Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Theatre News

I've got a few gigs coming up that I'd like to let you all know about. First up is The Hound of the Baskervilles at City Lit. We open this coming Monday, September 3, and run Fridays — Sundays through mid-October. It features the incomparable Don Bender as Sherlock Holmes, and my A Clockwork Orange compatriot Will Schutz Dr. Watson. I play Dr. Mortimer, who basically provides all of the exposition. Plus, there is fog. What more could you ask for?

I'll be providing the fight choreography for Emma, by Howard Zinn. The show is directed by Kate Hendrickson and co-directed by my good friend Shane Oman for Trap Door Theatre. The play is about the anarchist Emma Goldman and features Trap Door's Artistic Director Beata Pilch in the title role. This show will pose an interesting challenge for me as fight director, since there are going to be no actual props used on stage. However, the fights include weapons such as guns, knives, whips, and even a bowl of soup. Part of my job will be to show the audience that these weapons are in the characters' hands, even though the actors will be holding nothing. Should be interesting. The show opens Thursday, October 18.

Then in November I start rehearsals for Journey's End, by R.C. Sherriff. I'll be back on stage for this one. It's being produced by Griffin Theatre and directed by Jonathan Berry. We open in January.

See you on the night!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pathetic and Sad

I was contemplating some kind of diatribe against Michael Vick, soon-to-be- former Atlanta Falcons quarterback and also-soon-to-be inmate of a federal penitentiary. I wanted to make a statement regarding what a sick fuck that douchebag turned out to be, and I wanted to take a few of the talking heads on ESPN and other sports outlets to task for not saying so themselves. Thankfully, King Kaufman at Salon.com managed to sum up the whole thing for me, and far more eloquently as well. You can check out his column right here.

Dumb, dumb, stupid, stupid, dumb.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Godless Heathen

I am an atheist. My wife knows I'm an atheist. Some of my friends know it. I haven't exactly kept it a secret, but it just doesn't come up in conversation that much. I think it's something that many people don't want to talk about. Maybe everyone I know agrees with me on a level basic enough that the issue doesn't require discussion. Or maybe everyone is horrified but just too polite to say anything. Either way, for a little while now I've been wanting to come out of the closet, as it were. I want to go from being a secretive behind-closed-doors atheist to a flaming, ride-my-own-float-in-the-parade atheist. We do get a parade, don't we? No? We should work on that.

I remember during the 2004 elections thinking that I rarely got to participate in any good political sparring matches because everyone I knew was a good devout liberal like myself. Secretly I was relieved that I never was forced to defend my position, because I do not have the head for facts that skilled debaters need. I knew what I felt in principle, but the moment someone threw a statistic at me I was screwed. I worried about defending atheism in the same way, until I discovered this whole modern movement — the so-called New Atheists. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris. A new trinity. Not unholy; antiholy. I found them through their prophet, or perhaps gateway drug, PZ Myers.

Professor Myers is a terrifyingly smart man who writes in a style that makes me feel comfortable in my own level of intelligence while still being awed by his. Being a biologist, Myers' writing often delves into, well, science, which I do not always understand, but it is impossible not to be caught up in his enthusiasm. Through his blog I discovered something that liberated me. He made me realize that I do not need to be a genius to be an atheist. I just need a little common sense.

The whole point of atheism is admitting that we do not know everything. For some people, an admission like that requires greater personal sacrifice than trusting in some unseen, unknown force to make sure everything turns out all right in the end. Atheism is not a statement of fact; it is a simple request that you support your claims with evidence. I think there is no god, or gods, who created the universe and everything in it and watches over it and possibly directs its affairs. Why do I think this? Because I have seen no evidence of it. John McCain can say he sees the hand of God in a Grand Canyon sunset, but so far all I know is that erosion occurred over millions of years, and sunlight refracts as it passes through the atmosphere. Does that make the view any less spectacular? I think not. I still have the capacity to be awed by the beauty of nature, even — perhaps especially — if there is no mysterious hand shaping the scene.

I remember reading several years ago about whether or not William Shakespeare was in fact the author of the plays credited to him. I couldn't help but wonder, would Hamlet or Macbeth be any less brilliant if it turned out someone else wrote them? Of course not. And by that reasoning, is our universe any less wondrous because it shaped itself over billions of years rather than being swirled into existence in a week? Would the fact that you and I are even here to have this discussion be any less miraculous?

I know, that last bit sounded all light and fluffy, and that's not the kind of atheist I want to be. I want to be IN YOUR FACE, please, if you don't mind. I want to rage about the blurring of the line between Church and State. I want to wax incredulous about proponents of "Intelligent Design" being elected to school boards. I want to shine a harsh light on the bizarre aims of the Religious Right. Mostly, however, I want to live my life, write some stories, work on some plays, maybe raise a family. But that may be too much to ask.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Master of Verona

I posted this review on Amazon.com, but I thought I'd reprint it here because I'd like to get the word out about this book. David Blixt was the fight director for the stage version of A Clockwork Orange I was in just before I got married. He's a cool guy and he's written a hell of a book, and I hope you all go out and get yourselves a copy.

