Working Title: Man You’ve Got Style!

This week Will Leschber takes a look at the stylings of Wes Anderson’s new picture and the latest offerings of Berkeley Rep.

I recently caught Berkeley Rep’s The Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Wes Anderson’s newest film The Grand Budapest Hotel. At face value these appear two very different pieces. The common thread is how each uses style.

Both are told with a distinct and heightened style yet one uses the it to compliment the story being told and the other implements stylistic techniques that overwhelm and distract. Additionally, both pieces are concerned with the past and how it impacts the present. Anarchist attempts to allow old political concerns to remark on contemporary politics and reoccurring hypocrisy. The production falls short of realizing this aim. Grand Budapest, underneath its good story telling, great central character performance and wonderful visual flourishes, is a dissection of nostalgia as that relates to how one builds a self through one’s past personal influences. That description sounds boring, sure, but the film is so exuberant, funny and full of whimsy that each layer can be enjoyed on its own whether you are interested in analysis or just pure entertainment.

The Accidental Death of an Anarchist follows the maneuverings of a madman (his character name is listed as Maniac) who cons his way into a police station and into the guise of a judge who then interrogates three officers regarding a prisoners supposed accidental suicide. Shenanigans ensue, farce is made, and rapid fire jokes unrelated to the narrative abound. All the actors (particularly Steven Epp–Maniac, Allen Gilmore—Pissani, and Jesse J. Perez—Bertozzo) are full committed to the zany Commedia style. Their efforts are to be commended. Yet the frenetic play doesn’t congeal. High school showmanship sensibilities, mixed with Muppet Commedia caricatures, and farcical digressions serve to confound rather than entertain. Many of the individual ingredients look great but the whole just isn’t working. And I’m not sure why.

Anarchist copy

The original events that the play was satirizing took place in 1969. Does the alternate time, retro 70′s style and foreign culture of creation, remove the audience connection to the play? It shouldn’t. Themes of government hypocrisy are timeless. But the way this production is handled, unfortunately the disparate parts fray cohesive meaning and lose connection. In addition I wondered, does the sprinkling of the last three decades worth of American pop-culture references make up in any way for the disconnect. Unfortunately, no. The inserted, fourth-wall breaking diatribes in the second act of the play where the actors separate from the events of the play to enter into modern political rants got my attention. However, if the goal was to take this half-century old play and comment on the political landscape of today maybe a newer target than the Bush administration would have been a better choice. Lampooning the last big republican administration to a largely liberal audience in Berkeley, CA seems like preaching to an easy choir. Even though I agreed with some of the political rhetoric, I still thought the choice was a lazy one. In playing to a lower common denominator, for this audience at least, the effect is to neuter this work of its universal potency. These parts don’t jive, you dig.

The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

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What elevates this above some other Anderson work is the synchronic matching of a deft farce performance at its core and that clicks into and heightens the visual storybook sensibilities inherent to the Wes Anderson world. It exists somewhere just a step left of reality yet we buy into and invest in the story because all the different parts surprisingly yet seamlessly work wonderfully together. Extensive model set pieces, endless visual symmetry, abundant recognizable stars, stop motion and live-action blending, cinematic aspect ratio shift, a color palate akin to a cake bakery: all of these variant elements work along side each other with ease. You wouldn’t think so, but Anderson makes them magically complementary. In the hands of another filmmaker, this could have been an unwieldy mess.

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Wes Anderson is often criticized for making films that are too insulated which keeps audiences at an emotional distance. The best of which, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and I believe this film, provide a comic conduit that let’s us in to the uncanny, snow-globe world and emotional heart at its center. The lead performances are the distinguishing conduit. Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum disarmed us with his buckshot wit. His failings as a sympathetic father are made up for by his earnest desire to make amends for the harsh way he raised his children. By the end of the film we have forgiven Royal for his transgressions and love him in the complex way his family does. We laugh and then we feel.

Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer (Rushmore, 1998) paired with Bill Murray’s Herman Blume give us a glimpse of two spiraling souls looking for their place in the world. Their rivalry delights as they attempt to tear each other down. We all want to feel connected to a home and feel a part of something. Max and his rival surrogate father figure help each other figure out how to do that. We laugh and then feel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel allows all the comic and emotional weight to fall on Ralph Fiennes.

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He’s endearing and pitch perfectly funny. The sidestepping style of Wes Anderson doesn’t fit with all actor sensibilities. Yet Fiennes slips right in and lifts this story to the best of the Anderson pictures with a commanding hand flourish and a puff of perfume. Fiennes proves to be a grand farceur.

