Tuesday, June 15, 2010

LA Weekly says 'GO!' to Leiris/Picasso

NEW REVIEW GO LEIRIS/PICASSO "We try not to have [too] many guests. It disturbs what's left of the neighbors," says Michel as he stumbles around his Paris home in the dark, falling down stairs, knocking over crudités, and scalding himself on a hot teakettle. It's all rather amusing . . . until you realize that it's 1944 and there's a Nazi patrol outside.

This [is] just the sort of dark humor that characterizes writer and director David Jette's farcical take on an actual evening at the house of Michel Leiris (Michael Bulger) when notable members of the French Resistance produced Pablo Picasso's final work: a play entitled Desire Caught by the Tail. Picasso's play itself is nonsensically awful (but oh, how the man could paint), so Jette has instead created a play about the circumstances surrounding its production, a sort of play without a play, except that we do see part of Picasso's piece during Act 2. What comes before, however, is the preparation, as Leiris, his wife Zette (Jenny Byrd), Albert Camus (Tyler Jenich), Jean-Paul Sartre (Patrick Baker), Simone de Beauvoir (Amy K. Harmon), and Picasso's mistress Dora Maar (Melissa Powell) scramble to set up while they wait for the master. Besides their own petty but hilarious squabbles, they also have to deal with a Nazi (Joseph L. Roberts) who keeps popping up, as well as the leader of the resistance, Sam Beckett (Dan Gordon); Beckett's men steal a six-foot swastika from the Louvre and bring it as a gift for Picasso. When Picasso (Fred Ochs) finally arrives, the craziness comes to a climax, and costumes are handed out in the staging of a ridiculous work that features characters such as Onion, Big Foot, Fat Angst and Thin Angst.

Jette's direction keeps all the moving parts well synchronized as the actors enter and exit Juliana de Abreu's well-designed, multi-door set, complemented by Sarah Krainin's properties and [Andrew] Thiels' set dressing. The ensemble is strong overall, though Baker's over-the-top bombastic caricature of Sartre's and Bulger's sincerity as the put-upon host stand out. And while Jette's work doesn't pretend to be historically accurate in the least, it succeeds for that very reason because, as Camus says, sometimes "happiness feels better than truth."

Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 24. (213) 290-2782. http://www.BrimmerStreet.org
(Mayank Keshaviah)

Reposted from LA Weekly:

LA Weekly Home Page: http://www.laweekly.com/

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beauty is Not an Idea

Tonight we open our show to the public, and I couldn't be more excited. I have never been more confident about a piece of theater I've been involved in, and although the true measure of entertainment is determined by the audience, I am positive that we have succeeded. I could not be more proud of our company, our designers, our supporters, and yes, of myself.

Theater is a niche art, especially in Los Angeles. The next six weeks will bring a different kind of stress - we will have to work our asses off to bring people into the theater to actually see this play. I do believe we have an advantage over most other plays - we can all but guarantee our patrons an hilarious evening that is thought provoking and spectacular - but even with our magnificent cast, a madcap design with a high production value, and a script that lives well on the stage, we cannot overcome the natural ceiling for live arts in Los Angeles. That is, we can't do it without your help.

All the work we have put into this production is for you. Sure, it feels good to get something up, and obviously theater is fun (why else would people do it?), but our focus throughout this entire process has been to produce the most entertaining and meaningful evening for the people who commit their Thu, Fri or Sat night (and $15-$29) to share an experience with a room full of people. The only thing left to add is you, your friends, your co-workers, anyone you know who may like to come and laugh and have a beer or two after the show. There are many things to do in this city on a weekend night. There is a whole world of fascinating media to consume, (and most of it don't require you to find parking on Beverly at 7:55 on a Friday. Come early and you'll be glad you did!)

If you are anything like me, then you want to see it all. Make Leiris/Picasso a part of your summer, and I pledge to you, that when the night is done, you will have a greater treasure than one-hundred thousand Picassos. I pledge this to all of you!

I'll see you tonight.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tech Week: 3 Days Left

In the days before airplanes, steam engines, and nuclear power, it took months to cross the ocean. Anyone hoping to travel between the hemispheres knew they were in for a voyage that would take so long that they would hardly remember life on their former shore. Most people who made the trip would do it only once in their lives, so when they stepped off the boat in their new home, in a new world, they were transformed not only in space in time, but in mind and spirit as well. It was at this moment of disembarkation that their real journey began.

For the cast and crew of Leiris/Picasso, land is in sight. It's an exhilarating and terrifying thought that after eight months of writing, rehearsing, planning and building that we will soon set foot on a distant shore we've imagined but never truly known.

Although it's hard to bear, these feelings of insecurity, stress, and doubt are a very good thing. After last night's dress rehearsal, the cast was downtrodden. They dropped lines, forgot props, missed cues, and generally had a bad night (by their lofty standards). When I walked into the dressing room to give notes, everyone seemed ready for another beating. I told them right away how proud I was of all of them for making it this far and for committing themselves so completely to what is an incredibly ambitious project. Putting all the pieces of this play together is a massive undertaking, and while the designers and I have the advantage of sitting in the dark while mistakes are made, the cast must maintain character, voice and energy. All things considered, it was a remarkable success. That everyone sees the cracks shows me that we have a team of people so focused on quality, so married to every detail, that this play has not one or two parents, but more than three dozen. It takes a village to raise a child, and this play is no different.

So while the 18-hour days, the set backs, the terrible food, and the impending tidal wave of observers that (hopefully) will flood our theater this week all take their toll on the mind and spirit, I am almost comatose with anticipation for the next phase of our long, long journey. We have nearly arrived.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

This was a big weekend for Leiris/Picasso. Saturday was our all-day actor/set integration, and Sunday was our all day tech rehearsal. Timed perfectly, we began the day at 10am and finished at exactly 10pm, a day full of starts and stops and replays. It’s important to remember during a tech rehearsal that the only reason the actor is there is to mark movements and spacing for the booth, a day where you truly are simply “moving and talking furniture”.

I spent a good portion of the day backstage listening and waiting to go on, filling my downtime with some light napping and reading. At one point, I was waiting backstage for about 3½ hours, before coming on to deliver two lines right before an hour long dinner break.

There’s a scene late in the play where Mike takes off my pants and puts them on, leaving me sitting in my underwear. Not a problem. However, I don’t exactly have my costume pants yet, nor any other costume pieces from the waist down. (Consequently, this means that my jeans were the ONLY pants I had.) So were we really going to run this move with my jeans and whatever boxers I happened to be wearing that day? The answer was yes. I couldn’t very well say no, since Melissa had already had one “wardrobe malfunction” and Jenny was standing behind me in her underwear. I suppose ending up strapped to an overturned chair on stage in my underwear was unexpected, but not as unexpected as sitting backstage afterwards, pants-less and cold, and waiting for Mike to finish his scene so I could get my pants back. I’ll make sure on Tuesday that I’m prepared for any and all eventualities…

- Joseph L. Roberts

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What's It Doing? What Does It Want?--Hell Week At The Bootleg

Today marked the beginning of tech week for the production of LEIRIS/PICASSO. All showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed for a long, and in the end short, day of rehearsal. The first thing we did was eat bagels that Fred brought from the bagel factory across the street. I had an everything. There were pink strawberry ones in the mix, too.

We then moved to the dressing/green room in the basement and began sorting through the various set dressings and costume pieces from past shows that seemed to be everywhere, like a rainbow jungle of cloth, formica, and plastic.

The ladies sort of took control of the situation and chose their side of the dressing room first without much consideration for us guys. We took the space we were handed, and that worked out just fine, because it turns out that the ladies side of the room has some mysterious rank odor. We couldn't recognize what it was or where it was coming from. It smelled like rodent death to me.

Then we moved on to the run thru of the first act, which went very well in my estimation. The coffee we drank did its duty I suppose because we started off sharp and focused. I'm sure it was a really cool trip for all of us to be on the set for the first time, and especially one so real and elaborate. And five doors to slam! That was a special pleasure, though there were no handles on the back stage side of the doors and I sliced my finger open when I tried to open it. I played the scene though. Blood was everywhere. No big deal.

Here's a photo I took and then a picture of me taking that photo. Thanks Dan.

At lunch I got a bean and cheese burrito and went to the bathroom. We came back and there was this guy there named Cameron who I met at 4100 bar a few nights ago. He helped us work through some of the fight choreography, which needed some f**kin' work, lord have mercy. But we ironed that s**t out. Cam really knows what's up. After he left, we started in on ACT II much in the same way we went at ACT I and I was surprised because the quality of work was never compromised toward the end, like it usually is when we wrap rehearsals at 11:30 pm and we all wanna shoot ourselves. Great energy from everyone.

