Monday, March 30, 2009

Good Boston theater: The Pain and the Itch and Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls

Saw a double-header of theater this weekend, not something I get to do as much as I used to, primarily because I simply can't afford the price of a ticket. Disposable income is not something Sue and I have a lot of, and if we have any at all it almost exclusively goes straight into the travel fund. On a Friday or Saturday night you're as likely to find us at home, reading or delving into our musical pursuits as much as you'll see us out on the town.


Currently there are two shows running in Boston that are must-sees: The Pain and the Itch at the BCA, produced by Company One, and Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls at The Factory Theater, produced by Holland Productions. Both are crisply written, superbly acted, and very well-directed.

The Pain and the Itch is aptly titled because it is painful to watch what you're seeing on stage and you will squirm from that itch in your very private parts: A family of very well-off white people who drink the right white wine and watch PBS and espouse all the appropriate, liberal values. Of course there are a few characters who act as flies in the ointment, but funny, those aren't the ones who are making us squirm. The cast is a terrific ensemble. There's no need to give accolades to any one actor on the stage because each character is perfectly drawn and presented, and meshes (or not) with the other characters. The set is sublime, complete with working HD TV. Get ready for the surprise ending, which frankly, threw me at first. Contrived, I wondered, until I reached back and realized how deftly the playwright, actors, and director led me by the nose.

Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls, as the title might intimate, asks, Are there times when you can't tell if your life is coming or going? Well, then aloha, which means both hello and goodbye. A fun, quirky script that transverses time and space--one minute you're in Alaska, the next Hawaii, and sometimes that person looks vaguely familiar and so does the dog. The cast barrels along at a non-stop brisk pace, and it's all fun but in retrospect it does ask some serious questions, particularly about our relationships with one another. And that's the production's charm: It's so darn entertaining you forget its serious theater until you're having drinks afterwards.

If I don't call attention to particular cast members of either production, both directors should be given high praise. Avid baseball fans will know that many times a win on a sleepy, hot summer's day comes from one manager out-dueling the other. The success of both productions rests humbly and mightily on the shoulders of their respective directors: M. Bevin O'Gara for The Pain and the Itch and Krista D'Agostino for Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eminem will someday be on the oldies station posted a link on its home page to yesterday's post on actionbobmarkle on The Sheltering Sky, which I thought was kind of funny because the post basically consisted of me copying about a page and a half from the novel. I wrote a little introductory paragraph talking how the passage nailed what it's like to be a traveler and how that is the pivotal moment in the book that gives it its title.

And that was it. Funny, that an editor over there thought that was worth sharing.

Or maybe not. I'm just guessing, or maybe hoping, that the editor decided that what I wrote about that particular passage is worth something. An appreciation for the art of the novel is waning, just as the art of making an album is waning because digital downloads now let us concentrate on acquiring just one or two songs, and not an entire album. But there is that one point in a novel--a good novel, at least--where the author pulls together for sometimes only a paragraph or two all the loose ends and clarifies why the novel is called what it is, and maybe even why he wrote it. And it takes a certain kind of mind to appreciate that. Appreciating that is like enjoying going into a museum just to see one painting, which I love to do. (If I'm in the area, I'll go into the Boston MFA just to sit in the Buddha room for awhile, or I would sit and gaze on Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? at least I used to until they put it in storage.)

Once, I absolutely floored Allison when she was maybe nine or 10 years old when I told her that Eminem would someday be on the oldies station. True. Someday, everything ends up on the oldies station. And I guess that's where we are with novels right now. With all the "new media" out there, readers are going by the wayside. I remember showing my blog to a very hip young woman at the ad agency I used to work at, and her first, very fast initial response was a reaction against all the words. Who's gonna read all that, she wondered.

Say this in your best old fart voice: These young kids today don't appreciate a good book. Or geography or history or painting or anything else, including that meanderings of the mind of a blogger.

Well, not true. It's all changed and morphed. The responsibility, I think, lies with the younger generation to not leave behind the art of the novel. Or of painting or the theater or any of the other cultural traditions. Move forward, but preserve the traditional forms, too. Time and society move forward, and by moving forward I simply mean in time, I don't mean to infer necessarily that things are getting better, they're just changing. Let future generations be the judges of the quality.

But as society moves through time, there's more culture to embrace and understand. Understandably, how can a novel that needs so much time and energy to read and comprehend compete with a movie or a video game or Facebook or the latest shenanigans of pop stars. But there is something inherently wrong with leaving it by the wayside. There is a beauty and a connection to today's world that shouldn't be lost because, and here's a huge cliche but it's true: You'll never know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Guthries: Trials and Tribulations

The Guthries, from homegrown music...sigh...

The "Trials" video is a big, one-camera, DV production by none other than Andrew Watt of the Heavy Blinkers. It cost us nothing (that'll be evident if you watch it - no slight to Andrew) but it's better than all of the big-budget stuff we've done. It was shot in the living room of 2 Grove St, which is just "off Windmill" Rd in Dartmouth. Everyone lived in the house - it was our own version of "Big Pink". We recorded out first album "Off Windmill" there with Andrew.

The Sheltering Sky by Peter Bowles

In a little more than a month, I'll be in Morocco. Then, who knows where? When I travel, I like to learn as much as I can about where I'm going, before I go. I read guide books. U.S. State Department reports. And I read novels set in the locale. The Sheltering Sky was a novel Sue suggested. I suggested Morning in Antibes to her.

Here is the passage from which the novel takes its title. Port and Kit, two travelers loose on the face of the earth, have ridden bicycles out into the Sahara. Kit cheated on Port the night before, having made love to Tunner on a train. It clearly shows a traveler's fear of belonging, fear of dying, of living for the moment, of looking for companionship, knowing they'll never fit in. The Arab rooted to a rock in prayer is an especially nice touch.

She pinched his arm. "Look there!" she whispered. Only a few paces from them, atop a rock, sitting so still that they had not noticed him, was a venerable Arab, his legs tucked under him, his eyes shut. At first it seemed as though he might be asleep, in spite of his erect posture, since he made no sign of being conscious of their presence. But then they saw his lips moving ever so little, and they knew he was praying.

"Do you think we should watch like this?" she said, her voice hushed.

"It's all right. We'll just sit here quietly." He put his head in her lap and lay looking up at the clear sky. Over and over, very lightly, she stroked his hair. The wind from the regions below gathered force. Slowly the sky lost its intensity of light. She glanced up at the Arab; he had not moved. Suddenly she wanted to go back, but she sat perfectly still for a while looking tenderly down at the inert head beneath her hand.

"You know," said Port, and his voice sounded unreal, as voices are likely to do after a long pause in an utterly silent spot, "the sky here's very strange. I often have the sensation when I look at it that it's a solid thing up there, protecting us from what's behind."

Kit shuddered slightly as she said: "From what's behind?"


"But what is behind?" Her voice was very small.

"Nothing, I suppose. Just darkness. Absolute night."

"Please don't talk about it now." There was agony in her entreaty. "Everything you say frightens me, up here. It's getting dark, and the wind is blowing, and I can't stand it."

He sat up, put his arms about her neck, kissed her, drew back and looked at her, kissed her again, drew back again, and so on, several times. There were tears on her cheeks. She smiled forlornly as he rubbed them away with his forefingers.

"You know what?" he said with great earnestness. "I think we're both afraid of the same thing. And for the same reason. We've never managed, either one of us, to get all the way into life. We're hanging on to the outside for all we're worth, convinced we're going to fall off at the next bump. Isn't that true?"

She shut her eyes for a moment. His lips on her cheek had awakened the sense of guilt, and it swept over her now in a great wave that made her dizzy and ill. She had spent her siesta trying to wipe her conscious clean of the things that had happened the night before, but now she was clearly aware that she had not been able to do it, and that she never would be able to do it. She put her hand to her forehead, holding it there. At length she said: "But if we're not in, then we are more likely to--fall off."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Death by jelly: You can run, but you can't hide

I'm not sure what worries more, that it was determined that the Welch's grape jelly may have had mold in it, or that BJ's knew I bought some and was able to track me down to tell me in a letter.

Nobody died or got sick, that I know of, but the jelly didn't live up to Welch's high standards, so the letter said.

But I just figure that the amount of all of this information that is constantly being taken on us from stores and Web sites and credit cards is so colossal in size that there is no way that anyone can sift through it to find me.

Then I got the letter that was so pointed and accurate, I half expected it to say that the two-pack of jelly I bought, one of which is in the right-hand cabinet above the counter and the other one you've already opened and is on the top shelf of your refrigerator, can be returned for a full refund.

It's too late to run or hide in this world. I pretty much discovered that a long time ago. And I guess I should be glad that I could be warned about a potential health hazard (death by jelly!) Still, there's a part of me that won't ever be comfortable with all this.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Helsinki Complaint Choir

"Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen collected the pet peeves and angst-ridden pleas of people in Helsinki and then composed this choral work around the list of complaints..."

And what's so funny is how the complaints are pretty much universal to Westerners. I'm not too sure how someone suffering from hunger in Ethiopia would feel about a meter sandwich being only a half meter long, but let's not get too serious here.

You can’t get rich by working, and love doesn’t last forever. In the public sauna they never ask if it’s ok to throw water. Old forests are cut down and turned into toilet paper. And still all the toilets are always out of paper. Why products on sale drive the people crazy? In the middle of Helsinki they built another shopping hell. My neighbour spies on me through the peephole whenever I come home with guests, and he always arrives too early for his sauna turn. 

We always lose to Sweden in hockey and Eurovision. Christmas season starts earlier every year. Why do people never agree with me? Jobs go to China, tramline 3 smells of pee. 

It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair!

Why is the Metre Pizza only half a metre long? And why is the cord of the vacuum cleaner too short – just like the summer. Going to work every morning, then home at night, eventually you lose your mind. The battery on my mobile is always going flat, and all ring tones are just as irritating.

 Ring tones are all irritating. Ring tones are all irritating. Ring tones are all irritating. Ring tones...(Sorry, I’m in a bad spot. Call me later.)

When you buy furniture, all you get is a pile of boards. Tissues are too rough and I can never find them when I need to sneeze. My tights slip when I’m walking. There is always a tall man in front of me. At work they pat me on the shoulder, then stab me in the back?

My dreams are boring. Reference numbers are too long. Women are still paid less than men. Bullshitters get on too well in life. The daily paper is too thick. Why always me?

 It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair!

...(and Finnish language is bloody difficult to learn!

The queue for the dentist is over six months long, after waiting for so long the whole tooth must be pulled out. Nice shirts get discoloured in the wash, but ugly shirts never do. People have no time for Fair Trade goods, but still rush to where they grow. I can’t escape the headlines of the tabloids. The weather’s always foul. I don’t get laid enough…(And this is Finnish language is bloody difficult to learn.

 We always lose to Sweden in hockey and Eurovision. Christmas season starts earlier every year. Why do people never agree with me? Jobs go to China, tramline 3 smells of pee.

My flat is tiny yet it eats all my money. So I’m left nothing to save the world with. People only take a stand in sms-forums. Idiots don’t know which side to stand on the escalator. My husband snores too loud and he walks too slowly, and only washes his hockey-shirts – And my wife always complains! 

It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair.

Evenings wasted hiding from the TV license inspector because I don’t want to pay for sports and reality TV. The employment agency only needs Java programmers. Old people are fed with tranquilisers so they won’t complain. My friend likes his mobile phone more than he likes me. Our ancestors could have picked a sunnier place to be.

 My dreams are boring. Reference numbers are too long. Women are still paid less than men. Bullshitters get on too well in life. The daily paper is too thick. Why always me? 

It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair – it’s not fair!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Low Anthem: To Ohio

Opening for Ray Lamontagne, writeup in Rolling Stone, playing at SXSW. It's so great to see hard-working artists make it. Not only hard-working, but nice people too.

And being an old Ohio boy, this song gives me goosebumps...

I left Louisiana on the rail line
I left Louisiana on the rail line

Lost my love before her time
Lost my love before her time

I was trying to get to Ohio
Trying to get to Ohio

Now every new love is just a shadow
Every new love is just a shadow

‘Cause once you’ve known love you don’t know how to find love
Yeah once you’ve found love you don’t know how to find new love

All the way to Ohio
All the way to Ohio

Heard her voice coming through the pines of Ohio
I heard her voice singing in the pines in Ohio

She sang bless your soul you crossed that line to Ohio
Bless your soul you crossed that line

All the way to Ohio
All the way to Ohio

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A gay weekend

I think I've used that subject line before.

Friday night we went to see Milk, which goes to show you just how far behind the curve we really are. But I love Sean Penn. Who doesn't, right? Penn and Nicholson are the two all-time greats, and when I watch either one of them I am so inspired.

Amazing work by Penn, but I wasn't that crazy about the movie itself. Sorry. I guess I have to turn in some kind of club card now, huh? It's just sort of the inevitable problem with a movie like that: You know the ship is going to hit the iceberg and you know he's going to get shot. Camera work and special effects can only take it so far. But this is nothing new for me. Everything I've seen in the past couple of years has left me tepid, if not downright cold. Oddly, the only other I saw in the running for any Oscars was Slumdog Millionaire, which I thought was good, but again, if that's the "best", well...

Then last night we headed over to the Machine to see the Gold Dust Orphans perform the Ryan Landry original spoof on Of Mice and Men, Of Mice and Mink. Maybe it's live theater that keeps my juices flowing, because I love this stuff. Part Oscar Wilde, part vaudeville--hey, they're drag queens for God's sake--this is my idea of theater. Ribald, loud, real audience participation. I've always imagined that this is what Shakespeare was like back in the days before we got all snooty in the theater. Anyway, Harvey Milk would have had a grand old time, so I guess everyone's happy, right?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Unemployment's getting kinda weird

I'm going into my third month of unemployment (last night I heard about a fellow actor-type who's been laid off since September--six months!), and it's getting weird.

The government today reported that another 651,000 jobs were lost in February. Man, we're bleeding jobs faster than GM's bleeding dollars. Is that possible? Since December, 2007 when this so-called recession was first recognized (this intrepid reporter is calling it a depression; remember: You heard it here first, at Action Bob Markle) 4.4 million people are out of work. That officially puts the jobless rate at 8.1 percent, the highest in 25 years. But let's not forget that that figure does not include seasonal employees, the self-employed who aren't finding work, and people like those old timers who greet you at Wal-Mart who aren't making enough to feed their cats. Unofficially, let's call the jobless rate at around 15, or maybe 18 percent, okay?

There is no work out there. I've had one tiny job, and one acting job. You can only make so many batches of red sauce, chicken soup, bean soup, and chili before it starts to get a little repetitious. Make only so many dinners for your honey when she comes home from work before you start feeling a bit worthless. Only so many small chores and errands you can run before you start wondering if you actually are useless.

And you know those are the landmines you have to dodge. You don't just flop down on the couch and sigh and call it a life. I write everyday. I'm a writer, that's what I do. I'm taking low-cost classes around Boston. Music theory at Club Passim. Acting for the camera from a casting agent.

I'm starting to look into going back to school. All the time I was married I couldn't get my Masters because I was too busy working a dead end job to support the family. Now here I am, 53-years-old, out of work in a depression with a BFA in photography. Maybe it's time to finally get that degree, and God love Sue, she's the one pushing me to do it, thinking we can travel and teach at the same time. The one thing is the cost of a university degree is still as inflated as the value of homes. There is no way a Masters should cost between $20,000 and $30,000. Everything, everything still costs way too damn much, and we all need a serious realty check.

You got to get out of the house. Even going into Boston and wandering around, checking out the library, doing some people watching, changes your perspective. Those prison people know what they're doing when they throw you into solitary. We're social creatures. We gotta see some sunshine from time to time.

And I've finally started that play I said I'd write. Yeah, it's called Red Dog, and it addresses that theme I'm constantly beating to death, that we as a society don't recognize that the people who hurt us emotionally are no different than thugs who hurt us physically, and that as a species we still aren't evolved enough to actually see the thing we're hurting, but it's a part of us as surely as our arms and legs are. It's called Red Dog because red dog is a football term for a blitz, where linebackers or defensive backs suddenly charge and usually hit the quarterback from the blindside and inflict some serious harm (which is what these emotional thugs do; they just blindside us because most of us simply are not raised to believe people would do such a thing, so we're caught unaware), and also because dogs are color-blind and can't see colors, but it doesn't mean they don't exist. And the play has all of my favorite things in it: dogs, guitars and whiskey.
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