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His performance, like Anderson’s style, is layered and juxtaposed with parts and contradictions that shouldn’t jive. But Ralph just sells it. The old world high society etiquette followed by unexpected verbal vulgarity; the fast talking dictatorial way he engages his staff followed by a kind a light aside to one of his passing hotel guests; these contradictory things give us a picture of a real character and lock us into a unique stylistic whimsical tale.

Josh Larsen, one of the hosts of the Filmspotting podcast, had this to say, “It’s a comedy about the tragedy of nostalgia. How nostalgia can only take you so far and how that always leaves you sad in the end in someway. ” While this is true, Anderson’s brand of melancholy when at it’s best leaves the audience with a cathartic sense of a story so well told that it is crystalized in time. It’s the good kind of sad, a satisfying melancholy. Its a mirage of what was and its worth a visit.

Citations:

Larsen, Josh, Performer. ” #481 the grand budapest hotel. ” Filmspotting Podcast. , Web.

Marcus, Joan. The Accidenat Death of an Anarchist. 2014. Photograph. Berkeleyrep.orgWeb. 15 Apr 2014.

The Grand Budapest Hotel. N.d. Photograph. Fox Searchlight Pictures, IMDB.comWeb. 15 Apr 2014.

Claire’s Enemy’s List: I Have No Fucking Clue What I’m Doing

Claire Rice, ensuring I have to spend at least an hour downloading, uploading, and formatting all her photos.

My camera broke.

I think it’s an easy fix and I’m going to look into getting it repaired. It probably broke from a combination of neglect, abuse and age: but I can’t say for sure. When it comes to that thing, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

I just sort of aim, fire and hope.

I know fuck all about that particular piece of equipment. I love it. I love taking pictures and I feel like I’ve gotten lucky and I’ve taken some really good ones. But, unlike my life in theatre where I know why a thing is good, I can’t write an essay on photography. I can’t tell you why one photo is better than another. It just feels right. Oh, I could bullshit about it for a long time if you want to. I can use the knowledge I have of theatrical framing and…blah blah blah… I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I’m not going to bullshit further or wax poetic or pretend I know anything about what I’m doing. But I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t mind. Getting lucky is fun. It isn’t artful and there’s no craft in it.

But, because my camera broke and I’m feeling nostalgic about it, I want to show off some of my favorite photos.

Don’t worry. I have a super angry post that feels very Enemy’s List cooking in the background here.

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State
Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State
Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State  Elaine Gavin

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State
Elaine Gavin

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster Allison Page

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster
Allison Page

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre
Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest
Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men
James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub Neil Higgins

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub
Neil Higgins

Everything is Already Something Week 30: The Mental Patient and the Assassin, A Midwestern Tale

Allison Page sends us a story from the frozen north.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in my home town – um, the only coffee shop in my home town – and I see someone familiar. I nearly choke on my Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. I know that hair cut. I know the tick-tick-ticking of her high heels. Her glasses, her clear sense of self-importance – yes, it has to be her. My high school drama teacher. Ohhhh shit.

Flashback o’clock. Suddenly I’m thinking about the first play I ever auditioned for, which would have been Peter Pan when I was about 10, but I showed up to the audition and they wanted me to sing which I didn’t know about in advance, and so I cried and left without ever auditioning. (which is still how I feel about singing)

Oh fuck off, Cathy Rigby. Now you're just bragging.

Oh fuck off, Cathy Rigby. Now you’re just bragging.

So the actual first play I ever auditioned for was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which is when I met the woman who would be my drama teacher. Let’s call her Lemon Drop. I read sides of the script with some other awkward teenagers, and Lemon Drop told me that I had “promise”. This I found very exciting and assumed meant I would be playing an important part in the following production. The cast list goes up – I can’t wait, I’m so pumped to find out which AMAZING role I’ll be taking on. And who am I? Who will I fully embody, causing the audiences minds to explode, the tops of their heads to detach and shoot into the stars because I’m, like, SOOOOOOO GOOD?

Allison Page – MENTAL PATIENT and ASSASSIN

What? I don’t even have a name?! COME ON! Look at me, over here! I have promise and shit! You said it, not me! MENTAL PATIENT? THAT’S MY ROLE? I didn’t read for that! I didn’t read for either of the parts I was given because they don’t have any lines. I was unbelievably depressed. I must have been awful, if she didn’t even give me any lines. I must have been a horrible freak and she just said those nice things to make me feel better. That had to be it. Instant misery set in. I’ve always had a terrible memory. I forget things all the time. But I remember how destroyed I felt by that. All of my 14 years of living, at that point, had been leading up to this moment for me.

I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I mean – always. I think I even wanted to do that before I knew what it was. I “wrote” my first play when I was in second grade. I somehow convinced the teacher to make the class watch my rendition of FERN GULLY LIVE. It was magnificent (it probably wasn’t). I loved it.

Naturally, I played the bat. My costume was a sheet with a hole in it.

Naturally, I played the bat. My costume was a sheet with a hole in it.

But this was the first time I’d been at the mercy of someone else’s choices…and look where that landed me: the non-speaking Mental Patient and the non-speaking-and-is-only-on-stage-for-30-second-before-she-dies Assassin. I cried a lot about it for more than one day. I didn’t give a shit about Santa Claus not being real, but this was my version of being told that the jolly bastard with the presents wasn’t comin’ around. Naturally, I got over it enough to perform in the play and see all the juniors and seniors do the fun parts while I watched from my deceased position, lying on the stage.

The depression at the thought that I might not be perfect and amazing as a teenage performer wasn’t enough to dissuade me from taking drama classes, which I did. Lemon Drop was a tough teacher – to me. I think, perhaps, other people had an easier time. It was hard because I so wanted to please her, and she was sparing with her compliments, but never her criticism. Her philosophy was “If I don’t say anything, then it’s good.” but that was hard for me at 16 and 17. I wanted someone to tell me I was blowing the roof off the place and I wasn’t going to get it from her. There were times that other people would mess something up, and I would end up getting the blame, which I strangely just sort of…took. Again – CRYING HAPPENED A LOT. (Which is hilarious for people who know adult Allison because crying is incredibly rare for me. Unless I’m laughing really hard, but I don’t count that.) The parts I was given got bigger and better and became more work – which is exactly what I wanted. I love working hard when it’s something I care about (and only then).

Lemon Drop gave me a thick, thick skin. How do you get a callous? Usually it’s after you’ve irritated and rubbed and poked and prodded that sore part of you until it learns how to protect itself. At the time I often wanted to kick her in the shin and run away, but I’m quite thankful for it now. Though I freely admit that the thought of her still kind of makes me nervous. Which is silly because what could she possibly do to me now – scowl? Who cares?

I’ve talked before about how I took over directing at my high school the year after I graduated. (And only for that year because it kind of made me crazy.) Lemon Drop had decided to stop directing after my class graduated. I remember some sentiment of us being the last class who seemed to really care about it, so she didn’t feel the need to go on. Who knows if that’s true. She showed up to the play I directed; brought me flowers and everything, but didn’t talk to me. I don’t recall ever speaking to her again after that. This was 9 years ago. I had wished that she had said something to me at the time. “I’m proud of you.” she would say, and then we’d hug or some shit. But I never got that moment. And actually I think that’s sort of appropriate. On some level that would make me feel like I’ve already achieved whatever I set out for – which I haven’t.

She was a hellion, but gave me an appreciation for all the work that goes into what previously seemed like play time. She is the single biggest influence on my work ethic and and attitudes about production. There have been many other people I’ve gleaned things from, but she’s the one who set up who I’d be as a performer from the start. She gave me parts like The Artful Dodger, Antigone (that one was tough), the Ghosts of Christmases Past and Present, and Thorin Oakenshield.

What, that doesn't look like me?

What, that doesn’t look like me?

I spent time and energy convincing her that certain parts could be as convincingly played by women as men (which was partially for gender equality but more because I WANT THOSE ROLES, DUH.) Should I approach her in this coffee shop? What would I say? What if she didn’t even remember me – this person she had such an impact on? I think she was disappointed that I didn’t go to college and major in theater…or go to college at all. What if she hates my guts?

My friend at the coffee shop turned around to see the woman I was staring at.
“Oh, that’s not her. She just looks like her. I’ve seen her around here before.”, she said.
“Really?” I continued to stare.
“Yeah, but from the back they look identical.” she said, sipping her coffee.
“Huh…weird. I could have sworn that was her.”
“Nope, not this time.”

I guess I have some more time to figure out what I’d say to her. Or maybe I’ll never get to say anything. I doubt she knows she made such a lasting impression on who I am as a person and a performer. And that she’s the reason I don’t require praise to know I’m doing a good job. That’s a pretty solid quality, I have to say. So thank goodness for that. It’s gotten me through moments of potential insecurity for the last decade.

Now I’m sitting in the same coffee shop (again, there’s only one) finishing up this blog, sipping another Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. She hasn’t wandered in this time either, in case you were wondering. But with all this reminiscing, she might as well have.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian on her way back from rural Minnesota to San Francisco, just tryin’ to make good. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Higher Education: Grappling for Writers

Barbara Jwanouskos, working on keeping up.

So, last week I talked about the benefits of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. And I guess I’m still having feelings about that, so I thought I’d wrestle with them a bit more in this article.

This is the second week of New Works rehearsals where a couple of my fellow Dramatic Writing candidates and I are now seeing these thesis plays launch off the page. It’s been such an interesting process so far. My thesis play is called “The Imaginary Opponent” and deals with how a kung fu school’s community responds when violence breaks out between its students. So, obviously, there’s a lot of martial arts in it and also stage combat/violence.

I’m working with MFA Directing candidate, Quin Gordon, who has stressed from the beginning that because the physicality of the play, it’s important that the we engage in physical activities like running, kung fu and tai chi. Folks who read the Theater Pub blog frequently probably already know that I train in these martial arts disciplines, so that aspect of it, is not a problem. Running, however, is a whole different mental battle.

I’m an active person, but I’ve never been a great runner. When we go out as a group, I am huffing and puffing away, while the others zoom up ahead.

Wait for me, guys!

Wait for me, guys!

My stress over running doesn’t come from a physical standpoint, I get out of breath, but other than that, it doesn’t hurt me to run. In fact, it feels surprisingly great! And it’s not over being competitive. I mean come on, these guys are in their early 20s and are active from sun up to beyond sun down. There’s no need to compete. I’m just happy that I can even DO the route we do.

I think it comes from a place of feeling as if I should be able to do more. AHHH! But there, you see? It’s this whole ego perception thing because I know I’m working hard. I am trying my best. Maybe it’s easily bested by others, but it really is no big deal in the long run because probably the only thing I should be doing is what I already am minus the mental self-flagellation.

I could swim faster if we weren't on land!

I could swim faster if we weren’t on land!

I thought of the mental battle I’m having with running today while in a playwriting workshop with guest artist, Madeleine George. We were doing a lot of intellectual and creative writing/story generation exercises that gave me the same uncomfortable feeling at points that running does. I’d think, “Oh, I can’t write that down, that doesn’t make sense!” And yet, one of the things Madeleine wanted us to work with is not censoring ourselves.

I even feel fairly good at this when it comes to writing. It’s part of how I understand my process. I’ve built it into the way I teach playwriting to undergraduates. My first drafts are messy and don’t really make sense and have way too much stuff in them. But I can let the writing just pour out of me. I’ve been struggling with this a bit more this week however. I spent so long trying to write something new to bring to workshop on Monday, and that really came out was a bunch of non-plays and non-scenes and then about 16 pages of something new.

So, Madeleine’s exercise took a bit of mental grappling for me to stick to task. I found myself asking questions that I would know the answer to had I been leading others in writing. In the moment, I started to feel self-doubt creeping up on me. All the questions really centered around self-consciousness.

Am I doing it right?

Yep. There’s no wrong way.

The more that I pushed myself to keep going with the writing exercises, you could feel things changing and growing. That’s what I’m starting to really dig about running. For me, there are a lot of moments where I feel physically uncomfortable, but ultimately, I get into a groove while I’m doing it, and things just start to flow. It’s the same with writing by working with ideas and strategies beyond my comfort level. I come across pieces of my brain I never knew about.

And that can sometimes be really beautiful.

Where will this path lead?

Where will this path lead?

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: App Happy

Marissa Skudlarek gets technical.

As a twentysomething San Franciscan, I have a duty and a prerogative to come up with ideas for mobile phone apps that will harness the power of crowdsourcing/social media/cloud computing/Big Data to disrupt outmoded paradigms. Yes, everyone in this town has a couple of app ideas in their back pocket, and I’m no exception. Here are three theater-related apps that I’ve dreamed up and wish were real.

Cute app name: Anachorrect

The pitch: Spellcheck for anachronisms.

What it would do: Many of our decade’s most-discussed TV series – Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Masters of Sex – take place in prior eras, and there are online commentators devoted to pointing out their inaccuracies or anachronisms. One of the most interesting of these is Prochronisms, or Downton Crabbey – in which a digital-humanities professor named Ben Schmidt uses the Google Ngram text corpus and a computer algorithm to find anachronistically modern phrases in the dialogue of historical dramas. The algorithm reveals fascinating information about the way our language changes over time; I made a few tweaks to my script Pleiades, which takes place in 1971, after reading Schmidt’s post about how the phrase “ought to” was much more common than “need to,” even in the 1960s. Unfortunately, though, there’s no way for you to run your own writing through Schmidt’s algorithm. I would pay good money for that app – and I bet a lot of other writers would, too.

Cute app name: Venuse

The pitch: OpenTable for venues.

What it would do: There’s an amazing resource here called Bay Area Spaces that allows you to search for performing arts venues according to a huge range of factors: location, size, cost, hours, and more. I used this site a lot when I was seeking a venue for Pleiades, and it was really helpful, but it’s not perfect. Some venues post detailed information, including their availability calendar; other venues post the bare minimum. And, in all cases, you need to email or phone the venue manager to get more information and to book the space. With just a few tweaks, this site could become an OpenTable-like app that enabled you to search for venues, see their availability, and immediately submit a request to book the space. Introducing Venuse: helping renters and tenants more effectively use venues. (It’s pronounced “VEN-yuse,” by the way. The allusion to Venus is a bonus.)

Cute app name: StageSeen

The pitch: Goodreads for theater.

What it would do: For years, I’ve been keeping detailed lists of the books I read and the plays I see. I finally wised up and joined Goodreads last summer, and have found it an extremely well-designed, user-friendly app that makes keeping track of my reading even better! I seriously love it, and that’s a big deal for me to say, because Goodreads is owned by Amazon and I hate Amazon. So why can’t someone rip off the Goodreads interface and create a similar site for theatergoers? Sure, Goldstar tries to do that with its “Event Journal” feature, but the obvious flaw there is that it only works for shows where you purchase the tickets via Goldstar. Like Goldstar (and Goodreads), my proposed StageSeen app could offer discounts, giveaways, and other perks, but the important thing is that it’d be free and open to all theater fans, functioning more as a place for discussion and appreciation than a place for selling tickets.

Do any of these pitches grab you? Of course, as the person who came up with the concept, I will take a controlling interest in the new startup, but if you get in on the ground floor, you, too, could become a millionaire when we strike it rich and list on NASDAQ! Who wants to be my CTO?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. One of the reasons she wrote this post is that she’d like more friends on Goodreads. Find her there, on the web at marissabidilla.blogspot.com, or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Cowan Palace: Uncovering April Fools

Ashley attempts to explore the origin of this hilarious holiday.

April Fools’ Day. It’s become the new holiday I love to hate. The day this gullible blogger falls for one too many grand Internet schemes.

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Even though, aside from Halloween, one could consider it an actor’s holiday. It’s a day centered around a whole lot of lies! And aren’t we supposed to be good at that?

It’s also the perfect time for pranksters to spread rumors about some more well-known celebrities. Which will often reappear on social media outlets after a few months forcing us all to fall for it again (no one should joke about Full House possibly coming back to TV). How did you guys enjoy yesterday’s jokes? Did you fall for Britney Spears being pregnant or Keanu Reeves and his remake of Citizen Kane?

Well, in the midst of all the horsing around (holla, Year of the Horse!), my need to research overwhelmed my Facebook desires (also, I hadn’t watched the highly anticipated series finale of How I Met Your Mother yet and wanted to avoid the spoilers). So I began to explore some of the origins of this sneaky day.

And unfortunately, the Internet wasn’t a huge help. No one seems to agree where or when it began.

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Many believe it’s thanks to France and their attempt to reset the calendar. Back in the 1500s, folks were undecided about when to pop that champagne (it is from France, after all) and make poor decisions at their New Year’s Eve bash. Some wanted it to be marked in January to follow the example of the Roman calendar while others believed the new year should be set by the start of a sunnier season: the spring. But as this decision wasn’t made immediately, it moved slowly through the population. And some people in rural areas continued celebrating in the beginning of April… thus becoming “April Fools” to those who scheduled their party in January.

But that story could easily be an April Fools’ joke of its own. There are other researchers who think the day came from spring festivals where pranking was just a general practice. These guys didn’t have the Internet so they had to entertain themselves in some way, right?! It’s also worth noting that April Fools’ Day falls around the time of other similar holidays, including both the festival of Hilaria and Holi. Most likely related to the words “hilarious” and “hilarity”, Hilaria also goes by the name of “Roman Laughing Day”. (Which, sounds like a BLAST.) Holi is celebrated in India as a way to acknowledge the new season; those taking part will often prank each other in good fun.

