Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Theatre - Decent

Indecent by Paula Vogel, Directed by Sheila Daniels, Seattle REP, through 26 October

The question comes up (and yes, it comes up) - why do you write so much about plays? I mean, you (meaning me, Jeff Grubb) are a game designer and an author. Yet your blog is filled with reviews of local productions, along with local politics and stuff about collectable quarters. What gives?

Well, the big reason is that plays have a shelf life, unlike books or games or movies. I can talk about those weeks (if not years) after they have been released, and they will not have much effect. If I speak lovingly about a book, its not as if that book is gone if you have any interest in it.

Plays, though, are live, and they have a timer on it. Wait too long and they will have moved on. They are perishable. They have a "best buy" date. This applies to politics as well - after a certain point, no manner of commendation or warning will have much of an effect (Collectable quarters have this as well to a lesser degree - I need to write up one year's before the next year shows up).

Just wanted to share that. When/If I get more time, you may see more gaming stuff. But it is an uphill fight right now.

Anyway, Indecent.

The Rep leads off its season with a powerful, moving, amazing production of Paula Vogel's Indecent. This was down at Ashland, but we put it off because we knew it was going to be at the Rep (with a different cast and diractior) later in the year. A pity - I would have wanted to compare the performances.

The play is about the Jewish playwright Sholem Asch and his play, God of Vengeance. Written originally in Yiddish, the play was moving and important and offensive all at once. God of Vengeance is about a Jewish brothel owner whose daughter falls in love with one of the prostitutes. Their house is literally built on the backs of the women who work in the basement. The father commissions a Torah for the house for the respectability it brings and to gain a good husband for his daughter, who rejects him and his life. The play was scandalous, particularly among the Jewish community, for its negative portrayal of its Jewish characters (why give Anti-Semites any more ammunition?), as well as the desecration of the Torah (the father casts it away at the play's conclusion) and the open lesbian love scenes between the two women. Asch felt it was honest - many of his colleagues, as well as the religious community, considered it indecent and recommended he burn it.

Indecent's main character is Lemmi (Bradford Farwell), who is a tailor from the countryside who attends the first salon reading of the play, and is thunderstruck by its brilliance. He becomes Asch's stage manager on the production as it is a success across Europe. Then they come to America where the wheels come off. the production. The English translation of the  play does well in the Village, but when it moves uptown to the Apollo, it runs afoul of the forces of decency. Fueled in part by anti-Semitism (though the main witness against the play is a rabbi), the entire company is found guilty of obscenity. They return to Europe to continue producing the play and are swallowed eventually by the Holocaust.

And it is brilliant, incredibly well-written, well-produced, and well-acted. The actors literally rise from the ashes in the opening moments to tell the stories. Lemmi is our touchstone, but most of the cast take on multiple roles - Antoine Yared and Andi Alhadeff for the young insgenues,  Cheyenne Casebeir and Nathaniel Tenenbaum for the middle-ages parts, and Ron Orbach and Julie Briskman as the elders (in their wisdom and their folly). And they are all brilliant. Casebeir and Briskman are long-time members of various Rep productions, but mostly comedies, and they get in their dramatic chops in here. Nathaneil Tenebaum is particularly sparkling in all his roles, but they are a strong company, and sell the idea of both Lemmi's story and convince us they are a coherent company of supportive actors.

And let me mention the musicians, because what would a Yiddish play be without musicians? Alexander Sovronsky on the Violin, Kate Olson of the Clarinet, and Jamie Machler on the accordion. They come in for small roles as well, but their music keeps the entire proceedings moving along and creating the time of the play, from the turn of the century to up to 1950s. The music is incredibly well-integrated.

And the pacing - this is a bustling play, the characters almost always in motion, which calls out the quiet moments and strengthens them. There is continual activity as the company is moving props, changing wardrobe, and catching the flavor of a small theater group where everyone does everything.

Let me go onto the stagecraft itself, which sometimes overwhelms the productions, or creates a desolate landscape that the actors cannot fill. Not so, here. The use of titles projected on the proscenium and elsewhere contributes to the sense of motion to the play, as well as giving us visual clues as the cast moves between Yiddish and other languages (in Yiddish, they have no accents).

I tend to be suspicious about plays about plays - they feel a bit too inside the beltway, too much of an in-joke. Playwrights like to write them, actors like to be in them, audiences want to come to the theater to see people working behind the scenes of the show. Many of these are comedies. But few hit the nail so directly on the head as Indecent. This is a high initial bar, and I am very, very impressed by the production.

In short (I know, too late), go see it.

More later.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Theatre - Mini-Reviews from Ashland

A couple weeks back, the Lovely Bride and I spent a week in Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is this charming little town just north of the California border that is famous for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which runs most of the year and brings in tons of tourists, most of them, its seems, being retired teachers. Ashland reminds me very much of Lake Geneva, WI, but instead of a lake, it has the Bard as a draw.

Not all plays at Ashland are Shakespeare. They do all sorts of flavors of Shakespeare, from cannonical reads to switch-ups in gender roles and time period. They also do what I call "Shakespeare-adjacent" plays, which have some connection with the Bard of Avon, or modernize his words but keep his plot, or use Shakespeare as a springboard (Think "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead" - which does assume some knowledge of "Hamlet".). And there is a big-ticket non-Shakespearean item to bring crowds (this year it was "Hairspray" - we passed on that).

And then there are the indies - plays that are not necessarily part of canon, or canon-related, or big ticket. They're just good plays. This is like hanging out in the Indy game area at PAX - good stuff, sometimes unevrn, but things you're not going to see elsewhere. Sometimes they travel - coming up to the REP, but sometimes they are only to be seen there.

This year, we shied away from the Shakespeares themselves - The comedies being offered were not the Lovely Bride's favorites, and I am still so overwhelmed by the Mac Beth (Shakespeare adjacent) from a few years back that another production of Macbeth would not work for me. We end up with five, two of which were OK, and three of which were really good that it makes my own writing feeling wanting. Here's the list:

Comedia of Errors; This is Shakespeare-adjacent - a bi-lingual version of Comedy of Errors, where Sparta and Ephesus are transformed into the US and Mexico. The original is as close to a sit-com as you get with Shakespeare - short, broad, ridiculous in places (two sets of identical twins are separated at birth, both having the same names, and when one set ends up in the town where the other set lives, wackiness ensues). The overall change into the serious nature of immigration and ICE really casts a realistic and hard pall on the proceedings, and while all the Spanish lines get translated (which is good, and gives the gringo audience the feeling of exclusion that Spanish-speakers often face), it runs up against the broad humor of the commedia dell'arte style.

How to Catch Creation: One of the best of the show, it is about creativity, intentions, and responsibility. The creation may be starting a family or art or writing. All the characters are creators in some fashion, and it deals with pitfalls and relationships, pulling all the characters together. The actors are top-notch and the stagecraft moves us between locations and times wonderfully. Go see it if it shows up around you.

Cambodian Rock Band: Another really good one, dealing with the heartache and tragedy of the Cambodian Genocide. The play is incredibly well set-up. A young woman in modern Cambodia, working on case against the director of a prison camp during the genocide, gets a visit from her dad - who is very dad-like, filled with old grudges and pushy parentalism. But it turns out the story is about Dad, who was once a singer in a rock band and a prisoner in that camp. The director of the camp narrates much of the story with a bouncy, Loki-like flair, and only slowly drops the mask to reveal what a monster he is. It is ultimately the Dad's story, yet after all the suffering, redeems itself with its music. A lot of Dengue Fever, and at the end, the world's oldest mosh pit (in which the LB accidentally body-checked the actor playing the prison-camp director).

Between Two Knees is, well, uncomfortable. Mostly Native American cast talking about the American genocide (yeah, it's been that sort of set of plays this year) of its native population, cast in the framework of a cheesy Indian show. Sort of like most of the skits in the third half-hour of SNL in the 80s. Cringeworthy as it hits a lot of truths and takes some cheap shots (Goes after Indian Schools but targeting only the Catholic versions, which is not quite punching down - mostly punching ANOTHER group that is an easy target). Really redeemed itself after the intermission, as it moved from the history lesson to a more living memory (and the Pine Ridge Reservation Protests of the 80s), But there were more empty seats after the intermission.

Mother Road: Imagine Grapes of Wrath run in reverse. The last of the Joads, the ones that stayed behind in Oklahoma, goes looking for the last of the California Joads, to leave his farm to. He finds that the California branch of the family went to Mexico, and the last survivor is Hispanic. So they drive back Route 66 in a fever dream of distrust, old friends, old grudges, and the racial nature of America. Amazingly good performances, from almost the same cast as did the Comedia of Errors. It captured the episodic nature of On the Road and Grapes of Wrath, and was breathtaking in a lot of ways.

And wrapped around this was a lot of good food and sitting on the patio outside the bed and breakfast with the local cat and way too many fearless deer that invade the town and eat the local gardens. A good trip, and now I am ready for Fall.

More later,

Monday, September 02, 2019

Reading the Realms

One of the advantages of blogging as opposed to living solely on the Facebooks is that Facebook doesn't really have a sense of permanence. You put something up, and within a day it is buried beneath a huge pile of other posts.

