Home of the Brave: “Wit” Pits Poetry Against Cancer


Mention people and cancer and the adjective “brave” pops up immediately. And in “Wit,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning first play from Margaret Edson, much bravery-of the theatrical kind-is on display. The playwright has decided to focus on a woman dying of cancer, spending the play in a medical center, allowing few supporting characters other than doctors, nurses, and interns. The actor (Allison Coutts-Jordan) portraying the woman Vivian Bearing, a professor in English specializing in John Donne, must achieve a delicate balance between dignity and debasement, between harshness and sentimentality. And because this terminal illness attacks such a stern taskmaster without, as we soon learn, a husband, children, friends, or loving students, the temptation for Edson to use the illness as a sort of punishment-repent, Ebenezer Scrooge!-must be resisted.

This performance, to run until Nov. 8 at SBCC’s Garvin Theater, pulls all the above off perfectly. Director Rick Mokler certainly took a chance with the play, with its many grim scenes likely to repel a number of people. Mr. Mokler also has invested in a play that relegates much of its time to a hospital bed set back in the stage. Fortunately, Ms. Coutts-Jordan handles everything with confidence-she is called on to carry the play and does so because there is no room in the character’s world for anybody else. She relishes the part and the audience is with her all the way.

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Steve Jobs: Black Power Conspiracy?

Spike Lee, man, you were robbed again!
I have yet to hear anyone state the obvious: The whole design of Mac’s new OS X package is a blatant copy of Lee’s 1992 “Malcolm X” poster.
People: “X”?

Is Steve Jobs making a Black Power comparison here? Look at yet another example.

You think those venetian blinds are a coincidence???

Fire on the Mountain

Today was such a particular day, a particular mood. We got up to find, nicely enough, that the clocks had gone back an hour, so that extra lay-in wasn’t as long as we thought. Stepped outside onto the patio and was enveloped by the heat and something else: the smell of smoke. Those two, combined with the golden hazy sunshine took me back in a Proustian moment to Japan 1995. I realised only today that a majority of my time in Japan was under a cloud of perpetual smoke.
Then I felt a bit strange, because while I was off in madeline-biscuit land, I was actually inhaling the remains of somebody’s Rancho Cucamonga/Lake Piru house.
Tonight I took part in a press conference for Michael Moore’s visit to Santa Barbara. The man filled the Arlington to the bursting point. He came late to the pre-show green room conf, but was a gracious guest, though the answers he gave to the questions mostly turned up in his lecture, line for line, joke for joke. The only thing he didn’t use was a little sneak preview of his upcoming 2004 film, “Fahrenheit 911”: I asked him about black box voting, and though he did later tell the audience about Diebold–eliciting a huge gasp from them (I guess this story is not mainstream enough yet)–he told the press that in the upcoming film, he visits the house of Diebold’s CEO.
I’m possibly going to write this up as a news feature for the Voice. We’ll see.
Finally, the air is cool and crisp tonight and is making a refreshing atmosphere for late night typing. I’m in the zone, baby! I’m ready to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Dennis Miller Interview: Natural Born Miller

Over his decade-plus career, Dennis Miller has tried to make the rant his own. Full of vitriol for targets big and small, the stand-up comedian has played a news anchor in his early days on Saturday Night Live—he pretty much made Weekend Update his own—won an Emmy for his talk show, and made a puzzling diversion as a commentator for Monday Night Football, lacing his appreciation for the games with references so dense and obscure that several Web sites sprang up to gloss his jokes.

But for some, Miller’s most drastic career move was evolving his humor slowly towards the right, with jokes about turning Iraq into glass, and scabrous comments about the French (not the rarest of targets, of course). Just last week, Miller raised the ire of Elton John, who denounced him at a charity gig from behind his piano.

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The Magus – John Fowles

Dell, 1965
Technically this is Fowles’ first novel, and the first that I have read (the first the public knew was The Collector). This was recommended to me by G_____
and I soon moved from the teeny-weeny print of the paperback to our library’s hardback version, the better for reading a 600-page tome while in bed. The Magus tells the story of a young Englishman who travels to a small Greek island called Phraxos to teach English. Instead he gets wrapped up in the psychological games of a mysterious millionaire islander called Conchis, who may or may not have helped the Germans in the war, may or may not be able to summon the dead, bend time, and offer a glimpse into a world beyond reality.
The book was a quick read, though dense and literary, and respectful of the reader (he drops many references to The Tempest long before one character points them out). In plot it’s similar to the reality-bending thrillers on the late-’90s, where every 25 pages some new revelation turns all previous events on their heads. Near the end it begins to sound a lot like David Fincher’s “The Game” from 1998, but with much more at stake than making some business executive learn to laugh and love again.
Fowles evokes not just the Greek Island, but the feeling of traveling abroad after college, the sexy danger of it all. The lead character Nicholas is indeed right in the middle of one of those identity-forming experiences, one that Conchis exploits.
The end doesn’t wrap up the plot, but thematically it closes well, though far off into the abstract. There were a few nights where I wound up going to bed at 4 a.m. because I got so caught up in it.

