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Added Essay on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

For the past two months, I’ve been putting together an essay on the Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.  The novel won the Pulitzer Prize and was also chosen by the New York Times as one the best books of the year. This is the first time I’ve chosen to devote my writing energies to the task of unraveling issues raised by a work of fiction, so certainly I was strongly affected by it.

If you outright loved the work, you may be disconcerted by my questioning a key psychological and philosophical underpinning of the novel. If you haven’t read the book,  I hope you’ll find enough description of it to be engaged by the argument I raise here.

If you’re a student of contemporary literature or psychology, I hope you’ll find the discussion useful, though of course you would be well advised not to cut and paste.

Yellow Bird – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

 

 

 

Progress Report

If you follow what a write in Reflections In a Cracked Glass, here’s what’s on-going:

I’m focused on an essay stemming from reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. In the editing stage. It’s so much more fun to spew this stuff out there than it is to edit!

I’m changing my homepage a bit, though most people seem to go straight to specific articles.

I’m constantly thinking that we don’t communicate enough words for peace, ideas for peace, hopes for peace, on the internet.  We have to be more creative in how we use the internet to counter the words of hate that dominate the media.

I’m part of the gang putting together Cameo, which in the moment means watching film after film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, on computer, on dvd, but mostly in the cavern-like theater that is the Hooker-Dunham. (Do you remember the Thalia, a half-underground theater on the Upper West Side on NYC?)  We watch, we chat, then we’ll try a few things and gradually Josh Moyse will emerge with an adaptation, a set and a script. As an actor, I have no idea who I’ll play though I don’t quite see myself as Cary Grant, Jimmy Steward, or Gregory Peck.

If anyone cares, I am absolutely in favor of marijuana legalization.

I am very glad that Bernie Sanders has gotten as far as he has. A lot of people have heard what he has to say and understood his message. Our “democratic” election process? No, I have little hope for that. Money and power keep far too close company…and they all seem varying flavors of insanity and self-obsession. Our poor little planet.

Oh, and of course if you want to use the Hooker-Dunham for an event, contact me. Scheduling events and changing the hand-towel dispensers seem to be a lot what I do these days.

 

 

 

 

New article meeting the challenge of learning lines added

Check out this new article I’ve added on the process of learning lines (from one who knows how hard it is!)

A teaser Part 2 of the Other Box story  Ignatz leads Philip

Ignatz leads Philip

Philip had decided to trust Ignatz, though he could not precisely say why. Just at the moment he’d had the thought, Philip and Ignatz came into the light and Philip was dazzled by what he saw. From the utter blackest of darkest night or outer space to dazzling brightness as though inside of an opal in late afternoon sun.

Late afternoon, yes, he thought, late afternoon. How had he managed to go so far in his life with no enduring attachment to anything? How? He blamed it on his early life in am unending series of traffic jams. Trapped. And too much of his life had been absorbed getting out of that traffic jam and into a life of his own.

All that in a moment as his eyes gazed on this dazzling brightness.

He was blind because he now could see everything, far, far more than he had ever seen. But so fleetingly. So fleetingly. It was as though he were inside the opal and all the light was radiating through him.

“Stand back,” Ignatz said. “Don’t come closer to the light.”

 

more to come soon, full book target is March 2016

On working on new production of Dracula

Added an article today on the process of thinking through how to create an entirely new production of Dracula. So many interesting themes (morality and sexuality, religion vs. science, life and death) as well as serious acting challenges. If you’re curious about how an actor in a project of bringing Dracula to the stage in a very different way than it’s been presented in the multitude of cheesy productions that exist, take a look.

New recommended NYT Crossword puzzle & BEQ puzzles; update on Other Box; Exciting fall season coming to Hooker-Dunham

A while back I started going through the NYT crossword puzzle archive looking for particularly good ones. It’s taken a while to come across one that meets the criteria I set in the article, but working my way backwards from the earliest ones you can get from the archive, the one from Saturday, March 19, 1994 is a good one. I hadn’t looked who the author was until I was more than halfway done and beginning to think this was a really good one and, sure enough, it was written by Manny Nosowsky, my all time favorite constructor. Very little crossword-ese, few gimmes and many words that can be figured out once you get a couple letters, and some nice well known expressions that aren’t overly well-known to crossword solvers.  Several clues I really was curious to find out what the answer would turn out to be, like “Bryophytic” (My Mac doesn’t even think that’s a real word!). Anyway, if you’re looking for a challenging puzzle worth trying and have a NY Times puzzle subscription, I highly recommend it. (btw: Today’s (Saturday, Aug. 22) NYT Crossword puzzle Barry Silk’s puzzle is a good one with lots of interesting phrases. Silk is also one of the all time best puzzle creators.

UPDATE: I am also a huge fan of Brendan Emmet Quigley’s puzzle site: www.brendanemmettquigley.com.  His puzzle for Monday, Aug. 24 is a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest puzzle creators (no, not Nosowsky this time) and very aptly titled. There’s no cost or even log in required for the site, though donations are accepted.

 

Meanwhile: I’m almost done with The Other Box where that takes up where the short story left off. It’s turning into at least a novella and possibly a full-length book. I’m setting April 1, 2o16 as a deadline for myself for completing the book and publishing it here.

Tons of events happening at the Hooker-Dunham starting on Labor Day and continuing at least into November.  There are also two exciting theater projects in the works for this coming spring, so keep an eye on the site to see what’s happening at the theater.  Some really cool stuff, including a very exciting (and scary!) production of Dracula (last two weeks in October) that’s certain to be unique and entertaining! I’ve started writing ideas about what makes Dracula an enduring fascination and will be publishing blog entries on it in the next few days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article on Effective Methods for Learning Lines published

Having written on the horrors of forgetting lines previously, the least I could do is to share what I’ve learned about methods of memorization actors have found to be helpful.  Here it is.

Recommended puzzles from NYT Archive

This is primarily of benefit to NY Times Online puzzle subscribers, i.e. to people who can access the NY Times Archives on their puzzle site.  There are some wonderful puzzles out there. There used to be a site that organized them by author, but it seems to have been disabled. But anyway, some of these older puzzles are terrific. I’ve often enjoyed Manny Nosowsky’s puzzles. I’ll be starting to list them as I find one’s that I really like. My criteria:

1.  Hard, not something you zip through so quickly you barely notice it.

2.  Some of the questions are things you’d like to know. An example from this week’s choice: “Pet name for José.” That’s something I feel I should know, some I’m curious what the correct answer will turn out to be.  Good quotations are also a treat when you don’t know them immediately.

3. Some of the questions are obviously a specific way of saying something. You understand the clue perfectly and know what it means, but it has a multiword answer and you don’t know what it is. Again, your curiosity is peaked: What will it turn out to be?

4. Some of the answers have multiple reasonable possibilities for the same length word. Which meaning is the puzzle author using, you wonder? Is there some other meaning of the question that I haven’t thought of?

5. You begin to feel some satisfaction as the puzzle starts to come together, a feeling you figured something out.

So if you’re a NYT online puzzle subscriber, you’ll see the following (at least currently) underneath the “Variety Puzzles Section.” There’s a clickable text in the upper right corner of the “Free From the Archives” section, that points to the repository of a vast array of puzzles. (I may be repeating ones I did ten years ago, but I rarely feel like it’s a deja vu, I’ve been here before experience.) Here’s a snapshot:

Screen shot of location on NYT site of NYT archive

Screen shot of location on NYT site of NYT archive

 

The format of the archive is categorized by year, in the format Day of week followed by month, so I’ll use that sequence here.

Here’s the first one I’ve found that fits all these criteria. As it happens, it’s a Nosowsky from 1999:

The format of the archive is categorized by year, in the format Day of week followed by month, so I’ll use that sequence here.

Year: 1999    Friday, November 1999  

(This is the link, but the NYT website is notorious for sometimes not working as you’d wish.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For NYT crossword fanatics

Added a page of favorite puzzles from the NYT archives (Possible spoiler: You have to have a nyt online puzzle subscription).  And I certainly must mention Brendan Emmet Quigley’s site as an outstanding resource of excellent puzzles. Some clue/answer combos are slightly off-color if that matter to you. Monday’s are the hardest…and they always meet my criteria of being challenging and having some clue/answer combos you’re glad you found out by solving the puzzle and other clue/answer combos that are just very clever.  (http://www.brendanemmettquigley.com)

Back in Vermont…

Ahhhhh.

After a very intense three full weeks, with just a brief few days at home in between, I am now back home on my back porch in VT.

My dog is sitting, actually tired-out and relaxed from playing with other dogs, lying comfortably on the ottoman at my feet.

A cooler breeze is beginning to stir as we sit here listening to the river and the birds are beginning to chatter as a cloud passes by….

Ahhhh.

Father’s Day and all my kids wished me well. Nice. Definitely a Happy Father’s Day!

 

René Magritte: The Empire of Light

René Magritte: The Empire of Light

 

 

I have been buy writing a great deal but not publishing much, but a lot of different stuff is taking shape and soon to come.

On playing antagonists: An actor’s thoughts on being the “bad guy”

“Actors reveal their own character flaws not by what they display in the roles they portray, but by what they will not allow themselves to show.”

