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Tuesday, 25 November
I Malign People For No Good Reason

I spent the weekend closing down the show, which is always sort of bittersweet: you're glad to be done with a project, but it's always a little like burying a vague acquaintance that you were fond of. You wish you knew them better. However, I immediately (tonight) jumped into a mini-rehearsal for the next show, which amounted to me doing my monologue twice and then sharing a beer and a smoke with the director (we go a ways back). Now I just have to make my irritated brain commit six pages of text to memory, and my brain isn't really thrilled about it. It complains. "This sucks," it whines. "Can't we download some porn instead?" I sympathetically answer it. "No," I explain to myself, "we are on dial-up. The best we can do is Fark's 'Boobies' posts." "Ugh," replies brain, "that's terrible. It's like buying jerky at the 99-cent store." Brain is pretty irritating, so I dump scotch on it and wait for it to become quiescent.

Speaking of brain-quiescence, the wife and I pay-per-viewed The Italian Job over the weekend; it was like consuming a generic blue-and-white package of MOVIE. As in: "I am absorbing this [MOVIE]. It features [TALENTED ACTORS] (alongside a certain [CHARLIZE THERON] who fails, impossibly, to [REMOVE SHIRT]) involved in [CRIMINAL ACTS] and [UNSURPRISING BETRAYALS] that, after [UNCONTORTIONATE TWISTS] finally results in a showdown between [OH WHO GIVES A FUCK?]" But in the end I must give it up to both Marky Mark, for displaying a heroic, Theronesque stubbornness against removing his shirt, despite the fact that failing to do so renders his entire presence somewhat puzzling; and also to Edward Norton, who somehow managed to grow the world's most depressing moustache, and then ceded his entire performance to the hairy little lip-mongrel.

"Action!"

(Sotto voce) "Quick! Depressing moustache! What do we do?"

"Go buy a boat or something. I'll sit here on your lip and kind of spaz out or something." (Notices dailies) "Look at us! We look like Hal Linden!"

"I love you, depressing moustache."

"You big lug. Just don't shave me like Courtney Love does."

"You've got a deal."

Friday, 21 November
Reasons To Stay Home

Something's up. Over the past couple days, I have been sort of unrelentingly obsessed with the incredible terribleness of the films of Cuba Gooding Jr. Seriously, I'll just be walking home from work or eating dinner or something, and then all of a sudden I'll think, "Cuba Gooding Jr. released Snow Dogs and Boat Trip in the same year. Christ, that's depressing." Maybe it's a hangover from suffering through the toothachey ads for Radio, the movie that seems to ask the question, "Why doesn't Ed Harris fire his agent?"

Now, of course I haven't seen any of these films, and I never intend to, because (I've said this before) I Prejudge Movies. And it works pretty well for me; Cuba Gooding Jr. has become a definite warning sign, although I do have a fondness for his work in Coming to America as "Boy Getting Haircut." But there's plenty of stuff out there to be frightened of.

I don't even think I have to say anything about The Cat in the Hat, as it is clearly wretched, and was made by demented, crabwalking shadow beasts who hate children.

Gothika requires the audience-endurance of Penelope Cruz, so that's out. Timeline is scripted by indefatigable hack Michael Crichton and features intolerable creatures like Billy Connolly and that little shit from 2 Fast 2 Furious. Doomed. (I noted the luckless David Thewlis lurking at the bottom of the cast list too.)

You know, even if it turns out that The Last Samurai is a good film (directed by Edward Zwick?!), nothing will prevent me from laughing at Tom Cruise. I've seen the trailer in the theater a couple of times, and the audiences were, shall we say, less than reverent at the spectacle of professional tiny person Cruise boshswuckling it up on the big screen. (Alarming detail just noticed: this film also, mystifyingly, has Billy Connolly.) In anticipation of what I predict will be terrible box office, I have mentally rechristened this picture: Far And Away 2: Kung Fu!

A promising offering, though, might be The Haunted Mansion, which could turn out be the flat-out fuck-you nutclutcher horror film of the year. Anything that has Eddie Murphy playing the lead these days certainly makes me clammy; but the real clincher is this IMDB summary: "When a workaholic visits a haunted house with his family during a job interview, he meets a ghost that teaches him a lesson about the importance of the family that he has neglected."

Brrrrrrrr.

Wednesday, 19 November
Actually, Seventh Grade Sucked

Tonight, rather than luxuriating in the usual nothing that is my non-performance evening, I had to instead travel down to my old theater haunt and do a FIRST READ of the next play I'm doing. Yes, I am leaping from one show directly into another, mostly because I'm fucking nuts.

It's actually a role I've done before a few years ago: the show is called The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, a darker-than-obsidian holiday show about whether or not Santa Claus raped the reindeer Vixen. The story is told through eight monologues by the eight reindeer--I play Donner, the rather sad, nearly cataleptic father of Rudolph (and there is some question as to what happened to the poor, retarded Rudolph, who apparently spends his days mumbling alarming nonsense about penises and mistletoe). It's basically the Anti-Holiday show, and should appeal to an entertaining demographic of sociopaths and aspiring misanthropes. We'll know we're doing a good job if people despairingly vomit into their laps. Or, you know, clap enthusiastically. Whatever works.

When I got home, the wife and I eventually settled in for a "West Wing" rerun on the indefatigable Bravo (Motto: "Even liberal fairies enjoy television!"). It's a decent enough show, and some pretty good leftie spank material--but even that's not really fair. The show portrays a government that we all kind of fantasize about in a sort of seventh-grade way: "I HEART DEDICATED PUBLIC SERVANTS!" Surrounded by curvy hearts in our mental Trapper Keepers. Never mind that we can't nervously shake our shapely, ungravitied asses in the direction of our almost-needs-a-shave dates to some ripping J. Geils band music, but at the very least we'd like to imagine staring across the auditorium at our government, nervously clutching our watery punch, and hope they notice us. On "The West Wing," every character is a quarterback, and every play is fourth and long, and the cheerleaders all scream, but it's seventh grade, so in the end nobody scores. The show is teen pathos embodied.

There is another meta-level on which this show kills me, which is the utter conundrum that is Mary Louise Parker; or, more specifically, how much she is hated by the wife. Tonight's barb: "Is she supposed to be funny? Or witty? Or attractive?" The wife smoldered for a moment before posing a kind of koan: "Is she for men?" I had no real answer to this. "Well, she's not for me." I wasn't lying: I think she's about as sexy as sheet rock. Her nearly Martian intonations are kind of the kicker for me; she pronounces almost every line as if she has an impending dental appointment. The wife and I have some favorite moments, and tonight didn't disappoint: one of her lines was, "Not so much with the talking for you." Now, this is of course as much writer Aaron Sorkin's fault as anyone's, but her read on it was just otherworldly; the line--which was, I believe, supposed to be a sort of snarky come-hither dissing to Josh--came out mostly like someone bloodlessly evaluating the relative quality of some locally produced jerky.

I'd go on, but not so much with the talking for me.

Tuesday, 18 November
Not Good.

I don't like it when I can't write. And it happens too often: when I started this bloody thing, I made it my mission to do five posts a week--obviously, I don't do that any more. I don't know why, except that I got married and all, and I think that's valid (it's kind of sad that I even feel the need to make excuses), but let's also face it, some of those old posts reeked of desperation and sloth, and maybe, well, just fuck it, but sometimes it just drives me nuts when I feel like writing, and it just won't come.

I deleted three other abortive things before this. One was this weird tone-poem-y thing that I had high hopes for; it was a kind of cinematic screenplay filled with portent or something. Then I started writing it, and I got hung up over--I kid you not--whether or not the board game SORRY! used that weird bubble-dice device. (It didn't. What the fuck was that game? It's driving me crazy. Was it Parcheesi?) It also involved some character named "Borovski." The big idea was this not-so-much ending where I cut to nothing. I'd be a hell of a filmmaker. "Joe! Cut to nothing!" "What?" "Cut to nothing! It's poetic or something!" "You're stupid. I quit."

I also deleted a story about this weekend about how this poor guy (he's in the cast of my show) got his car towed because he parked in a Safeway parking lot. The gist of it was: This guy got his car towed because he parked in a Safeway lot. It cost him almost three hundred dollars. But then I realized that nobody could possibly give a fuck.

Now that I think about it, I didn't even get around to deleting a story about my facial hair, because it didn't even merit starting: I have this sort of dire whisker situation where sometimes I get two whiskers trying to share the same follicle, and that doesn't work, so they grow into this gigantic mutant whisker that is like a redwood stump growing out of my face, and it turns into an awful thick ghoul-hair that makes my face all angry, and I kind of have to police my face to make sure that they aren't massing for a revolution of some sort, these horrible Gimli-ish stumpy whiskers that rouse the pus army and overrun my poor, Aragorn-lacking chin. The last thing I need is for Ian MacKellen to show up indignantly on my face, calling for reinforcements.

Oh, it's late. I'll do better. Cut to nothing.

Friday, 14 November
The Day In Music

During my workdays, I generally fire up the webstream of local station KEXP, whose mission is to play mostly indie rock, alongside whatever desperately weird shit that might be in dubious vogue. ("Here's a track from Emilio Esteves' new album of diesel trucks running over garbage cans, called Even Rabbits Vomit Sometimes.") It usually works pretty well--I get to listen to a lot of varied music that I might not hear, and I also get to feel marginally hip: "Hey, I'm listening to a band called Low Flying Owls! Nobody on Earth has ever heard of these weirdos . . . but I have!" An important part of hipness is being able to say things like this. John Cage is a good example: Go look at your record collection. No John Cage albums? Totally not hip. Plenty of John Cage albums that you never, ever listen to? Extremely hip.

Not that KEXP plays John Cage; after all, they do want people to actually listen to them. But they're coming close this morning. Mere minutes ago, they went from Dinosaur Jr.'s bewildering molestation of "Just Like Heaven" right into Sonic Youth's useless cornholing of "Ca Plane Pour Moi." Jesus, guys, they were already laughable songs. You didn't have to go and prove it.

I'll continue to monitor this situation as the day goes on, but I lack hope. In the intervening minutes, they have played songs by two bands with names I hate: Possum Dixon and Clem Snide. I'm a big believer in loathing bands simply for picking rotten names--for this reason, I have never been able to enjoy Travis, for example. It's just easier. Okay, sometimes I enjoy Travis, but it's difficult; I usually have to think about Gary Sandy's character from "WKRP in Cincinatti" while listening, which isn't cool: it's like thinking about baseball statistics during sex.

Update: now playing Cibo Matto's "Know Your Chicken." I know a ridiculous number of people who unaccountably love this terrible song, including my wife. I submit that they are all unhinged. (Love you, honey!) This is the trench mouth of songs.

Update: now playing is "Angry Inch" by Sleater-Kinney, who is joined by FRED SCHNEIDER. I don't know what the fuck is going on any more. Sleater-Kinney and Fred Schneider? It's like being served a juicy steak with a side of angry bees.

Update: time for a little Wilco, with "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." I love this song, but at this point, Wilco is kind of the Poco of the indie pop world. They were massively popular for about ten minutes, and very soon nobody will ever listen to them again. In a similar vein, The Flaming Lips (and I like them too) are basically today's answer to the Electric Prunes.


Update: Mates of State, "Ha Ha." Reaction: Ugh Ugh. It's like neighbors shouting at each other through thin walls. But in the interest of not sounding like the world's crabbiest ass, a little while ago I was treated to RJD2's "The Horror," which is a blast. Q: Is a good song vastly improved by the addition of rhythmic "HEY!" callouts? A: Yes, always.

Update: INDIE HIPNESS CHECK! The Shins, and then the Decemberists. These bands bore me stupid. Why am I listening to this station again? Oh right: because the alternatives are things like The Mountain, whose MOR ghouls lie waiting for the telltale victim-scent of chai tea; or The End, the "alternative" radio equivalent of soft tissue damage.

Update: I kid you not, Low Flying Owls.

Not really an Update: I just saw a startling headline: China cracks down on rat poison murders. Will this oppressive regime stop at nothing to beat down its hapless people? Jesus, China, lighten up!

Update: Robyn Hitchcock! Who doesn't like a guy who sings about fish, megacephaly, and gay threeways? Insane people, that's who.

Thursday, 13 November
The Reviews Are In!

And they're lukewarm! USA! USA! USA!

But in case you were wondering, I am wonderful.

Now,if you doubt my greatness, please know that I nicely play the unplayable. (scroll down)

But if neither of those raves convince you, just read this one, as it will surely make the case that I play someone named Willie!

It is clearly time to celebrate the unbelievableness that is . . . well . . . me. I sit here and await peeled grapes. GRAPE ME, MY LOVING PUBLIC!

*sits*

Hey, where did everyone go?

Wednesday, 12 November
The Holiday Spirit Attacks!

It's the holiday season, you hopeless bivalves! It's time to get into the spirit! Don't you watch television? Make with the fucking JOLLY, people! Don't make me send John Madden after you to gnaw on your cankles with his gigantic, awful teeth! I've even written you a new holiday classic to sing! Go pound on your neighbors' doors until they unlatch the deadbolts and stand there horrified while you lustily scream this song into their haunted, weeping faces! It's a gorgeous ode to the fucking QUEST FOR SANTA in the dire Arctic wasteland, for Christ's sake, sung to the tune of the immortal "Winter Wonderland!" GET TO IT! Spread some goddamn holiday cheer today or I'll set your fucking hair on fire! Happy holidays!

Over the ground lies a death-shroud of white
A Gehenna of zirconia
Shine down through the night
My heart is convulsing
Life signs waning, erratically pulsing . . .

Lashes freeze, they are cracking
In my feet, feeling lacking
A frightening white, I'm losing my sight
Walking in an Arctic tundra-land

Gone away are my senses
A bad rhyme here would be "menses"
I'm hypothermic, I can't feel my dick
Walking in an Arctic tundra-land

In the ice-white I can build an igloo
And pretend that I soon won't be dead
I'll sit there and curse that fat-ass Santa
I'd love to find him and remove his head

Later on I'll expire
As I fail to build a fire
I'm surrounded by white, I'm losing my sight
Dying in this arctic tundra-land.

Tuesday, 11 November
Cry "Fuck!" And Let Slip The Dogs Of War

So we got the show open, and it all went fine. Nothing serious got fucked up--an actress forgot a rather important prop one night (a phone), which she had to leave the stage to retrieve, stranding an actor briefly, but he sat placidly and waited--and then we drank some champagne, and talked about the press (we had some, nothing published yet) and had a good time.

After opening night on Thursday, there was the usual polite after-show get-together, and one of the crew members prepared some lovely food. I wandered up to the counter. "Any beer or wine back there?" "I, uh, I think someone forgot it." I stared emptily at the counter full of dreary nutrition. FORGOT? This is like me forgetting to take my feet with me on my way to work. But ah, well, a minor blip. I merely filed it mentally away along with all of the other minor grievances to take up with The Director, alongside the Issue of the Whorish Wig and That One Time She Threw A Stuffed Monkey At Me.

After our Sunday matinee, we held a little "talk to the audience" thingy where the actors all gather onstage and field questions from the lonely souls who choose to stay behind and query us about this or that. It was a decent lot; there were relatively few weird or silly questions, although we did get that old chestnut, "Do you really think it was necessary to use the f-word so much?" She was a sweet enough woman, but it's hard not to roll your eyes. "It's true," you want to reply, "I'm so bummed that 'to blazes' has gone so far out of vogue. That would make for some really corking dialogue!"

Mac: Argh! These blasted critics! To blazes with them!

Jenny: Daddy! I will not tolerate this scurrilous tongue-waggery!

Mac: Fie! I heap befoulment upon them! 23-Skiddoo!

Jenny: Oh! Oh! Your invective--! You rail like a fiddle-fingered Brobdingnag oyster-shucker!

Mac: Are you saying I am not boss? For I am totally boss!

Jenny: O nutsackian incourtesy! 'Swounds!

Another great question was: "Why is the play called Abstract Expression?" We kind of looked at our shoes and collectively willed the spirit of the playwright to visit the room and give us an noncorporeal lecture on her reasoning. As that didn't seem to be in the cards, I dithered at some length to offer my D-minus answer: "Uh, well, I think the playwright might be trying to make the point that all human expression is kind of muddled--or abstract--whether it be painting or music or acting or just talking. We talk around or past one another all the time, in all mediums, I think." I left out the suggestion that perhaps the title came from the fact that one of the central characters is an abstract expressionist.

The other woman piped up again. "I just don't know that you have to keep saying the f-word."

I wanted to hand her a can of paint and a canvas and say, "Show me what you mean." Maybe that would be getting somewhere.

Thursday, 06 November
Lights Up

WE HAVE SUCCESSFULLY PERFORMED THE SHOW FOR AN ACTUAL AUDIENCE.

It's the sort of thing that calls for all caps, particularly after a wholly grueling tech week featuring murderous, soon-to-be-toothless apes. We did our "preview" performance--that's really just shorthand theaterspeak for "come see a potentially catastrophic not-quite-opening performance for less than the usual ticket price"--and fortunately, it was not catastrophic; things went well. One of the theater's board members (it should be mentioned that theater board members are hunted to extinction, for many good reasons: board members are fiscally responsible for company decisions being the best ones) apparently works with the (temporarily flailing [this paragraph brought to you by the Coalition For Nested Brackets {And Parentheses}]) Bellevue Art Museum, and so brought with her twenty or so docents from the place to watch the show.

And they seemed to have a good time, or at least as good a time as wealthy dowagers get on any given Wednesday 2 PM time slot. I hope we didn't drag any of them away from their usual illicit mid-week poolboy bone sessions; and if we did, they endured the disruption with admirable aplomb. They were a good house, which is to say, not a "dead" house--a term that actors employ to describe seemingly embalmed audiences, who do not respond in any way to the action occurring onstage. This audience laughed in the right places, and of course also in some mysterious places, which is absolutely par for the course: trying to figure out what a given audience will find funny in any play is sometimes more of a total fucking crapshoot than the stock market: a line which kills three out of four nights might suddenly be greeted with mausoleum-quality silence on the fourth, while the heretofore silence-inducing line of, say, "I bought new socks yesterday!" might suddenly be greeted with bladder-bursting guffaws. Basically, the one rule is: all audiences are frighteningly insane, and should be regarded warily at all times.

Tomorrow night is the "actual" opening night for the show, and I'm looking forward to it; opening nights are fun, kind of in a prom-lite way: Chances are remote that you'll get laid, but you get to dance and maybe eat some teriyaki chicken. (Maybe you all had better proms than I did; I can tell you that my prom theme was Heart's "These Dreams," which is somehow even more depressing now than it was then.)

And since some deranged Seattle people have asked, should you want to attend, visit http://www.mirrorstage.org for details. The show is called Abstract Expression, and we're going for the next three weeks. And hey, I'll tell you what: if you email me with your mailing address (which I promise not to give to anyone except for the good people at extendyourpenis.com) I will send you coupons giving you 2-for-1 discounts on the tickets. If you want, we can even have a drink after the show, unless you turn out to be a total creep, in which case, really, just fuck off, okay?

Seriously, if you're a creep, I'm just going to write mean things about you. You can sue, of course, but I'm worth nothing. Just ask my old prom date.

Tuesday, 04 November
'Til Tuesday

This last weekend was a living bitch; you see, the wife and I endured what is known in theater circles as "tech weekend." This is the time when all of the technical elements get introduced to the mix: actual props, light cues, sound cues, and, when appropriate, onstage food. Cranberry juice (later to be doped with a couple drops of blue food coloring) becomes red wine. Unadulterated apple juice serves nicely as white wine. Stale bagels become staler bagels with each passing day, which suits me fine, as I contrived not to have to eat any of the fucking bagels, citing a (wholly truthful) loathing for the accompanying lox spread. I think lox spread ranks right below "octopus ink" and right above "candied Yanni" on the List of Things I Don't Want In My Mouth.

As theater people well know, tech weekend is an exercise in tested patience. It is, really, for all involved, basically where fun goes to die: scenes are repeated, over and over and over, and really, not just scenes: mere moments are repeated over and over and over, e.g., Stage Manager: "We're going to take that back again. Can we start with the line 'You're a cold bowl of fuck!' ?" Actor: "You're a cold bowl of fuck!" (The actor is suddenly attacked by an angry stage ape.) Stage Manager: "Hold please! We had a problem with the ape wrangler." (Actors sit dumbly while the wranglers knock out the recalcitrant ape's teeth with hammers.) Stage Manager: "Let's do it again from the same place! When you're ready!" Actor: "You're a cold bowl of fuck!" (Sudden, mysterious blackout.) Stage Manager: "Hold please! We have a bad light cue!" Actor, making conversation during another lull: "Was that an Equity ape? I think he ate his shorts for Act II."

This tech weekend was actually far less painful than a lot of those that I've endured in the past. Friday, our director showed up unexpectedly in a lovely blonde wig; I asked her what that was about, and she replied (courteously leaving out the "duh"), "It's Halloween!" Duh indeed. The wig (a platinum blondish thing) made her look like kind of a whore, but in a good way; women tend to get upset when men describe them as looking like whores, but I rather suspect that they're missing the somewhat obscured compliment. Men like whores. Anyway, we'll soon see if I'm suddenly out of a job for this.

The most grueling part about these tech rehearsals (and will continue to be pretty challenging) is the BLACKOUT aspect of the show--the blackouts are fucking serious blackouts: there really isn't any goddamn light on the stage between scenes. It's like navigating purest basalt, and one wrong turn could result in you running into (a) other actors, (b) walls, (c) parts of the set, (d) anything else, or (e) Atlantis, as far as you can tell. The next thing you know, the lights come up for the next scene, and there you are, plainly visible onstage, looking very much like a living avatar of flatulence: Nobody wants to acknowledge your presence, but you're kind of hard to ignore.

To this end--that of making it easier for actors to clear a dead-black stage--we employ that fantastic quasi-solver of problems called "glow tape." Glow tape is a phosphorescent adhesive that theaters put on just about fucking anything that can possibly get in anyone's way, usually out of the audience's sight lines. With judicious use of glow tape (provided that they've been "charged" with some light ahead of time; they're about as sophisticated as those old solar system thingies you used to stick on to the ceiling above your bed), one can map out stairways, entrances, exits, or, if one felt the urge, the Chicago el.

However, this show uses, as I've mentioned, some serious-ass blackouts, so there is glow tape all over the fucking place, and God help you if you misinterpret it: If you're not careful, you can end up, like I did the other night, flailing helplessly at a backstage curtain while the lights come up inexorably to reveal your dumb ass beating on a hunk of cloth. It's pretty sexy. And this is leaving aside the amount of glow tape we've got on the set: When the lights go out, it looks like a radioactive Habitrail; it makes my thyroid throb nervously. Glow tape kind of weirds me out, clearly, but I'm a damaged person.

Anyway. We open the show this week, barring any more savage ape attacks, and it's going well. I'm monitoring my kidney output with a Geiger counter (fucking glow tape!), and I'm doing okay on my lines (I'm only mangling every six or so), so I think we're good for launch.

But all you need to know is that tech blows. Anyone will tell you this. Even the deranged apes.










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