‘Beyond Therapy’ needs a dose of speed


There’s an attraction for directors to Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy.”

Its lampooning of psychobabbling me-generation members and profundity of rude language give it an edgy surface. It’s like a coarser, more farcical Woody Allen. It’s also incredibly dated.

Mr. Durang packs his dialogue with cultural reference that may have been funny when they were fresh out the oven. Prudence, the female lead in this romantic farce, says at one point that she thinks Shaun Cassidy’s cute, but “he’s too young for me.”

Not even 20 coats of irony can save that line from disappearing into the sinkhole. Plenty of other names and pop culture-isms get dropped, from Peter Schaffer’s “Equus” to Dyan Cannon, and they hit the ground, brick-like.

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Three Steps Forward, One Back: Twyla Tharp Dance Delivers in the End, But Is Cute on the Way

©David Bazemore

A sold-out Campbell Hall crowd on Friday night got a heady dose of Twyla Tharp’s choreography as her recently regrouped (in 1999) Twyla Tharp Dance performed four works that brought Santa Barbara crowds up to date on Tharp’s most recent work, while delving back briefly for a look at Tharp’s beginnings. For relative newcomers it was a night of contrasts; for longtime aficionados, it was a confirmation of the changes Tharp has brought to modern dance.

The company is a talented, well chosen collection of dancers, all very strong by themselves, and the evening’s program introduced them to us two or three at a time, culminating with almost the entire company participating in the rousing finale. But more of that later.

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V.A. – The Readymade Record of Humour (aka Boot Beat Manifest)

Readymade Records HIRMC-1004

The joke’s on us, apparently.
This CD came free with the decidedly unfree Readymade Magazine and is a series of tracks by Readymade artists and their friends, all of which are audio collages, some incorporating rare groove material, others using English and Japanese text samples. It’s Attention Deficit Disorder Music, with no groove staying longer than a couple of bars to form the center of anything. It’s like John Oswald without the density, or Negativland without the politics or satire.
Now, there is some discussion over on the Pizzicato Five mailing list and elsewhere whether DJ Yoshio is actually Yasuharu Konishi. On his track he plays longer samples of tracks that Konishi has used in P5 songs and elsewhere. Does this seem like another transparent admittance?
I think the idea of the CD is to provide DJ “lessons” to the listeners, either through presenting a DJs favorite samples or through showing how much can be mixed together in one sitting. Then there’s also a few Japanese spoken word tracks seemingly against Bush and the war (the monkey gets sampled a few times). What is it all about? In what environment does this CD make sense?

The Four King Cousins – Introducing

Capitol Records (rereleased on M&M records, MMCD-1009, 1997

I have this album with no real information, just a track listing and a date: 1968.
Apparently they are the offspring of the other King Singers, and here cover some Bacharach, some Beatles, some Beach Boys, and some Roger Nichols. What I want to know is who did the arrangements (for groups like this, the “auteur”). The stop-start of “Good Day Sunshine” is clever and the vocals go to and fro between solo and sweet harmony.
As usual with soft-rock groups, the Japanese are crazier about this stuff than the West. Google results in 80% pages found with Japanese domain names. The Western stuff is mostly just a mention in a “For Sale” list or a spot on some indie-radio station’s playlist.
Any Pizzicato Five fan worth their salt should seek this one out–I bet Konishi wore his copy out. Just listen to “I Fell” and then P5’s “Triste” and all should be apparent.

Moonlight Whispers

Dir: Akihito Shiota
A tender coming of age story masked as a psycho-sexual treatise on sado-masochism…or vice versa?
Akihito Shiota’s film is based on a manga by the same name, and came out in 1999. I got to watch it on a VHS copy taped off a Chinese VCD (with English subs).
The film starts off with a typical young high-school love relationship beginning during the spring semester. The nervous few months of Takuya and Satsuki’s relationship rang very true and for a brief moments I felt like I was watching a very good realist film (it certainly brought me back to memories of my first girlfriend in 1986). But soon after she gives up her virginity to him, she discovers his true fetish.
Remarkably, Aota doesn’t push the switch in our faces, and doesn’t try to make us feel bad in a true miserablist way (such as a Solondz would do). Satsuki is pissed, but Takuya is persistent and won’t give up after being dumped and humiliated. In fact, he likes being humiliated, and Satsuki begins to realize she loves to humiliate.
By the end, Shiota even brings us back to a world of innocence, only shifted to accomodate a relationship beyond the norm of society, and does so without reducing anybody down to something less than human. The movie is a good lesson for filmmakers in how to explore the most outre material without resorting to snarky nihilism. Fascinating.
Equally fascinating: lead actress Tsugumi, with her moony face and a bullet-bra that couldn’t help reminding me of the cold war.