Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 10 of 2010

2010 winds to a close. And though I only saw about half as much theater (and concerts and nightclub acts) as I did in 2009, I still saw enough to make a solid Top 10 list.

Here – in reverse order of preference – are the best theatrical experiences of the past 12 months:

10: “Oedipus el Rey” at the Magic Theater
This retelling of the Oedipus story in the barrio and prison culture of Hispanic gangs was beautifully staged and performed. Poetic and haunting.

9: Alan Cumming at the Castro Theater
A night of dishy fun. Cumming sang, told jokes, ragged on celebrity culture – all quite expertly.

8. David Sedaris at Berkeley Rep
This was a simple evening: just David talking and reading from his (then) forthcoming new book, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.” What sort of surprised me was how kind and generous David was – he signed books for absolutely everyone who wanted it, and chatted and laughed with his fans both before and after the reading.

7. “Palomino” at the Aurora Theater
Solo performer David Cale did a brilliant job (both in writing and performing) with this piece about an Irish hansom cab driver in Central Park who becomes an escort on the side. Cale played the driver and all the women who loved/hired him. Funny and insightful and wonderfully-constructed.

6. “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” at The Jewish Theater of San Francisco
Another one-man show, another great success. Kornbluth has made me laugh about as hard as anyone ever has. This show wasn’t as roaringly-funny as, say, “Red Diaper Baby,” but the cultural insights more than made up for the somewhat reduced humor quotient.

5. “The Brothers Size” at the Magic Theater
One of the trilogy of the Brother/Sister plays, this was my favorite of the bunch. All broke down not the fourth wall, but the first wall, taking us inside the mind of the playwright, sensing his intentions – even as those intentions were being realized right in front of us.

4. “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” at Cal Shakes
Just a restaging of one of George Bernard Shaw’s lesser-performed works, but it was so ably done, and I love Shaw so much that it had to go on the list.

3. “In The Wake” at Berkeley Rep
Set in the Bush years, this show examined the effects of politics and culture on the lives of people who feel they have the power to effect change in those areas but come to realize they are as inconsequential as every other individual without vaults of cash or far-reaching political influence.

2. “Equivocation” at Marin Theater Company
A celebration of language and art, set in the world of Shakespeare and his company of actors. Fun, challenging, entertaining – a smart but thoroughly enjoyable evening.

1. “The Real Americans” at The Marsh
Dan Hoyle (son of great physical actor Geoff Hoyle) created easily my favorite show of the year. Dan spent several months driving around the heartland of America looking for old-fashioned country wisdom – but discovered so much more. Racism, xenophobia, ignorance…but also sincerity and compassion. What’s more, his skewer didn’t spare his intellectual Bay Area aesthetes, either.

This will be staged at Berkeley Rep this year, so you will have another chance to see it. Do so.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inspired by Nature

...and man. These faucet designs found their genesis from a variety of sources: penguins, violins, sculpture. I think the penguins is my fave.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This... the craziest f*#!ing thing I've ever seen. At least today. You must wait for the chorus, and there's a tiny extra dollop of crazy at the very end. (Oh, and Jim...? Shouldn't "his" be capitalized if "Him" is?)

Monday, July 12, 2010


There is simply no piece of classical music with a more compelling, dramatic conclusion than Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

Go ahead, listen to it. Tell me I'm wrong.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Marriage Equality Cup Final

This year's World Cup final will feature teams from two countries (Spain and The Netherlands) that have embraced marriage equality, playing in yet another country (South Africa) that has embraced marriage equality. Somebody up there likes us?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Vuvuzela Wave

Watching some of the World Cup games, I've decided we ought to send Krazy George to South Africa and get them to do the wave with vuvuzelas: as the "wave" hits you, you stand and blow on the horn. The idea is to get the sound cycling around the stadium in the same way the wave of people do.

Now what I'm wondering is this: if you take two things that were fun to begin with but ultimately grew annoying and overstayed their welcome, do they cancel each other out and become cool for another 20 minutes, or do they cause a logarithmic increase of annoyance?

Monday, April 05, 2010

They Ditched Her

You may know the story of Constance McMillen, the Itawamba (Mississippi) High School senior who wanted to take her girlfriend (and wear a tux) to the prom. School said no, McMilled sued, with the help of the ACLU she won, she was re-invited to prom. Except it seems the school (or at least most kids and probably some parents) planned a double-super-secret prom to be held someplace else. At the "official" prom, Constance was there with her girlfriend -- and only seven other kids! How fun was that?

I'm anxious to see what investigations into this prove, as the word is just breaking today. But if it's true (and I can't imagine it can be kept secret for long in the Facebook age), it's incredibly twisted and cruel and I hope anyone who is responsible ultimately feels enormous shame for their actions. And if any school officials helped plan this secret prom or keep the secret prom a secret from Constance, I hope they are sued or jailed for perjury.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Slightly Spooky

In the past couple of weeks we've begun watching season one of the cable drama "Damages" on DVD. The show stars Glenn Close as both the hero and villain of series; she's a high-powered attorney who is brilliant, manipulative, conniving and caring.

But that's not the spooky part. The spooky part is that while watching an episode, I noticed that one of the characters looked a bit like Tom Cruise. He's a recurring character and has been in several episodes, but in this one scene, the resemblance just struck me. So I said to Bob, "doesn't that guy look a bit like Tom Cruise?" Before he could answer -- in fact, in about ONE SECOND, the character on screen with this guy said: "Has anyone ever told you you look like Tom Cruise?"

Like I said, spooky.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More Common Sense from Tom

Not Paine. Not me. Friedman. Tom Friedman. In an op-ed piece in today's New York Times, Friedman lays out a few ideas about how to get the "radical center" more involved in politics and perhaps cure some of the negative effects of rabid partisanship that has our system of governance trapped.

Money quote:

"One reason independent, third-party, centrist candidates can’t get elected is because if, in a three-person race, a Democrat votes for an independent, and the independent loses, the Democrat fears his vote will have actually helped the Republican win, or vice versa. Alternative voting allows you to rank the independent candidate your No. 1 choice, and the Democrat or Republican No. 2. Therefore, if the independent does not win, your vote is immediately transferred to your second choice, say, the Democrat. Therefore, you have no fear that in voting for an independent you might help elect your real nightmare — the Republican."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

God and Randomness

In the last few months, my posts here have become less and less regular. This leads me to believe there are fewer and fewer of my readers still out there. (Hi mom!) However, even when I was posting 4-5 times a week, sometimes daily, I was never doing it for anyone but myself.

When I post now, it's for the same reasons: because I have some opinion to get off my chest or some half-baked idea I think might be interesting or some opinion or work of someone else that I think should get a slightly wider reading. Today's post is the latter. It's a brief column from Jonah Lehrer, a science writer for Wired and The New Yorker. He references a study from the University of Waterloo that addresses how people might deal with the random nature of existence by putting greater stock in a controlling hand of G-d. Being a big believer in randomness being responsible for pretty much everything about our existence, I found it interesting. Money quote:

"What this study really reminds me of is the stock market. On the one hand, it's a mostly accepted fact that the stock market is a random walk. (Some smart behavioral economists disagree.) Nevertheless, it's pretty clear that, for the vast majority of investors, it's safe to assume that the market is so efficient that it's effectively random. So how do we react to this information? Do we stop trying to outsmart the S&P 500 and instead sink our savings into a low cost index fund? Do we seek the safety of bonds? Not at all. Instead, we become day traders."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Just Brilliant

An amazing video that is text only. You have to watch until at least halfway through. That's where the brilliance starts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wholly Trinity

Stumbled into this place Saturday night. Viraocha is not just a gallery or a retail store or an art installation -- it's all three in one. And beyond that, it's sort of indescribable. But whatever it is, it's very, very cool.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Johnny Weir Rocks

Maturity, self-confidence, compassion...Johnny is a real man.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can't Say As I Blame Him

An orca at Sea World park has attacked and killed one of his trainers. No one seems to understand why this happened. Speculation by one park employee, though he wisely stated he wouldn't jump to conclusions was that this "could be play behavior."

But that doesn't make sense to me. If this is how orcas play, why would such an incident be so rare? (Although this orca, Tilikum [above, playing the submissive role], has previously killed a trainer, and is the prime suspect in the death of an idiot who apparently snuck into the park in order to swim with the whales.) Orcas know how to be gentle, they know how to be in the water with humans in a cooperative way if they want -- why would the pattern change so abruptly?

Seems to me Tilikum is like a prisoner who got to one of the guards. Captivity -- especially for creatures used to roaming such expansive areas -- will drive almost any mammal (and many non-mammals) insane. And if not insane, it stands a good chance of making them really, really mad and vengeful. Like Tilikum.

Boggles my mind as so how we allow theme parks to capture and enclose amazing, air-breathing, live-birthing, breast-feeding fellow mammals. As I wrote in another post, some animals seem to be able to take only so much abuse off of humans. They refuse to be domesticated. Good for them.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Doubt: A Parable" at NCTC

The first time I saw "Doubt: A Parable," John Patrick Shanley's play about a (possibly) pedophile priest in the Bronx in 1964, it was during its original run off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club, during previews. I remember staggering from the theater, knocked off-kilter by the brilliant economy of Shanley's text, not to mention equal brilliance from the cast, especially Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Byrne. I saw the play a second time, during its Best of Broadway run, again with Cherry Jones, but many of its nuances were lost because the Golden Gate was simply too big a venue.

I wasn't planning to see it again, but good friends were very impressed by the production at New Conservatory Theater Center and insisted I go. I did, more than a tad skeptical. NCTC has hosted a couple of the worst things I've ever seen staged. However, I support them with my presence at many of their shows, and cut them a lot of slack, given the budget and talent pool they have to work with. Sometimes they surprise with their quality ("History Boys"), sometimes they disappoint ("Some Men"). Tonight they sort of blew me away.

From the moment I walked in, this was the best NCTC production I've seen. The set was simple without being austere, and evocative of the time and place. But, I thought, set is one thing -- this could all come crashing down the moment the actors open their mouths. But they didn't. In fact, every one acquitted themselves extremely well, especially Scarlett Hepworth in the role of the twisted Sister Aloysius. When you've seen Cherry Jones and Meryl Streep in a role, it's hard to expect anyone to top those performances. Fortunately, acting isn't a zero-sum game with world ranking points, and Hepworth brought her own (equally valid) interpretation of the character to the NCTC stage and I was just as mesmerized by it. The 85 minutes flew past.

Of course, when you are given a text as brilliant as Shanley's (which ended up winning both the Pulitzer and Tony Awards), that's a great start. But it takes more than a great play to make a great production, and the cast and director Ben Randle also deserve kudos for revealing aspects of the play I'd never noticed before. After the past few productions, I was left in doubt as to whether Father Flynn actually did have an inappropriate relationship with one of the altar boys. When I left the theater last night, I had much greater certainty about what the character was up to. I'd also been a little confused by the last line of the play, but now I believe I know what Sister Aloysius means when she says, "I have such doubts."

If you haven't seen "Doubt: A Parable," don't wait any longer. This may be the best chance you get. Go see a wonderful production of terrific play.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Whose Way?

The world is full of strange and interesting stories. Like this one from the New York Times about how the singing of Paul Anka's "My Way" can spark violence in karaoke bars. So much violence that the song is now rarely sung.

"The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The REAL Top Movies of All Time

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- "Avatar" is now the top-grossing movie of all time. (It hasn't gotten my $13 yet, but I expect it will this weekend.) The problem is, ticket prices don't remain constant. So it's a lot easier for more recent movies to pass classics in terms of total box office revenues.

But The Hollywood Reporter just published a list of the Top 20 movies based on number of tickets sold, not dollar revenues.

1 "Gone With the Wind" (1939) 202,044,600
2 "Star Wars" (1977) 178,119,600
3 "The Sound of Music" (1965) 142,415,400
4 "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) 141,854,300
5 "The Ten Commandments" (1956) 131,000,000
6 "Titanic" (1997) 128,345,900
7 "Jaws" (1975) 128,078,800
8 "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) 124,135,500
9 "The Exorcist" (1973) 110,568,700
10 "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) 109,000,000
11 "101 Dalmatians" (1961) 99,917,300
12 "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) 98,180,600
13 "Ben-Hur" (1959) 98,000,000
14 "Return of the Jedi" (1983) 94,059,400
15 "The Sting" (1973) 89,142,900
16 "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) 88,141,900
17 "Jurassic Park" (1993) 86,205,800
18 "The Graduate" (1967) 85,571,400
19 "Star Wars: Episode I" (1999) 84,825,800
20 "Fantasia" (1941) 83,043,500

In case you're interested, "Avatar" would be #26 on this list.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Funny, he never says "roll over."

