Just Start It

You ever wanna just write and you don’t write? You sit and stare at a computer screen, or let tab after tab multiply at the head of your browser. I really think the “Open in a new tab” option is the worst and best, and then worst again, thing that’s ever happened to internet browsing and procrastination everywhere.

Thank good shit for deadlines.

I loved Hunter S as a kid when I first discovered this literary, counterculture rebel. The 1990’s were a hard and confusing for me a kid, hating popular culture in every form. Bad sitcoms, terrible movies, and boy bands. Fucking god, what was with boy bands.

But when I found Hunter at an age when I was too young to really understand him, his ferocious staccato word choice had such teeth and venom. His ideas about truth in fiction and 1st person narrative spat in the face of everything I understood. And I stood up and screamed for more.

As a man, too, he seemed a figure alone. He hated rules and deadlines and most constraints. But I think for me, the constant pressure of a hard two hours to get 700 of the best words I had made them that much better. You couldn’t agonize or self-edit internally. You’d drown in your own spittle first. And not school deadlines. Turning some buzzingly lettered essay before 11:59pm was never satisfying. Maybe in retrospect, you would peek back at the wordy monster vomited up by desperate synapses when you got to see whatever arbitrary grade it received. Maybe then you could take a little random pride in how it “wasn’t too bad, all things considered.”

No, it was the pressure of professional writing and its tantalizing publication that got me there. I feel my overall experience was a bit hampered by largely writing theater criticism or reviews or whatever the most appropriate terms are. Sure, I got to write the odd column or be more creative in certain pieces. Mostly I feel like I got Albuquerque theater people to dislike me real good, with maybe a few who I liked what I was doing.

But sometimes you get stuck, right? Creatively bankrupt is a bit harsh, but I feel a pretty common experience is sitting and staring at a blank paper or canvas or screen. I had to teach myself not to do that. And I did this by learning to start, even if I didn’t know where I’d finish or where the next step would be. That, my friends, is what editing is for. Once you have the pieces, you can pass them around, really making the connections you want. And knowing that you’re at the top of hill, staring down in fear at the precipitous slope below, is where the battle can only begin. Knowing you really can start running and that gravity won’t make you crash immediately on your face is as freeing as anything else. You CAN make it. You have it in you. Once you get the pace thought by thought, you start coasting– comfortably, even. Inertia is the most powerful creative force you can possibly have.

But if you don’t start, you’ll be at the tippy, static top, staring at a blinking cursor.

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“Theatre of the Oppressed” Uplifting

How does one make art and be socially conscious? Well, make socially conscientious art.

Theatre of the Oppressed is style of socially conscious interactive improv created by Brazilian director, artist and activist Augusto Boal in the mid-twentieth century. Working Classroom, a non-profit corporation, has created a presentation of that work as a joint effort with El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, an organization which works to defend rights for Latino immigrants. Normally, Theatre of the Oppressed is centered on a theme or social issue the performers wish to explore and is collaboratively decided. This time, oddly enough, the subject was the rights of Latino immigrants.

I last went to Working Classroom to view ¡Bocon!, a brilliant, sharply-made performance of children not making children’s theatre.

As I looked around the audience, it was gratifying and a bit relieving to not recognize a single face. No one even looked familiar. There were families everywhere populated largely by chaotic ninos.

As “tight knit’ as the Albuquerque theatre community is, it is as always a remarkably niche scene. There’s very little transience for the talent or audience members, and especially very little new blood or interest.

It was clear to me that audience was not full of “theatre people,” that is, the sort of people in Albuquerque actually go to see plays. It is a very specific group. Never does a person who’s never had the thought before in their life suddenly say, “You know what. I think I’ll go out tonight a see a play! I wonder that’d be like. Let’s go check out the local paper and see what manner of live performance might be available for tonight’s viewing…”

And yet, this manner of theatre is exactly the kind that needs to reach every kind of person, especially those who don’t go and seek it out.

Theatre of the Oppressed more or less works like this: after the central idea is established, an officiator addresses the audience directly, in this case Working Classroom Outreach Coordinator/Public Ally/AmeriCorps Intern Joel Garcia. There will be short scenes, usually dialogues, where the central conflict involves the social issue at hand. After the scene plays out with an ultimately negative conclusion, the players reset and the officiator allows audience members to step in. The volunteer simply shouts out, and then replaces the character being oppressed. The oppressor and the new person then improvise the dialogue as the audience member attempts to enact a solution to the problem.

Also, the whole thing was in Spanish.

It’s difficult for me to express how elegant, simple and amazing I think this structure is. It would take far more than the 700 words I have here to explain the power and profundity I feel it has.

I’ll just mention one.

The entire audience is constantly and immediately engaged with the subject matter. When the officiator asks the audience for solutions, he or she is addressing every individual person. And when a single person actually steps up to the stage and takes charge, the remaining audience members, even those who have no desire to get up in front of other people, may still engage, personally imagining themselves in the situation and inventing what they might do.

Theatre of the Oppressed not only encourages social consciousness and solutions. It requires them.

The cast comprised female employees of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos. Clearly, they weren’t trained actors. But, again, that’s part of what made the whole thing so good. These were real people exploring real problems that real people face. But purely as performers, the women did exceptionally well.

The more I learn about Working Classroom, the more I like it. They need more attention, more audience members, more students, more anything. Even in a town like Albuquerque inundated with theatre after theatre, Working Classroom thoroughly stands out.

Why don’t people know about this place? Working Classroom educates “historical ignored communities” about art which is smart and dedicated to making the world better for the people who live in it.

What could be better than that?

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For more information on Working Classing and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, visit their websites at http://www.workingclassroom.org/ and http://elcentronm.org/

One of the Worst Fucking Edit Jobs on my Articles Ever

So, Steve Martin wrote a play.

Yes, THE Steve Martin. And, it’s hilarious.

It is the imagined meeting of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, each in their early twenties, who happen into the same bar in Paris in 1904.

Thus: “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

The two battle over the “superiority” of Art v. Science, then ultimately conclude that the ideas are very much the same and become fast friends.

The barflies stare in awe at what they’ve seen. But there has to be a triptych, with a final point to the triangle. If these two men are going to change the 20th century, who is the third?

And then the punchline walks out of the bathroom.

Full disclosure, I performed in the Aux Dog’s production of this play four years ago. This, of course, doesn’t mean that every production has to be the same. That is the joy of theatre. It is the differences and chances to make bold decisions. And there really is no such thing as a “definitive” version.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is fantastic, clever, insightful script, with of both the best of both high and lowbrow humor. Anyone who hasn’t seen it performed should definitely go give it watch.

As the Vortex’s flagship production in their brand new performance space, it has quite the burden of expectation. While the play overall is a grand time and enjoyable experience, there is certainly some roughness around the edges that does not sink the performance, but speaks to missed opportunities.

What best describes these faults are a lack of “attention to detail.”

This is not because jokes always have to be delivered the same way in order to be funny. But the play suffers if so much is ignored.

At the most basic level, the pacing of the Vortex’s production drags. Energy is low and the play is slow because of it. The script is short and full of snappy quips. The bar hardly seems “alive” most of the time. Far too often, the actors are just dutifully repeating one line after another, and then sitting and waiting for their next.

They don’t have to drag focus. But silent moments like those across the bar between Picasso (played by H. Grey Blanco) and Suzanne, the sexy young conquest of Picasso’s desires (played by Evening Star Barron), are few and far between.

Some performances are through the roof, blasted to orbit, and happily chucking jokes down at us from space. Mario Cabrera, Micah McCoy, and Paul Hunton each come rocketing onstage, instilling the play with sudden fun, energy, and invention.

Since there is such a significant dissidence between these performances and others, it leads me to believe there was a light touch from director Martin Andrews.

Actors like Cabrera, McCoy, and Hunton clearly have strong comedic instincts. But if other actors are struggling with what to do, it is the director’s job to notice and address these issues.

Leigh-Ann Santillanes is a fine actor, demonstrated by her artful handling of her monologue about “men like you.” But for most the play, she is completely unengaged from Freddy, her husband, (well-played by the nutty Nathan Chavez) as well as most of what goes in the play.

There is plenty to be explored about these characters who are not towering figures of humanity history, and it is unfortunate that they seem to be neglected.

Likewise, Jeremy Gwin plays the heady Albert Einstein though spends much of his extensive time onstage staring off and looking bored.

These issues are much like the set itself– it is wide, echoy, busy with nicknacks and crap. It hardly looks like a bar. Why are there pink legs onstage? Well, why the hell not!

Mostly, it feels excessive and like no one bothered to stop and question it. If there is such a kitschy feel to this bar, I want to know why. And I want people to interact with the many objects scattered across the set.

The costumes are another odd example of this. Nearly every costume pops with lavish love given to fine dresses and dapper suits– every costume except Picasso’s, who looks like a cheap cartoon from a racist age of animation.

It is possible to criticism a piece of media and still enjoy it. If you see “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, you, too, will enjoy it. It is stagnant and a little slow, but delightful and clever.

We could all be so lucky.

 

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http://www.dailylobo.com/article/2014/09/graham-play-review

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Picasso at the Lapin Agile

by Steve Martin
Directed by Martin Andrews
The Vortex Theatre
(New location)
2900 Carlisle NE

Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 pm, Sundays, 2:00 pm
Runs through September 28
$22 General Admission
$15 Students with valid ID
For More Information call (505) 247-8600 or visit http://www.vortexabq.org

 

 

No Love Lost over “The One I Love”

This movie clearly demonstrates that the Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic system is broken.

