Sunday, September 30, 2012

Upstairs at the Duplex

The overhead light in one of the only two bathrooms at the Duplex was out.  A woman stepped forward and said, “Wait!  I have an app for that!”  She pulled her boyfriend into the small bathroom to hold the smartphone “flashlight” for her. 

This was an apt prelude to the Duplex cabaret’s offering of Social Intercourse, which — as creator/director Lisa Moss instructed us — is not about what you think.  Social media, and some forms of technology, have fostered a lack of face to face contact.  Social Intercourse talks about cellphones, voicemail, email, and, of course, Facebook.  You see it yourself — even a couple walking down a street together aren’t in touch:  One’s talking on the cellphone, the other’s texting as they just miss walking in front of a bus.  Got a technology gripe?  Social Intercourse has it covered with music and laughter.

Creator Lisa Moss put her time  in corporate purgatory to good use, collecting the funny emails that have made the rounds of the Internet over the past 15 years.  With jokes, skits, and appropriate songs collected for the purpose, she compiled Social Intercourse, then cast some talented singer/actors to offer it to the cabaret crowd. 

Friday night was the second time I’d seen the program, and the cast was even tighter than before.  SI” includes group songs, solos and duets, with some non-musical skits and jokes interspersed.  For an hour, the audience laughed over the next lines, applauded the sad sacks, the lovers, the anxious, the angry, the needy, and the negligent.  Once that delightful hour was done the director’s voice introduced her cast, so I could tell you that:  Tim Marriott did a terrific job with the sole ballad in the play, a wistful country style song called “Austin” which dealt with the oldest technology of the evening — an answering machine.  Remember them?  Facebook got a lot of play with an early song called “My Simple Request,” another song in the middle of the show called “The Facebook Song” (hilariously performed by Katie Mack, who does a great misery face); another angry song called “Facebook” sung with power and emotion by the delicious Rebecca Geggatt.  Facebook even got the closing number, performed by the entire cast.  We all laughed immoderately. 

The perpetually dizzy Jillene Johnson sang about her Gambian boyfriend in “He’s For Real,” and we watched her possibly “Breaking Up” with her boyfriend — sung by Mr. Marriott — over cellphones that kept hitting dead spots.  Miss Johnson’s acting made up for the moments her singing voice wasn’t quite up to the task of these complex songs.  Charles Marleau’s powerful voice and comic timing serve the audience in a song about how one’s “Online” personality may differ from reality, and another song about the perils of internet theft.  The non-musical skits are just hilarious.

Producer Thomas Honeck made a guest appearance as an über-frustrated hotel guest, and Musical Director David Sotomayor accompanied his charges beautifully.  Social Intercourse fills the small cabaret space with priceless laughter and song, and therefore needs more performances so more people can enjoy it.  Listen up, Duplex!  Book more shows!

Here’s my program, scribbled on so I could put the names with the voices, faces, and songs:
~ Molly Matera, signing off — and turning off the technology for a while....

Saturday, September 22, 2012

From Gershwin to Glass

Friday to Friday, I saw two musical performances, one 2 ½ hours, one 4 ¼ hours.  Those who know me know I believe most stories can be told within 90 minutes.  OK, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby took longer, but that was special.  OK, Shakespeare usually does, but… well, I just think 90 minutes is perfect.

Nice Work If You Can Get It is a bubble bath, a frothy fuzzy drink, a guilty pleasure.  

Matthew Broderick (center) as Jimmy Winter with the cast of "Nice Work."

In the last several months the production at the Imperial has tightened up so that not a moment goes astray, while all the players are still having a blast, and so is the audience.  Really, who couldn’t enjoy 2 ½ hours of George and Ira Gershwin’s magical music and lyrics, Kathleen Marshall choreography, and the comedy and wonderful voices of Matthew Broderick, Kelli O’Hara, Michael McGrath, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Judy Kaye, Chris Sullivan, and Robyn Hurder.  All the marvelous dancers are so elegant and jazzy and flashy, plus they’re beautifully dressed by Martin Pakledinaz.  If you need to just get away from it all without leaving town, this is the show for you.  It’ll leave you dancing in the street and singing in the rain.


Once a year, I try to see/hear an opera.  Not because I like opera — because I don’t.  I yearn to understand what keeps this archaic form going year after year, century after century.  Kind of like church.  Sure, lots of the music is gorgeous, powerful, sweet, etc.  But those voices.  I don’t like the singing style, with a few exceptions.  But my biggest exception to opera is the never-ending repetition.  Some people use it well.  Most people don’t.  But even Mozart takes over three hours to tell a story that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could — and did — tell with song and dance and laughter in 80 minutes.

So I guess opera isn’t about storytelling.

