A Major good time: ‘The Trout’ at RHUMC

From l to r: Benjamin Lash (cello), So-Mang Jeagal (piano), Kaelan Decman (double bass), Justin Woo (violin), Kevin Hsu (viola)

Amateur musicians are justifiably in awe of their professional counterparts.  We struggle with rhythm, tempo, dynamics, intonation, and sight reading.  They’ve mastered all that and more at an  early age.   It is all maddening especially the sight reading part.  I’d do a deal with Mephisto in a heartbeat if I could do that without actually working for it.  But, on the positive side, we schmoes reap the benefits of the pro’s superior talent and diligence in concert.   The USC Thornton School sent five graduate students to Rolling Hills last Sunday for a rollicking ‘Trout Quintet’ to a packed and savvy house.  Fine ensemble playing by a group that assembled and converged for this event.   It was damned hard not to hum along, especially with the fourth movement.  Video/audio to be posted if made available.

Keep an Eye on It: Ordinary Objects at Son of Semele

Surrealism fanciers, especially those of René Magritte, will be interested in the eventual performance of ‘Ordinary Objects’ by Strings & Things Puppet Theatre – a work-in-progress recently closed at Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival.   Director Joyce Hutter and a small ensemble look at the painter’s deconstruction and reconstruction of the women in his life through his deep dreamlike world of bowler hats, bilboquets, and bottomless pupils.

Magritte continues to fascinate the lay person although few of us can explain why.  As an artist, Hutter is much farther along that road, letting various storytelling methods contend in workshop to see how best  to convey her message.  Movement, video, and some beguiling shadow puppetry alternate as the piece pokes at the modern psyche through the Belgian’s lens.  A remarkable connection between surrealism and film noir  and a recurring chess theme that simultaneously confuse and intrigue.    One hopes that these win out over some of the talkier Freudian bits.   The early look clocked in at a snappy forty five minutes but there’s promise here of a longer, richer evening.

Youtube Channel: Joyce Hutter

 

 

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Extractin’ the capsaicin

The young Canadian behind the NileRed Youtube channel loves chemistry, even more than most of us who spent years studying it.   Likewise Nurdrage, who may or may not be NileRed’s alter ego.  I have no idea how they get access to fume hoods, chemicals, rotary evaporators, and other bits of expensive labware.  And I similarly have no idea what would happen to any American who tried to have a home lab capable of such things.  Let us not forget the young man who got arrested just for bringing his science fair project to class.

Here’s how to extract the heat from chilies with a dandy introduction to the Soxhlet extractor.

Youtube Channel: NileRed

Giants of the Earth: Bethe, Dyson, and Knuth – oh, my!

The Web of Stories project finds legends of many disciplines and lets them speak at length about their lives and careers.   For years, one could only watch these on the project website and embed up to five videos.  This was an unfortunate limitation since these interviews are broken into well over a hundred short segments.  Now, WoS has uploaded a large fraction of its library to its Youtube channel with embeddable playlists.  Here are three leading lights of the past century, two of whom are still vigorous well into this one: Physicist Hans Bethe, polymath Freeman Dyson, and computer scientist Donald Knuth.  The breadth of their accomplishments and their constancy over decades is astonishing, their modesty likewise even though none  have anything to be modest about.

Youtube Channel: Web of Stories

Measure theory. And practice.

No, not mathematics.  Tools.  Tools which I’ve used for years but never thought about.  The vernier scale is incredibly clever.  Courtesy of The Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, Greenfield Massachusetts.

Youtube channel: Chris Clawson

Nonstandard deviations: Donald Bradman’s staggering average

The 1950 British Council love-letter to cricket gave glimpses of the 1948 Ashes matches between Australia and England where Sir Donald Bradman concluded his storied test career.   The crowd at Lords and possibly even the English team wanted to see Bradman leave on a high note but he was dismissed quickly for no runs.   In a sweet coincidence,  Australian science journalist Brady Haran has just released a Numberphile video putting that match in context of Bradman’s body of work.

Youtube Channel: Numberphile

Flying high: “The Secret in the Wings” at Coeurage Theatre

“Three Blind Queens” from “The Secret in the Wings.”  Courtesy Coeurage Theatre Company, (c) John Klopping

Fairy tales are usually geared towards younger audiences.  Mary Zimmerman‘s ‘Secret in the Wings’ is a marked exception featuring  uncommon dreamy horror without the usual and unambiguous triumph of good over evil.  Angelenos have two weeks left to see a mostly perfect small theatre adaptation of her work by  Coeurage Theatre Company.

The through line is part Twilight Zone, part Beauty and the Beast blended with lesser-known works redolent of the Grimms and Hans-Christian Andersen.  Neglectful parents leave their young daughter in the charge of their creepy neighbor while they head off to a party.   Thereby hangs both tale and a tail since only the child can see that old Mr. Russom has one dangling off of him.   He’s an ogre who repeatedly proposes marriage to her.  It might all be normal in Alabama but still jars in California.  Serially rebuffed, he reads to her, and his increasingly disturbing stories come to life.