A woman in England has taken to recording the things her husband says while asleep. Things like:

"Just look at yourself. Yeah, now look at me. You don't stand a chance. It must suck to be you, I'm sure."

"Yeah, falling in love is WONDERFUL. Especially when it's with me."

"I like the balloons. I want one. If I don't get one, I'm gonna squeeze one out right here, right now.... I warned you!"

"You know, with you you you, it's all me me me. Well fuck fuck fuck fuck you you you."

"My badger's gonna unleash hell on your ass. Badgertastic!"

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"The Real Americans"

Wonderfully surprised last night by a new show in previews at The Marsh in San Francisco. "The Real Americans" is the story of writer/actor Dan Hoyle's attempt to bridge a connection between secular humanist intellectuals like himself (and me, for that matter) and the flyover country where millions of Americans still believe Obama is a Muslim, the Earth was created in six 24-hour days, and the reason we can't support health care reform is because all the money to pay for it already went to illegal aliens.

Hoyle spent over three months on the road, visiting Texas, Alabama, Kansas and other parts of the heartland, listening to disaffected, angry (but usually sincere) Americans talk about the political divide in this country from their point of view. He then portrays these people with real honesty and skill. He must do at least two-three dozen different characters, making their voices and mannerisms distinct -- as well as funny, touching and real. Dan succeeds at delivering what I feel is the basis for all good theater: truth. I don't know if he recorded his conversations, or if he just has incredible recall, but the voices all seem genuine and true-to-life.

He also skewers his hipster intellectual friends (and himself), which adds to the genuineness of this piece. He looks honestly at both sides of the divide. (The socially/politically-correct dialogue he gives to these characters is some of the funniest stuff in the show.)

A couple of notes to Dan and director Charlie Varon:

- When you project dialogue on the upstage wall so that we can understand what a character with a deep accent is saying, either do a literal, word-for-word transcription, even if it's not gramatically correct or always easy to understand, or do a full hillbilly-to-English translation and make it funny that way. The in-between way you did it last night just didn't work. Same thing with the projections of the words of the last song Dan did: I imagine things are still in flux since you are in previews, but the projections should match exactly what Dan is singing.

- While we're on the subject of music...Dan can't rap. Sorry to be so blunt with it, but the opening white guy rap is so the polar opposite of Eminem that it fails to rise even to the level of Vanilla Ice. Either change the rap so that it's clear that he is mocking his lack of hip-hop cred, or cut it entirely. As it is, it's a giant rotten egg at the top of the show.

- Dan's second song isn't much either. But by the time he gets to numbers three and four, he's found his rhythm. Fix the first two or cut them.

Other than that, I'm a big fan of this show, in part because I totally identify with Dan's motivations. I, too, want to be an evangelist for reason and logic and science. I, too, respect the service of those who go to Iraq and Afghanistan. I can appreciate the desire for a little "tough country wisdom." But I'm glad it was Dan who went out and did all those interviews with all those people holding on so tightly to their ignorance; I don't think I could have been as patient.

If you live in the Bay Area, make the effort to get to The Marsh and see this terrific little show. (I also suggest Range for dinner either before or after the show.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Steampunk Goes Mainstream

The steampunk aesthetic probably traces back at least as far as the 60s TV show, "The Wild Wild West. As you can see from the video, steampunk is about marrying what we think of as modern functionality with technology from the Victorian era. The effect, to me at least, has always had a cool appeal. Others seem to agree, as the art is having its first full museum show at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, England.

Here's an item or two you can buy on

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hate and Ignorance Still Going Strong

One of the issues being addressed by the Federal Court in the case to overturn Proposition 8 as unconstitutional is whether or not gay people continue to face discrimination. The pro-Prop 8 forces actually went so far as to say that "Will & Grace" airing was a sign that homosexuality has been mainstreamed and therefore discrimination is no longer an issue.

Perhaps the court ought to look in the comments section of stories on gay issues at, a right wing website. Here are a few samples:

"How can we keep allowing someone whom is a degenerate, and lacking any moral code, to run our banking system? How can we trust them to do the right thing when they have rejected the right WAY?"

"So let's call a spade a spade--homosexuals are not equal in the eye's of Nature so why are we trying to force equality where there is none. Nature discriminates, so it is natural for humans to discriminate."

"Again it is the COMMIEQRS who promise transparency like they LIE about EVERYTHING then CHEAT you behind closed doors. Closet Queens, all of them."

"The gays have warped all things good and normal in our society. The gays do now want to abstain from sex, they heavily promote sex. The sign of the rainbow has been twisted from being a sign between God and us after the flood, to a gay symbol. June has been twisted to mean gay pride month and not the month for June brides..."

"You can get legislators to make all the laws you want you freaking freaks. But nothing is ever going to stop people from looking at you with revulsion and disgust when you are in public."

"Homosexuals lead lives of the living dead. God have mercy on them."

"Our once great country is headed for the junk heap of history, driven in great part by sexual perversion. By all means let's hear it for same sex mariage, Hell ain't half full."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thoughts as THE Trial Begins

Opening arguments were made yesterday in Federal Court in San Francisco in the trial attempting to overturn Proposition 8. There are plenty of places where you can read transcripts and reports from the proceedings. What I want to call attention to is how easy it is for people to get distracted from the core issues of the case.

Simply put, it's about equality under the law. Nothing more.

It's not about what children will be taught in school as the Alliance Defense Fund is trying to say. It's not about malice or bad intent on the part of the pro-Prop 8 team, even though their e-mails and internal communications were part of the pre-trial discovery process. I don't care if the anti-equality folks' hearts dripped with pure evil and they rubbed their hands in glee and said "exxx-cellent" as they plotted in their back rooms. It's not even about the rights of Californians to decide for ourselves what "marriage" will be.

The only question that should be at hand is, is it constitutional to deny the rights of civil marriage to any two people who are also willing to take on its responsibilities? Does the US Constitution allow you to treat one group of people differently from another?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Will Rationality Reign?

In a column in this week's Newsweek, Ted Olson, the conservative lawyer who, along with David Boies, is leading a suit brought in the federal court (ninth circuit) to overturn Proposition 8 on the grounds it violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

In this piece, Boies does what few on either side of the issue have done: eliminate emotion and fear-mongering and name-calling and focus strictly on rationality and legal precedent. He even uses an argument that I have been pushing for years, comparing sexuality to handedness.Read the whole piece, but here are a few highlights:

"Subsequent laws and court decisions have made clear that equality under the law extends to persons of all races, religions, and places of origin. What better way to make this national aspiration complete than to apply the same protection to men and women who differ from others only on the basis of their sexual orientation? I cannot think of a single reason—and have not heard one since I undertook this venture—for continued discrimination against decent, hardworking members of our society on that basis."

"The second argument I often hear is that traditional marriage furthers the state's interest in procreation—and that opening marriage to same-sex couples would dilute, diminish, and devalue this goal. But that is plainly not the case. Preventing lesbians and gays from marrying does not cause more heterosexuals to marry and conceive more children. Likewise, allowing gays and lesbians to marry someone of the same sex will not discourage heterosexuals from marrying a person of the opposite sex. How, then, would allowing same-sex marriages reduce the number of children that heterosexual couples conceive?" (This is another point I've made to opponents of marriage equality when they say, "every child deserves a mother and a father." I ask them, how does denying marriage equality increase or decrease the number of children growing up on mother/father homes? No one has had an answer -- because there isn't one.)

"(W)hile our Constitution guarantees the freedom to exercise our individual religious convictions, it equally prohibits us from forcing our beliefs on others. I do not believe that our society can ever live up to the promise of equality, and the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, until we stop invidious discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

"If all citizens have a constitutional right to marry, if state laws that withdraw legal protections of gays and lesbians as a class are unconstitutional, and if private, intimate sexual conduct between persons of the same sex is protected by the Constitution, there is very little left on which opponents of same-sex marriage can rely. As Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented in the Lawrence case, pointed out, "[W]hat [remaining] justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising '[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution'?" He is right, of course. One might agree or not with these decisions, but even Justice Scalia has acknowledged that they lead in only one direction."

The case begins tomorrow. Let's hope the justices are as rational (and as committed to the Constitution's requirement for equal treatment under the law) as Mr. Olson is.

Sunday, January 03, 2010