Category Archives: Movie and Play Reviews

King Lear

Asbestos Arks

Asbestos Arks

KING LEAR

The day after seeing King Lear at Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Thomas Theatre, I hurried to the library and checked out three different books about the play.  Of course I’ve seen King Lear at least four or five times, but in the intimate setting of the smallest theatre on OSF’s campus I saw and heard things that I hadn’t truly understood or previously perceived.

One thing that hit home was how very dark and un-redeeming this tragedy is for virtually every character in it.  Next thing was how rift with incredible quotes from the Bard this play is.  If “Ripeness is All” (Act  5, Scene 2) we are really treated to a very dirty, gritty, smelly production this time around!

The set is dark with lots of wrought iron gates, hardware and technology features.  Center stage a “dumbwaiter from hell” serves as a map case for the bequeathed kingdom, a conveyance for darklings in the dark, a sand and fire pit and a hovel hole for hairy homelessness.  A massive staircase stretches upward into the ethereal regions of majesty and ego. It is the golden light leading to an afterlife (whom many will hope for, but few here have earned)  built straight up into the rafters.  Shadows lurk up there too and there’s plenty of noise – timpani drums and indecent, reverberating curses from fathers, and viperous verbal bites from serpent-toothed offspring and pelican daughters.  Set changes and management of props  are cleverly handled by officers in uniform who start out as roadies and techies to handle TVs and other devices, and evolve over the course of the play to security guards, Police, a full riot gear Swat Team and finally a terrifying military force.

I always try to read the Director’s notes in the Playbill before the action starts, and also I like to close my eyes when the house goes dark, and open them to a new world.  I was instantly struck by a direct reference by Director Bill Rauch to Climate Change – “Eternally relevant, this play has a renewed urgency in our current era of frightening weather extremes.  We have left intact some of the often-cut political machinations.” In this story, “sin is plated with gold” (Act 4, Scene 6) and “even dogs are obeyed in office”!

What is most important to me about theatre, and why I write reviews, is to see what we can learn about our own times and experiences from art and drama of the past . . . . Bill Rauch continues in his notes to say “ One of my all-time favorite lines is in King Lear – The Storm Rages”.  Director Rauch touches on the plight of the homeless in his note “How does the former king describe a mentally challenged homeless person groveling in the mud as “Thou art the thing itself? ”.  This production of King Lear doesn’t pull any punches.  It exposes all our folly and foolishness; no age group, class, caste, sex or group is spared, and the visceral events remind us of how close we all live on the edge by the grace of benevolent climes and with the support and love from community, good friends and families.

“Elf all my hairs!”  (Edgar, Act 2, Scene 3); I love that line!  As if all that befalls us is caused by some impish malice!  Sometimes it happens that “Age is unnecessary”. . .  (Act 2, Scene 1) and we become useless. “The young arise when the old do fall!” There is a tempest in Lear’s mind and his anger is riled when his youngest and favorite daughter does not follow suit with over-glorious (and false) praise and glorified, flowery flatteries that her two older sisters have bestowed on their father, Lear.  Lear has apportioned one third of his kingdom to each of his daughters, but ends up cursing and banishing his favorite, Cordelia, when she answered him with facts and reminders of her devotion to him, rather than making grand yet meaningless statements like her sisters.

This sets into action the tragic story of how things in families can go from so-so to bad to worst.  Halfway through I began to wonder, where is Lear’s wife? (clues in Act 3, Scene 4).  Without a mother present, the family dynamics seem to have gone completely a-rye!  The question is raised   “Is man no more than this – unaccomodated man is an animal!”.  What incestuous nonsense has transpired or just how demented are all these people?  The two older sisters prove to be quite self-serving and disloyal as the play evolves, but one must wonder, beyond the obvious jealousy of the favoritism previously showered on Cordelia by her father, that there is a huge unbalance in the mix.  I suppose inheriting the wealth and power Lear has passed on to his heirs,(pre-mortem and with plenty of hooks)  is motivation enough.  But all around, there is distrust, anger and envy.  Envy and ego make a deadly combination, and as has been said about the Seven Deadly Sins, envy is the one without redeeming gratifications of the carnal senses.

The story of King Lear is reminiscent of the Saturn and his offspring.  His “power does curtsy to his wrath”.  Is it creeping senility or Alzheimer’s that adds wind and fire to this storm?  Like Saturn, Lear is so intent on his rage that he ends up destroying the things and people dearest to him.  Saturn ate his children and Lear’s appetite for self-aggrandizement and praise unleashes all his rage and unhinges his sensibilities.  The loyal fool and angelic Kent try to pull Lear back from the brink, but his anger has blinded him even as the Earl of Gloucester is cruelly blinded.

When trust is gone, and dragons’ wrath is given rein to storm, forgetting all prior sweetness and love, lives are lost. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, times plague when madmen lead the blind”.  Yet in Lear’s story, as ours, we can only look to our own misdeeds and “darker purpose” to place the blame.  Human folly is Infinite Jest.

Some say when we’re born we cry because we miss God. In this play Shakespeare states “When we are born we cry to be borne to this stage of fools”.  Quote the Fool, “Prithee, nuncle, be contented: ‘tis a naughty (wicked) night to swim in.  Now a little fire in a wild field were like an old lecher’s heart – a small spark, all the rest on’s body cold.  Look, here comes a walking fire.”

