Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Tundra/Desert

It's a song by Modest Mouse. The album: This Is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About. (c) 1996.

Comin' home ...

Monday, May 30, 2005

Bathos in G Minor (Op. 73)

In our final hours here, the sky has returned to the drooping Cloud City mush that greeted us at the airport six weeks ago. I was wondering if the low-hanging mist was just an illusion created by the mountains -- if the clouds only looked low relative to these mountains I don't normally get to see. But I don't think so. The cast was going to go up the tramway today, which might still be fun, sliding through the haze to the top of Mt. Roberts. I gave my spare tram pass to Renee when she was out to visit us last week.

Our closing double-header yesterday went very well. I don't know what I'm feeling right now. There have been so many endings to this project. The first was back in August 2003 when we finished slapping together a Kennedy Center reading. Then Denver. Then Round House. Now Perseverance. And soon, Seattle, Anchorage, and Valdes. More than any other show I've done, I'd really like to see this one. I'm sure when a New York theatre picks it up and re-casts the whole thing, I'll get to. But PJ was definitely weaving a composition greater than anything I could see from my vantage point. I know this because I often didn't understand it -- script work aside. In the second act, three massive gunshots yank me and Will out of the spotlight and propel the audience into an audio verite recording of the Jefferson County 911 call. That's the hinge, right there. Boom, boom, BOOM -- and we warp from fantasy land, fact inspired storytelling, right into the fray. I'm spinning on my heal with a shotgun in my hand at that point and a couple people in the front row always jump on that sound cue. Too frickin' real.

Why can't we go to Denver? That's what I want right now. I've mentioned this before, but now that we're packing up the ensemble and stripping away the tech for our Pacific NW tour in June, all I want is to be a part of the show's homecoming. The New Yorkers can have their version. But the seven days I spent in Denver last March did more for my soul than anything since. So strange: I joined the project just after it started and I'll be leaving just before it's "done." Arrive late, leave early -- like a good writer should. But as an actor, it feels incomplete.

Today I'm tired from post-show farewell partying and the prospect of saying goodbye to a dozen or so new friends in as many hours. Stay tuned, though. As soon as I get my digital photos scrubbed, I'll use this page as an online album or something. That way I won't spend three hours with each of you, cycling through the same stack of pics and talking your ear off when I get back. I hope all is well on the East Coast. To all you crazy folk opening Behold! at Rorschach, break a leg. I trust previews went well and Mr. Hesla's premiere is coming along nicely. To all you smarty-pants artists closing Hannah and Martin this week -- I can't wait to see your show at the J when I get back.

Ciao.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Creme Pastiche

I'm not a fan of retro-parties. Anyone who's been paying attention to my anti-Hegelian rants of late could guess that the last place you'd expect to find me on a Thursday night would be an 80s party. But there we were, at the Imperial, (per our traditional post-show hangout plan), when we found out that the place was having one. An 80s party, I mean. Now, in addition to all the moving vehicles breaking down spontaneously, my host family's washer and dryer also broke down ... leaving me with nothing but my black suit jacket, a blue FUBU button-down shirt, light kackhis, and dress shoes to wear. So by stunning coincidence, I was dressed like a drug lord from Miami Vice. And was oddly suited to attend an 80s party. All I needed was a pair of mirrored sunglasses. And some chest hair. But that got shaved for the show.

Still. All of us were sitting around complaining about our cars, our salaries, etc, when I stood up and said "ENOUGH! WE HAVE FOUR PRECIOUS DAYS HERE AND I'LL BE DAMNED IF A DEATH-TRAP CAR, INSURANCE FRAUD, AND GETTING PAID 56 CENTS AN HOUR WILL INTERFERE WITH THAT!" And with that, Anne Bowles. Went. Insane.

I've been trying to figure this woman out for a while. She's quick. She's incredibly talented. And she's very reserved. That's all cool. But we've been waiting for her to go insane at some point. Turns out, 80s music is her hidden trigger. So somewhere between Jimmy and Dan's breakdancing and my Miami Vice swagger, I noticed Anne ripping the shit out of the dance floor. We re-enacted the music video from A-ha's Take On Me and left all our earlier worries about the scappy accommodations behind. It was beautiful. I left to catch up with Will, Ros, and Nick at their place where they were watching videos of their wedding. Ros and Nick are musicians who played at their own reception (with their dad on acoustic guitar in the background) and this only furthered my conclusion that the Custers are the coolest family on earth.

ANOTHER CONVERSATION!

(Karl sits at the bar with Will, Ros, and Nick. A toothless middle-aged man approaches Karl, mid-quip.)

TOOTHY: Hey.

KARL: Hey.

TOOTHY: Knock, knock.

KARL: Who's there?

(Long pause. Toothy thinks.)

TOOTHY: MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

(Long pause.)

KARL: "Me" .... ah ... "me" who?

TOOTHY: Wayne!

(Toothy's eye glints in that "I've killed bears" sort of way, but Karl, who's friends with the bouncers, doesn't care.)

KARL: "Me Wayne"? You call that a knock-knock joke?! Me Tarzan, you Wayne?! What can I do with that? That's not even funny on the alcoholic plane ...

TOOTHY: Yeah, asojfoaiffheasdfoiuqoehqwefuhvai ...

(EXIT TOOTHY.)

I saw the Toothy trying the same joke out on someone else down at the other end of the bar before the bouncers kicked him out. He wasn't really dangerous; he was just testing a work-in-progress and needed some feedback.

PINT OF PATHOS AWARD: goes to spelling bee kids. Anyone seen Spellbound? That documentary about the national spelling bee finalists? It's heartbreaking, mostly because it's a useless skill. I say this as a blogger who's easily misspelled hundreds of commonplace words in his own post, so ... hear me out. I mention it because someone asked me to explain that post about the difference between conceptual intelligence and fact-accumulation. And here's what I mean. We teach kids to store large chunks of stuff in their heads, but we don't give them any functional thoughts. They learn stuff, not skills. And as good as that spelling bee champ might be, he still can't write a poem to save his life.

It's the difference between being a Schwarzenegger or a Jackie Chan. We've hammered intelligence into the same scorecard metric we use for competitive sports. There's no process, it's all quantity. But I happen to believe Jackie Chan could kick Schwarzenegger's ass. And that all the money and time we spend forcing kids to stand up like cute little sponge-brain freaks ("How did all those big words come out of Johnny's little skull?!"), could be better spent teaching them to write a complete sentence.

We're rehearsing for five hours before the show tonight. And we're doing two shows on Saturday and Sunday. So it's basically six shows in three days. Then I have one day off before leaving early Tuesday morning. I wish I had a few days to give a proper goodbye to everyone in town. Or to climb that mountain I missed. Or to sleep on the beach. We'll see. Might still happen. Question is: what becomes of this blog when I get back to DC?