From my review on Amazon.com:

This book has it all: adventure, intrigue, drama, duels, battles, and a little sex thrown in for good measure. And the characterizations are extraordinary. If Mr. Blixt had not done such an amazing job building such complete, three-dimensional characters, it would be hard to believe that such intriguing figures as Cangrande, his sister Katerina or the fascinating Antonia Alaghieri actually existed. As a bonus, the narrative is liberally peppered with appearances by some of William Shakespeare's most famous Italian characters, and we see how the turmoil of northern Italy at the beginning of the Renaissance led to the famous feud at the heart of "Romeo and Juliet."

One aspect that I particularly enjoyed was the characters' various dispositions on astrology, which plays a central role in the novel. Given the time period, it is fascinating to watch as a culture begins to shrug off the mysticism of its past.

It is a wonder that more books don't employ the setting and characters of David Blixt's debut novel. Between the people and locales which inspired the works of William Shakespeare and the historical personages of Dante and Cangrande della Scala, I am amazed that more writers have not mined this period more thoroughly. That said, I wonder if there are very many who could do it better than "Master of Verona."

You can buy the book right here. I suggest you do so.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

There is a fight scene in The Bourne Ultimatum, which I saw last night, that forced me to alter certain preconceived notions I had about the "proper way" to film a fight. It occurs at the end of a lengthy and incredibly tense three-way chase scene, where the hero Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) pursues a CIA "asset" — a trained hit man named Desh (Joey Ansah) with skills comparable to Bourne himself — who is tracking his target, Nicky (Julia Stiles) as she weaves her way through tightly stacked buildings in a crowded neighborhood in Tangier. The chase culminates when all three meet in a tiny apartment, and Bourne and Desh throw down.

I have two pet peeves when it comes to filming fight scenes. One is when the director restricts everything to tight close-ups of the combatants' faces, so that you see nothing of the fight itself, just the characters' reactions to whatever is happening. That's just cheating. This is not a problem from which the Bourne films have ever really suffered, but in this particular scene the location presented certain obstacles that made tight framing a necessity.

My other issue is when the scene is edited using a mind-boggling array of fast cuts. I understand the intention here, which is to create a sense of disorientation. This rarely works, however, as it makes me stop watching the movie. I just wait for the scene to end so they can tell me who won. This scene involves two professional killers trained in hand-to-hand combat and at the heights of their respective games. The actors are in fantastic shape, and they move unbelievably fast. Combined with the confined space, this is a set up for one frustrating fight scene. Against the odds, though, Ultimatum pulls it off.

This fight sprawls through two rooms, but neither of them are big enough to fit the three characters involved comfortably. As a result the camera is forced in close, but director Paul Greengrass employs a handheld style that relies more on moving the camera quickly to whatever point is most important. It feels frantic, but Greengrass is careful to ensure that the audience sees something specific in each shot rather than just a blur of frenzied motion. There are quite a few fast cuts, and the actors move so fast that most of the choreography is a blur. A few salient points shine through, however. In particular the brief use of a book as a weapon got a visceral response from the audience, and in the second stage of the fight the appearance of a straight razor and a towel ramped up the tension nicely.

There was no music whatsoever during this fight. The only sounds were the labored grunts of the combatants, the impact of fist on flesh, and the occasional crash of broken furniture.

Here's the thing: The tight location, the speed of the actors, the careful camera work and the intimate sound design all combined to create a fight scene where the audience flinched out of concern that they themselves might get hit with a stray left hook. This sort of chaos often takes an audience out of a scene because they stop watching the movie and start wondering about the actors' safety. Ultimatum managed to avoid this pitfall, instead creating a fight that enhances the characters, forwards the plot, and raises the stakes of the overall story.

The end of the scene served to underscore what makes Jason Bourne stand out in the sea of American action heroes. The nature of his struggle is such that for every fight he wins, he loses another part of himself. Everyone who has followed his story since the first film knows that "Jason Bourne" is not this man's original identity. "Bourne" is a cold-blooded killer, a man whom the hero has come to abhor. But with each death Bourne claims a little more of the hero, and Matt Damon is fascinating to watch as he portrays this internal struggle.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Curse of MySpace

In the last four hours I have, via my MySpace page, received messages from Diane, George, Shirley, Rae, Ricardo, Angie, Odessa, Earle, Chelsea and Kirk. All of these people have three things in common: They use the phrase "what's up?" as a subject heading, they do not have photos uploaded to their accounts, and THEY DON'T FUCKING EXIST.

I'm a simple guy. I take pleasure in simple things. One of those things is when the little "New Mail" icon on my Yahoo! mail account lights up. But today it has brought me naught but heartache, as each time the new mail turns out to be an alert from MySpace informing that some new phantom wants me to click on some obscure link so I can see their real pictures, 'cause MySpace won't let them show their favorites, if you know what they mean, wink wink.