Catie Faryl    www.catiefaryl.net     March 5, 201

 

High Praise and Glorious Notes for Amadeus at Camelot Theatre

High Praise and Glorious Notes

A Review of the Play “Amadeus” at Camelot Theatre, Talent, Oregon through February 24, 2013

Let me open by saying I absolutely adore this play!  The script is complex and clever and Camelot’s crew simply captivates the audience in this production of Amadeus.  Having to compete with the movie, which was adapted for film by its award-winning playwright Peter Shaffer, must have been challenging. But Camelot Director Livia Genise’s masterful staging gives us a more intricate view than the movie, with less music but more mystery, mores, morals and motive.

Right away, we are up close and personal with our “host”, Composer Antonio Salieri, whose narration and re-enactments of his competitive, jealous relationship with his younger, more gifted counterpart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, carries the storyline beautifully. Kudos to Set Designer Paul R. Flowers, Sound and Video Designer Brian O’Connor, Choreographer & Movement Advisor Daniel Stephens, Costumer Coordinator Tina Skaletsky  and all others who provide a backdrop for these acts. The set, projected images, and attention to detail give us plenty of mood and recreate the effete affectations needed to describe the Court at Schoenbrun Palace in Vienna, between 1781 – 1791 and again during Salieri’s “end days” in November 1823.

The first scene opens with the aged Composer Salieri’s “Venticellis” – Italian for Little Winds – who spread the gossip among the elite in Vienna, The City of Scandal.  These two tuxedoed, rotund and mincing “men” serve as a chorus throughout the play. As Venticellis,  Ryan Primm and Brian O’Connor inform us with comic mock discretion of the fresh and nasty rumors circulating, thereby increasing our intimacy and an almost guilty identity with the devilish, misguided Salieri, played by Paul R. Jones  flawlessly and with incredible agility, flair and wit. (Primm also doubles as Teresa, Salieri’s wife, chosen for his bride, Salieri explains, because of her total lack of affect.  The device of D.R.A.G. is used well in the play, adding to the ambiguity with “dressed as a Girl” or D.R.A.B.? (dressed as a boy) and adds other  visual and subliminal dimensions.)

It is a true gift that the playwright provided such a deep, juicy script and a credit to all the actors whose delivery of dialogue is literarily heaven sent.  The interior monologues, and conspiratorial tone of Salairi’s shared confidences with the audience pulls us in immediately as he screams out from his wheelchair  “Mozart!. . . .  Have Mercy!  Pardon Your Assassin!” as the Venticellis whisper “Did he Do It After All?”

This outburst brings Salieri’s valet (played by David Eisenberg) and cook (played by Tim Kelly) running to serve him, as they have for the past 50 years in his employ.  He dismisses them and explains to the audience that this is the last night of his life.  Speaking directly to the audience, Salieri then invokes  the Gods of Opera to conjure us, Ghosts of the Distant Future, to witness his story of the sins, lies, plots and contrivances he perpetrated in order to destroy his musical rival, the young Wolfgage Amadeus Mozart.  Max Gutfreund brings us a Mozart we can love and agonize over in a comedic/tragic way.  He is impressive, impetuous and aggravating in turn, and it’s fascinating to see how in this sad tale his boyishness and buoyancy offer contrast to Salieri’s somber conceits yet provide confirmation that the follies of men take many forms but are often, in the end, their own self-created undoing.

From here we are led on quite a caper, filled with confessions of gluttony and worse. Infidelities and seductions by both Mozart-, using his silly, childlike charms and alcohol-lubricated antics, and Salieri, out of revenge and using his favorite sweetmeats called “Nipples of Venus”. Salieri ensnares both Mozart’s wife(played to perfection by Grace Peets), and “my darling girl” (Salieri’s student Katherina Cavalieri, played by the talented singer BriAnna Johnson, whose been previously debauched by naughty  Amadeus.)

Along the way we meet Joseph II, Emperor of Austria played with elegance and humor by Jack Seybold, and three cronies of the Court and fellow composer friends of Salieri – Baron Gottfried van Swieten (David Dials), Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg (Buzz London) and Count Johann Kilian von Strack (Ric Hagerman). This trio delivers scathing and back-biting commentary on the state of Opera and the battle for supremacy in that Venetian arena between the German and Italian composers.  They serve as a sounding board for Saliari’s spiteful and secret plots against Mozart, and constantly add fuel to this smoldering fire.

Ultimately, however, Salieri’s grievance is with God, who has bi-passed Salieri and bestowed his most coveted and holy gifts upon Mozart. In this unhinged state Salieri systematically dismantles every possible opportunity left for Amadeus to make a living, and with snakelike cunning and intentional bad advice, Salieri manages to disconnect Mozart from his doting, overbearing  father and other sources of sustenance and support, or so the aged Salieri would like the audience to believe! In this he has lots of help from Mozart’s own bad judgment, his innocence and self-indulgence and we are held in doubt as to what really transpired.

