Archive for the 'Theater' Category

Gore Vidal Has Left the Stage 1925 – 2012

August 2nd, 2012

Charles McGrath’s New York Times obituary for Gore Vidal calls him “the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization.”

For anyone who has read Vidal’s work with delight and care, it is hard to believe that Vidal saw the United States as possessing a civilization that could end. Power, yes: the nation has great power, wielded without regret and directed anywhere those who possess it choose. But the USA, a civilized nation? Debatable, as Vidal saw it.

That the country could at times be a great deal of fun, or at least amusing, and a pre-eminent provider of entertainment — that Vidal would agree with, laughing all the while. Like Aaron Burr, who as protagonist opened Vidal’s extended fictional portrait of the carpeted halls of power, he enjoyed himself, and laughed more than most — at the nation, at us, at the power brokers and even at himself.

His wide-ranging body of work is like no other, as we see in his obituary. He had the courage of his convictions, or perhaps the courage of one born into the families that determine our national and personal fates, but who was fated by his lesser status among them — relatively poor, proudly sexually transgressive, highly educated in the arts, aesthetics and intellectual analysis — never to be a serious political player himself. He therefore had nothing to lose from honesty, and he was openly, aggressively, fluidly, sexual at a time when few could afford to be, and he wrote non-fiction and outrageous comic fiction both with post-gender attitude.

Narratives of Empire, his heptalogy of historical novels published between 1968 and 2000, traces the United States from the Age of Burr through the Age of Mass Media. Itreveals more than many non-fiction histories about how power is inherited, used, and guarded in America. These seven novels of our national political life bristle with ideas and even historical facts that were not discussed — or admitted to — by either critics or historians, by and large, and certainly not by politicians.

Vidal compared himself on at least one occasion to an obvious precursor: historian Henry Adams, who as the grandson and great-grandson of American presidents was present not only in the hallways of power but also in the homes where the power brokers lived and socialized. Adams’s influence was not always positive: in 1876, Vidal avenged his precursor’s personal prejudice against President Ulysses Grant in a way that was unworthy of most of his historical work — mean, petty, nasty, and a historical lie.

Like Adams, Vidal will probably be less remembered for Narratives of Empire than for his lesser achievements – theater, film, and television appearances, feuds with other writers. Adams is most often remembered today for the rather historically irrelevant cultural musings of Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres and for his highly selective personal memoir The Education of Henry Adams. While Education is empty of his wife’s suicide and the decades they were together, and leaves out his D.C. salon and ever-changing circle of ‘nieces’, it is worth reading, if only for Adams’s account of being private secretary to his father, Francis Adams, who as minister of the Mission to St. James in London was appointed by Lincoln to ensure that Britain never recognize the Confederacy. But Adams’s grand works are his histories of the Jefferson and Madison administrations, and possibly “Napoleon I At San Domingo” (in Adams’s Collected Essays, 1891), the most clear-eyed and even admiring assessment written by a white American historian in the nineteenth century of General Toussaint Louverture and of what the San Domingan revolution meant for the history of the United States.

These two writers offer a grand composite vision of the history of the United States. They were there, and if they weren’t there, their relatives were. They brought us their visions of our shared past; they have themselves become part of the historical record.


Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire, which I list in historical order, not in the order they were published: Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington D.C., The Golden Age.

Henry Adams’s Collected Essays; History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson; History of the United States of America During the Administrations of James Madison; The Education of Henry Adams.

Comicon International 2008 — Dr. Horrible, The Dark Knight, and me

July 30th, 2008

Back from Comicon. Also back from Westercon. Thoughts….

First off…wow. Comicon was amazing. In over twenty years of attending, Comicon’s managed to outdo itself again, mostly by dint of those who came, both industry types and fans. I don’t know how many, but numbers of over 200,000 were rumored and probably underestimated.

Second thought, what’s up with the art shows at all the cons? At Comicon, I saw more winged kittens in the art show than superheroes, or for that matter, any comic book characters. Yes, I understand the cottage industry of marketing to dragon and cat fetishists, but seeing the same dracokitty art recycled from Westercon to Comicon was surreal given the difference of the rest of the convention.

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I am Womb, I am Vagina: Women As Roles Rather than Characters

January 23rd, 2007

Warning:  Spoilers for ROME, the recent HBO miniseries

One of the ways I rate my enjoyment of books and filmic-visual fiction is in how the roles of women are approached by the writers and/or directors.  Certain conventions are sure to minimize my enjoyment of a narrative, and chief among them is the narrowing of women’s roles to those related to reproduction and/or Relationship to the Male.  In such cases, women are portrayed either as wombs (mother, surrogate mother, or wife) or vaginas (of sexual interest to male characters without having any other real narrative function);  that is, a female character has no existence beyond her relationship to men via sex and/or reproduction.
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Ragnarok, Doom of the Gods (theater review)

September 5th, 2006

I had never before conceived of the Norns as pinheads with topknots.  However, as you can see from the attached picture, the maskmaker and costume director for The Shotgun Players in Berkeley did:

Supposedly a norn

This is for their production of Ragnarok, Doom of the Gods which will definitely be playing next weekend (September 9th & 10th) in Berkeley and possibly the weekend thereafter (according to some portions of the website but not others).

The theater space is the old 1908  outdoor ampitheatre at John Hinkel Park, and yesterday at 4, the weather for the special Labor Day show was pleasant turning to cool over the two hours of the production.

I went with my friend Yvonne, who knew the playwrights, Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, and introduced me to them.  Elizabeth was also playing Frigga, Odin’s wife.

The actors ranged from passable to excellent, with the standouts being Ben Dziuba as Loki and Erin Carter as everyone from Helga, the actor’s wife, to Thokk, the woman without tears.  Her delivery of Thokk’s soliloquy gave me a frisson, and that’s what good playwrighting and acting are all about.

But the masks.  Yvonne said the first time she’d seen the production, they made her think of pig snouts.  Myself, I was just wondering why, when Snorri was getting into his father’s medieval Swedish costume trunk, he was somehow pulling things that owed a lot more to Comedia del Arte than to anything Scandinavian.  The time shifts to include current day referrences in the script were mild in comparison to the disjoint of the masks.  Costuming the jotuns as clowns made a certain amount of sense given their trickster nature, but having the Norns be pinheads with topknots was just bizarre, and not in a good way.

There was a small turnout yesterday, but most of them were part of the Berkeley pagan contingent, so most everyone already knew the stories.  Of the gods, Braggi was underused, acting more as spear carrier than poet in most scenes, and Iduna didn’t seem to have a line that wasn’t talking about her apples.  But all in all, it was an enjoyable performance, and good to see something in the fantasy vein on stage as a new play.