And in the spirit of fair-trade blogosphere traffic, I must link, I must link, I must link ...

The DCeiver
East Coast Alaska Girl
Lucky Spinster
Theaterboy
Juneau Music
Perseverance Theatre

Wish I could put these in the side-bar, but the code for this template is a little finicky. Shit. Was that spelled right?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Point A to Point B

In an abanonded turnoff near my house ... tucked against the Gastineau Channel ... on the lonely road that winds through North Douglas island ... is a broken down truck. It's rusty and old and suspicious-looking and someone spray-painted the words "FREE CANDY" across the side of it.

Downtown, there's a raggity pickup with tinted windows. This thing could probably go from zero to thirty in eight minutes. It's got a handsome spread of vaguely offensive right-wing bumper-stickers (Nuke the Unborn Gay Whales!). And when it starts up, it lurches into gear with that gravelly whiskey-throat sound that you only get with a 5 litre engine. And someone spraypainted the words "SUSPICIOUS VEHICLE" across the side of it.

There's another car that is covered, bumber to bumber, with extreme sports logos and NASCAR emblems. The owner left the legally-mandated amount of visible window space uncovered. It's a 4-cyllander second-hand Hyundai. Heh. Gene Gillete took one look at it and chirstened it the Viagra Mobile.

And then there's my adorable little Ford Festiva. When I found her, she was a sad little garbanzo bean of a car. Her previous owner drove her here from TEXAS. That's right. From texas, up the west coast, through British Columbia, through the Yukon, and into mainland Alaska. She has 89,000 miles on her. No dome light. No radio. No passenger-side mirror. No latch on the hatch-back. No power stearing. No third gear, from what I could tell. But dangit if we didn't fall in love. I scrubbed her down, velcro-ed a flashlight on the dashboard, got letters for the back bumper that read "OLE!" and ... best of all ... attached a $9 garden ornament to her roof.

I wanted to get a large sombrero for the roof, but couldn't find one. So I got a stone frog prince clutching a silver sphere. He's about nine inches tall and weighs about fifteen pounds. He sits rather comfortably on his ass, with a stone crown and a glowing, mirrored sphere in his lap. And when he's at the helm on the roof of the Festiva ... well, I gotta say, I think it boosted her self-esteem. She got respect in a town of large 4X4's. Traffic would yield for us. Pedestrians would salute us as we drove by. I even caught a couple tourists getting their photo taken with the frog prince -- which speaks more to their stupidity than my auto-detailing skills, but ... We were a good match, Festiva and me.

And then the brakes failed. They were making that grinding noise you only get if the pads are completely gone. I dropped her off at the mechanic near the theatre who informed me that I was lucky to be alive. That would be just my luck, right? I come to Alaska, hike in the mountains, see everything there is to see here. And I don't get killed by a bear, or an orca, or by falling off the cliffside of Mt. Bradley. No. I would die in a Ford Festiva while trying to brake hard coming down Franklin street or something. Anyway, I'm not dead and the Festiva is waiting a special delivery before she can hit the road again. I just hope she's put back together for one last jaunt before I leave.

So in the meantime, I was allowed to drive the theatre's van. It's a giant, white pre-OPEC embargo panel van with the Perseverance Theatre logo across the side of it. It was also filled with lots of furnature and had a severely cracked windshield. It burnt through a quarter tank of gas just getting from my house to the theatre and back. And then I found out ... get this ... that I'm not even insured to drive their vehicles anymore! Ha ha! Turns out, five weeks after we set this up, their insurance company can't find my driving record, or Gene's driving record. So if I would have died in the Festiva, I wouldn't have been covered! Isn't life in the non-profits great?!

I'm telling this story to everyone out there because ... I want to make sure my reaction is rational and justified, not just some flourish of east-coast diva monster creeping out in our final days. I really want to enjoy the remainder of my time here, but ... Anne's car fell apart recently, too. Her stearing wheel was about 90degrees off center before popping off entirely. Then her alternater just cut out completely. Dan's car has a driver's seat that isn't attached to the chasis in any perceivable way -- it slides back and forth as he drives and doesn't even have a straight back, so he leans back like a compulsory gangsta drivuh. Which would be cool, if it weren't a red 1989 Subaru station-wagon.

"Wit is the shortest distance between two ideas."
-- Sam Havelock

Point A to point B aside, I'm still enjoying myself. Our SM Sarah is caught in the middle since she's moving here to be director of production (forgot official title, ecag, sorry!). So she has to toggle between representing the cast and representing the theatre -- helping smooth over problems she didn't create because she wasn't here, but problems that she is now responsible for, by title only, nonetheless.

I remember telling some of you that I was going to switch to a polyphasic sleep schedule while I was here. I think I might have succeeded, but not through any special effort of my own. It's just what you do when the sun comes up so damn early. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, though. You see some cool colors and you start to think crazy things like ... maybe I can talk to my constituent molecules and walk through that wall. But you can get the same thing from a really good batch of mushrooms. So I'm told.

Forgive my mispellings. I'm rilly tired toodaye.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Nature, Nature, Man, and Nature

In three days, I compacted a summer's worth of touristy stuff that I'd been saving for when my mom came to visit. We took the tram up to the top of Mt. Roberts (78% of the tourists here are Russian or Austrailian), which kinda demystified my heroic climb to Dan Moller Cabin. But it was a bright clear day and you could see the entirety of Douglas Island, which, due to something called isostatic rebound is going to reconnect with the mainland up north. There was plenty of over-priced kitch to buy and a bald eagle named Justice sat in a cage on display. I don't know why -- you can see tons of them here any time. Learned a bunch of stuff. Justice has a deformed right eye that glows as a grotesque symbol of ... something. Turns out Bald Eagles aren't very good at flying. They build large landing ramps for their nests because of this. Insert your own ironic commentary here.

The next day it was raining again, so we went to the Mendenhall Glacier which you can actually touch as it recedes back into the Juneau Ice Shelf. Due to global warming, it's vanishing at some absurdly scary rate. A map showed the size of the glacier throughout history. A friend told me that when his grandmother came here, the glacier was right at the front door to the visitor center. Now it's a good 20 minute hike away from the visitor center. There's a glacier-fed diving hole nearby and our stagehand, Zori, wants to take us there to jump in sometime. Ha ha! Sure, why not?! The sun almost sets at 11:45pm and already starts to glow behind the mountains at 2:15am. Returning home at that hour strangely feels like you've been out drinking for seven hours. Anchorage is closer to the 60th parallel and we'll be there on the solstace for this barnstorming tour in June -- can't wait to see that.