We took a dinner break. I took a smoke ; ) We talked about the oil spill in the gulf. We all pretty much agreed that we have no idea what to do about that : (

We came back to a special treat: rehearsing the closing number and curtain call. This is something that always gets left unrehearsed until right before the opening performance, in every show I've ever done, which is probably why they always look like a frickin' mess. So this time we did it differently. Patrick Baker is featured prominently. F**ing hysterical. But I really can't describe it here and I didn't take any pictures. You gotta buy a ticket to take the ride.

We got cut an hour early. Score.

Michael and I drove home in a red Mercedes. As he drove, he remarked at how nice it felt to be doing what we are doing, working and creating in a theatre all day. What a great job to have, to do that every day, he said. I know it's hard to believe, but I'm hard pressed to find a better way to spend my days.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tech Week: 7 Days Left

Today was a hectic day for me personally, but there is major progress on all areas of our show. Dan and I went to the absurdly huge CTG prop warehouse today where Andrew and Sarah passed off the bulk of our plays props and set dressings. Among them was the massive swastika which you see above resting against our half made set. It is quite gigantic.

We have doors, furniture, guns, giant swastikas, windows, lights and a cast that's primed to rock. We're working around the clock to do this show right. (There are only a handful of days before we invite you people in.) Somewhere behind my aches and pains a sense of danger is starting to set in.

Wednesday Night at the Home of David Jette...

Last night we all gathered at Dave and Jenny's house for one final rehearsal before we begin tech on Saturday, and I've got to say, it was a really nice treat. Jenny and I spoke about making this a tradition - a final read through at someone's home, where we can relax and focus on the words and our voices, before we have to start thinking about things like spike marks and door slamming.

I was reminded of the very first time we read the play, back in October of 2009. I remember walking away from that reading thinking "wow, this is going to be one hell of a show" - and I still believe that 100%. Our audiences are in for such a treat.

We have exactly one week until our first audience arrives at the Bootleg, and a lot of work to do in those seven days. But I've never been more sure of this team than I am right now.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tech Week: 8 Days Left

Bright and early this morning, I made the trip to CalArts to meet Alan, our Technical Director, and Lizzie, Fran and Thomas, the carpenters who are building our formidable set. We loaded the show's 15 some-odd flats, six door casings, assorted lumber and nonsense into the truck and made the lug back to Los Angeles. It took us most of the day to erect the eight platforms and 15 foot walls that make up the epinimous home of Michel Leiris. The set is coming together, although you can't tell from this photograph.

Tonight, the cast meets at my place for what I've half-jokingly titled a 'drink-through'. Really it's a trap to make them say their lines perfectly and to make sure I'm a part of all their inside jokes. Fred is coming back tonight and we'll have our whole family again. Tomorrow, I bring in the furniture.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tech Week: 9 Days Left

Our show is in the home stretch. The actors are well prepared, the set is on the make, we've spread the word and invited the fancy guests. Everything is hurtling toward completion with no hope of turning back. For me, tech week is heaven - it's the culmination of months of both careful and reckless planning. This is the week when most of our show's ever desperate budget is spent, it's when characters and action are solidified, decisions and compromises are made, and eventually, an audience is invited to see the result. (see also: 'the show must go on')

In art school they taught us that 'liminality' was the moment when a piece of work actually comes into being, a state between potential and being where the normal limits we put on our own thoughts and actions can be transcended. Theater is a live art, it is shaped for months and months but is only finished at the point of exhibition. In other words, every hour of work is more important than the last. This is especially true this week. Everyone is buzzing, everyone has things to do. I like to be in the thick of it, but in a show like this, there are more qualified people doing all the detail work. It's an incredible feeling to be completely unnecessary on the set of your own show. I feel like Zap Brannigan.

Right now, we're hanging lights and our set is being finished up. Tomorrow, we'll load it into a truck and bring it to the theater. Thursday we get the furniture and props, we'll paint and continue building. Saturday the actors arrive and we block combat on the set and run through the show with doors (very important in a farce). We'll rehearse every night until previews on Thursday (which is also Michael Bulger's birthday, fyi.)

I'm going to try to blog everyday to hype our show and keep our lovers and friends around the world up to date on what will likely be Brimmer Street's best show yet. We hope you can come and love our show. We'll be just finished by the time you get here.

Buy your tickets today: http://www.brimmerstreet.org

Opening night is June 12th, Emerson night (with comedy by the lovely and hilarious Iliza Schlesinger) is June 17th, Gastrobus on Thursdays, parties every night, I will see you there.