Monday, May 25, 2009

Lots of things of less importance

The best laid plans tonight was a post on how much fun Red Noses was and why, and how Enemy Of The People reconfigures the idea of audience participation in both a positive and a negative way, and how Star Trek was amazing (even for a non-Trekkie), Terminator was passable (at best), and Wolverine was disappointing (especially for a man jonesing for some Gambit). Mice and men, y'all.

A few hours ago while at a Memorial Day party, I learned of Chicago character actor extraordinaire -- and I don't use that phrase lightly -- Will Schutz's death at the hands of pancreatic cancer. There was a long moment of silence, primarily because fuck, how else do you respond to news like that, and a cheers in Will's honor. There was sadness. Lots of sadness. There was also laughter. Laughter and memory.

As I'm getting ready to go to bed, I'm browsing Facebook and seeing update after update mourning the tremendous loss that hit the Chicago theatre community today. There is sadness. Lots of sadness. But I know the laughter and memory will follow. That was the side that Will brought out of people.

I never had the pleasure of working on a show with Will, but I did have the pleasure of befriending him, both through my work with the side project and his work with Signal. The loss of talent alone is reason enough for the city to mourn, but it is the loss of personality and humor and, above all, humanity that makes the theatre community bow its head en masse tonight. The man embodied kindness unparalleled. We miss him, and we know we will never meet another like him.

Yeah, Red Noses was fun. Yeah, Enemy Of The People is doing some interesting things. Yeah, I saw a bunch of fucking movies. That's all superfluous tonight. Tonight the core was shaken. Tonight we lost a friend.

Will Schutz is dead. Long live Will Schutz.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, ya feck.

Sure, I'll admit that I know very little about the logistics of blood effects. So tell me this: is it possible that the blood splatter that drenches Mairead after she shoots Padraic in Northlight's The Lieutenant Of Inishmore looking vaguely like a heart could be intentional? If so, special effect artist Steve Tolin is a freaking genius and I bow to him.

Alright, anyone familiar with the production (or even the play): is the grounding X factor I'm still looking for something that's missing from this particular production or is it a missing element in McDonagh's work? I quite enjoyed the entire show, but had one of those didn't know you what you had been missing moments towards the end. The ridiculousness of the IRA/INLA mentality and drive came through loud and clear, but there's a part of me that's picking apart the front end of the script in hindsight trying to find a humanizing factor, a glimpse of an idea that there is a very sensical entry point for us as to why these groups form and continue as well. But I can't quite figure if it's lurking uncovered in there or not. The moment it hit me was Mairead sorrowfully singing the rebel songs after shooting Padraic, creating a perfect balance on stage between the romanticism of The Cause (maintained in the nostalgia of the old songs and so strong that Mairead's list of victims -- starting with those who carelessly brain cats -- takes priority over even her future husband) and the stunning absurdity of the carnage that results in practice. This leads me to believe that the prior uses of the rebel songs may contain more layered discoveries than director BJ Jones and Kelly O'Sullivan as Mairead were able to bring out. What seems at Northlight to be a minor character nuance might just hold the key to our, as an audience, understanding of the appeal behind the violence in these characters. The happier medium of interplay between farcical and bloody short-sightedness and aching necessity in the IRA/INLA portrayal. Or might I be looking for something that McDonagh simply didn't write? Thoughts?


I just finished reading Living by Henry Green. It's a good read, and though it takes a chapter or three to get used to the style and voice, it's worth the effort come the end. It also got me thinking about my taste in the narrative arts. Such is my brain. And as a disclaimer for my brain, I feel the need to point out that I have no formal training in any sort of literary criticism or theory and that when I go off into pontifications about movements and trends in art history, as I am wont and about to do, it is a combination of snippets of info that my sponge of a mind picked up on some random street corner and heretofore crackpot ideas that sprang from my headpan. So grab a couple of grains of salt.

Green is touted as one of the early modernist masters in literature, and while Living is all about class difference, one of the most successful aspects of the book for me is the lack of a proper (i.e. traditional) narrative. A precursor to the jigsaw films so often crashing (pun partially intended) ashore these days, this is the type of modernist tale that springs unpredictably between a bookload of characters, each living their own day to day life in an environment that binds them all. Additionally in Green's novel, characters come and go as he pleases. There are naturally some that maintain prevalence, a semi-familial lower class quartet, for instance, but also some that are set up to be major players only to disappear rather suddenly (the young heir to the foundry setting) and some that simply pop in on and off for a couple of chapters mid-novel and that's it (the heir's love interest). The result is a world of depth and variety and primarily reality; we get to know certain people closely and dearly and only learn snippets -- sometimes only a passing glance -- of others.

The jigsaw film is a touch and go genre for me. I find Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia to be a magnum opus, one of my favorite films of all time, and yet have something more akin to disdain for Paul Haggis' Crash or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel (his work in general for that matter). I believe it has something to do with the purpose towards which the device is put. Because that's merely what it is: a device. The idea that, Hey, we're all connected! is not a revelation. In splintering a narrative and exploring the pieces, an artist can certainly put them back together again, but if that's the only goal, something has been lost. What point is there in the splintering if the main focus is not the individual pieces, but the overall picture? If that's the case, leave the picture the fuck alone and explore it as a whole. If you're going to create slices of individuality, make those slices of individuality the focus (or, if you are putting them back in the process, the places that those slices meet). And woe be to you if, as in Crash, the focus is putting the picture back together again to show us the magical lesson that was there the whole time before you, the artist, obfuscated it for us. Congratulations, convolution wasn't enough, you had to go for condescension as well!

No, I think it is a structure that works best when used entirely without comment, as in Living, or to bring another contemporary film example, Harmony Korine's Gummo. Gummo is not about the interconnectedness of the residents of Xenia, Ohio, and while they are interwined and interactive, they aren't so in a happy wrapping and bow manner. There is incidental and coincidental meeting and there is continuation beyond the meeting and sometimes there is no meeting at all. And the result is a simple snapshot of a lump of people. Observation without moral. For some reason, that outcome has always appealed to me. It's the sort of art that I have always referred to as 'humanistic', not because it reveals any particular human truths, but because it revels in a lack thereof. We watch humans for a while and then, at some perhaps not particularly important point, we are done watching humans. Korine is one of the best at this technique -- this celebration of life.

Any suggestions on playwrights that might fit this bill -- the side of the Venn diagram that includes realists but not moralists? I haven't put much thought in it since writing the above and I'm sure I'm blanking on a ton because my mind instantly wants to weave towards the absurdists. Franz Xaver Kroetz comes to mind, though his work is less a celebration than a meditation and without the splintering, I suppose. Anybody got anything else?

Edit: I just realized this morning that I completely neglected to mention Robert Altman, the master of the modernist film and the missing link in my comparison of Henry Green to the contemporary jigsaw film. PT Anderson gets a lot of flak for cribbing Altman, and the comparison is more than fair, but I think that Korine has more of Altman's spirit, if less of his technique; a traditionalist approach to the style, in which the interconnectedness of the characters functions as a frame more than a character itself.


Hey New Yorkers! I can't be a good friend and go see my once upon a roommate's show because I'm one of those halfway across the country types, but you can! Here's a quick plug for Wide Eyed Productions' One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, playing until May 24th at the Richmond Shepard Theater in NYC. I can't speak for the production, 'cause I haven't seen it, but I can tell you that the amount of talent in the roles of McMurphy and Cheswick is pretty extreme. So check it out and report back to me, 'cause I can't, boohiss.


The latest addition to the "I might have to cross it off the To Use Artistically list, because there's no way I can top this" file: The American Dollar's Anything You Synthesize. The video already wins. Over everything. Check it, and make it full screen:


Ohmigod, a five parter!

This weekend is all Brodie all the time. You know why? We're closing on Saturday! You know what that means? All you slackers better get your tickets now, because you've only got three more chances to see it before we tear this mother down! Go here. Get tickets. See the show. I'm working box on Thursday and will be there on Saturday, but I see that as no reason to discriminate against Friday, ya punks. See you there!