Tuesday, September 06, 2011

9/11 again

It's been a while.  Again. Not that I haven't thought about writing, but you know - the road to hell.  Is paved.

I did write a spec for TV and started outlining a pilot.  And now I've watched JackAss 3D, which can't be unseen.

I wrote this about my 9/11 experience in 2006. Now with the 10th anniversary coming up, it's been on my mind. Still don't know what I've processed about it, but I know I will never forget that air and that smell.

I called into a public radio line, which asked people to say what their hopes were/are for 9/11 and what we might take from it. In under a minute. I had no idea; there was no human voice, just a recording, and a time limit. So with time ticking, I could only come up with one thing: compassion. While the rest of the country seemed to be flowing with anger and outrage, what came out of a broken New York was compassion. There was anger, outrage, confusion, heartbreak, loss, bewilderment - but day to day there was a surprising amount of compassion, of awareness that we are all human beings with a shared experience.

It shouldn't be surprising; New Yorkers are often thrown into situations where strangers become allies due to nothing but proximity. You can be sitting on the subway when someone has a mental breakdown and trade looks with a fellow passenger acknowledging what's going on while you both ignore it because you know there's not a lot that can be done in that moment. Stoic, I suppose. A friend of mine used to say that New Yorkers have a "we're all in this together" attitude when push comes to shove. People are busy, and their lives are busy, but in that event it was clear that we were all in it together. And what came out was a lot of compassion. I'm not someone who thinks we necessarily learn from everything, and I would never suggest a disaster along these lines was meant as some kind of lesson - that would be repugnant to me. In the reaction of the city, though, I saw such amazing compassion and "we're all in this together-ness". If there's any take-away from it, I hope that compassion is it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The world is this big...

Okay - the world is this big.

Robin, who lives in New Mexico, posted on facebook something she got from Neil, who I knew in New York.  He and his partner Mark were very important to me the first few years I lived there. Turns out Robin saw him lecture on Buddhism, which he is doing now, and they're facebook friends.  Meanwhile, I friended him and clicked on Mark's page...

Mark, who I lost touch with as well, is facebook friends with Tom, who lived in New York, and now Omaha.  Tom is my sister-in-law's nephew, and was raised from an adolescent on by my brother and sister-in-law.

Small world. Facebook small.

Then, last night, I was sitting with my friend Dave who talked about  a guy named Ed who friended him on facebook, who lives in Seattle and works at the Opera, but is also an amusement park geek.  I said to Dave his last name, and then "You mean the Ed who was my first kiss ever, on senior prom night in high school" ? That same one. I knew him in Seattle, and we are facebook friends, but that connection to him randomly staying at a friend's apartment was crazy. So he's coming to town and we're all going to Disneyland.  And Prince at the Forum.

Is this the web for everyone?  I think everyone knows everyone else now.  The world, she is small.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

All around and everywhere

I've had several posts swimming around in my head, so this will be all around and everywhere.  Maybe I'll start off each with a large script letter, like chapters.

This morning I woke up reading a book in my head. This has happened before.  This morning's was about some narrative memoir sexual escapade embarrassment and the ensuing hysterical hijinx.  I was thinking that a friend wrote it as I read it, and my alarm went off just as I was coming to the last paragraph (I knew it was the end of the chapter, because I could see the white space underneath the paragraph).  I was enjoying myself, and then I was pulled up and away by whatever country song was playing on my radio.  It occurs to me now that my friend didn't write the book; I did. It's in my head somewhere. Maybe not appearing today, but nice to know there's something readable in there.  Arranged in paragraphs

