Goofing Off on the Film Set, 26 May 2015.

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Good Evening:

Normally, I don’t like to take selfies, and we didn’t use either the stunt knife or the fake slashed throat today, but everyone else on the set was goofing off with them, so why not?

A Bit of a Headache & A Bit of a Sore Throat, 26 May 2015.

A Bit of a Headache & A Bit of a Sore Throat, 26 May 2015.

Ah yes, the film shoot–the only place where you can hear someone say, “Don’t order blood from Amazon, they never ship it on time.”

Vonn Scott Bair

The Taming of the Shrew, The Heidi Chronicles, and The Dead Play.

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Good Morning:

Can we please finally agree that The Taming of the Shrew is a dead play? Please?

I probably should backtrack and start over.

Many years ago, I joined a group of aspiring playwrights who liked to attend a play together and then have a few beers afterwards to discuss what they had seen. Not sure which is more important; sometimes it seems humans invented theater as something they could do to provide an excuse to have a few beers afterward. All of the other playwrights were at least a score of years younger than yours truly, a point that will soon become important.

Once and only once during a show, the entire group left at intermission and did not return. The play in question, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, had a fine cast and a good director with an interesting vision for the script. The script itself has held a prominent place in American theater since its Pulitzer Prize winning debut in the late 1980s. And yet we walked out at intermission.

The other playwrights, especially the women, expressed virulent disgust with the writer’s portrayal of women in the script. Those of you who have read or seen the play might feel quite surprised; the cast consists primarily of female characters and traditionally has a cast of five women and three men. I agreed that the women characters were poorly written, focusing on one particular lesbian character who was so one-dimensional that a homophobe would call Wasserstein a compadre. But I had a bigger reservation.

“Let’s face it. The Heidi Chronicles is a dead play.”

“What do you mean?” asked one young woman

“In this particular case, it’s hopelessly dated, it’s stuck in its time, it doesn’t resonate with anyone younger than me, it doesn’t resonate with any of you. I mean, nothing says ‘dated’ quite like a Laura Nyro joke.”

Everyone laughed. Then another young woman said, “Who’s Laura Nyro?”

I don’t know much about theater (even after almost thirty productions of my own plays), so I don’t know if the concept of “the dead play” or perhaps another term with the same meaning has any place in the business. But sometimes plays just don’t work anymore. Almost all of 19th Century American theater is dead, and rightly so; the plays sucked. In The Heidi Chronicles, the problem lies with most of the characters, cliches flatter than the 2 of Clubs in a deck of cards. The play does still resonate with a tiny sliver of the theater-going world; aside from my group, the audience consisted almost entirely of women in their 60s or older. I have serious doubts that anyone will want to see it in a few decades.

And yet people will still want to see Shrew.

I have read the play, a complete primer on the ever-so-splendid art of spousal abuse (please tell me you spotted the sarcasm). It’s all here, and you can check them off, one by one: physical beating, check; starvation, check; sleep deprivation, check; psychological abuse in myriad varieties, check, check and check.

And people want to produce this?!

Modern productions resort to a lot of tricks to try and redeem this garbage. Typically, they will delete scenes which make people uncomfortable, and/or portray Kate a willing participant who thinks the whole thing is a joke. I saw one production last week (a friend played Kate’s father) where they tried to excuse the whole thing as a sham, where the actors played actors playing The Taming of the Shrew as a sort of “play within the play” as part of an elaborate prank played by a rich nobleman on a homeless man.

As if adding practical jokes at the expense of the homeless makes everything better. And to do this in San Francisco?! In a theater on a block that includes among other things a homeless shelter?!

Yes, William Shakespeare was a playwright for our time and for all time; he was also a man of his time, with the prejudices and conventional beliefs of his time. It does nothing to diminish his greatness to state that sometimes he just plain sucked. The closest thing to a virtue this play retains is that it might remind viewers that in our time we have our own prejudices and conventional beliefs and how a few centuries from now they might seem quaint at best and dangerously wrong at worst (he wrote, suddenly thinking of a recent Irish vote).

The Taming of the Shrew is just a creepy (by the standards of our times) misogynist (by the standards of our times) misfire from a guy who–like us–didn’t even know that sometimes he was blind to the prejudices of the era in which he lived, prejudices that he might not have known that he had. No one can do anything to redeem the play short of changing it so drastically that it ceases to be the play that Shakespeare wrote. He wrote a play glorifying spousal abuse because he thought spousal abuse was a good idea. By the standards of his time, William Shakespeare might have been a comparatively good human being. He’s still one of the greatest writers ever.

But he’s still just as human as the rest of us.

And The Taming of the Shrew is just as much garbage as the dust in my vacuum cleaner.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If you do not know who Laura Nyro is, for heaven’s sake please do yourself a kindness and head on over to the iTunes store and start downloading.

PPS–The Merchant of Venice is also dead. Come on, people, stop trying to pretend that Shylock is a tragic figure, a sympathetic character. So what if he speaks eloquently on his behalf? So does Richard III. So do all of Bill’s villains.

The Latest Small Triumph of Levia Stand, a short play.

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Good Morning:

The play I wrote for the Playwright Center of San Francisco’s 24-hour fundraiser turned out very well, and I feel pleased to present it here. Huge thanks to director Ted Zoldan, and the Actors Merri Golden (Mrs. Jones), Chris Maltby (Mr. Smith), and Lisa Klein as Levia Stand. Incidentally, the solution to the puzzle in my previous post is that “Levia Stand” is an anagram constructed from the words “devil” and “Satan.” As soon as Lisa told me that she had done a lot of work teaching and performing in children’s theater, I knew she would make a terrific little devil.

If you’re not familiar with theater conventions, “Sotto voce” means that one character speaks to one side or directly to the audience, and the other characters cannot hear him/her.

THE LATEST SMALL TRIUMPH OF LEVIA STAND

Characters (in order of appearance)

MRS. JONES, Upper class, wife of Mr. Smith

LEVIA STAND, Kindly and helpful elderly woman

MR. SMITH, Upper class, husband of Mrs. Jones

Time and Setting: The present. An upscale restaurant. One table, two chairs, a wine bottle, menus and two wine glasses will suffice.

(At LIGHTS UP, LEVIA STAND pours wine into the two glasses as MRS. JONES sits in one of the chairs.)

MRS. JONES: I can’t believe that I married such a monster. First he cheats on me with an older, uglier, woman, second, he embezzles from his clients-

LEVIA STAND: -well, he does work for Goldman Sachs-

MRS. JONES: -and now my private eye reports that he wants to murder me and take his old hag and his new money to an island that has no extradition treaty with the United States?!

LEVIA STAND: A clever plan-

MRS. JONES: A clever plan, Ms. Stand?! Such diabolical intentions, and you praise his cleverness?!

LEVIA STAND: Merely an observation, my dear. Still, what you propose in response seems most extreme-

MRS. JONES: Extremism in the defense of virtue is no vice. I think Gandhi said that.

LEVIA STAND: Well, I still object to what you have in mind.

MRS. JONES: Did you bring it?

LEVIA STAND: Well, yes.

MRS. JONES: And if I give you money, will you give it to me?

LEVIA STAND: Well-

MRS. JONES: Very well. Very well indeed.

(LEVIA STAND takes money, MRS. JONES takes a pill in exchange.)

LEVIA STAND: This will induce a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The quickest, most unstoppable of deaths.

MRS. JONES: Thank you for coming to my aid. You’re a good person.

LEVIA STAND: I do feel a little curious; what is your real name?

MRS. JONES: Believe it or not, Levia, Mrs. Jones is my real name.

LEVIA STAND: A choice selection for a pseudonym. He comes. I shall distract him while you perform your chores.

(ENTER MR. SMITH. LEVIA STAND goes to him, and they are out of earshot of MRS. JONES. While these two speak apart, MRS. JONES discreetly drops the poison into MR. SMITH’S wine glass.)

LEVIA STAND: You are just in time, sir.

MR. SMITH: Ms. Stand, did you-?

LEVIA STAND: Levia Stand is an old hand at this brand of nefariousness, sir. Your wife will not live through the night. Unless!

MR. SMITH: Unless what?

LEVIA STAND: You do not need to follow through with this.

MR. SMITH: Did you forget everything I told you?!

LEVIA STAND: No, no, I have not, but surely she should serve years in prison and not suffer this. Have you no faith in the law?

MR. SMITH: Faith in the law?! When my wife is a lawyer?!

LEVIA STAND: Well reasoned, but-

MR. SMITH: Did you forget that she-devil is sleeing with two of my partners and our executive vice president?! Did you forget who has enormous debts and covets my money to pay them off?!

LEVIA STAND: I have not-

MR. SMITH: Did you forget that you took my money? You are in this at least as deep as I am, if not deeper.

LEVIA STAND: Many clients change their minds at the last minute-

MR. SMITH: Look at it this way; you are a hero. You came to my rescue. Tonight you will save the life of an innocent man.

LEVIA STAND: You are too persuasive for me, sir; you shall have all you desire. I do wonder, sir; you have not told me your true name.

MR. SMITH: Believe it or not, Ms. Stand, Mr. Smith is my real name.

LEVIA STAND: A choice selection for a pseudonym. Quick, to the table before she sees us together.

(MR. SMITH joins MRS. JONES.)

MRS. JONES: Darling! Happy Friday!

MR. SMITH: Happy Friday, my love!

(They engage in a remarkably fervent and public display of affection. LEVIA STAND takes a spot behind MR. SMITH.)

MRS. JONES: You will not believe the day I had today!

MR. SMITH: Actually, I might. The only thing that got me through this miserable day was the thought of you tonight.

MRS. JONES: The sort of people I have to work with have no redeeming qualities except to make me appreciate you more!

LEVIA STAND (Sotto voce.): I hate working with first-timers.

MR. SMITH: We should probably sit down.

MRS. JONES: Yes, we’re making these other diners feel bad about their lousy loveless marriages.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, let’s not make them feel too envious.

(And yet they engage in one more embrace. LEVIA STAND rolls her eyes.)

LEVIA STAND (Sotto voce.): Fortunately, I rarely work with second-timers.

MRS. JONES: So sit, sit! I already ordered our favorite Chardonnay.

MR. SMITH: Ah, thank you, thank you. My day has already gotten better.

(They sit.)

MR. SMITH: You simply won’t believe what they asked me to do today.

MRS. JONES: Of course I will, you work for Goldman Sachs.

MR. SMITH: This one might draw the attention of the SEC, whether the SEC likes it or not-

MRS. JONES: -darling, are those the Hendersons?

(MR. SMITH turns his back on her.)

MR. SMITH: Where?

MRS. JONES: In the corner?

MR. SMITH: Indeed! Let’s just wave, they’re already eating.

(They wave, and MR. SMITH turns his back to MRS. JONES.)

LEVIA STAND (Sotto voce.): A delightful opportunity presents itself.

(LEVIA STAND speaks to MR. SMITH in such a fashion that only he can hear her.)

LEVIA STAND: You were right, sir! She is evil! So evil that she has put poison in your glass.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Ms. Stand. (To MRS. JONES.) Speaking of friends we don’t really like, I believe those are the Wongs.

MRS. JONES: Yes, they are.

(MRS. JONES turns away from the table to fake-smile and wave at the Wongs. MR. SMITH switches glasses. MRS. JONES turns back to her husband. LEVIA STAND moves to her side of the stage.)

MRS. JONES: Shall we avoid their next Sunday barbeque?

MR. SMITH: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was afraid you’d never ask.

MRS. JONES: I want nothing but for you to be happy.

(LEVIA STAND speaks to MRS. JONES in such a fashion that only she can hear her.)

LEVIA STAND: The poison must not have dissolved in time, for he has switched the glasses.

MRS. JONES: Do you have your work with you? Show me and I can see if there’s anything risky.

MR. SMITH: Good idea.