This is the worst science fiction film since “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.” This movie makes “Howard the Duck” look like “Blade Runner.”

“The One I Love”? More like “The One I Shove” in front of a bus.

It’s an abysmal movie. Don’t see it. Unfortunately, I did, so I’m going to very specifically and carefully explain how and where it sucked the most balls.

Premise: a couple is having marriage problems, so their counselor sends them on a couples retreat. There are two houses on the property, and when they enter the guesthouse one at a time, they each discover an idealized version of their spouse.

Eventually, they realize that the entities of the guesthouse are not their actual spouses, and, understandably, freak out and leave. But the Idiot Logic takes place when they, predictably, decide to go back for no reason other than to allow the movie to continue.

This film has many devastating problems. Perhaps its biggest is that the movie is so… obvious. From the progression of the dramatic story beats to the flow of the dialogue in each scene to the movie’s attempt at cerebral relationship commentary lite, it’s practically dutiful in its slow execution of monotonous drudgery.

At the ground level, the movie’s largest failing and most aggravating feature is the lack of a script. Each scene is painfully, loosely-structure, obvious improvisation.

The actors were clearly given simple objectives they’d have to reach, but instead of it seeming natural, the actors fill the verbal space with meaningless chatter until they thud awkwardly into obvious plot points explained weirdly aloud.

If the couple’s personality traits weren’t already offensive, it only gets worse when you realize they have nothing of value whatsoever to say.

Mostly, the film pretends coyly like it’s not science fiction. In fact, even calling it “science fiction” is giving it far too much credit for the petulant, small-minded ideas it has the gall to expound. 

When a character has the poor taste and lack of restrain to exclaim, “This is just like ‘The Twilight Zone!'” it spelled a death note for the movie at large.

For most of the plot’s slow burn, it’s not clear what the changeling spouses are exactly, or where they come from. Normally that would be fine, but some mysteries are better left better written unsolved.

Since the real versions of the spouses never seem to interact with their own doppelganger selves, it seems at first that the doppelgangers are a “direct reflection” of what each character wants in their spouse.

The movie hints at this Schrodinger’s Cat in “Solaris” meets “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” sort of commentary. (Or, I don’t know, “Garden State” if you were born after 1993). The doppelgangers seem like the “ideal” version of the character they mimic, but they’re really not– they’re what their spouse wishes they were.

But, nope! “Screw that,” the movie says. Eventually it’s established that the changeling spouses are independent and autonomous entities, not psychic projections or emotional manifestations of the couple’s desires or relationship issues.

Not even a little.

Instead, the real husband discovers that “he” was calling his friends and family, asking about personal information about himself! Great Scott! The plot thickens!

But if they’re “real,” then how do they teleport or turn invisible or whatever?

“Blow me,” the movie seems to say.

And when the goofy “Peter and the Wolf” soundtrack kicks in for dramatic effect, it becomes thoroughly impossible to take anything that happens seriously.

The real narrative swill is about three-quarters of the way through the film. The changeling wife comes charging in out of nowhere to Exposition Dump all over the real husband’s face with unclear information about the rules of taking over someone’s life while being a doppelganger and some manner of elaborate conspiracy along with meticulous rules of engagement.

“There are no rules!” the movie says, swinging its gentiles in the air. “By the way, here are the rules.”

In the final act, the changeling husband tries running off the property and collides with some kind of magic forcefield and dies. Not like a “Cabin in the Woods” forcefield that’s established beforehand and playing into the plot. Just a confusing plot device born of pure stupidity and laziness. (“Oh no! The script is due TOMORROW?!”)

Then the hackneyed ending is so deadened and lame, it manages to be both gutless and somehow meaningless.

It left me with a pile of questions, the chief of which was, “Why in God’s name did I watch this shriveled refuse-stain excuse for a movie?”

“The One I Love?” More like “The One I Loathe,” ammiright?

 

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“Frank” Janky

“Frank” is sort of two movies.

One is lively, silly and snaps along splendidly. The second shakes its finger at the audience for having too much fun, slowing into a clumsy lecture about mental illness being nothing to laugh at.

The fact that the movie attempts a serious message isn’t what hurts it–it would have been fine if the script didn’t inexplicably start to completely suck.

There is so much to like about “Frank.” That’s why it’s so unfortunate that it largely left a bad taste in my mouth.

We begin with Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, an Irish everyman struggling between his white-collar hell and his inability to write music. One day, his Ordinary World is shattered by a Call To Adventure in the form of an idiosyncratic band fronted by Frank, who never removes a giant head with a cartoon face painted on it (the utterly unrecognizable Michael Fassbender).

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a brooding, psychotic foil, telling you everything you need to know when she snarls, “Don’t touch my Fucking theremin!”

The band’s delightfully unhinged manager is played by Scoot McNairy. Watch for this actor– he’s going to be huge one day.

The performances are all untouchable, so there’s no problem there. In fact, it is the character-driven first half where the film completely shines. The scenes are quick, funny, certainly dark, but enjoyable as it zips along– you are along for the ride. You’re spending time with the band, getting to know them and their delicious enigmas from the perspective of an outsider trying to be cool — a perspective anyone can identify with.

The great pivot of the film occurs at the halfway mark with the death of a major character. While this is the film’s first jab at emotional drama, it is largely a wasted opportunity.

When the band finally and predictably hits the road with its Captain Beefheart weirdness to change the world, the film’s pacing grinds to a halt and any character development utterly vanishes from the rest of the film. Their characters are set in stone now, and they make no more significant changes. Suddenly, the film is all about plot, driving forward events instead of people interacting with other people and learning things.

Two of the band’s total five members are completely wasted, essentially acting as background-dressing, clad with a single lazy joke that “foreign people sure are stoic dicks, ammiright?”

While they where just as boring in the first half, it is only more noticeable when the lady drummer suddenly decides to have a cutting monologue out of nowhere when all the major characters have become distractedly stagnant.

It’s hard to enjoy the film’s latter setting of “Austin,” being clearly Albuquerque, with easily recognizable appearances and performances by Lauren Poole, Alex Knight, Abraham Jallad and Timothy Kupjack.

While pacing and the missing human elements are the most glaring mistakes, the major failing of the second half’s tonal shift is inconsistency. The film suddenly tries to preach that “mental illness is super serious and cannot be taken lightly,” and then flops back and forth in attempts at dark slapstick, all of which falter.

The film is suddenly no longer interested in poignant character moments, and instead simply drives the plot forward. So as a result, people begin acting out of character.

So I’m going to fix the movie for you.

Skip this if you want to see it, which, in all honest you should. There’s a lot to enjoy:

Frank’s sudden catatonia is utter gibberish. But let’s take it at face value. When the band is gone, and it’s finally just Jon and Frank. This is a wasted scene. This should be the moment of Jon’s cathartic revelation, of his apology for his mistakes. When Frank exits, it’s not because of Jon’s sudden petulant insistence that he remove the mask, it’s his inability to handle the reality. 

Next, Frank doesn’t make it back to Kansas. That’s stupid. No, Jon finds the musical genius shivering in a pool of his own filth, again, bringing their relationship into focus. Jon discovers Frank’s Kansas home on his own, and, guilty-ridden and determined, takes Frank back himself.

We should get a better sense of Frank’s parents than we do in the film proper– as it stands, they’re just mouth pieces for awkward exposition, and definitely not actual people with wants/goals/motivations.etc. You know. People stuff.

There should be more emphasis on the line “it’s not the mental illness that makes Frank a genius. If anything, it held him back.” This should be the film’s thesis statement. But right now, it’s really not. 

Secondarily, Jon struggles to find “his voice”, and mistakenly believes it’s because he’s not exotically eccentric or hasn’t suffered enough.

Currently, it doesn’t make sense that Frank’s parents would just let Jon take him back to Austin in his current state. And it makes them look even less like actual people, rather than exposition machines (Do they even ever move? Maybe they’re just adhered to their chairs).

When Jon takes Frank back to the band, the moment has to be about Jon realizing that Frank needs his music to be truly well and happy.

And when Jon walks off after reuniting the band, currently, this moment means nothing. He’s learned nothing.

Instead, imagine him realizing he doesn’t need horror and mental illness to make music. Connecting it back to the opening scene, with Jon looking about his day, scrapping for lyrics. Instead, as Jon walks off into the distance in the final moments of the film, he starts to sing in his head, “I once knew a man…. naaaamed Frank….” as he realizes he has lived, and has gained the experiences he’s been looking for all along; a final shot of his private smile as he walks into the rest of his life.

Roll credits. 

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Frank
Aug 29 to Sep 4
Friday to Thursday, 8:30 pm only!
The Guild Cinema
3405 Central Avenue NE Albuquerque, NM
$8 General Admission $5 Seniors 60+ / Kids 12 & Under / Students With Valid I.D
For more information call (505) 255-1848
 

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Experience the Whole Hog with “Fat Pig”

People are empty, shallow terrified animals and, apparently, I’m not the only person who thinks so. Playwright Neil LaBute is a fascinating artist. He writes and directs movies as diverse as the delightful black comedy “Nurse Betty” to the Nic … Continue reading