let’s go hand in hand, not one before the other

The Comedy of Errors: Ten years I’ve lived in Boston, yet never seen the annual free performance of Shakespeare on the Boston Common before this summer. Such a fault should not be soon forgiven. The Comedy of Errors is perhaps Shakespeare’s weakest farce – hinging on a misunderstanding that could be cleared up in the first few minutes, starting out high energy and never really building, and with little in the way of subplot or diversion. The two Dromios – Larry Coen, long a favorite of the Boston comedy scene, being one of them – carry this performance, with their slapstick perfectly timed and their line readings perfectly delivered. And of course Cheryl Singleton in the final act, as the Abbess, giving the proceedings some much needed gravitas to temper their shrieking zaniness. Colorful costumes and fun little dance numbers diffuse the show’s energy into a soft glow. It’s a fun show, especially at the price, but that says more of the actors propping it up than the source material.

Death of a Salesman: I completely forgot to see this play. My friend Ray, whom I haven’t seen in years, was in this play and I forgot I meant to see it. I’d like to claim that I was too tired to go out on Saturday, or that I had compelling other plans, but neither would be true. I just forgot. Not even a nagging feeling at 8:00 that evening – isn’t there something I should be doing now? something I promised to see? – to tickle me. It wasn’t until about noon on Sunday that I remembered I’d promised to see this play. And I feel worse since I know that Ray and company labored particularly hard to get this show off the ground. So, Ray: I’m sorry I forgot. I hope the show, for all its troubles, went well.

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with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage

I talk a lot about the premium that I pay to live in an artsy city like Boston. This weekend I took advantage, seeing two plays produced in part by friends of mine.

after the quake: Simple and engaging. Two stories from Haruki Murakami’s critically acclaimed collection of the same name have been woven into one stageplay. A love triangle between a bookish novelist, a cocky journalist and the mother of a nightmare-stricken girl unfolds during the 1995 Kobe quake. The story itself doesn’t break any new ground with plotting, but it’s not supposed to – it’s the quiet, face-saving desperation of the three lifelong friends that draws the viewer in.

This quiet romantic drama unfolds in parallel with a story the novelist tells for the little girl, about a six-foot tall frog who calls on the aid of a nebbish loan collections officer to save Tokyo from the sinister Worm. This super frog (“Please! Call me Frog”) speaks in the punctuated staccato of a dubbed Gojira movie, sprinkles his exhortations with Dostoyevsky quotes, and springs about in a constant state of martial readiness. He’s a quixotic hero whom you’ll adore after about twenty seconds, and Michael Tow (a successful financial advisor, apparently) plays him with aplomb.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: This is the first time I’ve seen R&G on stage, so I can’t say how this performance differs from any others. I can say that Steve Kleinedler’s instincts in directing improv and sketch troupes for years pay off big, as the pacing and physicality of the show’s two stars keep the comedy hilarious and the tragedy disheartening. I thought at first that I liked Jon Overby’s Rosencrantz more than Stephen Libby’s Guildenstern – Overby’s louder and more energetic – until I realized that that was a deliberate choice. Guildenstern’s the lugubrious one: introspective, philosophical, given to syllogism. Rosencrantz, on the other hand, suggests plenty of action, none of which ever gets taken. Duplicating either character would tire an audience; pairing them against each other highlights Stoppard’s genius and Kleinedler’s insight.

The cast of Hamlet were all rather quiet; I strained to hear them under the vaulted ceilings of the Cambridge Y. But Dennis Hurley’s Player King captures the spotlight every time he enters the stage. His performance astounded me – alternately commanding, wheedling, lecturing and obsequious as the scene demanded. His magnetism seemed the least affected, which was all the more amazing given how quiet he is offstage.

A good production of a play gives life to the story the author meant to tell, as well as telling new and interesting stories of its own. R&G follows two characters who don’t know the story they’re in. Certain people in this story, one of the more famous in the Western canon, have melodramatic character arcs and grand falls from glory. But to two trivial characters, set to a series of tasks they never accomplish, this story feels like an arbitrary delaying exercise until death. Are they characters? Are they actors? Are they people? Is the difference worth talking about?

every stop I get to, I’m clocking that game

The Footlight Club put up a production of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None in Jamaica Plain this weekend, so I took Sylvia and Katie H. to see it. The play has some limitations compared to the novel – all action takes place in the drawing room of the mansion on Indian Island, with occasional bits being narrated from off-stage (“oh no … he’s fallen off the cliff!”). And this version has a happier ending than the original novel – two of the guilty party escape death. Fortunately, the director of this adaptation ramped up the creepy atmosphere by having ghosts, dressed in rags and Eyes Wide Shut masks, stalk across the stage at opportune moments. Despite the melodrama, I found the ending genuinely chilling, and was grateful not to have to walk to my car alone.

Then I got to Common Ground, only to find a bar full of drunken Allston hipsters … and the real horror began!

# # #

Sunday dawned gorgeous and warm, 80s with a storm-tinged breeze but no actual rain, so I took my notebook to Davis Square and brainstormed. Inspiration struck me, and I plotted out my next novel from beginning to end. I filled five pages with notes, alternating between furious scribbles and vacant staring. I outlined the project so thoroughly that, if I died, someone could reconstruct the novel from those notes alone.

Lots of authors advise that you not outline a novel in too much detail – you don’t want to straitjacket yourself into a plot that’ll stifle you. But a solid outline makes me feel more confident. It’s a landmark to which I can always return, even if I want to go exploring.

# # #

I also saw a war between transients in Davis that afternoon: a guy in his late teens, dirty but fully dressed, hit up passerby for bus fare. He avoided me – whether intimidated by my attention to my notebook or my comical mirror shades, I couldn’t tell. But then he asked another transient for change. This man – dressed in red sweatpants and unlaced sneakers – vaulted up off his bench and blared something incoherent. He stumbled across the square, ranting louder as the distance between the two of them increased, until he collapsed onto a different bench.

(Edit: The wanderer – Angry Mike)

The truce among the indigent strains to the breaking point. Soon, all hell will be unleashed.

then the devil jumped up on a hickory stump and said boy let me tell you what

Friday
rogue

Saturday
ipod-touch1

Sunday
crank_dvd_cover

chain chain chain

The groundhog predicted six more weeks of media blow:

Palm Sunday: A collection of Vonnegut’s letters, speeches and editorials (as of 1981) collected into one volume. If you know the man already, you know what you’re getting into. I found some parts hilarious, some parts insightful and some parts a little picayune but not too bad. Reading an existentialist and an attempted suicide always puts me in a bit of a mood, though, so I advise caution.

Metamorphoses: Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid’s best known myths went up in the BCA Black Box this past weekend. They did a lot with the space: three pools to dapple in, arches to enter and exit from. Some of the performances felt just a bit stiff but no one disappointed. BC alum Krista D’agostino was phenomenal in her multiple roles – sometimes heartbroken and melodramatic, sometimes godly and imperious, sometimes coy and playful. Worth seeing.