I just finished watching the extraordinary "Marwencol" by Jeff Malmberg about the artist Mark Hogancamp - a man who was severely beaten by five men and left for dead. After a 9 day coma, he began the slow process of rehabilitation, including the construction of a town called Marwencol filled with WWII soldiers and women who act out stories Mark creates, which he photographs. It's not news this is an amazing doc - it's won over twenty awards - but I'm so happy for Independent Lens on PBS to get to see work like this. It's incredible to see the photographs as well as the stories behind them in the town, and the people on whom the characters are based. More incredible, though, is seeing the artist, who lives this town. He's self-aware, so this isn't someone being exploited by a trend-seeking art world. This is a story of someone who has found through his art the ability to accept himself and where he is. Before the beating he was a chronic alcoholic, and there's even more of a twist that I won't ruin, but after he can't remember wanting to drink at all - in fact, his attackers beat any memory completely out of him. Marwencol is a way for him to deal with his anger, and make his world safe. In the process, he creates a fascinating story and powerful, visceral art. The film stays close to his world, and his process in creating it - through that we get to arrive at who he is. For me, it was a powerful statement about creation - yes, in the end he had this film, a show, etc, but at base he needed to get this out to save his life. I'm saying this clumsily, but it made me think about how art comes out in whatever guise it needs to - while people in New York were obsessed with making "art" and getting a show, he is an artist because he's an artist. Part of the evidence used to show how badly he was beaten were drawings he did before he had been beaten - rich, painful drawings illustrating alcohol's hold on him, the pain he was feeling, and cartoon-like women. After the accident, he could no longer draw. In Marwencol, he creates an alter-ego to express his pain, and also creation and photography to take the places of the images he could no longer render. Malmberg wisely stays away from telling us too much about the attack or the attackers, concentrating on Hogencamp's life now. Quite amazing. And, in the end, an incredible journey to self-acceptance. Loved it.

Speaking of self-acceptance, I saw "Making the Boys" on Sunday night, Crayton Robey's film about the making of "The Boys in the Band" and, by extension, its author Mart Crowley. I hated the play for a long time, thinking it was all about screaming queens and bad for the gay community, but my opinion has changed. That was, of course, addressed in the film - the protests at the premier of the film, the perception that it was bad press when there were no depictions of the gay community in film. All possibly true, but ignoring that it still stands up, beyond just being a curiosity.

Even though the film doesn't talk much about it, there were other writers writing gay plays (albeit a bit more avant garde) at the same time in small venues, but Boys in the Band was a phenomenon. Sold out from opening night in a small 99 seat house, eventually moving uptown to a 5 year run and a movie. Some of the criticism leveled at it - mostly in the film by Albee - is that it was so popular because it was so hateful and showed gays as being unhappy. What it really does, I think, is show how destructive the self-hatred was to men trying to figure out how to be themselves in a hostile world. In that, it's an important time capsule. There are some hsyterical interviews with younger gays, unaware of the play or even, seemingly, that there was a time not very long ago when there was no chance of anyone even being out, let alone being post-gay (I'm looking at you, Christian Siriano).

The doc focuses on Crowley's own floundering after being in Hollywood, nascent alcoholism and partying, and his early friendship with Natalie Wood which gave him some connections to an agent and to people to read his script. It's an interesting window into the time when he tells the story of the female agent who said she couldn't submit a script with that subject matter and have the agency's name on it. What a different time, thank god.

The talking heads are great, mostly sharing what an impact the play had on them. The two men I saw it with, in fact, had the cast album as kids and could recite all the lines. Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally, Dan Savage, Larry Kramer all talk about the effect and influence the play had on them, that gay people even existed and could be written about. The play was not without controversy - the doc explains how the movie opened after Stonewall, so the self-hatred of even a year and a half earlier felt offensive to talk about, and the movie was picketed by gay people in San Francisco. The lone crabby voice of the talking heads,  belongs to Albee, who said he advised the producer/director not to mount it, because it would make gay men look bad. He doubles back to say it would have been a good investment on his part, but in the long run he still thinks it was damaging. Here's an idea Ed: you write one play about gay people, or even gay person, and then we can talk. It's tiresome to hear him talk about how damaging a play that was actually written by a gay man about gay men as real people with real feelings (at a time when no one did that) when he hasn't written a single play about gay men EVER, ostensibly because it's too what? Constricting? Bitter because people have tried to pigeonhole him as a gay playwright when he didn't want to be categorized? Yes, writers should write what comes out of them in whatever form, but for him to criticize someone who actually put it out there as a gay man when he's never done it just rubs me the wrong way. Even in his defense saying that he's out but it's just not what he writes about still smacks of wanting to please a general audience - I mean Three Tall Women is about the woman, not her gay son. Another conversation. Well, easy to criticize I suppose, but it just feels like he doesn't have a leg to stand on. That was a lot of virtual air spent on Albee. Still a brilliant playwright (see above for art coming out where it comes out) and glad he's out and part of the conversation I guess.  Certainly gave me something to talk about. Tony Kushner, super-smart and enlightening as always, loved the bits of Terrence McNally, Dan Savage, and, especially, the surviving cast - Laurence Luckenbill and Peter White.

