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, March 13, 2008

NYC 1: travel horror

This woman does not give a shit about global warming. Would you?

The way I see it, anyone who flies in an airplane gets what he deserves, up to and probably including the event of a water landing. The carbon footprint of air travel is unconscionably deep. If you're concerned about people at the equator and polar bears in the Arctic starving to death, of ice and coastline and islands vanishing into the water, there's almost nothing worse you can do than reserving a seat on a plane.

All this helps me reconcile myself to the fiascoes that routinely attend my travels, which this calendar year have involved (flights only, not including stop-overs) SF to LA, LA to SF, SF to Greenville (SC), Columbia (SC) to Montgomery, Baton Rouge to Palm Beach, Palm Beach to Mobile, New Orleans to San Francisco, San Francisco to New York, New York to San Francisco, and most recently San Francisco to Albuquerque. The other day I wrote about getting ditched by the Twin Hearts Express Shuttle to Taos, which eco-guilt suggests I richly deserved. If travel horror stories bore you, skip the rest of this entry. If they fill you with schadenfreude or the cosmic-planetary justice to which I allude, read on and enjoy:

The night before, I stayed up until 2 a.m. James was go-go dancing at 440 Castro, an unmissable if routine occurrence. At 5 a.m., I woke to be on the 6:18 BART so I would be at SFO by 7 a.m. for my 8 a.m. flight. Sleep deprivation I could handle, because I had booked that rare thing for someone in my income bracket, a direct flight. At the self-service check-in kiosk, American Flight 24 came up as 10 a.m.

"When did that happen?" I asked the woman behind the counter, thinking I might have given myself another two hours of sleep by looking up the flight before I left the house. She looked it up on her computer. "Ten minutes ago," she said. "There are storms on the east coast and air traffic control just made the call."

An act of God is no-brainer for an atheist, because there's nobody to be mad at. And my life has been so frenetic since October that the idea of two vacant hours seemed, suddenly, like a boon and luxury. I parked myself at an airport restaurant with coffee, my current notebook and the laptop and typed in notes I'd scrawled, mostly about my back-burnered novel, and tore out and crumpled up pages one by one, forming a little paper cairn on my table.

At a little after nine I decided it would be responsible to move my base of operations to Gate 66. Nearby, I checked the monitor for Flight 24 and did a double-take - it wasn't there. I went up to the gate counter and asked the guy behind it - a pilot, it turned out. He punched some numbers into the computer and told me the flight had left at 8:15. I looked at my ticket, and sure enough, it said 8:15. At first I suspected myself of having had some sort of mnemonic-psychotic episode, but then figured out that the window of time in which air-traffic control moved the flight to 10 a.m. was about ten minutes long, and between the time I swiped my card at the kiosk and the time I got my ticket printed, it had come to an end.

There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven, and this was a time for sputtering rage, forcibly repressed. The pilot summoned an agent, and she questioned me sharply about my story and made a phone call to confirm it. When it checked out, she said my name had undoubtedly been called for the 8:15 flight, which, if true, wouldn't have helped me much sitting at the restaurant outside the terminal wing. The best I could hope for was to fly standby on the 11:30 flight, which was full.

By the time 11:30 rolled around, I had transcribed every page of my notebook into the laptop, scored a greasy lunch at the nearest airport restaurant, and the flight had been moved to 12:34. By the time 12:34 rolled around, Gate 66 looked like a third-world train station after an urban plague outbreak. Everyone was trying to get out, and every one was sick. Soon my standby rank had slipped from #2 to #7, all five sections of the flight had been called, every seat on the plane was filled, and I was on the phone to American attempting to convert sputtering rage into some semblance of sympathy-inducing pathos.

Then, bizarrely, I heard my name called over the loudspeaker. I ran up to the counter and was told that if I was Paul Festa, I needed to run down the gangway to the airplane as fast as I could, because they were closing the door to the aircraft. I whipped around to grab my things, shouted an apology to the AA phone rep before hanging up on her, ran down the gangway without having either my ticket or ID checked, and sat down in the seat they yelled after me: 5D. Business class.

I had never been in business class before. I experienced it as the aborigines experienced the plane flying overhead in The Gods Must Be Crazy, with wonderment and disbelief. I could adjust my seat, in an apparently infinite number of configurations, without disturbing the person behind me! I could choose from twenty films to watch (I opted for a Sidney Pollock double-header: Michael Clayton and Tootsie)! I could be served my meal at the time of my choosing! I could put my laptop on one table and my video console on another! Operating on three hours of sleep, I experienced, for the first time, a desire to be awake for my entire flight, and I never wanted it to end. I deplaned reluctantly, concluding an episode that set the tone for my whole week in New York: disaster and triumph as Siamese twins.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Recommendation: Awesome NYC massage

On the flight to New York, I slept like the dead and woke up wounded. Something nasty happened to my neck that plagued me the entire week leading up to my concert in Boston, worsening the left-hand problem that put my violin career on its recent 8-year hiatus.

When I mentioned all this to my friend John Haas, he offered me a massage. He gives them out of a sweet little fainting parlor in his apartment on Rivington St. in the Lower East Side. He worked on me for a full two hours, which is far more than I can usually tolerate. I'm one of those massage sissies who thinks he wants deep tissue work but, once on the table, spends the hour squirming and saying ouch and ends up more tense than he began. John practically Rolfed me but his approach is so subtle that I was able to relax into it. I got up two hours later feeling like a resident of Gary Larsen's Boneless Chicken Ranch; once again I was able to breathe. (The hand was fine in Boston.)

John writes:
My rates are $ 90 1 hr ~ $ 120 1 1/2 hrs. My licensing & training include:
Amma-shiatsu, Deeptissue, Lomi~lomi, Pre-natal, hotstone, Swedish/Esalen, bodyscrubs. Table is heated. I travel.

Contact: John Haas
(347) 683-1727
dfaulken (at) gmail (dot) com

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