And on Friday, we went whale watching with some free tickets (and more Austrailian toursits) courtesy of a lovely woman who owns her own boat and happens to have season tickets to the theatre. We saw eight whales -- four pairs of mothers with their cubs. A bunch of sea-lions, and countless eagles. The naturalist from a cruise ship Infinity joined us and wouldn't stop talking the entire time. Yes, his expertise was welcome, but you'd think he'd get tired of all this and stop shouting at the top of his lungs whenever a whale appeared: "THERE we GO! Two HUNDRED mile-an-hour BLOWHOLE EXHALATION! LIFE is GOOOOOOD!" That's a direct quote. The captain was a guy named Captain Larry. Larry has what can only be described as a sixth sense when it comes to humpback whales. He gently steared his boat out of Auck Bay and could read the ripples in the water (without the help of sonar or GPS) to tell when whales were approaching. Larry is something of a local celebrity, as it turns out. He was on some MTV extreme tundra challenge show or something.

I also learned that Juneau High School is built on a patch of land that no one wanted because it's in an avalanche danger zone. There's a movement afoot to build a new one, but no one wants to support it. Can you believe that shit? The principal sends out letters cautioning the parents against our play, out of fear of a copycat killing, when the whole place could be destroyed at any moment by falling ice. Yeah. Sorry we put you in danger, skippy.

We've been getting great houses now -- which is a rarity with the good weather. But it's still light out when the show finishes at 10:30pm, so I guess people don't miss too much of the bright sky when they come in for our crazy little opus at night.

I remembered I had a wayward * on the words New York in a previous post. And I wanted to follow up with something:

I don’t get to the city as often as I’d like (or as often as I should) and as a DC actor who’s seen too many crappy Julliard kids infiltrate the scene from up north, I’ve carried a petty chip on my shoulder for too long. I used to think that being a New York actor was a silly, nominal distinction -- not necessarily evidence of success or (from what I’ve heard) artistic satisfaction. Of all my friends in that city, I think only one of them has what they’d call a satisfying life in the theatre. And he does lighting design. And I used to think that DC was as close as you could get to a self-sustaining “regional” theatre town. The word regional is kinda insulting in its own way because it implies that we’re just the outlaying provinces of the Center of the Universe, suckling at the benevolent teat of momma Broadway.

What I love about DC is its identity crisis. “Northern charm and southern efficiency”? Yeah, that’s true. I always thought of DC as a place where people come for a brief period of time to make very permanent things. Laws, news, monuments and museums. And if NYC is the melting pot at its best, then DC is … well, a kind of chunky stew. We’ve got a theatre company for every demographic you can think of: African-American (1), Gay (1), Jewish (1), Latin (2), Asian (3) and so on. But there’s not a lot of cross-pollination in either the talent or the audiences. Collectively, we have all this at our disposal -- but has anyone been to all of them?

And then we have three theatres with Shakespeare in the name. There’s nothing wrong with all this, but I think the tribalism and the classicism are inspired (consciously or not) by the fact that we’re in DC. You will see theatre that is either dutifully rendered or demographically balanced. You will see Hamlet at the Shakespeare Theatre, pass by the Navy Memorial on your way to the parking garage, return home to Missouri, and consider yourself done.

And so what if there’s no such thing as a commercial production in town? True, Studio Theatre comes close with their ceaseless extensions and double-extensions. Despite the “House of Pain” rap it gets from actors and staff members, I still gotta admire the Zinoman-Industrial Complex for its shrewd business sense. For me, the fixed rotation of plays keeps the blood going. Now that I’ve been doing the same show for the better part of five months, I don’t know if I want to be locked into a long-running commercial production as … lord knows what. I’m sure I’ll come back to eat those words if I ever make the leap north and fail, but for now I couldn’t be happier with the breadth of work I get to do in any given season. My training was in the liberal arts mold and I carried a psychology major far too long in the process, so I still learn more from each show than I give away.

But I think the one component missing from the DC theatre scene is indigenous playwriting. Many theatres have a play development mechanism in place -- Arena, Woolly, Signature, Charter, Round House, Rorschach, and the Kennedy Center. But with the exception of Charter and Rorschach, the submission specs require a level of advocacy that only established, represented (often NYC) writers have. That’s fine, I guess, but here’s my real problem. TCG and Samuel French will gladly write the world premiere cast into the front page, but they won’t publish the damn thing until its had a New York premiere. In other words, even though a play was birthed, developed, and officially premiered down south -- it’s still not technically born until it’s been through any theatre in New York. The disconnect between development, production, and publication is what irks me. Granted, Anna In the Tropics catapulted to prominence before anyone in NY had seen it, and Chicago and Seattle house more contemporary playwrights than NY … so maybe the final challenge for all us “regional” houses is to declare a new work open when it opens. Not when it filters through some Byzantine rite of passage.

I’ve been watching this process with columbinus. We’ve opened and opened again. But we’re clutching at a possible New York workshop before that bottle of champagne cracks. Why? PJ’s already received dozens of requests to produce it a schools, universities, and smaller venues across the country. And the idea that this story will have a life beyond the seminal production excites me. But when it comes to having a sweet-smelling, handsomely bound copy of the damn thing, we have to wait for the Big Apple Blessing.

Oh well. Another thing I love about DC is how ridiculously artificial the town is. I’m talking geography here. Even though I’ve lived there for six years and still get lost driving to my own apartment -- I kinda like the mobius strip mentality m. l’Enfant had going … after he drank four bottles of port and started throwing blind darts at his design to decide where the traffic circles would go. Maybe it’s my weakness for German expressionism in art, but the image of this rigid, immoveable diamond -- where money and corpses vanish every day -- never fails to make me laugh when I look at it on a map. We don’t know what the fuck we are. A territory? A state? A ten square mile gift boutique? Never mind the half-million unrepresented black people who live here! As far as the rest of the country is concerned (or as far as they know from Fox News) we’re a pissy little fiefdom that houses foreign diplomats, government employees, and poor people! Not exactly the crop of folk who get respect in W’s America.

I always wanted to make a movie that takes place in DC and Johannesburg. There’s another crazy, violent, artificial town forged by wacky white people! Like DC, Jo-burg is grafted onto mother earth where she clearly didn’t want anyone living. We were stamped into a swamp to unify the country, geographically. And Jo-burg was burnt into a dustbowl to consolidate the colonial diamond/gold mining business. Jo-burg is the largest city on earth that isn’t near a natural water supply. London, Paris, New York, LA, Rome, Tokyo, Jakarta, Cairo … you name it. At least they had water. A South African writer, whose name eludes me, tried to explain: “That’s why we’re all crazy here. We’re thirsty!”

So anyway, the movie would be set in the 1980s and would compare life in two artificial cities. The Reaganite complicity with the Afrikaner government would make an good bridging narrative. In the end, the protagonist will escape to Cape Town and live happily ever after. I remember the garden route backpacking trip I took with my friends back in ‘99 -- chasing down the locales for all of Fugard’s plays. That reminds me! We could warp between Bethesda and New Bethesda in the movie! Close-up on one of Helen’s statues as we cross-fade to a lawn jockey in suburban Maryland! DAMN! The symbolism writes itself! Now we’re cookin’! Can I get a green light from the hizzy, please?! No, hear me out! My pitch:

“In a city built on diamonds …

In another city … shaped like a diamond …

In a world … of … diamondy … shaped … things!”

And then something would explode. Also, there will be breasts. Working title? Birth of Bling?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Exegesis H. Christ!

Wow. I even got corrected on the type of muscle used in shrugging. Fair enough. I promise to link to DCeiver and Theaterboy as soon as I figure out the code on this thing. I've been entertaining my mom for the past three days, so it's just another post for now. I promise we'll get back to elegaic descriptions of the hinterland soon enough.

First off, let’s say it’s rather obvious that articactor has plenty of reading and living to do before he disses the canon anymore. The whole tirade started as a corollary to another topic and my first and only point at the time was that maybe, just maybe, we as theatre-makers are responsible for the fashionable lament that comes with a dying art form. And that maybe (juuuuuuuuuuuuust maybe) our over-reliance on what’s already been done has something to do with that. I wish I could hand out $500k MacArthur Genius Grants, but since I can’t … I gotta look at what we’re making here and how it could be better.

Some replies …

Trillum: I didn’t mean to suggest that King Lear doesn’t have a worthy theme. I was talking about the bitter, honest heart of most productions. Not the bitter, honest heart of the text. The hyper-contextualization that wins so many design awards (and sells so many tickets) also tends to eclipse exactly what you’re talking about.* You explained it beautifully in your post, but I was taking aim at the giddy industry surrounding a re-mount, not the play being re-mounted. Sorry if it sounded that way. And I’m sorry if it sounded like I was putting words in your mouth with that comment about farce. What started me off was the idea that farce (in your words) is the ultimate deconstruction, when I think that farce, because of its necessary plot mechanics, can actually build more than it tears down.

As for Discovery and History … oh boy. Yes, you can have one without the other. It’s no trick to make history. History happens by default. Discovery requires effort. Ancient Egypt sat down and squatted for a few millennia and produced gobs of History. But the culture remained fundamentally untouched and unmoved for the same period of time. The Middle Ages was a grinding halt for European History -- a good stretch of time where the only forward motion (in philosophy, science, or art) was the dutiful collapse into a Christian grave. Years passed, history happened. But discovery sat waiting. Again, all I meant with my original statement was that our allegiance to History should never be greater than our respect for Discovery. That doesn’t mean we should forget the past; it means the past is not legitimate simply because it happened already.

Shirley: Glad you brought up Kushner. I still think he’s one of the best we’ve got. I love reading his essays and interviews, too. Especially the one about how pretentiousness is the American birthright.** I do think he incriminates himself a little when he says he’s out to preach to the converted (much the way Mamet impeached himself in True and False when he wrote that "plays are better read than seen"). With that in mind, Bright Room Called Day works great and shoulda been done in DC before the 2004 election. What I love about Kushner is that I can’t critique him without getting political -- and that’s exactly what he’s after. I saw Caroline, or Change in NYC and had a good time, despite my hatred for musicals. Still wondering why he wanted to make Angels in America into an HBO miniseries. It’s easily the best play of the last 25 years and its chief asset is its pure theatricality. It was a triumph for theatre itself. The HBO series was good and I’m glad more people got to see it, but those eight glorious acts cut to the heart of what I’m saying here.

Proof.

Within the anthology of one-word titles, I’ll defend Wit and Rent to the death, but definitely not Proof. Bunch of reasons. It’s a touching family trauma-drama, yes, but I see no reason for it to contain mathematical geniuses and there’s nothing especially revolutionary in its construction. I don’t know what the Pulitzer Prize committee is looking for when they make their nominations each year, but I used to think (on evidence of Wit, Rent, and Angels in America), that the prize went to works that were not only well-made, but also ground-breaking in some way. Proof is the Well Made Play through and through. But it subverts, rather than enhances, our understanding of smart people and mental health.

There’s a larger trend here. Like Good Will Hunting, Pi, A Beautiful Mind, and oodles of other recent movies on the subject, Proof is profoundly anti-intellectual. Put short, the featured geniuses are freaks, emotional cripples, or just plain loony. This characterization is depressing enough (as is the sad adage about the double-edged sword), but there’s more to it than that. As Americans, I think we have a hard time comprehending the existence of smart people unless they’re tethered to one form of Hell or another. In story after story, they’re either corrupt, immature, insane, or just plain evil. I say “as Americans” because the same brain-bashing has been going on in the political arena since the days of Adlai Stevenson. But back to theatre:

The neo-Faustian catalog is more dangerous because we think we’re actually watching a celebration of the human intellect. But look at the characters. They possess not a whit of intelligence on the conceptual level; it’s all the spectacle of fact-accumulation or processing speed. Catherine even says her father didn’t solve problems, he just had the ability to lob thousands of incorrect answers at the problem until the right one came up: “He was slogging. He just did it so fast, it looked like magic.” That’s also why Matt Damon’s character can rattle off a list of his “soul-mates” (which includes Kant, Neitzsche, Freud, Shakespeare, Pope, Locke, and others, apparently), and yet he never does anything to show why he considers them soul-mates. There’s no sign that any of these names from the Brainiac Box-set has had any effect on what he values, how he thinks, or what he wants to do with his life (even in the end). They’re just a stack of references, bench-pressed into his cranium for bar-side brawls on the economy of the southern colonies.

Likewise, Auburn makes it clear that he’s not out to teach us anything about the beauty of mathematics. This even became a selling point for regional productions: “You don’t have to know anything about math to enjoy Proof!” Yay! But he cheats us out of more interesting characters, too. In the first scene, he chooses to establish Catherine’s intelligence by how quickly she can answer a math problem. This intermittent flexing is the closest we come to seeing genius in action. Hal keeps making references to how brilliant her father was, but never really goes beyond saying he’s brilliant over and over. None of the characters discuss the centerpiece proof for what it is; all we know is that it’s really tough. As if the casual symbolism wasn’t evident already, we actually have Hal saying, “There’s no proof you wrote this proof!” I always expect the stage manager to hop out of the booth at that point and pipe up on the God-mike to ask, “Everybody with us now?”

In other words, the father could have been a brilliantly insane plumber who haunts the memory of his apprentice daughter. The daughter performs an inexplicably complex sewage-pipe repair job and everyone argues whether or not she inherited her dad’s alcoholism along with his monkey wrench. Hal could say, “You’re full of shit if you say you fixed that shitter!” And the same dynamic would be in play.

It’s like how Mamet unfairly stacks the deck against Carol (to say nothing of the audience) in Oleanna. John isn’t just a teacher. He’s a Teacher who “teaches” about the subject of teaching. Their arguments are buried underneath layers of Teaching, “teaching,” and teaching and it’s no wonder they can’t hear each other clearly. If Mamet wrote about a biology professor dealing with a struggling student, I doubt he’d have much of a story left. The crime here (as with Proof) is that we think we’re learning something. In Oleanna, it’s sexual harassment, the teacher-student relationship, patriarchy, etc. In Proof, it’s math, genius, and mental health. But in the end, they’re pretty simple human stories that have little to do with their particular backdrops.

Now, you can choose any backdrop for a family trauma-drama, sure. But stories like this reduce the entire idea of intelligence to a few cute flexes and a hell of a lot of pain, misery, and madness. It’s a package deal, insanity and genius. But it's possible to have one without the other. And maybe we should do more to celebrate the latter than ennoble the former.

Contrast this with Wit, where the life’s work of a metaphysical poetry scholar locks perfectly with the life-and-death battle happening on stage. Vivian never abdicates her brain or regrets what she’s chosen to do with her life before phase IV metastatic ovarian cancer hits. Best of all, Margaret Edson wasn’t out to show how being brilliant was analogous to having cancer (the way the prodigious schizoids are married to their malady in Proof). No. Vivian uses her intelligence to understand, fight, and ultimately conquer death. Plus, the lessons she learns about human relationships don’t come at the expense of being smart. And (get this!) we actually learn something about Donne, death and drama along the way. The subject, object, theme, and characters are inseparable. And like all amazing plays, it resists adaptation to the screen.***

FOOTNOTES

*You deserve better than that -- but I’ve seen two productions of Lear recently. One at the Guthrie and one at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park and I’ll be damned if they knew what the real focus of the play should be. The design was lovely in both instances. As a consequence, the lobby-talk was about broader historical relevance and not the human drama on display. Made me sad.

**Surprised?

***Did anyone see that Emma Thompson HBO version? CHRIST! Emma’s great, but she played the woman as though she were already dead.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Now We're Talking

Zounds.

I write one pissy post about the state of contemporary playwriting and ... I get lots of responses! Cool. I'm sorry if it sounded like I was saying there were no worthwhile voices out there. Thanks to the anonymous commentor who rattled off a list of them -- effective rebuke, anon. With the possible exception of LaBute (who's getting a little reductum ad bogosian lately) and Craig Wright (who can't leave a morality tale without the author's claw-marks all over it), I'd agree: there's plenty to be excited about.

But I find myself excited more about the craft than the content with these writers. What I miss is something eminently theatrical in the theatre. It doesn't have to be spectacle, but it does have to be something that we can only receive through shared space in a room. Guirgis, for all his delicious verbosity, hasn't written a scene that couldn't be just as effective on a television screen, or, for that matter, the radio. I don't expect writers to undo the entire organism of commercial theatre with every play they write, but I would like to see a story where the playwright's quill wasn't visibly shoving the characters into direction between scenes.

I think theatre flourishes when cultural geography means something; when time and space (and especially space) are the worthy frontiers. As Americans we often feel exempt from geographic reality, eschewing the uncomfortable space between enemies for a psychological landscape of the same. This psycho-drama is alternately sensationalist or post-modern (Ravenhill and Kane versus Chuck Mee et al) -- but ultimately useless, depending on who's in the audience that night. It all has its place, but not in the theatre. I'm not asking for total allegiance to the Aristotelean unities; and I'm certainly not trying to hash out a Neoclassical aesthetic. I just wish all that effort we spent resurrecting the dead masters went into a more courageous advocacy of ... well ... almost any of the names on that anonymous post.

At the bitter, honest heart of any re-make of King Lear is the mere thrill of historical relevancy -- which, in this case, would be useful for any would-be emporers out there, but not really anyone else. For the groundlings, it's the wind in your hair as you bolt through the centuries, agog at "just how damn relevant that really old play was!" Which, again, has its place. But it shouldn't be the greatest we aspire to. And when over half the plays in New York* are re-makes, re-mounts, classics, or spinoffs ... it's time to stop bitching about the gradual exodus from the American stage. Our allegience to History should never be greater than our respect for Discovery.

Trillam: "The things one takes seriously are one's weaknesses."

Does that mean there's strength in shrugging? Lat muscles aside, I don't agree with that Ludlamism. Farce can be used to deconstruct, sure, but it requires a rational machinery to work. The people are reduced to their basic biological drives, but the directions they travel are the work of logical design. And farce has to keep building on itself to work. Fryan could have closed the genre definitively with Noises Off which is not so much a farce within a farce as it is a meta-farce. And again, as simple-minded as the charcters' goals were, the greater composition depended on a rational carriage to make us laugh.

Dammit! I'm stopping this right now. What I meant to talk about today was how damn cool the Mendenhall Glacier looks when you're close enough to touch the blue-ice crystals. But, I'll have to save it for another time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Futureproof

Will's host family is a couple of ultra-cool 60-something people named Tom and Sue Custer. They have a renovated beach house out on Auck Bay and they had all of us over for dinner last night (salmon and halibut that they caught just the day before). Whale traffic is more common than street traffic out there. This was the same couple that described the Northern Lights as ... "that first time you drop acid; where you feel omnipotent and insignificant at the same time." Cool people.

Their daughter, Ros, was there with her husband. They're both musicians and somewhere around our fourth glass of Reisling, we decided it would be good to have a political discussion. I find political discussion with people who match my ideology to be more tiring than any joust with a red-neck, so ... I was inching my way out the door when we stumbled on the subject of funding for the arts.

Sigh.

I personally think the state of the American Theatre has less to do with money and more to do with the writers we have to work with. When Edward Albee can re-write the same cynical, directionless, uninspired assaults on heterosexual America and snag three Pulitzers in the process ... when Rebecca Fucking Gilman can toss off another Diet Shaw string of talk-show conversations with the erudition of a Newsweek Conventional Wisdom factoid ... when Donald Margulies can whack off to the obvious and mock Mamet as he emulates him ... and when Mamet has vanished into genre exercises and plays so elliptical they evaporate like an overstuffed souffle ... we're kinda screwed.

