Go see Stupid Fucking Bird now!

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SF Playhouse has been producing some of the most interesting, entertaining theater around. Continuing this trend, it offers Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, which is a postmodern take of Chekhov’s classic, The Seagull. I had the pleasure of seeing it in previews earlier this week. It opens tomorrow night.

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Charles Shaw Robinson as Sorn

The seven-member cast is first-rate, featuring talented, versatile Bay Area actors, many of whom I’ve seen at Aurora or on the Ashby Stage. Charles Shaw Robinson is Sorn, the quiet doctor, an integral part of the family, who is virtually invisible to all the emotionally wrought characters who surround him.

Carrie Paff never disappoints, and this time she gets to play a narcissistic film actress who loves her grown son, Con, even if she has an odd way of showing it.

Stupid Bird Emma & Trig
El Beh as Mash

The peculiarly named Mash is played by El Beh, whom you may have seen in the Shotgun Players’ recent production of Our Town, where she portrayed Emily—quite a different role, to be sure.

Although the story elements are similar to Chekhov’s play, the format is distinctly fresh, with actors occasionally stepping out of character to address the audience, not in a Frank Underwood aside à la House of Cards, but in a full-fledged solicitation to participate. At one point Con faces the audience and appeals for ideas of how he can win his mother’s love. Later, Magill, the actor playing Con, refers to the likelihood that many of us stole a second look at his bio because his head shot shows him sans beard. (See below.)

But breaking down the fourth wall is not merely a gimmick—it helps to tell the story in a refreshing way. One could almost say it’s cheating on the playwright’s part because enabling the characters to speak directly to the audience allows them to cover back story in a way that couldn’t be done in a traditional play. But Posner does not rely on this method too heavily, and it’s interwoven artfully with dialogue and action.

And Posner stayed true to Chekhov’s principle that once a gun is introduced onstage, it must go off. But I don’t want to give away any crucial plot points…

Con on swing
Magill as Con
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Magill’s head shot (Pretty different, huh?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea and Handler at Book Passage—Yay!

D. Handler & Michelle Tea @ BP

Although I was on deadline writing a play, I took time out to go to Book Passage in Corte Madera to see Daniel Handler and Michelle Tea, who were reading from their newest books. I briefly considered blowing it off, since I’d just seen Daniel Handler at City Arts & Lectures and I’d seen Michelle Tea at a recent conference, but I decided to make the trek across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge.

And I’m so glad I went.

Before the event started, I made a quick trip to the restroom in Book Passage’s other building and saw Daniel Handler; his wife, Lisa Brown; their 11-year-old son; Michelle Tea; her partner/spouse; and their baby. They were all hanging out together, perusing and buying books. It was such a sweet literary scene.

Because the two authors are friends, their conversation was lighthearted and cozy. And it was entertaining because they are both extremely fun and interesting people. And Daniel Handler can make me laugh even with stories I’ve heard before. (In addition to seeing him in conversation with Michael Chabon in S.F., I also tuned in to KQED’s interview with him a few days ago. So I expected to hear some of the same material.)

Michelle Tea @BPEach of them read the part of their book that involved shoplifting, since they discovered that was a common thread. Handler read from We Are Pirates, his book for adults, and Tea read her memoir, How to Grow Up.

My favorite story was about Handler as a student at Lowell High in S.F. All students were required to take an aptitude test that asked what they wanted to be. Handler convinced a majority of his classmates to check the “other” box and write in “pirate.” It could have been simply a rather harmless prank, but apparently Lowell was being used to represent a huge number of teens across the nation. Imagine the bewilderment of test scorers who discover that a significant portion of our youth were hoping to become pirates. The principal yelled at him, and everyone had to take the test again.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked both Tea and Handler when they knew the wanted to be a writer. Tea knew from age five. Although writing was the first occupation he remembered aspiring to, Handler’s parents told him that when he was very young, he had a different dream: he wanted to be an old man who lived on a hill and dispense advice to those who sought it.Daniel Handler signing @BP

Someone asked how Handler came up with the name Lemony Snicket, his nom de plume for his children’s books. At one point when he was doing some research and needed right-wing material, he called an appropriate source, who asked him for his name. He suddenly realized that he didn’t want his real name to be associated with the material being sent, so he blurted out the first name he thought of—Lemony Snicket. And he liked it so much that when he needed a pen name, he adopted it.

My question, being the copyeditor, was what were they like as authors when they were edited. Did they demand last say on comma placement, or did they tend to take a copyeditor’s changes without fuss? Tea answered first, saying that she was no grammar expert and was happy to have a copyeditor go over her writing. Handler said he can get as uppity about commas as anyone, but he realizes that without copyeditors, he might end up sending a book to press in which he accidentally has a character enter a room twice.

Good answers.

I had already bought We Are Pirates, but I found two Lemony Snicket books that I did not yet own, so I bought those, which Handler stamped on behalf of Lemony Snicket. I wish I’d brought the book I’d bought by Michelle Tea so she could sign it, but I told her that I already had it at home.

It was totally worth taking time out from writing my play. Besides, I came back and pretty much finished it two days early!

 

My phone is trying to tell me something

iPhone hot (in Spanish)

I’ve had some weird glitches with my iPhone, but overall, I like it. When I first got it, Siri called me by my brother’s name, which is just strange any way you look at it. And I’m still quite certain that she misunderstands on purpose just to annoy me.

But I’m impressed by the lengths it will go to in order to communicate, including switching  up the language when an emergency situation arises.

iPhone hot FrenchI made the mistake of leaving my iPhone on an outdoor table in the sun  a very warm day while chatting with friends. When I picked up my phone, it was not only displaying a dire warning in English, but on the slide button was this note in Spanish: “para emergência.” Then when I tried to get rid of the message, the message popped up again in French.

I have to assume it was going to keep trying different languages until either I put it away or it suffered from heat exhaustion. I wonder if it knows Italian…