Sunday, June 25, 2017

HIGH SPIRITS

Ghouls just wanna have fun in Cabrillo Stage's funny 'Addams Family'

The summer theatre season gets off to a boisterous start with The Addams Family, the first of this year's musical productions from Cabrillo Stage.

Although it seems odd to apply words like "lively" and "exuberant" to characters so famous for their morbidity and ghoulishness, you can expect to have an, er, spirited time at this handsomely produced, enormously good-hearted, family-friendly show.

Crook and Saucedo: darkly funny
This is a relatively new property that opened on Broadway in 2010 and ran through the end of 2011. Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, it is, of course, inspired by the macabre, darkly funny single-panel cartoons by Charles Addams that ran in The New Yorker for decades.

The classic TV sitcom from the 1960s, and a couple of more recent theatrical films, have kept these characters in the public eye since then, but the writers here cook up an original storyline that mostly takes its cues from the cartoons.

Director Bobby Marchessault gets us in the mood right off, inviting us to feast our eyes on William "Skip" Epperson's splendid proscenium arch decorated with skulls, dagger-shaped supports, and cobwebs above a row of headstones.

Fittingly enough, the show begins in a graveyard, where the entire Addams clan — led by proud patriarch, Gomez (Adam Saucedo) and his slinky wife, Morticia (a seductively deadpan Danielle Crook) — arrives for its annual celebration of the dear departed.


Calling forth various ghosts of Addamses past, from different eras (a flapper, a conquistador, etc.) they all sing a funny paean to their ghoulish life in "When You're An Addams." (These silvery-grey ghosts, called Ancestors, in cheeky but elaborate historical costumes by Chiara Cola, also serve as chorus line and stagehands throughout the rest of the show.)

Wednesday, Gomez, as Chas Addams drew them
The plot kicks in with the show's biggest departure from the source material: little daughter Wednesday, usually portrayed as a middle-grade moppet, is now a teenager (Gabrielle Filloux) in the throes of her first love.

Filloux makes droll teen angst out of her struggle to reconcile the joys of love with the family credo of gloom. The problem is, her boyfriend, Lucas (Ryland Gordon), is "normal."

But, of course, the point of the show is observing the Addamses at play. John G. Bridges all but steals the show as a delightfully sweet and goofy Uncle Fester. (Fasten your seatbelts for the funky, yet utterly beguiling bit of stagecraft when he flies up to cavort with the moon.)
   
t's a running gag that Wednesday routinely tortures kid brother, Pugsley (Michael Navarro), on a rack — and how much he loves it. Deborah McArthur can't do much with the underwritten part of screechy, witchy Grandma.

Astin as Gomez: Latin lover
But David Murphy's zombified butler, Lurch, always in slo-mo, provides the show's biggest, best surprise.

Lippa's songs are consistently clever, and the book is very funny. ("Wednesday's growing up," sighs Gomez. "She'll be Thursday before you know it!")

I'm pretty sure the concept of Gomez as a Latin lover originated with the delightful John Astin in the TV show (ably continued by Raul Julia in the movies) — beginning with that name.

(In Addams' cartoons, the characters are unnamed. If the patriarch, as drawn, resembles anybody, it's Peter Lorre, or, possibly, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.)

But whatever the character's origins, Saucedo plays Gomez with gusto, geniality, and a terrific singing voice. He couldn't be any better.


(Read more in this week's Good Times.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

WISE GUYS & GALS

Their Finest: dueling typewriters
The recent popularity of Their Finest got me thinking about how to make writers dynamic in the movies.

Writing a novel in isolation is hardly a spectator sport. Sure, there have been good movies about novelists, but the act of writing itself is pretty much a snooze-fest onscreen.

But other forms of writing can be made more cinematic because they involve action — and humor.

A pair (or team, or pool) of writers bouncing ideas off each other verbally while concocting a film or television script is an idea situation: the act of creation is achieved as the jokes fly.

Boy Meets Girl: sell that story
One of my favorites in this genre is the 1938 screwball comedy Boy Meets Girl, with fast-talking James Cagney and Pat O'Brien as studio screenwriters hatching an elaborate movie scenario in double-time.

A more updated version was that venerable TV sitcom of the 1960s,  Dick Van Dyke Show, where staff writers Rob, Buddy, and Sally traded non-stop wisecracks while cobbling together a weekly comedy script for their TV star boss.

Another reliably visual writing genre is journalism. You can't go wrong with reporters out there tracking down a story — especially if they're cracking wise the whole time, as in The Front Page (1931, and remade many times).

