Sunday, November 28, 2010

Two Thoughts on Failure

"In fact you are incredibly similar to all the people sitting around you right now. The vast majority of them are doomed to a life of disappointing mediocrity just like yours. And everyone sees how you yearn fruitlessly for glory when it is clearly already too late, and they pity you. They pity you as a grasping failure who pants for degrading miserable straws that are out of your reach. And for those of you who achieved some measure of success, you look like fools! People laugh at you behind your back for the self-important way you speak, your pretensions, the way you ingratiate yourselves with the powerful. You are a buffoon who pretends that you don't care what anyone thinks of you, when in fact you writhe in ecstasy like a fondled dog each time a sycophantic halfwit praises your name... And let me not forget the most vainglorious among you: the quitters—who expected success without struggle and so quit to avoid disappointment."

—Young Jean Lee, Church

"When your brain loses its spare capacity, and along with it some agility, some joy in winging it, and the ambition to do things that don't suit it, then you finally have to settle down to do well the few things that your brain really can do well—the rest no longer seems pressing and distracting, because it is now permanently out of reach. The feeling that you are stupider than you were is what finally interests you in the really complex subjects of life: in change, in experience, in the ways other people have adjusted to disappointment and narrowed ability. You realize that you are no prodigy, your shoulders relax, and you begin to look around you, seeing local color unrivaled by blue glows of algebra and abstraction."

—Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Tempest, at the Cutting Ball

(Caitlyn Louchard as Trinculo, David Sinaiko as Stephano, and Donell Hill as Caliban)

When you set out to stage The Tempest with only three actors, as director Rob Melrose has done at the Cutting Ball Theater, you add to an already difficult play inordinate confusion -- particularly in scenes with more than three characters. Before this production's intermission, however, when Prospero (David Sinaiko) uses his magical powers to simultaneously set in motion a love story and a revenge plot - all on a deserted island - Melrose almost pulls it off. He uses small but definitive changes (a dramatic shift in lighting and sound, an actress's switching her enormous spectacles for aviator sunglasses) to demarcate character and locale, to interesting effect: Shakespeare often intertwines multiple plots, all of which mirror each other, and seeing the same actors in different but parallel situations can heighten those scenes' impact.

Among the three performers, Caitlyn Louchard - as Miranda, Ariel and Trinculo, among others - thrives most under this directorial choice. She seizes it as an opportunity to demonstrate her range and skill: Her all-powerful spirit-figure is as convincing as her drunken clown and her sheltered ingenue. With her versatility and stamina, she finishes the job of character development that Melrose began with only a few small adjustments in mise-en-scene.

But after the intermission, Melrose inexplicably dispenses with the boundaries he had previously established. Costume, light and sound changes no longer signify what they had previously. It's difficult just to decipher which actor is playing which character, let alone what it's all supposed to mean. Even a recent reading of the text proves scant help. Amidst this chaos, the larger themes of Shakespeare's last great text - revenge and forgiveness, control and its renouncement, colonialism and its discontents - grow murky and, to the frustrated viewer, not worth the trouble to ponder.

The Tempest continues for one more week at the Cutting Ball Theater, 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco. For tickets, visit

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bay Area Performing Arts Spaces

This site, created by the magazine Theatre Bay Area, advertises itself as "a comprehensive, state-of-the-art, searchable database of performing arts venues and facilities in the greater Bay Area for classes, workshops, auditions, rehearsals and even performances." It's about time!

I tried a few different queries and was impressed with the ease of the search process, as well as the amount of useful data the creators have compiled. Hopefully, gaps in data (especially in pricing), will be filled in by the venues themselves as the database gains popularity.

My only question: If TBA can create this valuable resource, which covers spaces in 11 different counties, why is it that Yale undergraduates who seek a performance space in a single zip code, on a single campus, are limited to this hunk o' junk (which, if I recall correctly, was considered a major innovation)?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Plug

Penelope’s Odyssey after Homer

by Gary Graves, in collaboration with the ensemble

at Central Works

Jan Zvaifler as Penelope

(Photo by Jay Yamada)

Another member of the Critics Circle recommended this production, about the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view (a popular theatrical topic this season), and I can see why. Central Works operates in an intimate, elongated thrust (my favorite type of space), situating its audience members so close to the action that they could trip the actors. This orientation obviates the need for presentation. Actors are afforded more interesting (and realistic) angles of interaction, and they need not amplify their physicalities for the back of a house. Each subtle gesture (or deliberate non-gesture) registers. You hold your breath, that you might hear the actors’ breathing.

