Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #1: Continued| In the Summer House

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

 

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #1: Continued…

A wiser man than me once said that “we never do anything consciously for the last time”—that is, anything which we have long been doing—“without sadness of heart.” (If ever there was a saying more soothing to the creative Soul than this one—only the universe knows.) This truth I felt intensely, when I came to leave filmmaking behind, a career option I had fallen madly in love with, and where I had thought I would find fulfillment and happiness. (Just be patient; even I am so over talking about this. The TL;DR version that will eventually dead this matter is coming this summer.) On the night I left film forever (Yes, I remember!) I grieved in my room all by my lonely, and may or may not have shed a few tears. (No, I don’t remember—or do I?); and that night, while looking over a healthy pile of rejection letters from literary managers and agents, and film festivals (I do it to myself honestly, holding on to ish like this), I rolled over in bed, and, catching a glimpse of my face, my reflection in the mirror as if on standby, I locked gazes with it, and looked myself intently in the eye, thinking to myself, “What now, G? What now? How in the hell are you gonna come back from this one? Of all the stupid things you’ve ever done in your life this one hurts the most. Now you’re stuck here—in Los Angeles of all places. And you don’t even have enough money to get your ass back home… I want out of this goddamn town! I want out of this industry! I’m not even IN this industry! I don’t want anything to do with film ever again!” And I was right: I never did have anything to do with it—until recent. Still at the mirror, I looked at myself self-righteously and proudly (Hey, we all do in that moment—am I right?), smiled resolutely, nodded my affirmation (or rather, my goodbye), and I parted ways with the movie business forever—or so I thought.

Moring came—so dramatic; I know—and under normal circumstances I would’ve been ready to launch into my day. I’m thankful for my up-and-at-‘em approach to life, and, in many regards, I’ve benefitted greatly for having this outlook—though it wasn’t on showcase in that moment. As for my residence: it’s a spacious, second-floor, balconied apartment (occupancy four), and I have been blessed, from my first moving in, with a cast of supportive roommates and “a room of my own room” just like good ol’ Virginia, which I use—then and of course now—as an area of leisure and study. At about six-thirty or so I got up, and stared with hazy contentedness at the treeless skyline of S——, the now gentrified L.A. enclave cloaked in a gray sunlight and slowly beginning to tinge sky-blue with the gloomy dullness of a typical, cloudless December morning. (Told ya I know the date!) Again, I agreed that I would be unwavering and overwhelmingly fixed in my decision: but yet I was vexed by the looming possibility of setbacks and obstacles; and if I could’ve foreseen the shit-storm that my life would become over the next two years, and quite the back-breaking, soul-crushing shit-storm of pain and misery at that, which wasted no time in starting up around me, I would’ve… Well… Well, I don’t have the heart to jot it down here…

To this vexation the calm peace of morning presented a disturbing comparison, and in some degree a mild stimulant. The moment was more profound—or at least it seemed to be—than that of any other time in my life here on the West Coast: and to me the stillness of morning is more moving than any other stillness, because the city (L.A.) hasn’t come alive yet; and thus, I’m able to sit quietly and introspect and think freely, unabated. I put on a pair of sweats, moped about, and did nothing of importance. Up to this point in time my room had been my “meditative tower”: here I read, and typed, and poured over notes through all hours of the day well into the wee hours of the night: and, painful as it is to admit, that for what remained of 2014—and 2015 and 2016, respectively—I, who was about as easy-going as they come, had lost my joyful vigor and stanch optimism upon ending the violent and contentious see-saw battle with my chosen career path; yet, on the other hand, as a “creative type” (loosely), so passionately fond of books, and visual art, and stage plays (Yay!), and dedicated to all sorts of intellectual endeavors, I recall not sitting for too long an interval in the caustic stew of dejection, and sought out random activities from time to time. Still moping about, I was a bit teary-eyed, I think, as I looked around on the floor at all of the crumpled-up sheets of paper, underneath my stool at a stack of dusty notebooks, at the dog-eared novels stacked at the base of the wall, and other relevant items of my former trade, knowing for certain, that I looked upon them for the last time—or so I thought. Even as I write this today, it has been three years since enduring the worst of it: and yet, at this moment, I can picture the scene quite vividly as if it were yesterday. The lost look on my face: pitying and abominable; my eyes and mouth of which had prior operated with great animation, and the whole of my face once so radiant and jolly, had been completely debased. A thousand times over I avoided the mirror, seeing as there was nothing to gather as consolation from it…

Damn, here I am once again putting the cart before the horse. The summer needs to get here in a hurry. And try as I may: I don’t want to spend precious hours during this portion of my life reminiscing. Admittedly, I have yet to arrive at something definitive in regards to Preliminary Confession #1. Well, it should be painfully obvious to you now that my casual avoidance of the question is by design, hence the protracted lamentation (and teaser). Hell, any salesperson worth his or her salt is constantly thinking of ways to drum up business; they have to get you, the customer, to come back somehow… I think you see where I’m going with this. Anyhoo, and without further ado, we now jump to March’s stageplay, In the Summer House.

 

swimming at ocean 1

Old School Ocean Fun

 

Title: In the Summer House (1953)

Playwright: Jane Bowles
Time Period: Middle to Late Modernism
Plot: A middle-aged woman of good carriage becomes an overbearing presence in her young daughter’s life who is just entering into adulthood. Over the course of a year, the two women confront and avoid one another—at times to the detriment of those around them.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1, Sc. 2]

GERTRUDE
. . . Even my griefs and my sorrows don’t seem to belong to me. Nothing does—as if a shadow has passed over my whole life and made it dark. . .

[Act 1, Sc. 3]

MRS. CONSTABLE
I don’t know where to go or what to do next. I can’t seem to tear myself away from you or Mr. Solares or Mrs. Lopez or Molly. Isn’t that a ridiculous reaction? I feel linked to you. That’s the only way I can explain it. I don’t ever want to have any other friends. It’s as if I had been born right here in the garden and had never lived anywhere before in my life. Don’t leave me please. I don’t know where to go. Don’t leave me.

[Act 2, Sc. 1]

 MOLLY
After a while I could sit in that booth, and if I wanted to I could imagine I was home in the garden . . . inside the summer house.

 

amuse 1

Amusement Backdrop

 

As the great philosopher Forrest Gump once said: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get.” *heavy sigh* Boy, I absolutely had no idea what I was in for with this one. Which reminds me: it’s Women’s History Month. Helloooo, Ladies! This one’s for you: In the Summer House by Jane Bowles. What’s that? Never heard of it? No worries; perhaps in the past is a great place to keep this one.

You know, after reading such an odd play like this one I figured that it would be best if I let you in on the process. In the initial blog post announcing this series I mainly hit the bullet points, but now might be a good time for me to go a little past that, seeing as it’s still early in the series and my style, tone and format aren’t completely locked down yet. Oh, and I also don’t want you guys to think that I’m a d**k and doing this series just to crap on other people’s work as a way to feel good about myself.

 

w vote 1

Salute to Women’s History

 

Okay, for starters: there are just too many stage plays to choose from—millions possibly. 2017’s lineup is already locked in place and isn’t at random. Each play is in essence a tie-in—at least for this year—to whatever is in observance (Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc.) for that particular month which is why I went with In the Summer House, a play that was written by a woman, features a group of women, and is set during what I thought would be an interesting time period showcasing the lives of women: the decade before the Sexual Revolution (1960’s) and the rise of 2nd wave Feminism.