And in that way, it’s fair to call Einstein on the Beach an opera.  It is billed as an opera, but I beg to differ.  I don’t know what it is, but opera it ain’t.  Yes, there’s lots of choral singing.  There’s lots of music.  And yes it’s very long!  What shall we call it?  A cultural event?  A theatrical program of music and dance, words and numbers — that is, as in numerals.  People speaking or singing numbers.  Gesticulating numbers.  "3."  "1."  "8."  Numbers. "Do re mi fa sol la ti…" yes, that too.  There is no plot — and no one ever pretended there was, so it’s not misleading.  This is about precision, articulation, counterpoint, and an incredible feat of memorization for every member of the company.  At one point in the second courtroom scene, the defendant (the role originated by Lucinda Childs in the Seventies, played sinuously last night by Kate Moran) lies on a “bed” and repeats a sentence 30-40 times.  An odd sentence that becomes mesmerizing.  

There are very talented musicians, dancers, actors, singers at the height of their powers on the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Opera House, but I must mention one who was as mesmerizing as the odd sentence — Antoine Silverman, made up to resemble Albert Einstein, playing a very fine violin.  Exhilarating.

Robert Wilson’s direction and design of this strange piece make it almost seem comprehensible.  It is impossible to walk away from his production without questions buzzing around you, in your head, in the streets, questions. Questions, not just about art, but about the society that generated Wilson, Glass, and Childs as well as Einstein on the Beach.  And questions are good. Lucinda Childs' choreography is stimulating, riveting, and repetitious in the good way.  Her dance company does her proud. 

I do not generally care for the music of Philip Glass, but it all works here.  Not every moment of the 4 ¼ hours (no intermission, but wander off for a while if you must).  But the company of players, the music, the odd words kept me in my seat for most of this performance, and kept my attention for the better part of 3 ½ hours.  Sometimes annoyed.  Sometimes amused.  And I admit to nodding off a few times in the first courtroom scene.  But mostly I was fascinated.  At the 3 ½ hour mark, a particularly silly scene pushed me right out of the performance.  There were no humans involved, you see.  Humans — speaking and moving rhythmically, if nonsensically — are interesting.  They were missing.  The scene that drove me away had a broad bar of light (called the “Bed”) lying horizontal on the dark stage.  Accompanied by harpsichord, the bar went from horizontal to vertical very slowly.  Fifteen minutes of that.  During which I decided, “Now you’re messing with me.”  So I got up and went to the Ladies Room. 

The Cast of Einstein on the Beach.  (c) 2012.  Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But that’s OK.  I do think Einstein on the Beach was a seminal work, artistically revolutionary, and we can see how much it has influenced artists in all media in the 30-odd years since Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, and Lucinda Childs collaborated to create something life-changing.  And I must thank them for it. 

This is an immense production touring the globe, at BAM for just two more performances.  Meanwhile, I suspect I'll spend some time revisiting some of those four acts on YouTube.

~ Molly Matera, signing off, chastened, tired, confused, but happy.  And Happy Autumn Equinox to us all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Inglorious Summer… Ends

Moon over Montauk

It’s been a weird couple weeks.  Well, month. 

In August, I learned of three deaths.  Not the usual celebrity deaths of people we don’t actually know and who are way older than my friends and myself.  No.  Closer.  First an old friend, teacher, mentor.  He’d been ill — various — for some time, so the email from his grown children wasn’t a surprise, exactly.  More like, I was due to give Robert a call, and now I’m too late.

The next day, my friend Horvendile informed me of the death of a newer friend, ill for a shorter period of time.  A lovely man, a man of the theatre and the world.  A mentor to many.  I was glad to have had him in my life, albeit for too short a time. 

That weekend I learned of my third:  a woman I’d worked with a quarter century ago, when I still worked in juvenile publishing.  She and I shared a room at my first and only science fiction convention, outside Philadelphia, decades ago.  She gave me freelance work reading and reporting on over-the-transom manuscripts.  Josepha had friends throughout the publishing industry, in various genres, and my long-ago memories of her were good ones.  That she’s gone is shocking. 

That’s how August ended.  I started September by going on vacation to my favorite spot out in Montauk.  Favorite is a silly word — it implies a vast knowledge of spots, people, books, whatever, from which to choose.  I haven’t been so many places that the Atlantic Terrace in Montauk being my favorite for a relaxing, totally laid back vacation is meaningful or measurable.  Nonetheless, it was the right place at the right time for me this year.

Tuesday, 4 September

It had rained hard as I drove east on the LIE, visibility distressingly low. My audio-book purchase was validated.  Allyson Ryan’s recording of a charming children’s book (Suddenly Supernatural by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel) was a comfort, if it did pull my attention from the dull road on occasion! The storm lessened to nothing as I turned off the expressway, onto Suffolk 111 south down to Montauk 27. 

