one, the one and only public appearance of the band, which happened at The Bowery Poetry Club (the venue for the show).   There is more situational irony in this of course, as each song is shown on the same stage.

The music was improvised, but according to the program, the lyrics were not.  As there was a repeated aim to get past the repeatable, this decision again kept the exploration from going as far as perhaps it could have gone.  According to lines from the play itself  “repetition is the motherfucker of infection” but then clearly much was being repeated.  Yes, I get the irony of that, but is that enough?  I find myself asking that a lot these days, not just in relation to this play but to many performances, including the way we live our own lives.

Another telling line is Bromley as his fictional musician self reminding himself to “stick to the point if I want to appear like someone I want to copy.”  Now again, there are multiple levels of irony to this line, which make it very funny, but it makes me wonder if the show then continues to run around, as he says “like a chicken with its head stuck on.”

There were some great moments in the show, however and given my predilection for real risk taking, the second song was my favorite, as there was an interesting vocal-visual-range between the words, piano playing of Schrager and her lovely video in relation to the action, including fingers playing at different speeds from her own live and views of ‘the house of.’   Also, it seemed as if Bromley and Schrager were riffing off the words more than simply reciting them.  Even if this was not happening, they did create that illusion.  I had a quibble with Schrager needing to be dressed in super-sexy lingerie, as this seems to be almost a cliché of female under-dress in male-directed so-called experimental theater, but it’s so common, most people would probably miss it as an issue.  It is very ‘old cigarette’ however.

The “crashing musicians” (as referred to in program notes) were quite good – in the show I saw, they were The Broadcloth Trio.  The fact they are different musicians on different days means that their section is not repeated.  Their playing and presence did not seem ironic, as this is their world – that of improvised, new music – and they were not ‘in character’.  They were quite happy to be there, and that element worked very well.  However, the two dancers, Beth Griffith and Peter Schmitz, seemed somewhat out of place, as they looked like they were in a world of improvised dance/theater that was being ironized and so looked kind of awkward and lost in the 1970s.  There were positive words about the ‘new cigarette’ at the end, but this did not stop these two from seeming as if they were from a different world, interesting referred to in the voice-over as being 16 year old kids, when they were clearly not.

This is a piece worth seeing, however, as Bromley’s intelligence is clear and the questions are real.  If you want your story telling linear and your theater clear, give it a miss, but if you like to be challenged and engage in these questions about irony, do check it out.  I only wished Smoke the New Cigarette asked more of its performer/creators and its audience rather than less.


Theater of the Arcade has a brilliant structure, which apparently owes as much to video games as to the five playwrights that are parodied in the five discrete sections.  The actors, Fred Backus, Hope Cartelli, Stephen Heskett, Josh Mertz, Shelley Ray and Timothy McCown Reynolds, were all excellent.  Jeffrey Lewonczyk’s writing was quite good, displaying an astonishing grasp of multiple styles of playwriting and Gyda Arber’s direction was strong.

Before I go on, I must make this confession: I do not know video games, have never played video games and therefore can make no comment as to the fidelity of each section to those games.  According to those I spoke with afterwards who know these games they were quite accurate.

However, I did catch all the playwright references and will focus on each section in relation to its playwright and the way in which it succeeded as a parody or homage to that playwright.  Again, the issue of irony becomes a real issue here, because, for instance the second section followed along the lines of a Tennessee Williams play, merging references to Glass Menagerie and Streetcar Named Desire.  As the play works with working class motifs and the abuse portrayed was portrayed quite directly and without stylization (appropriate to the type of play it was meant to evoke), hearing people laughing at it made me uncomfortable.  It felt very classist, like the well-educated New Yorkers laughing at the rubes on stage and/or anyone who likes Tennessee Williams.  A bit like watching reality TV ‘ironically.’  I imagine given the video game references, the laughter was probably actually about that, but because I had no access to those references and because the acting was done in a straightforward manner, it felt quite dark and like laughter was not the appropriate response.  This felt like an unintended consequence, not in any way on purpose, but still this was the effect.

On the other hand, the third section, which was a Brecht/Meyerhold homage, worked very well, because irony is built into that system, there are obvious distancing effects and therefore it can handle another level of irony on top of that.  This of all the sections was the most successful, probably because Lewonczyk works in that register in his other work as a writer and director. 