The play itself, what’s more, moves along at a steady clip and constantly throws its players into impossible situations: Should Penelope (elegantly played by Jan Zvaifler) take a new husband, now that Odysseus has been missing ten years? How can Antinus (Matt Lai), her leading suitor, win her heart? Is he even worthy? Can Telemakos, (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) Penelope’s son/daughter, trust Penelope to do the right thing for their family? Is the man who later comes forward as Odysseus (Terry Lamb) really he? More importantly, who gets to make that decision, and who will benefit from the verdict?

Graves' writing constantly challenges the audience’s trust; we are never aligned with a single character for long. The title, and much of the action, suggests that Penelope is the protagonist, but by the play’s end even she has ulterior motives that complicate her reliability.

With only a few (but gorgeous) light and sound cues, by director John Patrick Moore, to guide the audience, these actors are truly on their own in this tiny space, their every breath and blink on full display. Under this pressure, some performers bring clearer and more honest performances than others, but the company on the whole is to be commended for producing an engaging evening on a shoestring budget.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Shared by friend-of-the-blog Ben Miller:

Is this the future of theatre criticism?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tennessee Williams, on the state of Broadway in 1944

"That the most exalted of the arts should have fallen into the receivership of businessmen and gamblers is a situation parallel in absurdity to the conduct of worship becoming the responsibility of a herd of water-buffaloes."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Welles on Tynan

Dedicated to Javier Botero
Puzzler, Polymath and Strongman

From Orson Welles' introduction to He That Plays the King: A View of the Theatre, Kenneth Tynan's first book, published in 1950. Tynan was twenty-three years old at the time.

As Welles himself explains, Tynan and he were strangers at the time Tynan requested this introduction.

-- --

"Dear Mr. Tynan,

Why, you will ask, do I address this introduction directly to you? After all, we are scarcely acquainted. I must tell you that I am adopting the pretty fiction of a personal letter in the fear that like me your readers tend to skip introductions and in the hope that they are as tempted as I am by other people's mail.

Dear Mr. Tynan then,—by the way, what are you? Besides being the author of this book, I mean.


since I seem to be criticizing your criticisms—let me say that from my viewpoint you have also some inflated enthusiasms which beg for pricking. I'm not the man for that job, I just thought I'd mention it.


Whatever you are, Mr. Tynan, there is no doubt that you are some sort of magician. You materialized out of a puff of Paris fog, handed me the manuscript of this book and before vanishing somehow bamboozled me into reading it and writing this.

A neat trick it was because as I tried to tell you I never read or write about the theatre, this being a matter of the strictest principle. No, I save myself for other subjects concerning which I enjoy a more amiable ignorance.


Also this heated nonsense about being alone in a theatre... Do you really feel that?

Alone is what you must be in a movie palace where something all finished and wrapped up is delivered to large numbers of people at once for the simple reason that, to date, this is the cheapest form of distribution. But how can you be alone in a living theatre? In the big moments there is, to be sure, an almost mystical effacement of self but this is part of the mystery of becoming one with the congregation..."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Spasms of the Macrocosmos

I decided to go with two:

  • A variety of major Bay Area theaters—the Magic, ACT, Marin Theatre Company, the Aurora, San Jose Rep, and SF Playhouse—have opened their 2010-2011 seasons with plays that either prominently feature an African-American performer, or, more likely, center on a part of the African-American experience. What does this trend say? Why are these shows at the beginning of the season? Do any of these theaters make African-Americans a focus later in the season? And why, in a city in which Hispanics outnumber African-Americans by two to one and Asians outnumber African-Americans by almost five to one, are no other racial and ethnic minorities getting plays produced about their experiences?
  • Last month, when departing the Magic Theatre after a show, I was approached by a woman with a video camera about giving an “audience testimonial.” I declined because I was reviewing the production, but it seemed she was taking comments from anyone leaving the theater. Later, I received an email from the Magic touting the success of opening night—with filmed audience testimonials to prove it! But how do audience members feel about being used for marketing purposes in this manner? Are there certain pressures inherent in it that make for less-than-honest responses? Why do some theaters use it? Why do others refrain?

