Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Suburban Pajama Game

Last year's "Norma" at the San Francisco Opera featured a dozen supernumeraries running around in thongs as Celtic Warriors who painted each other blue and smeared stage blood all over their faces when they weren't pointing wooden spears at the tenor.

The rehearsals turned out to be on weekdays in the Presidio, which forced a number of guys who were originally cast to drop out, and there was literally a last-minute scramble for bodies.

One of the happiest additions to the cast turned out to be an 18-year-old from the East Bay town of Lafayette, Kurt Krikorian, who was funny, enthusiastic and who actually looked like a young warrior.

So when it was announced that he was playing the lead in a summer teen theatre production of "The Pajama Game" at Diablo Valley Community College in Pleasant Hill, a trio of us from San Francisco decided to check the production out.

Though our presence as three old urban homos in a sea of surburban families stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb, we didn't feel that out of place.

The theater was filled with Thespians, after all.

Possibly because there was so much free labor with the dozens of teenagers that were part of the troupe, the scale of the production was rather astonishing.

For $13, the audience was treated to a cast of about 50 players, along with major set changes, from the pajama factory floor to Hernando's Hideaway...

...and the costumes, wigs and set pieces were all at a level more professional looking than many adult Bay Area troupes charging three times the amount.

The only serious criticism of the staging was that the big hole for the conductor and a subterranean band of seven musicians near the front of the stage looked so perilous for the many dancers and singers that we spent the entire show terrified that somebody was going to plunge head-first into the orchestra pit.

The huge cast was enormously talented, and in a few cases more than that.

Our Celtic Warrior, Kurt, was a completely credible Handsome Leading Man and his Babe, Riley Krull, was a good singer and actress besides.

There are a couple of featured comic roles in "The Pajama Game" that are usually big bores: Hines, the Time Efficiency Expert, and Prez, the Idiotic Philandering Union president. In the former role, Jack Sale was so good and so funny he threatened to walk off with the production.

Mario Jose as Prez was a large funnyman who kept inventing so many odd bits of business you couldn't take your eyes off of him, and he made some very tired old bits of humor fresh again.

In fact, the youthful energy made the creaky old 1954 musical feel mostly new and vibrant, which was quite an achievement.

There are a handful of performances next week, and I would highly recommend seeing one. Click here to get to a website with more info.

After the show, there was an "Opening Night Gala" where the entire cast mingled with their friends and family in the lobby while still dressed in their final costume, which were pajamas.

Kurt's mom was there, literally beaming with pride and pleasure...

...while Kurt clowned with Jack Sale for the paparazzi.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Zeal for Justice and Afif Safieh

The weekly Quaker-led peace vigil in front of San Francisco's Federal building on Thursday is unfortunately becoming more necessary with each passing day.

Because it makes me so angry, I have nothing intelligent or useful to say about Israel's infrastructure demolishing and mass murder in Lebanon.

Their behavior makes me sick, though not as literally as this young woman who stopped to vomit in front of the vigil while her friend steadied her at the curb.

There are some brilliantly scathing posts by James Wolcott, who writes a blog for "Vanity Fair," about the Israel apologists. One is entitled "Faster, Israel Kill Kill!" in an homage to the Russ Meyer masterpiece "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill!" (Click here to get to his site.)

My friend Willie has a great post up at his blog that tackles the Andrea Yates trial, Israel, and Arlen Specter with three caustic mini-essays. Check it out by clicking here.

Jan at the "happening-here" blog has an interesting bit of reporting on an Israeli-directed fundamentalist group lobbying at the recent Episcopal General Convention. (Click here to read the whole thing.)

She also has a wonderful quote from Fr. Naim Ateek of Sabeel, who "replied to the pressure generated by the Israel lobby within the church at an event at the Convention."
Those who demonize us think they are serving the security of Israel when they protect the unjust policies and actions of the government of Israel towards the Palestinians. They cannot serve Israel’s security when they protect lies and hide the truth. ... We must work for the sake of all of our peoples -- Israelis and Palestinians. ...

I believe that many Palestinians, though experiencing the oppressive measures of Israeli occupation, want to live in peace and to be reconciled and even offer forgiveness. Obviously, so long as the injustice persists the door to reconciliation and forgiveness is slammed shut. Justice is the key that opens the door.

When the door is opened, we might be surprised to find that people who have suffered torture, humiliation, oppression, and the loss of loved ones on both sides are open to reconciliation. Indeed, many times it is those who have suffered the most who are the first to forgive. They are willing to give and receive forgiveness.

