Thursday, January 26, 2012

What You're Listening To

There's a new book out about how we listen to music- Your Playlist Can Change Your Life, by Galina Mindlin, Don DuRousseau and Joseph Cardillo. Mindlin is on the faculty at Columbia. It claims that the number of beats per minute "can trigger an emotional response." Look at DNAinfo:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Other Desert Cities

Last night, I saw Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz. I have liked his work for years- I still think about Three Hotels. This production came from Lincoln Center, though Rachel Griffiths, Judith Light and Justin Kirk are all new to it. How great to see that group of actors together onstage- there are no weak links. Though we were in the balcony, there was one of Keach's exits that made us jump. Stockard Channing was chilling in a way I had not seen her before. Just watching these people work was a treatment. And it's an interesting play, though I don't agree with Ben Brantley's assessment that it's the best adult play in years. I thought that the second act was overwritten, and it might be much better served by being an intermissionless, 90 minute piece. I thought the writing got repetitive before the big reveal near the end (my lips are sealed). I loved that John Lee Beatty set- perfect for that family's living room, and a great playground for the actors.


I saw Follies yesterday, the Kennedy Center revival that's now at the Marquis. I have never seen it before, though I own the libretto and I know the music. I'd hesitated seeing it, because I had a very bad personal experience with one of the principal actors (not one of the leads) many years ago. But I got over that, and spent a wonderful afternoon at the Marquis. That is not my favorite Broadway house, but Derek McLane's design made me believe it actually was an old, warm theatre, as did Kai Harada's sound design. The only problem I had was with the ghosts. There are so many design possibilities with those ghosts, that didn't exist when the show was first produced in the 1970s, it was disappointing to see the design team made the same choice for this production.
I cannot say enough good things about the music and lyrics, or the acting. I'd had people tell me that the libretto may work on paper but not on stage- I disagree. It was crystal clear to me where we were, and moved fast enough all the way through. All the roles were beautifully cast. Florence Lacey, who was in the first Broadway musical I saw (Jerry Herman's The Grand Tour) played Sandra Crane beautifully. It's not that large a role, but it didn't matter. Bernadette Peters, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines, Jan Maxwell- I've seen them all before, but I don't think I've ever seen them this good.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Journey into the Past

Every time I am afraid that I have exhausted Stefan Zweig's novels, I manage to turn up another. The two best places to find them are at Shakespeare & Company in Vienna (it is quite easy to spend a lot of time and Euros there), and at St. Mark's Bookshop in the Village (equally distracting, but they have much better sales. I always find something good).
I recently finished reading "Journey into the Past," by Zweig (translated by Anthea Bell). I have read several wonderful novels published by the New York Review of Books in the past years; it makes me feel guilty about not subscribing.
All of Zweig's work deals with loss, the novels as much as his autobiography, "The World of Yesterday." I have a ratty old paperback of it, bought from a sale rack of a now defunct bookstore on East 23rd Street. Zweig's lost world came to an end in 1914, with the beginning of World War I; not, as one might assume, with his exile from Austria in the 1930s.
The introduction (by Andre Aciman) told me that Zweig published a draft of the story in a fiction anthology in 1929. The longer version (it is 81 pages) was found in typescript in London after Zweig's death. Zweig had given it two titles: "Resistance to Reality" and "Journey into the Past." Zweig's notes indicate that he preferred the latter.
In "Journey into the Past," Ludwig, the male protagonist, must leave the woman he loves (the wife of his employer), with whom he has shared kisses, to work overseas. He gets stuck in Mexico after World War I begins and must remain there. Nine years pass, the war has ended. Ludwig now has a wife and children. He must go to Germany on business (making it 1923, the year of the Beer Hall Putsch).
In the interim, his employer has died, leaving Ludwig's love a widow. The widow and Ludwig meet several times on his journey home. They confront some of the same questions that Gatsby and Daisy do. This couple can no more recreate the past in Germany than their American counterparts could in West Egg. Now, Zweig does not concern himself with money, power and social mobility in American life as F. Scott Fitzgerald did. Zweig does briefly acknowledge the looming threat of fascism and how it will destroy Ludwig's homeland (Zweig was Austrian). But both these writers identify this strange aspect of the human condition: that if we try hard enough we can recreate the past, and that this effort will a. work and b. make us happy. That we believe this is odd enough. But that we believe that it will work, even though we have failed at it before, is the strangest thing of all. To me, that is what makes Zweig's work so accessible. Aciman compares Zweig's ability to show us the most "ineffable states of being" to James Joyce's ending of "The Dead."

Another Happy Student

We continue to gear up for a new round of playwriting classes taught by me at Chelsea Rep LAB. The classes will begin in mid-February. The beginning class meets on Sunday afternoons, 1-4. The advanced class meets on Monday evenings, 7-10. This week, I have been working on the syllabi for both classes. The beginning class will read two of my favorite one-acts: Cheryl Davis' "Child of the Movement" and Richard Hellesen's "Layin' Off the Lizard-Boy." The advanced class is reading full length plays, including Frank Wedekind's "Spring Awakening" and John Webster's "The White Devil" (I like my Jacobean tragedies!).
My student Claudia Anel (nee Tubrides) has written a lovely endorsement of our playwriting program:
"The LAB’s playwriting class is a phenomenal opportunity for anyone interested in developing a playwriting technique. Anne is extremely knowledgable; not only in terms of the actual writing, but also in the history and significance of all the works we studied. She is a stickler for proper form, which is great! What resonated with me the most, as a beginner, was the opportunity to start projects almost every week.
Through different in-class writing exercises and take home assignments, I was able to come up with several ideas that I later developed into one act plays. The reading assignments and in-class critiques set a foundation for analytical thinking that helped me as I worked on re-writes. I felt practicing as a beginner, was the opportunity to start projects almost every week.
I was able to come up with several ideas that I later developed into one-act plays. The reading assignments and in-class critiques set a foundation for analytical thinking that helped me as I worked on re-writes. Finally, I feel students of this class will benefit greatly from the tone set by Anne and the LAB which is one of hard work, mutual support and commitment."

A link to the Lab's website is above (we're working on the page, so the class information may not be up yet- check back in a few day).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Goethe & Muehlbach

I have been working my way through my great grandfather's set of Luisa Muehlbach's historical novels. I recently finished Napoleon and the Queen of Prussia; the copyright year is 1867. This seems to be a later reprint. The novels are very much of their time (no political correctness here, but out of context, there are certainly opinions I don't approve of).
There is a shocking scene where Napoleon and Josephine are arguing, and her little pug won't stop yapping. And he doesn't pick up the dog, or reprimand it. Napoleon crushes the dog's skull with his boot. Needless to say, he's not our hero.
The heroine of the book is the Prussian queen, Louisa. She goes through quite a hard time with the Napoleonic Wars. In Chapter 19 (The Queen at the Peasant's Cottage), Queen Louise recites a verse from Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Goethe's second novel, published in 1796.
Who never ate his bread with tears-
Who never in the sorrowing hours
Of night lay sunk in gloomy fears-
He knows ye not, O heavenly powers!

Wer nie sein Brot mit Thraenen ass,
Wer nie die Kummervollen Naechte
Auf seinem Bette weinend sass,
Der kennt euch nicht, Ihr himmlischen Macht.

Muehlbach's novels are available for free on the web in English and German.

The painting is Goethe in the Roman Campagna, painted in 1786 by Johann Heinrich Tischbein. Goethe loved Italy; there is a museum about his time there in Rome.