Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review of Strange Devices

The world we live in is a complicated place. Sometimes when we look back we can see how certain paths have led us to where we stand now. It’s like being part of a puzzle without realizing it, until you look back. That’s the way I’m thinking about Naomi Iizuka’s new play, Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, directed by Les Waters at Berkeley Rep running from now until April 11th. It’s a beautiful, strange but evocative non-narrative play that deals with emotional relationships, photography, tattoos and reality. The reality angle is especially interesting in this day and age of PhotoShop where we can make anything look like it was just snapped.

There are two threads through which the play is woven, one which starts in 1860s Yokohama, Japan, the first port to open to the west. A Victorian lady stumbles into an American photographer’s studio while he’s taking photographs of a young man covered in tattoos and not much else. The other thread involves modern day Tokyo with an art history professor seeking some 19th century prints, who might or might not be a black mailer.

No more on the plot as I don’t want to spoil it for you if you have a chance to see it. Les Waters’ direction was very good as was the acting, which is especially hard to do when actors play multiple characters. The show featured Kate Eastwood Norris, Johnny Wu, Bruce McKenzie, Teresa Avia Lim and Danny Wolohan)

The set design by Mimi Lien was strikingly Asian in its simplicity and workability. I rather liked her use of a moving wall that looked like a large shoshi screen and the angles used for the short platforms. It was minimalistic and beautiful. Using several set pieces that rolled on and off made the transitions from 19th to 21st century readable from the audience.

The sound (Bray Poor) and videos (Leah Gelpe) were very effective and evocative. While the lighting (Alexander Nichols) was generally good over all, I can’t say I really liked the “flash” used to punctuate scenes instead of blackouts. Conceptually I get it, as a take on the old time photographer's flash pots, but it was so bright that I started to shield my eyes when a scene ended.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Big thanks to Maureen at the Writing without Paper blog for turning me onto the "One Million Bones" project.  One artist is trying to bring the issue of genocide to the public's attention with this project.  Wonderful cause and I'll just have to use some of my paper clay to make a bone to contribute.

Another thing I'm going to contribute is some mail art for a project that my Reno art friends are doing down in LA

Next up?  A review of "Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West" by Naomi Iizuka, directed by Les Waters over at Berkeley Rep.  We saw it last night and if  you like non-narrative theatre, it's brilliant IMHO!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Performance as Art

I've always had a rather troubled relationship with Performance Art.   I think it stems from my background as a modern dancer and choreographer and then working in theatre as both an actor and a director.  When I was a choreographer back in the 70s in Colorado Springs, one of the things I keep doing was to add text that the dancers would speak to certain pieces.  That's why I was thrilled to do a performance workshop with Joe Goode and his fabulous performance company.

But when  it's pure performance art,  made by people who have no training in movement and theatre, I get uneasy and bored quickly.  Maybe because I'm really a bossy director/playwright at heart and have spent too many years in that environment.  Maybe it's me, but watching people having sex with themselves is not really that interesting.  Of course it is more conceptual than most dance-theatre related performance, this I understand.

One performance piece that I had no qualms about was last year at NadaDada Motel.  Andrea Daerice Juillerat was across the hall from my Motel Variations installation, with a piece called the Sugar Lady.  Andrea made this huge dress that was attached to the walls of the room.  You walked into the room, mindful of the dress, and danced with her and she gave you a sugar cookie!  Even without any conceptual frame, it was a lovely experiential piece. 

That's why I pay attention to her posts on Facebook, which included this link.  I've never seen any of Marina Abramovic's performances, but do remember reading about them in one of my obscure theatre and performance journals.  Now MOMA is celebrating her work and the performance she gave there seemed right to me.  Sitting and waiting to see what would happen.  Although I do wish she had given herself some room to move in the piece, but that's just the way I am.

This story lead me to another one where my other performance hero Laurie Anderson is interviewing Abramovic!  It's an insightful peek at the works and minds of both women.  I'll just bet that one of Anderson's songs (Strange Angel) could have been the subconscious impetus to Opera Dreams.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's Circus Time

Why you may ask?  Because I'm juggling again - this time with both theatre and visual art.  I've been selected to be a reader for the National Endowment for the Arts New Play Development Project that is being administered by Arena Stage in Washington DC.  This isn't just reading the plays, but also writing synopsizes and rating (1-5 gets kicked out - 6 to 10 means another read by someone else) and then giving feedback on what we liked, what was confusing and what was just plain bad. (#NewPlay)

This has been an interesting project for me as both a director and a playwright.  I'm seeing what has made it to the beginning round and what will survive for the next one.  I know that there will be that special play for me to direct for someone.  But this post will be short as I have more reading to do.  I have to finish my batch by March 15th which is only a week away!

I'm also working on my portraits for the Women's Wisdom Art Portrait Project - where photographer George Streng and I have taken photos of the women who are both students and teachers (and the one male teacher), along with photos of their art work which we will incorporate into the portraits in a more post modern manner. The first showing of these will be in June at Tangent Gallery in Sacramento and then again in August at the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Resource Center.

But since I'm going to Romania again to be a judge at Teatrul Bacovia's one-person show competition and festival, that means I need to finish all the portraits by April 10th or so.  While I can't wait to catch up with my theatre "peeps" back in Bacau, it also means that I really need to move on these portraits. 

There is at least one American who will present his one man show in Bacau, Aaron Braxton from the Los Angeles area.  I'd like to send out a news release or two on the two of us going to the festival.  And then I got an email from my pal Fernando, editor of the American Art World Magazine - an online arts publication in which I've already had one piece of artwork published!  They want to publish another piece of my art work!  He'll let me know when later... but you can translate it into English.  I'm once more honored to have my work in a publication from Buenes Aires, Argentina!

OK, so now you know why I haven't been as good about blogging lately, and back to work juggling! Cue the circus music.