Monthly Archives: June 2011

At Odds with the Family: Aurora Theatre Company’s ‘The Metamorphosis’

The most heartbreaking moment in David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson’s theatrical adaptation of The Metamorphosis (at the Aurora Theater, in its first professional American production) is at the beginning, when Gregor’s sister Grete (Megan Trout) discovers that Gregor’s shoes are still on the carpet. It is past seven o’ clock; Gregor should be long gone to work. The family stops short; they had just finished setting three tidy places for breakfast. They stare at the shoes in shared astonishment, bordering on horror. Even before Gregor’s repulsive transformation, his family is accustomed to eating without him. They are happiest when …Continue reading

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Remixing Chekhov: Theatre Movement Bazaar’s ‘Anton’s Uncles’

Anton’s Uncles is what its director Tina Kronis calls a “movement score.” Distilling and adding new material to Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya — a century-old play about the members of a country estate frustrated by their guests, a stuffy professor and his enthrallingly beautiful wife — Anton’s Uncles amplifies that play’s themes of hope and unsatisfied desires. Co-writers Kronis and Richard Alger strip Chekhov’s play of realism, retaining a skeletal plot and then, like decoupage, decorate it with a boisterous concoction of poetry, dance, music, and spectacle. As subtext and metaphor eclipse verisimilitude, Uncles skirts unintelligibility. But to an audience …Continue reading

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Complicity

Dodie Bellamy is a San Francisco writer and teacher. Her books include Academonia, Pink Steam, and The Letters of Mina Harker. Her book Cunt-Ups won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for poetry. In its Fall 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published her story “Complicity.”

A snapshot of an arguably lost San Francisco — one before the Loma Prieta earthquake, long before the dot-com boom and bust — Bellamy’s piece is experimental without being indulgent. It meditates on sex, art, identity, and friendship, confronting the inherent messiness those themes invite. Living off of bad checks and shoplifted goods, the men and women in “Complicity” may be marginalized by society at large, but there’s nothing shrinking about them. As the narrator says, “We knew we were perverts so we wallowed in it.”

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Ignoring Grief to Our Own Peril: Q&A with ‘American Masculine’ Author Shann Ray

Shann Ray is a writer, researcher, and professor whose first collection of stories, American Masculine (Graywolf Press; 192 pages), won the 2010 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize. Almost all of the collection’s stories take the dramatic Montana landscape as their backdrop, and almost all of the stories deal with men struggling to make sense of such perennial themes as death, infidelity, addiction, and abusive fathers. Ray, who lives in Spokane, Washington, with his wife and three daughters, writes with an unflinching honesty, and his work remains empathetic and lyrical regardless of the subject, be it the expansive Montana sky …Continue reading

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This Evening From Far Away

Dean Young is the critically-acclaimed author of several books of poetry, including Skid (2002), a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize, and Elegy on Toy Piano (2005), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He’s been awarded Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and has taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and is the William Livingston Chair of Poetry at the University of Texas in Austin. And he’s recently had a heart transplant.

At 7 p.m. tonight at the University of California at Berkeley, his peers and his admirers from the Bay Area and farther out will be reading from their work and Dean Young’s at a public fund-raiser. Admission is free, but chances will abound to donate funds for his staggering health care costs.

The following poem is one of many small joys from his new book of poetry, Fall Higher (Copper Canyon Press). Come on out, commune with the literary community, and enjoy more of his wondrous verse.

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Family Moments: Hand2Mouth Theatre’s ‘Everyone Who Looks Like You’

The first thing to know about Everyone Who Looks Like You, a piece exploring family by the award-winning Hand2Mouth Theatre from Portland, Oregon, is that is has no plot. Written by Alex Huebsch, Marc Friedman, and Maesie Speer, with material provided by Hand2Mouth’s company members, the play is structured around a sequence of monologues, vignettes, music, and dance concerning each member of a fictional family, one composed from anecdotes, surveys, and improvisations – the result of more than a year’s worth of workshops. The resulting performance is a borderline cavalcade of nostalgia and chagrin. Though sometimes anemic from lack of …Continue reading

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A New Ocean

In its Winter 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published this essay by Blair Fuller. Fuller, who lives in Tomales, California, is the author of the novels A Far Place and Zebina’s Mountain, is an editor emeritus at the Paris Review, and with the late Oakley Hall, co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

“A New Ocean” is the story of how, in 1963, Fuller submitted to an experimental LSD treatment in the Bay Area. The descriptions of his altered mental state on the drug are poetic, and could even be called moving. And the coincidence of his treatment happening the day before John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas lends a sadness to the piece — a sadness extending beyond the violent death of the president. As one of the female doctors from that early treatment tells him many years later, it seemed as if a great many things changed with that day, including the “feeling of the possible”

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Heroin

In its Fall 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published a piece by Jessica Hagedorn, taken from her novel-in-progress at the time. According to her bio in that issue, Hagedorn, who was born and raised in the Philippines, had lived in San Francisco for 14 years “before banishing herself to New York City.” (She’s now the Parsons Family University Professor of Creative Writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn, and her latest novel, Toxicology, was published in April.)

The story, about a DJ and prostitute named Joey Sands who works in a Manila disco, is a frank look at a predatory world, one revealing the tangled relationship between the Philippines and the United States. The novel-in-progress would be published five years later as Dogeaters, which would received critical praise from the likes of Robert Stone and would go on to become a finalist for the National Book Award in 1990.

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Working the Land, Writing in Your Head: Q&A with Novella Carpenter

I was in Upstate New York last fall, visiting family, when my aunt thrust a book in my hands. “I saved this for you,” she said. “You have to read it.” The book was Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter (Penguin Press, 2009). I was skeptical. After all, my aunt is as conservative and Catholic as I am liberal and un-churched. But I was immediately sucked into Carpenter’s world, into the unlikely mixture of urban life: the graffiti, the drugs, the lawlessness of a dead-end Oakland street; and the farming life: hives buzzing with happy …Continue reading

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Food and Work, Love and Death: Daniel Orozco’s ‘Orientation and Other Stories’

Back in the mid-‘90s, Story (the late and lamented journal dedicated to short fiction) published an arresting work by Daniel Orozco titled “The Bridge.” A young man joins the veteran crew responsible for maintaining the Golden Gate Bridge. The older guys, all of whom go by nicknames, decide to call the new guy Baby. As Orozco gracefully settles us into this unfamiliar world of risky if unglamorous work, something happens to Baby: “He spots the trouble right away, at the east end, just over his head – a section of hose hung up between the power line and the scaffold …Continue reading

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Stories of Sex and Intrigue: Robert Gottlieb’s ‘Lives and Letters’

While a good number of undying cultural giants (Harry Houdini, Judy Garland, Charles Dickens) receive coverage in Lives and Letters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 426 pages), Robert Gottlieb’s collection of biographical profiles largely takes up the lives of once household names and worldwide phenomena who, for one reason or another, failed to achieve lasting impact beyond their generation. Douglas Fairbanks, Minou Drouet, anyone? Indeed, many generations have passed since the heyday of most of Gottlieb’s subjects (the median cultural peak is somewhere around 1930, with Princess Diana and Scott Peterson being the only real “household names” of the 21st century). …Continue reading

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What to Make of Memories? Pig Iron Theatre’s ‘Chekhov Lizardbrain’

It’s easy to see why Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain, running for a very limited time this weekend in San Francisco at Z Space, was named one of the New York Times’ top theater events of 2008. The performance vivisects a human mind (no small feat) while drawing the audience into a strange and gripping voyage through the “menagerie of human possibility.” Successfully experimenting with style and substance while retaining heart, Lizardbrain leaves one wandering out of the theater feeling transformed. The play, devised by Robert Quillen Camp and the entire Pig Iron production team, concerns Demitri, an autistic man who …Continue reading

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