It’s a given that my style is unorthodox (undisciplined); no fancy words and academic analysis here, or paragraphs boggled down by theater jargon. And since this is my slice of the internet, I’m not going to hold back saying how I feel about something I’ve read. And with readership as low as it is, what need is there for me to swab clean my initial reaction to something? However, I do try my best to keep an air of professionalism just in case someone from the print media ranks stumbles upon this blog, likes what they’ve read, and then tasks me with critiquing a current theater production. What I’m saying is: I’ll zip it up for by-lines and dinero. Other than that: the beat goes on.

 

female taxco band 1

All-female Mariachi Band, 1950s

 

Preliminary Confession #1 — How did a nice and easy-going fellow such as myself get it in his mind head to want to want to write criticism on stageplay? — isn’t fully answered but I did allude, even before this question, to the fact that I come from a film background. And a lot of the jobs I took early on required that I read and evaluate screenplays (for free!) which get their DNA (formatting) from stage plays because—guffawHollywood’s first wave of filmmakers were theater directors and playwrights. (The style of screenplay still being used today is called the Master Scene Format which was created by Thomas Ince in 1911.) So, in essence, I’ve been reading stage plays for a minute now (2006) and that’s why I can’t help but give such a strong opinion on how to “correct something” in them. That part of me won’t go away. Another part that won’t go away is how I go about picking what to read. Again, I trust film senses: I read theater websites, see what plays my favorite writers have read, ask people I know what they’ve read (this is actually how Hollywood finds new material), seek out lists of classics—but the main thing I do is look at the title. Just about everyone in the film industry is guilty of it. And for the undiscovered, that is really your only sure shot: the title—which explains how out of hand they’ve gotten as of late. Personally, I’ve read over 1,000 screenplays. (This is a very, very low number; some who get paid to read scripts average 700 scripts a year.) Nowadays I’ll read maybe three or four new ones start to finish if that, and skim maybe the first 15-to-20 pages of another four or five more but I don’t consume them in high volume like I once used to. Much of what’s written on spec today won’t get produced thanks to sequel-itis and comic book-itis currently squatting in our movie theaters. The scripts floating around Hollywood at the moment are basically one-hundred-page calling cards to do work-for-hire on studio tent-pole projects. So when it came to narrowing down my list for the inaugural twelve—and the year following—some made the cut just on their titles alone as well as my own subjective tastes. I’ve also held off reading them in advance so that whatever I have to say about them happens in the moment… Look, not all of these plays are going to be stellar—just go back one month. I knew going in that I’d see some peculiar ones, and that I had to do my best in trying to be fair and honest and open-minded as possible when critiquing them. It’s just that on back-to-back months here at the very beginning I’ve really been caught by surprise.

 

Jane-Bowles

Jane Bowles, herself

 

This particular work came recommended from a blog I read where a follower asked the blogger what plays should she consider for her young, all-girl theater company and this play was listed in her response—which brings me to why I brought up my script-reading background. This play falls into the not-so-rare situation of where the title caught my eye. In the Summer House—it has a nice ring to it. It sounds profound yet ominous and tragic, metaphorical… As a script-reader I gravitated towards stories that are set in one location—which the title implies. Horror, which is all the rage right now (Get Out), benefits significantly from this. One location means smaller budget which in turn means more money for P&A (prints and advertisement), and for a filmmaker constricted to just one location, it’s a true test of his or her creative ability. This, on title alone, would’ve been added to my reading pile back in the day. Now reading it would’ve been an entirely different story because there are a few variables to consider. Like, did this come into the office through an agency, or on spec? If it came in on spec, I would’ve set this aside after page five. No way would I waste my time or risk getting fired from my non-paying job by investing time in reading this. And if it came in through an agency, I’d just bite my tongue as best as I could but still articulate to the boss man in the comment section on the coverage page that this script was a chore to read and heavy, heavy revisions would be needed before this could be seen by a paying audience. Now some readers go further, getting down right vindictive with their comments, but that never really suited me. I’m not a malicious person; I just want the story to be good. I’m not out to destroy a writer’s career before they even have a chance to get it started.

About my tastes: I like ensembles, one-location settings, and short timeframes (an afternoon, over the course of a night, three days; nothing more than a week), well-written monologues. Stuff that drives me up the wall: “You’re late!” scenes, narrative time jumps (one year later, five years later, TEN YEARS LATER!!), grandstanding (I’m not sure of the actual term but it’s when a woman tells a man, or vice versa, to “Leave!” either verbally or silently and just as the man starts off she yells, “Wait!”), casually-racist jokes or racist stock characters (Magic Negro, Gay Best Friend who’s a party/wedding planner, broken-English Asian actor; Seriously, is every Latino male over the age of 40 a lawn mower, and is every Latino male under the age of 40 a gangbanger? Better yet: what are Americans’ understanding of Muslims before 9/11? Seems like they’re all depicted as either hopeless or criminal and the only way to save them is to continue occupying their land and dropping bombs on them, ignoring their pain and suffering because only our troops are the ones dealing with PTSD. [Is that too political for you? Oh well!]).

 

ocean house 2

Ocean Front, circa 1950s

 

What else: no plot (as in a story with no goal; people just standing around yakking), bodily fluids (semen, fecal matter, urine, etc. whether visible or mentioned) and mutilation (perverted sexual acts, animal cruelty, slicing of the epidermis, stuffing of objects into the orifices, extreme violence and gore whether realistic or CGI, etc.). I’ll go one step further and say that writers who write scenes in their script/play showing or mentioning the acts of defecation and urination in an unnatural way, or showing a character slicing open their own skin just for the sake of “shock value” should be brought in for psychological evaluation. These people clearly need proper medical care & attention and shouldn’t be indulged. I’m mystified as to how they manage to get into rooms with people who make films for a living and convince them that they should fund their projects. It’s absolutely mind-boggling… Now that’s just a small selection and by no means extensive even though it looks that way. It might even give you the impression that I’m no fun. No. A man can’t just dine on caviar alone. There are some exceptions; I pray that they come up along the way. I’m usually good at avoiding a lot of the cons when it comes to movies. But stageplays ain’t like movies. I can see movie trailers and steer clear of the bad ones. I’m going into a lot of these plays blind because the synopses for the majority of them make no damn sense at all. They’re like trying to read a book on anthropology on Stone Age civilization; two paragraphs in and you’re clueless as to what any of it actually means. Whew! I’ve said a mouthful. Now that that’s off my chest, on to our stageplay…

 

oyster 2

I’ll take mine Rockefeller

 

I try to dig up little tidbits on each of these and it appears that Mrs. Bowles left planet Earth at the age of 56 leaving behind a fairly light body of work (one novel, seven short stories and this stage play). My take from reading up on her can be surmised in two words: proud bigot. Sorry, not sorry. She had a stroke at age 40, developed a limp because of it, and then took out her frustrations on the rest of the world, feeling that she can say whatever she damn well pleases. In her own words: “I’m Jewish, homosexual, alcoholic, a communist — and I’m a cripple!” Then again, maybe she’d fit right in considering America’s current social climate. So as you can see, she was known more for what she did away from the stage, that is, her being abrasive, in an open marriage and her being a “homosexual” (again her words, not mine; besides gay had an entirely different meaning back then) — but that sort of stuff barely moves the needle nowadays, not when people can change “transition” to a new gender (Caitlyn Jenner) or become so color struck (Boom! Another monthly tie-in, though hella forced this time.) that they would want to change “transition” into an entirely new racial identity (Rachel Dolezal). So her alternative lifestyle only gets a meh and a half nod from me. If you want to wow me, you have to do it on the page—something she couldn’t even do in real life. Summer House’s stint on Broadway was insignificant, and critics then (1953) were split 50/50.

In her story: Gertrude Eastman Cuevas and her daughter Molly are the owners of precious, beachfront property in southern California that is footsteps away from the Pacific Ocean. At opening curtain we are in the garden and just off of it and the main house sits a “round summer house covered with vines.” Molly is in and out of this summer house constantly, using it as a place to hide from her overbearing mother. Oddly, Gertrude’s behavior comes at you right out of the gates. Some of the things this lady espouses wouldn’t even be said in polite company. She has an acerbic remark for just about everything: men, women, brown people, children, work, money, life. Nothing misses a lashing from her tongue. It being the 1950’s and all, it’s interesting to note the difficulty Gertrude has had in raising a child on her own. She now finds herself debating on whether or not to marry Mr. Solares, a Mexican(-American?/-immigrant?) suitor who has been courting her for some time. Her reasoning isn’t that drawn out and seems to be purely financial:

[GERTRUDE: I’m thinking of seriously marrying Mr. Solares, after all. I would at least have a life free of financial worry…]

Besides that there isn’t much in the way of conflict here. But a series of characters are introduced, so many in fact that I just plain stubbornly don’t want to list them. And I like stories with characters but here there are so damn many, none of which are all that distinguishable, nor do they do anything interesting. I’ll just focus on these three: Lionel, Vivian Constable and Mrs. Constable. Mr. Solares and his sisters and the other random characters that pop up from time to time are a non-factor. Vivian and Molly are roughly the same age (15 and 18, respectively) and this, if any, is where the play gets its central conflict from. Allegedly the theme of this play is about mother/daughter relationships and you can kind of see that here and there, but those moments are so fleeting, and what you get in between them are unfunny, senseless pratfalls, random character walk-throughs, on-the-nose musical numbers, way-out-in-right-field navel gazing, and random time jumps (ten months here; two months there). After reading this play, I wanted to throw the book at the wall. But that course of action is reserved only for that special bunch that successfully manages to get underneath my skin. Throwing the book is an act I consider to be on par with a complement, good material or bad…

Vivian too is constantly trying to get from out underneath her mom and has made her rent her a room in Gertrude’s house. Mrs. Constable allows it but is staying close by at a hotel up the coastline and stops over sporadically to check in on her daughter. I wrote in my notes that Vivian and Molly, based on the dialogue given to them, must be mentally retarded disabled because the ish they say, man… I guess the implication here is that Gertrude and Mrs. Constable have stunted their daughters’ growth. Well, if that’s the case, where the hell is Child Protection Services or the local law enforcement for that matter, because something happens to one of these young ladies later on and I’m amazed that the adults involved were able to keep their freedom. I’m even more amazed that the two young girls have managed not to walk into traffic, especially Molly.

Later on in the play Lionel, a fast-food employee at the local seafood shack, gets it in his mind to ask for Molly’s hand in marriage—and it was at this point that I broke down mentally. Imagine asking someone pointed questions about making plans to be together and what their outlook is on the future and them completely ignoring you, opting to chase ladybugs around a yard and speak ethereally about the moon and the stars and not wanting to feel pain… What the ever-loving f—k!

The men in this story. Hell, the women in this story!

I wrote the entire damn cast off. Mr. Solares is a pushover and is completely dismissive of Gertrude’s cattiness and racism. Lionel has no clue about life and proposes to a much younger woman than he his who is a complete ditz, and over time, will become a burden on him. Vivian too is a Dodo bird, and as for what happens to her, well… it happened and? (Spoiler.) Mrs. Constable is spineless and was made to be a lush merely for theatrics. Mr. Solares’ sisters and servants are just over-the-top stereotypes of Mexican immigrants that would in no way fly in this day in age. There isn’t even a sufficient amount of back story for any of them to justify these characterizations except for Gertrude who gets the tried-and-true “daddy issues” crutch.

 

oy 3

Or raw with a little horseradish and Crystal hot sauce…

 

I’ve come to grips with the fact that I may very well never make an impact on Pop Culture, but holy mother of Venus I know I’m better than this! Just exactly what was going on five or four or three decades ago for theater/literary critics to keep a light shined on this kind of material? Why would one of my favorite bloggers recommend this to a woman for tweens to perform?

Absolutely nothing happens in this story; there is no plot! And it doesn’t even take place in the summer house!! Let me clarify the no plot statement: I’m not against plotless stories, not if they are filled with interesting characters. None of these characters felt real to me. Just about everything they said was stilted and if it wasn’t stilted dialogue, it was underlined by music score. Furthermore, what hurts a plotless story are narrative time jumps. It makes a story feel disjointed because the minute something gets interesting, you suddenly are rushed forward to a new point in time and have to build up forward momentum all over again. Bowles, in trying to keep her story interesting, decides to add more characters but our connection to the original, main characters was never cemented, yet she just continues to pile more and more of them on…

Does this story hold up? Seems like a funny question considering all that I’ve said. But the crazy part is, falling back on my script reading days, I would place this story on the border of “PASS” (reject) and “CONSIDER” (re-read at a later date to see if it can change our minds on wanting to reject it). Consider has these varying degrees and after a while it becomes sort of like ordering steak. This could be something to “consider” but with what I said above: heavy, heavy revisions. The majority of the “conflicts/situations” (proposals, marriages, foreclosures) in this play happen off-screen—but not in a good way like Chekhov. They just randomly do for some reason. And none of what does happen on stage justifies all of the bizarre time jumps except Vivian and Gertrude’s marriages which happen together. Correcting this wouldn’t be all that difficult… I like the idea of a single mother being overbearing to her daughter, and juxtaposing that against the decade of the 1950’s could work beautifully, seeing as that was a stagnant time for all Americans. Deep-six the year long timeframe and just and have it all come to a head on their wedding day which could be over the course of an afternoon. This also would be one of the rare occasions where I would recommend flashbacks—but like salt, use sparingly. And, of course, get rid of the inane pratfalls, racism and bigotry—or at least be more subtle. Merge a few characters together and it would make for an explosive situation all under one roof, or all outside in the garden, rather, next to the ocean. Because undeniably, Gertrude Eastman Cuevas is an interesting character—speaking out the way she does considering the time period. And if given just a little bit more to go off of, she could truly be something special. Bizarre scripts like this one fizzle up out of the murk every now and then in the film business. A story like this one would be bought by A-lister’s production company than heavily revised beyond recognition. And as soon as the A-lister has the chance to put down the cape or machine gun, getting this kind of material made would be their top priority because main characters this challenging and this complex don’t come around too often. And on those days, your job as a script reader is difficult. Because you don’t want to be the guy who wrote “PASS” on a script that could potentially land Meryl her next Oscar® nomination. Add to that the fact that the industry is currently on a manhunt, er, I mean, womanhunt for stories with strong, female protagonists. Plus, we all know period pieces shoe-ins for Best Picture, so this one smells like “CONSIDER”. So, yeah, in a weird way: this story does hold up. The mother/daughter estranged-relationship that’s fully dimensional is a story not often told.

I’ve think I’ve exhausted my point. Hopefully, there’s enough here to last you until next month. I’m three weeks into a 30-day juice cleanse and I’m hella grumpy for typing and revising this much. One Love, boys and girls and aliens… I’m on my way to the kitchen to pour myself a bowl of vegetable broth.

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til April…

 

 

Rating: 2/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #1 | Color Struck

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #1

I have often been asked—by myself mostly, and in my head at that—how I first became an amateur theater reviewer; and have worried, undeservedly, about the opinion of my acquaintance—again, myself mostly; it being reasoned that I should rely primarily upon my worldly experiences and incorporate them here, by way of serialized installments that are hopefully not too indulgent—though that often tends to be the case with writers—simply for the sake of adding an element of mystique around what it is that I’m doing: theater—rather, old stage play—criticism. This, however, is only a small portion of what actually goes “into it the process” — obviously. True it is, that for ten years (2007-2016) I actively pursued a film career and on occasion did partake in going to the theater, mainly for the fact that it provided me with a small break from my craft (screenwriting and filmmaking) and the frustrations that go along with it: but, so long as I experienced the theater from this angle, I was effectually guarded from all the positive aspects the theater offered, even more so by the long periods between visits where the time away was spent toiling away at what at the time I thought would be bring me pleasure (happiness). It was not for the purpose of creating pleasure, but of mitigating pain, pain of the worst degree, that I later returned and began to use the theater as an occasional sedative for my creative desires. In the thirty-first year of my age, a most painful realization of life, which I had first experienced about ten years before but for something entirely different, barreled into me with the force of ten-thousand dump trucks. This area of my life, as I have stated before in an earlier blog or two, will be expanded upon this summer when I summarize my first ten years (a decade!) living in Los Angeles—and my career ups-and-downs will be one of the many highlights. However, during the period of grief and dejection (that is, from 2011 to 2013 roughly) the theater, even reading (my own work included) pretty much flat-lined: for the two following years I could only resuscitate them at intervals: but now, under more favorable circumstances, from cheerfulness of spirit, the “pain” now yields no other remedy but the theater and any other communal event as well as a renewed passion to write again—though in a different format than I originally had planned. As for those salad days—which brought about this “complicated” relationship between theater and me, and in themselves are quite interesting, as well as the situations that produced them—I’ll have to anecdote about them at a later point in the future and too then answer fully what is the first preliminary question. For now, we turn our attention to Color Struck.

 

dixie-hwy-osceola-co-1920s

County where Zora grew up in Eatonville

 

Title: Color Struck (1926)
Playwright: Zora Neal Hurston
Time Period: Early Modernism (Harlem Renaissance)
Plot: Several black couples travel by train to a regional cakewalk competition.
Dope Line(s):

[Scene 1]

 JOHN
Yes, I want you to love me, you know I do. But I don’t like to be accused o’ ever’ light colored girl in the world. It hurts my feeling. I don’t want to be jealous like you are.

[Scene 2]

EMMA
Oh—them yaller wrenches! How I hate ‘em! They gets everything they wants—

[Scene 2]

EMMA
He went and left me. If we is spatting we done had our last one. Ah, mah God! He’s in there with her—Oh, them half whites, they gets everything, they gets everything everybody else wants! The men, the jobs—everything! The whole world is got a sign on it. Wanted: Light colored. Us blacks was made for cobble stones.

 

gator

Florida gator.

 

That’s just the way it is, things will never be the same—at least that’s how I remember the chorus to Tupac Shakur’s Changes going. Makaveli makes short work of Bruce Hornsby’s original record, adding heft with an ever-jabbing bassline that pulsates behind the sample, as he unleashes a barrage of unfiltered lyrical content depicting the miserable conditions that African-Americans were left stranded in, in the aftermath of the trickle-down Reagan Era 80’s and the gas-guzzling post-Bush Sr. 90’s… And on that note I’d like to say: Happy Black History Month boys and girls and aliens. I’ve decided to crack open this nut from the early 20th century in honor of. Remembered more for her seminal work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston’s stage play Color Struck had been buried deep underneath a mountain of greater works from the time period until it was unearthed in the 1970’s and extracted still ripe from the pages of the now defunct Fire!! Magazine (published in 1926; only one issue ever pressed), immediately anthologized, and has been hobbling along ever since.

 

fire-magazine

Fire!! [R.I.P.]

 

Man, there are some painful revelations that I’m having in my 30s. My brethren and I have been up shit creek for so long, much longer than any of us would care to give thought. And the more I dig up artifacts (sheet music, newspaper articles, corn mix boxes, etc.) from our past, the more I realize how much “baggage” we have still to “unpack”—and skin is one of them. Why we haven’t let this go, why we’ve allowed this to divide us, confounds even the most astute and the most militant amongst the Diaspora—Willie Lynch Theory or nah. Color struck—the stage play’s title defined—is the attitude/allure that darker-skinned African-Americans have for lighter-skinned African-Americans’ (and whites’) skin tone. It’s an old saying amongst Blacks believing that those with lighter skin complexions and Eurocentric features (blue eyes, hawk’s beak nose, “good” hair, washboard asses) are the epitome of Beauty thus more desirable—and what one should aspire to emulate. Further, it is a colorism within one’s own race—an “intra-racism”, if you will. For one to be color struck it is to be stung with an arrow equivalent to Cupid’s; it roils forth the same sort of reckless whirlwind passion of that of star-crossed lovers (Boom! Tie-in to last month’s review) — but rooted in a heated jealousy. The skin “issue”, unfortunately, seems to be generational at this point—which is a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing on my part. So not to ruin it all by stating it now, I pause to say: One Love to my departed sistah Zora… Oh, and please allow me the honor of nitpicking (critiquing) your work.

 

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Zora. Zora. Zora.

 

The first two decades of the 20th century were an interesting time for Blacks in America. What’s billed is a renaissance (Harlem Renaissance; mid-1910’s to mid-1930’s) but if one were to do dig a little deeper one would we see that there was an aggressive—and admittedly successful—effort on (white) America’s part to industrialize and indoctrinate socialize Black people. Another notable takeaway of the time period is the outright, feverish eagerness on the gens de couleur libres’ part to be “recognized by” and “accepted into” the white (WASP) Elite—and the bulk of the North’s efforts (and moolah) benefited these Uncle Toms. Gens de couleur libres (free people of color) is the term that was applied to people of African descent—a large portion of them being of mixed race—who had never been subjected to the harsh conditions of plantation life. By the 1920’s this group had already become a silent “black aristocracy” primarily in my home state of Louisiana (New Orleans) — referred to there loosely as Creole (“light-skinned” African-Americans). However, these gens de couleur libres did reside in other parts of the country and just like the former slaves had migrated North and West during The Great Migration (mid-WWI more or less through the 1950’s). The 1920’s is also the same period of time in which the black aristocracy’s “power structure” started to become undone via American legislation (Plessy vs. Ferguson [1896; the ripple effects carried into the 20th century], the stripping of personal wealth, the removal/refusal of aid to institutions) and hate crimes (race riots, arson of black businesses, murder) — though a good of bit of their “power” was salvaged by graveling at the feet of the white Establishment for crumbs. Today, there is still a small, insular group of Blacks (again mostly “light-skinned”) who relish the fact that their family’s lineage as gens de couleur libres can be traced back to before the Civil War (spring of 1861 to the spring 1865).