If American Theatre isn't interested, maybe I'll solicit another publication!

Monday, October 18, 2010

To read, or not to read?

The Players of the We Players' Hamlet: Ali Hanson, Cara Zeisloft, Rebecca Longworth, Caroline Rebecca Parsons, and Sallie Romer
(Photo by Peter Merts)

In working on my review of the We Players' production of Hamlet, I have been, I'm only slightly sorry to say, influenced by exogenous forces.

Because I write for a weekly, other critics' reviews of a play often appear days before mine do. Nonetheless, I usually avoid reading their work. My articles are supposed to be about the play itself, not about the conversation surrounding it.

But when I quasi-accidentally catch a glimpse of those articles, my work, I feel, improves. Rather than trying to assess the work generally, I am then primed to focus on points of inquiry others have already singled out as worthy of discussion. Those writers have done the dirty work; I get to capitalize on it.

My review of Hamlet this week falls into that category: I skimmed someone else's article before writing my own. (The height of sin!)

But partly due to my inadvertent engagement and partly due to the unique nature of the We Players' site-specific production, I'm writing what I consider one of my most honest reviews in a while. I was even able to get away from the format I've felt trapped in: catchy intro/overall assessment, plot summary, acting evaluation, design evaluation, suggestions for future productions.

It's counterintuitive that by reading someone else's work I should be able to become more original, and despite this week's success I will try to avoid the habit, lest I should start to feel the pressure to say something new, instead of just saying what I want to say.

Or should I just suck it up and be as informed as possible?

Stay tuned: The hemming and hawing continues.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My New Source for Critical Pith; A Challenge

(Or, just to overwhelm this site with images of dead white guys.)

"A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening."

-- Kenneth Tynan

Over the next couple weeks, I'll be brainstorming "pitch ideas" that this grant, which would allow me to write two articles for American Theatre (the biggest theatre magazine in the country), requires as part of its application. So far I have only written about individual productions. Trends, currents, or even spasms of the macrocosmos -- these things that require longitudinal analysis, conclusions drawn from often anecdotal evidence (which requires actually talking to people) -- have not yet entered my journalistic purview. But never fear: I shall find ye, "topics related to the Bay Area theatre scene," even if at first my short-sighted means can find little more than ripples and twitches!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Brief Indulgence in Pessimism

"As a spokesman for newspaper drama critics, Winter defended his coterie against attacks levied by Dion Boucicault in 1889. Boucicault accused critics of being both corrupt and detrimental to the theater. He said they were generally incompetent and biased. Newspapers, said Boucicault, had usurped the public's rightful role as drama's judges. Winter conceded that neither the press nor the public showed very good judgment in evaluating plays, but he argued that newspapers were not corrupting public taste since they had little influence upon their readers."

-- Charles W. Meister, Dramatic Criticism: A History

Monday, September 20, 2010

Theatrical Copywriting: Some Origins

From the playbill of the December 1, 1864, performance of
Coriolanus, starring Edwin Forrest, at the American Academy of Music, in Philadelphia, which was under the management of John T. Ford:

"The Splendid, Popular and Artistic Triumphs, which the Presence and Applause of the Nightly Crowded Audience conveyed, has abundantly confirmed Mr. Ford's confidence in the appreciative taste of Philadelphia, and encourages his anticipation of a succession of similar triumphs, the Wealth and Brilliancy of which will become Memorable in the Annals of Art."

From a London Times review of the same Mr. Forrest, in an 1836 production of Spartacus, at the Drury-Lane Theatre, in London:

"Mr. Forrest was received with a hearty warmth, which, from the first moment of his appearance, left no doubt, if any could have been entertained, that the audience were well disposed to accept his exertions for their entertainment. He is a tall, rather robust man, of some 30 years of age, not remarkably handsome, but with expressive features, and that cast of countenance which is well suited for theatrical effect."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Pitfalls of Camaraderie: Or, A Justification of Dark Glasses

Should a critic socialize or engage with the artists in his/her field? Or should she remain detached and aloof, the better to evaluate a work objectively?