The role of the father figure, embodied like a Greek myth within the story, repeats throughout the play. The question of whether genius does in fact settle where it will, gifting itself to unlikely innocents who appear to The Great Mediocrity as either undeserving or insane or both is visited with scintillating discourse by the characters of the Court and Salieri’s conversations with God and the audience. Salieri appeals to our future judgment and grapples with his fame or lack thereof and how history may remember him as a weak note in the massive and perpetually loved scores of Mozart.  In this present time the bottom line of taste comes from Emperor Joseph, who can embrace a musical composition or reject it for the flaw of “too many notes”. In a similar regal way he brooches any dissent, discourse or debate on any topic by simply dismissed it with a terse “And there you have it”.  But for perpetuity Saliari recognizes God’s Infinite Jest and realizes how he has lived to suffer the worst imagined punishment: the fading of any trace of recognition of his music within his lifetime.  To Salieri’s credit he is one of a tiny contingent who recognizes Mozart’s genius in his own time, and rails against the ever-present condition wherein the Mediocre Worship at the Trough of Banality while Genius goes Wanting.

How this all transpires is a rowdy jaunt with plenty of arch observations about the sacred versus the profane, transcendence and servitude, attachment and personality disorders, bad habits, the two-edged sword of intense creativity, the thinking errors and prisons of conformity, culture and rigid mindsets, as well as the soul-bending process of seeking worldly fame, or of misusing God’s gifts.

True artists can be driven mad by society and by the way their own minds work.  Because they are not geared to deal with the cynicism and grind of the everyday, artists transform obstacles into myths and better stories.  This ability to transform and transcend chaos, along with their personal tragedies and inability to fit in, can bring insights and reason back to society and, at times, can touch the divine.  Transcending circumstance through strength of imagination, without the usual practical tools to navigate the bitter real world, Mozart is driven to mastery of his art, transcendence, poverty and death, while Salieri must endure a long ride through old age in his handmade conveyance through shame, obscurity, doubt and spiritual bankruptcy.

The word Cativo is used as a fashionable buzz word of this 18th century portrayal of Vienna and it best translates as Captive.  It’s a perfect motif for every person in the play and in the audience to contemplate:  We are all Cativo to the human condition and we don’t get out of here alive.  Only art is immortal, and only time will tell.

I don’t usually mention the names of cast and crew in my reviews, but the performances were so exceptional I feel compelled.  High praise to Dramaturg Mark Roper who brings a Shakespearean grandness to the language, plot twists and character development.  Special appreciation to Monica Rountree for her handling of the Italian translations.  And most heartfelt thanks to Livia Genise, Camelot’s Board, donors and staff for bringing us this intelligent and entertaining play in a beautiful and comfortable new venue.  Don’t miss it!

Catie Faryl,  February 8, 2013

Review: Samsara

Every so often we are treated to an illustrative film that’s presented without commentary or dialogue. “Samsara” is such an event. “Baraka” in 1992 was a similar visual stream-of-consciousness piece that shed light on our world. “Baraka” captured some of the franticness of the 1990s and “Samsara” seems to embrace the sheer frustration of the world as we see in 2012 while capturing the spirit of “continuous flow”. It is as if the cinematographers are making the case for “taking the long view” in this time of the Kali Yuga.

 

The visual tour de force includes but is not limited to three dancing Lakshmis, clouds of fire, a baby, Angkor Watt, construction and destruction of a sand mandala, stars, ruins, organic dwellings, carved stone, windows like eyes, sand drifts overtaking abandoned homes, trophies, the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, caked mud, celestial ceilings, baptisms, Lazarus, Mt. St. Michael, red dawn on dunes, the Rose Window, shyness, frozen falls, dirty ice, salt at Mono Lake, an arch at the Grand Canyon . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

All this is played without comment, though soundtrack is quite interesting. Initially the film borders on the final wish scenes of those who’ve chosen to die in the old movie Solent Green – they can select uplifting classical music and a personal screening of all the beauty of the world before it was destroyed by the power elite to die to.

 

Things get more interesting and ambiguous with a striated rock that looks like a rabbit head with an eye followed by Tanzania Falls, fierce red eyes, yellow unblinking eyes of numerous individuals and dome huts with dwellers wearing strange dreads. Freeways (in Los Angeles?), a tattooed man with his newborn, cars in night traffic – white headlights coming at you, red tail lights as they recede. Two Asian twins – one is a very life-like automaton.

 

More robotics lead to the most interesting part of the film – a performance artist seated at a dressing table mashes greenish clay over his face, transforming, disfiguring, and manipulating make-up, thick clay applications and conceptual trappings until he becomes a radical and disconcerting mess. That’s my favorite part, and it sums up a sort of message this Samsara brings: we are contortionists, we are mad, we have lost our way most disturbingly but it is all illusion anyway.

 

After this hair-raising, eye-gouging exhibition of confusion and self-loathing, we get to see a huge golf putting range built for the Malthusian masses, an artificial indoor ski resort, the highest building in the Middle East, island housing like footprints on the sea, and the spiral of land development in Dubai. It is fantastical along with fractal jewels, and contrasts of women in burkas walking past a department store display of men in very skimpy swimwear.

 

Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of prosperity) reappears; we go to the opera, and a play. We visit Times Square, the subways of Tokyo where there are masked manikins modeling anti-SARs fashions. We see pachucos with big hair striving for individuality and a man with the word “Methodical” tattooed on his shaved head. Factory workers, cars made and cars crushed, recycling, some gross food production, pot stickers being made by carpal tunnel-susceptible workers, chicken processing, mega-milking machines, pigs, cows, supermarkets, real looking blow-up dolls, daybreak over a city slum with early-bird pickers, dancing orange something (can’t read my notes written in the dark, and too quickly), and we hear a heartbeat going from very fast to real slow.