The Beckett spoof in the first section worked, but it’s quite hard to capture Beckett accurately while spoofing his writing.  Near the very end of that section, Lewonczyk began to grapple with some of Beckett’s complexity within the gaming structure when the player (Reynolds) says “First many steps are right and only some are wrong, then only one is right and many are wrong.”  This is the kind of lovely, simple, funny yet evocative writing that happened in moments throughout the evening.

The fourth section was a Mamet parody, which was very well done, and as Mamet is quite ironic and dark in his own writing, this held up without a hitch.  I did wish it had felt more menacing somehow, but the structure, which was more important than any such consideration, demanded it stay at a distance.  This also affected the Beckett section, as Beckett’s writing for all its dark absurdity also has a transcendent quality that could not be touched by this structure.

The final section, which in many ways was the most interesting, was the Shepherd inspired section.  For all of its gaming references and the laughter it generated, there was a haunting quality to it that made me yearn for more.

Which leads me back to the issue of irony.  This section, which evokes a world where mystery exists and certain ideas, even profound ideas, were broached, made me wish it were not in such a tightly controlled structure with such an ironic patina, so it could go further into those darker, murkier territories.

Theater of the Arcade as is, however, is definitely worth seeing, because this show, too, stimulates a lot of these questions, which would not be in the air if there were no work of quality to discuss.  Also, it’s just plain fun, with very well executed moments, visual acuity and real wit.


The two one-acts Antrobus & Gone by Ian W. Hill for CollisionWorks at The Brick (which is not part of FringeNYC) offer a refreshing break from the reliance on irony to make contemporary work.

Antrobus, which like Theater of the Arcade refers to another play, in this case Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth (in which the Antrobus family walks through many ages of human history, always about to die out, but somehow surviving).  Like the Antrobus’ in one act of Wilder’s play, they are stuck in an ice age, but the implication is that this is one in the future brought on my global warming not an historical one with dinosaurs (as with Wilder). Another difference is that the ‘family’ is a reconstruction of a family wherein people have been given roles and have names such as Daughter and Grandfather.

They attempt each day to put back history, which is represented by pieces of paper strewn around the floor.  Each member of the family asks the others questions such as “When did truth stop being important?” and someone else will answer something like “After history stopped being important.”  I could not write down the before and after answers fast enough, but there were questions and answers about when did love, God, religion, gender, politics, and other such topics stop being important and answers about where to place them.

The Grandfather has been running this operation for a while. The gender roles in the house did lead me to question the notion that at any point gender had stopped being important, which leads to an interesting question that this piece evokes.  In attempting to reconstruct a history after an apocalyptic past, how will the great man of history idea hold up?  This is a question the Granduncle asks, so the question has not been forgotten, and it should be said that it is the Daughter who wants to go out exploring.  Granduncle suggests perhaps they should be seeking “something less like history and more like nature,” which is an idea that points to something past irony as a response to our continual re-creation and re-presentation of historical periods and events.

The issue comes up as to who is destroying the history every night, with the Grandfather accused of doing it, but the Uncle saying he’s seen the papers fall apart of their own accord.  It is unclear whether he is telling Sister this to appease her, continue a family legend or it is true.  The ambiguity is lovely.

At the end of the play (spoiler alert!), when the Daughter and Grandfather go outside, they see the ice cracking, and the sense is there may be a new route out of where they have found themselves.  Before they eat dinner, Junior brings out a piece of paper and says it got lost in the kitchen, and it represents Art.  So he asks “When did art stop being important?” and the Grandfather takes the piece of paper and places it at the bottom of the pile, implying perhaps it has not. 

While the end with the saying of grace may seem a little nostalgic, it nicely evokes Wilder while not destroying him or his vision, and giving an opening for the importance of anyone creating anything in these arguably dark times.

The actors, David Arthur Bachrach, Michael McKim, Patrice Miller, Victoria Miller, William Webber and Bill Weeden, all do a good job foregrounding the ideas of the piece while embodying their roles.  Because of the loud air conditioning I could have used for their volume to increase, but got the sense they were directed by Hill to speak in a less obviously theatrical way.  This works as it keeps the play from becoming histrionic, though at times a little forward momentum may have been interesting, too, but that is a tiny quibble. 

Gone is a tour-de-force of language and movement between two actors, in this case the prodigiously talented Alyssa Simon and Ivanna Cullinan.  I say movement, even though they were sitting in chairs for most of the piece, because they spoke and inhabited the text (which owes a lot to the Joycean riffs of Finnegan’s Wake), moved their bodies, voices and faces in such a way that they seemed to be dancing even when seated.

Hill wrote this text over 15 years and it shows, in a good way.  It is somewhere between language games, stream of consciousness (but not in a sloppy way), cut-ups and grammatical confusions deployed to create a dense dialogue between two women that appear like two older ladies drinking tea.

While the piece is hard to penetrate at the beginning, as the language does not follow traditional grammatical strategies, as it goes on, it becomes easier to follow, if one allows oneself to stop listening for traditional language, but for meaning to emerge from the ways in which the words are assembling in one’s mind.

I did wonder for the first half why Hill had decided to have the two women speaking to one anther as if in a caricature of two ladies-of-a-certain-age gossiping and bickering with one another (I would have been interested to see something besides a strict 4th wall theater to allow another possible range of the meaning of the words to emerge), but by the second half when the two monologues emerged, I did not have this issue.

The first part of the piece leads up to these monologues and functions to allow us to get used to the varied use of language, which includes not only odd grammar but also sometimes made up words, anagrams and many kinds of word play.

When Simon begins her monologue, she seems to be arguing for a kind of life-affirming, joyful mode of being.  Of the two, she has appeared to be the happier and more glamorous one of the two.  Cullinan’s character has seemed sullen, worried and negative.  She wears no make-up and looks beaten down by the world.  Simon’s monologue sounds like an instruction to Cullinan to grab life and live it in a passionate way, as she herself as done.  By the end, there is an electric sense in the air of possibility.

When Simon finishes, Cullinan begins her monologue, during which her entire face and body shift from beaten down to whole and serene.  Her words, which are not said in a linear way but in the accumulation of images and phrases, justify her way of life, which embraces pain as part of life.  She repeats (I think – as the words came fast and furious it was hard to write down anything) “I stand on my own two feet” and says that acceptance means a prison but fighting means a cot out in the open free air.  She refuses to be ‘blessed.’  Cullinan’s physical transformation, which took place while she remained seated, was extraordinary.

During this, Simon gradually fades and as Cullinan’s monologue comes to an end, it is clear Simon has died.  The refrain throughout the piece between the two women is the phrase: Gone.  This word ends the piece, when Cullinan says it to the waiter who has been serving them tea.

There is a profound sense of sadness and joy in this piece, and I encourage you to go and see it, because it is not the kind of thing one sees very much these days, as it is not slick or marketable, instead complex, difficult and rewarding.  Simon and Cullinan, too, are extraordinary to watch.

So, without the use of irony, Hill manages to evoke two complex, contemporary worlds and for this he needs to be commended. 

My next post will be a review of Nils' Fucked Up Day, a dark, funny Romanian show, which uses situational irony in a deeply compelling and disturbing way, but then crucially throws it off at the end to great effect.  So, I should add here that it is not irony itself that is the issue.  It is using irony as a shield or a self-protective device that can be problematic, the assuring wink or fingers crossed behind the back that can let the audience and the show off the hook.

I would love to know anyone’s thoughts on this issue as I think it’s a deeply problematic one for our times. 

And finally thank you to all the artists mentioned here who had the guts to make and put their work out there for scrutiny, for very little or no money but instead for love.  I say that without any irony at all. 

(click on these titles to see details of remaining shows and venues)

Friday, August 19, 2011

reviews coming soon...

I have been working a long time today on my reviews of Theater of the Arcade and Smoke the New Cigarette, but because I am writing them for this blog and have a theme emerging and have now just seen Ian W. Hill's Antrobus and Gone at The Brick, which functions as an interesting contrast to the other two, I am going to wait until tomorrow to publish these reviews, and make it more into a long essay/review.

For now, I will say it was another long day, which started with a phone therapy session, a lot of crying and then going to see a lot of theater and meeting a friend of a friend who went to one of the shows with me.  It's just strange days.  And like usual, by the end of these days, I need sleep.

