Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's good? What's not?

Above...Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor in John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye.

I am a presidential history junky.  I have the oddest facts about presidents and their administrations at my fingertips.  And I read a lot about this sort of thing whenever I can.  I was thinking about, of all things, FDR's wonderful first inaugural address in 1933 yesterday.  A line that goes right up there with Kennedy's 'Ask not what your country can do for you...'  Roosevelt was trying to calm the nerves of a very nervous nation when he said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  What a brilliant line.  I don't know who's responsible for the line.  But it was the exact right thing to say at that moment in history.

I was thinking about that line because it is relevant to so many things in my life today.  Angie's current situation, my situation.  Fear itself.  It is a massive hurdle in our lives and often times turns out to be only a pebble in our way.  Fear.  In AA they have two definitions for it:  Fuck Everything And Run or Face Everything And Recover.  The latter of the two being preferable, of course.  Fear itself.  What a massive amount of time we seem to spend mulling that over.  Fearing fear itself.

There are so many things invading our lives today.  The oil spill in the gulf seems to be threatening our very planet itself.  There is no end, apparently, in sight.  Just trying to grasp that fact should scare the bejesus out of any thinking person on earth.  Another 'no end in sight' scenario seems to be Afghanistan.  And then there's the massive divide in this country today with regards to the partisan trains of thought on how to govern a country.  Hatred and fear (see Arizona) everywhere.  Tea Party renegades spewing anger and fear at every opportunity.  Liberals striking back blindly.  Financial recovery still just a mirage, it seems, in this country.

Angie and I know three people that lost their jobs this past Friday.  Seemingly inconsequential in the large scheme of things but devastating on a personal level.  Money scarce, employment scarcer.  And all of this, large and small, pointing directly toward a country immobile, seemingly, with fear.

It concerns me.  It frightens me.  And it makes me feel impotent.

Still waiting for the LA Times review of Praying Small.  I guess it will come out tomorrow in the weekly 'entertainment' section of The Times.  I hope so, anyway.  There is simply no reason to continue to strive for good work if no one recognizes it.

There's an amazing Brando performance out there in a film called Reflections in a Golden Eye.  It is a 1967 film, directed by John Huston and starring Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, back when she could still act.  The film itself is rather middling.  Over dramatic and directed, out of character, by a John Huston briefly infected with the whacky and odd, late sixties influence of a dearth of talentless new wavers.  But in the middle of this sepia-toned, groovy film, is a performance by Brando that is extraordinary.  These days students of film and great acting look at this piece of work in reverence.  But at the time, the critics nailed him to the cross.  It is one of the reasons Brando stopped giving a shit about his own work.  He never came right out and said it, but the general consensus seems to be today that Brando stopped striving for great work after that film because it seemed no one could tell the difference anymore between great work and bad work anyway.

I sort of feel that way these days.  I honestly believe we have something important and transcendent on our hands with Praying Small.  Despite the many obstacles we overcame to get it there, the words survived the mediocrity with which they were treated.  And yet, outside of a few wandering souls on any given weekend in North Hollywood, no one seems to care.  Or perhaps this is only my perception.  I hope so.

When Brando did the Huston movie way back in '67, he gave it his best shot.  He actually, for the first time in about ten years, tried to do good work.  And no one noticed.  We do now, of course; history is that way sometimes, but at the time it was treated as just another introspective Brando performance.  The nuances and concentration were lost to a bevy of critics used to broad brush strokes.

Again, this is how I feel with PS.  I wouldn't exactly go so far as to say pearls before swine because I don't think that's true.  Nightly, it seems, we have a few that actually 'get it.'  The same sort of thing had my ire up when I did a short, benefit run of my play, From the East to the West, a few months ago.  A friend of mine, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Playwright, in fact, told me, "this is the best script I've read in years.  It's brilliant."  And yet, on THAT VERY SAME DAY, I was told, "it would be a great disservice to you to let an audience see this."  What is one to do?  Which words mean something?  Both?  Neither?  It's sort of like the old advice from Moriarty about critics, "If you believe the good ones, you gotta believe the bad ones, too."  So who does one believe?

Trying to get people in to see Praying Small is like trying to get cats to walk in a parade, it seems.  Why is this so difficult?  It wasn't in Chicago.  It wasn't in NY.  Maybe it's just the general theatre mentality in Los Angeles.  I don't know.  I honestly don't.  Angie, a former casting associate and theatre-going veteran out here, seems to think people are both gun-shy and beaten down.  They've seen such a plethora of really bad live theatre work out here they are virtually blind to good work when it unexpectedly arrives.  Again, I don't know.

In Chicago, word leaks out.  Things get around.  Discoveries are made.  Critics champion good work when they find it, regardless of the size of the house.  I don't see that happening here.  There are two completely different mindsets when it comes to watching theatre in Chicago and watching theatre in LA.  Maybe it comes down to something so simple as mounting a searing drama in the heat of the summer.  But that doesn't quite make sense because it seems in LA there is ALWAYS the heat of the summer.  The weather isn't a factor out here.

I worry about this.  Ideally, of course, I'd like to write and act in television and film here in this city.  But my background, rather extensive if I don't say so myself, is in the theatre.  I know good work.  Not only that, I know how to make it happen.  And yet I still see good work and bad work lined up side by side all the time and no differentiation is made between the two.  I remember a couple of months ago when I was involved with a night of one-acts at our theatre and one of the actors, an older lady, said, "This is going to be a huge success.  People are going to LOVE this."  I looked at her as if she were mad.  She actually thought, and I say this without rancor, she was involved with something wonderful.  Even then, before we opened, I knew it was dismal.  And yet, and yet, I seemed to be the only one.  It's an LA thing, to be sure.

Or maybe I'm just too sensitive about such matters.  Maybe I'm just too demanding.  Too much of a perfectionist when it comes to my work.  Maybe there IS no discernible difference between Love Shack and Handel's Messiah.  Maybe I'm the one that is off-kilter about all of this.

In any event, a scatter-shot blog today.  I awoke this morning with a host of fears on my mind.  Usually I snap out of this defeatist attitude after an hour or so with the ever-optimistic Angela.  But she's still asleep so I'm stewing in my own negativity for awhile as the fog burns off LA on this soon-to-be-crisp and clear and flawless day.

We shall see what we shall see.

See you tomorrow.

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