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Archive for April, 2010

Today’s sentence(s) I wish I’d written, from “The Great Outdoor Fight” stretch of Achewood: “You didn’t fugue, you were berserk. That’s like comparing a lunatic to a pissed man with goals.”

Last month a new short play of mine was produced by the fine people at The Inconvenience. AND THERE’S VIDEO. Lean, mean, and no in-between Missi Davis delivers a discourse on the sex industry, our current recession, and manners. Chris Chmelik gamely gets the shit kicked out of him before a paying audience.

By the by, when Missi drifts off camera it’s to hit a heckler in the face with a newspaper. True story.

Click the “Strapped” link and BEHOLD:

Strapped from Jamin Townsley on Vimeo.

For what it’s worth, you will never see a more perfect ass than the one sported by  Missi Davis.

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Sorry for the week-ish delay in posting something new. Erica and I were working ’round the clock on revisions for our new play A Twist of Water, and Ms. Weiss would not have taken kindly to me spending precious rewrite hours on pleasure scribbling. Also, Neil LaBute issued a fatwa against Chicago theatre critics. See the Time Out Chicago review of Taming of the Shrew for details. Or buy me a cup of tea. In any event, there’s been stuff.

But, yay! Blogging once more. My brain is pleased. And there is much geekiness to share. To the socially awkward-mobile!

In the hopes of transitioning back into the hardcore cinephile I was at age eleven (No joke, y’all. Ask my mom. I pulled marathon Hitchcock viewings in fifth grade.) I’ve been going through my DVD collection and re-watching, digging into special features, listening to commentaries like a bandit, and generally catching up on my own tastes before I have to start defending them.

Note to Self: Why do I not own all of Pedro Almodovar? Epic fail, Self.

During this self-imposed Movie Boot Camp I ventured out to glamourous Skokie, IL with fellow future Chicago expat Casey Campbell. I usually only go to Skokie once a year, to stage manage for a ballet troupe, but he lured me with tales of half priced books and DVDs, and a Chipotle lunch. He also drove. It’s amazing, the things to which I’m amenable if there’s a car ride involved.

And, lo. There were insanely cheap, out-of-print books and films. And it was good.

DVD-wise, I picked up two of my faves, which for some reason had never made it into the personal library (hundreds strong). Silence of the Lambs (out-of-print Criterion edition, which boasts the only commentary track available for the film: Ted Tally, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Johnathan Demme, and John Douglas. Totes worth 6 bucks.) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2 disc, awesome del Toro commentary, and bunches of featurettes. A must for students of special effects and myth).

Within days I had watched both films, with and without commentary, and surveyed all the special features as well. Then a very interesting thought occurred. They’re basically the same story.

“Dear Caitlin,” a reader begins. “It has come to our attention that you may have gone a little batshit this week, which is entirely your own fault for jumping right ahead into the second novel in Ellroy’s LA Quartet. Please do not take this crazy out on any unsuspecting persons who come across your blog. If you could please go back to writing amusing anecdotes, re: Things Erica Does or Siblings Say the Darnedest Things, that would be baller. Yours, affectionately. Reader.”

Dear Reader. Your concern is appreciated. However, your assumption that I’m bullshitting, or reading too much into things is hurtful. And misguided. Allow me to explain. Yours in Christ. Caitlin.

Observe, bitches.

“Once upon a time there was a brave and intelligent girl, whom most dismissed because of her age and sex. A quest was set before her. If she succeeded she would assume the rank she had always desired and deserved. It was very dangerous, for standing between her and victory was a murderous ogre. She had assistance, though, in the form of an unpredictable guide, himself very dangerous. And carnivorous. After completing several tasks she came face to face with the ogre, in the middle of a darkened labyrinth. She had a chance to save herself and run away, but she knew that another besides herself was in the ogre’s keeping, an innocent. And she could not leave them to die. So, she walked into the darkness alone, and triumphed. Though it cost her much.”

Clarice Starling, possibly still the finest heroine in cinema (genre cinema, certainly), wants to be a full fledged FBI agent. She’s given a chance to shine. She must aid in the capture of Buffalo Bill, a killer of women, before he dispatches his latest victim. Her guide in this quest? Another serial killer. Hannibal Lecter, who can never be fully trusted, and who demands she pay him for his advice. His price? A window into Clarice’s past, and the story of why she is who she is. When she was a child she awoke one night to hear the spring slaughter of lambs on a farm. That she was unable to save them has driven her to save all others who fall before a blade. Lecter rewards her with the clues she requires for Bill. She performs admirably, better than anyone could have imagined, and in the end it is not the seasoned expert who tracks Bill, but Starling. She follows him underground to his torture chamber, her only thought to save Katherine Martin before Bill slices her up, persisting even in pitch black and terror. And she shoots him in cold blood. She achieves the respect and status due her in a vicious boys’ club, and the end intimates that though Lecter has escaped, his position in her life will be that of a dark guardian angel.

Ofelia, a bookish child in the middle of the Spanish revolution, moves with her mother to a military outpost in the woods. Her mother is pregnant with Ofelia’s half-brother, the child of a sociopathic, fascist Captain (the leader of the outpost). One night a fairy leads her into the woods, where a Faun reports that she is, in fact, a Princess of another realm, one far finer than the wartorn reality she knows. If she can complete three tasks she will be transported to her rightful kingdom. The Faun is a frightening, ambivalent creature, one whose agenda is never clear, and though Ofelia is entranced with the magic she encounters, her life is at risk constantly. Then her mother dies in childbirth. The Faun tells Ofelia to bring her newborn brother to the center of a maze in the forest. She does, with the Captain tracking her. When offered the chance to enter her kingdom immediately, under the condition that she surrender the infant boy to the Faun’s knife, she refuses. her delay allows the Captain to find and shoot her, before he himself is assassinated by rebels. And though she dies in our realm, it is made clear that Ofelia lives on, a queen in a world we cannot see.

So…this explains a whole lot about the kinds of movies to which Caitlin responds well.

1. Dark as shit? Check.

2. Strangely beautiful none-the-less? Check.

3. Strong female characters? Check. And, duh.

4. Ambiguous endings? Checkity check.

5. Horror leanings? Oh, hell check.

Horror was my first genre love, as evidenced by those preadolescent Hitchcock binges. It catches a lot of flack, as there’s more shitty horror out there than other shitty genre offerings. But when it hits right, it hits you in your core. There’s nothing more primal than fear. My poor mother barely survived my campaign to be allowed to read Stephen King when I was eight. She finally gave in when I was eleven. When I burn out on reading I’m doing for research or some other nobel reason, my brain candy is inevitably horror. I.E. this week I’m interspersing James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere with Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts. Fun fact, Hill is actually Stephen King’s son, but I’ll get to a comparison of their work at a later date. Even when I’m not reading straight up horror offerings, I like seeing moments of horror pop up. When done properly they elevate a sneakily realistic piece of writing to fairy tale-badassery.

Caitlin: “Lookin’ at you, Ellroy. You sick fuck.”

James Ellroy: “Just for that I’m putting a skull fuck victim in Book 2. Oh, what, you didn’t think I read your whiny American Psycho entry? Suck it up.”

Caitlin: [shakes fist at the sky] “ELLROY!”

James Ellroy: [brings lightning down from the sky like the flaming fist of God] “Shut up and get me some scotch.”

Caitlin: “…no.”

James Ellroy: “…what did you say?”

Caitlin: “I asked if you liked single or double malt.”

James Ellroy: “Goddamn right.”

…anyway.

Silence and Labyrinth are singular films and sister stories if for no other reason than the fact that they feature a courageous female hero who succeeds, without being sexualized or brutalized, against the forces of darkness. And, neither Clarice nor Ofelia are male heroes in drag. They’re so completely feminine, using intuition, courtesy, and curiosity to achieve their goals. Sure, they get called bitches along the way, but all the people who do that end up dying in marvelous ways. I salute you, Messrs del Toro and Demme.

I want to find a third film that fits the same myth path as the first two. Trinities are better than twins. Let the hunt begin.

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Shit Gets Real for Real

Today’s sentence I wish I written, from the end of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium 2: The Girl Who Played with Fire: “Kalle Fucking Blomkvist.”

So, finished up Larsson’s Book 2 last night in a marathon session of insomnia/mental palette cleansing. I stand before you now refreshed, almost fully recovered from The Black Dahlia, and biting at the chomp for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I’m tremendously excited to see how Stieg (RIP) wraps everything up. Because here’s the thing: While reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I didn’t understand that the Millennium trilogy was an epic. The first book goes into financial and governmental corruption in Sweden, sure, but the central mystery is a closed-drawing room affair that Blomkvist and Salander wrap up before also tidying Blomkvist’s work problems and riding off into the sunset having bested the baddies and stolen their money, thugged out Robin Hood style. Super-duper fun, can’t wait for the next feminist James Bond installment, but I assumed Blomvist and Salander’s adventures were a series and not a serial.

Oh, Boy Howdy, was I wrong.

Larsson didn’t just create the pre-eminent detective duo for the 21st century. He erected a gorgeous, web-like indictment of institutional misogyny, and then handed his heroine a literal can of gasoline and literal box of matches to burn the entire structure down.

Stieg Larsson, I salute you. If I start drinking regularly again, I’m-a pour one out for you, okay? You have officially made my list of the coolest people who died too young from natural causes, along with Carl Sagan, Bill Hicks, and Madeline Kahn.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great read, make no mistake. But The Girl Who Played with Fire is when shit gets real for real.

And this seems to be a common convention in the epic trilogy. The literary trilogy can vary in content, theme, and quality, but there are several universals that crop up in the finest three-act stories.