I was thinking about this question during a performance of Mrs. Warren's Profession at CalShakes this weekend. One of the show's leads, Anna Bullard, and I worked together last year, and in this current production, I occasionally saw glimpses of Anna, the actress -- a facial expression here, an intonation there -- in the way she portrayed Vivie, her character. Of course, I don't expect an actor to completely dispense with her sense of self in playing someone else -- on the contrary. Especially for a pro like Anna, the selective harnessing of personal experience and physical repertoire can help an actor relate to a character. Did those recognitions make me unable to sustain my disbelief? I don't think so: If anything, catching bits of Anna's lovely personality in her performance only made the experience more pleasurable for me.

Fortunately, because Anna performed so well, I won't have to tackle a more difficult question: Had I criticisms of her work, would I be able to voice them candidly in my upcoming review? Were I a true professional, the answer would be yes. And other Bay Area critics I've spoken with have said yes for themselves, despite the tightly-knit nature of our community. A few, so I've heard, have even started a theatre salon, in which professionals across the discipline -- critics, actors, directors, designers, writers -- meet periodically to discuss, "candidly," the artistic issues of our time and region.

Yet not all are so chipper about this epidemic of bonhomie. I've heard one editor complain that San Francisco's critics "dance around" actual criticism. And Theatre Bay Area has recently stated a desire to "hold up a new standard, challenging ourselves as an organization and striving to foster excellence -- especially artistic excellence -- in our region's theatre community." Translation: It's time to take some responsibility for the quality of our theatre.

I wonder, therefore, if critics are really as candid as they say they are. I wonder, too, if more candor would even increase artistic quality, or if criticisms would be taken too personally, the more vitriolic among them overstating their authors' cases and killing artists' creative impulses.

In any case, I know I always think more carefully when reviewing a production whose participants I know personally. When you want someone to succeed as an artist, it's more difficult to succeed as a critic.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Plot Summaries

In his review of A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, Will Blythe writes:"If you're like me, you tend to regard plot summaries as a necessary boredom at best. They're the flyover country between a reviewer's landing strips of judgment, revealing almost nothing about the way a book actually works, almost nothing about why it succeeds or fails. If plot were the crucial measure, there'd be no difference between a story about the fish that got away and 'Moby-Dick.' Reading such summaries (or writing them) is usually as beguiling as listening to some addled fan of 'Lost' explain what happened on that botched rune of a show." -- The New York Times Book Review

Your Lost politics aside, these difficulties resonate -- even more for theatre critics, I dare say, than for book critics. In play reviews, limiting plot summary to a paragraph is not just prudent; it's necessary. Theatre critics do not merely evaluate a writer; they evaluate the whole host of artistic professionals who collaborate on a production. So how could one devote more than a few sentences to synopsis when that alone is unlikely to sufficiently evaluate the playwright, let alone the cast, crew and design team?

Yet even including the most concise of plot blurbs can feel contrived, meaningless, unworthy of the paraphrased piece. The reason we have art and literature is that a few naked, purely narrative sentences cannot alone arouse emotion or conjure meaning. Plot summaries read more like straight journalistic prose than they do the literature they describe or the literary criticism toward which their (more ambitious) authors aspire. They are the book reports of journalism: Character and actor names crowd and tangle. Events all seem to follow teleological trajectories. And before one can even begin to care about disembodied names and events, the summary is over and the review has (thankfully) returned to what the reviewer does best: reviewing.

Readers, however, want and deserve to know what shows are "about." Either to judge their own desire to see a production or to evaluate a review on its own merit, they need to know a few nuts and bolts, a few objective truths, about a production. But maybe classical plot summary is not the only way to establish common ground. Perhaps a reviewer might describe more abstract themes. Perhaps she might write a "trailer" of sorts that includes choice quotes and choice images.

I'll be on the prowl for reviews that tackle this problem with stylistic ingenuity. Updates to come!

The Meta-blog: A Reenvisioning

My aspiration to make a living as an arts critic seems to necessitate blogging, yet since beginning The Split End I have been struggling to "blog" content that would be separate from my reviews for The Bay Times. Once in a while, a colleague even offers me the chance to pitch a story to another periodical, yet I feel I have few ideas or observations about the Bay Area "theatre scene" (with its trends, its movements) as a whole; I find I am interested only in reviewing individual productions.

