Saturday, March 23, 2013

Herzog's Belleville

Amy Herzog’s Belleville at the New York Theatre Workshop, first presented at the Yale Repertory Theater in 2011, is neither as complex in concept nor as far reaching in implication as her first two plays, After the Revolution and, in particular, 4000 Miles.  Like her latest, The Great God Pan, it feels like a short story; but as such it is still a Herzog, tightly constructed and filled with fine-tuned dialogues, between a married couple, high-strung Abby and duplicitous Zak, performed by Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller, respectively, whose relationship unravels subtly but surely before our eyes.  This is nominally a suspense but a very gentle one; it is one in which the melodrama is sheathed in crêpe de chine so that, paradoxically, our attention is drawn teasingly to the character’s failure to see or show deception rather than the horror of suspenseful events.  Zak, who strives to conceal his troubled mind, which at first seems saner than Abby’s, but allows the truth to leak little by little, is engaging.  It is a masterful art to behold -- Keller’s precise acting and Herzog’s exacting construction.  The play’s single weakness, to me, was the ending with the two supporting characters, the couple who rents the apartment in a Paris suburb.  It is a play that intrigues most the audience that is already familiar with Herzog’s plays.  Amy Herzog, now 33, together with Annie Baker, a year younger, is without question among the best young playwrights today. 

Hunger - ひもじい経験

Hunger suffered in the years of food shortage after the war -- World War II -- was painful.  But it was a relief after the wartime experience of hunger under nearly daily blitz without any idea of when the days of destruction will come to an end, if ever.  Misery is relative.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Neva by Calderón

The play Neva by the Chilean playwright, Guillermo Calderón, now at the Public, is a tour-de-force of theater as art.  It is set on the Bloody Sunday, 22 January 1905 in Saint Petersburg, and involves three characters, Olga Knipper, the widow of Anton Chekhov, who died six month before, an actor of noble birth, Aleko, and a young actor from a lower class, Masha.  The set is a modest stage in a rehearsal room, lit only by a space heater qua footlight, which is moved about now and then to create suitable expressionist shadows.  The actors are there ostensibly to rehearse; but what they enact is a complex interweaving of personal, performative, and political events in the characters’ lives.  Most of all, the richly layered histrionic display was spectacular, what I might summarily characterize as the art of life imitating art imitating life, as each actor and character continuously shift their performance from fiction to reality to fantasy, and back. Without a theatrical plot, it is theater close in the sense to Sergei Eisenstein’s idea of the dramatic, that is to say, not so much the narrative effect but more a simple awe and marvel that leave us speechless. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bookcase Bout

At the house in Swarthmore, I had a library of some 8300 volumes of books. I reduced it to a third when I moved to this one-bedroom apartment in New York and stopped buying more books.  But the moratorium lasted only three months. 

Now I got too many towers of piled books for which there were no more bookshelf spaces.  Since, however, there was no more floor space left for adding more bookcases, I considered bookshelf extensions that go on top of the bookcases. I could find such extensions that fit perfectly on these Ikea bookcases. 

So, I ordered book shelf extensions to go on top of the four bookcases as a trial.  Four heavy packages arrived, and I unpacked them.  Assembling them was not too hard, just a lot of screwing, or screwdriving, should I say.  Trained in architecture, I am good at that.  But raising each extension up 6-1/2 feet to the top of the bookcase was no simple task for a skinny 80-year old. 

The first one fell down over my head just before it was about to settle on the top ledge, but I hang on to it, and managed to put it back in place; I wasn’t hurt.  I waited a day to rest, and I lifted the second one high up ; this time, I lost my balance, tottered, and the stool on which I was standing tipped over.  So, the extension shelf together with my body leaned down against the nearby floor lamp, which fell and its glass shades (one large and one small) shattered into smithereens; and I found myself on top of the mess. The lamp itself was uninjured; I had to order replacement shades.  As for myself, I just suffered no more than a few light bruises.  The third one, the following day, fell on me again but I held it away from my head; and I fell this time on top of the towers of piled books that collapsed, and they provided a padding of sort and saved me from hurting myself seriously; I got one bruise on the left shin and hurt my tail,  the lower tip of the spine that ends between the cheeks, which didn't smile for about ten days.  Finally, I got the fourth one up without any incident, and I enjoyed a great feeling of accomplishment.  All's Well that Ends Well.

Yes, I know.  I could have asked a friend’s help, or engaged the super.  Perhaps I should have. But I have always been independent and self-sufficient.  True, at some point I must learn to recognize that I will no longer be what I have been.  I was considering a few more extension shelves; but I decided that four are enough.

My I-did-it Look

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Eating Light - 腹八分 - Hara Hachibu

I have never been a heavy eater.  After all, I grew up with a wartime starvation diet and have a small stomach.  Still, having acculturated to the American way of ample life, such as attested in the humongous serving at restaurants, I have been enjoying eating to full satisfaction, which accounted, I realize, for my recent waxing waistline, about which I wrote earlier.  Since I started weighing myself every morning, I developed quickly a habit of eating less than full, not beyond the point at which I still crave for a little more, and I feel much healthier and I am sure I am.  The Japanese has the expression hara hachibu, meaning 80 percent full, and I remember Mother often said it and practiced it, too.  Keeping to 80 percent, we never feel that particular feeling of indolence we have when we exclaim, “Oh, I’m so full.”  It occurs to me that a glass filled to the brim inevitably spills.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beautiful Barocci

Rest on the Return from Egypt, 1570-73, Vatican

The special exhibition currently at the National Gallery in London celebrates the works of Federico Barocci (c. 1533-1612), a master long neglected and rarely shown outside Italy. A friend sent me a review by Michael Prodger published in The Guardian.  The exhibit is happily titled: Barocci: Brilliance and Grace.

Barocci was in neglect for several reasons.  First because he was an artist working mostly in Urbino, away from Florence and Rome, though he studied with Michaelangelo in his youth.  For this reason, on the other hand, he escaped the shackles of ever-contorted Mannerist style much in fashion during his mature years.  Secondly, Art History as a discipline developed in the shadow of Hegelian historicism and thus concerned itself predominantly with the schema of stylistic development; so, this artist, who fell chronologically between Mannerism and Baroque, slipped through the cracks of critical attention.  But, perhaps most importantly, the 20th-century ethos, leaning toward the neurotically dramatic, favored artists who manifested difficoltà or expression of their inner struggle and preferred, for example, Michelangelo to Raphael and Correggio, as sung in T. S. Eliot's celebrated line "In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo", from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and then Picasso, until recently, to Matisse, and thus also favored Caravaggio in excess and left Barocci behind.  Beautiful, as much as decorative and colorist, was a term of reserved praise, not a highest critical expression.

So, the same fate fell on the mid-17th century Sassoferrato and to some extent, as I wrote earlier, to Poussin, whose dynamic drawings were preferred by 20th-century viewers to his finished paintings, seemingly overly calculated and therefore felt to be stiff and cold.  I always loved Barocci and, asked when interviewed for a position at Swarthmore to name my favorite Baroque painter, I said precipitously, if pretentiously, Sassoferrato.  And, surely, I adore Raphael and Correggio and venerate Poussin.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Walking with a Cane - 杖つき

A properly dressed elderly man walking with a cane can look like a gentleman with a walking stick even if he is limping, but a woman, regardless of her age and attire, can only appear old and ailing, when going about with a cane.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Vandal

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The Vandal at Flea Theater by Hamish Linklater is the first play by this celebrated actor; Jim Simpson directed it.  A three-handler with distinct roles -- a woman, a man, and a boy (only so identified) -- it resembles a Noh play; and it also unfolds like a Noh in three narrative stages.  A middle-aged woman on an isolated bus stop bench, bundled up in the cold and pitifully forlorn, is visited by a brash teen-ager who garrulously tries to strike a conversation but with little success; she remains clammed up but eventually he persuades her to go to the nearby liquor store to get beer for her.  At the liquor the woman confronts its owner who gives her a bad time demanding to see her ID and suggesting that he knows that she is buying beer for his wayward son.  Soon it is clear that none of the three characters is revealing truth about themselves; in the final part of the play the man joins the woman in the cemetery behind the bus stop, but we are never quite certain if any of them is real or perhaps apparitional. The play develops the mysterious characters evocatively, and it not only kept me engaged but left me a lasting impression, owing to a large extent to the stunning performance of Deirdre O’Connell as Woman, assisted by equally effective Zach Grenier as Man and Noah Robbins as Boy.

                                 Image result for The Vandal at Flea theater