(As MR. SMITH reaches beneath the table, MRS. JONES switches glasses again. LEVIA STAND moves to his side of the stage.)

MR. SMITH: Take a look and see what you think.

(LEVIA STAND speaks to MR. SMITH in such a fashion that only he can hear her.)

LEVIA STAND: And take a look at what you might drink.

MR. SMITH: Darling, is the master sommelier on duty tonight?

MRS. JONES: Yes, I just saw him–where did I see him?–as I suspected, the Wongs are monopolizing him yet again.

(MRS. JONES turns away from the table to look at the Wongs. MR. SMITH switches glasses. MRS. JONES turns back to her husband. LEVIA STAND moves to her side of the stage.)

MRS. JONES: We’ll have to wait an eternity until they finish with him.

(LEVIA STAND speaks to MRS. JONES in such a fashion that only she can hear her.)

LEVIA STAND: By which time he shall have finished you with his cunning. He has only pretended to switch the glasses again.

MRS. JONES: Honey, this is too much to examine right now, and talking about our jobs will only ruin our lovely dinner. Please put this away and we’ll drink a toast to our perfect love.

MR. SMITH: Good idea.

(As MR. SMITH reaches beneath the table, MRS. JONES pretends to switch glasses again.)

MR. SMITH: This night should be special. A night for us-

MRS. JONES: -a night for love-

MR. SMITH: And isn’t that the same thing?

MRS. JONES: A toast to us-

MR. SMITH: -to love-

MRS. JONES: -to one and the same thing.

(They toast each other and drink. They hold hands, smiling. Simultaneously, they cease smiling. MRS. JONES and MR. SMITH suddenly die. LEVIA STAND steps down stage center and addresses the audience.)

LEVIA STAND: My latest small triumph. I had coated the inside of the other wine glass with the same tincture, and each murderer consumed his or her own poison.

Efficiency and wit have ever gone together.

To update the tally, we now have 666 for Him (Points at the ceiling.), a number I find delightfully ironic, 51 whom we both want, 1,530 whom neither of us wants, and as always, Niccolo Machiavelli. Dear Nicky–always in a class by himself.

Oh, I almost forgot: 4,375,164,898 for me.

Not much of a contest.

And they never do figure it out, no matter how obvious I make the clues. Certainly, all of you have figured out by now that “Levia Stand” is an anagram of two of my more common names.

They never do, yet they never hesitate to name me and blame me for their motivations, their thoughts, their deeds. Always my fault, as if they had nothing to do with it, none of this was their idea, none of this was their fault at all.

They will not hesitate to tell Him that they were good souls.

They will say that I made them do it.

I find it rather droll. Hmmm. Look at all this money I earned today. I shall have dinner here. Look at these wealthy people.

And I, too, would like to say that the Devil makes me do it-

(LEVIA STAND dons a devil’s mask.)

LEVIA STAND: -but that would be a lie.

(BLACKOUT.)

FINIS.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Aristeia of Clarence Clemons @ 3:12 a.m., and a New Puzzle!

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Good Morning:

Did you know that Clarence Clemons’ legendary saxophone solo during “Jungleland” on the Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 album runs exactly two minutes, twenty-three seconds?

In simple English, I have taken part in another 24-hour “play in a day” festival and at 3:12 a.m., determining the exact length of The Solo was the most important thing I could do. The Playwrights Center of San Francisco runs two of these events each as fundraisers, and they conduct business by picking slips of paper from a hat. I was selected as a writer by a software version of the same, assigned my director by drawing his name from a hat, assigned the cast size by drawing a number from a hat (3), and assigned the specific actors by the same process.

Finally, the theme. “The Devil Made Me Do It.”

Assignment was the same as ever: write an entire play in 9 hours for a production the following night.

Usually, writing a short play under these circumstances proves surprisingly easy, but for some reason, the theme made this the most difficult 24-hour project I’ve undertaken in 15 years, since the night our theme was a Rene Magritte painting. Oddly, the final script is only 8 pages long, but the theme still made the project tough. However, I can proudly proclaim that I wrote the line “Niccolo Machiavelli. Dear Nicky–always in a class by himself,” and it actually makes sense in the context of the play.

In slightly over 14 hours, “The Latest Small Triumph of Levia Stand” receives its world premiere. I have never worked with the director or any of the actors before, but feel cautiously optimistic that they can wring something decent from what I dump upon their poor heads. If the show turns out well, I will publish the script here. If not, I shall do the right thing and spare you the agony.

Meanwhile, if you like anagrams, I have a fun new puzzle for you! “Levia Stand” is an anagram containing two names used for one of the great characters in all of literature, theater, and musical comedy. What are the two names?

Vonn Scott Bair

Wordless Wednesday: Father and Son on the 7R Bus.

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Good Evening:

Father & Son on the 7R Bus, 12 May 2015, 7:57 a.m., San Francisco, California

Father & Son on the 7R Bus, 12 May 2015, 7:57 a.m., San Francisco, California

Taken with my iPhone 6 Plus.

Vonn Scott Bair

Blog Post #800: A Steve Jobs Hallowe’en Story on 12 May 2015.

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Good Evening:

I auditioned for a short film role this evening (a man who years before had to kill his wife in self-defense after discovering that she was a serial killer–and a witch. Yep, typecast again) and found myself rehearsing lines with a young lady currently living in Palo Alto. Between scenes she made a remark about how Apple was “Apple-izing” the entire world and then she casually added, “You know, I used to know Steve Jobs.”

“Seriously?!”

“Yeah, we lived a few doors down from him. He gave me one of the first of these like, candy-colored bubble-shaped computers, it was bluish-”

“A Bondi Blue iMac?! Steve Jobs gave you a Bondi Blue iMac?!”

“I don’t remember the name, I was only in fifth grade.”

(I’ll pause here while you suddenly realize just how old you really are.)

“He was really nice to all of the kids in the neighborhood, his house had the best Hallowe’ens, we always went there. He came to the door himself and he would say things about our costumes, and then he gave away full-size candy bars. Not those bite-size ones. Full size.”

(Ed. Note: They’re never too young to become customers for life.)

“Except one Hallowe’en, he refused to give candy to my brother.”

“Why not?”

“He didn’t have a costume. He didn’t yell at my brother, he just said, ‘Where’s your costume? You think I’m going to give you candy just because you walked around all night? Go get yourself a costume and come back here.”

(Suddenly I think of George C. Scott in Patton, always asking, “Where’s your helmet?”)

So her brother dashed around among their friends, borrowing pieces and scraps of various costumes and improvising something out of multiple characters.

She continued, “He went back to the Jobs house and knocked on the door. Steve Jobs came to the door, studied him for a minute, looking at my brother top to bottom, and he said. ‘I appreciate the effort.’ And gave him a candy bar.”

So there you have it, a perhaps lesser-known story about Steve Jobs. It sounds plausible to me, combining examples of his marketing skill with his attention to detail and obsession with critiquing and improving everything. Even the Hallowe’en costumes of other parents’ children.

What do you think? Sound plausible to you?

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I used to feel so proud of myself for attending a BMUG meeting where an Apple rep let us see a prerelease Bondi Blue, back when no one cared what Apple did. But Steve Jobs never gave me one.

PPS–How appropriate that my 800th (!!) blog post should discuss the man responsible for the computer I used to create it.

Wood & Stone. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Forces of Nature)

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Good Evening:

Explored Land’s End on Sunday in hopes of snapping a few long-range shots of the coyotes that have made San Francisco their home (yes, coyotes thrive in one of America’s most densely populated cities). Had no intention of getting close–coyotes have foul tempers on their good days, and they never have good days–but had no luck spotting any.

However, did find a number of interesting patterns shaped by nature in the wood and stone.

DSC_0005 DSC_0009 DSC_0003 DSC_0006 DSC_0004 DSC_0012 DSC_0017

Serendipity is a wondrous element of life–finding something you didn’t know you wanted to find can offer at least as much pleasure as finding what you wanted.

Vonn Scott Bair