A. Book One – Our hero, or heroes, create their team, the unit we’ll be following for the next God knows how many pages. Hints of the conflict’s origins, but no concrete explanations.

B. Book Three – Everything explained! Epic dance off between good and evil! Everyone nuts up and takes off their fingernails. And…scene.

C. Book Two – Well, goddamn, it’s darkest before the dawn.

Now, understand that I applying these rules to a trilogy of books with ONE OVERARCHING STORY. Three books with the same characters and locations but unconnected narratives do not count. And when JK Rowling and Stephen King get all crazy and stretch it out to seven books, the rules change again.

But for now, let’s talk about the night bridge that is the royal BOOK TWO.

Exhibit A: The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Exhibit B: The Subtle Knife, from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

Exhibit C: The Two Towers, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

Books 2 of epics often get a bum rap. It’s true that they offer little in the way of closure. After the initial victory of Books 1 (the establishment of either our hero’s quest, their newfound alliance with a partner or team, or both), Books 2 are often a burning stretch of hurt for the noble questers we’ve been taught to love and onto whom we project ourselves before the sturm und drang badassery of Books 3. But, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Books that separate the Beginning and the End of a story, because they’re the volumes in which all characters alter the most. They’re the game changers. They’re the Coliseums in which Darkness reigns and Loss cheers. They’re the brutal tests that make our hero(es)’s eventual victories matter, and the tortures that cement our heroes inability to return to the lives they had before becoming heroes. They’re the rites of passage.

They’re when everyone grows the hell up.

If you’ve yet to pick up Millennium, His Dark Materials, or Lord of the Rings, I’m not here to condemn you, or exclude you from my ramblings. I also don’t want to ruin plot points for you, so venture carefully after this point. Here there be spoilers. And deeply nerdy love.

Before I get to why Books 2 are my favorites in a trilogy, and the episodes I think are the hardest to write or enjoy, I want to talk about three protagonists:

Lisbeth Salander. Lyra Belaqua. Frodo Baggins. Our heroes. Our hearts. And, as we follow along, Bastion Balthazar Bux-style, Our selves.

They each face dilemmas with similar stakes, although Lisbeth reigns in a quasi-recognizable present reality, and Frodo and Lyra chill in Middle Earth or the Multiverse. Lisbeth has to confront her past, rise above, and turn from victim to The Woman Who Hates Men Who Hate Women, and give institutional misogyny a beat-down it will not soon forget. Frodo has to carry The One Ring, the embodiment of Greed and Want, make his way into the Black Lands, and destroy the Ring before it destroys him, freeing all the world from evil. Lyra? Well, shit. She has to become the second embodiment of Eve, liberate the prison camp that we call Death, and Bring. Down. God. For reals.

Once again, to all proponents of the notion that we have run out of stories to tell: Shut the fuck up.

But of course, on the way to these goals our heroes must suffer tremendously. And the middle volume is when we, the readers, walk into stories we know are laced with defeat.

Just look at the nouns in the titles and what they imply. Fire. Towers. Knife. Chaos and pain. Indomitable foes. Danger and blood. In the immortal words of Michael Stipe: “Everybody hurts.”

The best example, and my favorite convention, of the volumes in which our heroes are brought low, is the Rise of the True Friend.

Three more names: Mikael Blomkvist. Will Parry. Samwise Gamgee.

These are the creatures who understand, in a way elusive to all other characters surrounding our heroes and their quests, exactly how much our heroes must sacrifice, and how worthy they are of love. They are the Loyal Few. The one spark of faith in otherwise unforgiving universes of fire, knives, and towers.

Blomkvist defends Salander in the wake of indisputable evidence that she’s responsible for the murder of two of his friends, and once again takes up the mantle of Private Detective, searching for the truth despite opposition from the police, his lover, and Salander herself. All with only one conviction: “My friend would never do that.”

Will Parry, a child just like Lyra, stands on the brink of war between Heaven and Earth. He has two angelic guardians willing to take him to safety in the wake of Lyra’s kidnapping. His response: he goes no where until they find Lyra. A boy who can cow angels with the conviction, “My friend would do the same for me.”

And Samwise Gamgee, who brings tears to my eyes. The last line of The Two Towers, to which The Subtle Knife owes a debt, reads, “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.” And sweet Sam, more pure of heart than Mikael or even Will, carries the Ring himself and sets off for Hell, his only thought being, “My friend.”

Kills me.

More important even than their loyalty, is the fact that the True Friends invariably also become the guardians of the Hero’s resurrection. Working backwards, Frodo is poisoned and then succumbs to the Ring. Samwise brings him back from the brink of becoming a second Gollum. Lyra is kidnapped and drugged. Will fetches her out and facilitates her fall from innocence (and vice versa), so their mutual sexual awakening can upend the way of things and establish The Republic of Heaven (saddest. ending. ever.)