 

To further enlighten us – garbage dumps, sulfur mines like living hell, women carrying impossible bundles on their heads and children everywhere – under arms, on backs, at breasts, then coffins built in the shapes of jets, lions, cars, guns. Gun factories and fierceness vs. tenderness, border crossings, Dome of the Rock, The Wailing Wall, seemingly billions of devotees circling the Haj. The pyramids seen from bleak bedroom windows, and Tibetans again with a shockingly blue-eyed Buddha. Green eyes on multiple hands of dancers with the many arms and legs of one beautiful being in deep knowing and unknowing.

 

A mystery is touched upon but we cannot grasp it nor solve it, so like “Samsara” we can only enjoy, ponder and embrace this world’s continuous motion.

Review: “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Four Seasons in Four Weeks”

Last night I attended local author Suzanne Mathis McQueen’s talk at Bloomsbury Books about her recently published guide and journal titled “Four Seasons in Four Weeks.”  For those who know her, and when you meet her, you’ll see a vibrant and enthusiastic champion of women’s knowledge, wisdom and vivaciousness.  Her seven years in the creative process has brought forth a unique, informative and beautifully visioned, written and actualized book that sheds light on the importance of feminine cycles.
 

Earlier in the week, with the idea of writing a review, I attended the opening of the much anticipated war/espionage thriller “Zero Dark Thirty” about the search, capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.  After all my viewing and note-taking at the film, besides gleaning an insider’s and/or a Hollywood view of the machinations and mazes of research, bravery or tenacity of individuals, I came away with a huge and strong reminder about just how inadequate our portrayals of and beliefs about females often are!
 

The young heroine of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” is a typical example. If you remove all the heart-pounding drama she’s like many women who have worked at least twice as hard as male counterparts to receive equal recognition or compensation. With discipline, dedication, thorough attention to the details and often deadening homework, she succeeds against many obstacles.  Yet even her final triumph, where her convictions are doubted all along by her male peers and supervisors, is anticlimactic.  She had it right yet in the final scene after all the guts and glory of triumph, capture and shooting, we are left to sit alone and in silence with her as she comes to grips with her personal achievement as well as the ostracism and lack of applause that many successful women know all too well. They incubate and give birth to many achievements only to see the prize embraced and the result applauded while they, the producers, go unacknowledged or are dismissed.
 

“Four Seasons in Four Weeks” uses metaphoric and physical comparisons of the feminine moon cycle to Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer – each week in the 28 day cycle tracing the approximate weekly parallels of mood and body senses corresponding to a resting time, a planning time, an implementing time and a time of basking in accomplishment before the cycle begins again.  It is the lost understanding of women’s natural state and the overlay of masculine value systems which have mislabeled the female cycle as “hysteria” or irrationality. This lack of understanding has contributed to diminishing the role and effectiveness of women since the end of matriarchal times.
 

Both “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Four Seasons in Four Weeks” can be viewed as powerful reclamation tools and messengers of the resurgence of the Feminine Principle, long overdue in modern history. In our present state, rape and mistreatment, degradation and making women targets of violence or abuse correspond exactly with the continuing rape of the planet. This attitude of disrespect can be heard quite clearly when listening to arguments about the economy; how often do humans forget that all sources of wealth are direct gifts from the natural resources of Mother Nature, Mother Earth.
 

Women are holding the social safety network but that grasp is becoming more tenuous. With our hands so full of immediate needs of children, the elderly, the poor, disabled, ill and hungry we can hardly get a handhold on how to stop the downward spiral.  It is time for everyone to re-engage with the Sacred Feminine and begin giving due honor and acting in ways that give back to the planet.  We cannot continue to support our civilization if we ignore the fundamental basis of our prosperity.  That means women must either take or be given far greater voices and roles in curbing the trajectory of technology and expedience over time-tested practices of natural and whole systems, the original tenets of mother wisdom.
 

Suzanne’s book gives support and information for women to reclaim, honor and champion their nature, and she has included a Man Guide in every chapter to help partners, sons, brothers and fathers understand Her Journey. Helping men understand the continuous female cycle of building and taking apart that is the nest of nature, birth and nurture to our species may temper the old and untrue story of women as weak or inferior.  On a different front, the heroine of “Zero Dark Thirty” embodies the truth of Woman as Warrior, using intelligence, beauty, determination, guile, deep studiousness, finesse and creativity instead of brawn, muscle and force, to accomplish her most idealistic goals. She is truly a magnificent unsung hero!
 

Better stories and better understanding are paths to healing and recapturing our respect for women, and thereby for reverence, respect and replenishment of Mother Earth. To restore peace and balance to our world we need both male and female energy, not one or the other but both equal and true.  I hope you will read “Four Seasons in Four Weeks” and look beyond the obvious story to the positive message of feminine power in “Zero Dark Thirty.”  Please add your thoughts to the discussion of these ideas.

