Category Archives: New York

MEASURE 4 MEASURE

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Sometimes computer actions become applicable to my life… “force quit! … FORCE QUIT!” I state at my laptop computer while an article on my website browser decides not to allow me to shut… IT… off.

 

My behavior is probably tied to a control issue on some small scale – probably linked to aspects of my world that I feel like I can’t shut off – informing my behavior. Be like subway train cars that have no air conditioning in July; be like sleepy eyelids closing when all I want to do is stay up and work – or watch YouTube interviews; be like my miniscule budget when there are so many good shows right now waiting to be watched on Broadway and even beyond the Big Apple.

 

Well, so be it. I love having that “Force Quit…” option though. It hides there waiting to be clicked behind the bitten apple icon on the top left of my 13” screen. I guess that’s how we might illustrate freedom on some scale nowadays. So many options – one happens to be “Force Quit…” thanks to some computer engineer answering necessity somewhere in the universe.

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Perhaps on some scale that’s the seed of Isabella’s issues in Measure For Measure. Control. A non-virtual, perhaps emotional, ‘Force Quit’ of IT – whatever it happened to be to Isabella. Control over… her own body and free will to choose whether to use her body as a trade to save her brother’s life – or whether to allow herself an ability to remain ‘chaste’. In the sense of this Shakespeare play, a definition of chastity extends to Isabella’s ability to maintain her preparation to become ‘married to God’ as a nun. This would require her to keep all hands off her body and refrain from expressions and receptions of sexual desire – including those of a judge named Angelo (Thomas Jay Ryan) who offers pardon of her brother’s life up in return.

 

Well… now… what a dilemma for a woman like Shakespeare’s Isabella (Cara Ricketts) – or really any person living in that time or ours. To come to the awareness that what is right in her mind, heart and body are in connection to a higher power and faith that she strongly connects to; and that this internal connection is weighed outside of her body very differently by various people – even people she loves and respects deeply. A favorite monologue of mine happens to be an Isabella monologue that I learned in school – it gets right at the crux of the plot issue when Isabella is forced to choose between her chastity or giving it up in order to save her brother’s life (good ol’Bill with those high stakes). Isabella speaks through the problem out loud and alone by reflecting on Angelo’s proposition (good ol’Bill with ability to create irony – I was on the sidelines urging her to be feministic about it all at the end of Act II scene 4…):

 

Thought 1:

 

To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,

Who would believe me? O, perilous mouths,

That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,

Either of condemnation or approof;

Bidding the law make court’sy to their will;

Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,

to follow as it draws!

 

Whenever I hear those words I have a strong inclination towards ‘ouch!’ right in my heart center. It would definitely make the character Isabella want to shut off her other energy centers (head & hips). The poetic words of the play speak to me and make Carrie Robinson want to kick, push and curse on Isabella’s behalf. I remember in my classroom setting at school watching my friends/ classmates start to cry when I spoke those words for Isabella. And as an audience member on Wednesday night in the professional theatre setting, I watched Ricketts tap all of those same inclinations into her still body and decide to reason through the injustice she has discovered before moving to…

 

Thought 2:

 

… I’ll to my brother:

Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood,

Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour,

That, had he twenty heads to tender down

On twenty bloody blocks, he’ld yield them up,

Before his sister should her body stoop

To such abhorred pollution.

 

I heard Isabella consider the effect of her decisions on her brother’s behalf – and wonder what he would have done for her. What if he had his free will and fair use of his body and mind, and was not fall’n by prompture of the blood? She believes that he would have fought for her or used his body to prevent a sister from having to give hers up. And so her dilemma widens and deepens in her love and belief attached to her brother’s ideas around ‘honour’.

 

If they had a shiny coin – would Isabella be heads or tails? If she chose ‘heads’ and began to represent the coin’s minted face as landed up towards the sky – would she let her twirling tail on the other side of her coin, having fallen down, dictate the future? So Isabella reasons further by daring to spin into the dark abyss of her dilemma toward a solution:

 

Thought 3:

 

Then, Isabel, live chaste and brother, die:

More than our brother is our chastity.

I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,

And fit his mind to death, for his soul’s rest.

 

So it’s hard enough to be a judge and decide whether to let a person who has been convicted of a crime face a sentence of death or to go free (I would imagine from my measly time as a mock Chief Justice in law school). But this play begs the question of how it would feel across the chessboard if the judge turned a responsibility granted by Shakespeare’s god-fearing Italian government into a trade for his own use; effectively hooking his power and responsibility granted by law to pull a female body closer to his own plate for sexual purposes. Of course, he attempts to keep his arching line invisible as it contravenes the very laws he’s meant to keepsake. The play then begins to tick around the Duke (Jonathan Cake) discovering his role in preventing injustice within a realm and system that requires him, due to birth status, to rule and oversee the governance of.

 

Jonathan Cake delivers a fine and compelling illustration of the Duke’s character arc in discovering and being compelled by Isabella’s experience to use his knowledge, intelligence, power and privilege towards allowing a woman to have control over her own body. What a concept to be written into a play when a society, like Shakespeare’s, still prescribed that women were not considered people; let alone people capable of making decisions on their own bodies (be virgin or not!) without a male kin’s stamp of approval. At this point in the world’s history women weren’t even deemed capable of having the right to ask for control over their own bodies!

 

I watched Cake/Duke pick apart the problem with rebellion, with language, with observance and reflection, with dialogue, with a Friar’s disguise, with tears and laughter, with love and with reasoned control and I fell a little in love with the Duke from the audience. He took a variety of action on stage that compelled me to see the whole problem and to want to resolve it – just as he found himself wanting to resolve it. Having worked the Isabella monologue in school, I’d never put myself in the Duke’s position before. Isn’t that funny – what a bit of gender neutrality occurs nowadays as a female watching the play – many women are now in a position to relate to the Duke as a person in control over people, governance and even homes; as well as to Isabella as a woman with threats to the control of her body.

 

It’s easier said than done nowadays even with progressions to women’s rights – the system Isabella found herself in indicates the root of some systemic ways of thinking about women’s rights that we still struggle with today across the globe. It occurred to me that Shakespeare’s text only compels my emotions nowadays because it is still relevant. So the emotion can be translated into a metaphoric “Force Quit…” button on my laptop – but on some scale, depending on where a person lives in this world, the dilemmas and threats in this play still ring true. Isabella matters and her brother Claudio matters (Leland Fowler)  – people facing problems that be like Isabella and Claudio’s matter – life isn’t as simple as flipping a coin to let heads and tails dictate an outcome. Just as the Duke discovers this – I was able to reflect on this in the audience – and I thought – well maybe that was the intention of the playwright then:

 

For, though his line of life went soon about,

The life yet of his lines shall never out. – Hugh Holland on William Shakespeare.

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Its very rhythm, within a title granted by Shakespeare, teeter-totters to our ears and forces us to place and balance similar consonants with similar vowels. The carrying out of the play forces us to place and balance right from wrong in our consciences and our understanding of humanity. It is both black and white; both cruel and kind; both male and female; both true and false; both high and low; and it matters. What a unique and balanced title from the Bard collection:

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Consonant for Vowel.

 

Ding for Dong.

 

Tick for Tock.

 

Teeter for Totter.

 

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Enthroned Virgin (by Goro di Gregorio (active ca. 1300-1334) – statue on display at The Cloisters, New York City.

Last, but not least, if I could time-travel… I’d sit in on Meryl Streep’s Isabella in 1976… if only that were possible!

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“LIVE LIGHT, TRAVEL LIGHT, SPREAD THE LIGHT, BE THE LIGHT.”

This blog post is brought to you in part by the wind-down from a seemingly productive Monday – a day that still allowed me time for reflection and enlightenment of the pen. In departure from my past couple of weeks – which were also characteristically reflective… in that funny way a mundane stream of thoughts surfaces and envelopes the skull during a routine morning city bus ride; or the way I occasionally indulge in an inconspicuous second glance at a unique New Yorker strolling about from a weekday’s point A, to point C, and X etc… All of this was supplemented by a nice little compilation of Crime and Detection plays from the New York Public Library that I’m making my way through. BTW – I totally suggest weaving in and out of crime and detection plays throughout the day – it has been doing something to my imagination – spurring attention to detail for no other reason than to satisfy the mind’s need to solve puzzles when it’s reading Sherlock Holmes or Elmer Rice and the like…

 

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This blog post is also brought to you by my Yogi Tea inspiration sipped while writing these reflections, which read: “Live light, travel light, spread the light, be the light.” I sought ‘light’ at two Broadway productions recently that became special experiences because I shared them with friendly-visiting-friends! First I made it to the musical, Waitress, in a house-right box with two life-long lady friends visiting from Vancouver, Canada. Both had never been to NYC before! Next I rushed tickets to The Encounter with a bestie, Melissa, from London, England! Speaking of lightening up… I have to say it was nice to escape the pre-election madness that I feel in the air (and have admittedly been following closely and caring about intensely) by stepping into theatres where the scary world tends to fade away and be processed in my psyche-safe-zone.

 

WAITRESS is a Broadway musical playing over at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and it features lyrics and music by a singer/songwriter I adore named Sara Bareilles. It stars the soul-melting voice of of Jessie Mueller as Jenna. This waitress has made herself at home in a small café baking pies from recipes handed down by her mother and the new, elaborate pies that she creates. The stage is lined with actual pies and the theme is carried through to metaphor with different pies inspired by Jenna’s pleasures and perceived failures in her life and relationships. Following Jenna through a rocky relationship are her quirky friends/ coworkers and love interests. It feels like a romantic–comedy meets musical meets dramatic film featuring a strong female lead. All the actors of all the characters in this production made me laugh – so this was definitely a place where I got to ‘live light’ surrounded by supportive female friends. Disclaimer – I say ‘meets dramatic film’ because anyone with half a heart will cry at least once (I cried at least thrice as Jenna strives away from emotional abuse).

 

There was a place to write Thank You “Guest Checks”- so I did!

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THE ENCOUNTER, playing over at the Golden Theatre, was one of those theatre experiences that I didn’t quite know what to make of. It is inspired by a book called Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu. It takes us from Conceiver/Director/Performer Simon McBurney telling us to turn off our mobile devices as he sends his daughter a picture to prove that he’s only away from her because he’s doing this show… towards his transformation into a deeper-voiced photojournalist on the prowl for a story and photographs.

 

I’m always curious about one-person shows in general because I can imagine it is probably quite difficult to generate all the energy required to make the audience believe that all other characters are in the room; as well as to push the narrative towards blackout or curtain call… ALONE ON STAGE! I always admire actors that achieve this feat and make it look fun – and secretly wish I could just jump into the scene with them as all the other characters! I was very struck by McBurney’s ability to do something that makes actors beautiful – to make molecules move out of thin air! In the program he wrote,

 

“Rehearsal derives from the word ‘hearse,’ which means to rake over, to prepare the ground. To prepare for The Encounter, we had to engage with the unfamiliar, ask questions about everyday life we take for granted. Such as… what is Time?” – Simon McBurney

 

What is time?

 

Sifting through the many definitions representing ‘time’ –  it’s hard not to acknowledge there is grey area we are encountering all the time. What we consistently are a part of, but don’t always acknowledge. A link that we have a measure & clock for, yet it doesn’t quite, fully contain an accurate link to what we experience as memory, dreams, envisions or the future we are creating. The Encounter didn’t feel like a sci-fi novel though – it felt more like a documentation of a man’s experience with grey areas in his mind and in the world. A photojournalist who can’t quite get life into focus as with a camera device that creates the illusion of ‘capturing a moment’.

 

To take the audience through time this production is uniquely aided by technological devices (the audience wore headphones the whole time so that sounds seemed to sweep up from behind us, or beside us and the noises were also regularly found on stage being funneled through several sources – including a standing mic located center stage shaped as a cranium). The effect was that we were unusually transported to the spaces that a National Geographic photojournalist travels to – including a Brazilian Amazon village with Mayoruna people. The heat of a community fire was felt, a really intriguing lighting effect expanded McBurney’s shadow into several shadows dancing around the fire so that he became a part of the village and we saw the village people through his shadow.

 

I was so struck by McBurney’s ability to use so many technological devices during the performance – I know I would have been like – can I just use the black box … do I really need another gadget or whatchyamacall-it?

 

McBurney passed along a message directly from the Mayoruna people that he actually met in researching this character. He carried forward the message that these Mayoruna people, although isolated geographically from the modern world, very much exist!

 

What a great experiment with integrating technology on stage – and very fitting in that the content of the play deals with communicating with remote Indigenous villages through old, intuitive (ESP-like) communication methods that surpass language barriers. The photojournalist that McBurney plays ‘captures’ and grasps at undiscovered moments because he wants to tell a story and show an indigenous way of life is being led. However, the more he journeys into the Mayoruna people’s time and space the more he seems to be able to engage in the ability to intuit and trust in the origin and motion of the universe without a need to lock anything, or anyone, in by photograph or any other limited man-made means.

 

I was definitely transported into a different space and mind-set (at least until Melissa and I bopped our way back to 45th Street to plot some theatre-making adventures of our own!