Traffic was light after the Labor Day weekend, and I made good time until I stopped at “Lunch” (a.k.a. Lobster Roll restaurant ) between Amagansett and Montauk and had my first fish meal of vacation.  It’s such a comfortable place, with music of my youth playing not too loud, no one rushing me over my lobster roll and slaw and good fries. 

I had requested the ocean-facing room with the most light — a window in the wall facing southwest (ish) in addition to the balcony looking out on the ocean.  I could lie on the bed and see a show of seagulls swooping and gliding outside that window, coming in low, then veering south or upward at the last moment.  Missing my cats, at least I could watch the gulls, and listen to their calls outside between poundings of the surf onto the shore.  They would have been fascinated by the roar of the surf — Wilbur would be under the bed, of course, but eventually he’d stand with his hind feet on the dresser and peer out the side window. 

Wednesday 5 September

I woke two hours after hitting the snooze.  I heard a cat breathing around me, but no weight rolled onto my head as she settled.  I heard a cat crying outside, then realized it was a child screching as the waves bounded up the shore toward her.  She ran behind her father, who carried another child on his back.  Montauk.

The ocean was rough, moving inexorably up the shore.  Perhaps that’s why I dreamt of being out there, happily diving through one large wave only to be caught by the next that followed close upon.

People are in the pool, adults and children, children taken out of school during the first week so they could go on vacation.  Odd.  To me.  The wind was hearty but warm.  The cloud cover was heavy, the outcropping to the southeast a blur.  A patch of sun a quarter mile out on the surface of the sea looked manmade. 

A young fellow flew a kite, with intensity.  A gull opposite him flapped violently, fighting the wind before it could settle where it chose among its cohorts.  I’d thought for a moment the man was working a kite that looked like a gull landing, so in synch were their actions.

A boxer pup evaded his human’s camera and watched the kite flyer, who landed his black and red and purple kite precisely.  It was not shaped like a gray gull.  A female in a pink hoodie walked toward the water with the dog running to keep up with her on its stubby little legs.  When she stopped reading her phone, she tried to take a picture.  To the dog, it must have seemed its human was not only looking at him but pointing her toy at him, that toy that takes all her attention away from him, so he walked right to her, spoiling her shot.  Which makes me think of Dashiell, dead 15 years at least, who always did the same thing.  Sweet cat that he was, he’d walk right to me, ruining the focus. 

When I finally went for a walk to town, I was in the wrong shoes.  My left heel had started bothering me over the weekend — for "bothered," read "hurt.Stretching it hadn’t helped yet.  Nor did Dr. Scholl’s Comfort Fit Orthotic Inserts.  It started to rain on my way back, and I took off my shoes to walk along the shore toward the east.  Ah.  The only time my heel didn’t hurt was when it sank into the sand.

The fog made the distance fuzzy.  There was a new ridge of sand on the beach; the storms must have been worse out here than in the boroughs.  A spot I walk by each visit, and photograph each visit, was dry, but different.  It’s been wearing down gradually for years, with run-off from storms carving a slope into the beach itself.  It appears to have fallen down aggressively since last time I was here.  That was just 11 months ago.  I must compare the photos. 

Thursday 6 September

I walked to the post office to mail my postcards to friends’ children, then couldn’t keep away from Montauk’s tiny bookstore.  With the clear exception of the front bay window, the small space is lined with shelves, from floor to ceiling, back to front.  I always stop by here and always find something I must have, despite the books already in my hotel room (not to mention my home).  I walked back past what used to be Nick’s and is now Sloppy Tuna.  Instead of gourmet meals of Nick’s (which were rich and delicious), simpler fare is now offered there, and I went back in the evening for a light meal and a drink overlooking the sea.  Nicely redone interiors and exterior, great view as the sun sets behind the diners and twilight falls onto the sea — but the food was nothing special. 

8 September

On my last night I had a nice meal at Shagwong.  On my last morning, I swam in the pool for half an hour or so before heading home.  Television news said a storm was heading in.  When I stopped in Amagansett at the farmer’s market, my friend called to tell me there were tornado warnings.  The drive home was windy but without precipitation — the tornados touched down on the south shore of Queens, nowhere near me.  Lucky again.

12 September

Settling back in to real life.  Back to work, back to laundry, back to cooking and doing my own vacuuming. 

Last night, I read an article — well, not so much an article as an opinion piece, I suppose — in the New Yorker that basically told me that I, as a woman who is not a mom, am extraneous.  Swell.  There’s a rude gesture I could make to any society that labels me “extraneous.”  My vacation relaxation is now officially gone.  Summer is over.  Moving on to the winter of my discontent, it’s time to immerse myself in the new theatre season so as to avoid my immaterial, inessential inner thoughts.

~ Molly Matera, signing off.  Extraneously.