Tuesday, November 27, 2007

W.G. Sebald

I am back from southern California. Our plane was late because of the weather in New York yesterday, so between that and the incredibly slow baggage-handling at JFK, we walked into my boyfriend’s house around 2:30 this morning. My brain is sleep-deprived goo. In the process of unpacking, I noticed the library book that I assumed I’d finish on the plane is due tomorrow. I’ve just finished it now.

I have a visceral relationship with some writers’ work, and W.G. Sebald is one of them. The only two playwrights I can think of who write about memory as engagingly as Sebald are Mr. Albee (“Virginia Woolf” and “All Over”), and Harold Pinter (particularly in “Old Times”). You’d think that any translated fiction would be more likely to be distant from the reader (Sebald wrote in German), but that’s not true at all in this instance. I never read any Sebald until after he died- he was killed in a car accident in 2001. He didn’t write that many books, so once I discovered him, I had to dole them out to myself as treats. I have two books left to go, one of which (“Austerlitz”) I bought this week.

It’s difficult to describe Sebald as a novelist. In most of his work he writes about a protagonist named W.G. Sebald, who’s kind of him but not. There are many photographs taken by the author in these books, and always a lot of history, tinged often with curiosity and other times with deserved moral outrage. Sebald wrote, obliquely and less so, about his time and himself: growing up in post-war Germany and the difficulty, if not inability, to come to terms with all that happened in the 1930s and 1940s. Sebald wrestled with this in all his work, and immigrated to England in the 1970s, where he lived until his death.

In “The Rings of Saturn,” which I just finished, Sebald tells an amazing story of Roger Casement (the Irish patriot executed by the British in 1916) and his encounter with Joseph Conrad and Franz Kafka’s uncle in the Belgian Congo in 1915. I’d never really consider those three men inhabiting the same world, let alone King Leopold’s hellish Congo.

Sebald’s most traditionally fiction book is “The Emigrants,” which is haunting, and haunted by memory. It’s also one of those novels where you feel like you know the world the writer’s drawn you into, even though you can’t quite put your finger on what will happen next. The link to Sebald’s obituary in The Guardian is above.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dramahound on the Other Coast

The Dramahound is going away for Thanksgiving with the other hounds in the family pack. There will be a very good dog there, and puppies (of the human kind, though the oldest insists she's a wolf) to play with. I hope to witness picketing WGAW writers, having seen the striking WGAE writers here. Though talks with the producers begin Monday (www.unitedhollywood.com).
Photos from the TRU Love Benefit are up on Playbill today (www.playbill.com).
Will be back blogging next week, with one about my favorite New York City museum, and whatever adventures I may have out West. Flying JetBlue on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving may be an adventure in itself!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Veil of Forgetfulness

I saw a performance of “The Veil of Forgetfulness” on Tuesday evening. Described as “a mystical opera in two acts,” its libretto and music is by Susan Stoderl, who also conducted. The “art installation” (which I would’ve called projections; there’s nothing wrong with projections, would that we all could work with Wendell Harrington) was by Sarah Olson.

Set in an abbey during the Dark Ages, an abbess (based on the actual Marie de France, whose writing was quite racy for its day), her nuns, her very pregnant niece, and their cook (a Jewish woman to whom they’ve given asylum) are the seven keepers of the veil of forgetfulness. The opera ends with the niece dying in childbirth, and the nun with the will-to-power (Regina) trying to make up her mind if she’ll follow her sisters, or go her own way.

“The Veil of Forgetfulness” was performed by seven very talented singers; the two that stood out the most to me (and I admit that I knew their work previously) were Ilya Speranza as Dympha and Tracy Bidleman as Regina. They were accompanied by a five piece ensemble: organ, oboe, flute, synthesizer and cello.

The music was quite rich and varied. In it, I heard every from Cesar Franck, early Francois Poulenc, Phillip Glass’ pulsing tones and harmonies akin to Stephen Sondheim’s “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.” The music is the thing that carries the emotion of the piece. Unfortunately, it is not helped much by the lyrics (the opera is sung-through). The lyrics contain a lot of exposition and explanation; the second act is almost entirely arias that do just that. There are perfect rhymes, false rhymes and no rhymes (there may have been an interior logic to this but I didn’t see it). There were places where lyric repetition would have been welcome for reasons of emphasis, but there was little of that. This resulted in a sense that all the lyrics were of equal weight, which I doubt was the lyricist’s intention.

The music sounded quite difficult to sing (and I can pull a perfect ninth out of thin air when called upon). But this was daunting. The setting of the Church of the Holy Trinity certainly added to the atmosphere the opera was trying to evoke. The next Music at Holy Trinity event (Dr. Stephen Hamilton, Artistic Director)is on Monday at 8PM; James David Christie is performing on the Rieger pipe organ. For more information, clink on the link above.

Monday, November 12, 2007

TRU Throws a Party!

The theatre district was eerily quiet yesterday. There were still tourists wandering up and down Broadway, looking up and into the distance, as if they’d never seen a building higher than four stories. But most of the theatres had IATSE strikers doing the picket walk. Theatre at any level is so difficult in the first place, it pains me that Local One and the League won’t even talk to one another.

That said, boy, you missed a great party! I was in the cheap seats with playwrights, a composer and the Playbill photographer at my table. Once the Sardi’s waiters started plonking down the plates of tiramisu, the show started. Each piece was from a play that the honoree, Cheryl Wiesenfeld, had produced. Unfortunately my favorite (“Shockheaded Peter”- only time I’ve bought the CD in the lobby after a show ever) was not included. Laura Marie Duncan started it off with “Here I Am” from “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Then TRU president Bob Obst gave out two awards. There was a song from “Saint Heaven,” the producers of which were mentored by Ms. Wiesenfeld. That was followed by Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon reading from “The Exonerated,” and Dania Gurira and Nikkole Salter performing their “In the Continuum” - what talented, gracious young ladies they are! Sara Chase performed “So Much More” from “Legally Blonde.”

The highlights for me were two. Tonya Pinkins performed “I Got Four Kids” (the opening of “Caroline or Change”), which almost took the roof off the Sardi building. She was phenomenal- even better than when I saw her perform it on Broadway. And finally, Miss Elaine Stritch did come and speak, holding her audience rapt for fifteen minutes (it seemed like a moment, of course). She told a funny story about going to see “The Glass Menagerie” with Marlon Brando, when they were both students at The Actors Studio, because they “liked the title.” And how she can still remember Laurette Taylor’s magnificent performance. She was very funny, and her humor is my idea of great humor: if you tell the truth about something that most people wouldn’t, they’ll laugh. Ms. Stritch said a lot of things, but the one that really struck me (and I’m paraphrasing- I did not bring my reporter’s notebook with me, though I should have) was that theatre is a very demanding business, and there are and will be plenty of difficult times, of not mostly difficult times. But the reason that we all continue to pursue it is for those rare moments of great joy. I think that’s as true for her with her incredibly successful career as it is for those of us in the trenches.

Who knows what TRU will cook up for next year? How can they follow that?

Friday, November 9, 2007

TRU Love Indeed

TRU (Theatre Resources Unlimited) has its mission in its name. Its main purpose is to help theatre producers and other theatre professionals through the exchange of information and networking opportunities. TRU’s electronic newsletter alone is a reason to join. It covers arts jobs, submission opportunities, apartment sublets, casting notices, professional services, classes- everything a theatre professional could want.

TRU was founded 15 years ago by president Bob Obst, Gary Hughes, and vice president Cheryl Davis. Each year, amidst the many panel discussions, the Audition Event (very handy for casting Off-Off Broadway or showcases), staged readings of new plays and musicals, TRU has a benefit to raise money to keep its many programs going. This year’s is a luncheon on Sunday, November 11th at 1PM at Sardi’s (234 West 44th St.). The TRU Love Benefit will honor producer Cheryl Wiesenfeld (“The Exonerated,” “Caroline or Change,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” etc.) with the 2007 TRU Spirit Award.

Cocktails begin at 12:30, followed by lunch at 1PM, and the award presentation and performance at 2PM. Confirmed performers include Mia Dillon, Keir Dullea and Tonya Pinkins, and maybe even Elaine Stritch. Tickets for $100 or $150 are still available. You can buy them online (click link above), by credit card or Paypal. I’ll be there!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The WGA Strike

I've been trying to write all day, with some success. I'm at a difficult point (4/5 done) in the first draft of an original libretto. Nothing is so hard for me as a first draft; I can rewrite until the cows come home.
However, I've been distracted more than usual because of Day #4 of the Writers Guild of America strike. I'm not a member (though I have ceased to work on my series idea for the duration of the strike). But I have good friends and blood relatives marching on picket lines on both coasts, who have been sending me eloquent youtube links all day. The Teamsters and SAG are marching with the writers- I don't remember that happening the last time.
The WGA dropped the DVD issue. All they want now is some kind of compensation for new media. And the powers-that-be won't even talk to them. Smells like greed to me.
If you want to sign the petition in support of the writers, the link is above. If you want to learn more about the strike, go to: