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Monday, October 26, 2009

Passing Strange Acquaintance


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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tedious people in drab surrondings: fall collection

When people ask me why I spend two weeks in the backwoods of the American South once or twice a year, and what I do there, I tell them:




























































































































































































































































































Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Apparition hat trick


Anyone who spends as much time looking at Facebook status updates as I do may already know that I concluded my recent trip to New York by partying just a wee bit too hard Monday night, missing my flight Tuesday morning, leaving my cell phone behind in the East Village, spending the next eight hours paying fines, sleeping, eating and crying a little in JFK Terminal 4 (I really know how to party).

Today, a trio of consolation prizes. The first I found randomly on YouTube - a slickly produced two and a half minute documentary about the Apparition of the Eternal Church screening that took place in Trondheim, Norway (at the notorious Church of Our Lady) in September of last year:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe2rYg2blQo

Thanks to the collective brain otherwise known as Facebook, particularly the node of it belonging to Diana Anders, I have this translation of filmgoer commentary (tentative where followed by the question mark):
"It was not provocative, no, but it was fascinating - there were some odd people in that!"
"Surely each of us here had a different experience of the piece - there are so many ways to interpret this."
"Some people might find it blasphemous (?), but I liked it."
"It was very high quality."
- that last comment certainly a reference to Squeaky Blonde's famous bong hit.

Then, today, this showed up in Unquiet Thoughts, Alex Ross's new New Yorker blog:
Two other Messiaen films worth seeing: the DVD of Pierre Audi’s Netherlands Opera production of “St. Francis of Assisi,” with a magnificent lead performance by Rod Gilfry; and Paul Festa’s mind-bending documentary “Apparition of the Eternal Church.”
If my Juilliard education taught me nothing else, it taught me that a mind is a terrible thing not to bend (thank you Albert Fuller).

I started this blog entry as "Apparition double whammy," but then, searching on YouTube for the Trondheim link, I found two videos of three young people videotaping themselves listening to
Apparition of the Eternal Church (the organ piece) through headphones. Say what you will about the results (I rated them "awesome"), but as far as I'm concerned this was one of the most gratifying manifestations of the whole Messiaen project to date.

About Me

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des R├ęcollets.

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