Friday, October 14, 2005

Weekend assortment

Free kirtan at Inspire Yoga tonight with Dave Stringer...

Musical performance at Dumbarton Oaks, my favorite garden in DC, on Saturday night...

I'm teaching a workshop on building a yoga home practice on Sunday afternoon at Studio Serenity....

Indian virtuoso Ravi Shankar performs at the Strathmore Theatre with his daughter Anoushka Sunday night...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"Passion Play" at the Arena Stage

So I'm theatre buddies with this amazing 90-year old man I met at my office - he's a real inspiration: still plays tennis, writing his memoirs, just went on a tour of Croatia, smart as a whip, and glowing with happiness. I wrote about him before, here.

We went to see "Passion Play" at the Arena Stage last night. It's a long play, with three acts that cover the staging of the medieval "passion play" of the crucifixion of Christ during different time periods, with recurring archetypal characters. Sarah Ruhl is the playwright - she won a Pulitzer a few years ago for her play "The Clean House" - and she wrote in the play notes that she was particularly interested in how peoples' lives were affected by playing these characters year after year. (How would you feel if you channeled Jesus Christ in front of a crowd of thousands, twenty years in a row?)

The first act is set in England during the Protestant Reformation (so the Catholic play gets shut down mid-act by Queen Elizabeth) and features a Virgin Mary actress who has a sleazy affair with the village fishmonger (who plays Pontius Pilate), gets pregnant, and claims that she had a dream where God told her he was going to give her a baby so she could play the part of the Virgin Mary more convincingly. There's naturally a bit of controversy about her fellow villagers.

The second act is in a small town in Germany, Oberammergau, in 1934 - many of the actors in the play are members of the Nazi party, and they focus their Passion Play on incriminating Jews for the murder of Jesus. It includes a real historical speech by Hitler, which he gave when he visited a passion play (six weeks after the Night of the Long Knives.)

After the second act, my theater buddy, Lincoln, told me, amazingly enough, that he'd actually seen the Passion Play in Oberammergau that same year! He'd been in London on a Rhodes Scholarship, and had planned a Rhineland tour. "It wasn't quite the same atmosphere as the play portrayed," he said. "It was in July, so it was much sunnier and brighter. And the Nazi party hadn't really solidified their political control yet. I met a lot of intellectuals who complained bitterly about 'that Austrian house-painter.' "

And the third act is set in South Dakota and features a Pontius Pilate actor who returns as a Vietnam vet, and some rather funny cameos by Ronald Reagan.

Here's one review that gives a
pretty good flavor:

Some critics thought it was too sprawling and messy, and indeed the play is stuffed to bursting with symbols and themes and connections, poetic outbursts, complicated jokes, historical references, cameos, and other metaphysical paraphernalia. But I think a lot of the complaints I've read in critical reviews seemed to stem from the critics not being willing to pay attention and give themselves over to the play. It all does really make sense, and even the surrealist parts are beautifully connected to other themes, and the whole shambling, coruscating, gargantuan, slobbering whole of the play is so much greater than the sum of the parts.

Really, it was brilliant. It's still on for four more days - until the 16th - and if you're at all interested in theater, and if you like a challenge, I highly recommend it.

I'm going back to see it again tonight, to give you some idea of my enthusiasm...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Cai Guo Qiang was much louder than Dar Williams

Who's cooler than a guy whose full time job is organizing massive fireworks displays with subversive political messages in symbolic public places?

I've written about Cai-Guo Qiang before:

So I was excited when I heard that he'd be organizing a fireworks display over the river last Saturday, in a prime spot for viewing from the Kennedy Center.

Some friends and I rushed out early from an extremely mediocre Dar Williams concert at the 9:30 club*, and the Parking Gods were smiling on us, because we found a spot on 24th St. Even someone who didn't know where the Kennedy Center was would have been able to go there easily, because the streets and sidewalks were full of this strange, lemming-like crowd of people walking in that direction, chatting and laughing with that particular excited vibe of people who are about to watch loud, colourful explosions.

We made it to the Kennedy Center balcony just in time - it was completely full and I noticed the preponderance of families.** I guess those guys all read the Washington Post Sunday Source very diligently.

The display started with a series of rainbow coloured streamers over the river, and continued on with some interesting and beautiful coloured fireworks in very artistic patterns, cool jiggly streamers, gradually crescendo-ing until the whole river was topped in smoke and the air reeked of gunpowder. The fireworks display was exactly what you would get if someone who was trained in colour theory and composition, not just engineering cool pyrotechnics, was running the show.

And then it stopped, with that orgasmic finale that seems common to fireworks shows, and a few final, post-coital bangs from the late-starters.

The crowd seemed satisfied, and there was the rustling noise of people who are getting ready to leave.

I was bitterly disappointed.

I said to Jaiva, "I was expecting some kind of conceptual statement! I mean, that was cool and fun, but I always thought that Cai Guo Qiang's works would always have a larger message than pure aesthetics. Particularly with this location and at this time, it seems like there are so many more things he could do..."


All at once my griping was interrupted by a series of massive, staccato explosions. They all went off in a swarm, pure white light - no colours in these - and clustered together like a swarm of bees - or like a cloud of machine gun fire. Everyone in the audience was shrieking and Jaiva had grabbed my back in fright, almost falling over.

Then it was over. My ears were ringing. Through the ringing I could hear the murmurous sounds of thousands of parents consoling their freaked-out children. "Mummy what's happening was it a terrorist attack?"

"Gosh, that's so interesting," I began to pontificate. "I think it must be a message about - "


And again the explosions came. It was an absolutely primal experience; even the second time around, our first reaction was unmitigated terror that struck directly to the gut without the intermediation of the head. Gigantic noises tend to do that to a human being. The audience noise again was shocked and startled, but after the initial shock there was an undercurrent of paranoia. Was the show over? What was going to happen?

I started pontificating again and I'd just started on about the war on terror, the recent spate of natural disasters, the potential commentary on us fat bourgeoisie types who want to have nice aesthetic experiences and shield ourselves from the more visceral experiences of the brutalities of nature or fellow man - which has the side effect of dulling our empathy and our social consciences - when, for a third time:


After a nice juicy pause for the now thoroughly shell-shocked crowd to debate amongst themselves when this ordeal was going to end (Little girl to her mother: "Mummy, he's TRICKING US!"), the Kennedy Center balcoony fountains, which had been turned off, resumed flowing again - and this time we could all really leave.

Cai Guo-Qiang, you are a magnificent performance artist, a masterful manipulator of crowd dynamics, and you must have some kind of magical hypnotic ability to get your plans past government bureaucrats and convince them that an obviously political anti-war piece - which ended up alarming DC residents all over the city who deluged 9-11 with anxious calls about terrorist attacks - is only about hurricanes. I salute you, Sir. I salute you.


*I went with two friends who'd never heard her before and who agreed to come on my assurances that she was a fun performer. I thought loved Dar Williams on the basis of her live album, which includes snippets of witty crowd banter, but her performance last Saturday was like a nightmarish amalgam of all of the more annoying aspects of her personality: the anti-cool/cool hipsterness, the aw-shucks kumbaya moral sincerity, the obsession with teenage angst. I might still have enjoyed myself, since I go for cheesy stuff sometimes, but spent way too much energy worrying about how my friends weren't enjoying themselves and had just wasted $25 on their concert tickets.

**Including a large number of white parents with adopted Asian babies. I've become sensitive to spotting adopted families ever since I used to fly back and forth to Moscow on Delta (the airline of choice for couples who'd just picked up their adopted Russian baby). Moscow -> New York flights would seriously have like 15 couples staring incredulously and lovingly at their freaked-out toddlers, and I used to enjoy hearing their war conversations about paperwork battles with pissed-off provincial official babushkas who didn't like admitting the fact that Mother Russia couldn't handle taking care of its children and had to give them away to the West.

When the cat's away the mice will play....

I haven't been posting very much recently... my muse has been concentrating on a few other things in my life. I just looked at my comments section after a few weeks and there were all these spam comments with links...geez. I'd like to not agree with my geeky friends who lament that the internet is doomed and will choke on spam, but...