REVIEW: Zhang Huan’s Stunning, Ambitious “Semele” at BAM

Photo Credit: Jack Vartoogian/Frontrowphotos

Photo Credit: Jack Vartoogian/Frontrowphotos

See this review published on Flavorpill

Baroque opera meets Buddhism in the Canadian Opera Company’s U.S. premier of “Semele” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In the hands of director Zhang Huan—a Chinese performance artist based in Shanghai—George Handel’s 18th century oratorio takes a turn away from tradition as Chinese and Japanese cultures intervene with the Greek tragedy.

“Semele” is Huan’s directorial debut and first foray into theatrical set design. In his notes on “Semele” Huan stated, “My goal is to allow the opera singers to reenact this classical Western opera on an Eastern stage latent with the tragic emotions of Semele—while at the same time allowing the audience to experience the dramatic beauty and pain common to all human beings.”

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Making the Universe Real: “Star Talk” with Neil deGrasse Tyson and special guest His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa

star-talk-radio-og

His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa is invited to a special “StarTalk” Radio show discussing water, climate change and sustainability with the radio’s hosts, TV’s “Cosmos” Dr. Niel deGrasse Tyson and Comedian/Writer Eugene Mirman. The Gyalwang Drukpa is the head of Drukpa Linage and is the honorific title of the independent Sarma (new) schools of Vajrayana Buddhism. He has received the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Award for his environmental initiatives. The live radiobroadcast will be at The Beacon Theater on Thursday, June 5th. Tickets are limited, so listen to the program stream live on http://www.startalkradio.net.

His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa and Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke to me about sustainability and ways NYCers can curb climate change:

What regions are most affected by climate change?

His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa: The Himalaya, coined as the “Third Pole” of the earth, is particularly affected by climate change. The Himalaya is home to the largest field of glaciers outside of the polar caps and provides a water source for almost half of the world’s population in Asia. With global warming accelerating the rate of glacier melting in the Himalaya, Asia could experience a water crisis in the years to come.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Our civilization will be most impacted by the effect of climate change on coastal cities.

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Eat Your Art Out in Bushwick

Installation views, Storefront Ten Eyck, BR: Jerry Blackman, “How to Disappear a Tiger: Genealogy of the White Tigers of Siegfried and Roy,” 2014, mixed media

Installation views, Storefront Ten Eyck, BR: Jerry Blackman, “How to Disappear a Tiger: Genealogy of the White Tigers of Siegfried and Roy,” 2014, mixed media

Read this article published on Bushwick Daily

Seeing art is like drinking a bold glass of red wine—it’s never too early in the day to enjoy. 

So I’m not biased or anything, but Storefront Ten Eyck never disappoints. Nothing is better than perusing a warehouse stock-full of art so engaging you have to take a few laps around this stadium-gallery. Perusing the space on a Sunday afternoon was much quieter than maneuvering your way through its packed openings—this solitude was a refreshing way to really spend time with the art, which is necessary when viewing the current exhibition showcasing 2014 Yale MFA sculptors (on view through May 18). 

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Edward Snowden: Patriot, or Perpetrator?

IntelligenceSquared_WasSnowdenJustified_EdwardSnowden

Is Edward Snowden a Whistleblower of Public Enemy? Was justice served when he downloaded an estimated 1.7 million National Security Agency (NSA) files for release to the media, or should he be indicted under the Espionage Act because he weakened U.S. defense?

Intelligence Squared—the Public Affairs Broadcast—hosted a live debate at Kaufman Center to discuss this dispute. Moderator John Donvan and four top thinkers debated Snowden’s patriotism—or lack there of—in the motion “Snowden Was Justified.”

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Technophobia to Technophilia in Spike Jonze: Her (2013)

spike-jonze-her-joaquin-phoenix

If you cannot beat capitalism, join capitalism. With the Digital Revolution, intelligent computer technology outdated the brute machine-age of the early 20th century. Machines were no longer tied to the factory as examples of efficiency for human action but became supplements to the human condition, making people “fitter, happier, and more productive.” Machines became sentient limbs to the human condition and the affection for machines in our lives—technophilia—now dominates the new millennium.

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Technophilia in “Her,” Spike Jonze new sci-fi romance

spike jonze her joaquin phoenix

When our love for technology, loves us back.

5 things you cannot live without:

1. cell phone

2. computer

….family, friends, food, water, etcetera.

Spike Jonze’s new movie “Her” is a sci-fi romance about Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who develops a mutual love affair with the new operating system “Samantha” installed on his cell phone and computer (Scarlett Johansson).

“Her” expounds on our age’s obsession with the gadgets that define our lives; our phones and computers operate as phantom limbs and contribute to not only our world-view through instantaneous connectivity but also to identity formation. Through the techy gadgets we are unable to live without, we affirm our own existence with instantaneous status updates, selfie tweets, and social media posts.

In “Her” our love for technology reaches its absurd conclusion upon realizing the touch of your computer will never match the touch of your living and breathing lover. Just like the anarchist fem-bot of Frtiz Lang’s “Metropolis” or the nihilist computer Hal in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Samantha” and smart machines alike are prone to error. However, unlike humans who are allotted larger margins for mistakes, technology was created to be innovative and flawless, and through miscalculations machines dismantle their pedestals of perfection.

Contemporary Culture and Opera Converge: Anna Nicole at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

anna-nicole

I want to Blow you All…..a Kiss!

Anna Nicole at BAM is a theatrical tour de force of one of our first “famous for being famous” reality darlings: Anna Nicole Smith. One can only laugh at the sardonic and overwhelmingly crude language beautifully sung in high Opera fashion. A fusion of low brow celebrity culture weaved through classical Opera style, this show is for all who are able to take a wonderfully orchestrated joke about our obsession with the trailer trash turned tabloid queen Anna Nicole.

The opera itself, including the ensemble, language, music, and stage design, personifies the large personality of Anna Nicole. The plot weaves a path through the starlet’s life, beginning with her humble roots in Texas, and ending with her untimely death. We see a star rise to fame through sexual exploitation: her moment of stardom is because of her good looks and great body (post plastic surgery of course). As a poor, uneducated, single mother stripper in Houston, she hits the jackpot and captures the heart of billionaire oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II. After his death, her attorney Howard Stern, labeled “Darth Vader” and “Bambi killer” by the chorus, becomes Anna’s right hand man, taking on an ambiguous role as lawyer/manager/friend/lover/husband. Anna gains weight, abuses prescription pills, and sadly dies shortly after giving birth to a baby girl.

The opera borderlines Brechtian Absurdist Theater and Surrealism. We are not shown a scene by scene retelling of a provocative TV star’s rise and fall from stardom. Instead, a wonderfully fantastical world is created through larger-than-life stage design, audacious costumes, raunchy scenarios, and jazz-inspired music. A chorus of reporters and paparazzi follow Anna’s every song and dance as she quickly skyrockets to Reality TV fame. Personified film and video cameras stalk her every move and capture the highs and lows of the starlet’s life. She was on cloud nine rising the ranks of audiences worldwide, quirky and lovable in her southern naiveté. Her blast to celebrity status came during the 1990s, the beginning of Reality TV and audience obsessions with the daily lives of young Americans. If we remember the Real World, producers selected varied candidates to exemplify the backbone of the United States as a nation that prides itself in economic, political and social diversity. Anna Nicole exemplified the American Dream by rising the economic ranks to a stature of not only financial prosperity, but celebrity success. She was a Reality Darling, and the death of her son Daniel and herself to accidental overdoses was a contemporary Greek Tragedy.

In Act I we laugh to the rambunctious antics of a young woman attempting to rise the ranks from trailer trash to financial stability. Act II takes on a somber tone dealing with Anna’s drug abuse, weight gain, court battles, and her son’s death. The sparkle and spunk of a once vivacious Playmate is lost inside of an overweight addict following the every suggestion of her lawyer Stern, arguably a man who had a paycheck in mind over the well-being of his client. We cannot just blame Stern for her self-destruction. Her rise to fame, stardom, and untimely death was a lethal combination of Anna Nicole’s charming ignorance, and our world’s obsession with Celebrities.

The last scene is powerful and makes you momentarily question who really is at fault for her death: Anna Nicole, heartbroken after her son Daniel’s accidental overdose, wraps herself inside a body bag while the personified paparazzi and reporters scatter trash and debris around her filthy home. The ironic and comical tone of earlier scenes is completely transformed to a dismal expression of a woman who cannot withstand the overwhelming antics of her Celebrity status. She becomes a martyr to Celebrity Culture, a sphere where the basic human right of privacy is completely disregarded by the Media. Of course Anna Nicole was Media hungry and chose to put her life on display, but we can still question the “Reality” in Reality TV. Anna Nicole is a great example of the formation of Celebrity Culture and contemporary Paparazzi Mania. We have, indeed, created a monster: Tabloid Media.

A metaphor sung by the Chorus at the beginning of the play very much inspires my ideas on Reality TV/Celebrity Culture. The Media/Chorus described Anna and her life as a comet, a body in space that ferociously speeds through the air and lights up the sky. As vibrant as they are propelling through the atmosphere, their light eventually subdues and they either disintegrate gracefully in outer space, or, penetrate our earth’s atmosphere and die a brazen death by impacting the terrain. Anna Nicole was definitely the latter; she fought a long fight to be America’s darling, and she most certainly did not leave this earth without an impact.

Composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage
Libretto by Richard Thomas
Directed by Richard Jones
Conducted by Steven Sloane

Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”, and what it means to be truly honest.

Cate Blanchet plays the title role in Blue jasmine

Cate Blanchett plays the title character Jasmine. Vodka, Xanax, Neurosis Oh My.

“Blue Jasmine” is a tribute to how difficult and even impossible it is to be honest sometimes. This movie is not just a case study into a wealthy woman’s fall from grace when she and her white-color con husband (Alec Baldwin) lose their Park Avenue lifestyle due to his money laundering schemes. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) plays coy the entire movie, and after she moves to San Francisco to start a new life living with her less than glamorous sister Ginger, she continually represses her knowledge of her late husband’s illegal activities (he committed suicide in prison), continually announcing herself as a victim of this terrible circumstance that has landed her homeless, moneyless, jobless and lost. At one point she attempts to better her situation by working as a dental assistant to pay her way through computer classes so she can start an online degree certification for her independent business as an interior designer. You feel her identity slowly building even behind her overwhelming addiction to Xanax and Vodka. However, she backpedals after meeting an attractive and most importantly to her wealthy widower (Peter Sarsgaard). She is not honest with him; she will not divulge her checkered past. Instead, he falls in love with her projected self, an image of a woman she believes she should be: a wealthy New York City interior designer widow of a plastic surgeon.

This movie is a very intimate portrayal of a neurotic woman continually repressing reality because of her inability to be honest with herself and the people around her. She plays dumb to her late-husband’s illegal lifestyle and continually defends her complete ignorance of his business activities. We slowly find out through flashbacks of her then Park Avenue lifestyle that she must have known about his business because she was the reason he went to jail. After Jasmine finds out her husband has been cheating on her for years, and will be leaving her for his mistress, Jasmine calls the FBI, and we can only assume she is calling to discuss her husband’s illegal business ventures. We realize that Jasmine isn’t being honest with anyone, not even herself, and the lie she has lived since the moment she ditched college to marry this man is aiding in her psychological downfall.

In the end Jasmine is exactly where she left off after her husband was incarcerated: completely alone. She finds her recovering addict step-son working in San Francisco at a record store. As she tries to reconcile with him, he has no interest in her pathological identity and even blames her completely for their family’s downfall. She leaves distraught, goes home only to continue her charade by proclaiming to her sister and her fiancé Chile that she will be moving out that afternoon to her fiancé’s mansion, even though he has just broken off their engagement after realizing Jasmine’s dishonesty about her past and current situation. At that moment watching a disheveled Jasmine frantically drink vodka in her sweaty Chanel dress, it is almost impossible to tell if Jasmine herself realizes she is lying. She has been living a false livelihood since her marriage 20 years ago to a man that lived his existence as a grifting con-man. Rather than admitting her faults, she allows her neurosis to overcome her being, and in the last scene we see a drenched, wet and psychotic Jasmine suffering a mental breakdown at a public park as she vocally relives a scene from her past. Moments and memories from her former life will continue to haunt her present existence until she becomes honest with herself.

To be honest, I’m not always honest. However, I do see a difference from disclosing truths from loved ones that are not necessary to be known in the first place, and actually living an entire existence based on a false foundation. Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” is a tragedy to watch, but we do not feel bad for Jasmine; you cannot feel bad for someone so aware of their misfortunes, yet so reluctant in admitting sole accountability for all the distress. Woody Allen shows that honesty is not a virtue, it’s a privilege.

BAM - Brooklyn Academy of Music - 30 Lafayette

BAM – Brooklyn Academy of Music – 30 Lafayette

I saw “Blue Jasmine” at BAM, check it out!

Yes, the Theater!

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht

It is not enough to demand insight and informative images of reality from the theater. Our theater must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality. Our audience must experience not only the ways to free Prometheus, but be schooled in the very desire to free him. Theater must teach all the pleasures and joys of discovery, all the feelings of triumph associated with liberation.

Last week I saw a read-through of a play at The Brecht Forum by Justin Kuritzkes titled “Drones: A Protest Play.” Set in a sci-fi, futuristic, dystopian United States overwhelmed by hyper protective government activities, the play questions social liberties and human rights during a technological “Big Brother” age. Scenarios of techno-war serve as the main scenes, with soldiers and aircraft pilots operating drones oversees rather than physically fighting themselves. This sense of safety is liberating for soldiers at first; they sit in their barracks chugging Mountain Dew and eating donuts gossiping about their equality as male, female, gay, or strait soldiers, all working together without government inquisition. The high-ranking officials even promote sexual liberation and congratulate themselves on their open-mindedness towards at one time taboos, but in the end basic human rights. However, this freedom comes as a price when big business corporations manufacturing the drones forcefully coerce legislators to promote national, corporate and eventually private sales of drones to U.S. citizens. Now, machines monitor our every move and our freedom becomes a false consciousness, one that makes us feel safe because we are being protected at all times, but one that also violates our freedom of privacy.

The show played out as absurdist vignettes of different scenarios between the President, his agents, legislators, soldiers, their wives and even university officials lobbying for new government grants to build drones in their engineering departments. Seven actors played countless characters, all professing through verbose monologues their favor for their new drone-filled world. Government officials and soldiers were egocentric with Freudian death-drive complexes and had little regard for factual evidence regarding the terrorists destined for doom. For the most part their killing operations ended in tragedy, with soldiers so anticipating a siege they instead drone-blitzed not only civilians, but also American citizens overseas. This play showcases a problematic scenario between man and his machines, and I’m looking forward to seeing “Drones: A Protest Play” in full swing.

Written by Justin Kuritzkes

Directed by Sam Alper

Dramaturg/Assistant Director: Celine Song

Sound Design: Harrison Adams

Cast: Jeena Yi, Micah Stock, Andrew Zox, John Gordon, Wei Yi Lin, Chris Tyler, Ari Rodriguez.