In any case, April Fools’ Day is something we continue to recognize. As news travels faster than ever, it’s become easy to prank almost any susceptible soul (so… me). And along with the havoc we Americans do with our fake pregnancy schemes, several European countries continue to celebrate it as well.

After potentially starting the tradition in the first place, those in France who get tricked are called a “Poisson d’Avril”, which if you’ve taken French in high school, you’ll know means “April Fish”. In fact, one common practice is to get a cut out of a fish and hook it to someone. Why a fish you ask? Well, that’s kind of unclear too. Perhaps it relates back to Jesus (because doesn’t it always?) who was often connected to fish or maybe it’s for those astrologers out there who know that fish relate to the zodiac sign, Pisces, which also falls in April.

In the end, whatever you believe about the potential origin of April Fools’ Day is up to you, pal. And how you celebrate it? Well, the jokester’s sky’s the limit! Any worthy pranks to share?

Working Title: It’s Pornography!

This week Will Leschber takes a look into Venus in Fur and a look back at the film Kinsey.

Look at the poster. Look at the Tag line. Look on the surface and what do you see? Sex! Sex? Sex. “Wanna talk about sex?” Should I take my clothes off now? Where do you fall on the scale? When was the first time you…you get the idea. As the say, sex sells. And for A.C.T.’s Venus in Fur and Bill Condon’s 2004 film Kinsey, sex is a key component of what gets you in the door.

venus_650x250

In brief, Venus in Fur gives us an hour and a half glimpse into the window of an audition. A frustrated writer/director is looking for his perfect leading lady to place in his adaptation of the sexually controversial classic novel of the play’s title. The play seductively spirals on from there. Kinsey, a bio-pic of none other than Alfred Kinsey, stars Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. The film chronicles the life of this pioneer of sexology from childhood to declining age. The crux of the film, and Alfred Kinsey’s legacy, rests on his academic exploration of the range of human sexuality.

220px-Kinsey_movie

Fortunately, what keeps you in your seat past the reveal of leather lingerie or the disclosure of sexual history details is a layered creation that is interested in much more than simply sex appeal. It seems to me a cake. Initially what is seen is a surface coat of frosting. The Venus advertising is splashed in red moisture and the promise of skin. Kinsey’s poster has less flair but enlarges keywords: pleasure, sexuality and size. Sounds delicious. Ok, I’m interested. What else you got?

The layers of cake taste something like this:

Venus in Fur:

Power dynamics

male/female gender roles,

sexuality,

fetishism,

social norms,

deviancy,

theatre archetypes and personality types,

preconception,

creativity chemistry,

the sources of inspiration,

the amount created work reflects and defines it’s creator

…plus an eclectic and forceful performance by Brenda Meaney.

Kinsey:

Father son dynamics,

male/female gender roles and their implications on social acceptance,

actual sexual practice versus perceived socially acceptable sexuality,

Kinsey Scale/scale of sexuality,

intricacies of long term relationships,

academic reputation escalation and disintegration,

purpose,

passion,

calling

…plus two excellent lead performances. Laura Linney was Oscar nominated for her role and Liam Neeson was nominated for a Golden Globe.

This may read more like a thematic ingredient list than distinct cake layers but the point is, all of these call out for discussion when viewing Venus and watching Kinsey. For me that makes an artistic creation worth watching.

And on a side note, this is first non-touring production at A.C.T. that I really enjoyed in a long while. I’d love to get into more conversations about what Venus ultimately added up to. Did it say something instead of just present discussion points?

As for Kinsey, it’s worth a look for its curious location in Liam Neeson’s filmography. Post-Schindler’s List / pre-Taken, his performance reminds us of the caliber of Neeson’s ability before becoming the leading geri-action hero of today. Grantland.com recently named Liam Neeson as the current holder of the action hero championship belt (http://grantland.com/features/the-action-hero-championship-belt/#fn-13) and after Taken and The Grey, I agree. Yet looking back to another era of his career is refreshing. Take a look.

Venus in Fur runs until April 13th.

Kinsey is available for rent on Google play, You Tube and iTunes.

Sources:

Condon, Bill, dir. Kinsey. Perf. Neeson Liam. Fox Searchlight, 2004. Film.

Kinsey Theatrical Poster. 2004. Photograph. IMDB.comWeb. 1 Apr 2014.

Simmons, Bill. “The Action Hero Championship Belt.” Grantland.com. 27 Mar 2014: n. page. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.

Venus in Fur Program Cover Image. 2014. Photograph. ACT-sf.org, San Francisco. Web. 1 Apr 2014.