 

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(photo courtesy of Melissa Jean Woodside)

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DISCOVERING WHAT’S BEYOND EXPRESSION IN NICE FISH

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One unique part about attending a play at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the stroll down Water Street looking onto a lit up Brooklyn Bridge. Given New York generally bustles along so consistently it can feel soft and other-worldly; which is not a bad state to engage with when going to believe a piece of fiction come to life!

 

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In my attendance of the American Repertory Theatre’s NICE FISH at St. Ann’s Warehouse yesterday, a new play by Mark Rylance and a collaborator poet/playwright Louis Jenkins, I reserved best efforts to sit in my house left back row seat with quiet resolve to innocently spy on the work of a beloved actor that I’m dying to collaborate with one day.

 

Success!

 

As I was one of the first to slip away down the stairs after the 95 minute play I think I may have gone unnoticed (at least my obsession). I did notice that I was changed! I was specifically enthralled with the ability to “stitch together [poems and passages] like an old American quilt of beloved garments, each one bearing a piece of history, an experience.” (as Rylance put it in his A Word or Two of Welcome…)

 

This play is unique in that the text itself is comprised of a series of prose poems by Louis Jenkins who noted that putting this play together was like a “jigsaw puzzle… except that there were extra pieces and places continually shifted.” Being a person that is daily fueled by poems this play simply solidified my not-such-a-secret-anymore-and-I’m-not-the-only-one need to watch Rylance collaborate! As he put it:

 

This play is, truly, a collaboration between all the actors [Kayli Carter, Raye Birk, Mark Rylance, Bob Davis, Jim Lichtscheidl], a poet, a playwright, a director [Claire Van Kampen], the stage managers and designers, and now you, the audience and spectators.

 

In this playful show I was formally introduced to the prose poems of Louis Jenkins who described his discovery that his poems didn’t need to sit alone by watching a YouTube clip of Rylance humorously reciting one for a Best Actor Tony Award. And so the collaboration ensued… leading towards Nice Fish.

 

Now it’s not a conventional play. I’ll just put that boldly out into the blog-sphere. The characters make relevant conversations and thoughts that seem to swirl in and out of their consciousness far into a Midwest winter. In that sense an absurd quality surfaces throughout the play and even a fourth wall break give the sense that ‘all the world’s a stage’.

 

What struck me is that with prose poetry the language seems to fit within the characters’ world. Unlike the use of more metrical and rhythmic poems that would tend to become interludes and transitions (minus Shakespeare of course)… these prose poems became the characters’ own words and hence choices to communicate with each other and express their ideas, annoyances, senses of humor etc.

 

According to Van Kampen the “component” of time is noticeable in the play because there becomes a consciousness of the fact that there are things above the ice and hidden below the ice… “the fullness of [the characters’] psyche has time to emerge and confront them.” while confronting nature.

 

In using the poems as methods to communicate the activities of the characters such as fishing, building a tent or simply standing on the ice confronting nature the activities became secondary to the inner life of the characters. Possibly even obstacles to the characters being able to either talk about what they were feeling, or affect the other character in some way. Seemingly ‘ordinary’ lives of some Midwesterners became active through the prose by reminding each other of old crushes, debts due and by making each other laugh while avoiding the numbing sensation of the cold.

 

One particular moment where ice unexpectedly melted was when the young girl, Flo (Carter), who doesn’t seem to know much of loss yet recites a poem that effectively reminds everyone else around her that there is an entrance into a dark lake of feeling that normally must stay relatively covered up. It was like the characters around her could hear the ice creaking underneath their feet but didn’t want to show her that elaborating on their losses could result in them all slipping under the ice at any moment if not careful or quiet… instead her guardian pats her on the head to hint that she is loved beyond expression.

 

Beyond expression… it’s funny that poems and plays are elaborate efforts to express human experiences and yet it ends up being the moments where our language (spoken or non-verbal) is limited that are most interesting. Every so often there’s a collective pause and understanding of a mysterious connection to everyone and everything that is just beyond our expressions.

 

Except maybe the expression of Rylance’s character Ron as a talking snowman – a talking snowman reminding ice fishing humans about global warming captures it all.

 

Okay I’m off to use my gathered intelligence to figure out how to incorporate poetry of all sorts into my daily communicative efforts and expressions. Like maybe this free verse:

 

…but looking back

the memories

flash

bright and true

quick

transparent

and gone

but held onto

somehow intangibly… 

 

Signing off,

 

Truly Inspired!