Jan further adds:

"To the oppressor, justice looks like vengeance. But in the presence of justice, the category of oppressor dissolves and peace and reconciliation can grow. The Episcopal Church doesn't need lobbies. It needs zeal for justice, zeal for creating a context in which love can flourish."

Of course, Israel hasn't committed any atrocity in Lebanon that the United States hasn't already pioneered on a much larger scale over the last three years in Iraq, from phosphorous bombs that burn the flesh away, to the indiscriminate murders of civilians and medical workers and journalists and international peace activists, to institutionalized, fiendish torture.

Unfortunately, both Israel and the United States seem to be going off the same playbook, all designed to create the bloody "birth pangs" of a new Middle East, in the immortal words of that vile person who is our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. (Check Princess Sparkle Pony's accounts of Ms. Rice's "let's get out of Lebanon and hightail it to Malaysia FAST!" by clicking here.)

At the end of Thursday's hour-long vigil, there was a celebrity visit by the current PLO Ambassador to the United States, Afif Safieh. Actually, he's the head of the Palestinian Mission in Washington, D.C. since the Palestinians are not recognized diplomatically in the United States.

The organizers of the vigil gave us handouts explaining his appearance:
"At this crucial moment with Lebanon, the Israeli and Palestinian governments at an armed stalemate, AFSC [The Quakers] wants you to know that we have arranged to bring Afif Safieh to speak on "Is There a Future for a Peace Process in the Middle East?" This is not a typical diplomat and these are not ordinary times. Afif Safieh was one of the early voices who reached out to the Jewish community to promote a "two-state" solution. Ambassador Safieh is a Christian from Jerusalem who served as the Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom and to the Holy See from 1990-2005. Safieh is considered one of the most thoughtful, articulate Palestinian diplomats. We strongly urge you to hear him speak."

To read more about Mr. Safieh, click here for his Wikipedia entry. What totally impressed me was that he arrived completely alone, without an entourage or bodyguards or anybody but himself, and simply thanked us for the vigil.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Harry and the Potters

A rock group calling themselves "Harry and the Potters" was scheduled to perform on Saturday the 22nd at the San Francisco Public Library in the lovely Koret Auditorium in the basement.

There was a sign up at the entrance of the museum advising people that the concert had been moved outdoors.

The woman at the Information booth, when asked, said that loud noise wasn't the reason for the last-minute change of venue. "They played here last year and it was no problem. This year there were just too many people who wanted to come, and there was no room for everyone."

So a cute little bandstand was assembled in front of City Hall on Civic Center Plaza.

Excited fans who had Harry and the Potters' songs already loaded onto their iPods posed with the stars before the show.

The opening act was a duo called "Draco and the Malfoys" who were singing lighthearted death-metal rock...

...with many power chords accenting phrases like "The Gryffindor Must Die!"

The audience for all this was mostly teenage girls.

They were overwhelmingly white, with a few exceptions... the odd sensitive young guys...

...and those who dressed in the spirit of the occasion.

The following caveat appears on Harry and the Potters' website (click here to get there):
Please note: neither this band nor this website has been prepared, approved, or liscensed by any person or entity that created, published, or produced the Harry Potter books or related properties.
In other words, they are treading the thin line of copyright law, but their spirit is so non-commercial and utterly charming I hope they continue to get away with it.

"Harry and the Potters" are two Massachusetts (or as they put it on their website, Awesomechusetts!) brothers named Paul and Joe.

Here's their official tale.
"They started this band in the summer of 2002. The legendary tale of their origin goes like this:

Joe was planning to have a rock show in the shed in the backyard. People had been invited. But then all the bands cancelled. So that morning, the time was finally appropriate to bust out an idea that had been incubating in Paul's head for some time: Harry and the Potters. That morning, over the course of an hour, Paul and Joe wrote 7 songs. Then, they went out to the shed and practiced them for half an hour. And then, later in the day, they performed them for about 6 people. It was awesome. The place went nuts."

"Nowadays, they don't just play in sheds, they also play in libraries, bookstores, basements, art galleries, theatres, hot dog jamorees (true story!), and living rooms."

Their schedule this year for performances during "The Best Summer EVER" is fairly astonishing, with close to 50 performances across the country and back.

They took the first opportunity available to take off their sweaters on the uncharacteristically sizzling hot San Francisco day...

...and jump into the crowd of cute girls where they danced, jumped up and down, and sang.

They introduced their drummer as Bill Weasley, but somebody from the crowd wasn't fooled and yelled back, "No, it's not. That's Draco Malfoy!"

My favorite T-shirts belonged to the girl with a "You Looked Better on MySpace" next to her friend with "Stop Genocide in Sudan."

It was a wonderful, funny, energetic and sexy performance by everyone involved.