Catie Faryl
January 15, 2013
catiefaryl@hotmail.com
www.catiefaryl.net

Chasing Ice and Climate Change

On November 9th this wistful yet powerful documentary will open in theatres across the country. I had the good fortune to see it when it premiered at the Varsity Theatre in downtown Ashland last month.  James Balog took great pains to record the progression of ice melt at 25+ locations using cameras that took thousands of frames of icebergs every year from 2007 until 2011.  A scientist himself, who was initially skeptical about Climate Change and whom had doubts that the actions of humans could accelerate the phenomena so rapidly, he became curious enough to assemble a team and the financial backing to document and record what was really happening to glaciers in the Arctic, Greenland, and other locations.

 
The footage and photos are stunning and the film simply presents the evidence gathered.  If you miss the screenings at local theatres, you’ll eventually be able to watch “Chasing Ice” on television.  As an employer and substantial backer of Balog’s work, National Geographic has purchased the television rights and will be airing it soon.

 
Those of us who have studied and followed the Climate Change issue are encouraged that our Congressmen and Senators will be see Chasing Ice in the near future.  In fact the film’s website at www.chasingice.com provides a feature where you can tweet info to important leaders including President Obama, Leonardo Di Caprio, Oprah Winfrey and naysayer Senator James Inhofe.  Sadly the issue has been sorely missing from ads and debates leading up to the U.S. Presidential election.  I personally have difficulty understanding why the questions around “energy independence and jobs” aren’t being harnessed to the answers of cleaning up the environment, reducing carbon and creating more alternative power, on a grand jobs program scale!

 
Chasing Ice should be a real wake-up call to non-believers.  As a beautifully filmed visual illustration of what is happening in the life-supporting regions where polar and glacier ice reflect light back to outer space and maintain the most important cycles on the planet, the images are introduced without judgment or dialogue to convince.  It is obvious to all when Balog shows the retreat of an iceberg over a short period of time equal to the height of the Empire State Building.  Since our minds are not programmed to understand a human-caused geological change event of such massive proportions and devastating results, we are given insight into the melt zone, calving (when icebergs split off from the main mass), moulins (vertical shafts in the ice) and terrifying live action of icebergs the size of cities collapsing instantaneously into the ocean.

 
Balog has created a memory of these landscapes, which may never return.  He shows us how conclusive and irrefutable evidence is gathered.  Seeing is believing. Ice samples gathered through taking deep ice cores and analyzing the air bubbles for their carbon dioxide levels reveals the historic data, ancient records, of glacier building and melting. Findings give evidence of a 1.5 degree Farenheit increase since 1850s and a definite deterioration in air quality (as suitable for life on Earth.)

 
The accumulation of “cryoconite” which is carbon, grit and dirt blown from other areas of the world to the Arctic and other glaciers is a significant cause of more rapid ice melt, since the dark, striating colors attract more sunlight thereby speeding the melt off.  It was startling to see the patches in the ground ice and snow being literally eaten away by the nasty black sludge that has etched pools and hollows filled with what looks like the leavings of a camp fire after it’s put out with a pail of water.  As melting continues the moulins become raging torrents of water thundering out to the oceans in underground passages.  Seeing this on film is like looking into the abyss where torrents of freed and violent water cascade towards our human population centers.  One extreme and recent exploration to locate the outlet of a huge moulin is dramatically told  in “Melt Zone”, June, 2010’s National Geographic.

 
In Balog’s poetic narrative he likens his photographs of glaciers to portraits of people where both their grandeur and fragility are exposed.  He equates the vision of a collapsing glacier to an old man falling into the sea and has recaptured for us the tragic story that’s in the ice. The evocative shapes of the icebergs in confused blue puddles and the accompanying song “Before My Time” is poignant and inspiring. Balog’s lyrical closing echoes across the water and hopefully haunts us into more action – “Sometimes you get out over the horizon and you never come back.”

 
For more information please visit www.chasingice.comwww.extremeicesurvey.com (E.I.S) or read The Big Thaw articles in National Geographic magazine April and October 2011 for additional information.

 
If you would like to get involved in a regional effort please visit http://kaconjour.com/ClimateChange/RVOrganization/Organization.html

 
For information on the State of Oregon’s efforts please visit the Climate Change Portal or contact Bill Drumheller at (503) 378-4035 or (800) 221-8035

 

Review: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

If there’s one film to see this year, Beasts of the Southern Wild could be it. Playing at the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, it is a must see, particularly at this time while Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac, and the Republican National Convention pass over us like a harbinger of more destruction to come in the first case, and glossy delivery of deceit, stormy news coverage and question-raising extravagance in the second.
 

It is amazing to watch the child actor who stars in this film about life and death in a severely stressed outpost on the Louisiana delta. She holds our rapt attention and I marvel at her strength, resilience, fortitude and beauty, her inner spirit as well as her charming appearance. Narrated in her voice and words, a creative look at a disturbing world through the eyes of a six year old is both hopeful and heart-rendering. “Hushpuppy” has a father who is terminally ill and drinking to hide it. The neighbors on the bayou live a hard life of freedom at all costs. When an impending storm again threatens their existence, we witness an array of coping skills as Hushpuppy and other “Beasts of the Southern Wild” rise in bravery and pure survival instincts to outlive an ongoing catastrophe.
 

There is much to recommend this movie, beyond a wonderful story with intriguing characters. Hushpuppy’s teacher at the jerry-rigged floating school minces no words when educating her ragged pupils about the harsh realities of rising oceans and the impact on their way of life. How this rough information is taken to heart and used in the imagination of Hushpuppy and her friends is a cautionary tale for us all.
 

