Collected Works of Samuel Beckett, Grove 2006

Wow. That about sums this bit of book-fetishist-eye-candy. Handsome in that welcome-to-the-canon sort of blue-backed, hard-bound, conservative way. With introductions by series editor Paul Auster, and a host of other boys–Rushdie, Coetzee, Albee, Toiban–introducing the volumes themselves: two for novels, one for the plays, and one with poetry, short fiction and criticism. Well, is it criticism really? Perhaps if one squints. Interesting to be sure, but criticism? And who has read Beckett’s poetry? The same person who read Auster’s poetry no doubt. Not I. But now I can, at my leisure. Here was the first lovely surprise:

Serena II

this clonic earth

see-saw she is blurred in sleep
she is fat half dead the rest is free-wheeling
part the black shag the pelt
is ashen woad
snarl and howl in the wood wake all the birds
hound the harlots out of the ferns
this damfool twilight threshing in the brake
bleating to be bloodied
this crapulent hush
tears its heart out

and so on…(Reminded me of Dennis Lee’s Un, which I am a big fan of.) The novels, the fiction, the PLAYS!!! I’m so excited. Now all I need is the 4 volume Beckett on Film, and I will have satisfied my Beckett archiving lust. (Who am I kidding…) One minor flaw: where are the women, Mr. Auster? Why not an introduction by Lydia Davis, Mr. Auster? It’s so irritating over and over to see this broad gender blindness. The other night at the Three Penny Opera for instance, of the 10 orchestra musicians was there one woman? Nope. Course not. Not a one.

Irritations of the week

Normally I try not to fan the flames of that which irritates, but this week Camille Paglia ranting on about saving the canon was just too much. Who are these people and how do they hold those massive, inflated, heads up in the world? The other irritation is Martin Amis in the New Yorker. What the heck was that all about? If you’re going to go imagining the last hours of one of the most notorious figures of our time, I would say IMAGINE. What a waste of ink “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta” was…and just to round out an irritating day, yesterday I missed the Etgar Keret/George Saunders reading because I thought it was today and planned on attending after the Ear Inn…Saunders and Keret at the same time?? That would have been heaven.

Jane Jacobs

One of my favorite Torontonians gone this week, at 89. A long life, and in Death and Life, a great contribution. Her simple premise still makes sense. If you love New York, and you know you do, create it elsewhere:

“Death and Life” made four basic recommendations for creating municipal diversity: 1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition and use. 4. Population must be dense.

3 Penny Opera

The new production of the new translation of Brecht’s Three Penny Opera is great fun, much better than reviews would have you believe. Part of this may be as they say, the difficulty people have with Brecht, but there are some major flaws too. First the greatness: Wallace Shawn’s translation is funny, clipped, and in places, inspired. The direction was interesting, but too slow for a modern audience–perhaps it would have been too slow for Brecht’s day too, I wouldn’t know that. Cyndi Lauper does a kind of Marianne Faithful approach to the songs, which are brilliant, but she’s not comfortable in her role of the whore with a heart of gold without the heart of gold. She hits the opening song to perfection, but otherwise appears lost.

The entire Peachum family is brilliant–absolutely brilliant. Nellie McKay played Polly Peachum the way Cate Blanchett played Katherine Hepburn in Aviator, and Ana Gasteyer, a SNL alumnae, played Mrs. Peachum as if she were a character on the Sopranos. Both were brilliant: McKay particularly so in the marriage scene where she performs her first song, and again in the scene with Lucy Brown, also brilliant, and the scene one of the most inspired. I’m not sure who Jim Dale, Mr. Peachum was, but I am sure he was the brightest light in the play. His voice–also famous as the voice of Harry Potter–and his physicality both stunning. At one point he got so much applause he stepped forward and flirted directly with the audience before stepping back and into character. He moved like a sheath of silk, the gorgeously tacky suit a whole character unto itself. The set and costumes were fitting, the staging functional. Costumes by fashion shark Isaac Mizrahi were gay (quell surprise) and fun, a 70s punk feel. But he failed in the most important character: Macheath himself. Actually Macheath–Mack the Knife–was the biggest disappointment. From the costume to the timing he was all off. Strutting around like the emcee in Cabaret, which I’m sure he was born to play, and like his recent turn as Billy on L Word, which was also fun, but it didn’t translate here. It’s impossible to figure out why anyone would be “in love” with him. No charisma. Not the brightest light on the stage, not mercurial, in fact one-note from top to bottom. The other problem was with the “gang”, a bunch of wooden actors looking nervous in their glittering heeled ensembles.

The politics seem so naive, so atari 1973. Particularly in that setting, and particularly with folks such as Mizrahi–who at one point dresses everyone in corporate logos–involved. Of course I identify with Brecht’s position, but how do we achieve such statements now? I mean the play was a hit, ran for what, 3 years consecutively? What political theater would do that now? Not this one. The political messages largely seemed quaint. Not all, the “How do humans live” was actually powerful, but it didn’t seem to implicate anyone. Must theater implicate? Perhaps not, but it must connect.

In any case, a fabulous night of theater, and in general a successful production. The night was made more fabulous by the idiots who wouldn’t leave our seats–finally the play started and in frustration we went to an usher who sat us in the front row balcony. Fabulous seats. Great night. Def’ see.

Elena in Chernobyl

First saw this site a few years back, and thought that today, on the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl, I would look at it again. Someone needs to revamp her site–but Elena’s journey and photographs are still moving. The morning I first heard of Chernobyl I was planting a garden in Vancouver. It was just prior to Expo 86, and Vancouver was losing all of its best creative minds–first to Aids and then to development as the waves of bulldozing gained momentum. And then this. Never had a gesture seemed so useless as that morning. I left for a cabin in the woods shortly thereafter, where I stayed for several years…

Montreal still rocks

the Hound & Jonny

Back in Montreal, just for the night, but enough to get a hit of that crazy, excellent vibe. Loved the host, the bartender, the Green Room, the whole crowd, a wonderful event. Even following JP Fiorentino was good. And he ended his reading by tossing his book off the stage and into the crowd. No eyes were poked out… Thanks Chris Ewert, A. Rawlings, Jonny, and Melissa Thompson for sharing the stage, and for kicking ass. More readings, I love reading. There’s just not enough opportunities and those Montrealers were way cool.