Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Carrizo Plain

YOU CAN DRIVE from Los Angeles — well, Glendale, next thing — to Berkeley in nine hours and still take in the Carrizo Plain. I shouldn't tell you this. One of the great attractions of the Carrizo Plain is its emptiness: if all subscribers to The Eastside View decide to drive there next weekend there'll be a traffic jam.

I've put a web gallery of photos up here; in the meantime you can make do with this shot — click on it and I think you'll get a bigger version. We were there perhaps a week too late for the peak of the wildflowers, but what we saw was well worth the drive.

We took the road south to north, driving up to the first ramp off Highway 5 north of the split from 99, then the long dreary road to Mariposa Maricopa, then on twelve miles through amazing country to the an abandoned gas station at a junction. There you turn north on Soda Lake Road, driving twelve or fifteen miles on unpaved road, through dry cattle ranches, miles of beautiful empty wide valley between low hills, finally coming to the federally protected National Monument lands.

We first drove through here quite a number of years ago, from north to south that time, also looking for wildflowers. Seems to me that was the time we caught them at their peak: the west-facing slopes of the hills above the San Andreas Fault, along the east side of the valley, looked like a Persian carpet of lavenders, roses, reds, yellows, and blues. What you see in the photo above is only a hint of what can happen here in exceptional years.

We took our time but covered the ground, driving 35 or 40 miles an hour up the road, stopping at the observation point on a low hill west of the road. We continued past the ghost town — actually the never developed town — of California Valley; then west on Highway 58 and up Shelby and O'DOnovan Roads toward Creston, and up Creston Road into Paso Robles where we joined 101 for the drive up to Berkeley. I'd never taken thoset 58-Paso Robles roads before; it's a beautiful drive, first through more empty wildflower country, then through vineyards, finally the unfortunate suburbs. Well, folks have to live somewhere, I guess. I'm glad they don't live on the Carrizo Plain.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Playboy of the Western World

Glendale, April 25—
A FINE CLOSE TO a fine season tonight at A Noise Within: John Millicent Synge's The Playboy of the Western World in a devoted, straight-ahead production, idiomatically directed by Geoff Elliott on a cluttered, atmospheric set by Stephen Gifford, set on a superb cast: a true ensemble theater with stellar performances by Michael Newcomer as Christy and Lindsay Gould as Pegeen.

It's such a wonderful play, quickly alternating among raucous humor, wry irony, and sudden pathos. There's no easy way to categorize it: from the distance of a century you can see Synge's relationship to Chekhov and even Ibsen, you can see Eugene O'Neil's connection later to Synge. I think I can even see a connection to the Tennessee Williams of Camino Real and The Night of the Iguana. But truly he's his own playwright, and Playboy is alone in its category.

It would take five minutes to tell the story plainly; it's not much more than a shaggy dog story.But Synge's dialogue is Irish poetry at its best, with far-flung, fanciful imagery, and he uses language to flesh out his characters; you get to know them, to become fond of them. Some — Widow Quin, Shawn Keogh — clearly are borrowed from commedia dell'arte; others are stock Irish comics; but all find individuality, dimension, and dignity through Synge's genius, based on keen observation, channeled through fondness for humanity, sharpened by awareness of the pathetic position of those whose place is below both their aspiration and their deserts.

Thursday night we saw a remarkably fine Much Ado About Nothing; Friday night a splendid Awake and Sing; tonight this marvelous Playboy. A Noise Within has grown over the years to become a truly inspired repertory company, with a stable of actors who seem able to turn on a dime, a team of directors who respect the scripts they're given yet bring them to life, and artistic direction that chooses repertory wisely, investigating the classics, foreign-language rep (in translation, of course), and neglected corners of the 20th century.

Best of all, you can see these three endlessly entertaining plays in a short visit to Los Angeles. The season continues through May 25, and I don't know when I've been more enthusiastic about a recommendation.

  • A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; tel. 818.240.0910;

  • Saturday, April 24, 2010


    Glendale, April 24—
    A FEW YEARS BACK our friends Jim and Lisa told us about a curious place down here in Los Angles, the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Words don't do the place justice, though many have attempted the task — me included, of course.

    We stopped off at Jim and Lisa's the other night, as we often do on our semiannual drives down here for plays at A Noise Within, and they told us about a special presentation held today at Occidental College: A Wonder Cabinet, a series of presentations of arcane matters by curious specialists, all curated by Lawrence Weschler. Since I think of Weschler's book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees as one of the great books of the twentieth century, and respect his judgement as much as his writing skills, I could hardly turn down the opportunity. We didn't get to campus in time for the opening presentations, but did manage to take in five events. And this is what they were:

    Ricky Jay, slight-of-hand master and archivist on arcana, magic, and entertainments, discussed 18th and 19th-c. English books on Illustrious Persons, special attention to those compiled by James Granger and, later, James Caulfield. Jay concentrated on persons classified by those authors as persons famous for one thing having happened to them — a fellow, for example, who, on the death of his fiancée, never washed either himself or any of his clothing again until the day he died. He mentioned a number of other persons of fleeting fame, however; among them Nikolai Fyodorov, who believed that to attain perfect brotherhood among humanity man's "Common Task" was the resurrection of all humans who have died, and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who, by taking the idea the next step to propose space travel in order to accommodate the vast numbers of persons who would result, inspired the Soviet space program.

    Walter Murch then discussed, elegantly and clearly, the Titus-Bode Law describing (and predicting) the positions of orbits, whether of planets within the solar system, the moons of the various planets, or the electrons in atomic structure. This was an extraordinarily fascinating presentation; its complexity was greatly resolved by superb graphic presentation and, of course, Murch's calm, reasoned, persuasive voice. I wouldn't have missed this for anything.

    Ken Libbrecht, chair of the department of Physics at Cal Tech, discussed the geometry and formation of snowflakes, showing a number of photographs he's taken with an impressive apparatus of his own design.

    And Matt Shlian gave a summary of his brilliant career as a paper engineer, specializing in the transformation of single flat sheets of paper into incredible sculptures involving cuts, folds, and curves resulting in elaborate, often kinetic, elegant sculpture.

    Weschler's model for these presentations, like Wilson's model for his Museum of Jurassic Technology, is the Cabinet of Wonders, the omnium-gatherum of specimens, drawings, books, and curiosities assembled by collectors to gratify their own urges but also to instruct their communities; these gradually evolved into the museums familiar in our own culture, whether of art or natural history or technology.

    It was interesting witnessing all this the day after a hasty visit, at the Getty Center, of a display of drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Clearly the same convergence of love of aesthetic and urge to knowledge animates all this activity: it's a great pleasure to see it in operation.

    Awake and Sing

    Glendale, April 23—
    For our second night of theater here Noise Within gave us a stunning performance of Clifford Odets's Depression-era Awake and Sing, a solid, often poetic, tense, deep drama set within a Jewish family in the Bronx, with three generations of immigrants and first-generation Americans squaring off against one another, Capitalism, ungrateful employees, hard times, repressed strivings, bitterness, and the human condition in general.

    It was like Chekhov with a seriously nasty case of heartburn, I thought after the first act; not long into the second I realized it was much more than that: it was like a Mahler symphony. Humor, grief, anger, transcendent yearning all flow into and out of one another. There's a story, of course, and it's well conceived and well developed; but it's the matter beyond the story that held the near-capacity audience in a grip. I'm on the road, not at my computer where I have facts at hand, so I can't list the plays I've seen over the last few years this resonated with, Italian and English and American plays, many of them set in the same general period, when totally desperate situations forced families and individuals to totally desperate actions.

    One play that it particularly resonated with was last fall's adaptation of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, also produced by A Noise Within. They have in common the drama of intense socio-politico-economic moments impacting desperate, sensitive, intelligent characters, of course. Beyond that, though, they even share the idea of a physical set influencing, or at any rate underlining, the way those tensions are achieved on the stage.

    We like this Glendale company for the same reason we like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; both are repertory companies, developing and performing a number of productions simultaneously. Shakespeare's Globe Theater, Odets's Group Theater, Molière's Comédie, Chekhov's Moscow Art Theater — all, if I'm not mistaken (and I repeat: facts are not readily at hand), were repertory companies centered on the players, strong companies with strong ensembles.

    Players lucky enough to work within such ensembles can trust one another, share ideas, probe the depths of the works they interpret. Further, they inescapably grow from one production to the next — not becoming better actors; they're already enormously skillful — but developing greater depth and complexity, just as do the audiences lucky enough to follow them through Shakespeare, Racine, Molière, Ibsen, Chekhov, Synge, O'Neill, and so on.

    Tonight's performance was draining. The entire cast turned out on stage a few minutes after the final curtain to field questions from the audience, and it was immediately clear that the audience was exhausted, the cast exhilarated. I think that's as it should be: Aristotle's catharsis reversed, perhaps; but we'll have time and matter to think this over in the weeks to come.

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Much Ado About Nothing

    Glendale, April 23—
    We're in Glendale to see the spring season of A Noise Within, the Equity repertory company we've subscribed to for the last several years. In four days you can catch three plays, the first half of the season in November, the second about this time of year. Shakespeare, recent American plays, European standards (Ibsen, Chekhov), most years a French classic (Molière, Racine), often an American standard.

    This time it's Shakespeare, Odets, and Synge. I'll write in more detail after having seen all three: tonight we saw Much Ado About Nothing in a very entertaining production, set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Sicily, with a Katherine Hepburny Beatrice (Torri Higginson) and a curiously Ray Millandish Benedick (JD Cullum) and a fine supporting cast, neatly directed by Michael W. Murray.

    It's late and I don't want to look up the links or write in detail about the performance. Or, for that matter, the play: I've always had trouble with it before, and it occurs to me that's because most productions I've seen have been overladen with shtick and/or concept. This was a nice clean interpretation, speaking the lines clearly without apology. Oh: and the clowns were wonderful, especially Mark Bramhall's Dogberry and Mitchell Edmonds's Verges. I'm glad we saw it.

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Books, wine, war, talk

    TAKING A BREAK from reading about Sicily, on Lindsey's advice, I've just read two books touching on World War II, a subject that's never really attracted me. (Lindsey's mother was a WWII buff, watching all the documentaries, reading all the books; and Lindsey herself recently read William Shirer's mammoth The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.)

    The Twentieth Century was a violent one. Militarily I suppose it began in 1870 with the Franco-Prussian War; Central and Western Europe wasn't to see much peace from then until 1945, and the reconstruction of Western Europe was hardly complete until the 1960s. I used to think of World War II as a terrible interruption in the century; in fact, it was a termination.

    (A termination of one kind of terror, perhaps followed by the beginning of another kind — not military but economic. Jury's out on that; we're in the midst of it, and can't see the forest for the trees.)

    Lately World War II has been too much in mind, as if we knew, somehow, that we were on the cusp of another such trial. There's been a lot of discussion, for example, of honor and culpability, a lot of blame thrown at people whose own trials we can never really know. I'm thinking, for example, of Janet Malcolm's treatment of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, in Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (2007), a book that annoyed me considerably when it appeared. We must investigate; we must document; we must discuss: but we must never cast judgment backward on the past; it's hard enough to practice it on the present.

    We can, however, learn. This is what Robert Mnookin does in his book Bargaining with the Devil. It's written as an argument for negotiation, even at times negotiation with enemies, even those one might think of as evil (or at least as having done evil things); but in support of that thesis Mnookin recounts two examples drawn from the period of World War II: Winston Churchill's refusal to negotiate with Hitler in May 1940 — there are times when even Mnookin agrees it's wrong to negotiate — and Rudolf Kasztner's decision to negotiate with Adolf Eichmann over the release of Jews from Hungary in the waning days of the war.

    A third example, the Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and his refusal to negotiate with the KGB, contrasts vividly with Nelson Mandela's negotiations with F.W. de Klerk — negotiations that contributed to the end of apartheid in the Union of South Africa. (De Klerk himself is not examined in any great length, but appears as a sympathetic character emerging from an evil system: it would be interesting to hear a conversation between him and Mikhail Gorbachev.)

    Mnookin's book appears at the right historical moment, when some of the American Right is vilifying the State Department's evident embrace of negotiation and diplomacy as the right course, even with potential enemies. Beyond its immediate political value, though, Bargaining With the Devil is an interesting book and one offering useful application to everyday life: I'm glad I read it.
  • Bargaining With the Devil: Simon & Schuster, 2010

  • A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DESCRIPTION of World War II experiences informs Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, by Donald and Petie Kladstrup. I like "delphica"'s review of it on
    This is a collection of personal stories about the French wine makers and their experiences during Vichy, and many of them are simply remarkable, such as Jean Huet's (Clos du Bourg) time as a POW, Bernard de Nonancourt (Laurent-Perrier) joining the Resistance, and the Miailhe family (Pichon-Lalande) indeed harboring Jewish families in a hidden annex. And for wine-lovers, there are still plenty of anecdotes about French wine culture. It's a very patriotic book, from reading it one would get the impression that every man, woman and child in France was actively and cheerfully involved in sabotaging the Reich -- it's a little light on the complexity and ambiguity of the occupied France.
    It's not meant to cover that complexity, of course, though it does touch enough on the ambiguities — of the sort that exonerate Stein and Toklas, I feel — to set any intelligent reader to thinking.

    Even more, it makes me think about the difference between the wealthy French vintners of the period before World War II — men (and women!) who farmed, maintained their books, supervised the winemaking, and dealt with marketing — and the corporate structure of specialized management and globalized ownership of our own time. Much has grown Too Big Not to Fail, I think: and how would today's counterparts deal with an encompassing evil like Nazism?

    (And to what extent is Nationalism, with all its dubious accoutrements, a requisite to any Resistance of such an evil? Hmmm. Think on José Bové; think on the Slow Food movement.)
  • Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure: Random House (Broadway Books), 2002
  • Sunday, April 18, 2010

    Tartuffe, again

    WE'VE SEEN MOLIERE'S classic Tartuffe four times in five years now, and what I wrote about it the last time, nearly three years ago, still holds:
    The country's second-favorite play
    This year? Moliere's
    Tartuffe, they say.

    Second most frequently produced,
    That is, and now its wit is loosed
    On Ashland's public, and they see
    That lust and greed, hypocrisy,
    And false religion can be fun.
    Depends on where and when they're done.
    Heroic couplets, stylish sets,
    Elegant costumes—no regrets
    At seeing Moliere's play once more.
    Trenchant satire's never a bore.
    We saw it again last night, in Santa Rosa's Sixth Street Playhouse, in a good-looking production with no-particular-period set and costumes (but very interesting and often funny costumes, suiting — sorry about that — the characters) and a fine cast having fun with Richard Wilbur's apt and entertaining verse translation.

    It's community theater. Many of the actors teach drama in various schools in the area; their students are lucky. I was particularly struck by the way the director, Sheri Lee Miller, allowed individual takes on the roles, even the lines, while making a real ensemble of the cast.

    Keith Baker was a marvelous slimy Tartuffe, the religious zealot-hypocrite who lusts after his protector's wife. As Orgon, the wealthy fool who takes Tartuffe into his family, Eric Thompson was solid, subtle, and very likeable. Jenifer Cote held center stage well as Elmire, Orgon's wife, and Kendall Carroll was a perfect, leggy Marianne, the petulant daughter.

    Both John Craven, as Cléante, and Joan Felciano, as Mme Pernelle, were particularly effective in their long introductory speeches setting up the action. Jimmy Gagarin played the young romantic Valere (Marianne's suitor) nicely, and Freddie Lambert was effective as Orgon's son Damis. Mary Gannon Graham ran away with the role of Dorine, and Laura Tennyson was as funny a clowning Flipote as you could ask.

    Tartuffe will probably never lack relevance, alas; if you don't know the play, a look at Wikipedia's entry will suggest the reasons. If you're nearby, give this production a look: it's really good.

  • Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 W 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA; tel. 707 523-4185; performances Thursday-Sunday through May 2, 2010.

  • Saturday, April 17, 2010

    Aaron Copland: The Tender Land

    A FRIEND WHO'S INVOLVED with opera called the other day, asking if I planned to go to Berkeley Opera that week. No, I said, I didn't, why? What were they doing?

    The Tender Land, he said.

    Why on earth, I asked. He didn't respond immediately, but it was clear something was up. It isn't going to be reviewed, he said, And I thought maybe you'd like to go, and write something about it.

    I don't do that any more, I pointed out. I'm retired. I don't write criticism.

    But you blog, he said, You write about things you see, people read what you write. I just thought you might like to see this.

    To make a long story short, what with one thing and another, against my better judgement, I said Okay, we have to be in Berkeley on Friday anyway, why not. I'm not fond of Copland's music of that period — his earliest music is his best, in my opinion — and I'm certainly not fond of his sense of theater. But I usually make it a point to see an opera I haven't seen before.

    Then too, I have a kind of history with Berkeley Opera: I've narrated productions of theirs — in Beethoven's Leonore in 1997; in E.T.A. Hoffman's Undine (a much more interesting assignement) in 1999. I hadn't seen anything of theirs in years, and they'd moved into a new hall: it seemed like time to give it a try. So yesterday we stopped off in El Cerrito to see The Tender Land.

    El Cerrito High School has a new complex of buildings, one of them rather an attractive auditorium, seating perhaps a thousand or so in a wide, no-central-aisle fan-shaped house, with a good orchestra pit and a good-sized stage. This is the new home of Berkeley Opera, which has been making do with the Julia Morgan Center for many years. (Before, it had played Berkeley's Hillside Club on Cedar Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, where I remember seeing a fine Leonore in the 1980s.)

    I'm not going to review the production: first, as I've said, I don't do that any more; second, it's been done by Musical America online, where Georgia Rowe writes production and performance notes I mainly agree with (except that I thought tenor Lee Steward perfectly acceptable in his higher range). (You can read Miss Rowe's review on the Berkeley Opera site.)

    I thought the production — stage direction, sets, lighting and video projections, costumes — was perfectly appropriate to the piece, the theater, and the company. And the performances — both on stage and in the pit — were more than adequate, often nearly persuading me of the musical (though not the dramatic or literary) value of the work.

    But The Tender Land seems to me hardly worth all this attention. In fact the opera seems bankrupt and bogus, an urban New York symbol-ridden view of a kitschy Steinbeck-flavored middle-American farm society; patronizing in its "tenderness" and boring both for its predictability and its emptiness.

    The libretto is laughable, with lines like "Stomp your feet upon the floor" in a barn-dance scene. Much of the time it seems influenced by Gertrude Stein's writing for children:
    Ma (Act I): Two little bits of metal, my needle and my thimble, a woman has to sew her family’s clothes against the cold cold weather. Two larger bits of metal, my woodstove and my kettle, a woman has to stew her family’s food against the cold cold weather.

    Martin (Act II): I’m getting tired of travelin through. My shoes are wearing thin. I’m getting tired of wand’rin, wand’rin, not caring where I’ve been. I want to stay in a place for a while and see a seedling grow. I want to come to know special skies, special rain and snow.
    Often the English is so stilted it sounds like a poor translation from another language: My own sweet child, my own sweet child, her face is like my mirror long ago.

    Then there's Copland's music, mostly in his open, consonant, bare-octaves-and-fifths manner of the 1940s, of Appalachian Spring and after. Berkeley Opera used thirteen instrumentalists: double string quartet, contrabass, flute-piccolo, clarinet, bassoon, piano. The result was transparent, hard-edged, mostly well in tune; but Copland's music, especially in the first act, is so unvarying, has so little rhythmic interest, that it's fatiguing to the ear. (I suspect that the tension between his open harmonies and the equal temperament the piano insists on is greatly responsible for this fatigue, but that's a technical matter.)

    I've always thought of Copland, Britten, and Shostakovich as an interesting triad. Each was immensely gifted and intelligent; caught in an uneasy relationship to the prevailing Modernism-Reactionism duality of the early 20th century; apparently self-assigned to a position of National Spokesman for his art. Each composed masterpieces, particularly early masterpieces, then went on to an uneven output often troubled by indecision as to whether to be Popular or Principled (with respect to personal musical style).

    Some of Copland's best scores are "abstract": the Sextet, the Piano Variations, the Clarinet Concerto. More are populist and narrative or at least pictorial: El Salon Mexico is my favorite, but of course Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid are major works. Too often, to my taste, he goes way over the top toward courting a wider audience: A Lincoln Portrait, Fanfare for the Common Man.

    This opera, commissioned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for a television production (but ultimately rejected by NBC's Television Opera Workshop), seems to have been written with Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! in mind. That piece, produced ten years earlier in 1943, is brilliant and original; The Tender Land is hokey and pretentious. I'm glad I've seen it, but it's now crossed off the list.

    Monday, April 12, 2010


    JUST A QUICK NOTE to recall Francis Ponge, the great French poet and homme des lettres. In the mail today a letter from an assistant to his daughter, asking if I have a letter from him. Well, yes, I do, somewhere, but who knows where.

    In the late 1960s I became besotted with his limpid, crystalline, captivating writing through the medium of his Le savon, which appeared in Lane Dunlop's translation (Soap) in a small, elegant book published by Grossman/Cape Goliard. I found it in Robert Yamada's excellently stocked Co-op Bookstore on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, and before long I was on the store's board of directors, so besotted was I.

    I bought every edition I could find of Ponge, and in 1970 wrote out a translation of his Douze petits écrits, working in the announce booth at KQED with my kit of colored inks and Brause penpoints (and a Rapidograph or two). A few years later my good friend (whom I see perhaps decennially) Rolando Castellon decided to publish a selection in his occasional periodical Cenizas, and then printed out a number of copies in facsimile. I thought I'd bind them all, by hand of course, in facsimiles of my original notebook, itself bound in cardboard and passepartout-tape. It's one of several, many, too many unfinished projects.

    I wrote Ponge asking permission, of course, and received a generous and gracious reply, which furnished an end-paper to the projected edition.

    Here's a teaser (control-click on it for a bigger view), a two-page spread, ending the first of Ponge's Quatre satires: i: le monologue d'employé. Much of the original is too delicate to survive scanning, but you'll get the idea. The idea was to present the original French text and progressive translation attempts, correcting and revising as they go, with illustrations meant to set the mind loose.

    Read Ponge; read about him. Google "ponge soap grossman" and read the first six or seven results. I put him squarely at the center of 20th-century literature; the literature of the present century would profit from knowing him, and his place.

    Friday, April 09, 2010

    Blogging from the road

    ON THE ROAD: PORTLAND. A couple of days ago I bought an iPad, thinking it would be the answer to writing, even blogging, while on the road. I've been on the road for two weeks now, and after a few days at home we go on another theater trip to Los Angeles; and then after a few more days on a more extended tour. I'll want to write, of course, and the laptop, small and efficient as it is, is a little too big (and valuable!) to carry around. The iPad seemed the perfect answer.

    Buying it was a bit adventurous. I waited until Monday to look at it — it had come out on the previous Saturday — but when I went to Portland's downtown Apple Store there was a very long line. I passed the time with a long telephone call, then spent an hour looking at the device, trying out various applications. I went back two days later and took the plunge, but it wasn't easy. To buy it, I had to step outside the door — "there's a line waiting for salespeople" — and immediately stepped back into the store, accompanied by an enthusiastic young man who made the sale.

    Alas, they were sold out of cases. Apple makes a neat little case, Neoprene I think; I wanted one; but they were out of stock. Haven't you got a demo you could sell me, I asked. No, we can't sell it; anyway there're scratched up, you wouldn't want that, would you. Doesn't matter to me, I said; it'll get scratched up anyway; that's what it's for. You should sell me one of your demos; why do you want to have them, when you don't have available for sale the thing it demonstrates?

    Oh, but we will have them next week, and then we'll need the demos; we won't want to scratch up another new one to use for a demo. Why not, if you've sold the previous demo? Or, since demos don't do anything for you until you have new ones in stock, why not lend me one, I'll return it when I buy the new one that you'll have available next week? (By now I was into it for the fun of the discussion; I didn't mention that I wouldn't be here next week.)

    I had to get a different kind of case, of course; but it has the advantage of storing also the Bluetooth keyboard I bought. The iPad is a nice little machine; it does about everything I'd want a laptop to do on a trip; but I can't really type on it. Touch-typers keep their fingertips in contact with the keyboard at all times; that confuses hell out of a virtual keyboard like the iPad's. (It's less a problem with the iPhone, too, whose keyboard's so small one doesn't attempt touch-typing.)

    The case — "InCase" it's called, cutely — comes with a little plastic easel thingy to stand the iPad in. With this and the wireless keyboard you pretty well have a laptop weighing less than two pounds, taking up about as much room as a copy of The National Geographic, capable of storing a lot of text files (currently, all of Homer, Orlando furioso, and James Joyce's Ulysses as well as my journal, blog, and so on); and keeping track of address book, calendar, and the like. The web browser's pretty good, too.

    I typed this using Apple's word-processing-and-page-layout application Pages; now I'll copy the whole thing and paste it into the web-based Blogspot Dashboard. The only think I can't do right here that I easily do on my laptop is include a photo: I'll have to work on that problem.

    later: found an app, BlogPress, that makes everything much simpler, including photos.

    Thursday, April 01, 2010

    Two more plays

    Ashland, Oregon, April 1—
    TWO NEW PLAYS, seen last night and tonight, bring our spring visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to its close. Not a moment too soon: after three really first-rate productions, any of which I'd love to see again, these were disappointments.

    (I suddenly realize I haven't written here about Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan's stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Sorry about that: we saw it yesterday afternoon, and I'll simply say we all thought it absolutely wonderful — fine directing, acting, costumes, dancing, set; intelligent adaptation; immortal book. See it.)

    Last night we saw Lynn Nottage's play Ruined, again very effectively acted and directed. The play, though, let me down: a long first act plugs along, always promising tension and excitement but never quite delivering; the second act almost breaks through, but settles back into a sentimental close. Nottage's play is a take on Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, but lacks the sinew of his irony. I'll say no more; Bill Varble's review online says at much greater length virtually everything you need to know.

    Then tonight we saw Well, a messy mashup of solo performance, group improvisation, and scripted "metatheater" by Lisa Kron. The acting, again, was outstanding; but here I think the direction let the playwright down — by failing to rescue her from her own ultimate collapse.

    There are historical reasons that a play like this gets a Pulitzer Prize, but I'm not going into that here. It's too depressing. Instead, I'll send you to another review of Mr. Varble's: he's an intelligent critic, worth reading.

    But, you know, three out of five ain't bad, and those first three plays — Cat, Hamlet, Pride & Prejudice — are really, really good.
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Bowmer Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Ashland, Oregon, in repertory to July 4.
  • Hamlet, Bowmer Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Ashland, Oregon, in repertory to October 30.
  • Pride and Prejudice, Bowmer Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Ashland, Oregon, in repertory to October 31.
  • Ruined, New Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Ashland, Oregon, in repertory to October 31.
  • Hamlet, New Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Ashland, Oregon, in repertory to June 18.