But now I'm thinking that such a proclivity might prove my strength, my niche, as a blogger, rather than my weakness.

Since I started writing for the Bay Times a year ago, the reviewing process has become the intellectual, literary and professional challenge that most intrigues me. I pursue other professions -- tutoring, proofreading -- only as they serve my obsession for arts criticism. Thus, I've decided to reenvision this blog. The Split End will now be a commentary on my own commentary, a review of my own (and others') reviews.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, at American Conservatory Theater

(Rene Augesen, Nick Childress and Omoze Idehenre.  Photo by Kevin Berne.)

When a narrative at last emerged in ACT's well-funded production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, the audience's relief was palpable.  I felt ashamed of mine: I wanted to appreciate, if not understand, the fragmented images unfolding before me in the play's first scene.  Unable to do so, I concentrated on admiring the energy and versatility of the ensemble, most of whom play many roles in rapid succession, with few offstage breaks.  Particularly impressive were Rene Augesen and Anthony Fusco, ACT "core acting company members," who, for me, redeemed themselves from the theater's poorly directed (and ill-conceived?) world premiere of Edward Albee's At Home At The Zoo last summer.  

The trouble is, the story we finally hung our hats on ties itself up in too neat a bow.  In the heat of revolution, Grusche (the smoldering Omoze Idehenre) rescues an abandoned child -- the child of the overthrown governor for whom she worked as a servant.  Much as she'd initially like to, she can't find anyone else to care for him and so takes him on herself -- sacrificing her beloved Simon (Nick Childress) in the process.  Years later, the inevitable custody battle ensues, and to pit nature vs. nurture, the judge (the natural Jack Willis), employs the "chalk circle," whereby the alleged mothers compete in tug-of-war with the child as the rope.

That Grusche wins not only her child but also her Simon belies the deconstructed nature of the play's form.  The relief I felt earlier when characters finally materialized and storylines cohered suddenly evaporated.  Surely a world in which stagelights plunge from the ceiling and thunderous blasts detonate from the sound system -- all without explanation -- can not resolve thus!  I thought.  Is this ending a joke?  Is there more to come?  Walking home from the theater, I wished there had been -- but perhaps that isn't the worst criticism one can level against a theatrical production.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle continues through March 14th at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Tickets ($10 - $82) are available by phone at (415) 749-2228 or online at

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Fantastic Charade at the Boxcar

“Which of these groups had concept albums?”  “Which female studio musician has played on over 10,000 recording sessions?”  For the Boxcar Theater’s production of The Mark Ten’s Fantastic Parade, it’s not enough for the play to pontificate about the history of obscure music from the 1960s; evidently, we also need a multiple-choice quiz in our programs.  In her “Note from the Playwright,” Maria Breaux describes The Mark Ten as an ode to the music that saved her teenage life.  But if the quiz was a chance for Breaux to show off her knowledge, in the script she ridicules the objects of her affection, distancing herself and her audience from the subject of her drama.  For its minor successes, this production, directed by Katja Rivera, robs the rock and roll era of its rock and roll.

(Robert Campbell, Nick Dickson, Vincent Palo and Sam Leichter)

The beginning of the show is pure homage.  The Mark Ten pantomime with the fervor of the Monkees and respond to interview questions with the cheekiness of the Beatles.  Then, seeking to earn their place in history, they decide to create a concept album, or one in which each song serves some larger artistic purpose, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.  The band’s issue is coming up with a concept—an issue they share with the playwright. 

Secluded in the recording studio, Stu, (Vincent Palo) the vocalist, and Harvey (Robert Campbell), the bassist, talk without communicating and attack without engaging.  Unable to compose, they rely on outside assistance in the form of Cindy, a studio musician whose odd blend of ambition and priggishness confines actress Rachel Rajput to a range of emotion from annoyance to scorn—at least, in the preview I saw.  Dave (Nick Dickson), the drummer, and Lewis (Sam Leichter), on lead guitar, provide comic relief with varying levels of success.  As Petal, the Mark Ten’s lone groupie, Sarah Korda gives the production’s most committed and poised performance, but Breaux’s writing muddles even this character’s arc.

