Friday, July 31, 2009

The Critical Imperative

My editor evidently decided that the review I submitted this week was too harsh to, or did not sufficiently coddle, the embarrassment I recently witnessed at the Boxcar Theatre.  Maybe a gay newspaper is obligated to praise any rock-musical about male prostitution that uses trite experimental theatre gimmicks?  At any rate, for lack of a better medium, the review is published below, so that the 3 people who read this can feel justified in not joining me for this production.


If you’re going to a show at the Boxcar Theatre, it’s usually a relief when you arrive.  Located on Natoma Avenue, in SoMA, the theater is not advisedly approached by foot at night, particularly when you are a lone female.  But Rent Boy Ave: A Fairy’s Tale, the theater’s new “urban rock musical,” offers audiences no escape from Boxcar’s neighborhood—or any sort of escape at all.  Director Wolfgang Wachalovsky’s set, “a piece of shit street in some city otherwise known as the world’s trash can,” emerges organically from the theater’s surroundings:  Graffiti covers every available surface of the black box playing space.  Scaffolding on wheels, the only set piece, creates a world of fragmentation and transience.  And the ensemble is a part of this set from the moment the audience walks in.  As the same characters they will perform later, the actors beg for money, harass each other (and the audience) and struggle for status.  All in all, the pre-show promises a thoughtful piece of experimental theatre; unfortunately, once Rent Boy Ave begins, the directorial choices become amateurish and arbitrary, the acting apathetic and demonstrative, and whether the clichéd writing and unmelodic music are entirely to blame is anyone’s guess.

The musical follows David (Bobby Bryce), who moves from Kansas to a bad neighborhood in an unnamed city.  There he meets Jackie (Danielle Medeiros) and Mark (Bradley Mena), who introduce him to a life of prostitution.  Supposedly, Mark only sells himself to men for financial reasons, but his immediately evident attraction to David suggests otherwise.  David’s fall from innocence and David and Mark’s relationship ostensibly constitute the play’s two plot threads, but in each case the story’s over before it begins—but perhaps the tale is so obvious that we can’t blame the actors for wearing it on their faces.

Even as a snapshot of a dark, ignored underworld—as suggested by many purely descriptive song lyrics—"I’m a punk rock slot,” “We’re the freaks of the streets”—Rent Boy Ave is so overrun with clichés that audiences would get a more interesting picture of a tough neighborhood by stepping outside the theater.  In some cases, rather than endow his characters with original, specific backgrounds, playwright Nick Olivero “borrows” lines from other works:  The Pimp’s line, “Does the word ‘bitch’ appear on my forehead?” blatantly plagiarizes Samuel L. Jackson's infamous line in Pulp Fiction.

Generally, the acting is uncompelling, and the singing is harsh at best and range-stretching at worst.  Rare exceptions include Anthony Rollins-Mullens as the Pimp and Erica Richardson as Trashcan Sally.  Rollins-Mullens’s movements are economical and his voice sultry; he is a pleasure to watch and listen to, even if his character never gets developed.  But the show’s outstanding performance goes to Richardson.  Hostile and fearful, odious and piteous, Richardson’s homeless woman need hardly say anything, so fully does the actress embody the “type” her character must represent.  Perhaps the most egregious in a performance already filled with blunders is the little time we have with this ensemble character.

With lighting cues that distract from the action of the play, choreography that does little more than fill space, and staging that simply rotates the ensemble through the stage (so that, like a high school musical, everyone gets a decent amount of face time), Wachalovsky fails to enliven Olivero’s tired script.  “This is the this,” repeat the characters in gratuitous refrain.  Next time, some antecedents, please.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Overheard descending into the Powell Street train station

"That's the problem.  Other people don't kill each other.  We niggas, we kill each other."

"We ain't all niggas."

"We take out a gun, we kill each other."

"You think all Black people is niggas.  But anybody can be a nigga.  A white person can be a nigga.  A Chinese person can be a nigga.  Hell, even an Indian can be a nigga.  Being a nigga ain't about the color of your skin.  It's about something else, nigga."

Then, directly to me:

"What you smilin at, nigga?"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Curtain Speech

In the theatre it’s customary to accommodate the more fashionable audience members by raising the curtain a few minutes late.  But at the Phoenix Theatre’s opening night of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, it wasn’t just we frumpy early-birds who were wondering what the hold-up was.  The stylish, too, had had ample time to remove their coats, make small-talk, survey the set (a cramped living room in a 1950s Brooklyn apartment), use the facilities, flip through their programs and fold them, accordion-style, into little fans.  The only thing left to do was stare at each other (the Phoenix Theatre, an intimate space, has a thrust stage) and wonder if there was a problem backstage. 

Finally, Barbara, who handles the theatre’s PR, came on to make the pre-show announcement and get things started.  A congenial woman with curly, dark red hair and wire-rimmed glasses, she held a batch of programs to her chest, her shield from those who were already worried about getting home ten minutes later than anticipated.  (Will the babysitter be okay with that?).

Once she had welcomed us, exhorted us to turn off our cell phones and unwrap our candies (the latter command drawing the obligatory chuckle), delineated our emergency exits, warned us about a ten minute intermission (make that twenty extra minutes for the sitter), and explained the Phoenix Theatre’s fundraising campaign (and how we could contribute to it), Barbara ran out of things to say.  She smiled at us for a moment.  Then she turned her gaze to a man in a tan blazer, one of the last arrivals.  His hairline seemed to be receding, but it was hard to tell because he had sneaked into the back row.

“I understand,” Barbara said, “that now we’re waiting for someone who’s… very close by?”

“Yeah,” said the man in the back row.  “They’re almost here.”

The cause of the delay revealed!  These must be the most fashionable audience members of all!  A murmur went through the crowd. “Who are these people?”  “Where are they?”  “And why do we have to wait for them?” 