So, here's a note that I did an interview for the Reading the Realms podcast.  Max and Paula have been reading the entirety of the Forgotten Realms novels, and have had ancient authors such as Jim Lowder and myself in for interviews to talk about our work. True old-school goodness viewed through a modern lens.

Here's the link for the entirety of podcasts on Soundcloud as well.

More later,

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Political Desk: Primary Results

Usually I wait a couple days before leaping into this, but things are surprisingly stable, and it looks like we're avoiding the traditional "hanging fire" categories where the vote totals may swap. This is the primary, so measures which are voted on are resolved and the top two candidates go on.

Next door, in Seattle, things have been interesting, with progressives/liberals/socialists taking their various seats and the Chamber-of-Commerce-purchased candidates behind, but not so far behind that the Chamber (and its big business allies) will not feel bad about spending even more money on the general election. The Seattle Times worked hard to bury the lede with the headline "Three incumbents survive brutal primary", which is misleading on the facts that a) there were only three incumbents running in the first place and b) they beat their opponents in every race, and in fact c) Times-backed candidates tended to be in the second-place category.

Interpreting primary results, particularly is the current environment, is tea-leaf-reading, since the results depend on how many people vote (a reasonable but not exciting 25% or so), the demographics (the majority are my age (old people), how big the win is (50%+ is generally good, regardless of other situations, and how many opponents there were (which in some cases, were a LOT - the Mayorship of Renton had four candidates - two got 27%, two got around 25%, which means that 50% of the voters would be looking for a new candidate).

So, anyway, here are the results for MY ballot, which are much less exciting (Leading candidate first).

King County Proposition No. 1 Parks, Recreation, Trails, and Open Space Levy - APPROVED by a sizable margin.

Port of Seattle, Position No. 2 -  Sam Cho vs Grant Degginger

Port of Seattle, Position NO. 5. Fred Felleman with 71% of the vote over Garth Jacobson

City of Kent Council Positions -
 Position 1: Incumbent Marli Larimer vs. Todd Minor
Position 3: Incumbent Les Thomas vs. Hira Singh Bhullar
Position 7: Awale A. Farah vs. Zandria Michaud.

Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority Proposition No. 1 Levy for Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services - APPROVED.

Soos Creak Water and Sew District Commissioner Position No. 2 - Logan K. Wallace vs. Incumbent Alan Eades. Wallace got 49% of the vote, which merits re-evaluation.

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner Position No. 5 - Carol Barber vs. incumbent Tamara Sleeter.

And that's where we all until the fall. And to all the citizens of Seattle, I'm sorry about the all the mailers and cold-calls you're going to get.

More later,

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Political Desk: Primary One-Shot Division

OK, I'm going to have to make this brief (OK, as brief as I can). I've been in LA for a week for a recording session, and I have a lot of other stuff going on in my life, so this time the Political Desk gets a single entry.

Yes, it is a primary, and yes, it is in bloody August, to give the victors plenty of time to bore you to tears with their platforms and fliers before November. And there IS a big fight shaping up in Seattle itself, as the Chamber of Commerce (under the guise of political action committees like CASE and (extremely wealthy) Moms for Seattle) is trying to unseat City Councilpeople who fail to take the knee and tug the forelock to big business, but those races are NOT in my purview (NOTE TO SELF: Remember to insert a picture of Kermit the Frog drinking iced tea). And people are ALREADY talking about the next year's presidential elections and trying to learn how to pronounce all the Democratic candidate's names.

But still, I have obligations, so I'm doing a quick and dirty version. First off, just want to agree with you that its a boring ballot, but you really should vote anyway. Heck, you can even drop the ballot in the mail this time without postage. Go ahead, you know you want to . But really? Boring. The candidates on my ballot, from their write-ups in the Voters Guide, all seem ... sane. Not a wacky concept or freestyle punctuation or lathered rage in the lot. The various levy proposals? Also silent on the "People who think this is a bad idea" space in the Voters Guide. What the heck, people?

There are also no listed Republicans on my ballot. There are no Democrats, either, since all the offices are non-partisan, so you'll have to do a little more digging - looking at supporters, endorsements, and stated policies. Pro-tip: If endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, take a good hard look at them before tossing a vote their way.

And, as a public service, here are other people's recommendations: If you live closer to Seattle, here's the Stranger's take. Fairly sound, but they don't ever venture south of Boeing Field. Here's the Seattle Times, which you should take with the proverbial and rather large grain of salt. The Municipal League has not updated its site since two years back, and the stalwart Voting for Judges is inactive because, well, no judges on my ballot. The Chamber of Commerce site is down for maintenance as I write this, but their sock puppet political action committee, Citizens Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) recommends these guys, just so you know who is buttering their bread. A response group, called Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy (CAPE) has their line-up here. Progressive Voter's Guide for my neighborhood is here., but poke around for your elections. The  Seattle Transit Blog has their findings scattered through their site (come on, folks, put them in one location for lazy stalwart bloggers).

All that said and done, let's move to the ballot itself:

King County Proposition No. 1 Parks, Recreation, Trails, and Open Space Levy. It is what it says on the tin. Replaces a previous levy that is elapsing. It covers a LOT, and costs, well, a small bit more. No one argues with it, though King County Councilman Reagan Dunn did sniff that things are getting more expensive these days - APPROVED.

Port of Seattle, Position No. 2. Let me take a moment out to say that the Port of Seattle has been my go-to for jokes about graft and corruption for years. Now they have let me down by actually staying out of the scandal sheets. Talk about making my job tough. Plus.a lot of sane candidates for this open seat. While I like Preeti Shridhar from previous campaigns, I have to admit the provenance of Sam Cho (working for Obama and Bob Hasegawa) gives him the edge. Go with Sam Cho.

Port of Seattle, Position NO. 5. Fred Felleman. Incumbent. Didn't give the nod last time, but he's done a good job. So, yeah.

City of Kent Council Positions - Gosh, these are good people, based on their Voter's Guide descriptions. Not all of them are professionals, some are first-timers, but they practically shine from the inner glow of public service. Hate to pick one, and reserve the right to change my mind, but I am going with:
Position 1: Marli Larimer
Position 3: Hira Singh Bhullar (Note to self - make fun of his yard signs after he wins).
Position 7: Awale A. Farah

Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority Proposition No. 1 Levy for Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services. This is about restoring an earlier tax levy. Yep, hate taxes. Yep, realize it is for the greater good. APPROVED.

Soos Creak Water and Sew District Commissioner Position No. 2 - Alan Eades is the incumbent. That's nice.

Public Hospital Disctrict No. 1 Commissioner Position No. 5 - FINALLY, we get some controversy. Valley Medical Hospital does a damned fine job, but has been plagued with all sorts of political deal-making, shenanigans, and opacity. The latest big kerfuffle was when UW Medicine took over the board of directors by outnumbering the elected officials. The current incumbent ran on fighting that, but didn't fight that much once she got in. Let's look at Carol Barber and see this get into more discussion when the final election shows up in the Fall.

And that's it for the moment. Get you votes in, people, postmarked before August 6 (Did I mention that you can mail it without a stamp?)

More later,

Monday, July 15, 2019

Is Cthulhu REALLY a Great Old One?

Here's something that has always bothered me. In H.P.Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu", there's the following passage:
They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him
Boldface and underlines are mine.Cthulhu, who in later texts is recognized as a one of the Great Old Ones, is referred to here as being a "great priest". Does this mean that Cthulhu is a priest OF these Great Ones, or is he one of the Great Old Ones, and his position among them is that of a Priest (i.e. - he's the cleric of the party)?

Either way, it is is an interesting take on things. If he's a priest who venerates these Great Old Ones, he's subordinate to and separate from them, and the Great Old Ones (of which later writers have constructed an entire pantheon) are unknowable, godish beings who we have never really met. If is a priest among the Great Old Ones, what do these Great Old Ones worship?

Hang on, it gets even more interesting in the next paragraph.

     Meanwhile no more must be told. There was a secret which even torture could not extract. Mankind was not absolutely alone among the conscious things of earth, for shapes came out of the dark to visit the faithful few. But these were not the Great Old Ones. No man had ever seen the Old Ones. The carven idol was great Cthulhu, but none might say whether or not the others were precisely like him. No one could read the old writing now, but things were told by word of mouth. The chanted ritual was not the secret—that was never spoken aloud, only whispered. The chant meant only this: “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.
So no one has ever seen the Old Ones, but here's a statue of Cthulhu, which we know from the later in the story is a pretty fair representation of his titanic majesty.

So it seems, from this reading, that the entire later industry of Great Cthulhu as one of a pantheon of elder eldritch beings may be off. His fictional worshipers, as well as later real-world chroniclers, have confused and conflated the two, promoting the priest to the godhood itself. Of course, all of this is from a highly unreliable narrator, a mad and degenerate worshiper of these Great Old Ones, On the other hand this is a primary source, THE primary source, of Cthulhu lore.

Anyone have an theory on this?

More later,