JWST’s MIRI looks at Stephan’s Quintet. Courtesy NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute
‘Wakings!,’ Ron Sossi’s quartet of lesser-known Pinter, unknown Coover, and better-known Hesse attempts with varying success to explore ‘models of consciousness’ as Occidental eyes turn inward and then Eastward.
In ‘Rip Awake,’ Darrell Larson who excelled in pre-COVID Strindberg lets it fly as Rip Van Winkle left to figure out what and who is left of his former world. Robert Coover, the only non-Nobelist on the bill, has written a nice although a touch too long fourth-wall breaking rant where Van Winkle limns the difficult mechanics of his awakening to soft bones, spiral toenails, and frayed mind. It’s a meaty monologue for the ‘actor of a certain age’ and Larson rages and brawls about the stage with mountain-goat confidence.
Pinter the writer had long become Pinter, dissertation fodder by the time he wrote ‘A Kind of Alaska’ in 1982. Deborah (Diana Cignoni), now 45, awakes after succumbing to sleeping sickness at age 16 with her devoted doctor (Ron Bottitta) and long-suffering sister (Kristina Ladegaard) attending. Deborah is nostalgic, uncertain, and kind of a … jerk towards the few she has left and there is a small twist in why these two people still hang about her. There is some good writing in her coming to and coming to grips with her situation but the mixing of German, Nordic, and British accents dislocates the situation. For all the acclaim, Pinter is narrowly focussed on specific castes of British jackholes (that American audiences find endlessly fascinating) and efforts to apply him outside that milieu can run into trouble.
The bookends are less effective. ‘Victoria Station’ another 1982 Pinter effort has taxi dispatcher Bottitta trying in vain to get driver C.J. O’Toole to pick up a fare. The driver has, to be charitable, checked out, cruising around long gone London landmarks infatuated with a possibly dead passenger. These Pinters are lesser-known for a reason, the malevolent craftsman behind ‘The Caretaker,’ ‘No Man’s Land,’ and ‘Betrayal’ is barely visible with scarcely a memorable line in the pair. O’Toole returns in a non-speaking solo in the closer as Siddhartha rambling wild like Rip at first, later finding a secret of time and his enlightenment in a river. Castmates narrate earnestly from the novel to a clichéd music track.
Yet it is still worth a look. Self-admittedly a scratching of the surface, Sossi paradoxically succeeds even when the playlets individually stumble. Models of consciousness aside, there is a strong resonance to a world full of bottled rage peeking out from years of isolation, relearning how to act among others, and looking for some meaning in it all. The dispatcher’s bosses don’t care that he’s alone, overworked, and can’t get through to a disaffected employee – there’s profit to be had. Self-centered Deborah alternately denies her condition and snarks at her long-suffering caregivers. Rip is out for revenge against those, real or perceived, responsible for his prolonged slumber. He turns wild and this being America, turns gun against dog and daughter imagining them to be others all the while. The woman to my left just had to consult her phone well into the fourth act. We live this insanity each and every day with no end in sight and even worse on the horizon. Against all that, the Hesse is an earnest attempt at hope and release. Whether it succeeds or not is up to each viewer.
There are doubtless easier ways to rebuild audience after a plague. Many Manchin Democrats argue that this is the time for trivial comedy by the usual suspects. Audiences should consider rewarding The Odyssey for going against that grain and taking this calculated risk.
Directed by Ron Sossi for the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Through 5 June 2022
Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm, May 25 8pm
From the Sad-but-True department. Leave it to the NYT to highlight the problems LA theatres face in the aftermath of COVID and bearing the brunt of the ills of the gig economy. Uber and Lyft skate while tiny arts orgs have to conform to new wage laws while trying to reopen. Whatever Dr. Soon-Shiong may have done for the LA Times, his inaction on the sacks of filth at his arts and culture desks is unpardonable.
Oh, yes… this is still here, isn’t it? Well then.
The Atlantic glances a little farther west of the Hudson(*) and asks a transplant intriguingly named Rosecrans Baldwin to take stock of his new city. He obliges with an excerpt from a forthcoming book assessing Los Angeles as a city-state for this age.
Los Angeles fits the city-state frame well, certainly better than it does a lot of other possibilities—if we update the model a bit. In 2010, Forbes suggested that if the criteria for a place to be considered a city-state were modernized for the 21st century, certain global capitals might qualify thanks to a few key features: a big port to sustain trade; investors from overseas; money laundering; international museums worth visiting; multiple languages spoken in good restaurants serving alcohol; and an ambition to host the World Cup.
If it is from Forbes, it must be true so we get some evidences, quotes from a politician, a novelist, and a final paragraph that ends in the air, leaving one just short of hungry for the book-to-come. The article does link to a 2010 piece in the same journal, Defending Los Angeles, broaching similar concerns but more engagingly. That further links to The Tyranny of New York which gets at the gizzards of the problem – how relentless public relations has defined American life, especially its art and culture, to the discharge from the Brooklyn sewers.
(*) Yes, it is a New Yorker cover but an iconic one that sums up the mentality.
On inauguration day, a large chunk of America unclenched and exhaled for the first time in four wretched, miserable years. Five if we count the rancid campaign of naked bigotry and full throated lies that preceded and presaged the disaster of 45.
We now have some sanity in the ship of state and can hope that any honeymoon lasts long enough to get people vaccinated, businesses restarted, and the arts out from under hiding. Even before COVID, anything on the finer side of life was ignored at best and ridiculed at worst under the moron of Mar-a-lago. Many of us who eagerly awaited 20 January and some sign of support to the better things woke up to surprise and not a little disappointment at the overwhelmingly pop-culture besotted inauguration that actually occurred. The shark sandwich playlist promised much and delivered nothing.
“Whether you are a country soul, a jazz enthusiast, a hip hop head, a classical sort, or just love that old-time rock and roll, music clarifies, inspires, unites, and heals.”
— Inaugural Committee CEO Tony Allen
Us “classical sorts” got jack shit, not even the ubiquitous OFFS not-him-again Yo-Yo Ma bowsynching to Copland as in 2009 although the equally overexposed Rénëê Fleming was said to have sung at one of the side events. The rest, excluding Bob Marley, was as America-centered and nobrow as anything the MAGA movement could scrape together, excepting of course getting the performance rights. The perpetually inept LA Times arts and culture department, or at least one of its representatives, thinks things are looking up. This schlemiel, a tv critic no less, views the cultural future as the wasteland of the Discovery Channel, Bravo, History, and TLC which at one time actually had some decent programming but which long ago sold out to the perpetually dropping lowest common denominator. It might get better for the arts but it is more likely that the arts will just get redefined just as science was for ‘The Science Channel.’
What galls about the 46-0 shutout is that the United States does not lack for options. Copland and Gershwin are overplayed but we have Ives, Joplin, and Gottschalk. Dvorák was inspired in Iowa, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky lived out their lives here (as did Schoenberg but let’s stay within realistic limits). Hell, John Williams or Peter Schickele could have done something if asked. And, if all of that is still too off-the-radar, there’s good ol’American John Philip Sousa transcribed by good ol’ American Vladimir Horowitz. One pianist, one piano – saves on cost and brings everyone to his or her feet. Regardez from the Hollywood Bowl in 1945.
Youtube Channel: Michael Brown
Silicon Valley has reshaped the earth, Hollywood has driven our perceptions of it, and not always for the better. Less well known is the outsized role California has played in understanding our universe. Mt. Wilson, Mt. Palomar, and their astronomers have had a Copernican impact on where we stand in the grand scheme of things. The word ‘vision’ gets bandied about a lot these days but George Ellery Hale had it in spades. Here’s how the two observatories that housed Hubble, Humason, Shapley, Zwicky, Baade, Rubin, and Schmidt came to be.
The third video from Corning’s Museum of Glass shows that the path to science is not always smooth and that learning from mistakes is the norm. The original 200 inch pyrex disk for the Palomar primary did not go according to plan and had to be recast. The second attempt succeeded and even so, it took ten years of painstaking grinding and polishing at Caltech before it was ready for use.
Youtube Channel: Palomar Observatory
Youtube Channel: Irish Astronomy
Youtube Channel: Corning Museum of Glass
In days of old, when the city was pronounced ‘Los Anguluz’ and radio ruled the waves, “Romance of the Ranchos” offered half-hour looks at the many regions that congealed into our present megalopolis. Herewith the episode on what are now the Beach Cities.
Youtube Channel: Old Time Radio Researchers
Since 2005, the LA Times has published the micturitions of one Charles McNulty as its ‘theatre critic.’ Since then he has striven to be the Niles Crane of stage criticism; uncheckable pomposity in tedious academic argot focusing squarely on getting himself back to NYC. Now Artsjournal reports of his assessment of Los Angeles theatre. He finds it wanting because the Center Theater Group and the oily Michael Ritchie aren’t leading the charge. A couple of the smaller outfits get a passing mention but this putz no doubt looks to GM for automotive innovation and Nokia for the latest in phones. He’s reviewed very few of the very many companies around, preferring the edgy climes of Costa Mesa and La Jolla when he isn’t reporting back from the East Coast. Apparently the Brooklyn sewers now empty into Hollywood writer’s rooms and thereby hangs the salvation of the form. Joy to the world.
The Times’s theatre coverage has gone from mediocre to nonexistent on his watch while his relentless pandering to Broadway runs counter to the non-arguments of the present piece. At least the actress Glenda Jackson had the good sense to give him the eminently deserved kick to the yodelayheehos when he went to “worship her.” With all of the changes Dr. Soon-Shiong is making at the LAT it is mind-boggling that he hasn’t sent this dingleberry packing. It will be a better city when he’s out of it.