During the recent Republican Convention, not one of the well-groomed speakers mentioned climate change. The impotence of the political party in place and the disbelieve or callousness of the other is very disturbing in light of the reality that hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens in America and millions all over the world are barely coping with rising seas and unprecedented destructive weather events. Up on dry land aspiring politicians and those in power spew words like “believe, hope and jobs” but these ideals and conceptual jargon are not life rafts for the jobless, the homeless or displaced and they have floated the middle class into a puddle of confusion. Both parties, in my opinion, have failed and the spirit of people like Hushpuppy may be our best means to face the extremes barreling down on all of us in the form of flood, fully melted ice caps, drought and chemical poisoning of the air, food, land and water, sexism , prejudice and elitism.
 

The film is a riveting tribute to a terrible truth: we live in the time of the Sixth Extinction, which through profligate use of polluting resources, irresponsible actions and, the greed-motivated pushing of products, ideology, false promises and lies by corporations, the mainstream media and government, manmade environmental devastation in a short 200 years has accelerated the Sixth Extinction by millions of years. And let’s not let ourselves off the hook; we are daily consumers of the products, pacifications, entertainments, excuses, delusions and comforts we hold dear. We all are prisoners and contributors to what could be our own demise.
 

As messaged in the film, it is time to be brave, face our demons and survive. As humans we must stare down the “Aurochs” of our fate as symbolized by the four huge mutated ancient killer bovines that march across and terrorized Hushpuppy’s landscape. These, like the Four Horses of the Apocalypse in biblical times, give a face to many 21st century threats like abuse of power, rising oceans, genetic engineering, dependence on chemicals and pharmaceuticals and mixing our food sources with cross-species experiments. As politicians turn their backs in willful disregard for environmental tragedies man-made in this and the past century, and “save” us (as when rescue workers remove island disaster victims by force), I can only think in wonderment and resentment about how tax dollars are thrown away on us as an after- the-fact gesture – like an apology for not facing and addressing the real problems head on.
 

I’ve often expressed my belief that “every problem carries within itself its solutions.” If we want to address the problem of jobs then a full scale effort could be mobilized around reversing the environmental hazards we have been causing. Romney should be ashamed of his closing statement in his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention; to say Obama “promised to lower the rising oceans and heal the planet” (giving the mean-spirited implication that Obama saw himself as omnipotent or that real environmental problems don’t exist) and that he, Romney, only promises to help “you and your families”. Romney means exactly that: he will help HIS own, but you can bet the rest of us, living on or very close to a real, metaphorical or financial “bayou” about to be flooded by the actions or inactions of either major party make it way past time to get tough and get real and find our power and bravery, confront and change our monsters and champion the children and the planet.
Hushpuppy for President!

Wayne’s Bane: A Review of “The Dark Knight Rises”

After three days of watching the emergency response and hearing talk about the theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I felt it necessary and appropriate to check in to a theatre and see the movie which was playing when the massacre by a lone gunman took place.  As an artist and observer I keep a somewhat closer eye on pop culture, the media and cinema of our times. In this case, the question of whether art imitates life, or vice versa, is foremost in my mind.  Will watching The Dark Knight Rises enlighten me on why the recent horrific madness occurred or is this film just the pleasant getaway – an innocent fantasy which all world-weary are entitled to a brief escape?

 
I had to admit to a bit of trepidation as I entered the theatre. Briefly I interviewed the young lady at the concession stand by asking if security precautions had been added.  She said things had been calm and normal; they were asking people to leave backpacks and large bags at the counter.
Finally settling in with about fifty other viewers, I appreciated the cool air after the scalding sun outdoors.  A matinee is a lovely diversion, or so I thought until the previews started. This was just a precursor to what was to come in the main feature, kind of a violence warm-up:

 
Black Ops? or something like that : “Their Hero Becomes their Killer”; Jason Bourne is “just the tip of the iceberg” – more trained killers in The Bourne Legacy filled with killing and violence;  Bilbo Baggins – The Hobbit, tucked away in Middle Earth, between more violent previews; “ Taken” with Liam Neeson, more violence  set in Istanbul; More Killing in Kung Fu movie with Lucy Lu – “ Puts the F-U in Kung Fu!!!”; and  “The Campaign” – Politicians acting stupidly – one punches a lady and a baby!

 
The Dark Knight Rises opens at Harvey Dent’s funeral 8 years prior. The audience is swiftly taken hostage in a flashback where 3 hand-cuffed, hooded prisoners are threatened with being thrown from a military plane if they don’t answer the interrogation of the captors.  One of the prisoners is a muzzled man; the plan is “No Survivors.” Then the crew is overtaken and the hero is forced into a blood transfusion which, as an infrequent viewer of the Batman series, I must assume was the cause of Batman’s turning to the “dark side” in the previous movie, “The Dark Knight.”  (Fans – please correct me if I’m wrong!)

 
Back at the funeral, we are schooled on the importance of The Dent Act, which gave major sharp teeth to law enforcement.  In the belief system of the Powers that Be, Harvey Dent was a hero and his work has been honored and celebrated as a holiday. Explanation is offered that due to the Dent Act’s success in addressing crime, over 100,000 criminals are imprisoned in Gotham City.
We’re then introduced to the recluse Bruce Wayne, who has not recovered from past incidents, and has taken the blame for Harvey Dent’s murder.  Wayne’s butler is worried and conveys his wishes to see his employer (and friend) take more interest in life.