And so now, at the end of Larsson’s second installment, Lisbeth is at the brink of death, having cut ties with anyone resembling a friend only to have Mikael show up at the eleventh hour to save her, unthanked and unwanted.

“Kalle Fucking Blomkvist.”

So, here’s what Book 3 promises to be.

Over the course of two volumes we’ve gotten to know Lisbeth: brilliant, damaged, not quite right in the head, but oh wow do we love her. Book One she establishes her innate awesomeness. Book Two she has perfected the sterile, protected world she always wanted, only to see all of it crash to the ground. She is forced to do the one thing she never wanted to do: engage in the outside world and seek revenge. She ends the book pretty much accepting that she’s going to die while righting all the wrongs of her past, and happy that it’s over. And if Mikael didn’t show up in the end, she would.

So Book 3 means Lisbeth, like any great hero, gets to be reborn, emerging the same though changed (PATAPHYSICS! Wiki it!)

That means that since Mikael has excised any need for her to be forgiven, having utterly accepted her for who she is, she can emerge more powerful, unashamed and righteous, and make every chauvinist sadist in Sweden pay.

It’s gonna be a Boondock Saints fire fight. For explanation, see the following clip, excusing the operatic violence and remembering only the operatic Willem Dafoe. In fact, feel free to stop the clip after his quote.

The next title is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Note also The Amber Spyglass and The Return of the King. Books 3 are always about looking the war in the eye and not blinking. Books 3 are when the heroes live up to their title. It’s also when they lose everything besides that title.

Long story short, I think Hornet’s Nest is going to be the death of Lisbeth Salander and the birth of someone else. Larsson had started a second trilogy before he died in 2004. I wonder if his girls were about to turn into women, and what they would have done.

I may have to buy the import paperback before the US edition comes out in May.

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The Books That Hurt

See this guy? See this bizarro Walt Disney lookalike motherfucker staring you down? This is James Ellroy.

James Ellroy does not love you.

In fact, James Ellroy only used to maybe pity you, and that was the closest he came to feeling any sort of warmth or concern for you, your children, or God’s shining faith in your endeavors. James Ellroy thinks you’re a chump. Just as when Chuck Norris does a push-up he isn’t lifting himself up but pushing the Earth down, when James Ellroy writes a book he isn’t writing something for you to pick up and put down; he’s writing something to pick you up before it beats you to death in front of your parents.

“The fuck did you expect?” Jame Ellroy spits as he walks past your soon to be cold body and leaves the room, hat going from hand to head in a smooth motion that could stand-in for a farewell if he gave one shred of a damn about saying good-bye.

…so, I just finished my first James Ellroy novel. The Black Dahlia. I’d been reading at a rate of a noir a day for almost two weeks when I hit Los Angeles for my USC open house, spent two full days on Stieg Larsson, and started Dahlia (Book 1 in Ellroy’s LA Quartet) in the spirit of getting to know my future home’s past. Dahlia is based on a real crime, one of the grisliest unsolved entires in the LAPD history.

Now, I’m not squeamish, and at the rate of a noir a day I’ve come in contact with some vicious scenes involving violence against women in the past few weeks. Fuck, Stieg Larsson writes shit that DeSade would call over the top, but he does so in an obviously fictitious realm, feminist twist firmly in hand, and assurance that everything will come clear evident as soon as Lisbeth Salander starts kicking ass and hacking names. But Ellroy.

I can honestly say I have never been so upset by a book. It took me a week and a half to plow through it, and not for lack of skill on the author’s part. Ellroy has not yet wholly invoked the rat-a-tat Mickey Spillane vernacular that my friends have assured me he adopts in Books 2-4 of his LA series, but the prose is ice-cold, born of bitter noir tropes and true crime horror, and veers from brutally gorgeous to brutally journalistic, twisting fact and fiction until disorientation sets in and his entire pulp universe becomes sickeningly plausible. Because so much of the book could have occurred, there’s no fixed horizon for the reader to hold onto and say “But this would never happen.”

The sad fact is that the central crime, the torture slaying of Elizabeth Short, most definitely did happen in the winter of 1947. There’s no escaping that. Apparently it hung heavier on Ellroy than most writers. His mother was murdered when he was a boy, the murderer never located, not even after Ellroy and a San Gabriel reporter accessed the LAPD files and spent fifteen months tearing into the cold case. His Dahlia dedication is to his mother, a “valediction in blood”. It’s not possible that book didn’t hurt as it was written.

And, great Christ, it hurt to read.

I’ve been trying to conjure up the memory of books that broke me when I was young. I spent a lot of time on horror, particularly Stephen King, but any trauma never lasted longer than a night. I remember throwing my copy of The Shining at my mother when she entered my bedroom unannounced while I was reading it. But that’s not breakage. That’s a cheap startle. That’s fun.