Crowley seems grateful and surprised for the success of it. Watching his career, early films at Roddy McDowell's beachhouse and the swinging sixties is great. The cast members were very interesting, Luckenbill and Cliff Gorman being the only straight men in the cast - revolutionary as well that gay men played these roles. Interestingly, Fox showed interest in making the film, but wanted to replace the actors with Hollywood actors - Crowley having known Roddy McDowell, Rock Hudson, and others, who would possibly have been cast in gay roles as closeted actors. He held out, and the film was done with the original cast. How lucky is that? William Friedkin is interesting in talking about the challenges of turning a play into a film, which he did wonderfully well with this - it doesn't feel like a filmed play. Many of the cast died, and that's upsetting to say the least. The whole thing felt under a pall of bad luck after it premiered, but that was the time as well.

Under all this is a bit of gay rights history, interviews with a bartender at Stonewall, other gay men including Carson Kressley of Queer Eye and Norm from the Real World. It's a broad canvas at times, and that slowed the movie a little for me, but the archival footage is great. And I love a good history lesson. I found out a lot I wasn't aware of, and I'm grateful this was documented.

I promise I'm going to write about Danny Boyle's Frankenstein. You can still see it with Johnny Lee Miller as the creature, which was my preference (even though they're both spectacular) at the Downtown Independent Theater on May 8th at 5 PM. Don't miss it if you have a chance...

Monday, April 18, 2011


NPR is allowing access to hear the entire new Emmylou Harris album, and the first song “Road” evokes driving cross-country to me, coinciding with reading a friend’s account of a trek across country. So I’m feeling a little expansive, and like traveling an expanse while sitting in my chair and listening to some music.

Emmylou I love – I’m going to see her with the friend mentioned above this Thursday. We both have a connection to slightly sad women with guitars and songs to sing; it’s somewhat lessened as we’ve aged and cheered up a bit, letting things roll off our backs that used to stick and push their way deeply in (and hopefully she’d agree). Emmylou, though, still plucks deeply at a string somewhere in me, her voice and stories mixing up melancholy and travel - stories of loss, hope, love, and lives lived rough; somehow comfortable and spacious at the same time. When I was in New York, I walked around the claustrophobic vibrating city streets which I loved, listening to her in opposition to what was going on around me. Walking on Wall Street or Houston, I could hear a mesa at Sunset, or trees with Spanish moss, or driving a trance-inducing highway with nothing but brush for miles. I missed that space. Her voice, no matter what tragic, funny or wonderful story she’s singing about, always comforts me. I don’t listen to her as much as I did that time in New York, but I still pull out the CDs once in a while, especially on a long drive.

On another note, more about New York, is a post my friend Patrick had about choosing to be in love with Manhattan. I was struck by St. Vincent’s closing that he wrote about, walking past it and knowing that they treated survivors from the Titanic and 9/11 to a great deal of AIDS patients among so many others in a century of service. A fixture. But the only thing constant is change, and everyone’s profit driven in the current climate, so history and care go down the drain I suppose, in the face of valuable real estate and a challenging healthcare landscape. It made me think of how many times I walked past St. Vincent’s when I was in NY- from my first visit to Uncle Charlie’s in 1989 to the last time at the Center in 2003.

