Thursday, April 28, 2011


Even before I became involved with the San Francisco Olympians Festival, my family and I were naming our computers after Greek mythology (with one detour into the Hindu pantheon).

My first computer was Athena -- goddess of wisdom.

Then I had Sarasvati -- named after the Hindu goddess of art and literature, whose symbol is the swan.

Next came Orphée -- yes, you read that right, Orphée, not Orpheus. I used the French version of the name because I got the computer when I was in France (Sarasvati having sung her swan song) and was feeling inspired by Cocteau's quasi-mystical belief in the Orpheus legend.

But two weeks ago, Orphée descended into the Underworld and didn't come back, and rather than trying to resuscitate him, I decided it might be time for a new machine. Say hello to Zephyrus.

Zephyrus is a MacBook Air, and I think I'm in love. Who was it that said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?" (I remember being an imaginative little girl, wanting to believe that fairy tales were true, and asking my father "Daddy, do you believe in magic?" And, ever the computer geek, he would reply "Well, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic...") With Zephyrus, it's easy to feel the magic. It's amazing that everything I need or want in a computer can now fit into a machine that weighs less than three pounds. I have visions of myself toting it everywhere, writing in every coffee shop in town.

And as for the name? There are several reasons behind it:
  • The computer is a MacBook Air, and Zephyrus is one of the four winds in Greek Mythology.

  • Zephyrus is the gentle and propitious West Wind, and I live in a city where the wind predominantly comes from the West (and is rarely gentle and often chilling, but oh well).

  • One of our upcoming Olympians plays is about Zephyrus. It falls on the weekend I'm producing, and I'm super excited about it: it's Brideshead Revisited crossed with Greek mythology!

  • It just so happens that I got this new computer in April, and as Chaucer teaches us, there is a link between April and Zephyrus:
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Technical difficulties

I came home on Wednesday night to find that my laptop had died. I'll be getting a new computer to replace it, but not for another week or so. Don't expect any new posts until Monday, April 25 at the earliest.

Happy Easter and Passover!

Friday, April 8, 2011

I Like/Love Theater/re

According to [David Orr, author of the new book Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry], poetry differs from music and stamp collecting in that people’s love for poetry is measurably greater than their love for any other activity. Poetry fans don’t just love poetry a little; they really love it.

To test that hypothesis, Orr went to Google and conducted two different searches, one for “I like X” and one for “I love X,” with X being represented by baseball, cooking, gardening and half a dozen other activities, including movies and poetry. Admittedly, the science behind this research is slightly less complicated than that required to make a lemon meringue pie, but the results are noteworthy. In every instance except two, more people “like” an activity than “love” it; for example, readers of romance novels like that art form 3.36 times more than they love it. The exceptions are poker, which splits 50-50, and — of course — poetry, whose partisans “love” it twice as much as they “like” it.

--David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review

Google hits for "I like theater" = 846,000
Google hits for "I love theater" = 1,320,000
Google hits for "I like theatre" = 867,000
Google hits for "I love theatre" = 424,000

So, like poker, theater/theatre splits 50-50: the "likes" have 1,713,000 hits and the "loves" have 1,744,000 hits. Not a surprise, really; people who enjoy theater tend to be passionate about it, and the casual theatergoer (the person who "likes" rather than "loves" theater) sometimes seems like a dying breed.

We theater artists constantly ask "How can we make other people more excited to see theater?" but it's hard for us to answer that question, because we have trouble putting ourselves in the mindset of someone who isn't excited by theater.

But maybe an analogy between theater and poetry will prove helpful. I confess to not really "getting" or liking most contemporary poetry that I see, and being intimidated by poetry lovers. They all seem to be in some kind of club with arcane rituals and secret codes, and they're not giving me the key -- that is, I feel like I don't have the tools to enjoy or understand these poems.

And, I realize, that's probably how a lot of people feel about theater -- it's a secret club, it's too hard to understand, it's a closed circle full of weirdly passionate people.

So in order to come up with good answers to the question "How can theater lovers make other people more excited to see theater?", maybe I should start by thinking honestly about the question, "What would a poetry lover have to do to make me more excited to read poetry?"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Highly-Anticipated Movie Reviews: "Jane Eyre"

The latest in an occasional series comparing my pre-viewing excitement with post-viewing reality...

Title of movie: Jane Eyre
Reasons for anticipation
: Charlotte Brontë's novel is one of my most cherished books. I have a celebrity crush on Michael Fassbender. I love most of what Focus Features puts out. Win-win-win!

Possible reason
for trepidation: Film adaptations of classic novels have their own pitfalls.

Verdict: It's undoubtedly a well-made film, but (as I feared) I seem incapable of really enjoying adaptations of my favorite books.

Elaboration: Well, maybe I shouldn't have reread Jane Eyre and had it fresh in my mind before seeing the movie. When you're familiar with the original novel, any change that the movie makes -- even if it was a good change -- will take you out of the film.

