The Odd Congruence

Last weekend–Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday day–I worked with the lovely Emily Culver at Endicott College with a group of middle school students from Lynn public schools.  They were immigrant kids from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Brazil and Iraq.  Our job focused on creating a theatre piece about the immigrant experience.

It was a little tricky.  I’d created a series of questions for them to answer, over-estimating their English language skills.  But then their teachers, who were in the room, along with Emily, started interviewing them.  And we did a pop up–anyone who wanted to could stand up and tell a funny story or any story at all.

The first boy stood and said he hadn’t seen his mother for two years, that she was still in the Dominican Republic, and every time they were on the phone she’d start crying, then he’d start crying, and they’d just cry together on the phone.

Another girl broke into sobs.

So I turned to the group and asked how many of them hadn’t seen family members for a year or more.  3/4 of them raised their hands.  I asked how long.  They called out numbers–3 years, 4 years, 9 years, 10 years.

The way life cracks you open, without warning, looking at children who have left home behind.  The hope they have for your country.  Pandora’s last gift.

I went home and read their statements, and a couple students from Iraq had written about family members being shot, or shot and killed.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether American soldiers did the killing.

Their stories thrummed inside me as I wrote the script, dividing their text, shaping it, keeping it as intact as I could.  It thrummed next to my thoughts of not seeing people I have loved, of violence, of this broken and beautiful world, of how we hope, how we must keep hoping or grow bitter, which I do not want to do.

I have been made better by these students and their stories.  This is what theatre is supposed to do.

And after it was over, after I’d fallen in love with all of them, and had to say good-bye to their eyes looking up at me, wanting what children want–a moment of connect, of love, of you are special–I went home.  And woke the next morning to a phone call I could not have expected, from my sister, with whom I have not spoken in twenty-two years.

Lately, I’ve been calling the mystery at the center of things, “The Grid.”  This isn’t original.  I stole it from a great lesbian detective novel called, “Blue.”

Anyhow.  It seems the grid has gotten interested in me.

Those beautiful children.

Metta for them, and for the odd congruence of them opening my heart so wide I could be in a morning, in a day, witnessing my fears, but inhabited by the courage of hope as I spoke to my sister.

Metta for all of us, as we make our way in the dark toward we know not what, stumbling most of the way.

Reviews…or, Is My Opinion God?

Of course it is.  I am the deity of this blog, and don’t you forget it.

So, my reviews, in reverse order from what I’ve watched most recently back into the distant past of 2 months ago:

Hope Springs:  I have long thought that if a role didn’t depend on a great accent and physical interpretation, Meryl Streep just doesn’t look as talented.  I thought that when I saw her in the violin movie a million years ago, and I’ve thought it again.  In Hope Springs her character borders on caricature and sometimes downright crosses the line.  Tommy Lee Jones has an equally recognizable type, but he brings something beyond the recognizability–a journey of revelation into this shut down guy’s heart.  I loved his performance and love him, hated the writing (I’ve been married for 25 years and there’s a lot more beneath the surface than this writer seems to get) and knew ahead of time exactly what expression would appear on Meryl’s face.  Recommend:  skip it.

Other Desert Cities:  I have great admiration for Speakeasy as a theatre company–I like the plays they choose a great deal and love what they try to do for and with theatre.  So I hate to say that this play needed an intense rewrite (what happens to playwrights who have written for television?).  I’d heard a lot about Karen MacDonald–and I thought the character and her performance of all those complication and layers really stole the show.  Anne Gottlieb was probably miscast and overacted almost every single moment.  I’d skip this one, much as I hate to say it.

Les Mis:  I have written on FB about the redefining of the film musical, done here with great vision and commitment to the medium of film and to the close up used to reveal the bottom of human suffering.  Yes, the singing is raw and hard to hear.  Yes, Russell Crowe sucks.  But Anne Hathaway’s performance of I Dreamed a Dream will haunt me for years.  I think the film is imperfect and uneven and a great risk, and it gives me hope for the art of film-making…there are new creative ventures still to be made outside of special effects.  BRAVO!  Own it!

The Wire:  I am totally and completely IN LOVE.  Idris Elba is my new fantasy actor–okay, I loved him already from watching Luther (where his co-star Ruth Wilson is even better than he is).  But almost without exception this show stays true to the bone.  FANTASTIC!

The Impossible:  Do writers think we’re stupid?  And what’s with the critics saying this is the best film of the year?  Okay, a disaster film that really takes you inside the experience of disaster.  Showing a great deal of human kindness under pressure. And, okay, there isn’t a bad performance.  But there also isn’t a story.  NO STORY.  Which means no real revelation.  Disaster happens, people lose each other, find each other, over.  There isn’t a point of identification or an exploration of any one character’s humanity to the point of showing what people are capable of under terrible stress and calamity (okay, a little with the oldest son).  If you like to watch disaster, great. Cinematography, great.  But, again.  NO STORY.

Lincoln:  I’m not sure what keeps this from being the best film of the year.  Maybe it’s that we don’t like intellectual movies–because the story is about political chess moves, and the passion of Lincoln, and his goodness.  But here it is–I think Tony Kushner is one of the top 5 living writers, and to hear the gorgeous language in a film with that kind of performance by Daniel Day Lewis…see it.  It’s nice to remember courage, and artistry, and the thinking brain.  (But don’t go sleepy, because the film is really more like theatre, and you have to ENGAGE.)

Silver Linings Playbook:  You know, after the fact I forget how disturbing the movie was, because it has a typical Hollywood ending (cheapening what’s come before, and undermining the grit of the beginning and middle).  I think of it as a comedy.  But this is memory as revision, and the truth is that the grit and the neurosis and dysfunction of the movie are so real in the beginning that the movie is almost an indie.  I say that as a compliment.  Up until the stupid dance competition, the movie is excellent.  Bradley Cooper did okay, and the rest of the cast was much better than okay, with Jennifer Lawrence stealing the film as I suspect she will every film she’s ever in.  Anyhow, see it.  Try not to let the ending ruin it for you.

Argo:  I thought Ben Affleck was exceptional and don’t understand why he isn’t nominated for acting awards.  I thought everyone else was excellent, too, and the filming was excellent, but this is another Hollywood ending and I wasn’t on the edge of my seat…I knew what would happen, everyone did, but I didn’t get as interested in the machinations as I did with Lincoln.  I just knew what had to happen to make the next thing happen.  Good movie.  Worth seeing.  I admire Affleck and think he is underrated in many ways.  But, not enough surprise, sorry.

Marigold Hotel.  Judi Dench.  Maggie Smith.  Need I say more?  I don’t care about expected or unexpected, just about the most fantastic ensemble maybe ever.

Downton Abbey:  Season 1 was great, but by the end of season 2 I was getting a little sick of all the soap opera instead of really good new ideas.  I mean, can everyone quit picking on Bates, already?  I hate to say that the death of Lady Sybil is the best thing yet, but it is.  And I liked both the character and the actor.  At least it was a surprise.  I’d like more surprises, please.  Less groaning soap opera and some real insight instead.

Django Unchained–Haven’t seen it.  I’m a complete wimp when it comes to violence, so I unfortunately have never seen a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Zero Dark Thirty–See above.  I regret my inability to watch torture, but there you go.

Ayurvedic Cleanse, Day 3: Down and Up and Down

So, I signed up for an audition at the BPT, because I love Marc and Kate, and I like black comedy and there were a couple parts in my age range.  I dragged myself off the floor on Friday, assisted a yoga class, and made it to the BPT to read the script.  Then, today, day of the audition, I got up and drank oil.  Then I felt sick.  Then I did work I had to do for Endicott rehearsal tonight.  Then I tried not to throw up.  Then I meditated.  Then I ate and my stomach blew up like a basketball.  All I could think about was whether I would ever take a shit again (sorry).  Then I took a shower.  Then I drank hot water and took some Triphala in the hopes of taking said shit.  Then I did 10 minutes of yoga.  Then I did my hair, make-up and clothes.  Two pairs of my pants are now tighter than I like, so I think I’ve gained weight on this cleanse in spite of all the hunger and suffering.  Then wished I hadn’t given up dyeing my hair so I could look younger.  I also began to wonder whether the pain and bloating would resolve itself before the audition.  I had the thought that with my luck, on this cleanse, it would all move, resolve, whatever, 2 minutes before I had to audition.

Which is exactly what happened.  I got to the BPT, sat down, and then had to run for the bathroom (or walk, acting all cool).  And get this, I was so relieved to be relieved that I didn’t care that I felt light-headed and out of it.  The world has narrowed considerably.

I came out of the bathroom at the BPT and after about 1 minute, the lovely and generous Kate Snodgrass called me in to the audition.  But, first she hugged me.  I’m pretty sure she was hoping I’d do well.  Meanwhile, I was wondering if she could smell the sesame oil from the self-massage last night.  I thought I might smell like Chinese takeout.

We went into the theatre.  I thought maybe I’d left myself in the bathroom.  The completely distant energy-less feeling of the cleanse made the whole thing seem like a vaguely bad dream.  Someone else’s bad dream, since I wasn’t quite there.  I read the side once.  The director very generously laughed on the laugh lines, even though I wasn’t funny.  Then Kate and I switched parts and she was really funny–just the right touch of bitter sarcasm.  I did better as the insane Christian, which is probably no surprise to anyone.  My energy was just about coming out of the bathroom and making its way down the hall to my body when the audition ended.

Oh, well.  All my auditions lately have been great, so I guess I was due.  And there is this–I am no longer 100% constipated.  But I will go lie down on the floor again.  Then I will consider entropy, and how it’s a new thing in my life.

I wonder if I will recognize myself when the cleanse is over.  Today Superwoman is in remission.  It’s all entropy here.  And lying on the floor.  And waiting for bodily functions to occur.  And wishing I’d gotten to audition sans cleanse, because the BPT is a great theatre doing important work and whoever did that audition was the Cleanse Queen of Entropy, a non-event all to herself.

So basically, the morning sucked.

After lying on the floor and talking to two friends to whom I can say anything at all (how rare and wonderful that is…though I wish they were local), I picked up enough to drive to Endicott College.  Traffic was horrible–I left at 5:45 and got there at 7:10.  Yuck.  But the guys!  This used to happen when I was teaching, after Don died, sometimes a class would pull my best out of me against all odds and these guys are like that.  They are so invested.  We did script analysis and their answers rocked my world–smart, insightful…they did my work for me.  Then we read the play again and a ton of notes I would have given weren’t needed.  Love, love and love again.  We started blocking.  It made me so happy.

I am now home, and my partner had set up abhyanga, the oil massage, so we could do it together as soon as I came in the door.  I tore off my clothes and went at the exfoliation, then got in the tub with her to do the oil down.  She finished first, and for some reason–mental absence, exhaustion–I put the glass bowl on my head like a hat because I couldn’t figure out what else to do with it.  It promptly slid off the oil slick called my hair and burst into a thousand pieces all over the tub and my feet.  Ouch!  Typing, I think I found another sliver in my thumb.

So, the oil down ended quickly for me, though my partner meditated naked for a while and is now in the shower.

A day.  In the life.  Of an insane person.

I am now admitting that I don’t like being on a cleanse.  I don’t like not being able to think clearly and being weak as a kitten.  But I love the men at Endicott, so that’s something.  They deserve better of me, to quote Reverend Alex, which is really quoting myself, since I created her.

I hope that this cleanse provides me with a new digestive system, because frankly, I deserve it.

I Love My Life! (at least for the next 10 seconds)

Today I was in yoga teacher training after 5+ hours of working on devised theatre with 22 teens and some super talented adults.  And though I am so tired I keep walking into walls, forgetting things, adding things wrong, I am also grateful for the day.

Working backward, since I just returned from yoga teacher training, I have to say, where do these women come from?  I ordered a bunch of blankets and blocks in bulk for us, and I’m basically dealing yoga materials out of the back of my car, and everyone is so conscientious about giving me money, and trying to be generous about the better colors, or the better quality blankets, and I’m so spacey I walk away from the money with the trunk and car open and someone stays with it…I never really understood why I took this training and I still don’t, except that I really like being around these people.

Then, the yoga philosophy discussion was great.  Like church, just listening to what each person utilizes to pull him or herself toward the light, whatever that light is–but definitely non-harming.

And all this followed a day of coordinating the monologues and scenes the students wrote themselves with movement we’d found accidentally in improvisation with them, and watching it work, watching it fall into place, deep, sweet, young, holding every poignant thing about life.

So, for today, I love my life.  Even though I bought all these yoga materials thinking I was going to leave theatre behind in some way, and now I had a waiting list for my last acting class, registration coming in for fall, a new potential opportunity for a fall collaboration, auditions, etc.  So it seems like many of the blankets, straps, mats, etc might not get much use.  But, oh well.  I still get to love everything, to be doing the exact right thing, right purpose, right moment, right life.

I’m about to post on the yoga teacher training facebook why people should come to this teen show.  Not to support me.  But because it looks to be so magical and funny and moving, that the human experience of watching will be rare and full of wonder.

I’ll go back to complaining and having aversions and everything tomorrow.  After I get some f$#%ing sleep.

Bring Rita Hayworth to Boston!

When I go to the theatre I go in search of a particular experience.  I want to be transported to another world, I want to see myself in new ways, I want to be visually and imaginatively stimulated, I want to understand the world differently.

In other words, I’m not easy to please.

So the idea that I could sit in my living room, watching the DVD of a theatrical performance and experience all of those things is, well, unlikely.

And yet it happened.  And it happened watching a one-woman show, less likely still.

Tina D’Elia’s new show, The Rita Hayworth of This Generation, introduces its audience to a cast of scheming and manipulative characters who end up, surprisingly, charming us with the pleasure of their company.  Whether it’s Carmelita, the cabaret singer and Rita Hayworth impersonator who wants only to make it big, or Jesus, the transgender poker champion who wants a lucky lady, or Rita Hayworth, who just wants out of purgatory, or the despicable Kelsey, host of the shows Stars that Are Living, Stars that are Dying and Stars that are dead…or even Angel, the Prop Butch, the show’s only sweetheart, we want more–more revelation, more laughs, more sex (yes, there is sex in a one-woman show!).  D’Elia and her director, Mary Guzman, have created a hysterically funny play that reveals human ambition in all its selfishness…and how we want our lovers to serve this ambition rather than any sense of intimacy.  But it is too smart a show to exclude moments of real humanity, the rarity of true generosity between human beings and the importance of that generosity in finding meaning as we grow, perhaps, awkwardly and humorously wiser.  Carmelita, the wrong-headed and unlucky heroine of the story, is perhaps the most blind of the characters when it comes to recognizing real caring–but our frustration with her only intensifies our involvement with the story and our understanding of its meaning.

Tina D’Elia’s magic as a performer is that there are times when one is able to forget there’s only a single actor on stage.  Whether in the first seduction scenes, where the desire she portrays is absolutely palpable, or in scenes in which Jesus tries to convince Carmelita to trust him, her commitment and imaginative reality are so strong that one can’t help but fall under the play’s spell.  Her work is supported by Mary Guzman’s skillful use of lighting and blocking to support the many character changes.  And let’s get real, in a one-woman show with actual back-and-forth dialogue, this is extremely hard to do.  The slight shift of a shoulder and angle of D’Elia’s body work best during dialogue scenes, but one always follows and enjoys the changes of characters.

Let me not neglect to mention the magical realism of the play.  I have long ranted about realism in theatre, and how film does realism best, so theatre better have some real innovation if it wants to stay in the game.  Well, this is a play in which characters travel to a special room in the casino to meet and play cards with dead stars.  I mean, really, when a transgendered poker champion sits down to deal in with the Three Stooges…come on, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, the play is not quite perfect–D’Elia’s acting portrayal of Carmelita’s cabaret singer physicality is excellent, but her singing needs work; and the end of the play ties up all the plot questions too neatly without answering the most important–how does Carmelita author her own loneliness even after getting some degree of what she wants as a singer?  But not quite perfect does not mean that it is not excellent–in fact, it is.

Tina D’Elia is a Boston native, and I, for one, think we deserve to get to see her show live in this town.  Not only that–we need the show.  Boston theatre got a jolt of aliveness when Diane Paulus came to town, but we need edgy new voices and this is one of them.

As an acting teacher interested in helping people to create their own work, I also feel that great examples of one-person shows would and could ignite a renaissance of a genre that has been largely absent in Boston since the Theatre Offensive stopped producing Out on the Edge.

Sometimes, it’s just the right thing, the right time, the right show.

What Do I Want to be When I Grow Up?

I thought this question got answered once and then that was it.


And it’s not like I’m one of those people who didn’t know.  I mean, every once in a while, when I’m fantasizing about this easier life that fits more of the status quo expectations, I remember that it was never like I had much of a choice.  Until I started teaching, I stayed at jobs for an average of 1.25 years if that.  I got bored.  I moved on.  I shed office jobs, 9-5 work weeks and other things that didn’t fit fairly quickly.  I know that parents–particularly those of my own parents’ generation–have this idea that you can force yourself to work at jobs you hate.


And it wasn’t like I was ever not creating.  I mean, outside of my run-ins with writer’s block in my twenties, but really, even then, I was always making something.  I kind of couldn’t, and can’t, stop.

What I didn’t know is that it was possible to run out of road even with things you love.  For example, I found I LOVED teaching.  I mean, lie on the bed wondering how I could even deserve to do something that made me that happy kind of love.  Especially in the arts.  After not sticking with any job for more than 2 years, tops, in my life, at 30 I started teaching Creative Writing in all its forms and that lasted for about 11 years.  But when I stopped learning new things to teach in poetry and fiction–meaning that when my artistic life started to turn to theatre–I started to be bored.  I know it’s all so mature to say that I have a choice, but even if that’s true, teaching something that’s already past for me isn’t a choice I like to make.  I like to teach on my own growing edge, because I truly love teaching and the best teaching happens exactly at that place, where I am teaching what I need to learn, or what I am learning, or what I have just learned, or what I’m incorporating, synthesizing, into my artistic aesthetic or world view.  Teaching is so alive and creative, then.

So what do I want to be when I grow up?

First, let’s debunk the growing up part.  I have already reached my full height–I’d gained most of it by age 13 (I was taller than the boys in 7th grade)–so literally, it’s just not happening any more.  And I agree with Shonda Rimes–there are no real adults, just children with larger bodies.

But what do I want to be?  Well, present, alive, kind, moral, loving, joyful, peaceful, creative, spiritual…I could start with that.  And end with it.

The only reason the question is reappearing is because I have sworn, once again, to give up producing theatre.  Honestly, if there was a 12 step program for theatre producers, I’d do daily attendance.  One day at a time, I will not produce theatre.

Did I mention how much I dislike producing theatre?  Of course there are rewards–getting to pick the projects, getting to create the organizational structure, setting the standards, establishing a mission.  But the drawbacks–you know, I have never truly enjoyed producing theatre.  I enjoy directing, acting, writing, teaching, creating, collaborating with colleagues (especially people like my friend Jeannie Marie, who is brilliant), but I do not enjoy producing.

The fact that producing paved the way for some of the best teaching I’ve done in my life is not lost on me, but.  But.

And now, the Meisner technique, which I love, love, love, isn’t enough.  My growing edge is now movement theatre, collaborative work, bringing the connection of Meisner to the body.  Opening actors to levels of creativity beyond the script, which is the Meisner technique in some ways, but addressing it directly so actors become true artists–that’s the work that’s calling, rather loudly.

So, I’ll be a certified yoga instructor by the end of the summer.  I may travel to New York to train with Faye Simpson some more.

And, I applied for a teaching job.  In a school community.  Which would keep me doing all of the above with no producing.

There’s never any guarantees–that they’ll call for an interview, that it will be a match, that I won’t be applying elsewhere.

But change is in the wind.  It’s been blowing through my life for the last three years.  Loss, illness, training at Celebration Barn in 2010, listening to these weird intuitions.  The weirdest:  I have had a feeling that when I quit dyeing my hair, I’d be my true actress self.

I DO know what I want to be when I grow up:  present, kind, moral, honest, loving….

I DO know that I can’t not be an artist and teacher.  It doesn’t seem to be in me.

I DO know that I don’t want to produce and I do want to study yoga and I don’t know what I’ll make next, but it won’t be something I’ve done before or in the last ten years.

And I know that when change is in the wind, it’s best to be curious, it’s best to have a sense of adventure.  Surrender, accept, let the wind take you, because fighting is misery and there’s enough of that around without creating more for yourself.

I am here to see what happens.

The Reviews

I am a person who is extraordinarily sensitive to criticism.

Obviously, therefore, it was a great idea to become an artist, so I could be reviewed, so I would have to audition and listen to people say, “Next.”

Seriously, what I’m really extraordinarily sensitive to is interpersonal ugliness.  And reviews often don’t have that.  (I mean, okay, outside of when your play pushes someone’s personal buttons and they go a little apeshit, but most reviewers really love art, so….)

I find myself, this time, reading the reviews while the performance is still going on, even though I’ve sworn I wouldn’t, even though I’ve been told it’s not a good idea.  But I’m not reading as actress.  I’m reading as a writer who wants to see if people understand what the hell I’m talking about.  And I find I’m able to see past my sensitivity to criticism and really hear the reviewer’s experience.

I’m really liking reading the reviews.  I wish there were many more of them!

I suppose this is partly because I assume no one understands what I’m talking about most of the time.  I trace this back to my discovery of the nature of the universe.

It happened like this:  I’d lost a tooth.  My father came into my room to claim the tooth and replace it with a quarter, and I woke up while he was doing so.  The next day I went out to the field behind our house and lay on the limb of a tree, contemplating.  I was six.  A contemplative six, but, nevertheless, six.

I reached an epiphany.  I climbed out of the tree, marched back to the house, slammed open the screen door to the kitchen and looked at my mother and father.  I walked up to them.  (Not only contemplative, but dramatic.)

“There’s no tooth fairy,” I said.  “And there’s no Easter Bunny.  And there’s no Santa Clause and you’ve been lying to me and I want to know why.”

They turned to each other in slow motion, meeting each other’s eyes in dumbfounded shock.  They glanced at me, back at each other, and then back at me again. Clearly, they were wondering where the hell I had come from.  As in, which planet.

“Don’t tell your brothers and sisters,” my mother finally said.

I thought, “They have no idea what they’re doing.”

This turned out to be true, as it does with most parents, only more so.

And I was left with the conclusion that I came from a different planet and no one had any idea how to talk to me.  That has remained my view of the universe, confirmed by much if not all of my experience during my stay here.

So, YAY for reviewers, who seem to be visiting my planet with some idea of the language spoken here.  With the exception of social issues.  I’m not really writing about social issues –I’m using them to write about the nature of love.  I find social issues boring except in how we experience them in the most personal of relationships.  I don’t mean that human rights are boring.  I just find it self-evident that everyone is equal.  And why isn’t it self-evident to everyone?  Because human beings have brains that create hierarchy so they’re always trying to one up each other to get more power.  That’s sad more than boring, but also seems, very unfortunately, to be self-evident.

I hope on my home planet, wherever that is, the species is innately non-hierarchical and takes better care of things.

In the meantime, I’m appreciating reviewers for coming to my planet.  And if they don’t like everything here…well, that’s their prerogative.  I’m just glad to read about the visits.