 

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Creole Man, circa 1860s

 

Again, none of this is to be divisive—or to point the finger. I mention the above only for context, in hopes that a generalized outline of the times (Color Struck’s setting: rural Florida 1900; and the same locale 20 years later) will give one an understanding, and add body and texture to where Zora’s story unfortunately falls short…

And how could she know that her play would still have possible relevance in the 21st century? Maybe in her mind the idea of Black people still squabbling 90 years later over something as arbitrary as skin tone would seem downright cuckoo. Surely a non-issue like that one would’ve already worked itself out in all that time… Hold up; let me fall back. I’m being way too presumptuous. Besides, there’s no need to speculate on what Zora’s thoughts might’ve been. The fact of the matter is that there’s no real way of me—of any of us—ever knowing, so…

 

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Jim Crow rail car, late 19th century

 

Color Struck is an easy enough story to follow. All that I’ve mentioned above along with the arrival of immigrant groups from Europe (Irish, Italians, Jews, etc.) and a smaller, second Industrial Revolution which took in its grasp many blacks and whites (and Mexicans and indigenous) shifted the United States’ economic power and focus to the North (factory work) and to the West (expansionism) as well, decimating the South’s rural economies (agriculture by way of livestock and free human labor) in the process. The effects of which were deeply felt in the state of Florida where Color Struck’s story takes place. Several black couples are traveling from Jacksonville to St. Augustine by train to a regional cakewalk dance competition—which is basically the best thing smokin’ seeing as there ain’t much to do now that most of the jobs are gone and small gatherings such as these play an integral role in keeping what little community there is left together. As for this cakewalk, it is a leftover from plantation life, it being a mockery of whites’ ballroom dancing at first—but then taking on a life of its own. I’d go into greater detail describing it but then I’d be robbing you of your own personal scavenger hunt (Google/Bing). I’ll say this much: just think Soul Train line. And if I have to explain what that is—then I give up…

First impressions: Boy, things sure have changed. Who travels by train nowadays? This means of mass transit always fascinates me because so much literature—Black or otherwise—from this time period starts off this way: someone or a group of people en route to a destination by rail line. More so the uncommon here, as this particular railway car is packed to the brim and segregated by race (Negroes). However, there’s still a noble, affable air in the setting, and to Zora’s credit, she presents what is the opening scene in a very matter-of-fact fashion. One could easily mistake it for a passage in a William Dean Howells novel—which it clearly isn’t, and in doing so, one would also be denying Zora her proper respect.

 

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Early 20th Century satire

 

A fairly sizeable cast—I say five or six—have some weight against the story but it is the character Emmaline Beazely (called Emma throughout) who is the most fleshed out. She’s traveling with her boyfriend John and a few others. She and John though are “dark-skinned”, John himself being a shade lighter (not “light-skinned”). And John—well, I guess they still make guys like John: kind, considerate, loyal, gregarious. So it was a bit disconcerting to see him to have to bear the grunt of Emma’s wrath for the majority of the proceedings. Skimming Zora’s bio afterwards, I learned that this was a recurring figure of hers: a strong (somewhat broken) woman whose only love is of the selfish-angry-hurt variety. In today’s world that kind of “acting out” (characterization) has to have some sort of context, I feel. Because here her rage swishes back and forth around the rim of the cup so much that it made me speed through the middle parts of the play a lot quicker than what I would’ve liked to just to see what this pain (and resentment) was rooted in. And then I get to the end of the play only to see that Zora opted to go the Manchester by the Sea route—which is to say absolutely nothing, implying basically that Emma can’t “beat it”, whatever it is… A bit of a spoiler on my part I guess. But the actual ending, I cannot lie, I never saw coming (dope writing!).

Tossing Zora a bone here, and to connect the pieces to my own review, what I believe Emma’s anger is rooted in is basically the world around her: a “thriving” but not yet failing—though silent to some—black (“light-skinned”) aristocracy which because of her skin tone and/or her lot in life she can’t gain access to, and a rural Black community that has gone to seed, a community Emma possibly feels trapped inside of with no tangible means of escaping. And there won’t be any help from the other side (the rural white South) this time around either because they have their own to look after seeing as the U.S. government has its empirical claws clutching at things elsewhere. Yes, there are “light-skinned” Blacks who are still milling about like Effie, a mulatto girl loosely playing the foil to Emma, whose misfortunes are one in the same but Emma still sees her—and the people with skin like hers—as a threat. To Emma, it’s as if they’re encroaching on what little resources there are left (men, money, employment) and if she drops her guard even for one second people like Effie are going to make off with them. And any of these, maybe all, are potential areas of concern for one looking to adapt this play for television or film, or the stage.

 

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Reminders

 

As for the elephant in the room on whether or not this play holds up, the short answer: No! The long answer is a bit more complex and sort of takes away from the overall “spirit” of this theater review series. But in this case seeing as I’ve started off the blog post foreshadowing my sentiments, and it also being Black History Month—on top of other things—I figured: “Hell, I might as well say how I really feel and tack it on as best as I can to my conclusion.” Yes! Hell, yes! I think there’s a lot here that’s still relevant. Not just Black people but America at large seems to have fallen under some sort of weird, perverted colorism, the fallout of which lands often times in large clumps on the minds and spirits of those with really dark skin pigmentation who can’t cheat their skin tone without having to go through with a horrific skin-bleaching process which ends up doing more harm than good. We’ve gotten way too obsessed as a society with wanting to be hazel, and chestnut, and caramel, and brown (not in reference to Latino), and bronzed, and olive (existing as black and green in nature but as light brown in American lexicon; okay sure, whatevs), and tanned… and vice versa so as not to get any darker. A nation as diverse and as narcissistic and as morally bankrupt as ours has cross-pollinated itself to the hilt thanks to the internet which has now made cultural appropriation the easiest it’s ever been to commit in human history, not to mention what has been imprinted on all of our psyches since this country’s inception (Native American Holocaust) up to and through the Civil Rights Movement (1950’s through the end of the 1960’s; true equality for East Asians, Hispanics, the indigenous Native Americans, African-Americans, Central and South Asians, and the rest of Eastern Europe and Africa) and into today. We are all color struck, we are all in awe of each other’s natural skin and features that cosmeticians and surgeons from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the pricey enclave of Beverly Hills neighboring my beloved Los Angeles have amassed a miserly fortune off our insecurities (neurosis).

Getting off my soapbox and back to Zora, I think that her legacy is in serious jeopardy. In an Age where more and more people are favoring video content over the written word, I fear that her work may get left behind simply because this generation of content providers trends towards lazy and many of them aren’t going to want to put in the work necessary for a story like this one—and many of her others—which doesn’t lend itself over easily to contemporary story conventions. And that’s sort of the other big knock on Zora: her lack of theme. And then, of course, the cardinal sin anywhere in the universe: telling a story that has no plot. More reputable critics have said that her plays and novels are “morality tales” but that to me is like when a filmmaker makes a painfully-bad movie where nothing happens and should anyone ask why that is, the filmmaker defends his/herself by saying that “It’s Art! You just don’t understand.” It’s an answer like that that makes me want to key their car… I mean no disrespect, but that’s the case here: no theme really, and no plot. All in all, if Color Struck is on your reading list—read it. If it’s not, yet something’s compelling you to read it, you’ve been warned.