 
We come to understand that Wayne has funded Boys’ Homes in Gotham City, but his Board of Directors, during his self-imposed isolation and lack of participation in the management of the vast Wayne fortune, has discontinued funding for boys once they turn sixteen.  Huge numbers of homeless boys and young men are living in the tunnels below Gotham since they’ve “aged out” of the Wayne Trust Boys Homes.

 
The action then heads to a society fundraiser where meet a wealthy woman who is engaged in what Wayne dubs “a save the world vanity project.” Also, the disguised Cat Woman is working at the mansion as a server for the gala event.  In a rare moment of comic relief, she catches the eye of the corrupt police chief and as he pulls her back in order to grab two hors d’oeuvres, she says “Shrimp Balls” and keeps walking.

 
She looks like the perfect  waitress,  so she’s sent to take a tray food upstairs to the ill recluse, Bruce Wayne. But once she’s in Wayne’s room, she cracks the safe and steals his mother’s necklace AND his fingerprints by dusting the safe.  She cruelly trips him by kicking out his crutch then escapes as he lies helpless on the well-polished floor.

 
Wayne pulls himself together, asks for the remaining Bat Mobile to be taken out of mothballs and tries to regain his strength.  From there we rapidly move ahead through a convoluted  plot where dialogue is offered as a frayed clue of continuity to harness us in for the intense action and violence to come.  Recollecting my main reason for seeing this film, I acknowledge the repeating motif of disguise and weaponry in the film, quite reminiscent and parallel to the lone shooter’s M.O. in Aurora.  The Joker, a major villain in previous Batman comics and films, is not included in this episode, but we are soon to be re-introduced to Bane, Batman’s current nemesis who was born and raised in the harsh tunnel prisons, and is the only known escapee from that hell.

 
Bane, we soon see, is one and the same who wore the huge muzzled breathing apparatus in the opening scenes of mid-air torture and mayhem.  His Darth Vader mouthpiece is an encumbrance, both for him in his personal pain and affliction and for the audience in their strained effort to hear him.  The lower half of his face is contained in the black device, which contrasts interestingly with Batman’s exposed mouth and hidden eyes, nose, and hooded head.  The motifs of good vs. evil, shadow and light, repeat and repeat, as does the violent gunfire and showcasing of the extremely powerful  WMD technologies that have been developed by evil forces who’ve infiltrate Wayne Enterprises.  The only counter-balance to the violence is offered by the young detective who has ultimate faith in Batman and a shared secret history with Wayne of being an orphan, and the flirtation between Batman and Cat Woman, and her jealous flairs directed at Bruce Wayne’s society lady admirer. Those three offered some  pretty  hot and sweet eye candy when we become bored of barrage.  ( Barrage and Carnage vs. Visage and Cleavage, as it were!)

 
In order not to spoil “the plot”, let me say there are many turns in this twisted production and all is set right in the end, although we are left with blazing ears and thundering hearts having witnessed at least 10,000 bullet shots and innumerable acts of destruction and hate.  The movie is a vehicle for showcasing force and I longed for the days of “da-da-da-da-da-da, Batman!” or “Get to the Bat Mobile, Robin!!!”

 
The montage, a complicated variety of ideas and images, if we look at it through the lens of what’s in the news, in society and culture these days, becomes a kaleidoscope of ever-changing issues raised, then dropped from high cliffs without explanation.  Sure, this is comic book balloons of dialogue and comic-book butt-kicking (Pow! Pow! Wham!) yet  it’s taken to such a high level of graphic and auditory abuse that we are both mesmerized and repulsed (and a bit embarrassed to be sitting through this spectacle which delivers up over two hours of bad actions, bone-crushing breakage and bullet-battered bombasity, while parents shush their antsy five year olds and fussing infants).

 
Fragments, like shrapnel, lodge in our consciousness, if we are thinking adults. For example, the growing animosity as rival “gangs” of released and escaped prisoners face off with the “men in blue” is a direct reference (and could in fact fan real fires of rebellion) to the huge prison population in America.  The fact that Gotham City is so loose a disguise for New York City and the contrast of rich and poor,  the plight of the homeless and disenfranchised, and the potential for class war is portrayed yet never commented upon.  It is as if Hollywood uses imagery to foreshadow or instigate, and this forces me to again consider whether art imitates life, or if life imitates art.

 
Perhaps in my boredom with this film, I’ve overthought a mindless piece of entertainment, but when  people are constantly exposed to this level of violence in films, video games and on television, I wonder how strong a filter and how much self-control is being developed or eroded. With special effects growing ever more real, will the future hold more cases where reality and fantasy become indistinguishable,  and acting out in deep anger or disillusionment become standard results?  There are no movies good enough “to die for” so I hope Hollywood, the media, on line regulators, and U.S. policy, will direct energy away from the display, acquisition, and emulation of weapons and violence in favor of more meaningful, less violent and escapist fare.

Review: Party People at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2012

Interesting and ironic that Evan Wilson of the new Rogue Valley Messenger should give me a ticket and ask me to write a review. I sat with a young friend of his, who seemed entertained but confused with the actions on stage. He loved the music, which was compelling and the female Latina vocalists were excellent, though I did wish for a libretto or a copy of the lyrics.