I was distracted to the point of it affecting work. The night I finished the last god-awfully melancholy sentence I could barely talk to my boyfriend. I’ve had four long conversations with different people in the past two days, the gist of each being, “I’ve just read the most accomplished book, and I wish I hadn’t.”

There was Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph.d, when I was eleven or twelve. Real case studies of adolescent girls suffering from eating disorders, personality disorders, abuse, and run of the mill horror-show cuntiness. I remember going outside afterward and throwing rocks at the side of our house, trying to sweat out the knowledge that no one’s pain is special, not even a child’s and certainly not my own.

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski and Night by Elie Weisel, the two best holocaust books I’ve encountered. Recommendable, but revisiting is hard when books capture how awful human beings have been. Yes, I may have given them to my brother on his twelfth birthday. Yes, he may have chucked a copy of The Chosen at my head weeks later. This is how we deal with conflict in the Parrish clan.

Only once did I throw a book away. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I’d seen the Mary Harron film and thought, “This is definitely for me.” No. Wrong. After a ten page description of the protagonist torturing an ex-girlfriend to the extent of skull-fucking, and then murdering her, I discovered that 80’s sature does have a ceiling, and that Bret Easton Ellis sold it coke laced with formaldehyde before committing ritualistic sexual acts upon its person. Book chucked. Garbage can swish. Beeline to dogeared copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Ahh…there’s some poignant and manageable molestation.

But none of these books are bad. Bad books you simply dump, unfinished, on the ground. Bad books bore. Bad books fade from memory. There’s no such thing as a traumatic bad book, unless a class assignment forces you to finish it for grade’s sake (Lookin’ at you, A Separate Peace). No, a prerequisite for literature getting under your skin is the author knowing how to do that. Maybe these prickly writers are complete social inepts, but they can friggin’ scribble.

So why do certain stories, no more violent or frightening than others, disturb? We’ve all got that movie or book. Someone mentions it and your eye twitches. Maybe you talk about it. Maybe you don’t. But a full-body shake off is required before you can go about your day. But what is it about that story that holds you in shattering grip? Why did Gremlins give you nightmares when you were a kid, while Halloween made you yawn? Why did The Color Purple slay you, but Schindler’s List leave you dry-eyed (if such a person exists)? One of my dearest friends in the world claims that Silence of the Lambs is his favorite film, tied with Beautiful Girls and Ordinary People (Hey, Boo). Interesting guy. Sat his ass down in front of Sophie’s Choice and got the following response: “Well, that’s maybe the best acting ever…that I will never watch again.” Dude makes a habit of re-watching Hannibal Lector, but Meryl’s silent scream does him in. Funny.

So. Miss Dahlia. Why you fuckin’ with me? Why have you driven me back to Lisbeth Salander so quickly? You depict content that’s well-worn in my quarter century of horror and mystery sheafs under the covers with a flashlight. Why are you special? Why am I already eyeing The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, and White Jazz like big-ass vaccination needles against ignorance? I was terrified of needles as a kid. My mom would have to hold me down. Not so with stitches. Not so with the dark or walking alone.

I think it’s because James Ellroy, writing what Wiki calls “postmodern historiographic metafiction”, succeeds in conveying a truth more powerful than reading the account from a newspaper archive. “A valediction in blood” he says. Blood magic, an oath, stronger because you’ve given up a piece of yourself to do it. Reading The Black Dahlia is like attending a ritual sacrifice alongside the chief thaumaturge. This ordinary looking man beside you has suddenly taken on a fervor for unseen forces that carries a inexplicable and terrifying weight with you, logical modern creature unused to the exchange of blood for crops. Night‘s the same way, Weisel holding up a quicksilver mirror to everything that a human will do in extreme circumstances. It’s why Easton Ellis is a blasphemous hack, celebrating the gore without the sanctity of its cost. This is what Shirley Jackson was talking about, and LA’s just a parallel move from her East Coast shitstorm. There is something inherently dangerous in the pages, as though you know too much after having finished them, and the Gatekeepers of Forbidden Knowledge have been alerted to your whereabouts. Dahlia‘s nothing more than a revisionist history of an unsolved true crime. But it’s written with the conviction of a priest explaining the catechism of America’s obsession with glamour, and the hell that follows. Betty Short just wanted to be in the movies.

It was not the right book to read before moving to Los Angeles. Because now I know the city’s populated with werewolves. Mother-hell. Deliver me, Lisbeth Salander, goddess of feminist procedural, from this cringing, irrational fear. Help me forget my troubles, Trav McGee, with a laconic, shambling style and a G&T.

And, please, Mr. Ellroy. When I come crawling back, don’t think less of me. It’s not masochism. It’s what killed the cat.

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The Taming of the Shrew

Hey everybody. I’m working on an epic entry for tomorrow that will explain the lack of action over the past few days. For now, enjoy my latest review for TimeOut Chicago.

The Taming of the Shrew – 3 stars

Chicago Shakespeare Theater. By William Shakespeare with new induction scenes by Neil LaBute. Dir. Josie Rourke. With ensemble cast.

Seriously? Take Shrew, with all its much-debated misogyny, add LaBute and all his much-debated misogyny, and invite the provocateur prince to draft a modern story that sends up Shrew’s outdated politics as well as current sexual power struggles. Well, it’s certainly risky.

The resulting frame has a theater struggling to tech Shrew while the Director (Mary Beth Fisher) and her Kate (Bianca Amato) air their dirty laundry. As the two women buck against their relationship, escalating humiliations parallel the abuse of the Petruchio-Kate story. What begins affectionately enough, à la Noises Off meta-theater, soon dips into LaBute’s predictable bile. A truly regrettable tantrum from the Director about her “twat” girlfriend launches a repugnant second act, which never tackles the central problem of Shrew: What’s funny about seeing a woman crushed? The modern story has no clear message, other than “lesbians can hate women, too.” How daring. Any intended commentary is undercut by Kate’s final salvo: “Fuck this!” Fuck what? Her treatment? Relationships? The play?

Yet there’s much to like in CST’s latest play-within-a-play, which benefits from Rourke’s skilled direction and top-notch physical comedy. Lucy Osborne pulls impressive double duty with set and costumes, using myriad doors, balconies, Uggs and codpieces. Brian Sills’s servant Tranio is a gift, and Amato gives Kate a rueful dignity. By all means, see this glorious ensemble’s work. But don’t look for meaning in the contemporary scaffolding. “Fuck this!” is neither a thesis nor a revelation. It’s a weak response to the joke played on women for ages: Their tragedy is men’s comedy.

Read more: http://chicago.timeout.com/articles/theater/84896/the-taming-of-the-shrew-at-chicago-shakespeare-theater-theater-review#ixzz0law89TVp

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I snagged a PM gig recently. Cash money! Hurray! I’ll be organizing the goings-on for Stage Left Theatre’s LeapFest 7. Two Stage Left links before we begin.

1. This year’s Leapfest

2. One of my reviews from the past few months, for Stage Left’s Here Where It’s Safe

T’will be great fun. And, as it’s a reading series and not a $60,000 spectacle, the stress level will be relatively low. There will also be a drop in my paycheck, but the correlation between how much you’re paid and how much you want to cut yourself during tech week is very, very real, and I’m in no mood this summer for suicidal depression.

Although, I must admit, some of the defining moments/stories I’ve had in theatre go hand in hand with production or stage managing a show. It’s a strange, but invaluable, job in the theatre world: an individual who must shove right-brained functions aside for the most part (with the notable exception of getting creative during the inevitable clusterfuck) and simply make sure the collaborative magic happens. Ideally in an orderly, frugal, and respectful fashion. Ideally.

You are the gatekeeper of the budget, the wizard of inter-project communication, the keymaster of the phrase, “No. We can’t do that.” You are LAWFUL GOOD.

For those of you unacquainted with Dungeons and Dragons Alignment terminology, allow me to use this Batman incarnation chart to help explain:

When playing D&D, characters have alignments, codes for how they will behave in a given circumstance. They operate on the X-Y Axis graph of Good/Neutral/Evil and Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic. Observe the Batman chart above. Think of it as a Punnett Square for how Batman will behave, with the differentiating factors of who happened to be writing him at the time, what society called for in a Batman story, and how a character evolves over time.  Obviously, up in the left hand corner, our goodly Batman from the early days. “The Constitution provides that a man is innocent until proven guilty. And the Constitution is the cornerstone of our great nation. We must abide by it,” he says. Much like early Batman, before antiheroes became the new black, the Production Manager on a project should be the Lawful Good incarnation of Batman. There are black and white rules to which we can adhere. The budget has only this amount to be spent. We only have a certain number of lights. Actors, despite rumors, do not bend that way. The Production Manager, even though they are perfectly aware that theatre is not an exact science, and any collaborative art involving artists of wildly varying temperaments will also involve difficulties and unknown quantities, goes into the process with an organized, serene, and thoroughly practical plan of getting. Shit. Done.

The finest PMs manage to do so with good cheer and open hearts. But, of course, it can be immensely frustrating. It’s the job, in the immortal words of Adam Fox, where “Sometimes your job is to be the person who everybody hates.”

Because you see, although theatre is most definitely a collaborative art form and everyone must work together, quite often no one wants to work together. Observe this chart, which I have just created, and which I hope will illustrate the forces at play on a given production:


LAWFUL NEUTRAL CHAOTIC
GOOD Production/Stage Manager (s) Technical Director Playwright
NEUTRAL Crew Audience Designers
EVIL Director Critic Cast

Now, just as each incarnation of Batman seen above remains a superhero, and a necessary part of the Batman mythos regardless of motivation or execution, so too are all of the jobs on the theatre chart necessary for a play to reach completion. Understand that I’ve held each and every one of the jobs shown on this table, so if I label the cast “chaotic evil”, it’s not because of any condemnation or genuine contempt, but because actors are most often the volatile elements that help order and progress (from a production standpoint) the least. Yes, the are ultimately the face and soul of any given play, they are essential, they are wonderful. But they are not forces for stability or ease. They are actors. They don’t just have feelings. They have ALL OF THEM. Likewise, a Critic has nothing to do with the progress or completion of a show (my definition for EVIL), they neutrally asses the product and only become involved after the fact. And, even if their judgment is heaps and heaps of praise, their only contribution remains judgment and analysis, hence “Neutral Evil”.

Now, you may have noticed certain alliances. Certainly it stands to reason that a Technical Director and Crew would be on the same team, as would a Director and Playwright, although these are only general outlines and there are always exceptions to the rule. However, I move that any production on which these alliances are weak, the TD can’t lead the Crew, the Director and the Playwright are fighting for control, will ultimately be a failure. Or at least a misery for all involved.

A brief breakdown/explanation of everyone’s placement:

1. Cast (C/E) – WE FEEL SO MUCH! EVERY NIGHT WILL BE DIFFERENT FOR US! And it is OUR SHOW NOW!

2. Critic (N/E) – We have many opinions after the fact.

3. Designers (C/N) – We have aesthetic & creative, yet very tangible, goals, that we may or may not reach in a timely fashion.

4. Audience (N/N) – We just came to see the show, yo.

5. Director (L/E) – I make the majority of the shots, and anyone with that much control is eventually compromised. Also, God complex.

6. Playwright (C/G) – The show would not exist without me! Although, after the initial script my contribution becomes hazy and I can be just as emotionally needy as the cast.

7. Crew (L/N) – Tell us what to do. We just wanna get paid, yo.

8. Technical Director (N/G) – Everything I do will benefit the show and keep things moving along, although ultimately I don’t care whether most of you motherfuckers live or die. Where’s my coffee?

9. Production/Stage Manager (L/G) – Your choices are good, cheap, and fast. Pick two and I shall make it so.

Somehow, despite all these differences, it comes together. Nobody knows how, it’s a mystery. But a PM must be prepared to take on a Batman mantle in more ways than one. If we suddenly need eight mattresses, the PM must track them down if the Props designer cannot, even resorting to hitting up subscribers or the Obituary page. If someone acts a fool/punk/Benedict Arnold, it is the PMs responsibility to shut it down, issue pink slips, or throw down in the parking lot after closing. In a serene and open hearted manner. And, when the show has ended, and all must be put away, it is the PM who heads up strike, packs up the detritus, and makes their way into the night with no more thanks than the knowledge of a job well done.

Robin: “That’s an impossible shot, Batman.”
Batman: “That’s a negative attitude, Robin.”

Let’s do this, Boys and Girls Wonder.

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I am blessed with preternaturally hilarious and attractive siblings.

Brother Walker, who has a strange habit of being photographed while balancing on things:

Sister Laurel, who ventures to other lands with unmatched enthusiasm. Here she is in North Carolina, Madrid, and Costa Rica, respectively:

Facebook is forever, y’all. And, just to be fair, here is a ridiculous picture of me wearing fox ears. Enjoy.

My baby cousin Alana thought they were hysterical.

The Parrish clan is a strange lot. We three Irish-French progeny with our shit-eating grins, obsessive grammar tics, and agnostic with new age-tendencies world-views (Yes, we’re hippies who bathe and read Sam Harris. Not you, though, Hitchens. We don’t like you.). Like any collection of relatives, there is much to divide us. We’ve had our battles, re: our Christian upbringing, parent relations, drug use, etc. But they are precious to me. And I think the major reason for that, the one unifying force through our acquaintance, when religion, righteous indignation, or perceived slights have threatened to tear us apart, has always been storytelling.

Long ago, when we lived under the same roof, it was a common occurrence for Laurel and Walker to make blanket forts on my floor and fall asleep while I read to them or made up my own stories. They were my earliest audience, and have continued to be my best and most consistent audience (with the exception of Noble Weiss).

So, about, say, three years ago, we were hanging out in Georgia at a friend’s lake house. Said lake house later spontaneously exploded (no one was present or hurt), but back in the summer of ’07 it was still an excellent gathering place for crab hungry, beer-thirsty Southerners. Regrettably, Laurel and I were having a shitty time. Her then-boyfriend (a deus ex douche who best not run into me in a dark alley) was causing her grief. I was sick and surrounded by college kids. It was cramped. It was not an ideal weekend for either of us, and when cranky the Parrish girls tend to take it out on each other. And, but of course, we were rooming together. Laurel was a non-stop fountain of tears and angst. I was leaking disgusting fluids and resembled Bitchsquatch, the mysterious creature spotted in South Georgia stealing from campers and daring them to GIVE ME THAT LOOK AGAIN, FRESHMAN.

