I Want Bill Nighy to Say Nice Things About Me Someday: Musings on “Vincent and the Doctor”

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor,” the tenth in series five. It has not aired in the United States yet. Read at your own risk.]

This is going to be one of those “dark night of the soul” posts, folks. So sorry in advance. I’ve been missing thanks to a particularly rough patch of what the Elizabethans called “melancholia” and busy-ness (a combination about as ill-advised as mixing tequila and Everclear.) And then there was the moving back to New York just in time to say goodbye to one of my dearest friends who had to return to her homeland, Leeds. (In my mind, she wanders the moors like Catherine in Wuthering Heights, except less obnoxious and prettier.) And now Glee is becoming uneven and boring and even kind of problematic at times.

The good news is the essay for Smart Pop has now been proofed and sent for formatting, so you can look for the book, which is a kind of post-mortem dissection of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse edited by (Whedon family writer and creator of Warehouse 13) Jane Espenson, in October 2010. I’m still sort of in awe about that happening, but I’m also getting all kinds of anxiety about it now. It’s stupid really. It’s just one essay in a book of 18 and it’s not saying anything (too) offensive and sometimes it’s funny, which is great, and the conclusion is actually kind of powerful (I think.) But I guess my anxiety has a lot to do with Doctor Who and Vincent van Gogh. Ready for a dramatic leap? Here we go!

Continue reading

Tonight in Neil Gaiman’s New York

So tonight I did what I seem to do at least half the time in the city. I saw a show. This particular show as at the 59E59 Theater. It was a lovely night, if a bit overcast, so I walked back to the subway station for the red line, which is at Columbus Circle. This route took me along the southern border of Central Park.

Central Park is a really interesting piece of history. In fact, it was originally created to keep people from hanging out in cemeteries for recreation. Today it houses the Delacourte Theater, home to the greatest public performing arts event ever, Shakespeare in the Park, several bodies of water, over 35 playgrounds, a zoo, a castle, and of course, Bethesda.

Don't blink, Doctor Who and Angels in America fans. She moves.

Central Park is also the big place you avoid at night according to out-of-towners. (Although a lot of that fear seems to be based on a case that is over twenty years old now, and there is now a whole branch of the NYPD dedicated to the Park.) So let me clarify for all the worriers: I was not walking in the Park. I was walking along the border, where all the carriage horses are.

Horsey!

So I’m walking home around ten o’clock, and I begin to notice how strange the Park looks in the dark. The shadows seem deeper and darker than any I’ve ever seen them, and the street lamps have a Magritte kind of light, the orb of yellow extending less than it should.

And I’m thinking to myself, if the Jacks from The Graveyard Book or the Gentleman from Buffy pop out, I am out of here. (Be careful the video below will give you trauma flashbacks worse than the Bethesda photo did for the Doctor Who fans.)

And it doesn’t help that it kinda looks like this over the wall:

(Credit to Nick Himmel. You can see more of his beautiful and haunting work by clicking on the image.)

Needless to say, I’m just a little freaked out, but also intrigued. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like I was living in a world I’d read about in literature. I felt like I had walked into a world created by Neil Gaiman, that if I took one step into the Park, I would be swallowed up into some strange, new, terrifying adventure.

…And then all the carriage horses started looking at me, and walking towards me when I went by. They literally clopped up onto the sidewalk.

I’m allergic to horses, and a bit terrified of them, to be honest. They’re big and very smart, and I always feel bad about what we do to them with the whole “pull the wagons, carry me” thing. So I’m suddenly stuck between the beautiful, intimidating, very sentient creatures walking towards me and the shadowy Central Park. I kind of felt like Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere. All I needed was to run into Door.

Remember when you were little and thought that if you hated your life hard enough, if you got really, really bored and really, really sad, the Cat in the Hat would show up, or a twister would drop you in Oz, or you would find the Subtle Knife that could take you to Lyra’s world? (That could’ve been just me.) Well, for about forty seconds there, before the drivers got the horses to calm down, I was a few steps closer to the world of my childhood. It was pretty magical indeed.

Planes, Trains, and Darkened Streets: Things I’m Afraid of Because I’m a Woman

My dear Lemoners-

It is time for me to do penance for ignoring you. It’s been a week and I’m sorry. I’m casting my thesis show at Carnegie Mellon, A Number. The Vineyard never stops being challenging, and I need to find time in the day to show this clip to everyone I know:

That Time Lord can do anything! (More to come when the special comes out on DVD!)

Anyway, as penance, I’m going to take a cue from my friend Jessica and give you more posts for you money. So today I’m going to talk a bit about the flight to Pittsburgh, pretty much forgetting how to get around the city I’ve called home for three years, seeing a dog maul a gay couple with a baby (after the jump. Seriously.), and about the subway ride to the airport, where I realized some very interesting conclusions.

Continue reading

Christina Hendricks Is More Than Her Curves!

Doesn’t it seem like it’s always Fashion Week somewhere? New York magazine recently did a feature on Christina Hendricks’ modeling work. She appears on the cover in a corset, apparently from her own closet.

Okay. Now look at her face.