Wit
Art
Rent
Doubt
Proof

All unctious monosyllabic declarations of ... something. Wit and Rent notwithstanding, I'm gonna write a play called Poop or possibly Life just to see if the po-mo coronation still holds as long as the ideas aren't too challenging or, if they're Challenging, that they're challenging by the sheer force of their unabashed nihilism. I know I sound like Kostya right now, but ...

It's time to sandblast the quotation marks from every New Yorker's speech balloon. It's time to burn Artaud at the stake and see if he signals through the flames. And the next time some jerkoff with a mail-order MFA wants to do Hedda Gabler on Mars, we will lock him in Denny's restaurant with nothing but a pen, paper, and all the buffalo chicken strips he wants. He will not be allowed out until he was written something that in no way resembles Hedda Gabler. We must punish every stage-side shrug with rotten tomatoes. We will stalk the deconstructionists until they can't sleep at night, sneak into their garages and reassemble the statues they shattered. We will make every scene shifting wannabe earn their pass at time travel by stapling together the latest non-linear mindfuck into its original form and tattoo the words "OBEY NATURE TO COMMAND IT" backwards on their foreheads so the next time they get lost in their own iris trying to find the meaning of life, they'll consider living as a possible method of discovery.

A friend of mine remarked that this blog was suspiciously bile-free. It's still true, for the most part. But, I'm sorry: "the incurable illness of Romanticism" is due for a relapse. Hopefully a terminal one.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Creaking toward the solstace ...

The cruise ships have arrived and the city's population has doubled overnight. I saw a man trying to move a refridgerator in his truck. It fell out onto the street and the poor guy was struggling to get it back on the truck bed so me and a few people ran over to help him lift it up again. And this tourist hopped out into the middle of the road and took a picture of it.

OHPI(GHWQGFP*HG89y139ryq89y349rh324h?!??!?!??!?!

This print-shirt-clad fuckwit had mountains surrounding him, bald eagles landing on his shoulder, whales turning tricks in the ocean next to him, and virtually every other manifestation of god's glory surrounding him ... but no. This jackass chuckled his way to a picture of a sad little chubby man trying to move his fridge. I almost thought, "Jeez! Americans are annoying!" Until I realized that we're still in America and I'm just as annoying in my own way.

Is anyone out there in love? Just curious. I bet it feels great. The inexhausibly re-playable Garden State soundtrack is under this post, so I thought I'd ask.

Here's a conversation I had with The Most Wasted Alaskan I've Ever Met:

(Karl, Gene, Dan, and Will sit at The Imperial near the back pool table. A short man with a red Stanford University hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap comes up. He is quite young.)

SHORT MAN: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey. You all from where I don't hey not you come from know where you're here, man!

GENE: What's up, dude.

SHORT MAN: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey, that's right what's up because born and raised try to fuck with me have both talk with the captain, right?

GENE: Right.

SHORT MAN: Right.

WILL: Right.

SHORT MAN: That's what I'm saying. Boom time with that, huh, I say BOOM!

(At this point, Karl, against his better judgement, decides to talk to the short man in his native language. Karl has had but one alcoholic beverage at this point.)

KARL: Hey!

SHORT MAN: Hey!

KARL: You gotta break four after the Buddha done regent wholesale with the smokestacks.

SHORT MAN(laughing): Hahahahahahahaha, yeah fuck Budha.

KARL(laughing): I would tap gone eight thousand after Susan broke hafta Ernest Borgnine crap table with the Jesus.

SHORT MAN: I take both Buddha come through to that fat motherfucker and two Jesus could do that, say what I say.

KARL: Yeah, you say what I hear.

SHORT MAN: I say what you say what I read what you hear.

KARL: Yeah.

(pause)

KARL: So. Did you really go to Stanford or did you just find that sweatshirt?

SHORT MAN: Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, you know some guy mess with me when I was eight, I stabbed him in the motherfucking head like a crazy so since then I be Crazy Eddie! That's right!

(At this point, the Short Man takes off his cap to reveal that he's mostly bald. And crazy.)

KARL: You stabbed him?

CRAZY EDDIE: That's right, neh-heh.

KARL: What was his name?

CRAZY EDDIE: He dead! Don't have a name anymore, neh-heh-heh-heh-heh!

(Crazy Eddie re-enacts the stabbing using a cocktail straw and a rather impressive array of mimed kicks.)

CRAZY EDDIE: Woo! Dah! Ha-ha! Speejaw!

(Exuent.)

So that was fun. But not especially rare. I realize that transcribing an encounter with a drunken ex-con can't match the re-telling, but oh well.

The audiences have been picking up steadily. It was slim pickin's for a while after opening night. But now we've been playing to pretty much full houses and should have a healthy final two weeks before we're done. I've entered this wierd dimension where I've done this show for so long it's like a recurring dream -- meaning I don't switch on autopilot, necessarily, but the emotions have been choreographed as tenaciously as the movement. So with muscle-memory comes a kind of unstoppable empathy surge. I don't know what to call it exactly, but I was shocked to find that I wasn't really thinking anymore during the show. It's a good thing for me because I tend to think too much on stage -- all of my characters have to pass through the cerebral checkpoint before they make it out. But after two years working on this monster, there's no fear. And the cool thing is, there's no boredom either. Sure, I'd like to move onto something else soon and I wish I had more energy to give each performance, but all-in-all ... this is a pretty cool challenge.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Hemingwayesque

No such word, really. Coined by some undergrad comparative lit major, I'm sure, but should be brought into the vernacular so I have a way of explaining what it's like to hike for three miles up a mountain in three feet of snow with only tennis shoes and blue jeans and a fifty-pound camping pack on my back while the trail to Dan Moller cabin vanishes under the avalanche.

That was Monday. And it was wonderful.

Somewhere in the middle of hacking down a tree with an axe (we needed the firewood, what can I say?) I remembered that Helen Hayes was going on at about the same time. Heh. James was our fire-marshall, Dan was the cook, Anne and I were the trailblazers, Gene carried stuff for the weaklings, and everyone chopped wood. The hike back down the mountain was easier, except I got on the wrong path and ended up at a different trail head. Actually, I ended up right between two suburban houses -- which threw me for a minute. One moment I'm in the mountains making noise to keep the bears away, and the next moment I'm in Omaha. So the last leg of my voyage home wasn't through any more snow or rocks or dense forest terrain -- it was through someone's neighborhood. I'm sweaty and strapped down in my second-hand camping pack. Sunburnt. And I'm hiking through what looks like middle America, trying to find the vanished trail head where I parked my car.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Opening Night

We opened on Friday night to a pretty friendly house -- the usual friends and patrons of the theatre.

I have never been so nervous for a show in my entire life.

I don't know why, either. Still trying to unpack that one. People have different standards and expectations, sure. And our play's particular Abercombie backdrop doesn't hit the spooky verisimilitude that it did back east. How can it, when there's no Abercrombie within a thousand miles? That sounds snooty, I know, but when most suburban high school kids identities are so commodified and material bound -- there is something to be said for the branding of sentiment.

Of course, it didn't help that the school principle sent out a letter to all the parents explaining why he didn't feel right taking the kids to the show. In his opening sentence, he makes a tepid pitch for the show, but acknowledges a non-existent copycat killer threat. Where the hell did that come from?! I don't think it was there in the kids heads until this doofus decided to put it there out of his own fear. Funny thing is, the superintendant loves the show and thinks everyone should see it. But I guess she doesn't outrank the principal on that choice.

And it also didn't help that the Juneau Empire (newspaper) ran a weekly entertainment special featuring a picture of me, Dan, and Gene giving the Hitler Youth salute with eyes full of evil and a caption saying "Coming Soon!" Yeah. That'll really make the parents run out and pay $22 for some family entertainment.

The cool thing is, pretty much every random person I've given a post-card to in town has come to check it out. And our biggest night-time competitor isn't another theatre -- it's the sun. Seriously, we're in competition with the weather! Isn't that great? This is the first sustained patch of beautiful sky most of the locals have seen in months. And I welcome the challenge. Because some nights I'd rather be out on the beach myself.

We rehearsed for four hours before the show last night -- focusing on the library section. We walked through the police schematics of what happened that day and took another look at the faces of the victims (which I'm now convinced should be projected with each gunshot during the re-enactment since we have the temerity to show Eric and Dylan at the top of Act II). Anyway, it was extremely hard to pick up that trenchcoat and do that scene after that -- it's just too bizarre having your blocking determined by police sketches of an actual bloodbath. Strange that this apprehension is hitting me now -- I've only been playing this broken soul for two years. But something about the local fear of this story and my own spring awakening has made me feel the reality of this disaster more intimately than before.

Prom is tonight. Heh.

Afterwards, we all shuffled off to the Douglas Inn -- a posh little restaurant a block away from the theatre. I got even more strange stares than I did cowering through the lobby back in DC. The reactions were pretty much the same, except some people honestly had a hard time separating the psychotic character from ... me. The outreach director at the theatre is a nice native guy named Ishmael -- and he's working to get us into the school's English classes so kids can see the show and then dismantle the play in safe company. There was a gun threat at the school recently and some asshole actually had the gall to suggest that we arranged it for the purposes of marketing the play.

Moment of silence.

Can you believe that shit?! That's what we're dealing with here. True, there's a well-stocked gun store less than a mile away from the school. But I don't think anyone who's seen the show or read it would dare suggest it's a catalyst for the same behavior. Anyway, I'm glad we have some work to do with the community. I think the DC audiences had their own message to take away from the production, and that's fine. That's how it's supposed to be. But PJ was saying that the community was nervous about this show before it even arrived in town. Funny thing: because they were nervous about the show, they had a program in place to handle this recent gun threat more capably than before. So in some backward-ass way, it's been good to get people thinking about it -- even if they're only thinking from a paranoid vantage point right now.

I spent a long time talking to a teacher from the alternative high school in town. She and her husband told me about how most of the kids at her school are not necessarily behavioral or academic rejects -- they're just kids (50% native-born) who don't like the atmosphere at the public high school. Anyway, we got her blessing and she's trying to arrange for a class trip before the school year's over.

"Into the ear of every anarchist who sleeps but does not dream, we must sing, we must sing, we must sing."

The Juneau Underground Motion Picture society (JUMP) had their short film festival on the top of Mt. Roberts last night. They took the tram all the way above the city and watched a collection of short flicks made by locals and non-locals and then met over at the same restaurant where we were having our opening night party. Cool people. They're having a workshop tomorrow afternoon on writing and directing that I'm going to go to. There's a production company here called Lucid Reveries that actually edits DV on the same platform I use back at WILL Interactive. I might get to pick up some free-lance stuff before I leave ... cause where else am I going to get to jam on Adobe PremierePro for money? I've got to unload all these tapes I've been shooting to see if there's anything that holds together as a story. I think I want to make a documentary about getting a haircut. Just to see if I can get the tone and POV right.

Plans for a possible summer Equus are still in the works. We're hoping to do it on the beach, with fires and red-eyes in the forest and the tide and everything. Hell, if I'm ever going to play Alan Strang, it may as well be naked under the midnight sun with mountains and fire all around me. It's a perfect play for that kind of atmosphere. And if I can arrange to come home 20 days later than orignally planned, I'd love to do it. Then it's only a few weeks away from "Passion Play" and I can figure out the rest of my year from there.

My mom sent me a burrito in the mail. I'm afraid to open this thing, but ... good lord, you're silly. Jeez, what should I ask for next? A live squirrel? Seriously, though: the burrito and Boboli were delicious, mom. So thank you for taking up the Stage Mom Challenge of the year with characteristic aplomb. For those of you who haven't done a show with momma Miller nearby ... you should also know that this is the same woman who made "rabbit pie" for the Arcadia cast last March. By rabbit pie, I mean cherry pie with a stuffed rabbit head shoved into the middle of it. For This Is Our Youth, she didn't make pot brownies, but she did make brownies and threw in a suspicious-looking ziplock bag of weed-lookalike. I think John Bernthal smoked it anyway. And for Lord of the Flies she gave a bouquet of colorful fly-swatters. Tee-hee. Love ya, mom.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Distance from Here

There's an obvious progression to the stages of cultural adjustment. Some Lonely Planet's rubric would say it goes:

1. Euphoria
2. Anxiety
3. Depression
4. Assimilation

Yes, these are also the side effects listed for Xanax.* But if you're a traveling actor, I think the phases of adjustment should be adjusted:

1. Euphoria (higher extremeties)
2. Anxiety
3. Inebriation
4. Euphoria (lower extremeties)
5. Depression
6. Assimilation
7. Misanthropy
8. Deconstruction
9. Ennui
10. Euphoria (upon leaving)

Yes, these are also the side-effects listed on the back of any David Rabe play.** But I don't really care to map it out any further. On Monday, I was roaming around downtown when I came across a rare books and maps store. It's run by a lovely old woman named De who, like the rest of the city, has a faithful dog in her employ capable of performing marginally human jobs like paper-stapling and middle management. Anyway, De and her dog listen to Alaska Public Radio (this week's feature was about "the most credible Sasquatch sighting to date" -- no lie) and catalog old books and maps for whomever might want them. The store is located well outside the Tourist Green Zone, where you can buy things that are at least 72% Kitch-Free.