“Do you have any idea,” Barbara continued, as all eyes turned toward the door, “how close they are?”  She spoke slowly and held her breath, giving the mysterious guests the opportunity to make a well-timed entrance—an opportunity they failed to seize.  We waited for the man in the back row respond, but he appeared to be engrossed in his phone, which he evidently had not turned off. 

An elderly woman with a hooked nose misunderstood the situation: “If he’s already here and we’re talking to him, why are we still waiting for him?”  A few more wondered the same thing; others tried to correct them.  Our wrath redirected, Barbara removed the stack of programs from her bosom.

An electronic chirp from the back row.  The balding man’s phone had told him something, which he was going to relay to us.

“They’re parking the car.”

…They’re not even inside?  They hadn’t taken public transit?

“Don’t worry, Tim always has great luck finding street parking.”

…They’re not using a garage?

Silently, we considered the specs.  Friday night, downtown San Francisco, shady neighborhood.  Great luck or not, this could take hours.

“They thought I meant Fort Mason, instead of Mason Street,” explained the man, for the first time evincing awareness of the crowd of people looking at him.

“Tell them to try Ivy Street!” suggested an older gentleman with a cane and not insignificant salt-and-pepper stubble.  “There’s always a spot there!”

“Right!  Between Octavia and Franklin?” asked an attractive young woman in a lacy, cream-colored blouse.

“That’s just the place!” the gentlemen said, just as a third voice claimed that Ivy was too far away and that the fashionably late guests should consider Montgomery, between California and Bush, instead. “Such a highly trafficked thoroughfare?” others said.  “Unthinkable.”  Those who hadn’t spoken yet chimed in.  Unable to keep the peace, Barbara again sought comfort in her stack of programs, the recycled paper glaring starkly against her plum-colored sweater.  We quickly came to a consensus, though: SOMA, especially Minna and Mary Streets, was marginally reliable.  As the man in the back row (who now looked more thoroughly bald than before) texted our advice to his friends, we started sharing stories of impossibly lucky breaks (Market and 5th for one, and for another… Union Square?  What a shameless liar).

“Well, I’ve always promised myself I would never hold a show for more than ten minutes, and I guess this is why,” murmured Barbara, almost to herself.  “But look, here I am, doing it.”

“Sorry about… all this,” said the man in the back row, bringing the free-for-all to a halt.

“It’s okay,” Barbara said, to our dismay.  Then, more accurately representing the feeling in the room, she said, “but now… it’s time to start the show.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Joe Janiak, on ^_^

It is kinda derived from anime, and it conveys a different thing depending on the situation, could be mischievous, could be grateful or something you do when you say your welcome, could be when your boasting happily, could be when you're asking some neutral question ostensibly but have a hidden agenda or special interest (kinda why I was doing it- I was asking if you had it with the hope that that would mean I get it too). Its just a cuteness thing to a lot of people. Its taken on a lot of meanings, hard to explain, and so on.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"What are people who live in Millbrae called?"

' ' ' I asked my students , , ,

Who are residents of the town in question .

I thought it would be a good ice-breaker ( ? ) . ( ! ) .

I offered some suggestions :


They looked at each other.

"No," one said,

"I think we're just called... Asians."

Sunday, July 12, 2009


These two have never actually met.

Y: "Hi"
X: "Hey I just heard about the year-long film plan.  Think there's any room for a continuity girl?"


Y: "Did u know I just bought the harvard bio of flaubert before you mentioned it on facebook"
X: "I knew because you told me you dingleberry"
Y: "Oh"


Y: "Come today and stay here you only have to pay 300 for rent"
X: "[Y], I have to confess something: you have met many of my amigos, so it's understandable you would think otherwise, but I am neither a curious, diligent scholar, nor an ambitious, bold thinker.  I am but a quiet homebody, who feigns worthiness only in the consequence-free world of long-distance communication.  Do you really want to live with such a sad little soul?"
Y: "Yes"


Y: "When can you be here by?  Get a ticket online, itll be 200 or something like that"
X: "I humbly request a few days to ponder"
Y: "No  just come now saturdays are fun here"


Y: "Ive made up your room for when you stay"
X: "[Y]: I think I would like to stay where I am because I got a gig writing theatre reviews for a newspaper, and I like it, and I actually think I'm a little bit good at it.  That is such a rare occurrence that it would truly behoove me to hunker down.  Plus, I would quickly become one of those individuals whom you would merely tolerate, not appreciate.  I may be pals with [P] and [Q], but that is merely necessary, not sufficient, for [Y] esteem"
Y: "What do you mean?  i thought you liked me"
X: "Just because 2 people love one another very much, that does not necessarily mean they would be compatible if they actually met"
Y: "But it would be different with us"


Y: "I love you, [x]"


Y: "Hey"
Y: "Can we talk?"
Y: "We can say anything we want as long as we don't say it too loud"
X: "Find us a dream that dont ask no questions"


Y: "Hey, babe"
X: "What's happenin hot stuff?"
Y: "I am at [P]'s though I wish I were with you"
X: "You've got f([P])=mother*[P], though, don't forget"
Y: "Do not know her"


Y: "Hey, babe"
X: "How's [P]'s?"
Y: "I wanna see you"


Y: "hey"


Y: "HEY!"
X: "Oh man caps lock from [Y] what an honor"
Y: "[X]!  What the funk?  Where've you Bren?"
Y: "Tell [P] that you and I like one anotherand stay away he must"
X: "I have a hickey on my neck that's so big it looks like I've been in a car accident"
Y: "Why would you tell me this"
Y: "Agh"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2 things that are so great: Catholicism, and the suburbs

Because wherever you are, you know exactly what to expect