 

The premise of the story centers around two young filmmakers who create a theatre piece through orchestrating the reunion of older friends, acquaintances and family members who led, forty years prior, the militant actions of the Black Panther Party for black power and the Young Lords, for fair treatment of Puerto Ricans in America, mainly in Chicago and New York. Unlike my fellow play-goer, I had lots of context for the history lessons that surface as the cast of characters relive their triumphs, miseries and betrayals; in 1968 I attended a junior college in Oakland, then moved to Puerto Rico and live there and in Manhattan in the early 1970s. In those communities in those times, it would have been impossible not to be aware of the intense shift in society where minds were being changed and blown simultaneously! Shift Happens!

 
The play is like a rock opera, or in this case a Rap Opera, with much of the story being told through song and exciting, provocative dance numbers. The technical aspects include strong use of black and white video footage projected onto the back wall as huge repeat images of the actors. A fully lit cabaret sign in bold capital letters spells out REVOLUTION above a set of stadium seating risers which are well-used in creating street dance and prison scenes.

 
The “producers” of this show within a show are Malik, whose estranged father was a Black Panther, and Jimmy, a second generation Hispanic who’s managed to overcome language barriers and poverty to attend college and study drama. These two young men provide the vehicle for both the audience and themselves to become “schooled” on what their aging guests’ “Revolution” was all about. These bright young men, who grew up in the computer and information age, contrast profoundly with flashback actions as the cast of guests reproduces the drama, issues and reactions, complications and intimacies of the past. We are reminded of Andy Warhol’s genius prediction that in the future “everyone will want their fifteen minutes of fame,” as the Revolution, egos and struggles are re-enacted.

 
Long-buried rivalries and heart-felt reminiscences allow us to see how times have changed, what resulted from the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s and the strivings for rights and social justice by minorities in the late 60s and 70s. The play opens with and continues to pump up and out messages that are downright contemporary:

 
The opening musical number “Wound Up, No Job, America” could be right now, and the slogans of “Hey, Hey L.B.J. (then U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson) and references to the fear spreading across America with the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, get-out-of-Vietnam Protests, black power, helter skelter, riots on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley and the sobering event of student shootings at Kent State when the “pigs” got more out of control than anyone, may remind us just a bit of the past. Yet, what has been lost and gained in the interim 40 years? In the seriousness, the certainty, the appeal for justice during the late 1960s and 1970s, much was achieved and some things (like innocence, lack of cynicism and sense of place, security or order) were lost as well. Also we are reminded how so many are presently confined in “the belly of the beast” as America’s prison population exceeds that of any other democracy.

 
There is something cynical about this play within a play, or perhaps that is simply my reflection on the past as seen through my own lens, having lived through it. The extreme craziness of that time must present a a challenging task for the current generation of early adults to make any sense of or make any art from. It reminds me how little history of the 20th Century has been taught in our schools, and renews my commitment to provide curriculum and materials directed to that deficit.

 
“Time Keeps On Slipping……into the Future” is one of the play’s songs used as a successful repeating motif and metaphor, as the Oldsters’ memories blur, egos self-aggrandize and exaggerate, their approaching senility, regrets and doubts rewrite histories, chronologically, factually and personally. At times I longed for a more poignant and heroic treatment to the content – a Howard Zinn “The People Speak” approach – but I must confess that the staging and interpretation as presented was most effective, cryptic, violent, uncertain and wholly fitting in its re-creation of feelings, images and motivations of what went on in the 60s and 70s.

 
Fact is the play is very raw, and the language is as harsh and dark as the injustices and zeitgeist portrayed. “Panther Talk/Agent Talk” is contrasted – with more hate and rage and intent to kill coming from the Establishment’s agencies than the counterculture revolutionaries. The personal suspicions and private affairs of key characters give voice to frustrations, betrayals and volatile barely submerged tensions focused on gender issues. Music/dance pieces “Pussy Killed the Party” and “Here Come the Drugs”) give us a glimpse into the cracks opening up in the societal structure and how all times are rift with drama, war, oppression, deceit, and injustice that must be fought with whatever tools are at hand.

 
Thus we begin to understand the view of the young producers, who see that everything their forefathers and mothers fought for was necessary. Then they tell how and why a new and different kind revolution is brewing within their generation; through amazing powers of belief, love and understand and tools like social networking, information and imagery – the power of collective conscience, independent media, optimism, humor, the breaking down of borders, and the powerful vision, voice and virility of youth they shall overcome.

 
The closing number does a magnificent job of summing up for all ages the key struggle for humans and all sentient beings to co-exist and equitably share resources and maintain a just society. “Give me Justice, Give Me Peace – Life, Home, Land, Bread” they sang in heartfelt unison. The poetry, strength and enduring value of this play has a Shakespearean quality, its bawdiness, truth and the longevity of the universal issues addressed. Taking some of what is played on stage to the streets of Ashland, where other dramas such as Legalize Sleep, and the rights of all citizens to the aforementioned bread and housing would be highly advisable for the present day Establishment. I applaud the energy of youth to reinvent and level the playing field for all actors in this world stage we live in and hope viewers will leave this play with renewed energy to work for the peace, fairness and justice now.

Catie Faryl
July 15, 2012