New York is heralding the “return of voluptuous.” What they seem to have missed is that the only place it left was white Hollywood, and it hasn’t been gone that long either. Continue reading

Circle Mirror Transformation

On Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwrights Horizons (Peter Jay Sharp Theater)

“The way human beings speak is so heartbreaking to me–we never sound the way we want to sound. […] Speaking is a kind of misery,” says Annie Baker in an interview with Playwrights Horizons Literary Manager Adam Greenfield. This idea of the misspoken is what anchors Ms. Baker’s plays in the painfully real. Awkwardness, wrong choices, and the temptation to say just one more thing propel the five characters through their six week drama class, peppered with authentic theater exercises, some of which are actually improvised onstage (most notably the eponymous “Circle Mirror Transformation.”)

It is very difficult to suggest that Circle Mirror Transformation has a plot so much as it has a journey. The twists are often predictable, but seeing them coming makes them all the more painful. Baker’s characters feel close to you. Failed actress Theresa describes middle aged Marty and James as the kind of couple that makes everyone happy they’re together. Yet as we watch Theresa tell James just that, something switches on in James so that when his secret that gets read aloud as part of an exercise, to the detriment of all, it comes as not so much a surprise as a painful betrayal that we were unable to prevent.

Baker’s characters continue on even when it’s not a very good idea, but not before a silence tailored carefully by director Sam Gold. The audience feels the buildup of teenage Lauren (Tracee Chimo)’s frustration with the class before any dialogue speaks to it thanks to this careful approach to the emotional life of the characters.

Chimo’s Lauren is one of the many highlights of the show. Her closed off body language and undulating speech make her stand out in an already very impressive and nuanced cast. (Her colorful and painfully authentic teenage wardrobe, designed by David Zinn, helps separate her as well.)

Zinn’s work on this play is remarkable in terms of its immersion. He creates a studio in a community center that slightly plays with perspective to accommodate a wall mirror on stage left. The wall is angled so the mirror never reflects the audience. It is an enclosed space for these characters, so when Lauren leans on the mirror and examines herself, we find ourselves wondering exactly what she sees. The prop selection is also spot-on from the exercise ball sent rolling across the room when the characters exit after a particularly painful class to the copy of Twilight that Lauren pulls out on her break.

Circle Mirror Transformation is a study of organisms in their natural habitat. There are no wholly “theatrical” elements of design here, save for the ending, and withholding the theatricality pays off beautifully. Lauren and Schultz participate in an exercise where they are supposed to have met each other ten years after the conclusion of the class. The dialogue begins as an exercise, but slowly becomes a bittersweet prediction, indicated to be true by the delicate simplicity of Mark Barton’s lighting taking us out of the world that Zinn has created to an era that is yet to come.

The general lesson theater artists can learn from Circle Mirror Transformation is that it does not take the magical realism of Sarah Ruhl to reach transcendence or the raw emotional violence of Mamet and Shepard to feel authenticity. Sometimes real, excruciating silence is golden.

The show’s been extended again to the end of January, so, needless to say, you’re gonna want to go to there.

Theatre Row and the Power of the Preset

I’m currently studying in New York City through a program called the Tepper Semester, run by Syracuse University. The program’s offices are housed in Theatre Row Studios. The directors were lucky enough to get a tour of the whole building from the wonderful house manager (who is worth talking to any time you can catch him when he’s not working on solving the daily logic puzzle of performances, companies, and audiences in six different performance spaces in the same building.) He knows so much about the building, the companies, and the history of Theatre Row. (And he’s not too shabby on general theater history either!)

Theatre Row has a very interesting past in that the physical building was actually made up of brownstone tenements when it was developed into an off-Broadway theater. (Though the building actually houses only one off-Broadway theater and five off-off houses, Theater Row itself has the off-Broadway designation.) In some of theaters you can actually see the original walls of the tenement, including filled in windows and fireplaces.

The Acorn, Theatre Row’s largest theater is the official home of the New Group, and will soon be hosting Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind, directed by Ethan Hawke and starring Keith Carradine (of Dexter and Dollhouse fame for those of us not old enough to recognize him as a member of the famous Carradine family.) Mr. Hawke is also assisted on the show by my friend Sam. It promises to be awesome, so you should really want to go to there!

Speaking of Wanting to Go to There, let’s talk about the preset, shall we? The preset is a term for what the audience sees when they first enter the theater to sit down, the set as it is without actors or production lighting. As directors, we don’t have a lot of time to think about the preset. It’s hopefully something that we and the set designer have agreed upon and that doesn’t drive the stage manager crazy to set up every night. Some directors even change the preset in front of the audience right before curtain to another preset. (This can be very redundant when not done right.)

A good preset is like a good poster. It sums up the feel of your show, not the show itself. It sets a precedent that both gives the audience something to look forward to and allows you to exceed it. During our tour of Theatre Row, we were taken into the Clurman Theater, on the lower level, and we came upon the best preset I’ve seen in a long time.

Five or six neatly ordered piles of stuff lie on the stage, most prominently a stack of books stage left and a pristine white toilet at center. It is the preset for Michael Aranov’s one man show Manigma. I don’t know about you, but I’m interested. Good presets: a staging principle.