Monday, October 26, 2009

Passing Strange Acquaintance

Roslyn Ruff, the blogger, Colman Domingo

New York is so little. I always spend some time making plans in advance, though I know the trip will be mostly scheduled by being in the right place at the right time. Colman Domingo was walking through Union Square, eastbound briskly, we made eye contact, twirled - a few days later I was sitting at the Hungarian Pastry Shop across from Columbia with Paul La Farge - a freshman year college suitemate (we were Paul, Paul, Pablo and three guys with other names), catching up on life since our last meeting seven years ago, and he was trying to explain what his wife Sarah Stern does as associate artistic director of the Vineyard Theatre, and asked if I’d ever heard of Colman Domingo; I had a date to see him that night after his show A Boy and His Soul at the Vineyard. Paul and I spent the afternoon dissecting the third draft of my novel, and then I went down to the theater to get my rush ticket and have a brief reunion with Sarah, whom I’d met in San Francisco the last time I saw Paul.

Colman’s show was a knock-out. The frame for the story is his discovering, in the basement of the recently sold family house, crates of old soul records destined for landfill. For 85 minutes he thumbs through the crates, spins records, sings and dances along, and sort of hypnotizes you into unawareness that you’re hearing a coming out narrative and family drama. Hearing the coming out story sound fresh in 2009 is one of the most astonishing theatrical achievements I’ve ever been privileged to witness; coupled with the serial and compounding pleasures of experiencing Colman Domingo
alone onstage for 85 minutes, it amounted to a perfect night in the theater.

At curtain, Colman got an instant standing-O and was besieged by admirers, and a bunch of us repaired to an Irish bar down the street for sidecars and the kitchen’s last serving of hot wings. The party ended up me, Colman and Roslyn Ruff – the two of them are coming to Berkeley Rep. in the new year for Athol Fugard's Coming Home, which they premiered at the Long Wharf Theatre. Colman and I went over how we know one another: I thought it was through Eisa Davis and their Berkeley Rep creation of Passing Strange, but in fact we go further back than that – we were dancing together at The Box on Divisadero back in the late 80s, a memory that was retrieved when I explained how I first put Eisa together with her Aunt Angela the night we were all at Queen Latifah’s New Year’s Eve concert there in 1989.

Speaking of Angela Eisa Davis and Angela Yvonne Davis, Colman’s show was only one of the autobiographical plays by Passing Strange alumni that were produced in New York during my two weeks there. At the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, Eisa’s play Angela’s Mixtape had a three-night run. Eisa, star of stage and screen (including Apparition of the Eternal Church) and a Pulitzer nominee for her play Bulrusher, happens also to be a beautiful singer and pianist, dancer and rapper, and tells the story of her radical East Bay upbringing, and the rich and burdensome legacy of her name, using all those talents, often two or more simultaneously. The show is a whirlwind of song and dance and, like Colman’s, conveys an affecting family drama almost slyly – while Eisa lulls you into theatrical dazzlement, the pathos sneaks up on you.

After the show, I took a few pictures of the cast and posed for this one recreating a picture of me with the Davis family from 1994, when we went canoeing up Big River in Mendocino. I swear I didn't shave my head for the second photo.

top: Angela, Eisa, and Fania Davis, the blogger
Linda Powell (role of Angela Davis), Kim Brockington (role of Fania Davis), Eisa Davis (role of herself), the blogger

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

pressed, part deux

On my way to first rehearsal with Steven Vanhauwaert, I picked up the SF Weekly and was crestfallen as I thumbed, backward, through the paper and reached the beginning of the film section without seeing the item about Grace Cathedral. Then, there it was, with grayscale hollering Eisa Davis - the second of three events promoed in the Night & Day section on page 19. What is the opposite of crestfallen? Me when I saw this placement.

I was further cheered in Union Square when I saw, at the TKTS booth, a stack of the San Francisco Arts Monthly, with its front-page mug of blue hollering Eisa. Steven and I had a very good first rehearsal, not good enough to be unlucky, but plenty promising. Then we dropped his things off at the Huntington and tromped around the city for the next four hours - Mario's Bohemiam Cigar Store for sammies, Washington Square Park to eat them, the adventure of the 30 Stockton, the 14 Mission back to my place where we picked up Ziggy and Grover and brought them to Dolores Park.

Fast-forward past Steven's departure for the Huntington spa, my two-hour early evening nap, solitary dinner, reasonably careful practicing. And then, as I was putting the violin down, I felt James's presence at the door, and I had this overwhelming and uncanny sense he was going to tell me I had more coverage in the Chronicle.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

3 little readings (one tonight) and one huge screening/performance 4/18

I had this fantasy that I would get caught up in my work and caught up in the blog through the New York trip and THEN post this save the date, but today, when the call came to read tonight at Writers With Drinks, I gave up. Hopefully I'll get the blog caught up before I go to New Mexico Thursday, or while I'm there. Here's the email I just sent out:

Dear friends--I have three SF events coming up between tonight and April 18:

1. If you save one date for me in the next ten or twenty years, please
let it be April 18th, 7PM, the earthquake anniversary, for a
tremendous spectacle at Grace Cathedral. They're giving the SF
premiere of my very queer and slightly sacrilegious film "Apparition
of the Eternal Church
"--in the sanctuary, with live organ
accompaniment! Can you believe it? For the Berkeley screening in
January we had a 100-year storm, so expect at least a plague of
locusts for April 18th (another earthquake seems too much to ask).

I will start off the evening giving the West Coast premiere of
Messiaen's Fantaisie for violin and piano, a gorgeous piece (think
Debussy on steroids) that was just published last year. Afterward I
will read briefly from my new book based on the film. It's a free show
with an open-bar reception to follow, and it should be a ton of fun.

Check out Apparition star Eisa Davis in her big New York Times write-up today.

2. I've just been asked to read at "Writers With Drinks" tonight:

The Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd. St. btwn. Valencia and Mission
7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, doors open at 7 PM

3. Later this month I'll be reading with Violet Blue and other authors
in the Best Sex Writing 2008 anthology:

Thursday 3/27 at 7pm
The Center for Sex and Culture
1519 Mission btw. 11th St. and S. Van Ness, Suite 2

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Southern Circuit 5: I feel like I'm in a museum

ATHENS, GA--I was bored in my own screening tonight so I took pictures of the screen with people’s heads silhouetted at the bottom (as always, remember to click on these images for full size):

I was bored because I thought the audience was. The crowd at the M. Smith Griffith Auditorium at the Georgia Museum of Art was so reserved I wasn’t always sure they were actually there. Just shy of 40 people spread themselves out equidistantly in the 200-person theater, and I was so insecure after their display of silence, especially on the heels of the laugh-riot in the Burgiss Theater at Furman, that I actually asked them, from the stage, “Did you like the film?” Almost as though I had some baroque punch line I was building up to, like Hedwig’s routine about what poor animal hadda die so that she could wear that fur (her Aunt Trude). But I had no routine and no punch line, I only had a more than slightly pathetic question. Miraculously, in the reading, in the Q&A and in the conversations that followed afterward it seemed that most of them did like the film. They were just very, very quiet about it. Was it because they were in a museum? Maybe they were afraid if they laughed, a docent would come over and smack them. Maybe--this is a terrible thought--it was an elaborate art installation and they were in fact a representation of an audience. Oddly, the biggest laugh of the night came during the reading from Oh My God, in the part where I recall the time, after the New York premiere at St. Bartholomew's Church, when someone came up and said it was the first time he'd heard the word "blowjob" in church. "And if this film achieves nothing else..." (Note to self: Georgia audiences like blowjobs-in-church humor.) Lo and behold, after the show the Bar Nothing Boutique was down one e-book.

Southern Circuit cruise director Allen Bell has posted the podcast of the interview we did by phone a few days ago, after I’d slept two hours following an Oh My God editing all-nighter (here's a page with the MP3 file). Allen is a good interviewer, and an ace radio editor. He took a junkyard of stunned pauses, conversational U-turns, yawns and stuttering to make me sound half human, even occasionally awake. When I listened to the final product I was relieved, but then felt sheepish about my closing remarks, urging believers to come out and see the film even though it was a pack of atheists cracking jokes about their lord and savior. Why did I feel the need to pander? But sure enough, after the film, guess who made a point of coming up and saying how much they liked the film--two church choir members, a church organist, and a devout Catholic. My audience! Does the Vatican have, like, a film series?

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Southern Circuit: Media frenzy in Greenville, SC

Let's face it--the people of Greenville, S.C., are tired of politics. They are ready for art. And so, in today's (Sunday) edition of The Greenville News, on page 9D of the Lifestyle Arts section, there is a half-page above-the-fold feature about Apparition of the Eternal Church with a color shot of blue Eisa Davis yowling, a greenish Harold Bloom scowling, and me looking too serious by half in that black-and-white Greg Gorman shot I ungallantly cropped James out of. The online version lacks the pictures of the others (so I put them above) but it includes a video clip from the opening which works pretty well as a G-rated trailer (by contrast to the one I have on the film Website).

The story is really well done. I'm a pretty autistic interview, but Greenville News arts writer Ann Hicks cleaned up my quotes. She also rounded out the piece talking to a Furman University organ prof about the music itself, which I thought was a nice touch.

Ann didn't reveal too much of her opinion of the movie in the story, but she did to me privately, and with her permission I've added her luminously flattering comment to the praise page. I love this page--it's one of my favorite destinations on the Internet. I turn to it when my spirits ebb and alcohol and easy sex are not readily available. I get a warm feeling in my heart to think that, when they are put down in the inferno, all the dozens of film festival adjudicators who turned down this movie will be forced to stand at a flaming chalkboard and write down these comments for all eternity while listening, on headphones, to Messiaen's Organ Book.

After picking me up at the airport holding a sign that said "PAUL FESTA" (my first!), Furman University junior Jeff Heinzl, who runs the school's Independent Film Society and his classmate and film society colleague Jonathan, along with another film society officer and a faculty sponsor, took me to a sushi dinner. It felt a little like breakfast sushi, since I spent the day sleeping on the plane, having pulled yet another all-nighter, this one panicky, trying to get myself onto that 6:10 a.m. plane with everything required by ten screenings in nine cities plus Mardi Gras (I found a suitable outfit but will need to do some grommeting before showing up in New Orleans).

I should point out that this Greenville date isn't technically part of Southern Circuit--Jeff saw the Southern Circuit line-up and invited me to Furman beforehand, and the Southern Arts guys were very accommodating about getting me here a little early and a little out of the way of the tour. After Southern Circuit, the movie will screen in Knoxville, but I won't attend that one, the first time the movie has played without me since the Park City Film Music Festival screened the film--and awarded it a Gold Medal for Excellence--quite without my knowledge (a Google search turned up the information months later). Film festivals!

I'm not sure I'd ever heard of Greenville before Jeff contacted me and then there I was waiting for my flight at SFO and reading Lawrence Wright's story in the Jan 21 New Yorker and learned that Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, America's chief spy, is not only from Greenville but went to Furman. This follows on the other confluence of Greenville energy, the fact that my high school and middle school classmate Liz Anderson, nee Lopez, is a copyeditor for the Greenville News, a fact I learned just a week ago on the Lowell '88 reunion site. Any suggestion that today's media frenzy in Greenville was the result of some sort of Lowell 88 backroom nepotism is simply inaccurate. Everyone knows it's because the Jews control the media.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bay Area premiere of my movie--THIS FRIDAY

Apparition of the Eternal Church

a film by Paul Festa

Harold Bloom, Squeaky Blonde, Wayne Koestenbaum, Jackie Beat, Eisa Davis, John Cameron Mitchell, Manoel and Richard Felciano, Ana Matronic, Ricky Ian Gordon, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), Marga Gomez, Sandi Dubowski, Albert Fuller,
and Justin Bond as Kiki DuRane

Friday, Jan 25 at 7PM
Wheeler Hall auditorium, UC Berkeley
10 minute walk from the Downtown Berkeley BART stop

(click for larger image)

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Messiaen movie, Bill Viola, and new trailer


Even as I'm breathless trying to create the book companion to the movie in time for upcoming screenings, plans for those screenings are consuming precious hours out of every day. The great news is that the LA date is confirmed, and the Berkeley Cal Performances date--Jan 25, 7:30 at Wheeler Hall on the UC campus--looks solid too. LA (with Bill Viola!) info below--but let me first post links to the above revised trailer, and the YouTube link for those of you who have trouble with QuickTime:

QuickTime trailer

YouTube trailer (I would appreciate it if you would rate and favorite the trailer!)

LA info:
Saturday, Jan. 19th, 11AM
Apparition of the Eternal Church
a film by Paul Festa
Laemmle Monica 4-Plex: 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica

1PM, same day
panel discussion (with art world superstar Bill Viola) and mini-concert, in which I will give the West Coast premiere of Messiaen's long-lost 1933 violin and piano piece "Fantaisie"
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica: 1220 2nd St., Santa Monica

FPC Courtyard food service (vendor to be announced) available Noon to I:00 PM

TICKETS: Screening/Mini-concert/Panel $25 general/$10 student

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

from Boonville to Berkeley: Bulrusher

Eisa Davis's play Bulrusher, which was nominated for a 2007 Pulitzer, is coming to the Ashby Stage in Berkeley Sept. 19 to Oct 21. I'm going Thursday night with a Mendocino friend--it's pay what you can the first weekend.

The play is written partly in the Boonville dialect known as Boontling. You don't have to be able to harp the ling to get the play, but here's the playwright's glossary in case you want to bone up beforehand (click images for larger versions):

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