Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Afternoon in Fort Greene: The Faux-Real Theatre Company's "Jason and the Argonauts" at Fort Greene Park

We almost never have gone back for a second time to see one of the outdoor play productions that we've been going to for years, but this afternoon we went over to Fort Greene Park to see the Faux-Real Theatre Company's Jason and the Argonauts, which we enjoyed seeing during its SummerStage premiere one night in late August in East River Park.
But we were unfamiliar with the classical source material, The Argonautica, not an example of Greek drama but an epic poem,
the only surviving one of the Hellenistic era, and were impressed enough by the Faux-Real company's rendering of the poem's narrative into a rollicking, fast-moving, inventive stage performance that we wanted to see it again, in daylight, in a different venue.
And we can only say that we were even more impressed with the vast ambition of this production, adapted and directed by Mark Greenfield from Aaron Poochigian's translation of Apollonius of Rhodes' epic poem and how well the production
achieves a transformation of what probably is a bit plodding narrative, interrupted by numerous side stories and digressions, into a coherent, postmodern, large-canvas story that is both postmodern and relevant without going into the adventure-mode action film we all remember from Jason and the Argonauts in the movies.
Jason is perhaps the best, if not the only example, of the classical antihero; even in the poem and in his historical/literary reputation, he's a bit of a jerk, scheming, often unheroic, moody, petulant, and egotistical.
Adam L. Ross, one of the only members of the cast not playing four or more roles, gets Jason just right, and makes him sympathetic without making him as noble as we'd expect.

Heracles, too, played (among other roles) by Ara Morton, seems unheroic, and the funny thing is, it's in the text: he's bedazzled by his bubble-headed boytoy Hylas (a very funny Gökçen Gökçebağ) and often seems overwhelmed by events. This befuddled Heracles blusters and blunders, and his kids'-toy giant plastic hammer pretty much encapsulates his character.
The tour de force of a performance features a large, multicultural, multigenerational cast with a troupe of excellent performers not afraid to take risks, whether that means walking into the audience
(here we sat on the steps, with most of the action taking place on a raised "stage" platform and in front of it,
sometimes close enough for those of us in the front row to touch some of the actors) and ad-libbing with people or making use of the kind of random events (a stray ball, someone wandering into the performing space) that can make outdoor theater so exciting.
Just as in last year's Seven Against Thebes, the Faux-Real performers liven the narrative by constantly handing off the text; sometimes they recite as a group or chorus; sometimes alone; sometimes in pairs.
As the highly stylized production - with amazing costumes and props - moves forward with increasing momentum as Jason and his Argonauts trek on their ultimately successful capture of the Golden Fleece, sometimes the characters will be reciting dialogue, sometimes narrating their own stories. 
And there's a real book - a hefty volume labeled The Argonautica that cast members sometimes directly "read" from.
The action, and the text, moves chock-a-block, nonstop, accompanied by imaginative choreography.
Particularly effective are the various masks and other devices, such as the thick red ribbons that keep coming out of the lambs and oxen that are sacrificed or killed .
The entire cast is incredibly effective, both in their myriad roles - for example, Mari Yamamoto plays Zetes, one of the sons of the North Wind; a Water Nymph; the goddess Aphrodite trying to coax her little son Eros (the adorable and sly Jack Alan Greenfield) into shooting an arrow to further the cataclysmic romance of Jason and Medea; and Polydeuces, the handlebar-mustached fighter whose fists fell a hostile man-mountain of a king in a lethal boxing match.
Similarly, one of the standouts in the cast, the wonderful Jenni Graham, does quadruple duty as the Moon (she holds a big yellow crescent), Iris, protectors of the scary Harpies; Polyxo, who advises the Lemnian women to have kids with the Argonauts; and most memorably as Argus, the builder of the sort-of-good ship Argo, with a pirate's eyepatch and a trilling R whenever he refers to himself by name as "Arrrgus" (not to be confused with the other Argus, who's rescued late in the play and joins the Argonauts). Like many in the cast, Jenni Graham is a ball of classic fire.
We feel funny singly out any cast members because they are all so wonderful and distinctive even as they perform as a seamless unit. The actors include Dylan Combs (especially good as Acetes, Medea's father); Josephine Wheelwright (in at least six roles); Alejandro Santoni, who plays a stolid Zeus and three other parts; Kathleen Fletcher (the argonaut Lyncesus and other roles); Dorian Shorts, a dragon and a harpy and two human characters;
Stephanie Regina, a vixenish but very conflicted Medea (she has five other roles); Harley Ware (Idas, Glaugus, Chorus Leader 5, Masks); Adriana Spizuoco, who plays Hipsipyle, a Lemnian woman Jason impregnates and then, characteristically, forgets about, and several others;