The evening started with stifling humidity then a downpour after the sky darkened ominously with the requisite thunder and lightening.  On my way to the show, I sat next to a woman who referred to the subway as a tube and asked her if she was from London, which of course she was.  She, like most people from London, cannot understand why I live there when I could live here.  Many of my friends in NYC envy the fact I live in London.  Go figure.

Oh, my second review for nytheatre.com of the show Virgie (from Australia) can now be found at this link: nytheatre.com

And now goodnight.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

so much theater so little time...

I spent the day watching or reviewing theater is what it feels like - probably because that is what happened.

I saw a reading of a new play by Micheline Auger first at 59 E. 59th St. called 'The Feminisim of a Soft Merlot (or How the Donkey Got Punched),' which was more intriguing than I expected it would be.  I'm a big theater snob basically, and generally don't warm to 4th wall, we're supposedly in someone's apartment type theater, but this was written well and the subject matter was intriguing, characters drawn well and the plot did not go along a predictable path.  I will not write much more about this, though, as it was a staged reading, and not for press as far as I could tell.  But, if you see it's playing somewhere near you, it's worth a look.

I was there with my new friend Eileen, but also saw people there I knew from my theater days in NYC past, and found talking with people I either did not know or did know but not that well incredibly stressful so fled home to eat a consolation bagel, drink iced coffee and write a review of Virgie (which will appear soon).  Ah, this reminds me, my first review of a FringeNYC show 'How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Lost My Virginity' is now published here: nytheatre.com.

The play I saw tonight was 'Theater of the Arcade,' and I will write about it tomorrow here on this blog.  As I am tired as per usual tonight, don't want to write about it and do it a disservice, especially as it has an interesting and complex structure, which deserves precise description.  But in general, it's a thumbs up (as I know you were all waiting for That kind of assessment...)  Even seeing people I knew well tonight also felt stressful, which makes me realize I am definitely not on top of my social game right now.

However, I can do one on one with the right people, and had dinner with my friend Nanette (who I've known since 1991 - 20 years if you're reading this Nanette - 20 years!!), which was lovely.  We met when she was accidentally a real estate agent (subsidizing her art habit) and helped my then partner and me find a place in her house in Williamsburg (before it was WILLIAMSBURG).  Tonight, lo these many years later, we bonded over the late 40s-early 50s weirdness place, which if you are female has quite specific parameters, hormonally, in terms of body shape, fertility and all sorts of questions about life in general.  We also have had many 'life events' impinge on our various career/creative trajectories, and commiserated over this state of affairs.  But in so doing lightened our burdens, as such honest sharing often does.  I also highly suggest for moods of tiredness and vague melancholy iced green tea and raspberry.  It did wonders.

But now, only sleep will do.  More tomorrow morning, when I will inaugurate the first official theater review to appear on the blog.

Just FYI, there is a massive and loud thunderstorm outside.  I hope it breaks the humidity, which is simply oppressive.  I love lightening and thunder.  Always have....when I was little, it would take out the electricity where we lived in rural Maine, so we got to eat cheese and crackers for dinner and it felt special.

So, probably getting off electronic equipment not a bad plan right now.  Good night!

what a gorgeous day

The only problem with having a full, gorgeous day is that writing about it at the end is difficult because I am so tired, but in a good way.

I started the day with meditation as usual, then began to look at old photos of my grandmothers' lives and began reading some letters of Jani's.  I got to the letters my mother had warned me about wherein my grandmother (Jani) simply makes up a whole past for herself out of whole cloth to impress - I suppose - a man she seems to have been in love with and good friends with at the same time.  It's impressive in it's brazenness - the lies.  The closer she gets to her age at the time, the closer the details come to reality but the further away, especially her whole childhood are complete fiction.

I've been writing back and forth, and am writing back and forth as writing this blog with David Shields (who wrote the most excellent 'Reality Hunger,' which if you haven't read it yet, do) about this issue of truth-value in non-fiction and our relation to fiction vis-a-vis non-fiction...meaning there is no way to 'tell the truth' in non-fiction without fictionalizing.  On the other hand, as I was just writing back to him, as a child who lived through a veil of lies and half-truths, some of which was masking some pretty extreme abuse at times, including a babysitter who fabricated a whole story about me being evil (which she probably lifted from The Exorcist, which had just been released around the same time - sad, cheesy but probably true), I also hesitate at the door of Extreme Relativity.  On the other hand, I equally hesitate at the door of Simple Truth.  So, this is all food for thought, and Shields' suggestion, which I loved was "to wade in deeply into the layer after layer of unknoweabilty, mystery, fabrication, etc. Everything else is a bad simplification."

