Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Super Bowl City" (With Apologies to David Bowie)

This beautiful Mid-Century Modern office building in downtown S.F. has been temporarily defaced with an image of the Super Bowl Trophy.

Buses in downtown San Francisco are being rerouted, huge tacky signs are everywhere, millions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled toward corporate interests and the celebration of a dangerous sport, and pretty much everyone I know is pissed off. This Newsweek article gives a good overview of the many reasons why San Franciscans are so annoyed about the "Super Bowl City" events going on in our town, despite the fact that the actual Bowl is being played fifty miles to the south of us, in Santa Clara.

Meanwhile, I've dealt with my frustration in the only way I know how: writing a song parody.

"Super Bowl City" (To the tune of "Suffragette City")

Hey man
Why am I making a fuss? You know
Hey man
Well, they re-routed my bus, I'm gonna--
Hey man
No I'm not gonna calm down
'Bout Super Bowl City taking over my town

Hey man
Five million misspent!
Hey man
Won't repay a cent
Hey man
Well, this is total flimflam
They said it would bring tourists, but it, and then it--

Aw, Ed Lee is the man we can blame because he rigged it
We got Super Bowl City
Ed Lee is the man and I know where he can stick it
You know this Super Bowl City
Is full of graft
We got the shaft

Hey man
They're building big ugly signs, go 'way
Hey man
And giving homeless guys fines, no way
Hey man
They're saying, don't crash here
There's only room for tourists
Here they come, here they come

Aw, Ed Lee is the man we can blame because he rigged it
We got Super Bowl City
Ed Lee is the man and I know where he can stick it
You know this Super Bowl City
Is full of graft
We got the shaft

A Super Bowl City, a Super Bowl City
I'm talkin' Super Bowl City
I'm talkin' Super Bowl City
Super Bowl City
Super Bowl...

Wham, bam, what a scam!

Super Bowl City...
Super Bowl City...

Monday, February 1, 2016

"I must help the dolphins, and their tender hearts"

My performance as an intense French marine biologist talking about dolphin sex in a staged reading last November has been preserved for posterity:

Watch it, if not for my French accent and confessions to carnal acts with a cetacean, then for Nora Doane's spot-on and hilarious Miley Cyrus impression.

Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party by Anthony R. Miller
Staged reading on November 18, 2015 as part of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, directed by Colin Johnson
Actors: Jeremy Cole (Pastor Jeremiah Hannah), Nora Doane (Miley Cyrus), Jacque Frankle (Mabel Johnson), Colin Hussey (Doctor/Reporter), Eden Neuendorf (Tish/Stage Directions), Nickolas Rice (Ronnie Santini), Marissa Skudlarek (Professor Renelle Fouché), Kitty Torres (Judy Johnson)
Videography by Paul Anderson

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Four By Euripides

Considering my years-long involvement with a Greek-mythology theater festival and my years-long obsession with Donna Tartt's The Secret History, it's shameful to admit that I didn't read Bacchae till last July. And additionally a bit strange to write a review of these plays six months after reading them. Ah well...

 Euripides V: Bacchae, Iphigenia in Aulis, The Cyclops, RhesusEuripides V: Bacchae, Iphigenia in Aulis, The Cyclops, Rhesus by Euripides
Bacchae and Cyclops translated by William Arrowsmith
Iphigenia in Aulis translated by Charles R. Walker
Rhesus translated by Richmond Lattimore
edited by David Grene, Richmond Lattimore, Mark Griffith & Glen W. Most

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting mix of plays, displaying variety even while working within the limits and conventions of Greek drama. Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis are two of the last plays Euripides wrote—Bacchae has strong horror elements to it, while Iphigenia in Aulis is more of a traditional tragedy in which noble figures face agonizing choices. Cyclops is the only extant Greek satyr play, a burlesque of the episode in The Odyssey where Odysseus must save his men from a man-eating cyclops. And Rhesus is a wartime tragedy set in Troy, which may or may not have actually been written by Euripides.

I found Iphigenia in Aulis the most well-plotted, psychologically penetrating, and downright tragic of these plays, as the characters go back and forth on whether to sacrifice Iphigenia. Bacchae is also great, especially its choral hymns in praise of Dionysus' mountainside cult and wild rites. Euripides makes clear why so many people are drawn to Dionysus, as well as the terrible costs of denying his energies.

Rhesus did not hold my attention nearly so well, perhaps because its stakes are lower. It's the story of a noble prince of Thrace, who comes to aid the Trojans, but is ambushed and killed by Greek spies before he can do anything. Sure, that's not a happy story, but it's not nearly so tragic as tearing your son limb from limb while under the influence of religious mania (Bacchae) or being forced to kill your daughter in order to ensure a favorable wind to sail to Troy (Iphigenia in Aulis).

As this was my first time reading all of these plays, I cannot comment much on the translations, though I did find the Rhesus translation a bit awkward—it refers several times to a soldiers' "bivouac," and that word took me right out of the play.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 Ends, 2016 Begins on the Theater Pub Blog

I sang in the Theater Pub holiday musical this year, too! This is Stuart Bousel and me as the Specialist and his Assistant in "Go To The Mirror," from Tommy. Photo by Paul Anderson.
Time for another round-up of my contributions to the San Francisco Theater Pub blog over the past few months.

In early December, my fellow Theater Pub blogger Ashley Cowan and I teamed up for a special two-part piece looking at the ups and downs of being a tall actress. (I'm 5'8", Ashley is 5'9".) We interviewed other tall ladies and shared some of our own stories about typecasting and insecurities, triumphs and inspirations. Ashley's Part One; my Part Two.

Theater Pub's year-end tradition is to ask each blogger to contribute a Top 5 list. This time around, I chose to write about five delightfully surprising performances that I saw onstage in 2015, from Bay Area actors Madeline H.D. Brown, Adam Magill, Heather Orth, Thomas Gorrebeeck, and Siobhan Marie Doherty.

For the second year in a row (see my acceptance speech from last year), my friend Stuart Bousel cited me in his annual "Stuey Awards" honoring Excellence in Bay Area Theater. My 2015 Stuey is shared with everyone who worked on the Olympians Festival staged reading of Tethys and Oceanus -- which I was nervous as hell about, but came off really beautifully. I don't quite agree with Stuart's conclusion that Tethys "feels like it could be lifted and fully produced as-is," but I'm flattered that he thinks so, and the success of the reading has definitely made me excited to continue working on this script. Stuart also gave a brief nod to our rock-music duet in Tommy -- ha!

I began 2016 by writing about one of the best books I read in 2015: the memoir How To Be a Heroine, by my friend, the playwright Samantha Ellis. In particular, I was drawn to the sections of Samantha's book where she describes the tensions between being a people-pleasing good girl and being a self-actualized artist. I recommend it to any female artist who's working through those types of issues.

This week, because Theater Pub is currently producing short plays inspired by the indie-rock musician Morrissey (two performances left! See it Monday or Tuesday evening), I decided to look at the flip side of that. That is, I highlighted four indie-rock songs inspired by theater, by the Decemberists, the Magnetic Fields, St. Vincent, and the Weakerthans.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"Mustang" and the cinema of sisterhood

I admit I have a kind of reflexive habit to root for France when they are nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. I’m a Francophile, France tends to make good movies, they haven’t won Best Foreign Film in over twenty years, so why not root for them?

This year, though, I’ll be rooting for France out of something more than habit. Yesterday I went to see their nominated film, Mustang, and found it a lovely and accomplished piece of cinema. Moreover, it feels like an important film: an unabashedly feminine and feminist work, and one of the only female-directed films to score any Oscar nominations this year. (The only other nominations for female-helmed films are are three Documentary Shorts, one Documentary Feature, and a Best Song nod for Fifty Shades of Grey.) I am impressed with France for choosing a Turkish-language, Turkish-set film by a first-time director for their Oscar submission, and impressed that the Academy nominated it.

Mustang is the story of five sisters, ranging in age from maybe 11 to 17. Their parents are dead and they live with their grandmother and uncle in a small town on the Black Sea. (An incidental pleasure of Mustang was learning how beautiful this part of the world is, with rugged wooded mountains above smooth blue waters.) After the girls are caught horsing around with boys at the beach, their relatives lock them in the house, remove anything that might “corrupt” them, and set about trying to marry them off. But the girls fight back and sneak out and engage in many acts of overt and covert defiance. Their willpower and love and loyalty and lust for life cannot be contained.

So yes, there’s more than a hint of “what if The Virgin Suicides, but Turkish,” about this set-up. But then again, despite its female director, The Virgin Suicides is really a study of the male gaze, the fascination that the neighborhood boys have for the beautiful but inaccessible Lisbon sisters. Whereas Mustang is a wonderful example of the female gaze in cinema. It’s narrated by Lale, the youngest sister. Moreover, as a woman, Deniz Gamze Ergüven is able to film these teenage girls in a way that honors their beauty and their power but never feels the least bit prurient or exploitative. And, while the situation of the Mustang sisters is much worse than that of the Virgin Suicides girls (no one ever threatened to marry the Lisbon sisters off against their will) they fight back more fiercely, they do not succumb to despair.

It’s a simple, fable-like story, but very well told. The climax is super tense and there were gasps in the movie theater at several moments when the girls were in danger. There’s also some interesting commentary on how older women often keenly enforce patriarchal values but on occasion will support the girls’ rebellion.

And, okay, since I self-produced a play in the summer of 2014 about beautiful long-haired young sisters struggling against patriarchal expectations (in fact my play’s poster has some similarities to the Mustang poster), this movie hits a particular soft spot of mine, but I can’t remember the last time I saw such a powerful depiction of sisterhood in cinema.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"O Come O Come El Niño" (With Apologies to John Mason Neale*)

A torrential wind- and rainstorm woke me up this morning--the best kind of weather to wake up to, frankly--and inspired me to compose a brief song parody while brushing my teeth. A hymn that expresses the prayer in the heart of every citizen of this drought-ridden state.
O come, O come, El Ni-i-i-i-ño
And drop your load of ra-a-ain and snow
We parch in thirst and wo-o-rry here
Until your clouds and sto-o-orms appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! El Ni-i-i-i-ño
Shall come to make the ri-i-i-vers flow.
*Per Wikipedia's** insanely thorough article about "O Come O Come Emmanuel," John Mason Neale wrote the familiar English lyrics for this song (adapting the Latin "Veni Veni Emmanuel").

**Wikipedia has beguiled me and educated me and (because I often write plays about obscure mythological or historical figures) it has saved my ass so many times. They're having their annual fundraiser right now; I just donated and you should too.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"How To Tell If You're In a Stoppard Play" Now Up at The Toast!

The Toast illustrated my piece with a still from the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern film, but this is my blog so I'm illustrating it with a picture of Rufus Sewell as the original Septimus Hodge. You're welcome.

This is the "fun piece" I alluded to this morning!

For The Toast's famed How To Tell If You're In a Novel series, I wrote and submitted How To Tell If You Are In a Tom Stoppard Play.

The piece begins:
You have devoted your life to translating Ovid, but your guilty pleasure is ‘60s bubblegum pop. 
You are a young woman who’s not shy about displaying her intellectual gifts or her perky breasts.
Thinking of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, you burst into tears.
And continues with many more items of Stoppard-related literary criticism in the guise of silly jokes.

This piece is, I believe, the first thing I've ever written for the Internet that I'm getting paid for, and I couldn't be more thrilled to have that happen with a bunch of Tom Stoppard jokes. I also think I talk more about sex here than I customarily do, and again, I'm amused that this is what it takes to get me to write about sex.

The piece also seems to have found its audience -- closing in on 3,000 social media hits as I write this --  which is so flattering and gratifying. I love that so many of the people who've shared this piece said something like "I always knew I was a Stoppard character" -- I've always intended that as the subtext of the piece: if you love Stoppard's work, if you think these jokes are funny, you're probably a lot like a Stoppard character yourself.

All of the Toast's commenters have been lovely and smart and supportive too -- if only the whole world could be like the Toast's comments section! I'm especially pleased that the "bad Czechs" joke is getting so much love, because it's the last item I added to the piece, after a late night of drinking hot toddies and thumbing through my Collected Works of Stoppard. (After I submitted the first draft, the editor asked me to make it longer, and I feared I didn't have any more good jokes left in me.) And to the person who commented "Somehow this is both a devastating skewering of Stoppard's tropes and a heartening reminder of his genius" -- yep. That's what I was aiming for, and I'm so glad I may have hit the target.

Further reading:
Wishing you a happy and delightfully nerdy December!