Saturday, February 17, 2007

All her toys wore out

Poor chuckling is a hermit, at least a hermit wannabe. Many of my happiest times occurred when I was homeless, living in a tent or a Kombi in a desert, Sonoran or Saharan, or in the deep dark woods of Washington state. My dream for retirement is to go live in a beaten up Airstream parked in a mesquite grove somewhere in southern Arizona or northern Mexico. Unfortunately, my wife does not share that dream, but this is not about that.

It seems counterintuitive to many, but big cities can be good for the hermitic lifestyle. The ability to be alone and invisible in a crowd is one of the things I like best about New York. But as time progresses, I find myself being sucked inexorably into an ever more social world.

I am not a stay-at-home type hermit, not in the desert and certainly not in this city where home is not beautiful. The greatest thing about New York, from a hermit’s perspective, is that there is so much to do. Museums, zoos, botanic gardens, concerts, comedians, circuses, movies, dance, parades and plays. Something is always happening and a companion is rarely necessary.

Chuckling goes regularly to many of these entertainments, I am especially fond of Circus Amok and the Mermaid Day Parade, but to some, such as theater, not nearly enough. One of the advantages of my increasing entanglements with the social lives of others, in conjunction with living in New York, is that I am now regularly invited to events in which people I know are participants. More and more, I am asked to attend the concerts, art openings, seminars, sketch comedies, and plays of friends and acquaintances. For example, although I like going to the theater “in theory,” in practice I don’t go very often. So it is nice when an acquaintance, no matter how slight, suggests I attend some kind of event that I normally would not. It provides that necessary nudge.

Thus it was that I saw the off off Broadway play Los Angeles last night in a small theater in Tribeca.

The worst thing about the play was the location. Tribeca is one of wealthiest zip codes in the United States and the bars suck accordingly. The night was bitterly cold and windy, we had an hour to kill, so we went to the bar nearest the theater, which was one of the crappiest drinking establishments I’ve ever had the misfortune to visit. The decor was fine, a typical New York bar with low, interesting lighting, exposed brick walls, and street punkish art on the walls. But the crowd was the biggest bunch of dweebs you’ll ever find outside of an exclusive country club. Most guys were dressed in some variation of white pants and a pink polo shirt with blue horizontal stripes, a scene I’d thought unimaginable in New York. From the snatches of conversation I heard, I gathered that most of them worked in the television or film industries. There was one guy that I’ve seen regularly on television, but I can’t quite find the name to go with the face. But I think most of them must have worked in marketing or administration. They did not seem like a particularly creative bunch. Early nineties rap was blasting from the sound system. Periodically, a good chunk of the crowd would throw their hands up and go “woooo” when a new song came on. Guys in yellow polo shirts singing “insane in the membrane” is truly a sight to behold. It reminded me so much of Michael Bolton in Office Space. On a lot of nights I would have enjoyed the scene, from an anthropological perspective you understand, but the bartender “jiggered” me and the drinks were expensive. Mercifully, time passed and we walked back around the corner to the theater.

I enjoyed the play. We get so used to seeing two dimensional characters with perfect makeup and airbrushed bodies on a screen that its shocking to experience the presence of real humans with all of their dynamism and imperfections. We were sitting in the second row, which in this particular theater was the back row, so the physicality of the actors was immediate. I say it all the time, but I really do have to get out to more live theater. It’s an entirely different experience.

Perhaps it’s because I go so rarely that I am able, for the most part, to turn off my inner critic and just enjoy the experience. But not entirely. In this case, I recognized the story immediately and was able to predict its arc a few minutes into the first scene. A young couple wants to get out of their hometown and make it big in Los Angeles. It’s obvious that she’s a head case. Hmmmm, I wondered, what would happen? Downward spiral of sex and drugs perhaps?

Of course at this late stage in human society, every story has already been told. The question is not if it has been told, but how it’s being told. What, if anything, makes it stand out. The acting? Direction, lighting, staging? All of those were fine in Los Angeles. As an inexperienced theater-goer, I always find that the actors over-act, but I guess that’s just a part of the theater, the necessity to project emotions out into a crowd. Film permits a lot more subtlety.

The lighting and stage direction were fine. For the most part, I didn’t notice them, which I count as being well done. I was very impressed with the artistry of the final fade out, Perhaps it was a common trick that they do in all plays and I’m just a rube, but the good part of being a rube in that sense is that there is so much more in life to enjoy.

What truly separated Los Angeles from its hackneyed story, for me at least, were the musical interludes. One of the main characters is a singer who appears during scene transitions, which really helps move the play along. She has a good voice and stage presence and the music fits well with the narrative. I’d give a thought here and there to the significance of her presence, but it wasn’t until the end that I had some ideas about it. There was one point where I thought she might be the Angel of Death a la Jessica Lange in All that Jazz, which kind of bummed me out because its been done. Then there was another point where I thought she might represent a guardian angel, which bummed me out for its hokeyness. But ultimately, my inner critic stayed in the background and I was able to enjoy the show.

The last scene did leave a lot up in the air. On one level, it wrapped up the hokey writer's workshop aspect of the plot. But on several other levels it left a weird, unresolved vibe. I didn't really know what to think about it, which is something I count as a very good thing when it comes to art.

And from what I gathered milling around in the after theater crowd, everyone else enjoyed the show as well. A vague, old man smell followed us into the night, but the wind blew it away in no time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Children of idiots

The Guardian reports on a U.N. study on the well-being of children in a study comparing 21 advanced nations.

The UK is bottom of the league of 21 economically advanced countries according to a "report card"' put together by Unicef on the wellbeing of children and adolescents, trailing the United States which comes second to last.

It’s interesting that the countries on the list that finished number 1 and number 2 in warmongering stupidity came in at the bottom for children’s well-being. Just a coincidence no doubt. Or blame it on the liberals. If we had more warmongering stupidity things could be much better. We’d be living in a fucking utopia.

Click on table to see larger image.