Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Torn Page's HAMLET, alive and tribal in an intimate setting. Access Theatre, June 2nd & 9th



There's been a fashion of  professional theater performed in apartments but until this HAMLET, I hadn't experienced this. A real surprise  how unexpectedly alive and vital this production was in an
intimate chair-filled livingroom where actors and spectators were on the same level. This wasn't experimental as much as a classic restored to the bones of what's essentially a family play--dysfunctional to be sure but a moving discovery in this audacious show.

The lead (Melissa Nelson) is a young woman, who looked like a Danish boy yet within minutes commanded with a rational self-possession that trumped her torment. Despite the many cries of "Madness!" and her circumlocutions of language, you question that charge. Relentless as any prosecutor, Hamlet investigates her stepfather and mother, accused by her father's ghost.

Though you know the stages of her investigation, the process and outcome, this performance, rational and impassioned, is riveting. Also surprising is how, possessed by her mission, she slipped over
chairs to turn on music without a pause.

The rest of the cast is equally adept. Though the ostensible logic hinges on Hamlet's "madness," and denial of the crime of The King and his Queen and you know it's false, ( Khari Constantine) King Claudius was so personable, it was hard to believe him guilty. He also slipped into the role of the "Player King", undetected by me. (Gayle Staffanson) his lady Gertrude, was so sensual, pleasure seemed a natural right. It was horrifying to see her try to manipulate her son back to "normalcy."

Laertes, the much wronged brother of Ophelia and son of Polonius, is played convincingly by another young woman (Kiran Rhe). Noble and manly in a decent way, you a feel loss, that he's a victim of  Hamlet's one "Mad" act in this play. (Bruce Barton) Polonious was perfectly matched in both dignity and foolishness, as was (Gigi Coovrey, also the Player Queen), his daughter's sensitive but not neurotic Ophelia.

(Andrew Gonzales) Hamlet's only genuine friend, is steadfast, seeing through subterfuges of the spies around his Prince, such as Nicholas Cocks' Guilderstern, who's a less than guileless betrayer. He and Rosencrantz make a contrasting pair.

Last and most surprising is (Vincent Santvoord) the Gravedigger, whose language is a knowing counterpart to that of Hamlet. The Prince well understand's this "fool"s  barbed double meanings. The two are most alike in this play. The Prince's fateful truth and the Gravedigger's humor are two sides of the same question.  Santvoord's words challenging the Prince and the reality underlying all human deeds, heroic and otherwise, is completely entertaining.

In the intimate setting of this show, sounds underscored tribal feelings. Drums, didgeridoos and voices, alternated or exclamations,evoked some medieval hall with a lot of spilled mead as the saga unfolded. The production was adapted and directed by Matthew Gasda.

I saw May 20th weekend but Torn Page will again offer HAMLET June 2 & 9 at Access Theatre.
380 Broadway.

http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hamlet-tickets-45960107920?aff=es2

S.W.





Friday, May 11, 2018

Meet Jex Blackwell, a gritty teenage post punk heroine with a genius for medicine by P. William Grimm



Jex Blackwell Saves the World (Pelekinesis, May) by P. William Grimm was both refreshing and a complete surprise. Grimm an American writer and fillmaker, has written novels and short story collections--The Seventh and Counselor, Valencia Street and Sick Sense of Hubris.
He 's published in lit blogs, like Eclectica Magazine and HTML Giant. His influences are Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Didion, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. So he likes the truth, outrageous or otherwise, and a mystery with soul and style.

Grimm's final inspiration is  Encyclopedia Brown, a series of kid's books about a boy genius. Grimm thinks of Jex Blackwell as a "Dadaesque homage" to that series. So this is kind of an adult YA mystery, written like an underground graphic novel with a heroine (not unlike orphaned Anne of Green Gables or headstrong Jo in Little Women). Jex is aware of her potential and completely invents herself at aged 16. She wants to do good in the world, while she can't resist the siren song of unfettered adventure (Tom Sawyer anyone? Substitute the black top roads of L.A. for the River).

Jex's turf is underground culture, especially the music scene of  Los Angeles. Here's a description, "Tonight the best band in the world is a Macedonian anarchist punk collective, banging away in a sweaty, sultry basement somewhere in the middle of Echo Park. There is no stage and so the band is eye level with the crowd, which consists of maybe two dozen people. All four band members are consumed with their music,the guitarist particularly animated, dancing up and down with abandon. The female singer twists and turns with the music, wrapping the microphone cord around her body like a cocoon, yelping loudly in Macedonian over the chug of the rhythm section, bass and drums."

And where does this scene take us? To Jess diagnosing a sick musician who faints and helping him  to recover. As her sidekick tells someone "Jex is a total bad ass. She can figure out what's wrong with anyone. And I mean anyone. I have seen the craziest shit and Jex is just cool as balls and totally figures it out-like out of nowhere. She's punk Sherlock Holmes for sure, but for, like, medicine."

In her gritty environment, Jex navigates with zen cool and just when you may think this is  predictable urban territory--drugs, squats-- the story shifts to a baby in trouble and how Jex quickly figures out the problem and aid. It's not just the story that's unexpected but the girl. Jex is  a person of complex contradictions even for a teen. She's sophisticated but pure, completely practical with superb timing, yet impulsive and artsy. Jex cares about no one and everyone. She sees through people and wants to save everyone. And you believe she might--if she grows up.

Jex Blackwell Saves the World is an inspiring book. While teens may like it because she inhabits the "outsider" world of a kid without parents or school, they may admire her real ambitions and how she works to change her world. Parents may sneak it out of their room for Grimm's gift at spinning outre atmospheres and truthful emotion--all too reminescent of youth.

When in fiction has there been a girl this independent--this heroic? Jex does what she wills and takes responsibility--while trying to suss out the big picture. If she saves herself from all the wayward temptations of a footloose punk, she could do anything--even rescue and heal our planet.

Recommended for the fun of it.

S.W.



















Monday, May 7, 2018

Katrinka Moore's WAYFARERS narrates the journeys of nomads on an Earth where people are passing through.




I don't read a lot of poetry but every time I read Katrinka Moore's work, I am not reading words on paper, I am seeing images; fleeting, miniscule, delicate, vanishing. A former dancer and choreographer, before turning to poetry, Moore's poems are constructed with subtle nuances and sudden gestures, wild movements and still forms that mirror the natural world.

Her book Numia about a wild girl in forestlands had the shock of discovery as we, like Numia, are part of nature's beauty, terror, joy in a place that hasn't a human touch. In Wayfarers (Pelekinesis, April) nomads pass through barely habitated terrain--where their purpose leads. Some seek escape, others look for a place to stay the night or just pass through. Regardless, they find beauty, danger, the eternal, or what defies human understandings. These poems are about the terrain or traces of humans among other mysteries. Evocative illustrations with text.

The book is divided into three sections: I The Rolling World, II A Crossing, III Dwelling.  Favorites   from each:



Part I
DIVINATION

Before they leave
the woodlands she cuts a forked
stick, witch hazel

ties it to her pack.
Now on the high plains she takes
it out, holds

a prong in each hand
paces, waits for the vertex lightning-
like to dip or twist--

pools of water
inside the earth, silent
as ice.

Part 2

CROW

Her mother left behind, the
river. A thousand miles
of dusty road. A crow
blocks the way, eating
carrion.  They pull around,
crush a prickley pear. She
knows to throw spilled salt,
knock on wood, but how
to stave off this dark sign?

Empty space left ajar, slive
in the margins.

Part 3

WHEN SHE DIVES

water waves mute   sound waves and
she drifts through     silent sun rays
refracted, misty   her hair unspools
slow-flapping     wings

light body buoys skyward     gravity
draws bottomward   she hovers   floats
in mote-filled quiet     going nowhere

yields  kicks  rises   breathes
awash in the air  she listens


S.W.