Or better still, the 1940 remake, His Girl Friday, recasting the second lead as a female newshound played by Rosalind Russell, following leads and cracking the case alongside star reporter Cary Grant.

Wax Museum, Glenda Farrel: girl meets typewriter
One of my personal favorites, less well-known today than the others, is The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). Sure, it's a horror movie, but it also features Glenda Farrell as a gal reporter with plenty of moxie, flinging snappy patter in all directions.

When her roomie (Fay Wray) disappears, right around the time the city wax museum begins exhibiting a bunch of new figures of dubious provenance, Farrell convinces her skeptical, hard-boiled editor (Frank McHugh) to let her track down the story — and, boy, does she ever!

The genre inspired its own homage in Woody Allen's Scoop (2006). Ian McShane is great as a recently deceased reporter who haunts cub journalist Scarlet Johansson with clues to a crime, because he — being inconveniently dead — can no longer get the story.

As long as writers are producing the scripts, tales of the writing life will be told onscreen. (Write what you know, and all that.) Here are some of my other favorites.


Monday, June 12, 2017

BEAST OF THE MONTH (JUNE)

The countdown continues — s-l-o-w-l-y — to the publication date of my next novel, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge.

Due date is March 6, 2018. Get in line now!

Okay, that's still 10 months away.

But in the meantime, I'm posting a Beast of the Month on this blog, sharing some of my favorite Beauty and the Beast images from the 260 intervening years since what we now think of as the classic version of the novel was published in France by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in 1757.

This month: feast your eyes on this gorgeous painting from contemporary African-American artist Thomas Blackshear!

This does not resemble my Beast, or my heroine, but I love, love, love the Klimt-like decorative element of the patterns and brushwork!

Seriously, could this be any more gorgeous?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

GOOD COMPANY

Okay, there's no ocean anywhere near Phoenix, Arizona. And yet, James Hook's voyage of world domination continues!

A friend directed my attention to this summer reading book display at a Barnes & Noble in the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix.

Notice the prominent position of Alias Hook! The idea is, they are pairing up classic books and authors with their suggestions for "great modern" retellings or updates!

For my part, I'm thrilled to be sharing valuable tabletop space with such good company as Jane Austen and Alexander Dumas! (Along with J. M. Barrie, of course!)

And speaking of which, see the paperback of Peter Pan at the lower right, wedged in between the "Go" game and The Count of Monte Cristo? The cover image is by none other than Roy Best! It's the same image of Pan that's on the cover of that 1931 storybook that was gifted to me last week.

Anyway, I'm thrilled that my book keeps finding its way back into the public eye. Occupy Bookstores, that's my motto!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

CAPTAIN'S LOG

Russell Brand as Captain Hook, by Annie Leibovitz
Captain Hook continues to have legs!

(And, why not; it was only his hand that got cut off.)

What I mean is that readers over at the Republic of Goodreads keep discovering Alias Hook and posting enthusiastic reviews!

Many early readers assumed the book would be YA (Young Adult) because it's about Peter Pan (although they were quick to discover my book is really about James Hook). And some were disappointed that it was not. But now, some of this late-coming crop of Goodreaders are actually relieved that the book is not YA.

Their comments have been interesting:

This was a book for people just like me - adults who still love magic and the fairy tales from childhood, but don't want to read another book about teenagers (I'm pretty sure 97% of all books now are YA action romances :/ )

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, much more than I probably expected too, despite the interesting premise. I had sort of pegged it as a young adult fantasy with probably many of the same themes that seem to frequently recur in that genre, but this is most definitely a grown-up book, with an adult's perspective of Neverland.


It does sometimes seem there are more YA fantasy series than anything else in the marketplace. Of course, lots of adults read YA because, as a writer friend recently observed, "that's where the ideas are." But it's up to writers to resist the lure of formula that could so easily lead to stagnation within the genre (or any popular genre).

This is useful to think about, since my next two novels will be YA. Keeping the stories fresh and the writing fresh — for readers of all ages — that's the challenge!

(Meanwhile, it's great to know that my James Hook continues to win fans. Pardon me while I blush over this Alias Hook review posted last week on the You Tube book review channel Liene's Library! Thanks, Liene!)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

STORY(BOOK) TIME


So this happened this week:




A friend helping her mom move unearthed this vintage storybook edition of Peter Pan. For some strange reason, she thought of me!


It's an oversized volume called The Picture Story Book of Peter Pan, published in 1931, and illustrated in voluptuous watercolors by Roy Best.


Obsessed as I am with depictions of Captain Hook in all media (to see how they stack up with my James Hook in Alias Hook), I couldn't wait to dive in!


This Hook arrives in full comic-opera regalia, complete with luxuriant, long black Charles II curls. And the red coat, which is standard in Hook depictions probably as far back as the original stage play in 1904. (And immortalized in the 1953 Disney cartoon.)


I do approve of the elaborate headgear here; my James Hook has an absolute fetish for extravagant hats.



But while J. M. Barrie makes a big deal of Hook's icy blue eyes, I find it a little bizarre that illustrator Best tints Hook's entire eyeball (what we usually think of as the "white") a fetching shade of powder blue.


Meanwhile, Best's version of Pan is much younger and way more cherubic than mine. In these illustrations, he's practically a toddler.
Which I guess makes a kind of sense, since the Pan in my book, is going through an eternal case of the Terrible Twos.


But I do love Best's  va-va-voom Tinker Bell. Just look at her, so saucily perched on her little vase, scantily-clad, and vamping like a mini Jean Harlow! Or a chorus girl in a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical.


It's plain to see why this artist was best known for his calendar girl pin-ups!


None of these images remotely resemble the characters as I see them in Alias Hook. But I'm such a sucker for vintage illustration, this one is definitely going on the "keeper" pile!

Monday, May 29, 2017

BEING HERE NOW

Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, Prague
Yesterday, apropos of nothing in particular, Art Boy said that these are the halcyon days of our old age.

And I realized that's true: no matter what age we are now, there's some point in the future when we'll look back fondly on this moment in time, today, and think, Wow, those were the days!

So maybe it's time to unplug from the Borg for a minute, forget the %@#!!*$! news, and pay attention to where we are right now.

Yesterday at this time, I had just made a strawberry tart. (From our weekly box of strawberries from Grey Bears' Brown Bag Program!) All day, a hummingbird had been building her teensy nest in our apricot tree.

Art Boy was chopping peppers in the kitchen. We were having friends over for dinner.

In the immortal words of Steve Miller, time keeps on tickin', tickin,' tickin', into the future.

So we better be here now!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

AHA!

Having trouble dragging the first draft of your novel to the finish line?

Here's a tip from Stephen King: the first draft is always just for you. No one else will (or should) ever see it. This is how you tell yourself the story.

I don't know when, or where King ever said this. It's just one of those tiny infobites that occasionally pops up in the Random Shuffle that is my brain. But even though I've forgotten where I heard or read this nugget, the idea itself is so savvy and reassuring, it's stayed with me.

It's especially pertinent now that I'm working on the first draft of my next book. (The one coming out after Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge.) This is the first time I'm working from a detailed proposal that includes the beginning, the (dreaded) middle, and the end of the story.

My previous book-writing method was to just plunge into an idea and flail around for the next couple of years, but I'm beginning to see the wisdom of actually making a plan first.

Things are, in fact, going more smoothly than usual. But here's the thing: at this stage, when you're still telling yourself the story, you haven't thought of every detail yet. There will be plenty of "aha!" moments in the course of the writing (and rewriting) — but now is not the time to sit around waiting for them!

The job now is to get a complete story onto the page, by fair means or foul, even if it means writing something stupid to connect scene A to scene B. Don't agonize over every word choice, and don't get hung up on details.

And whatever you do, don't stop!

There'll be plenty of time later to throw out the stupid stuff. (And a lot of stuff you think is great now; that's what editors are for.) Everything is going to change, anyway, but until you have something that at least vaguely looks and quacks like a duck on the page, you won't be able to proceed to the next step — revising. And believe me, that's where the real work begins!

That's when you get to those "aha!" moments too. But you have to get there first!

Monday, May 22, 2017

THE 'HOOD FIGHT

Activist resists callous city planners in Citizen Jane

Guess what? You can fight City Hall. With engagement, activism, and a keen sense of moral outrage, we, the people, can foil the best-laid plans of mice and politicians, however mighty they may think they are. Matt Tyrnauer's excellent documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle For the City, shows how it's done, a call to arms that could not be more timely in this chaotic political moment.

The city referred to in the movie's subtitle is New York City. The story begins in the late1950s, where the battle lines are drawn between Utopian post-war urban planning and the communities and concerns of real-life people.

Leading the charge is Robert Moses, an imperious, celebrated urban planning czar who callously decrees, "You have to move a lot of people out of the way," (mostly low-income residents) to make room for the so-called "Urban Renewal" he envisions. (Or, as James Baldwin calls it, in a vintage TV clip, "Negro Removal.")

In the opposing corner is journalist Jane Jacobs, who develops her "theory of opposition" to Moses' plans. A city resident since 1934, whose freelance stories on urban life earned her a position as Associate Editor at Architectural Forum magazine, Jacobs believes a city should be "a place with scope for all kinds of people."

