Make Love Not War

Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern premieres new work by Monica Byrne, TARANTINO’S YELLOW SPEEDO, at Manbites Dog Theater

 

Kana Hatakeyama as Eun Mi Youn and Dan Wales as Esteban Calvo in LGP's world premiere production of TARANTINO'S YELLOW SPEEDO. Photo: Alex Maness.

Kana Hatakeyama as Eun Mi Youn and Dan Wales as Esteban Calvo in LGP’s world premiere production of TARANTINO’S YELLOW SPEEDO. Photo: Alex Maness.

Durham writer Monica Byrne‘s willfully provocative new play previewed last night, and will have its official world premiere tonight at Manbites Dog Theater. It hooks you right from the start–what a title! Produced and presented by the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, its 13-member cast is tautly directed by Jaybird O’Berski. It’s about sex, personal freedom, love, and the destruction of the nation-state, more or less in that order of importance. Speedo takes place in the Olympic Village, where athletes from many cultures receive some special training in polyamory and other forms of boundary-busting, taught by “ambassadors”  from a cult idolizing a diver named Arturo Tarantino. Tarantino espoused a philosophy of separating oneself from artificial, fear-based constrictions like sexual monogamy and jealousy, and instead making love with many people. He believed that this would erase boundaries between people, lead to world peace and the dissolution of geo-political borders. He called his desirable state of loving psycho-sexual satisfaction “the zone.” One day Tarantino got so completely zoned out that, after executing an “impossible” perfect dive, he just disappeared in the bubbles. His yellow Speedo floated to the top, to become a relic for his followers, and a symbol awarded to trainees who see the light and take off their clothes for this new world order.

Nicola Bullock dancing as Khala, while Mia (Caitlin Wells) suffers in sequestration behind the scrim. Photo: Alex Maness.

Nicola Bullock dancing as Khala, while Mia (Caitlin Wells) suffers in sequestration behind the scrim. Photo: Alex Maness.

There are so many things to talk about here. The content, as illustrated by the preposterous story, has challenges for viewers all along the belief spectrum. Although the play declares the glory of polyamory, asserting its naturalness, it looks clearly at one of its costs. Main characters Khala (Nicola Bullock) and Mia (Caitlin Wells) start off as a happy married couple (trap shooters from Team USA); by the end, Mia’s wrecked and stranded on the shores of Khala’s new boundary-free world.

Structurally, the play is very clever. It’s outrageous enough to get under your guard, should you be so old-school as to have one, and Byrne and director O’Berski are very skilled at getting you to immediately suspend disbelief and go with the story. They are greatly aided in this by the Olympic-coverage-style video designed by

Cameron McCallie as a German wrestler, and Emily Anderson as a South African fencer. Photo: Alex Maness.

Cameron McCallie as a German wrestler, and Emily Anderson as a South African fencer. Photo: Alex Maness.

Alex Maness and Don Bonné. Speedo‘s outrageous enough, but not so outrageous. The only thing I found shocking was the play’s un-ambivalent declaration in favor of unprotected sex–no condoms for all these couplings. In fact, the play’s most memorable line, uttered by Khala after her training partnering with Suileman (Allen Tedder, very elegant), is about his having painted the walls of her vagina with semen graffiti. In Arturian Sex, not only must there be skin-to-skin contact, but exchange of fluids.

Yep, that’s the natural way. But making this philosophical statement strikes me as significant and ignorant, joyous and idiotic, all at once. We are hardly living in a post-AIDS world, let alone post-Herpes or post-Gonorrhea–that formerly-minor sexual pest is now drug-resistant. But Byrne can never have lived as an adult in a world without the threat of sexually transmitted diseases, and, oh!– that unfurling of the banner for sexual freedom for the glorious bodies of youth, the freedom to unsheathe –it’s an alluring, lovable cause.

And so impractical, as are the logistics of polyamory (love may be endless, but time is not), that one suspects Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo of being allegorical, on top of fantastical. There’s kind of a Liberty Leading the People quality to it, with the playwright waving the flag and urging the bold freedom fighters over the barricades. At any rate, there’re about five plays worth of ideas woven into 90 short minutes, so there is bound to be a certain amount of abstraction.

The ideas take precedence over relationship development. Khala and Mia are such interesting characters that–although Bullock and Wells were quite fine–I would have liked them to live more fully, to seem less like animations Byrne designed to illustrate her concerns. On preview night, I thought the whole play more mechanical, less vibrant than Byrne’s earlier, brilliant, What Every Girl Should Know. It is, however, far more complex and ambitious than Girl, and written in a far more bold and confident voice. One thing that makes Speedo so intriguing is that it is part of the Monica Byrne story, unfolding on the larger stage (and her Facebook page, and Twitter feed…). Byrne’s first novel also came out this week. Read the Indyweek review of Girl in the Road here.

But back to Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo. Strong cast, all appealing, though there is not enough nudity, and there is considerable weirdness with accents. Ishai Buchbinder is adorable as a Ukrainian badminton Olympian, but it’s unnerving when he slips into his Irish accent. Kana Hatakeyama, kicking ass as a North Korean field hockey competitor, lets her accent go all over the globe. Possibly this is intentional–no border in the new world order. Jess Jones excels as Fatima, a lightweight Bosnian boxer with plenty of nerve and a very enticing headscarf.

The design work for the show is particularly strong, too. Steve Tell’s lighting, the costumes by Marlyn Wells and Dana Marks,  Matt Hooks’ set, and especially, the smart music track by Adam Lindquist, all serve the greater good with panache. Director O’Berski has successfully recombined many of his best structures and gestures here. The overlapping scenes are done with finesse, and working with choreographer Nicola Bullock, he’s put together some great rushing, stage-crossing movements using the large cast. (Bullock and friends have a dance performance coming in June–more on that soon.)

Preview night was sold out, and Manbites Dog reports that tickets for this weekend are nearly gone. The show runs through June 7, but you might want to go ahead and buy advance tickets here.

 

Caitlin Wells and Nicola Bullock in Monica Byrne's TARANTINO'S YELLOW SPEEDO. At Manbites Dog through June 7. Photo: Alex Maness.

Caitlin Wells (Mia) and Nicola Bullock (Khala) in Monica Byrne’s TARANTINO’S YELLOW SPEEDO.  At Manbites Dog through June 7. Photo: Alex Maness.

 

 

 

 

 

My Immediate Neighborhood, Sunny Sunday

My Immediate Neighborhood, Sunny Sunday
Cave Taureau, tres chic.

Cave Taureau, tres chic.

Liberty Arts' Sculpture Competition installation at Five Points-- cast, welded and worked aluminum, by Hanna Jubran.

Liberty Arts’ Sculpture Competition installation at Five Points– cast, welded and worked aluminum, by Hanna Jubran.

Renovation finally at 108 Morris, with Bullseye Sunday cyclists.

Renovation finally at 108 Morris, with Bullseye Sunday cyclists.

Hubba Durham.

Hubba Durham.

Giant new West Village addition that looks like it should be in Crystal City, VA.

Giant new West Village addition that looks like it should be in Crystal City, VA.

Little darlings and their beer drinkers in the play yard at Bull McCabe's.

Little darlings and their beer drinkers in the play yard at Bull McCabe’s.

353 W. Main, prepared for transformation.

353 W. Main, prepared for transformation.

Street Zumba outside Hairizon.

Street Zumba outside Hairizon.

Souls on a Journey: ArtsCenter Stage’s GEM OF THE OCEAN

Pittsburgh Recollections, Romare Bearden's 1984 tile mural as reinstalled 2012 at Pittsburgh's Gateway Center T station. 13 x 60 feet.

Pittsburgh Recollections, Romare Bearden’s 1984 tile mural as reinstalled 2012 at Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center T station. 13 x 60 feet.

From my review published 5/12/2014 on cvnc.org:

It’s a daunting task to review a production as nearly perfect as the current ArtsCenter Stage presentation of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. The play, although not the first written (it premiered in 2003) in Wilson’s magnificent 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, begins the stories that cover African-American life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District through the 10 decades of the 20th century. Several of its characters, including the ancient Aunt Ester, were born in slavery, and the main concern of the play is freedom — what it is and is not; how to get it, how to keep it; and how to “live and die in truth.” As a piece of writing, it is beautiful almost beyond describing: robust, musical, rich in color and shading. Its cadences and repetitions build like those of the best jazz, spiraling around a motif with the hard glitter of change and the lush continuity of remembrance.

Juanda LaJoyce Holley as Aunt Ester, who can conjure the spirit world, and Sherida McMullan as Black Mary in The ArtsCenter Stage production of Gem of the Ocean. Photo:

Juanda LaJoyce Holley as Aunt Ester, who can conjure the spirit world, and Sherida McMullan as Black Mary in The ArtsCenter Stage production of Gem of the Ocean. Photo: Adam Graetz.

It’s a big play in every sense. Two full acts barely contain its life. Wilson (who received many awards for various parts of the full cycle, including two Pulitzers) is so successful at working with big ideas and concerns because they are the natural concerns of his large-scaled and magnificently detailed characters, who live in a world where metaphor and reality are not strangers, and where now includes all of the past. Their landscape is strewn with boulders; they are set about with ambushes, and rivers of blood. It’s a world in which a conjure woman can wash souls and cast out scoundrels from her house of peace and sanctuary at 1839 Wylie Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. It’s 1904 — 110 years ago by the calendar, but not too distant from 2014.

The ArtsCenter production is directed by John Rogers Harris. His timing of the dialogue and action is faultless, but more importantly, he lets love and tragedy fill the room at their own pace. Harris has cast a powerful ensemble of actors as the seven characters, and Wilson’s words pour forth as if from their own minds. No one spouts speeches, or declaims, or breaks the fourth wall. We observe and empathize looking into a world of which we are not part. It is complete in itself.

READ THE REST HERE.

Romare Bearden was one of August Wilson's influences. Here is Bearden's 1964 Conjur Woman as reproduced on a USPS stamp.

Romare Bearden was one of August Wilson’s influences. Here is Bearden’s 1964 Conjur Woman as reproduced on a USPS stamp.

From Charles Isherwood’s extensive NYT article following Wilson’s death in 2005: 

“In a 1999 interview in The Paris Review, Mr. Wilson cited his major influences as being the “four B’s”: the blues was the “primary” influence, followed by Jorge Luis Borges, the playwright Amiri Baraka and the painter Romare Bearden. He analyzed the elements each contributed to his art: “From Borges, those wonderful gaucho stories from which I learned that you can be specific as to a time and place and culture and still have the work resonate with the universal themes of love, honor, duty, betrayal, etc. From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don’t write political plays. From Romare Bearden I learned that the fullness and richness of everyday life can be rendered without compromise or sentimentality.” He added two more B’s, both African-American writers, to the list: the playwright Ed Bullins and James Baldwin.”

 Isherwood’s appreciation includes links to a great deal of Wilson material. This article discusses Bearden’s concept of the Conjur Woman, and includes excellent reproductions.

 

Detail, Pittsburgh Recollections, 1984 tile mural by Romare Bearden. Photo: J. Michael Krivyanski/examiner.com.

Detail, Pittsburgh Recollections, 1984 tile mural by Romare Bearden. Photo: J. Michael Krivyanski/examiner.com. Much of the same imagery–mill, workers, river, boats–appears in  August Wilson’s play, Gem of the Ocean, set in Pittsburgh, 1904.

 

 

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