Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Back to Stuff Happens

As the assistant soundman at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, I cover for the boss when he goes on vacation, which is what I'll be doing for the next three weeks. As you may know from my posts over the last few weeks, we're doing the play Stuff Happens until July 17. It's a powerful bit of drama based on recent history, and the reviews (links in older posts below) have been very good.

Opening night was a big success, with the longest standing ovation I've ever seen in this theater (part of which was for Gordon Davidson, because this is his last play to direct here). The largely liberal audiences have enjoyed the play, for the most part.

Except for one part. Throughout the play, the action stops for brief monologues by various people with very different points of view. The pro-war liberal often gets applause for the passion of his humanitarian arguement for the war, which is suprising considering the liberal leanings of the audiences. But at the top of the second act, a Palestinian woman, obviously educated and articulate, speaks from the point of view of her people. The reason for America's attack on Iraq, she says, is to support America's $3 billion per year colony in the middle east, Israel.

The boos, on some nights, are loud and long.

I find it astounding that these Jews are so pro-Israel that they can't shut up long enough to entertain the idea that the way the US treats Israel might have something to do with perceptions of America's war in Iraq. Specifically, early in the play Bush favors unleashing Sharon because sometimes a show of force by just one side can "really clarify things." It shocks me that these otherwise liberal Jews are so wrapped up in their hatred for Palestinians that they would loudly boo a play! Do they not see the irony? I wonder if their anger blocks their ears to the last line of this woman's monologue: "We are the Jews of the Jews." Do they not realize that the poverty in the Palestinian camps, the use of the Palestinians as cheap labor, and the killing of Palestinian civilians in retaliation for terrorists killing Jews - do they not see how Americans killing Arab civilians in Iraq fuels the same fire of hatred?

Of course I can't know for sure if these are the Mark Taper Forum regulars booing, or if this Iraq War history play has just brought in a different kind of Zionist theater goer, but to hear a liberal audience laughing at Bush's insincerity one minute and booing a Palestinian who sees America's involvement in the middle east as support for Israel really pisses me off. I'd like to see some Palestenian protesters out in front of the theater when the audience leaves, just to make them face their bigotry a little longer.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sen. Durbin's Guantanamo Statement

The Chicken Hawk brigade got it's marching orders yesterday, to defend torture and attack anyone who questions it. After reading from an FBI report of torture at Gitmo, the Rethuglicans have focused their fire on anyone who would dare question God's chosen leader, defending our "right" to torture anyone we want, due process and possible repurcussions to our troops be damned. Of course the cowards who drool over the pain we're inflicting on people are the ones not in line at the recruiting station. I doubt if they would volunteer to fight their favorite war, even if they were guaranteed a primo torture assignment.

Forum? No funds? Small room?

That's what the let John Conyers have to talk about the Downing Street Memo, and what it means in terms of pressuring Bush to draw up an exit strategy. I wonder how long Halliburton and Bechtel will stay once the troops are gone? Don't we still have bases in Japan and Germany? I hear Saddam's old digs in Bagdad (now in the Green Zone) are right nice.

House Democrat's forum to examine Downing Street memo

In case you haven't been keeping up, Knight-Ridder was the first to carry the DSM story. I'm sure they won't be the last.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum Gets the Longest Ovation I've Ever Seen There

I've been working at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles off and on since 1998. I've never seen a standing ovation last until the house lights came up. Last Sunday night, it seemed like they would have gone longer for Gordon Davidson's last directorial effort.

David Hare's Stuff Happens got a great review the next day in the Los Angeles Times the next day by James C. Taylor, and that's good news too, because Center Theater Group could use that kind of press these days. The house has been full everynight, the crowds have been enthusiastic, and the fact that the play attempts, and largely succeeds at being fair to all sides in this HUGE argument, will hopefully fuel the word of mouth that theater apparently depends on to survive these days.

Another good review appeared in the San Francisco Chronical: It tickles and it disturbs. 'Stuff Happens' probes the personalities behind the rush to invade Iraq by Rob Kendt.

Yet another good review can be found at the U-Daily Bulletin:
'Stuff Happens' a political 'mission accomplished,' by Evan Henerson.

Of course, if you're not familiar with Gordon Davidson, you should read this review in the NYT:
Los Angeles Director Bows Out in Timely Fashion by Bernard Weinraub, which has a great photograph of Gordon and David Hare in front of the abalone shell wall in the lower lobby of the Taper.

Arianna Huffington was at the premiere, and had this to say about the play, amoung other things.

As the assistant soundman at the Taper, my only criticisms of the play are technical. The projection that had been designed by Ming Cho Lee and Marc Rosenthal was cut. Originally planned to be a big part of the play, David Hare, who had a lot of control for an author, hated it and had it all cut. So much for the $20,000 reflective material drop that stretches 50 feet across the stage as the backdrop. The White House image, which is actually on the drop and brought up by backlight, is not projection, and is the only feature of the set aside from 5 doors and a lot of tables, chairs, and two podiums.

A quick note on the Presidential Desk: it is an exact replica of the desk in the Oval Office, actually made of Mahogany -- very heavy (which prop guys hate). I'm sure it looked like the real thing before they painted it black.

This minimalistic set built for projection is all black, which creates a depressing setting for a play that is depressing enough already. When something funny happens, like an ironic quote from one of the main characters, I find myself chuckling and thinking, damn, that would be funnier if it weren't true. Sitting in a dark theater, with a dark set, listening to Dick Cheney talk about his 5 student deferments, or Donald Rumsfeld calling the UN a "context," or Colin Powell saying we know Saddam has weapons because we still have the receipts, more blackness is the last thing you want.

But you get it from the lighting. The front lighting is provided almost entirely by a spot light run by my friend Bill Mourner, one of the best in the business. Despite the fact that he has over 100 "pickups" in the play, he manages to keep up with the pace, something many spot-ops would have trouble with. Most of the rest of the lighting is either straight down, or backlight, which makes for a dark, shadowy, well, Bush-Cheney feel. The only thing missing is Darth Vader.

But maybe the effect works differently on people who haven't spent the last five years following every lie, cheat, fake, attack, smirk, malaprop, mischaracterization, scowl, and war this neo-con cabal has hammered through our skull. Maybe I'm just too depressed about what's happened to this country to begin with. Hopefully people who haven't been paying that much attention will be shocked into getting off their ass and voting.

Too bad this play won't wind up anywhere near a swing state.