Where this production most falters is in its performance of music.  Though the playwright and characters supposedly live for rock and roll, the songs are all recorded, and the performers pantomime with instruments made out of cardboard.  At first, when the musicians hilariously enact an Ed Sullivan-style concert, with Petal screaming awkwardly throughout it, the fake instruments work.  But the props quickly reveal themselves as a default choice instead of a deliberate one.  Apparently, a projection screen with period footage and photos is crucial for the production, but a real guitar or drum set is unnecessary.  (For a theatre this size, budget constraints obviously curtail technical options—but minimalism does not preclude artfulness.)

Otherwise, the show looks stunning. Scenic and props designer Patricia Gillespie and costume designer Bessie Delucchi capture a variety of 1960s aesthetics, from mod to psychedelic, with startling, disorienting color.  Set off by Lyrica Tyree’s lighting, the mise-en-scene becomes otherworldly, an enchanted space in which Rivera choreographs lip-synching almost beautiful enough to make up for the lack of live sound—but not quite enough to make up for the script or the acting.

The Mark Ten’s Fantastic Parade continues through January 30th at the Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma Street, San Francisco.  Tickets ($10 - $20) are available by phone at (800) 838-3006 or online at

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Runner

It can be said that the stone benches outside the Yale University Art Gallery offer the best view of the New Haven celebrity parade:  The scrappy shopping cart-pusher in the baseball cap who hikes his pants up to his nipples; the clean-cut blond kid who solemnly helms a Segue; the busker whose gravelly voice and blistering harmonica often render one melody indiscernible from the next.  All these characters strut their stuff near the intersection of Chapel and High Streets, especially during lunch, when you can get a sandwich from across the street and eat it on one of the aforementioned benches, shamelessly staring at the strangers who are so much more interesting than Yale students.  There is one stranger, however, who invites more speculation than all others combined, and it was he who I sought to see on my own Art Gallery days.  That stranger is The Runner.

The Runner never walks.  Whenever there is an opportunity for transportation, running is The Runner's only option.  Apparently there are many such opportunities: I saw him sprinting from building to building most times I ventured out of doors.  At one point he was even spotted in the same overpriced cafĂ© at which I occasionally lunched, dashing from his table to the counter and back—in order to retrieve a napkin.  You might conclude that The Runner is a man with places to go; that his haste is a product of necessity; that I should lay off someone who's just trying to incorporate extreme cardiovascular exercise into the minutiae of his existence.  Yet as a longtime observer, I can confidently counter this theory: The Runner's routes don't make navigational sense.  For all his apparent education in a Yale Graduate School (so the rumors go), The Runner seems to have missed the idea that the shortest distance from point A to B is a straight line.  Indeed, something else entirely is going on:  Though occasionally endowed with a destination, The Runner primarily runs to pass the time; he runs to stave off the eternal nothingness; he runs to run.

The Forrest Gump comparisons are obvious.  Eternally clad in a brightly colored t-shirt, mismatching elastic shorts, white tube socks, sneakers, and a backpack, The Runner would invite speculations of mental retardation even without that little blockbuster of a flick. 

I "ran into" The Runner often—we patronized a similar group of off-campus wining and dining establishments (which speaks to his taste, naturally).  Upon such sightings, I would send a text message or two to my “team” of underclassmen males—an unofficial spy network, of whom I, the older sister figure, the most enthusiastic member, was the unofficial head.  Our mission?  To ridicule, affectionately.  The catch?  To compose something worthy of The Runner in fewer than 160 characters.  A favorite:

Call: “Sighting at library. Which do you think The Runner eats for breakfast? a. Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions b. 3 Red Bulls c. His own flesh”

Response: “He photosynthesizes.”

Monitoring The Runner’s movements got to the point that it diverted us from our work—a welcome development given that term papers and exams were looming and other, more legitimate, excuses to procrastinate ran few and far between.  At one point, an agent found himself sitting next to The Runner at a coffee shop and proceeded to eavesdrop on his conversation for the next two hours.  I learned from the copious notes he took that the Runner’s name was Chris, that he came from a wealthy family in Maryland, that he was a Yale graduate student (gossip triumphs again!) but now worked for the Disabilities Office.  My agent described him as excruciatingly awkward, his inability to make eye contact distracting, his tendency to pontificate obnoxious but comical.

For all these encounters, for all my real or feigned interest in the man, I could never garner the courage to introduce myself to him.  Alone with my observed, my team an entire text message away, I could not escape my better judgment and my shame.  How did The Runner refer to me to his friends, I would wonder.  Am I The Gawker?  The Serial Texter?  The walking, trudging, slouching undergrad who clearly only got into Yale by selling her tact and agreeing to major in snark?

At this point I should mention that after four years of college and the complete celibacy that, for me, came with it, pitching woo, by the time The Runner ran into my life, was not my forte.  Whatever hormones or urges poked and prodded at my repressed little soul tended to surface in odd ways: unnecessarily poetic and copious emails to large groups of peers, professions of love recited from a post-it note, a bicycle trip across the country embarked upon with little to no training. 

I decided to tell my spy team I was in love with The Runner.  I told them how nervous The Runner made me feel, how his sculpted loins stirred up feelings in my own that I did not understand.  I told them how jealous I felt when I saw him with other girls.  My team maintained this level of rapport, keeping up the obvious joke, or occasionally even understanding that my affections were deliberately misplaced—in the form of a reciprocal shrouded flirtation:

Call: “Sighted in Commons with a cute brunette!  Curses.  I even broke out my own tie-dye today, in preparation for our life together.  Now all is lost.”

Response: “But clearly you’re his type.”

I was encouraged—So encouraged as to bring my campers in on the loop.  That summer, I was counseling a group of middle schoolers at a theater camp, and each day for lunch the administration subjected us to an outdoor open-mike concert.  Conveniently, our property was situated next to one of The Runner’s favorite coffee shops, so I caught a sighting most days of the week.  I told my little ones about him, either just to make conversation or because I actually thought it would be a good idea to do so.  Their response, of course, was to begin to chase him, screaming, “OUR COUNSELOR LOVES YOU, RUNNER!”  Luckily, The Runner ain’t so-called for nothin, and he could easily escape a few middle school girls.

If I did love him, and for all I knew I did, it was time to state my intentions clearly.  I waited for my next day off.

I didn't anticipate that the tube socks and short elastic shorts would highlight the chunkiness of my thighs so well, but there I stood in the heart of the New Haven celebrity parade, in my own version of an all-too-familiar uniform.  I felt childish in the backpack, itchy with the lines of perspiration sliding down my back in the humid afternoon, but mostly ashamed with the scheme I had concocted, or confused as to what it was.

Waiting or dreading, I sat down on one of the stone benches, listening to the busker play a Beatles song—or was it Dylan?  To my left was a pair of teenage lovers, the girl crunching the ice in a plastic cup with her straw.  Then I realized I'd never tipped, or donated to, my favorite gritty troubadour.  I looked in my backpack for my wallet, but of course I'd left it in the bag I use when I'm not on a mission to nowhere, for nothing.  I supposed I wasn't really the kind of person to give money away anyway.  I went home.

Then I stopped seeing The Runner.  I wondered if he'd finally taken up long distances, making it out of New Haven when I had failed to do so, long after I too had graduated.

I finally saw him a few months later in the fall.  It was raining.  I had an umbrella and appropriate attire for the inclement weather.  The Runner had neither, the glorious uniform unaltered.  He was on the other side of the street.  I decided to follow him.  Crossing, I completely submerged my loafer in a lake-sized puddle.  I speed-walked along, trying to keep up without conspicuously running after him.  The drenched foot squelched with each successive step I took.  As soon as The Runner darted behind a building, I picked up speed, trying to catch up just enough to glimpse his next turn.  Rounding a corner, I was primed to watch for the telltale tie-dye and caught it moving toward Cross Campus.  He was heading toward one of the libraries, and I sprinted ahead.  He looked behind him; I swerved out of view, behind trees and pedestrians.  The thrill of the chase unleashed a surge of adrenaline and something else:  I had the urge to capture him somehow, and then to talk to him, to finally introduce myself, confess things, make him understand, be friends.  I sent him a mental wave of good will; I wanted him to feel an appreciation from me that was not tinged with mockery.  I imagined him slowing, turning, ready to wait for me to catch up, and then to listen.  But he only accelerated, rounding a final corner and bounding down a flight of stairs to the underground library, disappearing out of my sight.  I couldn't follow, no longer having a valid student ID.  And suddenly I didn't want to.  It seemed like he was running away from me, and, anyway, I had rain in my shoe.