Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lady Grey and Wirehead

This week's two reviews feature a change in emphasis. I minimized commentary on design, and, to some extent, acting, in favor of a broader question: Do these productions forge any new frontiers in theatrical form and content? See what you think at the links below:

(Danielle O'Hare, in the title role)

Wirehead by Matt Benjamin and Logan Brown, at SF Playhouse
(Craig Marker and Gabriel Marin. Photo by Jessica Palopoli)

I'm concerned that, successful as I think these two articles are, they unfairly neglect the artists and designers who make these shows happen. They also probably don't describe the shows as vividly as I'd like.

Yet, painful as truncation is, word limits are a very, very good thing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Frank Rich, and The Homecoming

Frank Rich, who is moving to New York Magazine after 17 years with the Times, offers an introspective and beautifully written farewell op-ed in today's issue. Of chief interest for me was his discussion of form:

"When I felt frustrated by churning out a standard-length Op-Ed column after a few years, The Times went out of its way to accommodate me by giving me more space, all the better for trying to connect more dots. It was fated that I would one day find myself eager to break out of that box too. I have always wanted to keep growing as a writer, not run in place. My latest bout of restlessness had nothing to do with the tumultuous upheavals of the news business in the digital era. It was an old-media mission I started to chafe at — opinion writing within the constraints of newspaper deadlines and formats.

"Safire, a master of the form, was fond of likening column writing to standing under a windmill: No sooner did you feel relief that you had ducked a blade than you looked up and saw a new one coming down. He thrived on this, but after 17 years I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice."

This week, I'm taking my first break in a long time from my own routine: the 550-word theater review, due Tuesday at noon. My goal was to use that respite to write in this space about ACT's production of The Homecoming, which I was quite fond of, in a way that transcended my usual constraints.

(Set Design by Daniel Ostling. Photos by Kevin Berne.)

But now I wonder if I'm really prepared to take an honest look at what those constraints are: I got another comment this week that my writing can be so full of assumptions that it's hard to know what I'm talking about.

So rather than try to articulate how Ostling's disorienting set design takes us into the world of The Homecoming, or why the play's commodification of the female body still feels so relevant, or how the actors make Pinter's absurdist dialogue almost make sense (especially in contrast to the performers in another Pinter production I saw recently--though the two productions' vastly different budgets make it unfair to even compare the two)--I will instead use my break to think about a more important question:

What formal changes can I make to get out of my own writerly ruts?

In the meantime, The Homecoming is definitely worth a gander; there aren't too many other plays written in 1965 whose upending of sexual norms still shocks.

(Andrew Polk, Rene Augesen, Anthony Fusco and Adam O'Byrne.)

The Homecoming continues (Tuesday to Sunday, various times) through March 27 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. For tickets ($10 and up), call (415) 749-2228 or visit