39 years ago today, Voyager 1 took flight on its Grand Tour. It has gone farther than any other man-made object in history and won’t stop until it reaches the stars long after we and all that’s important to us are dust. Idealism wasn’t for chumps back then. Or maybe it was. JPL and NASA post the mission data from all these interplanetary missions and it is all free.
I had the great fortune of looking out my grad school office window into a sculpture garden of Rodin bronzes. The lost wax process used to make these marvels keeps eluding me. Every time I think about it, I forget steps and/or get them mixed up. These two videos from the Israel Museum and The Getty go a long way to shoring up a sagging memory.
The Juggling Man by Adriaen de Vries:
Hadrian: An Emperor Cast in Bronze
Back to the garden: So, did we chemists appreciate what we had in front of our eyes? Yes, quite a bit. The program was stressful and we’d wonder darkly whether we were on the wrong side of the Gates of Hell while having lunch in front of it. The fate of an adjacent parking lot stirred a lot of debate between a supportive faction of chemistry faculty, staff, and students and the late Prof. Albert Elsen of the Art History Department, eminent Rodin scholar, and advisor to the Cantor Foundation that donated the works. The Loma Prieta earthquake intervened and gave us all other things to worry about. The statues don’t look any worse for wear decades later despite fears that they’d dissolve into nothing. Careful stewardship and loving cleaning, enabled by a little chemistry, have served them well.
Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica subtly did more than examine the ubiquitous font. Most of us would like to be designers in the same way we’d like to be athletes or musicians and we’re interested in those who do it well. Hustwit tapped into that need and let several prominent figures from that world have free rein to discuss what they see and how they see it. Elegant Paula Scher and twitchy Erik Spiekermann come off well, others sound like prats best avoided.
Scher has looked at information design and presentation with the artist’s eye, quite different from, say, an Edward Tufte. Her perspective, driven by artistic and marketing concerns, are at once intriguing and disturbing. She stretches and distorts to make larger points such as claiming that Helvetica was the font of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. It’s not a literal accusation, only that it is the kind of calming gloss that corporations and governments use to disguise their little murders. But, she also cops to fabricating the data she’s (re)presenting to make her point. I admire a lot of her work; it is bold, brash, and political. I don’t know whether I would enjoy living, working, or studying in something so shouty. Nevertheless, I’ve got my autosearches configured to let me know if she’s ever speaking within a couple of hours of LA.
Several of her other lectures are on the web and worth a look. Scher sounds like the canonical good seatmate on a long flight. I doubt she travels coach, though.
Hustwit’s films Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. are available for affordable digital download from his website, $5.99/ea.
Lee Blessing could not have forecast in 1988 that the Cold War would take an abrupt turn for the weird just two years later. ‘A Walk in the Woods’ at ICT through 22 May has nevertheless enjoyed a successful life despite drastic shifts in superpower status and the methods of war. It isn’t surprising. It is easy to look back wistfully at Mutually Assured Destruction as nation states veer on collapse and real power is concentrated in a few hidden hands.
The play’s setup is simple and historically informed – two arms negotiators, veteran Botvinnik and newcomer Honeyman, try to achieve in the Swiss woods what they can’t over the bargaining table. The amiable Russian tries to engineer a friendship, the formal American worries that he’s being worked. That can happen when one’s opponent is the namesake of a legendary Russian grandmaster. The four evenly timed acts alternate between Pythonesque rhetorical posturing (“I came here for an agreement! No you didn’t!”) and moments of genuine connection when it looks like our heroes may have given their masters a face-saving way back from the brink.
This, however, isn’t a documentary or even intrinsically theatrical. Blessing strives for a duet of ideas, some more compelling than others. ‘Walk’ shines when the younger American slowly realizes what his older counterpart has learned: Neither side wants an agreement – MAD is too good for business on both sides of the curtain. The corrosive stalemate on the large scale is recapitulated on the small and all levels in between. The interwoven buddy comedy lives well with Tony Abatemarco (Botvinnik) and David Nevell (Honeyman) under John Henry Davis’s direction on a stark set (Christopher Scott Murillo) and subtle lighting (Donna Ruzika). But, cynics have the advantage in these situations and Blessing’s asymmetrical characterization keeps Honeyman on the back foot until the very end when he figures out that what’s real and what’s virtual in the world of diplomacy.
The monsters in ‘Walk’ are less frightening today than the one in Blessing’s equally popular ‘Going to St. Ives.’ Nations may treat one another poorly but they reserve true brutality for their own. Both have characters doubling as ideologies (and vice versa) reminiscent of Shaw’s theatrical polemics. Although the premise and the balanced characterizations give ‘Ives’ the edge as a play, ‘Walk’ is an evening of theatre worth the trip.
A Walk in the Woods
by Lee Blessing
at International City Theatre
27 April to 22 May 2016
Thu. – Sat. at 8pm
Sun. at 2pm
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
330 East Seaside Way
Long Beach, CA 90802
Tickets: Online and at the Box Office 562-436-4610 (M-F 9am – 5pm)
Opera… so much great music and then the furshlugginer singers show up. Maybe the local purveyors could organize one night every run where people can come to hear the orchestra without all the other flapdoodle.
21 July 2015 Update: Astro Boy has extended through 8 August
It’s a marvel that the current West Coast Premiere at The Fools takes on so many issues so successfully in the space of seventy minutes. On its surface, ‘Astro Boy and the God of Comics’ is a retrosynthetic look at Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka, legendary within a circle, but poorly known outside of it. Natsu Onoda Power has crafted twelve tight vignettes starting with a cartoon character flying off to save the world and working backward to the early years of the man who created him. The steps in between make us ask where exactly the lines between culture and sub-culture, high art and pop art, and science and society are drawn – pun intended. Director Jaime Robledo and an exceptional cast and crew pull it off much like they did with ‘When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ a couple of years ago.
This is a tech-heavy show blending live performers, puppets, projections, and real-time art. It is all required – this artist’s life can’t be told without his creations and those creations have to move. Tezuka came from a happy childhood, lived through World War II, and watched his art take off into commerce thereafter. His success in comics fueled an animation empire that generated the beloved Astro Boy cartoon but that ultimately couldn’t sustain itself.
The preshow visuals warmup the neophyte, hinting at why the man was and is such a big deal. Small projectors discreetly hidden in the light grid shine on two gauzy screens and the back wall as needed. It’s ‘Dry Cleaning’ quality work with the added complexities of a large cast living in this half-real, half-animated world. Matt Richter and Anthony Backman transform a small physical space into a city, a world, a solar-system with tricks of perspective, light, and shadow all without being overtly clever about it.
In an evening of tech done right, it’s live art that vaults ‘Astro Boy’ into tour-de-force. Performers in Los Angeles are adept at some combination of acting, dancing, singing, and backstage work. Art Director Aviva Pressman has her ensemble drawing the scenery in jaw-dropping synch with the rest of the business. It’s no gimmick, its not mere doodling, and must have presented substantial headscratching in casting. The actors draw characters and scenery in pens, ink, and charcoal onto large tearaway sheets on the back wall. The choreography is mesmerizing especially in the Guernica-for-Hiroshima roughly halfway through the work. Each sheet is ripped down at the end of a scene, crumpled, and hauled off stage. It’s a damn shame – they’d make fine auction pieces for a theatre in the midst of a capital campaign. West Liang and Heather Schmidt nimbly represent Tezuka and Astro Boy although the short span of the play doesn’t and can’t fully explore their Gepetto Pinocchio relationship. There are allusions to Clarke, Dick, and Asimov as the rights, roles, and responsibilities of superhumans bump up against the anxieties of their human creators. Liang and Schmidt manage to imbue their re-enactions of cartoon scenes with surprising tenderness. Among the uniformly excellent ensemble, Megumi Kabe stands out with a wistful portrayal, in Japanese, of Tezuka’s utterly loyal but shamefully neglected wife.
Graphic novels, anime, manga – call them what you will. At their best, they can take us into worlds orthogonal to more common forms of storytelling. This intersection of cartoon and stage beautifully serves both and is a tribute to the art of possibilities and the possibilities of art. Time is running out. Don’t miss it.
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm
660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90004
(310) 281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online
Heather Schmidt as Astro Boy
West Liang as Osamu Tezuka
Zach Brown, Megumi Kabe, Anthony Li, Mandi Moss, Jaime Puckett & Marz Richards
Erin Sanzo as Astro Boy
Scot Shamblin as Osamu Tezuka
Gregory Guy Gorden , Lisa Anne Nicolai, & Aviva Pressman
Lead Producer / Technical Supervisor – Brian W. Wallis
Live Art Director – Aviva Pressman
Assistant Director – Rebecca Larsen
Associate Producer (Design/Tech) – Shaunessy Quinn
Associate Producer (Casting/Outreach) – Seamus Sullivan
Marketing Coordinator – Carrie Keranen
Stage Manager – Heatherlynn Gonzalez
Assistant Stage Manager – Suze Campagna
Scenic Design – DeAnne Millais
Lighting Design – Matt Richter
Costume Design – Linda Muggeridge
Prop Design – Brandon Clark
Puppet Design – Natsu Onoda Power
Sound Design – Jaime Robledo
Original Music – Ryan Johnson
Stunt/Fight Choreography – Mike Mahaffey
Suzuki Trainer – Joe Fria
Projection Video Design – Anthony Backman
Projection Animation Design – Jim Pierce
Animation Painter – Danielle Heitmuller
Stage Crew – Bo Powell & Alyson Schultz
Production Intern – Sophie Pietrkowski
Performance Photography – Jessica Sherman Photography
Key Art – Christopher Komuro