Walker, in his eternal craftiness, avoided us both and spent his time balancing on various household objects and natural points of interest, including, but not limited to, an octagonal porch roof, rotting kayaks, a faux-Grizzly that stood sentry at the gate, and our hosts’ great aunt Bertha.

There was no rest, only heat, discomfort, and the nagging thought that we should have consumed enough liquor to pass out, since sleep seemed impossible. I’d put a pillow over my head, but it proved inadequate to drown out Laurel’s running monologue concerning her then-gent’s flaws. Eventually I had to respond, and that became a conversation, and that became coaxing and big sister attempts to calm. And, finally, from across the darkened cabin room:

Laurel: Will you tell me a story or read me to sleep?

I’d spent the previous year working as a caregiver to stroke victims and dementia patients, and my clients had often asked for stories. Short, usually, so by the time we reached the end they could still recall the beginning. I had a few choice selections in my arsenal that had gone over well with individuals trapped in greater ponds of distress than Laurel. I popped some NyQuil to add a more fantastical edge to the proceedings and started bullshitting my way through a fairy tale concerning the antichrist and seagulls. I improvised for about a half hour, until I heard even-breathing from Laurel’s cot, and then trailed off, staring at the pretty colors on the ceiling.

And then:

Laurel: …hey, would you write that down?

Caitlin: Yeah. Sure. Whatever. This ceiling is HUGE.

But eventually, upon my return to Chicago, I recalled Laurel’s request and pounded out what I could remember of my ramblings, which amounted to about three chapters of a children’s book. I fixed stuff here and there, added some depth, and emailed it off to Laurel and Walker. They’d been incredibly tolerant during my magical realism theatre phase, so it seemed only right to send them a token of “Hey! Here’s something you’ll actually like!”

Remarkably, they both wrote back confirming just that. They actually liked it. They wanted to read more. As a writer, hearing from anyone that your work is valued and more would be appreciated is an anomaly. When it happens the only logical response is, “Well, okay.”

So, I wrote a novel. It’s young adult fiction. Gnostic, with atheist tendencies, still about the antichrist and seagulls (for kids!). I completed the first draft back in November of 2008, thanks to National Novel Writing Month providing an invaluable kick in the ass during a dark and unemployed time. It’s an erratic, occasionally quite-good but more often confused document, and I’ve been saying for almost two years that I’m rewriting it. Problem is, when people promise you money, productions, or spots in grad school if you work on other projects, getting around to editing a novel for your amazing siblings tends to take a back seat.

BUT I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN.

I also didn’t really have an editor. Erica Weiss, she is brilliant, but she is a dramaturg and director, not an editor. People often make the mistake that dramaturg is synonymous with editor, but the former is part and parcel with a text’s creation while the latter comes in after the fact to do a full tear down. I didn’t have one of those. Until recently. One of the benefits of dating a fiction writer, when you are yourself a playwright, is that when the time comes for you to delve, toddler-like, into novels, your boyfriend is contractually obligated to read your stuff and offer feedback. Ryan recently concluded his first read-through, offering comments, criticisms, and the always endearing, “Richard Bach references? Caitlin, I love you, but come on.” I love you, too, baby.

So, hooray! Edits can begin. Another project t0 add to the pile. This summer should mark the completion of:

1. A Twist of Water rewrites

2. The View from Tall screenplay

3. The Long Blonde (Floridian noir) screenplay

4. Novel rewrite

5. Completion of final six episodes of first season of original hour long drama (don’t even get me started)

6. Move across country.

Because here’s the thing. Yes, I write for my own pleasure. But writing without an audience in mind, or a goal, is journaling at best and masturbation at worst. I wanted to finish the book for my siblings, and I wanted it to be good and enjoyable for them, but I didn’t think beyond that. I finished a draft and gave it to them for Christmas 2008. I assumed it was going to end there. But once a project has been undertaken, the Parrish siblings don’t understand declining to take it as far as it can possibly go. When they received the full draft they were delighted. They read through it. And then, instead of merely praising, they turned in detailed complaints.

Walker: You lose momentum in the middle.

Laurel: Kai’s arc doesn’t make sense.

Walker: Seagull’s are tight, though, yo.

Laurel: Yeah. The gulls are baller. But still.

Walker: Yeah, what the fuck happened in Chapter six? It’s muddied at best.

Laurel: But it’s a very good first draft.

Walker: Oh, yeah. Totally. When are you gonna fix it?

Um. Well…

This summer. I swear. Get off my back, I’ve had stuff to do.

So, with that in mind, let’s tighten up these seagull/Buddhist parallels. And maybe I’ll write a book that’s not just good enough for the masses, but Monkey and Penguin (guess which is which).

THERE. Now will you guys leave me alone?

Stop being so effing adorable.

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