Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fonda's Sublime Moments On Stage; On-Line Floricanto

Review: Jane Fonda in 33 Variations. Written and Directed by Moisés Kaufman.
January 30 – Marc h 6, 2011 Ahmanson Theatre at the Los Angeles Music Center.
Also starring Samantha Mathis, Don Amendolia, Susan Kellermann, Greg Keller, Grant James Varjas, Diane Walsh, Scott Barrow, Caitlin O’Connell, Yvonne Woods Slaten, with Zach Grenier.
Music by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Michael Sedano
The first time I saw Jane Fonda in propria persona, 1973, she was hanging in effigy. Targeted by a gaggle of screaming angry partisans, not even singing the National Anthem stilled their vitriol.
When I more recently see Fonda, on stage in the Mark Taper Forum’s temporary digs, the Ahmanson auditorium, all the screaming signals that Fonda and company, in the middle of the run and in full stride, are delivering on the promise of a 2009 Broadway hit, revisited for the hustings.

On entering the sparely-decorated auditorium’s cavernous space, theatergoers in the front rows take in the two balconies and the fancy private boxes reigning above the orchestra seats before negotiating a path to the selected seat.

Dismay sinks in with center row seats. 17 laps 40 shoes assorted purses in the path. Multiply that by 1600 seats, an early arrival makes excellent sense. Shorter rows with lots of aisles sacrifice a few dozen seats. But then, anything that takes the ordeal out of being a paying customer of the Ahmanson Theatre makes sense.

The Ahmanson packs them in, but I imagine seeing this performance in the intimacy of the 760 seat Mark Taper Forum. Heaven. (FYI: 33 Variations is on the Taper bill, but housed in temporary quarters.)

After the shock of getting to one’s seat, the stage before one comes with a pleasant minimalist intensity. Hanging in six-high rows four across suspended on a grid, rectangular sheets flutter lazily in air conditioning currents. The sheets appear to be handwritten music paper, now serving as the projection surface for the musical notes coming over the loudspeaker.

The frames holding the sheets whirl on unseen wheels, becoming the curtain that flips open to frame Jane Fonda. It’s the only awkward moment of the performance, Fonda waiting to be recognized, the audience waiting to applaud maybe because they don’t recognize the thin woman waiting upstage to advance on the first handclaps.

Music by Ludwig van Beethoven. Talk about big credits. The piece, by Moisés Kaufman, holds its own in face of such powerful music, running parallel stories. One, set in 1819 and 1823, tells of Beethoven finishing the variations and dying. The other story moves from New York to Bonn, hospital room to library stacks.

Fonda embodies her role of Katherine Brandt, a musicologist driven by fatal disease to finish a scholarly investigation of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. The composer, superbly played by Zach Grenier, is dying, racing to complete the masterpiece 33 treatments of a simple tune. The researcher is dying, racing to complete her research using Beethoven's papers in Bonn. The crusty Brandt is obsessed with Beethoven’s obsession with Diabelli’s simple tune. Beethoven obsesses over the possibilities unleashed by this final spurt of composing. The Ninth. The Mass. The Diabelli Variations.

Stop. Before reading today’s La Bloga further, put The Diabelli Variations on the record player and let Beethoven’s mind-numbing genius pour in. Listen. The waltz. Variation 1, a march. A march! Mockery! No, listen, Genier von Ludwig tells his assistant Schindler, ably interpreted by Grant James Varjas, four notes. Dum dum tat a. Now listen to this variation, the same four notes, dee ti ta t... Now this variation. The same four notes. Four notes that Beethoven takes off from to create new musical forms. Schindler sees it, the publisher-composer Diabelli (Don Amendiola) sees it, and you the audience see it. Playwright Moisés Kaufman fills the play with delightful moments musicaux that pass quickly to other treats: "Here, read this!" the excited Schindler tells the delay-frustrated publisher Diabelli. The actor takes the manuscript, scans it silently, "This is the greatest music I have ever heard!" they explode in delighted agreement at what their eyes have heard on the page.

Pianist Diane Walsh sits at the Steinway and provides the music that Beethoven/Grenier/Fonda describe. Walsh luxuriates at the keyboard, offering lengthy sure fingered passages--this is difficult music, and synchronized beautifully with the actors’ voices and words. Play and music achieve sublime dramatic artistry. Aside from being a dramatic tour de force, 33 Variations is everything your Music 101 class should have been. Trained musicologists aside—they already know this stuff--emotionally spent audiences take solid musical tutoring away with them.

The story wrings one’s emotions bare. There’s hardly a dry eye in the house as we lose both Brandt and Beethoven just as they attain their apex. Brandt’s last words are especially moving because they are so mundane yet they complete the cycle of Brandt’s life. As Dr. Brandt, her life has pursued the fine critical distinction. Her daughter—brilliantly cowed in Fonda’s presence is Samantha Mathis--has been such a lifelong disappointment owing to the girl’s refusal to dedicate herself to any systematic endeavor. She has never met the standard, never been good enough for mother’s approval, but as Dr. Brandt dies she asks a question, thinks about the answer, nods slightly, and her final words to her daughter are, “All right.”

Jane Fonda’s breasts make a spectacular cameo appearance that cannot escape notice.

Stage nudity has long been a staple of the Taper. “The Robber Bridegroom” opens at a rustic forest fest where a totally naked actress does a slow 360 degree turn back to front to back again. A woman in the audience complains loudly “for shame! For shame!” as she is ushered out the auditorium. “Blade to the Heat” shoehorns full male nudity when an actor showers then strolls across the stage drying his face with a small towel.

Not that I hold anything against Fonda’s breasts. The scene works perfectly. Dr. Brandt is getting sicker. She must undress to be examined. In silhouette she removes her blouse and sits upon a table. Bright white light flashes on. Fonda sits bolt upright, her breasts exposed her arms at her sides. The lights go black. Bright light. Fonda’s arms begin to move. Black. Bright lights. Fonda’s arms reach her breasts. Black. Light. Fonda has covered her breasts. Black.

While I suspect the sight of Fonda’s bare chest would shut even the traps of those assholes from back in '73 (more fotos here, click), the five or six views of Brandt moving in slo-mo strobe light to cover herself heap more pathos on the character and her growing vulnerability than some tear ducts can handle. When Brandt is gone and her daughter—not worthless at all but the key to mother’s final triumph—must stand in and fill mother’s shoes, then there will not be a dry eye in the house.

Greg Keller as Mike Clark deserves mention for comic relief but underdeveloped character. Clark lives one of those desperately boring lives. He’s floored by Clara’s allure. To Clara, who has slept around, Mike is such a nerd, but comes with such a decent heart. Although Mike's choices,other than Clara's love, deserve investigating, Kaufman leaves them alone. Maybe puro love is blind?

The love story between Mike and Clara will be another reward when you take the fast-diminishing time to get to Music Center Hill in Los Angeles to be floored by Jane Fonda’s artistry.

You can castigate me for omitting mention of the superb work of Susan Kellermann, whose flinty Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger softens and becomes Katherine’s Schindler, Gertie the confidante. Castigate me for failing to praise adequately Grant James Varjas’ Anton Schindler. Historical hindsight casts suspicion on Schindler’s veracity and motive, an aspersion slimily captured in Varjas’ movement and posturing. This entire production team merits special mention, I know. There’s a Tony for Outstanding Revival. With 33 Variations the Mark Taper Forum will win it or keep trying--reruns are the Taper's specialty. All those whom I fail now to mention will have a place in the limelight when they accept their Tony. When's the last time you saw a sure thing Tony winner?


On-Line Floricanto

Last week, La Bloga's On-Line Floricanto featured poetry for yesterday's festivities, St. Valentine's Day. What a joy to behold 13 love poems. Click here to revisit those selections. For today's first post-Valentine floricanto, Francisco Alarcón and the moderators of the Facebook group Poets Responding to SB 1070 offer five works for your delight.

1. "Dear World, Dear Earth, Dear Angel of Despair and Joy" by Alma Luz Villanueva

2. "Your America, My Turtle Island" by Susan Deer Cloud

3. "Hating the Haters" by James O. Michael

4. "Prose Poems, V1, Bracero Project" by Rachelle Linda Escamilla

5. "For Christina at 9" by Arlene Biala

Dear World, Dear Earth, Dear Angel Of Despair And Joy

January 6, 2011

by Alma Luz Villanueva

Early morning, as we land in Mexico
City, I see the immense angel, I
blink my eyes, I stare and
stare, it doesn't disappear, it

remains firm, hovering at the
edge of Mexico City's sprawl,
Cloud Angel, Spirit Angel, Angel
Of Despair And Joy, Begging Angel,

Starving Angel, Murdered Angel,
Tortured Angel, Child Prostitute
Angel, Angel Of The Well Fed Loved
Child, Angel Of Loving Parents,

Angel Of Those Who Feed The Hungry,
Angel Of Those Who Give To Beggars,
Angel Of Those Who House The Beaten
Human body, Angel Of Those Who

Weep For Mercy Compassion Harvest,
Angel Of Those Who Rage For Poverty's
People, Angel Of The Unashamed
Who Bellow, Angel Of The

Shamed Who Whimper, Angel of
Our Humanity, Angel Present Alive
Every Where, Angel At The Edge Of
Mexico City, I didn't know you

were there until this morning,
December 9, 2011, if I flew
city to city, country to country,
continent to continent, I would

see you firm, hovering, your
immense wings folded softly,
fiercely, your speed of light
eyes balancing the terror,

the wonder, of being
human, you temper our
blindness, give us sight,
Angel Of Diamond Light

Eyes, watching, weeping, gazing,
our strange, stubborn, human
beauty, we persist because of
you, Angel Of Despair

And Joy, at the edge of
Mexico City, every city, town,
village, every Turtle Island,
our Earth.

(To the city of Tucson, the nine-year-old
angel, Christina Green, killed on January 8, 2011.
May the Circle Of Angels Of Despair And Joy unfurl
their soft, fierce wings, tip to tip, around Tucson at this time.)
* * * *
Los Angeles, The Angels, at noon,
Angel Of Illegal Immigrants, Spanish,
Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian spoken
on the streets, many more, do you

sing in every human language,
Turtle Islands once the massive
Tortoise emerging from primal,
cellular swirling sea, from

space blue blue blue womb
water, I hear you singing on
the streets of Los Angeles, your
sweet clear voice pierces my

stubborn, persistent, will-to-live
human heart...Angel Of Dreaming
Immigrants, Angel Of Native People
Of This Continent (their drums, their

voices, their rattles, dance, song,
keeping us alive, ancient prophecy
coming home, coming home to the
streets of Los Angeles, The Angels, the

Earth, coming home), Angel Of The
Ancient Trade Routes, Angel Of
Shimmering Shifting Borders,
Angel Of The Dispossessed,

Angel Of the Possessive,
Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,
I hear your sweet clear voice
piercing even the concrete, flowing

over the Pacific, her still fertile,
swelling waves, piercing every
stubborn human heart, our
Angel Of Despair And Joy,

I hear you singing in every
language, I don't know
the words, what I hear/feel,
your harsh, persistent healing.
* * * *
Santa Cruz, Holy Cross, ancient
symbol of healing (not crucifix),
night, oh Angel Of Scattered
Families, oh Angel Of Gathered

Families, how do we stand to feel
so much, I wonder, these gathered
memories from sheltered womb to
open door, the delicious, terrifying,

lush, killing, O beauty, O horror,
this human world,
this perfect Earth,
O Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,

O Angel Of Terror And Wonder,
O Angel Of Despair And Joy,
O Angel Of Scattered, Gathered
Families, the families we're

born to, birth to,
the families we create,
O Angel Of Endless Weeping,
O Angel Of Endless Laughter,

we heard your harsh, persistent
voice, healing, and we danced,
oh we danced to your song,
terror, oh the wonder,

at the edge of Santa Cruz,
at the edge of Los Angeles,
at the edge of Mexico City,
at the edge of every floating,

rooted Turtle Island continent,
at the very edge of our Cosmos,
O Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,
keep watch as the ancient prophecies,

the ancient trade routes, come
home, keep singing your harsh,
persistent, healing song, every language,
O Angel of Despair And Such

* * * *
Watsonville, Califas, a few miles south of Santa Cruz-

My granddaughter works with the
Farm Workers, their children born
two fingers to each hand, im
perfect (as my four children

were born perfect, spraying
of the fields, their parents
with cancers, dying to
pick the food of millions,

fresh cheap food at the supermarkets,
ICE separating illegal parents from
their legal children- we marched
the streets with Chavez, La Huerta,

over thirty years ago, still they
spray the fields (every where, this
Turtle Island), two fingers to each
hand, the im perfect children, to

their parents perfect- my youngest
son works with the families of the
dispossessed, the hungry, no
food or refrigerator to hold it, no

place to sleep (bed, mattress), no
place to sit (couch, chairs), no
table to gather (food food), the
country of wealth, abundance,

one in four children are hungry,
Martin Luther King, "The worst violence
is poverty," O Angel Of The Farm
Workers, O Angel Of Toxic Food,

Angel Of The Im Perfect,
Angel Of The Perfect,
Angels Of Violence,
Angels Of Healing,

surround each field, unfurl
your wings, tip to tip,
O Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,
the terror, and always

the wonder.

*To my youngest son, Jules...and to my granddaughter, Ashley.
To all the daily human angels, wing tip to wing tip, every
Turtle Island, into the Sixth World.

Alma Luz Villanueva
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Always crossing the ancient trade routes, Kokpelli's song.


by Susan Deer Cloud

In your America, you watch CNN for hours,
eat junk food, cheer your cowboy-president
when he brags about invading Iraq.
In my Turtle Island, I watch polluted sky
through South Side window, imagine
what Binghamton was like before the white man
invaded these hills, this river valley.

In your America, your flags sprout
on your porches like dyed carnations …..
red, white, blue in a forced spring.
In my Turtle Island, I grow flowers
in small pots filled with the earth
your America stole from us.

In your America, no one dies when you bomb
human beings in another country.
They just get liberated.
In my Turtle Island, I grow a red geranium
for my mother who died of your cancer …..
a white gardenia for my father who died
for your freedom in your “Good War” …..
a blue violet for the sky of my heart.

In your America, you make believe
that everyone lives in a nuclear family,
instead of the nuclear fission of dysfunction.
In my Turtle Island, I’m a mixed blood Indian woman
who loves a Korean-American poet
with a full blood’s eyes and hair ….. and
a Persian cat, our daughter, color
of Iraqi sands.

In your America, you shout “Democracy,”
even though money is king, and brings
your God into it. The one I don’t trust.
In my Turtle Island, I speak my vision with what
Haudenosaunee people call the Peacemaker’s voice.
I only need enough fried bread to live on …..
and silence for the Great Mystery.

In your America, you support Homeland Security,
confident no soldier or policeman will ever force you
onto a Trail of Tears, no lawyer, no trial.
In my Turtle Island, people are too poor to buy
their way out of reservations, cockroach-slums,
jail archipelagos. I know what it’s like
to be invaded by your freedom.

In your America,
will you ever know how it feels to love
a family, a tribe, this sweet bitter beautiful country,
my broken home …..
the way I have loved
my Turtle Island for centuries?

© Susan Deer Cloud ... published in The Last Ceremony (FootHills Publishing)

Hating the Haters

It’s hard not to hate the haters
To kill the killers
To take an eye for an eye

But in doing so
We become blinded by our own hatred
Our thirst for revenge

We harden our hearts
And feel no compassion
For the uncompassionate
We show no love
For the hateful

So we become them
Without realizing that
the enemy is us

-Jim Michael

Odiar a los que odian

Es difícil no odiar a los que odian
No asesinar a los asesinos
No cobrar ojo por ojo.

Pero al hacer esto quedamos
Encegados por el odio
Y por la sed de la venganza

Se endurezan nuestros corazones
Y no sentimos compasión
Hacia los incompasivos
No ofrecemos amor
A los que odian.

Nos convertimos en ellos
Sin darnos cuenta de que
El enemigo somos nosotros

-Jim Michael

Prose Poems, V1, Bracero Project

by Rachelle Linda Escamilla

She wonders about the growing Mexican-American population in Pittsburgh. You smile at her position in front of the comal. Food family dancing. She dances while sizzling the tips of her fingers, for the sake of a hot tortilla. She tells you about the time her brother and her snapped crosses with ragged jeans in el cemeterio del campos. How when she tried to find her brother she couldn't because he had sat in the mustard blossoms fixing the crosses with gum and shoe lace. She huffs hot-hot while patting the tortilla between her hands and onto your plate.

Consider, for a moment, the weight the
financial burden of such a heavy nose on
a small, flat faced people.

We have mulled over the potential gains
hand-picked barrios containing short
coffee colored, mud streaked children.

We have calculated the cost of and cannot
apologize for Operation Wetback c. 1954

She tells you about that term, wetback, how it means that people crossed the river, she smiles we she says it. You know she loves the water. She directs your attention to the artichoke plants, the ones that look like a large scarecrow, dipping darkly against the shade of the mountain range. They look like people, well, she corrects herself, they almost look like people.

For Christina at 9

by Arlene Biala

i am trying to write you a love letter
but i don't know how to begin.
look both ways before you go, i hear your mother say,
as if blurted from my own lips. her words meant only
to guide you safely through the parking lot,
not deliver you into the arms of yemaya.

where are you now, sweet angel eyes?
i need to write you this love letter
to say how sorry i am that we have failed you.
i didn’t know the colors of your voice,
the scent of your sunkissed hair, like cherries,
or the spark of your tourmaline smile. i didn’t know

until after he killed you that you were born
on a day slammed with grief and dust,
that someone had reason to tremble in joy,
to raise your purple body to her lips
and whisper your name like rain.

can you hear me, little one?
do you see all these people crowding the room,
dressed in their finest, trying to behave?
at last they sit together, these warring
brats, trying to behave in your honor.
your mother is here. are you holding her hand?

our president voices his sorrow, he vows
to redeem you, her slaughtered lamb.
but, she will not be moved. angel eyes.
only the ache of missing you is clear.
all she wants is you. all she wants
is you.

1. "Dear World, Dear Earth, Dear Angel of Despair and Joy" by Alma Luz Villanueva
2. "Your America, My Turtle Island" by Susan Deer Cloud
3. "Hating the Haters" by James O. Michael
4. "Prose Poems, V1, Bracero Project" by Rachelle Linda Escamilla
5. "For Christina at 9" by Arlene Biala

Susan Deer Cloud
foto:John Gunther
Susan Deer Cloud is a Métis Indian of Mohawk/Seneca/Blackfoot lineage. She has a B.A. & M.A. Literature & Creative Writing from Binghamton University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She has received various awards and fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a New York State Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, a Chenango County Council for the Arts Literature Grant, First Prize in Allen Ginsberg Poetry Competition (twice), Prairie Schooner’s Readers’ Choice Award, and Native American Wordcraft Circle Editor’s Award for her multicultural anthology Confluence.

Deer Cloud’s poems and stories have been published in numerous journals and anthologies (Sister Nations: an Anthology of Native Women Writers on Community, Unsettling America & Identity Lessons multicultural anthologies, American Indian Culture & Research Journal, Yellow Medicine Review, To Topos (Poetry International), and The Florida Review, to name just a few). Her most recent books are The Last Ceremony and Car Stealer (FootHills Publishing) and Braiding Starlight (Split Oak Press).

Deer Cloud has edited two anthologies ~ multicultural Confluence and Native anthology I Was Indian (Before Being Indian Was Cool) ~ plus the 2008 Spring Issue of Yellow Medicine Review, a Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art & Thought. She is now an adviser to Yellow Medicine and also on the board of University of New Orleans Press. Currently she is editing the re-matriation chapbook series of indigenous poetry for FootHills Publishing, as well as a special Native issue for on-line journal Big Bridge (to be published in early 2012). Her proposed panel on re-matriation of Indian people through writing was a part of February’s 2011 Associated Writers Conference in D.C., where she also took part in three readings and a book signing.

James O. MichaelAlthough raised in a monolingual English-speaking culture in Illinois, I learned Spanish in College and have been speaking Spanish for more than 50 years. I taught English to Spanish speakers and Spanish to English speakers. Most of my students were Mexican farm workers or their children. I retired from the McFarland School District in 1997, but continued teaching part-time until recently.

I joined Los Escritores del Nuevo Sol in 1998. I write poems in English y en español, a veces mixtiando los dos languages. Mi esposa es del mero Chihuahua Chih. ¡Ajúa! El año pasado celebramos 50 años de casados.

Rachelle Linda EscamillaRachelle Linda Escamilla is a three time James Phelan Literary Award winner, the recipient of the Virginia de Arujo Academy of American Poets, and the Dorritt Sibley Poetry prize. Her poems have been published by Hinchas de Poesia, A Joint Called Pauline, The Villiage Pariah, La Bloga, CaveMoon Press, and A Women's Journey. She is a student at the University of Pittsburgh's MFA program where she also teaches US History.

1 comment:

Alma Luz Villanueva said...

For my bio just click my name for web site here on La Bloga, an error, gracias.