I had my tonsils out at St. Vincent’s when I was thirty. My friend Brian came to help me recover, ushering me out late at night, when I had been the last person in recovery room ("Michael, are you ready to go? Michael?" they said and then I'd pass out againthey gave me too much anesthetic, which seems to happen because of my size). I remember shuffling out the door wearing a patchwork hoodie from J Crew that I kept trying to like, bought for some imaginary me who lived on the cape or something, but that night on my way to a week of lo mein and fatigue. A block up, 13th, was my main thoroughfare crosstown, since I preferred to walk whenever possible. Past the Center, past what I now think of as Sean and Patrick’s building, past that simple federal church, that building where I had a day of sunburn, cat allergies, and a rainy gay pride brunch which was so awful I finally just had to laugh, and usually ending up at the quad for a movie. It’s where I first saw Beautiful Thing, Nights of Cabiria, Paul Monette: Brink of Summer’s End, and many more. Where I waited for friends who have now passed away, or passed out of my life in other ways. I even wrote a story that opens with a walk across 13th street.

Those Titanic survivors, the 9/11 survivors, all the people who passed shuffling through the doors of St. Vincent’s; I wonder if we leave ghost traces, some invisible air of ourselves. I think of walking in that neighborhood – Ollie’s around the corner and that second floor cafĂ© on Greenwich that’s not there anymore, either, and it seems like I could go back and see it. I’m sure that’s as much of a fantasy as the idea of country music in my head keeping me from being completely consumed by the urban surroundings. But even if it is a fantasy, I like it. At work today, I was telling someone about “Bartleby the Scrivener”, which seems like such a modern tale to be written when it was. I always liked that I knew where the offices were that Melville wrote about. Even if the buildings weren’t still there, there’s something comforting about knowing the history that was before. Even here in LA, which has a good deal of it as well. Every day, we’re making more paths, more of air rushing past us. Who needs a drive on a wide highway?

On another note, I’ve seen so much theater (including both casts of the incredible Danhy Boyle “Frankenstein” from NT Live) that I’m chock full of things to say, and seeing more things this week and several more shows to try to fit in before the end of the month. I guess it’s time to turn off the Emmylou, let go of the ghosts, and touch the ground again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lanford Wilson

Today, Lanford Wilson died. He was a great playwright. “Burn This” was one of the plays I wrote about in my Master’s thesis. He was one of the playwrights from the 60s and 70s who got his start at the legendary Caffe Cino. I’ve always loved that idea of early off-off Broadway, especially the very gay friendly Caffe Cino – him, Robert Patrick, Sam Shepard, John Guare, and many others. It was the place, along with La Mama and Circle Rep, that I would see listed on the first page about the cast and production when I read plays and was inspired to do theater. Years later, at Po, a little Italian restaurant on Cornelia, I went into the bathroom and saw that this was that place. I almost had a seizure. I was covered in goosebumps for 10 minutes and almost started crying for joy/sadness. My dinner companions – not so much. I’m digressing here…but suffice it to say, I romanticized that time a little.

Wilson was one of the first out gay playwrights to write about gay men, and to have gay characters in major commercial Broadway plays, especially whose lives weren’t completely defined by their sexuality. 5th of July has a gay couple at its center, one of whom is a Vietnam vet; Lemon Sky is about a gay man coming to terms with his past, and The Madness of Lady Bright is about an unhappy queen. I’m rethinking my thoughts about Burn This and I’m excited to see it when it opens at the Taper next month.

There’s no short way to put this, but I’ll try- Burn This is about a female dancer who is mourning the loss of her best friend, a gay man, and ends up falling in love with his tough, macho brother who shows up after his death. There’s another friend, and a caustic gay man. I thought, when I was, what? 22? that Wilson put himself in the character of Anna, the dancer, and that the play was about her learning to love and let down her guard for a love that was dangerous to her.

This was in 1991, living in New York, in the midst of the AIDS crisis. I was writing a thesis about the construction of heterosexual desire by gay playwrights, and how the times in which they were living and attitudes toward gay men are mirrored in their construction of heterosexual desire. I see now that this is quite an assumption: that the playwright is necessarily masking his sexuality and writing about heterosexuals because he either won’t write about gays, or is hiding something. With Wilson, this doesn’t account for the other plays in which gay men were quite prominent; for his own place possibly being in a character other than the central man (the gay character in the play); that perhaps he was just writing a play about characters dealing with the particular death of a gay man, which was a central narrative at that time. Basically, you get a little older and things get more complicated, lives need more room, and you see that writers write about what they need to. And, also, to give myself a little credit, a product of their time. My ideas now, 20 years later, feel like a product of theirs.

I will probably write about this more after I see the play – I have a lot of thoughts about it and I haven’t thought about this in a while. Mainly, though, I am thinking what a trailblazer he was – that while I was faulting him for not writing a play about gay men, he already had. I was young, it was a very different time, and I desperately needed role models. Who knew that one was there all along? He was a man who wrote about what he needed – possibly post-gay in a world that hadn’t even had a term for it yet, though I could see it at the time as possibly apology or shame for the sake of commercial success. I had a lot of ideas.

Most importantly, he gave us great words, great moments, great American drama. Rest in Peace, and thank you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

33 Variations and stuff

Wow. It’s been a while. Like I’ve documented a little, I’m not sure what I’m doing on this blog, but it’s nice to write things down a bit. I’ve been doing more performing, and though that doesn’t quiet a critical mind, it does make me unsure of what I want to write if I’m wanting to eventually work with people. Not that I’m snarky – that’s not my thing – but still you never know. Mostly my absence was rehearsing and performing a 2 act musical for a benefit for a friend, and now doing a reading of a new musical. Nice to be busy, but finding the time to sit down and write has not been the easiest task.

So – things I’ve seen lately –

33 Variations at the Ahmanson

Lovely performances all around, and a smashing set by Derek McLane. I don’t normally call out the set, but it was one of my favorite parts of the show – ingenious, attractive, and added to the proceedings. Everyone is talking about this for Jane Fonda, who does a great job with the central role of a musicologist obsessed with Beethoven and wanting to finish a monograph on his Diabelli Variations before her eventual death from ALS.

Like I said, the cast was great, my only issue was with the play itself. It felt like a bit of a mashup of Wit, Amadeus, possibly Whose Life Is It Anyway. Wit kept coming up, as I watched this emotionally shut-down central character come to life through her central academic obsessions. The problem is that Wit is a stonger piece of theater. The only emotion I felt was watching Fonda in a hospital bed with ALS, and that was just a reaction to having a father with MS, not from anything that was happening in the play. It’s not a bad play, just not a terrific one. There were a couple of mis-steps, including having the cast sing at one point, which served to push me out emotionally rather than pull me in – it was a contrivance. I suppose that’s what I came away with – the play felt obviously constructed to me. During the talkback one of the actors said in an earlier version the central character had had cancer but that felt too much like Wit so they changed it. That said it for me, I suppose. A friend pointed out that much of the audience was older, and that the central question of Fonda’s character aging and her relationship with her daughter were probably issues they were dealing with. That’s true, but like my reaction to the ALS, that feels extra-textual to me.
That said, it was a great production of a perfectly sound play. I guess we don’t see those that much anymore, since it’s so rare to see new, fully produced plays. It was a fine play. Fonda was great, and I loved that it didn’t feel like a star turn. Her physical work was impressive and didn’t call itself out. She felt like a member of a company, rather than a star surrounded by a bunch of other actors in a different play. It was a good performance, and I’d love to see her onstage again. There is one moment of literal and figurative nakedness that she did beautifully, when the character is being x-rayed – beautiful moment. I did love Greg Keller, who played her daughter’s nurse and eventual boyfriend. He was a bit of comic relief, but also a full character. I liked him a lot. I was disappointed not to see Zach Grenier as Beethoven, but I did see Michael Winther and that was fun – I performed “Songs from and Unmade Bed” here and that was written for him. That was fun to just put a face to the name, and he was a good Beethoven – shades of Amadeus once again, but I think that’s the writing. Samantha Mathis as the central character’s daughter and Susan Kellerman as the German doctor were great as well.

One of the reasons that the play felt a little diffuse and/or familiar may be that Kaufman generates the pieces with his company. During the Q & A, one of the actors mentioned they recieved a copy of the first act, and then only sketches for the second act. That act was generated. Though I did feel the second act was emotionally stronger and more engaging than the first (less obviously "written"), it was at the same time less from one point of view, so the story moved from being about Jane Fonda's character and more about the mystery. That would probably also explain the clumsy (for me) moments of simultaneous speaking and then the singing. Hard to pull off. Glad I saw it though, and alway happy to engage in good theater. If my only criticism is that it wasn't fantastic and life-changing, then that's not a bad thing. I mean, I have opinions about everything.

Adjustment Bureau

I was dragged to see this, and didn’t love it. Started as a thriller and ended up as a metaphysical romance. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are very easy to watch, and support by Terence Stamp and John Slattery helps, but it just didn’t hold for me. Some great shots of New York, but I just didn’t know what this movie wanted to be. It struck me a little like that remake of Wings of Desire – City of Angels. Somehow the ideas it was taking on felt more complex than the treatment they were given. Or in the end they were so simple that it felt overblown – not sure which.

The Red Shoes – Criterion Collection

Criterion had a 50% off sale. I’ve written about this movie before, but to have it on HD in a beautiful restoration – it’s a wonder. I think Anton Walbrook’s performance in it is one of my favorites on film ever. It just continues to astound. Moira Shearer is lovely as ever, and her performance is effortless. The whimsy of the design comes through, making it feel even more like a fairy tale. I cherish this film.

So, keep you posted. Going to see the NT LIVE version of Frankenstein next week – very excited about this.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Art Project

Looks like the folks over at Google have done something incredible - The Art Project - which gives the viewer a walk through great museums of the world, among them the Met, The Rijksmuseum, the Uffizi Gallery, the Hermitage, MoMA, The Tate - it's quite an impressive list.

You can view the works themselves, or go on a virtual tour, which is pretty nifty for someplace like The Frick, which was a house as well. Or you can view the masterpiece St. Francis in the Desert as a singular piece.

Wow. I don't know what it means, or how it will affect people viewing art, but the access to the images is quite astounding.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


It's January 13th and I haven't written a thing.  I'm supposed to be finishing War & Peace in thirteen days.


Monday is a holiday, so there's that.  And I just changed the background on my blog for freshness.  The template's called "Awesome!". (! mine)

I'm doing a reading of Mother Courage with some actors I'm really fond of, casting and organizing it myself.  Now I just need someone to read stage directions so I can listen to it.  It's actually kind of exciting to just go ahead and do it, not worrying about if we'll produce it, where it will go, etc.  It's the new Tony Kushner translation, too, which I like a lot.  I'm doing that instead of the Golden Globes - yes to DVRs.

I'm also doing a reading of a friend's musical on Saturday, too.  Busy now that I put it down on paper.

But I do miss War & Peace, and I've missed the writing.  It's time to get going for the New Year - brush off the shiny a little.

It's truly no reason for pressure, as where am I in such a hurry to get?  But I still think of this Faulkner quote when I think of time (from Quentin in "The Sound and The Fury"):

"You can be oblivious to the sound of a clock or a watch for a long time, and then, in a second of ticking, it can create in the mind, unbroken, the long diminishing parade of time you didn't hear."

I guess I'm suddenly hearing the ticking. It will recede and then present itself again.