 

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Black family on TV, late 1980’s

 

And one last thing on colorism as it pertains to Black people. As I mentioned at the top of this blog post by way of Tupac, recalling his lyrics and frustration over the fact that nothing ever changes. Well, I can concede that the air around the skin “issue” has improved somewhat, although I still have to consider where we all are in the macro- sense… But every time Black people have come close to putting this “issue” behind them the Media not so sneakily places it back out in front—why is that? The photos above and below this paragraph I leave to you to dissect on your own. Still, I can’t help but say, “Come on, Black people. We should know better.”

 

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Black family on TV, 2010’s

 

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

 

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‘Til March…

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions | Romeo and Juliet

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer:
PRELIMINARY CONFESSIONS

These preliminary confessions, or introductory narrative of earlier adventures which laid the foundation for my approach to theater criticism, has been deemed necessary to highlight, and for these main reasons:

1. To be out in front of that question — “How did a nice and easy-going fellow such as yourself—who has no theater background at all—get it in his mind to want to write criticism on the stage plays?” — A question which, if not somewhere plausibly resolved, could tinker with that degree of sympathy which is necessary in any case to a reviewer’s purpose.

2. As an awakening perhaps to the current cultural landscape. Take for instance: The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ final performance of The Greatest Show on Earth is this coming May (2017), a live-action showcase that has been apart of Americana for 147 years. It seems like every time I “pay attention” to the news I see a report pointing out how Americans are slowly succumbing to the techno-industrial beasts commonly known as digital and virtual enslavement “entertainment.”

3. As a way of creating some new interest in the theater. My own criticism aside: if one can get pass the pretentiousness and ticket prices of Broadway and its ilk, or support the local “smaller” theater boxes, one would see that the theater is an amazing place to socialize and that there is still quite a bit of creativity being used. Allegedly, Hollywood just had two record-breaking years back-to-back. And when the money comes that easy, it is hard to find originality…

[The above preliminary confessions will be answered in later installments. For now, we turn our attention to Romeo and Juliet.]

 

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Rosemary for remembrance

 

Title: Romeo and Juliet (1595)
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Time Period: Early to Middle Renaissance
Plot: An ongoing feud between the Montagues and Capulets has forced the Prince of Verona to issue a death sentence to the person of either family who instigates the next brawl. Young Romeo Montague and young Juliet Capulet secretly wed in the background of this age-old conflict between the two families.
Dope Line(s):
[Act 1, Sc. 2, Ln. 55]
ROMEO
Not mad, but bound more than a madman is,

[Act 2, Sc. 2, Ln. 66-68]
ROMEO
With love’s light wings did I o’erperch the walls,
For story limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do, that dares love attempt.

[Act 4, Sc. 5, Ln. 46-48]
LADY CAPULET
But one, poor one, one poor and loving child,
But one thing to rejoice and solace in,
And cruel death hath catched if from my sight!

 

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That Old-Old-Old  Old School Balcony Game

 

What can I possibly say about Romeo and Juliet that hasn’t already been said? Not much, really. The work speaks for itself. Romeo and Juliet has been adapted—just film alone—more than 30 darn times for Christ’s sake! And somewhere north of 290 plays and 500 movies wouldn’t be in existence if it weren’t for William Shakespeare. He is to Stage and Film what the Notorious B.I.G. is to Hip-Hop and wall murals. The characters and language of Romeo and Juliet are all solid—but there are some contrivances though. I mean, four centuries ago a lot of the goings on of this play may have been the ish but now in the year 2017 anno Domini, someone’s got to take on the ungodly task of nitpicking the great bard’s work—just a wee bit. Seriously, how often does one run into someone who’s in a position of authority who can’t read? And then that same person turns to the next person walking by, who just so happens to figure into the plot, to read to him what is on the sheet of paper he’s holding? Be honest: that’s a little too convenient…

And that’s sort of why I chose R&J to kick off my monthly theater review series. Just about everybody on the planet has heard of it. And, personally, I wanted to refresh myself with the material. In middle school, my English textbook only had excerpts. It showed up later in high school in two forms: the cheesy VHS copy of some British theater company doing their rendition which I was forced to watch in English III—and the Aaliyah movie. That’s what we called Romeo Must Die in the hood when I was growing up: The Aaliyah Movie. Sad but true. But in our defense: it was her feature film debut, and that movie had banked its fortunes on Black people showing up at the box office. And so: that’s what we called it.

 

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Romeo Must Die (2000),Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Again, I have to pause to say that this story really is the Energizer Bunny. There won’t be anything this century written—my work included—that will come close to it. This thing is Teflon™. I guess that’s why Universal bought the rights to Rebecca Serle’s novel When You Were Mine which has now been green-lit to be a film titled Rosaline. Sony’s going in big also but with a 300-style version titled Verona. So yet another spin-off, reboot, remake, sequel, prequel, requel, whatever the f—! to obstruct the road for originality in Film. But, oddly enough, Shakespeare adapted Romeo and Julietguffaw!—from a really old-ass poem: The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562) so it all comes back around I guess…

 

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Verona

 

Shakespeare’s Verona. A lot like my New Orleans. Romantic but at the same time crime-ridden and shaped like a crescent—somewhat. It’s late in the summer (July?) and there’s an ongoing feud spilling over into the streets.

Between who?

Two families of great stock who absolutely loathe one another.

And how long has it been like that between them?

For those involved, they don’t care to remember… And they are the Capulets: Lord and Lady Capulet, Juliet, Tybalt, Greory, Sampson—and others; and they have beef with the Montagues: Lord and Lady Montague, Romeo, Benvolio—and their supporters. Prince Escalus wants this put to rest and issues the punishment of death to the next person who starts things up again…

And how could you not love the opening sequence of R&J. There’s great banter, great action, and, aided by prologue, you get a great sense of the world and the setting, a great deal of tension, an onslaught of characters (which I love!), and what we should be paying attention to as far as theme—ending meaningless quarrels with someone or groups of people.

 

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Rapier-fighting

 

Now I’d like to move things along and get to Juliet who at this point in my life I’m shifty about. I get that she’s thirteen, but boy oh boy, she’s smart one moment and then foolish the next (great writing!). Confession: I’m an aspiring screenwriter and I can admit that publicly. Now as much as a decent writer I like to think I am, I still haven’t gotten over the hump and on my way to writing episodes of television or making feature films. I just had to stop my review for a moment because there’s this one thing I’d like to highlight that runs rampant in my business (I still work in film). Something I see the so-called “pros” do all the f’ing time—and that’s having characters “arrive late.” I guess there must be some screenwriting book that every writer in the business treats as the Bible or it’s one of these goddamn screenwriting “rules” that these same screenwriters honor as the gospel—but I strongly disagree with this notion: having characters “arrive late” or having a scene begin “late.”

Here’s why: IRL if I were to show up late to a production meeting or just show up late in general to work, I could potentially lose my job. Because being late in real life makes adult human beings believe that I can’t be trusted or that I’m irresponsible—and punctuality is a key indicator. Now the weird thing in my biz—and maybe in all industries—is that no one will give me ish about it to my face. But when I suddenly find out why I can’t crew up on the next production, all I have to do is think back to the time I showed up to set twenty minutes late, phone call or not. It isn’t so much that I have a quarrel with scenes beginning “late”; I get that that’s necessary sometimes. But it’s the announcement of a character in a scene saying to another character that they’ve arrived “late.” One, it’s wasted dialogue; two: fire his or her ass. Or just don’t bring up the fact that the character is late at all and get down to business. Damn near every episode of television I watch or movie I go to see it has to have the same-old obligatory scene where a character says “You’re late.” to the person walking in late. It’s only brought up once and never mentioned again (anywhere!), and nothing ever comes of it because characters in movies (and television) don’t get reprimanded at work unless it’s in the third act of a Romantic Comedy. So moratorium on that nonsense in 2017, please!!

My suggestion: crib from Shakespeare. It isn’t like that isn’t a thing already. The simple fix to that problem is right there at the beginning of Scene 3, Act 1. Lady Capulet and the Nurse enter together into what I guess is Juliet’s part of the house, looking for her:

[LADY CAPULET: Nurse, where’s my daughter? Call her forth to me.]

And Juliet enters “late”—which, like I said, isn’t a bad thing in itself:

[JULIET: Madam, I am here. What is your will?]

Boom! Done! I get that screenwriters want to quickly establish tension in a scene but I think that the “You’re late” approach is the laziest way of going about it. Shakespeare does this magnificently—showcasing how one can be late and still get tension out of the scene. And not only is there tension off the bat in this scene, but he also makes room for his other characters (the Nurse) thus adding dimension to them and he lays down a good dramatic beat to build up to the main character’s entrance: Juliet.

And why couldn’t she have picked a better choice in men?

If we’re playing favorites, I’d have to say that my favorite character in this whole ordeal was Lord Capulet—and Juliet or the Friar would be my second. Lord Capulet too is aloof at times but the man makes a ton of sense. It’s weird reading this play again, especially post-Twilight Series (and its ilk) and now as an adult. (Teens in this generation have a weird fascination with death, am I right?) No father in his right damn mind living today would allow his daughter to hang out with a guy like Romeo. And I have to give him a few brownie points. He wears his heart on his sleeve—admirable—and is a bit brash, suave when needed. But he’s also long-winded and the type to flaunt money and status around (the Apothecary) which is a big #TINWIPA no-no. I have to whisper when I say this just in case there are some R&J diehards lurking about: ((whisper)) I think Romeo is a sociopath or a psychopath—or both. ((end whisper))

In looking at my notes for him I’ve written, “So he kills Tybalt, Paris who is his own homie’s cousin, and himself. And Lady Montague dies off stage over him being exiled. Then Juliet takes her own life, and his actions could possibly get Friar Lawrence, the Apothecary and Balthasar all whacked! Why do women swoon over him? Is this love?”

 

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Charnel House Climax

 

And that’s sort of the gist of what happens here. It’s the classic, tragic love story that’s been sampled more times than Isaac Hayes’s “Ike’s Mood”. Aside from the many passages foreshadowing Romeo and Juliet’s untimely demise (all amazing), it’s kind of the story of how Romeo makes a mess of things in Verona. He gets involved with his cross-town rival’s teenage daughter. They secretly get wed and fornicate behind everyone’s backs. He then gets deep-sixed to Mantua due to the resolve on Prince Escalus’s part, only to come back to Verona and poison himself, not before slaying another person. Uh, romantic? Okay…

All in all, I think Romeo and Juliet will stand the test of time—it’s that good. It’s a fairly easy story to follow, but you read this one for the language and metaphors… If yet another story could be spun out of this yarn, the Rogue One version of this would be what took place between Scenes 3 and 4 of Act 1. I’d pay hard-earned cash to see what one could come up with for how Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio got in with that crowd of maskers, torchbearers and drummers who end up performing at Lord Capulet’s party.

 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

 

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‘Til February…

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

 

TO THE READER. — I here present you, courteous reader, with my new monthly theater review series which I have extremely high hopes for at this point in my life: according to my application of it, I trust that it will prove, not merely an interesting series, but, in a considerable degree, useful and instructive. It is in that hope that I have drawn it up: and that must be my apology for breaking through that delicate and honorable reserve, which, for the most part, restrains us from voicing our opinion of the Arts in public—without the cloak of a screen name or avatar, that is. Because nothing, indeed, is more off-putting to my fellow Americans, than the idea of some guy on the internet offering up his unwanted opinion of something, and washing away that mellow congenial glaze, which time, or overexposure to Pop Culture, has accumulated over them: accordingly, the greater part of American confessions proceed from wife-beating athletes and musicians, psychotic murderers, and corrupt politicians: and for any such acts of gratuitous self-humiliation from the likes of those mentioned above, who over time somehow manage to regain sympathy with the decent and self-respecting part of society, one must surely overlook what I intend to jot down here for all the internet to see—my gratuitous humiliating act—because all can be so easily forgiven, right? And all of this I feel so passionately, and so nervous am I, that I have for many months hesitated about going forward with this, or posting any other blogs with criticism, to come before the public eye, and opted to keep my thoughts to myself: and it is not without an anxious assessment of the reasons, for and against the series, that I have, at last, decide to say fugg it!

 

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The Negro Ensemble Company

 

For my own part, without breach of truth or modesty, I may affirm, that my life has been, at least in part, like that of a philosopher’s: from my birth I showed signs of being an intellectual creature: though intellectual in the highest sense my pursuits and pleasures have not always been, especially in my younger days. If going to the theater is one of life’s sensual pleasures, then I am bound to confess that I have only indulged in it sparingly, and my current task has not yet been endeavored by any other critic, it is even more true that I have struggled with the elitism of the theater crowd with a religious zeal, and have, in some minor degree, accomplished what I never yet heard attributed to any other amateur theater reviewer—I will untwist, then re-twist and then untwist again, the plots of famous stage plays, lesser known ones and even a few contemporary pieces to see if the stories, subtexts and overall surface messages “hold up” in the 21st century and then provide criticism on them without ever having seen them acted out. Fun, valid criticism shall be the aim of this series, and a new stage play (one only; each from a different period in time) will be posted on the third Sunday of each month—hopefully. Again, I am really excited about the potential of this series. And for those who stick it out, I think it will be a very positive experience. First up is an oldie but goodie. Shades of this particular work can be seen in just about every love story today, sometimes to the detriment of the author who doesn’t want to draw any comparisons to it. If not this Sunday—as this is the first one and I’m just getting this series off the ground—then definitely on Monday I will be posting my inaugural series review of Romeo and Juliet.

 

 

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Monologue anyone?

I Bring You San Francisco: But Next Time I Might Trek To Oakland

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2017 by gregnett

Hello world!

I didn’t expect for this to be my first blog post of the new year—and because of that juicy little tidbit, I’m dropping this one in silence. They pretty much all are — without buzz — but this one is definitely going up without any promo.

My goal was to finish a stage play over the coming weekend and have that be my first blog post of 2017—and also work in the direction of where this blog is going. (I’ll still be “paying attention” but to a few mediums, or maybe just one, that may or may not be sliding into oblivion.) So, in a sense, this is a small “teaser” of what to look out for from moi.

It seems like all my best ideas come to me when I’m in the shower — I know, right! — and so I decided to run with this blog post instead. Last year I wanted to get in shape as well as clear my mind of a few things. I’d been runnin’-n-gunnin’ since I moved to Los Angeles now almost 10 years ago and hadn’t stopped to smell the roses. I came up for air momentarily back in 2010 but then I went right back “underground.” The fact that I’m back to posting “stuff” on FaceBook and Twitter (and here) shows that I’ve found my groove thang.

Well, I can now say that I’m 65 lbs. lighter and that I’ve also figured out how to handle my life sans movie career. (I came to L.A. off the heels of Hurricane Katrina but decided to stick around to make a go at becoming a filmmaker.) I’ll unspool that yarn later this summer on my 10-year anniversary date. But what I can say for now is: Don’t feel bad for me. They don’t call it The Boulevard of Broken Dreams for nothing…

Anyway, what I wanted to do this year was travel: dedicate this entire year to moving about the country. So far on deck I have Las Vegas (lived there for a year), back home (New Orleans) and, as of yesterday morning, New York City. In reach are Palm Springs, San Diego and Oakland—but I’m not sure about those yet.

Ideally, this would all be documented. I’d go into more detail but seeing as this is the first vomit—and very impromptu at that—I haven’t the the foggiest idea on how to approach this… There must be some new angle, I constantly tell myself… Oh, and as crazy as it may sound: I actually wanted to visit Los Angeles first.

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Edge of Clarion Alley – Early September, 2016

To be brutally honest: my time in L.A. hasn’t been the smoothest. The instability and the hoping & wanting and the yearning for “things to happen” kept me indoors and damn near destitute. I’ve lived here for so long yet I’ve never taken up the sights. Luckily, the universe was kind enough to bless me with a great opportunity at an even greater company — still in the entertainment biz, go figure — and I was so overcome with joy that I burned one of my first paychecks on a trip to San Francisco last Labor Day weekend to kick it with my “brother” for a few days.

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Fuzzy Interior Shot, Brass Tacks – Fillmore Neighborhood, I think??

Again, this is a test run—and I would’ve happily let this quick little escapade north fall into obscurity but why the hell not. I’ve been to San Francisco before (2006; 2009?) but now to leave you with some sort of observation about last year’s trip, and what’s to come:

Sorry, not sorry: San Francisco is white—and also Asian. But white people have a lion’s share of the action. I don’t say that to be divisive. I say that merely because that’s what I saw. And I’m not talking about shopping mall white. I mean, uncomfortably white. There are virtually no black and brown people walking around. I was in town for 4 days and I saw maybe 5 black people 3 Hispanic people (an affluent Hispanic couple with a small child) total. I even walked into a Soul Food restaurant only to see one other black person dining there (I have a photo of the meal on my Twitter).

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Interior of Clarion Alley, Early September 2016

Now you might say: Well, G. You were there in ‘06 and ‘09. Wasn’t it like that then? And so, what?

And to that I respond: I guess… It was 2006; I don’t remember any of it. Only that I played Texas Hold ‘em in a really dark bar in the Tenderloin… I don’t remember too much about ’09 either… I was there for an NFL game and those tend to draw a more diverse crowd. Plus, I was drunk and wasn’t all that concerned with my surroundings… And so, what nothing…

And the whole time I was walking around laughing to myself in between violent spats of hyperventilation, and I didn’t even have the heart to tell my “brother” (we grew up together, he’s white; long story) what’s making me so giddy and anxious. I was saying to myself as we walked around, “No wonder so many (white) Angelenos have mad love for this place. It’s nothing but them up here—and Asians.” Seriously, if you don’t like brown and black people don’t move to L.A. — I recommend you go with San Francisco instead.

This June will be my 10-year anniversary in Los Angeles and I don’t want to spoil what I plan to say then by saying it now, but spending Labor Day weekend in San Francisco renewed my love for Los Angeles times over. I’ll never talk shit about L.A. again—not like I ever did, but just in case.

Multiculturalism™, Diversity™, and Progress™ mean absolutely nothing to that part of the Bay Area. Think about it: in a city full of liberals how can the demographics be that racially lopsided? Rhetorical question, possibly; because I do know the answer—I’m just waffling at this point. Drawing things along racial lines is never my intention, no matter how much I veer off into that territory. So, to right the ship: I think San Francisco is a place people should visit. The city has great food, great view, and decent human beings—but as for me, I would never live there unless I was being paid royally by some tech company. That’s what it would have to take for me to ignore what’s going on there as far as the demographics go—and the cost of living.

Oh! Here’s something: the money rule still applies in San Francisco. Those who are making it are very hush-hush about how. Oh, and the entire city has agreed to spend as much time as humanly possible outside their homes—or it could’ve just been a holiday weekend. And the rent! The rent is sky-high though I do suspect that some—a generous some—are getting a spectacular deal on rent, but it’s hard to confirm. The few people I spoke to about rental prices were very vague—bordering on aloof—about how they came into such nice rental spaces. People will mention that their space is “rent controlled” but that’s about the extent of it.

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Notorious B.I.G. mural, Clarion Alley – Early September, 2016

I’m sure none of this is insightful… I’ve been up to San Francisco three times now and the city has yet to make an impression on me. I’m sure I’ll end up there again because of my “brother”—and be just as bored and panicky as I was the last time (2016).

2016 – Movie List*

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2016 by gregnett

*Of the movies I’ve seen… which no one has asked my opinion on. (I’ve seen over a 100 films this year. That should qualify me, right?)

Here’s yet another obligatory list ranking movies that hit theaters this calendar year, 2016 Anno Domini. A good, safe number is 10. So that’s what I’m giving you — and ten words to go along with them. All are listed by their USA release date. See ya in 2017. Enjoy!

Official poster shows the titular hero Deadpool standing in front of the viewers, with hugging his hands, and donning his traditional black and red suit and mask, and the film's name, credits and billing below him.

Dir. Tim Miller

Ten words: Who knew a violent action flick could be so funny?

How To Be Single Poster.jpg

Dir. Christian Ditter

Ten words: Somewhat passable contemporary dating movie tripped up by stock clichés.

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Dir. John Hillcoat

Ten words: By the book crooked cops actioner. Mackie is surprisingly good.

Miles Ahead (film).png

Dir. Don Cheadle

Ten words: Raw. Dizzying. Brash. Uncouth. Tragic. Just like the man portrayed.

Green Room (film) POSTER.jpg

Dir. Jeremy Saulnier

Ten words: Horror film meets Punk band. An unsettling, grim narrative. Yikes!

Puerto Ricans in Paris poster.jpg

Dir. Ian Edelman

Ten words: Charming, formulaic fish out of water story — but with Hispanics.

Nerve 2016 poster.png

Dir. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman

Ten words: In a year of studio misfires, how’s this more entertaining?

Snowden film poster.jpg

Dir. Oliver Stone

Ten word: The most heart-warming romantic thriller of the year… Wait, what?

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Dir. Ben Younger

Ten word: Conventional pugilist story but skillfully crafted to avoid unwelcoming comparisons.

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Dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Ten words: Mocks Christianity. Alcohol bandages all of the white people grief.

Tuesday Thinker (The Last One) – Week #2 September 2016

Posted in Writing & Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2016 by gregnett
Prison cell sketch by James-in-the-Shell

“Prison cell sketch” by James-in-the-Shell

This will be my last Tuesday Thinker in quote form… Going forward, an actual blog post about life, America, whatever tickles my fancy will be replacing said quotes. Again, the whole quotes thing was never that “original” to begin with. Besides, Instagram pretty much does the same function… Onward, ho!

“The more corrupt the state, the numerous the laws.” — Tacitus