Working Title: Pint Sized Recommendations…or One Llama to Rule them All

This week Will Leschber discusses Pint Sized Play Festival film pairings with Stuart Bousel, Emma Rose Shelton & Rob Ready.

Reflecting on this year’s upcoming Pint-Sized Play Festival has led me to realize what I miss about being at university. The constant consumption of new things and new ideas is the lure, and, of course, those things are generally missed. But the crux, the essential thing that I pine for, is the structured ascension. You feel as if your path is laid before you and that you are constantly improving and growing as you walk down the road towards knowledge…or maybe the road was just leading to semester’s end. Either way, it’s easy at times in our daily lives, our daily grinds, to feel stagnant and/or circling or floating with less aim than we used to know in the past. There is an absence of hope in aimlessness. But the powerful thing is that we are all moving forward, and the trick is to remind yourself that your constant road can be one that ascends, if you mind the way. Nothing like an annual event to rock us back to reflection…or maybe drinking like we are college kids!

Of all the pints, in all the bars, in all the world…you had to laugh into mine.

Of all the pints, in all the bars, in all the world…you had to laugh into mine.

It is time again for the Pint-Sized Plays. This jovial event comes but once a year and it is glorious. A fruitful fun evening that turns over a handful of laughs in the time it takes to finish a beer. This may not obviously link to an evening of what you may call ascension… but many things can be found in the swirls of a pint glass. The quick cycle of the night is part of the allure. If this play isn’t for you, finish your beer and worry not, for another play is 10 minutes away…and maybe another beer too. 😉 Our constant companion in the years that we’ve seen Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays has been the Llama. His pint consumption knows no bottom. His wisdom knows no limits. And his beard is just spectacular.

rob-ready-llama

The three pillars of this year’s Llamalogue who I had the pleasure to speak with are Stuart Bousel, Theater Pub’s Executive Director, Bay Area Ringmaster and playwright of the infamous Llamalogues; Emma Rose Shelton, all-around wonder woman and director of this year’s “Llama VI”; and of course, Rob Ready, Artistic Director of PianoFight and the amazing aforementioned bearded Llama himself.

To get you in the headspace of the Llama (oh God NO…you say…don’t worry, it’ll be OK…this will all wear off in the morning) and the Pint-Sized Plays in general, we have three recommended film pairings to play along with the festival’s themes and schemes.

Lets start with the the Rob-a-Llama recommendation…ready, steady, drink and go!

The Apartment, the 1960 classic directed by Billy Wilder and starring the splendid Jack Lemmon and stunning Shirley Maclaine… To move up the ladder at work, Lemmon lets executives use his apartment for their affairs… hilarity and heartbreak ensue. It’s kind of a similar aesthetic and tone [to our dear Llama]…Lemmon does a ton of over-the-top physical comedy in the role while also coming off as a grounded, fully-fleshed-out person with a big heart. Most of the film is really funny, but there are parts that just tear at your heartstrings. And I think that’s roughly what the Llamalogues aim to do.

The Apartment foreign

Well said, and great recommendation! Now let’s hear what Llamalogue director Emma Rose Shelton has to pair with the indomitable Llama…

Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy classic… There’s something about Bill Murray’s character coming back each time needing to learn the same lesson and just failing miserably at it. Something about him trying to figure his shit out while being lovably melancholy and self-loathing reminds me of our Llama.

God I love that Punxsutawney Phil. Don't drive angry. Don't drive angry!

God I love that Punxsutawney Phil. Don’t drive angry. Don’t drive angry!

OK, last but not least since this is supposed to be the length of a beer…a slowly nursed beer. Let’s get to Stuart Bousel and close this mother out. Bousel brings to the table a beautiful and less well-known film…but boy is it a treat.

Sally Potter’s Orlando, 1992… Sally Potter, perhaps one of the most underrated filmmakers in the world, is one of my favorite directors, and her film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is, like the source material, many many things. For me, the film is about finding your place in the world, and not just the world, but time itself, coming to terms with the infiniteness of human experience but also the limited scope of any one life, including your own. Or in less fancy speak: it’s about accepting your own mortality, and by doing so, finally beginning to really live. It’s no big secret Theater Pub is coming to an end this year, though Pint-Sized may continue. Will the Llama continue with it? I rather hope so. But I have already decided it won’t be me writing it anymore. So this last Llamalogue is my kiss goodbye to this incredible, rewarding, and demanding period of my life that I’ve loved living through and am also looking forward to having behind me so I can move on to other things. As the angel sings at the end of the film, while Orlando and her daughter watch: I am being born, and I am dying.

orlando-1look-1

That rounds out this pint. I promise the night of Pint Sized Plays at PianoFight is hugely entertaining and there will be more laughs and guffaws than bittersweetness…but like any good night of entertainment the presence of both light and dark will be in attendance…or possibly ascendence.

The season’s change is upon us, as it ever is. Soak it in. It goes fast. This is the last Llamalogue as we have come to know it. Come out, have a beer, a laugh and nod to see the shadow of the Llama pass. You know what they say about a Llama who sees his shadow…or maybe that is something else. This shadow pint is for you, Llama.

pintsized3

Editor’s note: our Pint-Sized Tzarina, Marissa Skudlarek, points out that this is the first year of Pint Sized where we have THREE one-person shows. Says Marissa:

Three of the 11 plays in this year’s Pint-Sized Play Festival are one-person shows. In addition to the return of the drunken llama played by Rob Ready, a beloved character who has appeared in every Pint-Sized Festival since 2010, we’re telling the stories of two women who are on the brink of major life changes. There’s the title character of “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” by Jake Arky: at the age of 36, Julie has finally earned the right to call herself an adult by the standards of her Jewish faith. And there’s Meredith — or should we call her Olivia? — in Caitlin Kenney’s “Why Go with Olivia?”, a woman who’s preparing to cut ties with her old life and start anew.

Julie, the Llama, Meredith… they’ve all been around the block a few times. They’re adults, thirtysomethings, with histories and backstories and opinions. And yet they don’t always make the right choices, especially when pints of beer are involved. They are brash, opinionated, and very fun characters, but they’re also all seeking meaning and fulfillment in their own ways. I know, that sounds like a lot to ask from a proudly self-proclaimed slut who gets drunk at her own Bat Mitzvah, or a woman whose quest for a new life means turning her back on everything that came before, or a boozy llama who started out in 2010 as an absurdist sight gag. But it also happens to be true.

Don’t Miss Pint Sized Plays VI, playing 8/15, 8/16, 8/22, 8/23, 8/29, 8 PM, only at PianoFight! 

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The Five: Following Up On Old Stories

Anthony R. Miller checks in by revisiting old articles.

Hey guys, so this week’s article started as just another 5 random thoughts. But then I realized the five thoughts weren’t random at all, they all were directly related to previous articles I had written. So today we take a look back at the ol’ back catalogue and see how things changed since then. Think of it as one of those episodes of Unsolved Mysteries where they say “hey remember that one mystery we couldn’t solve? We solved it.” So let’s look at a few follow ups to older articles, as usual, I have five.

Sometimes It Just Works

For my most devoted readers (I.e., my parents.) You will recall how excited I was to see Tartuffe at Berkeley Rep. Without writing a review; suffice it to say I loved the ever-loving crap out of it. A major reason for that being it was the opposite of what I expected. When I think of Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp, I immediately think of the modern-day Commedia Del Arte’ style, over the top comedy of A Doctor In Spite Of Himself and last season’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Instead, I got a dark-as-fuck interpretation that walked a line between silly and dark and perverse. I never knew if I was supposed to laugh or be horrified and I loved it. I loved that they made big fat daring choice and took it to the hilt. However, a strange phenomenon has been happening as I describe the show to people, about the time when I talk about the obvious influence that movement based methods such Biomechanics and Viewpoints had on the staging, I realize, I should have hated this show. The choice to take a usually funny, edgy comedy and take it in such an experimental, art school-esqe direction, the high art-ness of it all should have made me pull chairs out of the floor, but it didn’t. On this particular day, it totally rocked my socks. The point being, sometimes, in spite of everything, you just really like something. Sometimes, it just works for you, and hey, good for you for liking things.

A.J. Kirsch is Brilliant

In my first article for T-Pub, I made my love for Hoodslam pretty clear. My favorite thing about Oakland is not the Lake, Or Chicken and Waffles at the Merritt Bakery not even the Grand Lake Theatre (although it’s a real close second.) It’s Hoodslam, Indie Wrestling’s “Accidental Phenomenon” performing at the Oakland Metro Opera house the First Friday of every month. As I said, my love for this show is well documented, but I specifically want to talk about someone, who I think is one of the best, most brilliant performers in the Bay Area. There is one guy who is on stage for three hours straight, acts as host, commentator and wrestler and puts on a consistently masterful, energetic and fun performance every time. That guy, is A.J. Kirsch, also known as “Broseph Joe Brody” , a former contestant on WWE Tough Enough (And most recently Vh1’s Dating Naked). It’s not just the obscene amount of energy and intensity he puts into every aspect of his performance that makes him special. It’s the sheer amount of roles he plays. As host, he holds a capacity crowd in the palm of his hand; he leads them in chants, drives them into a frenzy with announcement of every wrestler, he stands from the turnbuckle, leaning over the crowd as he basks in sea of middle fingers as the audience chants “Fuck you, Bro”. He is their hero and villain all at once. Every wrestler has what is known as a “Gimmick”, it’s the core of your character, your costume, your entrance music, and your move set. Kirsch’s “Broseph” character is an obnoxious meathead who wears muscle tees with tacky phrases and carries a giant can of Axe body spray, in other words; he is everything the audience hates, a dirty douchebag bro. The audience loves to hate him, and hates to love him. Because of his humor, presence and natural charisma, he is the first ironic heel (Bad Guy), which makes him a Babyface (Good guy) for the smart-fan indie wrestling audience. This is a perfect example of Hoodslam’s Meta nature. Everyone is in on the joke. And Kirsch is their Ringleader.

Wrestlemania Was Probably the Coolest Thing to Ever Happen In San Jose

At some point last year, I made a list of theatrical events I was super excited for, Wrestlemania was one of them. At the time, wild horses could not have stopped me. Not only was it freakin’ Wrestlemania, but it was in my Hometown of San Jose (And Santa Clara, but whatever.). But the cruel realities of $250 Tickets, lame responsibilities and just poor planning led to me watching at home, luckily I have a pretty sweet TV. But the part I enjoyed the most was watching all of the events put on by the WWE that weren’t Wrestlemania. As a former resident of Downtown San Jose, it was crazy to see footage of Fan Access at the San Jose McHenry Convention Center, NXT did a show at SJSU Event Center, Some of my favorite wrestlers went to bars I used to hang out in. So many things that I was a huge fan of were all happening in my lame hometown. And it was all happening blocks away from my old apartment. It was the first time in forever I thought “Aw man, finally something super cool is happening in San Jose and I’m not there.” Wrestlemania was a huge success, which isn’t surprising; Downtown San Jose is designed for conventions. The word is San Jose and Santa Clara want the “Showcase of the Immortals” back sooner than later. Events in Downtown San Jose usually involve cars, concerts with very old bands or cover bands that play very old songs, or Christmas in the Park. So this was easily the coolest thing to ever happen in Downtown San Jose, so when it does come back, I won’t miss it this time, probably.

If Some Dude Doing An All-Pug Production of Hamlet is the Only Good Thing to Come From The Potato Salad Kickstarter, Then It Was Totally Worth It.

Oh the Potato Salad Kickstarter, remember that? The first Crowd-funding Meme, the joke that became a worldwide phenomenon, the Kickstarter Campaign that destroyed relationships, divided friends, and became either the funniest thing ever or proof the human race was doomed (Depending on your point of view.) But suffice it to say, Shit got real. At the time, there was a glut of theatrical crowdsourcing campaigns in the Bay, so I wrote two articles on it. It seemed every dream project, theater renovation, and fledgling theatre company with an ambitious new season, (Not to mention Reading Friggin Rainbow) needed your money. It got crazy, lots of folks didn’t make goal. People, who always made goal, didn’t make goal. And the fact people were more willing to give a dollar to be part of a ridiculous joke instead of ones theatrical endeavor created some very real tension. But a week later, the Facebook news Cycle had moved on and people were mad/outraged/excited about something else. But a lot of folks took the Potato Salad Kickstarter as a sign. A sign that said, you can do a campaign for any stupid idea you have, and people will reward you for how clever your stupid idea is. Enter Kevin Broccoli, an Actor from Providence, Rhode Island. Kevin saw the Potato Salad Kickstarter and said “Hey, I’ve got a stupid idea too!” and his campaign to stage Hamlet with a cast of Pugs was born. What started as joke became very real as the donations poured in; eventually he hit his goal of $5000 and will now stage the show. Think about that, $5000 for Pugs, on stage, dressed in Shakespearean Costumes. So for all the strife that kooky Potato Salad Kickstarter caused, it also begat a bunch of pugs in funny costumes, like a flower that rose from shit.

OMG A MUSICAL VERSION OF ‘GROUNDHOG DAY’!!!

Quite Recently, I wrote about a few silly ideas for musicals (I kept the gems for myself). But what I did not anticipate was real life Broadway one-upping me. Recently it was announced the classic Bill Murray film Groundhog Day would be adapted into a Broadway musical. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure, but they better do a huge dance number to “Pennsylvania Polka”. Will the Groundhog have a number? The show is written by Tim Minchin and Danny Rubin who wrote the Musical Adaptation of Matilda. This would mean something if I saw Matilda, but it got nominated for a Tony, that still means something, right? (Right?) One day our entire childhoods will be re-created in musical form, hopefully all the actors will be pugs, pugs dressed as pro wrestlers.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director and Producer. His new play “Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party” will premiere at this years SFF Olympians Festival and his other new play “Sexy Vampire Academy” will get it’s first reading as part of “TERROR-RAMA 2:PROM NIGHT”, this October. Keep up with all of it at www.awesometheatre.org

Everything Is Already Something Week 50: Why Isn’t It Just Funny?

Allison Page gets serious. And anxious. And anxious about being serious.

“Wh…what did you think?”, I stammer.
“Why wasn’t it just funny? It should have just been funny.”, says a faceless man, walking away from where I stand, leaving me in front of a grungy set, holding a beer. Then the floor opens up and I drop into a lava pit and am quickly enveloped in a sea of hot melty fire sludge. And then maybe a pterodactyl flies by or something.

This is what my brain makes up when I start thinking about what other people’s reactions to my first full length production as a playwright will be. The fact that I missed writing my last blog – which is the only time that has EVER happened in the last two years – should tell you how deep I am into this show. And let’s be clear about one thing – it is going fantastically well. Rehearsals are these great revelatory experiences, mostly because the director (Claire Rice) is the exact right fit for this play. She asks the right questions and that’s a biggie.

But I have this…thing hanging over me. And I sincerely doubt it’s unique. It’s also sort of narcissistic and I totally recognize that. It’s that thing where people get used to you doing a certain thing or being a certain way and then you deviate from the path in some manner and have no idea if that’s going to be a plus or a minus to people. Yeah, okay, I usually write comedy. I know that. And yes, this play has a title that makes it sound like a comedy. But it is really dark. The assistant director referred to it as “cruel” which it definitely is at times. This is especially true of the main character, who – SPOILER ALERT – is played by me. So yeah, now I’m that guy. I’m in a thing I wrote. Now, I don’t tend to write things for myself. Actually, I’ve never done it before. This is the first time. It’s a unique project and I don’t see writing lots of things for myself in the future. But it certainly is extra pressure on me. Then, naturally, my brain goes “God, what are people going to think of THAT?”

The Number 23 has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in case anyone was wondering.

The Number 23 has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in case anyone was wondering.

I could think about this stuff all day. I mean, I’d go crazy doing it, but I could do it. They’re all self-inflicted issues mostly based on what I would think if I knew someone who wasn’t me who was doing the same thing I’m doing. Ya know, because I’m a judgmental jerk and kind of a lunatic. Taking ownership of this project and saying “If people don’t like it, that’s okay.” is hard. But totally necessary. I’m making it not because I think it’s for everyone and that they’ll love it and lose their minds. I’m making it because I couldn’t let it go. It’s been brewing for 4 years in my brain, and at some point I just figured that I had to find a way to make it happen because otherwise I’ll be forever bitter at myself for not doing it. It just stuck with me like nothing else has, and I have to think that’s because I need to do it.

53%...slightly better, anyway!

53%…slightly better, anyway!

When I try to think about who I think this show is FOR – like what kind of audience is the best kind of audience for this play – I’m not sure I know how to answer that. I have this nagging feeling that any critics who have liked me up to this point are not likely to approve of this show. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m right. Either way it doesn’t really matter, I’m going to do what I’m doing because it feels necessary. And yeah, the narcissistic part is thinking that anyone, anywhere gives a shit if I deviate from a perceived norm. Because that means I think someone is actually paying enough attention to make the assumption that I only work on certain types of material.

*snake eats its own tail AGAIN*

I’m not a sensitive person, but this thing is bringing weird stuff out of me. I’m trying to stay even and calm because that’s my preferred state of mind, but I can’t help but feel I’m taking some kind of risk – which is important, right? Otherwise WHAT ARE WE ALL DOING?!

80% - hey, that's pretty good! Actually, I give this movie my own 100%, and I think Patton Oswalt is brilliant in it.

80% – hey, that’s pretty good! Actually, I give this movie my own 100%, and I think Patton Oswalt is brilliant in it.

Oh boy. What a mess this blog is. Also, I make no comparisons between me and Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, or Patton Oswalt. Just…so we’re clear. Back to revisions and memorizing. And then trying not to sweat it, and sweating it anyway.

You can catch Allison Page in her DIVAfest-produced HILARITY at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco, opening March 5th.

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.

Grand_Budapest_#1_poster copy

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.

Grand_Budapest_#2_pink_cake copy

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.

Grand_Budapest_#3_ralph_fiennes copy

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.

Grand_Budapest_#4_perfume copy

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.