And such stories of power and cruelty are both plentiful and timeless.  The ones in ‘Wings’ atypically have women setting the rules, serving as both tormentors and victims while gormless men are easily led.   The play has been around since the early 1990s and early reviews refer to minimalist stagings.  It has since gained popularity and production value.  Berkeley Rep’s 2004 presentation of the original Chicago Lookingglass show was what God might have done if He had the money.  Director Joseph V. Calarco delivers the same shock and awe in a tenth of the floor space and one surmises even a smaller budget.  This is no staged reading but a fully realized production, expertly set (JR  Bruce), lit (Brandon Baruch), and costumed (Kumue Annabelle Asai).  Pride of place goes surprisingly to the soundscape, also by Calarco – the show would be unimaginable without it.  It surrounds and grabs the audience from the get-go and steers it through  interwoven and suspended plots, a sonic picture frame around grim interiors and grimmer exteriors.   The play’s world transcends its set and Tasheena Medina’s choreography  joins with the sound to make it manifest on a tiny stage.  A nine-person ensemble moves with grace, precision, and above all supreme individual and collective confidence.

Zimmerman’s story choices  eerily foresee current events – a widower king lusts after his daughter (Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann,  Leslie Murphy), young men fight an eternal war while their families  starve.  She also leaves room for theatrical ‘inside baseball’.  An angry young princess (the magnetic Katie Pelensky) will marry only the man who can make her laugh, all other comers to be beheaded.  Her willing and unwilling suitors are tried reverse-Scheherazade through an open-mic night that, like the war, ends in the death of all the young men of her kingdom.   The imperfection?   The most poignant story of a faithless woman (Audrey Flegel) and her loving sap of a husband (Randolph Thompson) is set to music.  Those who dislike sung theatre can instead enjoy the clever stagecraft that accompanies it.   It all ties up in the end with a nice little twist but it is rightly not a full restoration.  Stories reflect human society, fears, and failings.  They’d have no power otherwise.   The symbolic dangers may vanish at a snap but the realities they abstract do not and that horror we take away and keep with us.

The term small theatre here refers only to the size of the space at  The Lankershim Arts Center.   Coeurage’s ambitions are as large as Ziggurat’s were when it was producing in LA and on par with Jaime Robledo’s excellent work with the Sacred Fools.   The ambitions are exceeded.   With Christmas comes the usual large and small adaptations of Dickens and Bob’s Holiday Office Party, each exploring extrema of the spectrum from cloying to crass.   Calarco has made a strong case for ‘Wings’ as the Halloween play for adults, chock full of the fear, ambiguity, and cruelty that grow with each passing day in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  All Coeurage performances are “Pay What You Want.”  Go with generosity.

The Secret in the Wings
by Mary Zimmerman
Directed by Joseph V. Calarco
Remaining performances 7-9 and 13-16 December 2017, all at 8pm
at The Historic Lankershim Arts Center
5108 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Arrive early to find street parking

All performances are “Pay What You Want”
Online ticketing via Secureforce

 

 

Doppelgaenger: GE on Management

Management and Leadership are booming cargo-cult businesses.  Certifications in both can be had for a fee regardless of aptitude or ability.    Universities have created valuable profit-centers in this ‘market’ around their  charitable cocoons, touting their programs in airports, magazines, billboards, and online advertising.  Just about everyone in the modern workplace will either have to take a course in some aspect of this or be talked at by someone who has.  The material, to be charitable, is dumbed down to  irrelevance.  The examples are always shiftless or cantankerous employees not fully committed to the bottom line.   Orwell had it right

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.
— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

The old General Electric company recognized that developing managers means more than a handbook of HR-approved cliches.   This Capraesque short film does not solve but at least acknowledges the crushing bidirectional pressure aspiring and reluctant managers have faced and continue to face.   The protagonist is literally beside himself with stress and gets some medical help.  The ending is refreshingly ambiguous.  Sports fans of a certain age will recognize a young Heywood Hale Broun, long before his coat-of-many-colors phase.

Channel: Jeff Quitney

Ashes to Ashes, Hirst to Hirst

Our last encounter — I remember it well.  Pavilion at Lord’s in ’39, against the West Indies.  Hutton and Compton batting superbly, Constantine bowling, war looming.
— Hirst to Spooner in ‘No Man’s Land’

Pinter, cricket fancier, named his “No Man’s Land” antagonists Hirst and Spooner after two well-known players.  The play nicely mirrors the game –  stretches of  groundwork and moments of  attack, usually ending in a draw.  At one time videos of the 1978 tv adaptation with Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud were available on the web [January 2018 Update: And are again – see below].   I downloaded a full version without knowing why.   The characters are unlikeable, their purposes unclear, and the author famously, contemptuously, refusing to answer any questions about his intentions and denying  meaning to any of it.   Like a lot of Pinter, it is hard to like yet it tends to stick.   I’ve seen three different stagings in person and this grainy recording from the videotape era is more vibrant and three-dimensional than any of them, even the overpraised Stewart/McKellen effort from 2013.   It works surprisingly well without the visuals.  I’ve taken the two Sirs on walks, cellphone in my pocket, headphones in my ear.  Their poetry made time and distance disappear for me as the Pinter does to their characters.

Here is a gem of a short film about the sport narrated by a younger Richardson.  The Pavilion at Lords features prominently as do Hutton and Compton, although not batting as superbly as in ’39.  England’s hope for the Ashes fell to ashes under the captaincy of  Australia’s legendary Donald Bradman.   A short clip from the tv production still on the web follows and then the author himself reading one of the most mournful and beautiful passages from it.

Channel: British Council

Channel: filmnoir2019

Channel: hildyjohnson

 

[Update 6 January 2018 – This full performance recently reappeared on the Johnny Cassettes channel]