Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ashes to ashes --

And one week smashed right into another. These next few posts are coming fast, loose, non-sequentially, each jammed into the next -- partially for technical reasons (internet was down in my section of Los Angeles for middle part of this past week), partially because of my own progressive exhaustion culminating in a migraine headache yesterday. Bear with me -- I'll be rounding back to my notes on, among others Robert Russell, Henning Kles, Kathleen Henderson, Scott Grieger, Hope Atherton, Albert Oehlen, Elizabeth Peyton, David Stone, and more.

13 March 2007 – 14 March 2007

I’m exhausted today – so must post tomorrow morning. (Though that has been preempted by Italian or a little music more than once.) Usual late-night-into-early-morning cycle some call life in Los Angeles but which occasionally feels like life in hell. Completely technologically short-circuited day which might have given me some opportunity to post (or just relax?) – but then there are always a million phone calls to make in my before-twilight zone. Had my choice between Alfred Brendel’s Mozart, Schubert (and Haydn, I think) and Kathleen Turner’s Martha (Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – a last minute ticket fell into my lap) and – having lost track of the performance run over my New York marathon and its sequelae – I decided to act on my original intention to see it before it closed. A mistake. That Turner might bring an original and compelling energy, presence, gravity, sexiness to the role was a given. And I’d never seen her on the stage before. I’ve seen Alfred Brendel half a dozen times. What was I thinking? I’ve seen at least two excellent productions of the Albee play (to say nothing of the Nichols-Lehman adaptation for the screen). But almost every Brendel performance is a revelation – on one level or another a manifestation of the sublime. It’s impossible to come away from a Brendel concert or recital without learning something, without some fresh insight into the (usually high-classical) music, something that filters out another layer of noise or static, that lifts a sonic veil off everything else we’re listening to. Another good production of WAOVW is probably just that.

It’s an entirely unfair comparison. That’s if the Albee production is good. Okay – so it wasn’t that bad. In fact it wasn’t bad at all. It was just…. Tired. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that I’m a bit tired myself – and it’s not a short play – so maybe that should enter into the calculation.) You saw it in the movement on the stage (I didn’t have a great seat – but the slightly elevated view actually made it easier to register the blocking and choreography of the scenes), in the gestures, heard it in their voices, in their breathing.

At first it seemed a bit slower, and less edgy. (Odd to use that word for an Albee play – especially this early – but the first productions (and movie) were very much edge-of-your-seat stuff; and this seems to move in a kind of gravity-less academic aquarium – an ivory tower domesticity.) On a strictly formal level, it's interesting (from my odd seat) watching the way the characterrs fill, hold, protect their space. Bill Irwin plays George as the echt fey ivory tower academic – which he of course is in one sense but really isn’t in the whole of it – his delivery staccato and slightly brittle. (The play picks up a bit here and there. It would have to – too bloody many lines to get through.) There’s something a bit too detached about it. I’m waiting for Turner to give a spectacular “Earth Mother” performance as Martha and shake the set to the rafters. But it never really happens. At moments she summons a marvelous swagger (her voice sounds deeper than ever – maybe deeper than my own); and she has a brilliant way of throwing away a line to offset the bravado. She manages uncannily to deliver on that sense of the stillborn – the whole gestalt of disappointment that hangs over the play. But her delivery at key moments is off – or maybe it’s the breathing (I wonder if she’s still smoking. Not on stage – I mean really smoking tobacco.) The Dies Irae never really flares up into the fire that’s supposed to bring us Sunday’s ashes. But what do I know? I’m ashen as I write this.

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