For instance, the hardest element of the story for a 21st-century audience to accept is the astounding coincidence that the Rivers siblings are Jane's long-lost cousins. So it is probably wise that the film eliminates this; Jane shares her inheritance with the Riverses because she is grateful for their kindness, not because they are related. All the same, this took me out of the film, as I started analyzing the implications of the filmmakers' choice ("Oh, so they're not cousins? Good, that's probably for the best"), rather than staying absorbed in the work of art.

Or, at the end of the film, Rochester loses his eyesight, but not his arm. Objectively speaking, there's no real reason to get outraged about this change -- but when Rochester appeared onscreen in the final scene, all I could think was "What? He's got both hands?!"

Some of the problems I had with the narrative of the Jane Eyre movie can be attributed to the challenges of adapting a long Victorian novel to a feature-length film. For instance, it eliminates the "Grace Poole" subplot (where Jane is misled into thinking that the mysterious goings-on at Thornfield Hall have something to do with the middle-aged servant Grace). A viewer who is unfamiliar with the original novel might be somewhat confused by this elision.

But what surprised me the most about this movie version is how understated it felt. I read an interview where the screenwriter, Moira Buffini, talks about how she sees the story as a "gothic thriller" -- well, then, why get rid of the scene where Bertha Rochester breaks into Jane's room, on the eve of her wedding, and rips her bridal veil in two? Think how cinematic that would be!

Sometimes the understatement was good -- the dark, candlelit cinematography gives you some idea of how it would really feel to live in 1830s England. But very often, the movie is so restrained that it undercuts the drama. Toward the end of the story, St. John pressures Jane to marry him and go to India, and she is on the point of accepting when she (supernaturally) hears Rochester's voice calling her. In the novel, this is a powerful scene, taking place in a dim room, just before sunrise; you feel Jane's anguish, followed by a sense of relief when the disembodied voice rescues her in the nick of time. In the movie, this scene takes place outdoors on a sunny afternoon, and Jane never seems to be in any real danger of succumbing to St. John. And the final scene is surprisingly low-key; Jane and Rochester reunite, but it's muted, tentative. The film doesn't find an analogue for the book's triumphant "Reader, I married him."

Indeed, one further difficulty with Jane Eyre is that the novel is narrated in the first person by a strong, assertive voice. Everyone knows that a movie adaptation of Huckleberry Finn or The Catcher in the Rye would be terrible because it could never capture Huck's or Holden's voice, and I honestly think that Jane Eyre should be put in that category of novels. The movie doesn't use any voice-over narration, which, again, is probably a good choice -- but it means that the Jane of the movie can never be the Jane of the book.

Despite the fact that this adaptation does not allow us to live inside of Jane's head, I liked Mia Wasikowska's performance in the title role. Perhaps there are moments, by firelight, where she looks too beautiful for the part -- but then, firelight is universally flattering, and very few truly plain women are famous actresses by the time they are 20 years old. And I developed an admiration for Wasikowska when I learned that she read Jane Eyre without knowing that a film was in development, realized that Jane would be a great role for her, and lobbied to play it. I feel like many other young actresses cultivate a sexy, glamorous image and would be reluctant to play a plain heroine like Jane. Wasikowska is serious about her craft, which maybe explains her affinity with her serious, observant character.

I think the parts of the novel that people tend to recall most fondly are the scenes between Jane and Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall. This relationship is the heart of the new movie adaptation, too, and come off well in it. Michael Fassbender is an attractive (everyone in the movie theater laughed at the "Jane, do you think me handsome?" "No, sir" exchange), intelligent, and mercurial Rochester. So there are interesting and well-acted scenes here, but I wish the movie had been advertised as what it is -- a character-based romantic drama -- and not as a gothic thriller. Overall, it's a respectable, respectful, low-key attempt to make a movie out of an overstuffed, uncategorizable, fiery book.

Nerdy people who love the book and make similar arguments to me:
"Jane Eyre: Does It Totally Suck? An Argument," Dan Kois and Claire Jarvis, The Awl
"Jane Eyre's Failure to Adapt to the Screen," Chloe Schama and Hillary Kelly, the New Republic
"Tame Jane," Robert Gottlieb, the New York Review of Books blog
"On taking too many liberties with Jane Eyre (and too few with Michael Fassbender)," Sheila O'Malley, Capital New York

Friday, April 1, 2011

Additions to the Blogroll - April

Under the category "Friends' Blogs & Sites": San Francisco Olympians Festival. We've updated the website with information on the plays and playwrights in this year's festival, with even more good things to come as October approaches!

Under the category "Other Blogs I Enjoy": Samantha Ellis. In February, I wrote a blog post highlighting a series of theater history articles that Ms. Ellis wrote for The Guardian in the mid-2000s. Then Ms. Ellis discovered and commented on my post, which led me to check out her blog. Turns out that she is primarily a playwright, not a journalist (no wonder she wrote so well about theater history!) and I love her blog, where she discusses the projects she's working on, the life of a U.K. female playwright, quotes that've caught her attention, etc. Yay, I love the Internet!