Alison Linker (Chorus Leader 4 [they take turns]/Calais/Nymph/Circe/Masks); Joy Kelly as Hera - all the major gods are masked - and Chorus Leader 3; Karun Deep Sagar, the other youngster in the play, who flies like a Dove and dies like a Colchian soldier; and director Mark Geenfield, who has a good singing voice as Orpheus.
The performance is very funny at times, with idiosyncratic characters who appear to have twentieth century neuroses (this actually seems to come from Apollonius Rhodius' original text, in the lively, fluid translation by Poochigian).
With terrific masks, several wonderful musicians (including Sean Mullins, Jeff Wood and Michael Mitchell) playing a variety of instruments and sound-effect devices; amazingly vivid costumes by Irina Gets; clever props (John Milano); and obviously a lot of hard work as the company changes the action for each park - today's Fort Greene Park version worked differently, but no less effectively than the one at the East River Park Amphitheater at night, The Faux-Real Theatre Company's Jason and the Argonauts succeeds not only as spectacle but by bringing an overarching unity and coherence to an episodic and idiosyncratic narrative.
We're grateful we got to see them a second time. Next weekend at 3 p.m. they'll be at the Morris-Jumel Mansion for the final two Saturday and Sunday performances. This company does excellent, innovative work in radically and holistically bringing classical performances alive.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Afternoon in Lower Manhattan: Port Authority Police Bagpipers Commemorate September 11, 2001

At 1:20 p.m. we were coming out of the subway on Murray and Church Streets on our way to teach creative writing at Borough of Manhattan Community College when we stopped to watch and listen to the mournful sounds of the Port Authority police bagpipe band commemorate the dead of September 11, 2001.
Our class meets at the newly rebuilt Fiterman Hall, which opened two weeks ago, replacing the old Fiterman Hall, which was damaged beyond repair by the collapse of 7 World Trade Center.  It was very hard not to think about that day eleven years ago.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Richard Grayson Wins Nomination of Americans Elect Party in Arizona's Fourth Congressional District Primary

This afternoon the office of the Arizona Secretary of State released its official canvass of the August 28 primary. It shows that we won the Americans Elect Party primary in Arizona's Fourth Congressional District and says we have been nominated by that party to be its candidate on the November ballot.
We received 11 write-in votes. Sincere thanks to the four voters in Mohave County, the three voters in our home county of Pinal, the two voters in Yuma County, the one voter in Yavapai County and the one voter in La Paz County for writing in our name on the primary ballot.

The other candidates running are Republican Congressman Paul Gosar; Libertarian Joe Pamelia; and the winner of the recount in the Democratic primary between Johnnie Robinson and Mikel Weisser, currently separated by just 19 votes.

In 2010 we won the Green Party primary in Arizona's Sixth Congressional District but were promptly sued by the Arizona Green Party in federal court, alleging we were a "sham" Green Party candidate. We won and were on the November ballot in 2010, getting about 1.4% of the vote in another heavily Republican district.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday Afternoon in Chelsea: Horrific Subway Accident at 23rd Street-Eighth Avenue Station

At noon today we had just finished teaching our class at Fashion Institute of Technology and were on our way to the subway entrance at Eighth Avenue and West 25th Street for the 23rd Street stop when we saw the tragic aftermath of what looked like a horrific subway accident.
Some people in the crowd said a person was hit by a train, and we saw firefighters and paramedics bring up someone on a stretcher, transfer the person to a wheeled cart, where some began the movements of CPR and hustled the person into an ambulance.
There were dozens of fire trucks and other vehicles, a couple of ambulances, and several police cars, along with many, many first responders.
They all looked grim. What a horror, whatever happened. We haven't been able to see anything anything about it on the news.
An old woman with a granny cart came over and said, "You're taking pictures of this? You should be ashamed of yourself!" We said nothing and walked to Sixth Avenue, where the A, C and E trains had been rerouted.
* * *
UPDATE: Gothamist said the person died, that it may have been a suicide. Very sad.
Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway