Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Community Theatre Review

And so, last year, I went to a theatrical event that I did not much enjoy. I will not name the play or the venue so that I can liberate my tongue. However, I believe that the empty feeling it left with me may well have been the most productive thing that to ever happen to me in a theatre.

There is something positively post-apocalyptic about community theatre. That is to say, no other art form more adequately creates an impression of a world that can only vaguely remember what entertainment is. The whole experience with posits "entertainment" as a distant, past-tense thing, something long gone that can only be recalled through empty restaging. The experience is one of scavenging, with a death knell still echoing in your ears.

The actors' every gesture is in pastiche of something imprecise: dull recitation of stayed dialogue delivered between sitcom mugging ("Mugging"--the only thing they're stealing is dignity) and the varied contortions of body desperately unsure of its performance. Everything from the form of the spectacle--curtain, stage, seats--to the name of the event calls up notions of entertainment, the verbs "to entertain" or expection of "being entertained", but these ideas quickly vanish like smoke ring traces wafting away into the impossibility of what is delivered.

It is imitation so barren, so lacking cue to its source, that it forestalls any attempt at constructing even the vaguest of genealogies: Neil Simon's name may be on the programme, but one gets no sense from the play that a Neil Simon, Brooklyn, or Jewish comic tradition ever existed.

Leaving the theatre, I had the feeling of a world raised of purpose, but carrying on in spite. It was like church without God. In that instant--standing in the eeriely quiet empty wet street in distant part of town, holding half an egg salad sandwich that had been served to me from tray held by a member of cast after the show--there was the odor of pure possibility in the air: an infinite "what-now?" that in its very persistence can only amount to some kind of liberation. I was truly free.

All this comes to mind as I learned, that the same theatre is staging another production soon. Anyone interested in joining me?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

POSTCARDS FROM THE HEDGE: Visiting Canada 1939


As newspapers around the world continue to fold, one paper product for the most part resists being folded: the postcard! In the coming weeks, I'll be offering up a few for your greedy eyes.

First, the Queen. Not this queen. Her mum. The Queen Mum. From her pre-war visit of 1939 to Canada, here in a card mailed just under a month after the start of the war in Europe.

Visiting Canada - front

Postmarked 12 Oct 1939
Sent to Illinois

Visiting Canada - back

The message:

Well I suppose you'd begin to think I could not write but I'll be back in Dec. if I can make it.

The innocuous image of His and Her Majesty's stately visit to Canada belies the story of a man named Harlan somehow detained in Canada a month after the start of the second World War. I found it at an antique shop in Tucson, Arizona. No word on what became of Harlan.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

DAY TWO: Mediated Memphis

Keeping with the times, this is a heavily mediated trip. For at least as long as the motels have WiFi, I'll regularly be making twit of myself.

Today, we got to Memphis proper late in the afternoon.

The air here is thick, hot and wet.

We saw the mighty Mississippi and many of the city's sociable homeless population. Beale Street was an interesting mix of crash commercialization (W.C. Handy is brought to you by Pepsi) and dire poverty (homeless + tourists + drinking on the street). A friend told me that there was only one business open on Beale Street in 1982, but now it's wall-to-wall blues clubs and souvenir stands, but it still has an air of its former rundownedness.

Of course, it's America so everything is humongous, puffed up with an odd mix of pride, insolence, sloth and decay. At the same time, it is full of wonder and surprises. The world-famous Sun Studios (home of the first recordings by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and many others) looks isolated, standing on a sharp corner across from a park that has a statue of Confederate hero and KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Even Graceland snuck up on us, its trim immaculately-landscaped plot smack in the middle of a bleak strip of 25c carwashes, chicken shacks, discount liquor stores and coin-op laundries. (We will take the formal Graceland tour tomorrow and wash our clothes in another town).

I hope the Google earth/world people document everything here. I would actually enjoy just reading the Memphis phonebook for the names of local businesses, which to an over-educated semi-Waspish Canadian city boy seem downright exotic (lots of Catfish, Chitterlings and other Southern food names).

In that vein, and in the words of Noel Coward, I like America.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Day One: Go! Go! Go!

TODAY begins the research trip I've been promising myself and putting off since 2006 or so. The Big Bucolic Buford Pusser Road & Air Show will take us through Memphis TN > Selmer TN > Adamsville TN > Tupelo MS > Birmingham AL > Montgomery AL > Phenix City AL > Columbus GA and beyond. I know not what to expect or which distractions to avoid or which to embrace (e.g., Conway Twitty's Twitty City is just north of Nashville, near Dollywood, the International Rock-a-Billy Hall of Fame, Jackson Tennessee, etc).

The beginning leg of the trip will be rain thunder down from the sky. A rain-soaked rural south might have a primordial quiet violence to it. It would be appropriate, as the thrust of the trip will be to investigate what remains of the cult of Buford Pusser.

As for now, we're trapped in the wiles of Burlington VT and their charming little airstrip. There are aeronautical delays and I'm downloading 20 versions of Del Shannon's Runaway from a music blog and wondering why people shout into cell phones in moments of extreme idleness.