 

On playing antagonists: An actor’s thoughts on playing the “bad guy”

 

Theater is filled with characters who are far from nice people. Some are merely obnoxious fools, others terrifyingly violent, dangerous people. At times, dramatists pepper their villains with humor, while others reveal the cold horror of a remorseless psychopath. The depth of the antagonist also varies with the part: Some plays’ antagonists are paper thin, two-dimensional, cartoonish characters. This thinness is often intentional, signifying to both the actor playing the role and the audience that they are not expected to take the character’s evil nature too seriously. Other antagonists are complex personalities; the playwright clearly intends the actor to communicate multiple layers of the character. Antagonists of all types exist on stage because they exist in life. Sad to say, some very destructive personalities account for a great deal of the drama in life.

 

It’s been my pleasure to play a number of classic roles that touch on the dark side of human nature: the vile mistress (Madame) in a gender-bending version of Jean Genet’s The Maids; the megalomaniacal and violently anti-semitic Henry Ford in Camping with Henry and Tom; the murderous playwright Sidney Bruhl in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap; Scrooge in a Christmas Carol (a special case, since he, unlike the others, is able to find redemption in committing himself to atone for his miserable ways); and the hard-hearted boss who fires poor Willie Loman in Death of Salesman. I’m prompted to reflect on playing antagonists as I prepare to play the unloving and unlovable father in the upcoming the Vermont Theater Company’s production of Robert Anderson’s classic family drama, I Never Sang for My Father.

 

My “career” as playing characters that one loves to hate probably got off to its ill-fated start many years ago when I was in an off-off-Broadway political theater group. The artistic director asked the assembled company “who feels they could play a pompous asshole” and I raised my hand and landed the role of a nasty business manager who didn’t give a damn about irradiating his employees. But of all the antagonists I’ve played over the years, I learned the most when I played the corrupt union boss in Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty. I was hamming it up, chomping on a cigar and imagining myself as Lee J. Cobb in On the Waterfront.  The director told me to bring my portrayal down several notches. I found making this nasty character more real, more natural, made me much more uncomfortable than my Lee J. Cobb imitation. To become more real, I had to get more in touch with and reveal more of my own malevolence. The director — still a very close personal friend — quoted his own teacher, the Tony Award-winning Lloyd Richards: “Actors reveal their own character flaws not by what they display in the roles they perform, but by what they will not allow themselves to show.” It was sage advice. It allowed me to feel I revealed my personal flaws by trying to cover  them up (in this case by exaggerating) than by simply letting the character’s action speak for itself.

In the role for which I’m currently preparing, Tom Garrison in I Never Sang for My Father, I have to understand this unfortunate man. He is not a psychopath or  murderer; he does not have terrible secrets buried in his past. But he is an unfortunate man and a very unfortunate man to have as one’s father. He is not unfortunate because of what has befallen him, though his life has not been easy, but unfortunate in the sense that he denies all that is human in himself and so is unable to feel, unable to relate to his son. Focused on his bitterness about his own childhood and concerned only with his own short-sighted self-interest, he forces his son to make an extremely painful choice.

There are many “traps” in playing a nasty, destructive character. The most obvious, as I’ve mentioned, is overplaying the part and thus turning character into caricature. Overacting is a way of saying: “This isn’t really me. I couldn’t be this awful.” It is a a mode of denial, of distancing oneself from one’s role. Exaggeration can work if the character is intentionally, often for humorous effect, over-the-top, but it seriously detracts from the sense of stark reality that makes drama effective. If the antagonist is not real, is a caricature of wretchedness and evil and not a three-dimensional human being, the role becomes farcical.  Where this is appropriate and done adroitly it can be highly amusing. Where it is inappropriate or done sloppily, it’s simply bad acting.

Many of our finest actors are brilliantly gifted at playing antagonists with barely a muscle tensed or vocal chord raised shrilly. Glenn Close, Kevin Spacey, and Al Pacino come to mind immediately as actors who can communicate extraordinary violence without the slightest overt sign of their underlying violence. I will never forget George C. Scott’s chilling portrayal as the manager of “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman) in The Hustler. Seeing this film in my teens, I loathed this man who destroys the lives of Newman and Piper Laurie. There was not a trace of the exaggeration that makes Scott’s General “Buck” Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove so hysterically funny. Less known but equally powerful is Ben Kingsley’s tough guy portrayal in Sexy Beast. There’s a scene in which all Kingsley does is to shave and, without betraying any direct emotion, he conveys an intensity of violence that is utterly chilling.

Since playing a role effectively requires seeing the world through the eyes of one’s character, it’s necessary for the actor have to have enough compassion for the character to evoke compassion in the audience. If not, the audience’s interest in the character’s fate wanes and a critical aspect of dramatic tension is lost.

But there are limits to this: the actor must not make the antagonist more decent or misunderstood than the character deserves to be. In so doing the actor can make a negative character so sympathetic to the audience that it turns the tables on the playwright’s intent. In preparing to play Tom Garrison, for example, I’ve found myself finding justifications for his coldness to his son and meanness to his wife. One begins to see the more decent characters as wrong about oneself, as not taking into account why the character is the way he or she is, of judging him too harshly.

Evoking compassion should not mean portraying a character’s destructive actions as acceptable. The despicable remains despicable, the self-serving remains self-serving, the hateful rejection of caring remains hateful. If the humanness and decency of the character is played too strongly, if an intensity of rage does not underlie the character’s actions, the drama falls apart. It’s another form of denial on the actor’s part.

The challenge, then, is to simply to be real. Far more than Scrooge, Bruhl or Ford, Tom Garrison is meant to be real, three-dimensional. He is a father whom many of us, including me, will recognize all too readily: a father so righteously angry, so self-absorbed and egotistical, so dedicated to his own narrow vision of himself and so oblivious to the needs of his own children that he destroys any possibility for intimacy. He wreaks havoc on the lives of those who depend on him most in their most crucial moments of need; In so doing, he destroys himself.

Though Tom is a man without compassion, his portrayal must be compassionate, but not sentimentalized. His character needs to evoke in audience the very feelings he denies in himself. The audience should care about him despite his own fatal character flaws, making his failure to act humanly to his wife, son and daughter all the more poignant.  For that to happen, the character portrayal must be as real, as immediate, as possible. Tom’s inability to allow his own feelings to surface, his unwillingness to reach out to his son despite both their urgent needs to connect  must evoke in the audience not only outrage and frustration, but also compassion and sorrow.

A challenge like this is one that appeals to anyone who’s serious about acting; yet it’s definitely torturous at times. It isn’t always fun to get in touch with how one felt about one’s own father’s inability to be consistently caring or to get in touch with those parts of oneself that are far less human than one would like to believe oneself to be. Suddenly you recoil in horror as you hear yourself say or do something that fits perfectly with the miserable character you’re playing on stage.

There are definitely times when I’ve tired of being being the toxic character in a play, the antagonist that every other character hates and that the audience hates too. When I played a noxious Henry Ford, I began to feel that the other actors were seeing me as though I really were the power-hungry, egomaniacal, anti-semitic person I was playing, And after you’re cast in several such roles, you do begin to wonder what it is about your personality that makes you seem so appropriate to play miserable SOBs!

In the end, though,the pleasure of effectively creating a believable character on stage is worth the agony of getting inside the skin of a very unpleasant person. The world is not made up solely of nice men and women. Hardly. How dull and unreal theater would be if only decent folks were personified there. Where would Macbeth be without Lady Macbeth or Othello without Iago? Would King Lear’s loving daughter Cordelia shine for us if it not for her loathsome sisters? What would Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolfe be if George and Martha were just a kindly professor and his affectionate wife? Even Cinderella needs her evil step-mother and step-sisters in order to make her a heroine. Betrayal, egotism, hate, envy — the full panoply of inhumanity is as much human nature, sadly, as caring and love. If we are to appreciate the good, we must also understand evil.

 

All that’s easy enough to say, of course. Now comes the hard part: Actually doing it effectively on stage! It’s been highly rewarding to develop the role. If you’re able to come see the show, I hope you’ll find I’ve at least partially achieved my goal of making the character three-dimensional.

 

 

 

Coming up on anniversary of “managing” Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery

Coming up on a year of “running” the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery, a moment of reflection on it.  I can’t “sum up” the experience because each piece of it has been and continues to be unique.

The total experience is overwhelming. So many hopes and fears pass through a theater. (It is, after all, designed for drama and human comedy!)

As manager, I have seen people at the beginning of their lives in theater or poetry or music or art (or burlesque, for that matter) come through and try their wings. And I’ve seen people who have been around for a long time try new things. That’s all pretty exciting.

It seems like most everyone who comes through here feels they got their money’s worth and then some.

So if I the nuisances remain minimal and folks, including me, come in and enjoy themselves, then I’ll be very happy continuing the experiment.

“Inside the other box there was another box” part 2 coming soon…

I’m in the midst of a new adventure following from where The Other Box left off.

To read Part 1, click here.

 

 

 

An actor’s notes on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

As we pass from the first to the second week of our three week run of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I’ve decided to post the notes I write as I think through the evolution of Scrooge in the play.  If you’re curious: Dickens’ Christmas Carol “beats”. 

Making the most of community theater: A Christmas Carol

Added a short essay on the difference between community theater that’s fun for the cast and community theater that strongly affects its audience.

Reflections of Community Theater: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol