Sunday, March 09, 2008

All about show business

February was a low travel month, which was really nice for a change, especially since a bit too much was going on in my life. I’ve been able to keep travel limited in March too, but that is coming to an end. So here I am writing and sitting in seat 13 C on a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles. I have to go to do some fieldwork and a bit of pitch-hitting on a survey that my colleague is managing in Hollywood.

Yes, I will be hanging out in Hollywood for the next two days, not enjoying the glamour of Lindsay Lohan’s and Heath Ledger’s wondrous lives, but instead seeing if there’s anything I can do to help with the down-and-out side of Hollywood, improving the transit services and developing a shuttle to make it easier to get around Tinseltown. In preparation for my trip to Hollywood, I’ve taken in several performances lately.

The Trampoline Hall Lecture Series. My friend Jesse Costello-Good roped me and Brad into this masterful performance. It involves an incredibly annoying guy from Toronto who is very excited about his own on-stage persona and repeats himself a thousand times. What he repeats are the ground rules and how exciting the performance is going to be. As an audience member, you think, “Gosh this Misha guy’s annoying, but he’s so excited about this, it might actually be good.” Then you discover that you’ve made a mistake.

The premise is that the Trampoline Hall Lecture Series assigns a lecture topic to an individual who has no expertise whatsoever in the subject matter. That individual must prepare a convincing lecture and present it to the audience.

The first lecture was dull. The audience’s questions were completely useless. I went to the bar and got another gin-and-tonic, because I expected the remainder of the evening to be an unrivaled experience of blandness. The second lecturer was a space-cadet of a young woman who gave a talk on different forms of gangrene and how to amputate a leg in the event of frostbite or gangrene. It didn’t really fit together so well, but her delivery was amusing because she clearly had flunked basic high school biology. She used an overhead projector to sketch how to make incisions and illustrate how to spot gangrene. It reminded me of my high school anatomy and physiology class.

The third lecture was absolutely terrible: a stand-up comedian sort of guy talking about something I can’t even recall. I just remember it was bad so we left, picking up a photo of my keys (they took photos of audience member keys for no purpose whatsoever).

I saw a performance of Sonny’s Blues. The Word-for-Word Theater Company in San Francisco usually presents compelling short stories with even more compelling performers who act out the text from a short story. In this case, the James Baldwin tale proved to be monotonous, dragging me down and keeping me squirming in my seat during this intermission-free performance. Combined with the fact that the venue, the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, seems to offer San Francisco’s most uncomfortable seats, I was thrilled when Sonny’s Blues ended. Some of the performers were very good, but the lead actor’s monologues were exhausting.

Gurglegurglegurgle. The third show I saw was a live music performance: throat singers playing traditional instruments. Hailing from Tuva, the Siberian republic that once enjoyed a short-lived period of independence and now is part of Russia, the four men who perform as Huun-Huur-Tu sat in their very Tuvan garb across the stage. They twiddled and plucked their beautiful instruments while controlling their vocal cords to emit low-octave croons and high pitched whistle-like melodies. The “young, beautiful one,” as he was called by the leader of the band, gave an impressive unaccompanied (by instruments) solo. I soaked it all up. I was relaxed, sometimes even mesmerized by these nomadic performers. I drank sparkling juice and zoned out, my mind tromping about in the snowy Tuvan countryside.

All of that relaxation is gone now. I suppose a performance of 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother smothered it. (Okay, not really true. I would blame that on real estate transactions and workloads and other annoyances). Judy Gold did a fine job of communicating the lives of Jewish mothers, but the performance wasn’t especially funny. It had touching moments, and plenty of over-dramatized ones too, but some good story-telling kept my interest. My main concern was that it was going to be a very long performance. I kept waiting for the intermission that was indicated on the printed program, thinking to myself, “Oh my God. If this goes on any longer, we’re going to have to leave at intermission.” Thankfully, intermission was also the conclusion.

No performances scheduled this week. I’ll have to find something else to look forward to.

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