The idea of foregrounding the questions, not ignoring them or solving them 'backstage' I like a lot.

I also love the fact when I got confused about all this, I just decided to email the guy who wrote the best book on the subject and that he had the grace to write back.

And that's the kind of day it's been.  I then wrote my first review, which should come out soon on nytheatre.com.  I went to see a show with Martin Denton, the editor of that site and decided to wander around the East Village after, ended up at a meeting of folks like me but who were all strangers at the time, was asked to share my story and then made a connection there with a lovely woman named Eileen who also meditates.  We meditated together at her place, which was just wonderful, and then made plans to go see some theater stuff together over the next couple of days.  She too is in a transitional place in her life.  Not surprisingly, I keep finding people like this these days.  But it's always good to meet someone who seems like they are not falling apart even if going through a rough patch.  So feel blessed to have met this new human.

Speaking of which, my plane-mate, Rochelle, also got back in touch, so we will be going to see a play on Monday together.  It's great all these new connections, because I'm open to it right now.  There is something so magical about this time, even with the attendant anxiety, because I can just tune right in to whatever is in front of me if I let it happen.

I then had dinner with my lovely friend Nicole who I've known, first as an actor with whom I worked and then as a friend since 1999.  She and I share many preoccupations and challenges both personally and artistically, and I find her to be a deeply courageous soul who I love to see.

Then on to see another FringeNYC show, which I will write the review for tomorrow, as I'm now deliriously tired.  I saw that show with another amazing friend Chris, who I've worked with, again as an actor and then got to know as a friend since 1996.  She is convinced, as am I, that I'm being taken care of throughout all this 'transition time', and her faith in that is deeply comforting to me.  Basically, anyone's faith right now is deeply comforting to me.  Because as good old Lou Reed once sang "you need a busload of faith to get by, oh yeah" and I tend to agree with him.  I'm not even an ounce as cool as he is, but I do like the lyrics.

And so, good night, god, goddess, whomever, bless you....I'm off to sleep!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

a jet lagged post

I am still not very coherent today, but did manage to see a show that I will write the review for tomorrow on nytheatre.com.  I figure sleeping before writing the review is a good idea, as I want to write as fairly as possible.

Went to a meeting to connect with folks here today that share my need to find a way through our various difficulties, then downtown to the show.  Met a friend there, with whom I saw and discussed the show, then to see another old friend with her new baby.  I visited her in Carroll Gardens, which used to be an immigrant Italian community, but now is about as trendy as you can get - you end up stumbling over competing gourmet groceries and designer pet shops, galleries and high-end vintage clothing stores, children wearing organic cotton with parents who clearly read parenting books.

I don't really know what to think about that, as it used to be a neighborhood of Madonnas in bathtubs and with a deli called Frank's.  It was somewhat dangerous but also OK because so many families who knew each other lived there, the Gowanus canal was made of toxic substances and everyone wore polyester clothes and had big hair.  But this is the NYC story (and the London story) of relentless gentrification.  And no matter what the trees along the sidewalks are gorgeous, the sun was shining and the day was lovely.

On the other hand, looking at folks on the train and at the meeting and on the street, I see a lot of people looking unwell next to people seeming almost over-fit and healthy.  It's a weird somewhat distressing mix.  I'm trying to see everything with as cool an eye as possible, not romanticizing, listening to my negative as well as positive views of this place.

The folks I speak with seem in general to also be going through somewhat trying times, but maybe that's what I'm picking up on as I am, too.  However, it does seem to be a somewhat ongoing theme.

On yet another hand (which means I suppose by now I must have 3 hands), I do feel safe here for the most part, and I do 'get' the place.  And there is comfort there.  I also feel comfortable in theaters and near theaters, even if what is going on inside them may not be my cup of fur.

I am no closer now to a few days ago about knowing where to live, but then again, I just got here.   I am finding that I dread questions about my future and what I will be doing for money, goals, etc.  But maybe getting in touch with the time zone would be a good place to start.  However, I think tonight may be an early one as I think I could sleep for about 12 hours, and might just do so.

So to a very early bed....