So I was fishing through their second-hand vanity editions of Thomas Hardy (these stores are always good sources of Trollope, Proust, Faulkner, Joyce ... and any other author that people were compelled to read out of good canon coverage but then promptly unloaded out of sheer frustration) ... when De told me all about, well, maps. It's a subject that few outside the antiquarian's circle dare indulge, but then I remembered that I'm in a state where vast sections of the countryside have remained untouched since the days of captain Cook. And I was absolutely fascinated.

***

VOICE-OVER: Buster's recent academic pursuits had centered around cartography: the charting of unknown territories.

MICHAEL BLUTH: Hey, Buster. Hasn't everything sort of already been found? You know, by, like, Magellan, Columbus? NASA?

BUSTER BLUTH: Oh. Yeah. Yeah, they did a pretty good job.

MOTHER BLUTH: It never hurts to double-check.

***

That snippet, from the much-maligned writing staff of Arrested Development, also went through my head. Like most brilliant TV shows, it's being canned after two seasons to make way for "Trippin' with Cameron Diaz." Point is: there are still parts of the planet that are uncharted. So chart away, Buster. I learned how to tell if a page was printed with copper press or wood. How to determine if the coloring was authentic or replicated. I learned that the Italians didn't care about topography and made maps that were devoted to charting the world in units of days-at-sea. The Italian map of the world is a cluster of rigid, geometric puzzle-pieces were everything is an arc or a straight line away from everything else. I saw hastily detailed maps of the non-existent Northwest Passage -- the only seaway charted by the imaginative pocket-books of European kings.

And I saw a massive two-volume first folio printing of the complete works of Shakespeare, printed in 1873, complete with gorgeous engravings for each story. Thinking about taking a second job to buy it.

For now, special thanks to Marybeth Fritsky for introducing me to Bright Eyes. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn spins underneath this post. Good stuff.

FOOTNOTES -- in an effort to wrangle the digression, certain rants have been pushed to the end of the post. The management has made this change to preserve the otherwise air-tight prose you've come to enjoy at Tundratastic.

*Xanax. Never took the stuff myself, but I've had to drive with people who have. Eish! Fifty side-effects and they all contradict each other. Causes anorexia AND weight-gain. Euphoria AND depression. Agitation AND paralysis. Impotence AND prolonged erections. Insomia AND somnolescence. Diarrea AND constipation. I'm not kidding. Go to your local shrink, tell them you're not too happy, and you'll walk out with a script for some of this crap that day. Go get some now just to read the bottle. How can the pharma companies get away with that? Can I start selling bottles of cow shit on the street as long as I say it may taste delicious AND god-awful? All the SSRI's are going to be laughed out of the history books at the 21st century's version of leaching. Mark my words!

**David Rabe. Can burn in some version of his own loquacious, sollipsitic hell for all I care.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Honeymoon

May very well be over. This is not to say that the place is any less gorgeous; merely gorgeous without novelty. We had a 10-of-12 tech rehearsal yesterday. Will's cousin was killed in a car accident in Texas, so he's flying down for the funeral today and will return on Tuesday for another dress rehearsal. The kid was 19 and had just survived an accident of his own, when another car apparently crashed into the first mess. We discovered that the Alaska Airlines bereavement discount applies to step-uncles, but not to cousins. So Will scrambled together a $1200 ticket that has him bouncing all over the Pacific Northwest to get to Texas and back in three days.

To answer some comment queries:

1) Yes, I have plenty of clean socks, mom. You should know that years of camping has armed me with the Footwear Imperative. I realize that that sounds like the title of an episode of Sex and the City, but it's actually a well-worn Boy Scout credo. If your feet feel gross/cold/sticky/dry, your whole body will. Especially outdoors. Thank you for asking. But if you're looking for a staple item to send in the mail, I might suggest a Chipotle burrito. Not because I'm craving one, but just to see if it's possible.

2) No, that was just a normal stunt kite I was gushing about, Lucky Spinster. Although the thrust on that thing sometimes pulls you forward off the ground for a second, I was not airborn myself. Some pros hop on a skateboard and let the kite tug them through traffic. I intend to try this downtown today. You should get one to avenge your seven-year old self -- plus, there's no wind in DC. Ever. So it'll force you to drive someplace fun. I don't know. Maybe I'm easily entertained that way. But I'm snatching some glow-tape from the theatre to see if this thing flies at night. Maybe some yokel on a boat will mistake it for a UFO.

3) Alfred Lord Tennyson

4) Well, it's strange that this subject has come up, Susan. Because I was just saying to another friend that I think the seizure of Yukos is one of the most hilariously tyrannical things to happen lately. Especially if you track the story back to last fall when the American press was billing Khordorkovsky's arrest as an example of some old-school communist undertow, where Putin was the bad guy snatching up a wealthy Jew's oil reserves. Now, apparently, K's verdict is a clairon call to end "the age of the oligarchs." Who's arresting whom here? And where's the oil going in the meantime? Any guesses?

5) Speaking of oil, 80% of Alaska's revenue comes from the viscous juicings of the earth's crust. Kinda puts the whole ANWR debate into persepctive. Still. 80%? Why, may I ask, is gasoline $2.55 a gallon here?! Everytime one of us complains about the price of something, we're told it's "because we had to ship it in here on a boat." I understand the $14 orange juice and the $42 pizza. Pizza is not indigenous to Alaska, I gotcha. They harvest the pizza in New Jersey and have it hauled here on a barge from the other side of North America. Cool. Fine. But you've got one of the continent's biggest refineries just up the channel from us, and gas is STILL more expensive than DC? If the tap water wasn't so pure, I'd rush to find the markup on that commodity. Okay. Petty outsider jab of the month taken care of. No more.

6) It's like this. You walk slower here because your distance, relative to the backdrop, is never that different. In a city -- walled in by buildings -- you drive and walk fast because the visual stimuli gives you the sense that you're accomplishing something; even if you're not traveling very far. But the mountains aren't moving anywhere. So whether I'm flooring it in the Festiva or just walking downtown, it feels the same. You may as well stroll -- cause unless you're on tectonic time, the earth just doesn't give a crap.

We're going to rent a cabin on the side of the mountain and try to pile all 8 of us in there with nothing but a hatchet and Gene's death-stare to fend off the bears. Any wagers on who'll make it back to sea-level alive? This is next week's adventure, after we've opened. I'm looking foward to opening -- mostly to get people circulating through the theatre. We've discovered that the locals are hospitible, but flinty. There's no warmth to their invitation. They mean what they say. Yes. But the trick is, they don't say much.