Jane Jacobs: resistance in action
She believes that life lived out on the streets, on the stoops of old buildings and the sidewalks in front of them, creates community; even residents without a lot of money can create rich neighborhoods. Whereas Moses' solution is to tear down all the old buildings, eliminate sidewalk culture, and remove people to soulless highrise towers: i.e.: housing projects.

The welfare of the people involved, uprooted from their community life, is a matter of complete indifference to him. "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs," he chuckles, in a TV clip.

Filmmaker Tyrnauer sets up Jacobs vs. Moses as a "battle for the soul of the city." He posits that Jacobs' influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, is as defining a moment in 20th Century radical politics as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1962), and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1963).

Jacobs consistently fought for the lives and concerns of real people over insular, elitist goals and corporate greed. It's a fight we're still engaged in right now. (Read more in this week's Good Times)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE INSPIRATION GAME

Matisse: Studio, Quai St. Michel. Seminal.
Okay, we're the last kids on the block to see the excellent exhibition on Henri Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn up at SF MoMA.

But it's so worth seeing!

At first glance, you might not think that the prolific, French post-Impressionist genius, Matisse, has much in common with California mid-century modernist Diebenkorn.

But the whole point of this show is to demonstrate the connections between the two.

Diebenkorn was a lifelong admirer of Matisse. And through a judicious selection of paintings by both artists, this show suggest how Diebenkorn was inspired by the French master through different stages of his own career, during the process of finding his own voice.

Diebenkorn: Window (1967) I love this — so rich!
It's fascinating to see how that influence plays out — not necessarily in subject matter or theme, but certainly in color palette, shape, and the energy of the paint on canvas.

Both artists progress through stages of figurative and abstract work, and while connections between the works are not always obvious, we gradually come to realize how much even the abstract, color-blocked, expressionistic images for which Diebenkorn is best known pay subtle homage to Matisse — even the figurative and decorative Matisse.

In some cases, the curators attempt to show the direct effect of a certain Matisse over a subsequent Diebenkorn, but the influence is far more general and fluid than that.

The curators know this, too, and the connections are ours to discover.

Matisse: Blue Window (1913)
They wisely begin the exhibit with the Matisse painting above, "Studio, Quai St. Michel" (1916). As our docent tour guide pointed, out you could draw a direct connection between this seminal Matisse image and just about any Diebenkorn work in the entire show.

This exhibition got me thinking about inspiration vs. imitation. If you've spent any time at all in museums, you've probably seen some young student, or fledgling artist, with easel and paint box set up before some great painting, studiously rendering a copy.

The idea is not to replicate that painting exactly, like a forgery, but to teach yourself how and why that painting works through the process of painting it yourself.

This is a necessary step any creative artist has to go through —understanding something we love by making our own version of it — on the way to establishing our own, unique, creative voice.
Diebenkorn: Ocean Park #79 (1975)

The visual artist paints and paints and paints until he or she gets some idea of where their work is going. In the writing biz, we call this editing.

And you keep working over and over again until you get it right. The early, abstract Diebenkorns from his Urbana series (from his time as an art professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana) come first in the SF MoMA show. It's possible to glimpse the Matisse influence, but these paintings are a little chaotic for me; Diebenkorn is still finding himself.

But as the show continues, you can see Diebenkorn getting a grip on his art as he perfects the sophisticated distillation of color and line that owes so much to the spirit of Matisse, yet is so distinctly Diebenkorn.

Full disclosure — I didn't know anything about Diebenkorn, and most likely would never have sought out his work if he hadn't been paired up with the mighty Matisse in this show. I'm generally more of a figurative, narrative kind of art-lover.

Diebenkorn does Matisse!
But now, I'm a fan! His colors are extraordinary, and there's a kind of monumental serenity to his images that I find quietly profound.

My favorite piece in the show? Diebenkorn's "Recollection of a Visit to Leningrad" (1965) (at left). From across the room, this looks like a Matisse, with that swirling, organic pattern on the left. Up close, it looks like a Matisse grafted onto a geometric, color-blocked Diebenkorn.

Turns out the painting was done after Diebenkorn viewed Matisse paintings at The Hermitage in Leningrad on a trip to Russia the year before. In one way, you get the sense of viewing a Matisse on a wall with another landscape outside, possibly seen through a window.

But in another sense, you see in this celebration of Matisse, the old master beginning to make way on the canvas for the mature Diebenkorn.

This show is up at SF MoMA for one more week. See it if you can, and be inspired!