I’m just gonna be sick.
We all get bad reviews. Sometimes we get good reviews (you get to keep those forever). But once in awhile, you get stupid, shitbird reviews from stupid, shitbird reviewers who, basically, couldn’t find their own balls in the dark without a flashlight. It’s weirdly heartening to know playgods such as Sam Shepard aren’t immune. I include the review of Shepard’s “Curse of the Starving Class” in total, just for the peek-through-the-fingers at the car crash value.
Dear Daily Californian, please fire this lame fucker.
‘Starving Class’ Suffers From Lackluster Material
By Nick Moore
Few word pairings carry potential for horror like “community theater.” They can connote offensively bad productions, fiascos on an epic scale. Take “Revolutionary Road,” in which Richard Yates uses a failed community theater production to frame over 300 pages of violent marital unhappiness.
But typically, we associate community theater with modest mess-ups and comical delights derived from watching others attempt to produce something appealing despite the disadvantages of low budgets and inexperience.
“Curse of the Starving Class,” the new Actors Ensemble of Berkeley production, did have some of those features. As the audience took its seats, an unidentified man clambered awkwardly onto the stage, delivering a disjointed monologue and brandishing a t-shirt like a bullfighter’s muleta. For a moment it seemed like the play was beginning, but a few seconds clarified that he was actually only trying to sell Live Oak Theater t-shirts.
The irony here was that the production’s biggest flaw laid not in a cheap set or amateurish acting (this production had neither), but in Sam Shepard’s truly terrible script. Set somewhere in relatively rural California in the 1970s, it tells the story of a family that, justifiably it seems, believes it is cursed. Not in the paranormal sense, but in the impoverished, dysfunctional, father-is-a-drunk-who-can’t-hold-down-a-job sense.
The father, Weston (Andy Shapiro), doesn’t appear until the end of the first act, when he stumbles in through the gaping hole left by the missing front door, which he had previously destroyed in a drunken rage. He proceeds to tell his son Wesley (Thomas Arndt) about his plans to sell their shabby house and large lot, unaware that his wife is attempting to pull off the same scheme.
The father-son relationship is strained. Wesley’s unconsciously expressive face is more telling then anything he says or does, and recalls the angsty protagonist from “Dazed and Confused.” The father, who behaves more like a schizophrenic than a drunk, casts a fearful shadow even when he’s offstage.
Though the pair is solid, some poorly written sequences simply can’t be resuscitated. In one scene, the father gravely but loudly laments the poison that infects him, and warns his son that someday this poison will affect him too. The poison metaphor is really just embarrassing, especially considering the straight-faced delivery. If Shepard was aiming for satire, he’s too obvious.
One of Shepard’s more redeeming characters is the daughter (Sionne Tollefsrud), a witty counterpoint to her stubborn brother. Tollefsrud, whose age is frustratingly ambiguous, masters the posture of a perpetually exasperated tween.
The script’s freely flying barbs necessitate the constant preservation of these aggressive poses. During the confrontation between the father and his equally conniving wife, each uses shouting and gestures as tools of intimidation, though neither succeeds. The scene devolves into an animated argument over property rights, which is amusing but also bemusing, because neither side seems to have even a basic knowledge of the relevant laws. It’s evocative of a Coen brothers movie, with everyone vehemently invested in his or her plan without actually having any idea what they’re doing.
Despite the tension, an inexplicable force keeps this dysfunctional family together. Trying to pinpoint it is difficult, but one of the play’s better aspects is this mystery. The actors themselves seem uncertain, as though discovering the characters for themselves. Without slick production, the genuine effort of trying to act-especially with dialogue as overly exaggerated as Shepard’s-really comes across. Enjoying the show takes effort, specifically the lowering of standards, but this collaborative effort seems implied in the word community.
Well, the forensics have been run, and it looks like the bones recently discovered in Cambodia were of “non-caucasian” origin. In other words, they were probably those of some of the one million people killed by the Khmer Rouge when Nixon and Kissinger had their Excellent Adventure in Cambodia.
To Stone and Flynn–gents, goodnight and travel well.
I’m conflicted about this in so many ways that I can’t count them. (Is it good? Is it bad? Is it cool? Is it lame? Good for theatre? A sign of the apocalypse?) So I just offer it up for your inspection. Good luck.
Co-presented by Tom Hulce. Somehow that part seems perfect.
“In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come- not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying- or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity- but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes. And this results in a striking experience- one which I have called, borrowing military terminology, the situation of the walking wounded. For in virtually any other serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devistation would by lying flat in bed, possibly sedated and hooked up to the tubes and wires of life-support systems, but at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting. His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained. However, the sufferer from depression has no such option and therefore finds himself, like a walking casualty of war, thrust into the most intolerable social and family situations. There he must, despite the anguish devouring his brain, present a face approximating the one that is associated with ordinary events and companionship. He must try to utter small talk, and be responsive to questions, and knowingly nod and frown and, God help him, even smile. But it is a fierce trial attempting to speak a few simple words.” — William Styron —
When I first started fooling around with guitar, I found myself disappointed with tone. I mean, I loved (and still love) my beat-up little Squier Strat, in all its Fiesta Red Korean funkiness, but I was playing it through the only amp I had, a very good Roland, but, still, a keyboard amp. At least I couldn’t complain about it not being clean.
So I talked to the folks at Portland Music, and they steered me to a Digitech RP50, which was an awful lot of bang for the buck (thank you, Doug). It was only much later, when I’d invested in some more specialized pedals, that I began to realize both the RP50’s versatility and limitations. It basically rolls a whole pedalboard into a compact unit and includes a drum machine.
My mistake was buying a used Boss DD-6 delay, and I suddenly fell in love with the wonders that are effects pedals. Though I could do some cool delays with the RP50, it was nothing like the wide range offered by the Boss, plus its wonderful clarity.
With time, I ended up buying probably more pedals than I needed, but, what the hell, they’re relatively inexpensive used, and they’re fun. But it kind of left the RP50 the odd man out. I still wanted to keep it in the chain as the drum machine come in handy, but where, exactly, should it go? I ended up putting it after the delay and before the reverb, so the delay wouldn’t double or triple the drumbeats, but, as far as using it for guitar effects, it just added mud. I programmed one patch as neutral as possible, and pretty much left it there. (You can bypass it completely, but you can’t use the drums in bypass.)
But…a month or so ago, we had a prematurely springy evening, so I sat out back with the guitar and the RP50, as you can run headphones through it, and it serves as kind of a mini-amp, and I was startled by how cool some of the settings sounded. Really sweet and clear. So I started moving it around in the chain, trying it here, there. Nothing worked, and I was still up against the delay screwing up the drums. And then, on a whim, I put it at the very end of the chain, right before the amp and in front of everything…and it sounded great. This makes no sense at all: common wisdom is that modulation effects, such as flangers and phasers, go before delays and reverbs…but…there it was. And, for some weird reason, it seems to actually enhance the clarity of the more specialized (and expensive) effects before it.
I have no explanation. Whatsoever. I’m just pleased. Maybe, being my first guitar add-on, the RP50 just needed some TLC and wanted to be back in the game. Whatever. It’s where it’s not supposed to be, and it sounds great. And, suddenly, it’s like I just added ten new pedals to the chain.
The inner sound geek is happy. And the RP is home again.
A couple days ago, the news broke big that a couple investigators may have found Sean Flynn’s remains in Cambodia. As quickly as the story arose, doubts began. Tim Page, Flynn’s close friend, expressed his doubts, backpedaling began, and conflicting reports arose. The bones are headed for a forensic laboratory. Perhaps we’ll have an answer. Perhaps not. Here’s a link to one of the better stories on the discovery (by the very talented journalist Tim King, who’s put in his own time in war zones):
It’s fitting somehow, this blurring, part of a story with so many reflections, fading memories, wishful thinking. What we do know is that in 1970, Sean Flynn, Errol Flynn’s son, was working as a photojournalist covering war in Cambodia along with fellow photojournalist Dana Stone. They sped down a road on red motorcycles, and they never came back. The rest is hearsay.
I learned about Flynn and Stone from Michael Herr’s brilliant book “Dispatches.” Years later, I had a sudden idea for a play juxtaposing Flynn’s story with the fall of Saigon. The result was a two-act drama, “Waiting on Sean Flynn” which went on to be produced in Chicago, Portland, Tampa, and Detroit. Though not readily apparent, the title was a play on “Waiting for Godot”; like Godot, Sean never returns.
Flynn’s sudden reappearance in the news has left me conflicted. I never knew the man—he disappeared when I was 10 years old—though I’ve spoken or corresponded with many who have known him. (And thanks again, to all of you, for sharing your time and stories.) But, in writing a play, you immerse yourself, creating a world in your head that feels, tastes, smells real, and it does you a strange kind of damage. You come out the other side changed. Some plays more than others.
“Waiting on Sean Flynn” was one of those plays. The world it created became so real to me that sometimes I pine for it. I find myself missing Flynn, which makes no sense at all, but the sense of loss and grief is real, a credit to the power of the imagination. Whatever I wrote is but a wisp of smoke compared to the accounts written by those who were there, such as Page, Herr, and Perry Deane Young, who wrote the very good “Two of the Missing.” Their Flynn breaks my heart, but it’s my Flynn that twists inside my chest when I see those familiar pictures of the handsome young guy in the boonie hat. That’s the trade-off you get for the gift of, for a moment, opening the doorway.
I hope the remains turn out to be Flynn’s or Stone’s, for the sake of their friends and family. But my Flynn will never be found. He’s forever riding that motorcycle down that road. He always disappears in a barrage of explosions and smoke.
And then the lights fade.