Sunday, January 12, 2014

Farewell Metapost 1

Wow wow, well happy belated New Years everyone.  The 25 weeks are done but the blog remains.  I'd really wanted to get everything wrapped up blogwise before coming home, nice symmetry and all, but you know how it gets when you’re trying to cram things in at the last minute.  And these last posts should really be rounding up feelings, lessons, etc,— I do have them, but they’re so much work to pin down without being boring, and I'm so lazy.  Also, I saw maybe twice as many shows as I covered in the blog, and you can’t imagine the insightful, penetrating blog posts I was going to write about them and now won't.  So how about a couple of meta-blog posts, where I describe the posts that would have been?


The Big Internationals post:

This has to do with FIBA, the huge international theatre festival that took place here in Oct.  Lots of international presenters come to see what’s here and whether they want to bring it to their city.  I saw a few pieces here that really felt part of that international world, for example unlike most other BA alt theatre in that it had big sets, lots of video etc.  First at FIBA I saw a translation of Martin Crimp’s Attempts on her Life (Atentados Contra su Vida)— I was grateful to get to know the Crimp play, weird that I hadn’t before, but didn’t care for the production, which was very “throw a lot of shit at the wall and see what sticks.”  Some stuck, but some sliid to the floor.  And it was all kinda different shit.  Next was Cineastas, by Mariano Pensotti— I liked this a lot, he has a very unusual thing where actors trade off smoothly between narrating the story (into a mic) and being part of it.  In this case, the play tells the story of five filmmakers, and the films they are making.  So, lots of layers.  This may well come to a theatre near you.  Finally: Distancia, by Matías Umpierrez.  Matías has become a good pal and I really liked his piece.  Truly experimental theatre.  The experiment here: can you literally make a play happen in a big theatre, via Skype, between four actors in different cities? (BsAs, NYC, Berlin, Paris).  Very tricky, very ambitious, very exciting.  Matías will be in NYC this summer in the Under Ground Zero fest with a different project, keep an eye out for him.  

The Father and Child of Viejo, Sólo y Púto post: 

This would have been a wonderful post in that it was going to highlight the BsAs theatre scene’s strong feeling about lineage.  I talked about how VS&P was an unusual kind of play by US standards.  Well, as soon as I started to read Sudado (Sweaty/Sweating) it felt like the same kind of piece: extremely hard to read on the page, and making a lot more sense on stage, where it has a lot to do with unspoken dynamics.  Same very raw feel.  Sure enough, the director/creator of Sudor was the assistant to Borís as he created V,S&P.   Sudor is also about working-class oddballs, this time renovating a Peruvian restaurant, and (shocker!) there’s a Peruvian actor (read: un negro, not at all in the US sense of it) in the cast, which everyone felt was a big progressive deal around here.  Sheesh.  

So if that was son of VS&P, Father of VS&P would be Ricardo Bartís’ La Máquina Idiota (The Idiot Machine.  He’s talking about theatre.)  Bartís is a huge icon here— among many other people he mentored Sergio Boris, and when people here don’t care for VS&P (everyone here is opinionated, which is great), they say it’s because it’s warmed-over Bartís.  
In the meantime, if Bartís pioneered theatre like VS&P and Sudor, he’s moved on somewhat.  This piece shared a certain rawness and loose structure with the above plays, but rather than being verité, it was dreamlike.  Premise: The main cemetary here has a special section for Argentina’s most celebrated performers— and surrounding that section, an unofficial section for its hard-toiling unfamous performers: vaudevillians, magicians, B-List actors, what have you.  The play is set among these secondary ghosts, as for some reason they try to figure out how to rehearse Hamlet, but they don’t have a script.  It’s a neat concept, and was a beautiful show to look at.  But I can’t tell you in any detail what happened in it, because besides being famous and an icon and all that, Bartís is also famously a dickhead irascible, and is literally the only person in Buenos Aires who when I emailed and asked if I might read his script before seeing his show, politely replied, through an assistant, that I might fuck off.

The Neighborhood Environmental Dance-Theatre post:

Generic San Telmo (to protect the innocent)
Strange that there were enough of these to make a post, right?  We were living in San Telmo, the oldest and most decrepid-glamour neighborhood in a decrepid-glamour city.  In one two-week period we saw two different pieces in decrepitly glamourous buildings of the hood, both of which were composed of elements of dance, elements of promenade-installation, and and broad swaths of hooey.  So, you know, I won’t name any of the players in these, and the nice thing was that it felt like I imagine Soho must have felt in the 80’s.  Lots of “atmosphere,” space was cheap, inspiration was everywhere, and god knows you were going to see a lot of nutjobs before you discovered the next Grace Jones.  
In fact I can add a third play to this list, if the post is simply to become “bad theatre.”  It wasn’t in our neighborhood, and it was a normal sort of play, if by a normal play you mean one inspired by the writer’s work as a Tarot card reader, a very serious melodrama about a family of psychics, wearing unironic sparkly cloaks.  But again, it was nice to see space available to young people trying stuff out.  No room for that in post-Bloomberg NYC!  Off to Detroit with you all!

The Spregelburd post:

This is the most ridiculous one to have not written at the time, because alongside Loza (and maybe a couple others) Rafael Spregelburd is one of the writerly voices I enjoyed the very most here.  I saw his shows SPAM and Apátrida, and read a number more.  His writing is a bit atypical for Argy plays, which tend to be short— he writes big sprawling pieces, very funny and full of intellectual curiosity.  Very heady playwright, which puts him right up my alley.  Don’t take my word for the quality, though: he’s by far the most internationally-produced Argentine playwright.  But of course that only means Europe and the rest of South and Central America know him, not the US, because you know, U! S! A! U! S! A!  Why would we care about plays not written in English?  We’ll see what we can do about that.  Stay tuned!  

And stay tuned, too, for one more meta-post before I wrap this project up…

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Deco 2: cool fonts on buildings (1920's-40's)

 That's self-explanatory, right?

Or maybe that one is just Gill Sans.

A few from mausoleums in Chacarita (I could have taken a hundred of these):

And one vertical for good measure:

Stylish!  (Of course, the sign doesn't work if you're approaching from the other side.  But better to be VERY cool to 50% of your audience than boring to everybody, right?)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Teatro 17-18: A thing I've learned, or Loza into Paula via Drut

OK!  As mentioned, my fourth Santiago Loza play was “Mal de montaña” and I saved it for a new post because it’s a good lead-in to a larger artistic phenomenon I’ve been noticing here.  M de M is directed by Cristian Drut, a well-regarded youngish BsAs director.  Kind of a North-America-process director in the way Loza is that kind of playwright: rather than developing things from scratch on an ensemble, Drut starts with an existing script and then casts and directs it.  (Often foreign plays in translation.)

The first thing one notes about the Mal de Montaña production is that it is SUPER chic.  Very disciplined and gorgeous in an extremely low-buck minimal way— a real example of how much you can do with very little, especially in terms of set and lighting.  (Mujer Puerca was another good example of this.)  Every moment of the play looked the cover of an album.  In fact this is the only production photo you’ll see on this blog for which I did the terrible thing of sneaking the iPhone out of my lap and taking a picture during the show.  The publicity stills are fine, but I just needed you to see.

But there's a more interesting thing about Drut’s approach here.  Mal de M, unlike Loza’s three other plays, isn’t a solo but a four hander.  Still very Loza though: most of the “scenes” are really monologues (tp which someone else occasionally adds “Wow” or “Really?”)  They’re all 20sth 30sth urban anomie young people and the stories have this nice combination of being very funny (as usual) in the beat-to-beat, which only partly obscures the stories’ overall dark-dark-darkness.  It doesn’t add up to a single narrative, which is fine, and for that matter I have to admit I’m not even sure how differentiated the characters are.  But anyway.  What Drut does is to run the sequence of scenes one into the next without pausing, and with nobody leaving the stage at any time.  So that even more interestingly, the people as they stay onstage can become different people— for example, the one woman in the cast kind of winds up “playing” all the different women referred to in the others’ stories.  And yes, I said “referred to”, because the actors often inhabit the scenes not as a participant of the scene but as a kind of manifestation of a person who is being spoken about.  And these roles don’t stay static in this staging— Drut sometimes swaps lines, so that the person who is “really” there—who is being spoken to (instead of spoken of)—can change during the course of the scene.  I thought this was a smart way to respond to what could be criticized as the maybe generic feeling of the characters— if the monologues feel a bit like cries from a whole kind of person, or even a whole generation, then why not have the production literalize that feeling?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Teatro 13-16: Loza

OK, I’ve been waiting a long time to write this one. Santiago Loza is one of the more exciting writer voices I've come across here. He's very popular here-- popular like, I delayed writing this because I'd seen three of his plays but there was a fourth up that I wanted to see before writing.  I’d missed a fifth that closed befre I could see it, and I just noticed a sixth has opened.  Which will not be reflected in this post. There is a limit after all.
Nada del amor me produce envidia: the revival

I may have made this side note already, but I may as well make it again: this multi-play thing isn’t quite as weird as it seems because 1) Plays on the “off” circuit can run a long time, like years, because they usually go one night a week.  The upside of this system is clear, the downside is that set and lights are forced to be simple (or maybe that’s another upside because the focus goes back to, ahem, the writing and acting?)  2)  In the “off” world at least, plays here are verrry short, so, you know, you can write more of them.  (There is one delightfully logarrheic playwright-exception to this rule, I’ll get to him in a later post.)  Under an hour is not uncommon, without there being any feeling that the play is a “one act” that needs to be paired with something else.  In some ways I like this— theatre is easy to go to here, a quick fun thing to do with some friends after cocktails and before dinner.  Occasionally, though, I do feel like there’s more play to be written on a given premise or character/s than we’ve been given, and I want the playwright to have not just stopped before the structure became too troublesome.  And I have wondered, if one were to try to import one or more Argy plays to the US, how much of a deal-breaker the shortness would be.

Nada del amor... the original.  Didn't see it.
Looks a little cheesy, right?
OK back to Loza.  It’s not that his plays are innovative in form or anything.  From what I’ve seen he’s at his most comfortable writing monologues, and the first three plays I saw (in order: Nada del amor me produce envidia, Todo verde, and La mujer puerca) were in some ways so similar as to be predictable: a 50-minute monologue spoken by a woman to whom life has been somehow unfriendly.  But also happily predictable was the way in which these characters' different voices were unusual, strange and beautiful and very very funny in the moment-to-moment writing, the pleasure of constant small surprises in the ways they think and process their odd experience of the world.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Brutal Deco

OK, so I've posted two items on the brutalist architecture that's such a feature of this city.  That's not the only architectural brutalism going on though.  Buenos Aires is famous for its Art Deco, and it's been interesting to notice how brutal it is as well.

I feel like the Deco style is often thought of as residing to a great extent in the ornamentation, but in my mind it's also about massing, and BA is full of these extremely austere, unornamented, but extremely deco shapes.
The most famous iteration of this is the Kavanaugh building, apparently one of the earliest skyscrapers.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Teatro 10-12: dancetheatre

OK, I’ve easily seen enough here to start doing this thematically.  So “dance theatre” (or, ok, “theatre”, as its practitioners prefer to call it) doesn’t have a really big purchase in NYC (does it?  If it does I don’t know about it.)  But there’s a certain amount of it here, in fact one very cool “teatro off” in Abasto (El Portón de Sánchez) provides a specific home for same.  We’ve been drawn to it partly because Nick can go without either our finding or me working up an english text.  So!  Three pieces:

La Idea Fija
The biggie of the genre down here: “La idea fija” (“Idée fixe” or maybe “the obsession”).  Been running for like 5 years, something of a sucés de scandale.  A dark and dramatic and occasionally funny meditation (in my reading of it) on club hookup casual sex, or maybe sex writ large.  Among other things this show demonstrates that it’s as true in Buenos Aires as anywhere else that if you make— and advertise — something dirtysexy enough, lots of people will buy tickets.  Which is really an overly cynical response to a piece that we did enjoy. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Teatro 9: Nasty!

OK "Viejo, sólo y puto" was fascinating. I'm loathe to translate the title because it sounds jaunty in Spanish but kind of nasty and self-pitying in English (Old Lonely Faggot maybe? Terrible.)  This is something the Argentines do really well. It reminded me more of Tolcachir than anything else I've seen here, though of course this is a different writerly voice (it belongs to Sergio Boris). It's a super rough dark comedy set in the back room of a run-down pharmacy in a seedy suburb, where our sadsack young pharmacist comes back late at night to find his older brother, the brother's friend (a guy in the "pharmaceutical industry," wink wink), and a coupla tranny hookers holding court.

A little bit seventies, right?  In a totally good way.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Flowery language

Sometimes I get into enough of a spanish headzone that for example I pass a street sign that says "Calle Florida" and instead of reading "Florida Street" (like the street of the state) I read "street covered in flowers," which is much nicer.  It also makes one think of the state in a new and lovelier light.  Nice, right?

Also, speaking of linguistic revelations re: the Sunshine State, will someone please make a web series about the seedy underbelly of Boca Raton and call it Ratmouth?  Thank you in advance.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

City of the dead

So, a german girl in my Spanish conversation group lives in Chacaritas, a not-too far out neighborhood notable for its very big cemetery. She said the place was worth a visit, she didn't say why, but one Sunday we went and it was one of the trippiest things we've seen.

How can I explain this?  OK, imagine a standard North American cemetery.  If all those people were alive, what kind if neighborhood would it be like?  I think of like darling suburbia, with trees and lawns.  And lots of the Chacaritas cemetery was like that, but a whole other part was like a high-density glamorous huge high-rise seventies starchitecture apartment complex of the dead.  
But as befits the dead, instead of going up, this multi-story complex goes down.

There are dozens of "bays" like this, into which you descend via one of many numbered (here's that word again) brutalist entry pavilions.

More cool pictures after the jump.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

teatro 8 (these are starting to be out of order)

OK I need to keep bangin' out these theatre posts or I'm sunk.  A stage version of Bergman's Autumn Sonata. Directed/adapted by Daniel Veronese, the same ex-avant-garde playwright who made a sex farce out of Teresa Rebeck. As always in BsAs, it was super well-acted. The Liv Ullmann role was played by the actress who starred in this amazing film which you should see. The experience was interesting in a multi-text way: we'd watched the original film in preparation (Swedish w/English subtitles) and my invaluable Spanish tutor had loaned me his copy of the published screenplay translated into Spanish. Bergman's screenplay as it appears in print contains a lot of material that didn't make it into the movie, so it was interesting to see what stuff Veronese cut from the movie and pulled from the published screenplay to cobble together a sort of 90-min new Ibsen play.  Smartly done, if that's your thang.  Some OK directorial ideas.  

It was in the same theatre where I saw Betrayal, and now I can tell you what you really need to know about the theatre Picadero: it has an EXCELLENT restaurant/café in its lobby. 

I mean, exemplary.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

First letters

There's a thing where you know you really speak a language fluently when you're no longer translating in your head as you go.  Today I found out I'm not there yet.  I was talking on the phone with a potential housekeeper (I know, right?)  I told her that our apartment was on Defensa Street.  And she said, Defensa with a "D" as in "finger"?  And my head briefly spun, and then I said, Oh of course yes, D as in finger.  

But aside from that part the whole exchange was pretty comfortable on my end.  Progress!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

teatro 7

The photo makes this look better— or at least more interesting— than we found it to be. A Spanish company called La Zaranda, they do a super old-school '70's Agosto Boal/Tadeusz Kantor poor-theatre Marxist political critique thing.  And nothing wrong with that, but a) while this sort of show is designed to be seen in a raw warehouse space right in front of you, it toured here to the enormous and slightly ridiculous national Teatro Cervantes, so we saw it from about a mile away; and b) I couldn't secure the texto in advance, so I understood about half of the talking and Nick about none.  So chalk it up to experience.

The Cervantes was a fascinating trip in its own right.  Built in the 1920's but to look like serious Don Quijote level colonial Spain.  (Gift of the Spaniards, naturalmente.)  It's an old-school opera house, pretty much exactly the way they were laid out in Louis XIV's time, and though we had pretty good seats as mentioned we were a mile away from the stage.  The cool thing was that the view from our seats illustrated the following principle more clearly than I've ever experienced: when these theatres were first designed, it was literally as important to see the other audience members as it was to see the stage.  See photo.  (Which leads to the question, when will we finally stop building these theatres?  I'm looking at you, Schwartz Center.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

brutal 2

More brutalist BsAs
(beaux-arts and deco updates coming, promise!)

[I totally forget where this is sorry]

Brazilian Embassy

Banco Hipotecario

Canal Siete (National Public TV)


SO here is the way we're learning to buy meat.  You go to the butcher (a real butcher, in a market.)  You have learned the name of the cut you want (because you are awesome) and you ask for that cut.  He says "how big?" and you are learning to answer that question too.  And then he takes a big CHUNK OF A COW off the wall and cuts your piece off of it WITH A BAND SAW.  And wraps it in paper and ties it in string.  And that is how we do it.

This place may kill us.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Teatro 5+6

Unh, bad bloguiste.  Mainly I've fallen behind on teatro, which is a good thing when you think about it.  So here's a two in one.  A couple weeks ago, on a consecutive Friday and Saturday Nick and I went to Timbre 4 (Buzzer 4, it took me a long time to figure that out.)  This is one of the very prominent theatres of the "off" circuit here.  

The Timbre 4 shows were great for Nick and I to see because they've been published in Spanish for me, and translated and published in English (by the awesome Jean Graham-Jones) for Nick.  (Again we found that Nick is perfectly able to watch a play in Spanish if he's read it in translation.)

The joint (it's a real little complex, two theatres, offices, rehearsal room and a café) was founded by a sort of wunderkind named Claudio Tolcachir.  He was a successful young actor (he looks to be very conventionally good looking) but instead of going into telenovelas or something, he started an acting studio in his apartment (hence buzzer 4) and— this is the way things are often done— eventually wrote/developed a play on an ensemble of his actors.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Social graces

By the way, people from Bueños Aires are called "porteños" (like, people from the port).  And there is little a porteño likes more than a firm "no."  This is often delivered with a slightly pursed lip and briskly wagged finger.  For example, you go into a store and ask if they sell a certain thing: "NO."

I actually find this helpful, since the alternative is often a burst of rapid-fire information most of which I don't catch.  But I think the best example of the porteño "no" is in the local "you're welcome."  You occasionally hear "de nada" when you say "gracias" here, but it's much more likely that you'll hear "No, por favor" ("no, please.")  And not inflected like "Oh gosh, I was delighted to do it!"  Inflected a bit like "Oh for heaven's sake don't be a ninny."  So you think you really made a mistake in saying "gracias" in that situation, until you figure out that's the way this exchange is supposed to happen.  This is not a city of cuddly interactions.  I love it.

A second social thing it was good to figure out: the basic jocular greeting from a taxi driver or empanada guy is "¿Qué tal?"  Which even though it means (I think) "What's goin' on?" you are allowed to respond with a generic "Fine, and you?"  Big relief.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Teatro 4

This was a great one.  (Almost two weeks ago, sorry.)  I found the ideal way to do it: first read the play in English, then in Spanish side-by-side, then in Spanish on its own.  Then watch.  This is obviously very time-consuming and won't always be possible, but my comprehension (not surprisingly) goes way up.

It was Final de Partida de Samuel Beckett (Endgame).  Weirdly I had never gotten to know the play til then.  A great production at the Teatro San Martín, like the Lincoln Center of BA.  Directed by Alfredo Alcón, the guy who played Hamm (the old one in the chair).  He's apparently an icon of BsAs theatre, and it showed.  The long rehearsal process showed too: an amazing level of detail and humanity in a play that I imagine could come off as pretty chilly and abstract.  I just googled him, holy crap, he's 83.  That's insane.  You had to see his level of energy (even in a chair.)  I liked his direction as well as his performance: played up the kind of vaudeville-clowniness of the Clov/Hamm pair, an element that hadn't leapt off the page when I read it.  They really seemed like cousins to Didi and Gogo.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

my lap

The techniques of selling things on the subway are many and ever expanding.  Here's a new one on me that's quite common here: as you ride, reading the paper or whatever, people put things in your lap.  Yes, it's weird.  I can't say I didn't jump the first time.  You aren't meant to do anything with the things, just let them sit there while the salesperson goes around the while car depositing items in laps.  (It's possible to hold up your hand and decline the lap-gift, bit few people do.)  Then the depositor/salesperson goes back around the car, picking the items back up.  Occasionally someone likes the item and a sale is made.  Interesting.  I've come to kind of appreciate the ritual. It's like being given an opportunity to test drive the item. "Look how that little sewing kit looks on my lap. Niice. If it owned that sewing kit, I could take it out and put it on my lap just like that whenever I wanted. Oh yeah. Gotta have it." 

And a sale is made.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Teatro 3a

Not really theatre, but performance, so what the hey.  Went to the grand Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires' version of the Paris Opéra Garnier, and not too far off, either) on the theory that whatever was happening there would be glamorous.  And it was, in a kind of astringent intellectual way.  It was a piano recital, not in the grand theatre but in the austere grey brick centro de experimentación in the basement.  One of two evenings devoted to the complete works for solo piano of the American composer Elliott Carter. I thought I kind of knew what Carter's music was like, kind of like Philip Glass, right?  WRONG. His stuff is completely atonal, arrhythmic, exactly the completely random-sounding stuff about which people say, my two-year-old could make more musical sounds than that.

But I was there, and I have to say it wasn't half bad. I admit that 90 min was about 30 more than I really had in me to focus on.  It did take a lot of focus.  But in fact there was lots of fascinating stuff to listen to, when you let go of the idea that any of it was really going to sound like "music."

In fact at a certain point, listening to that atonal work made me think of the way I see, for example, a TV show here-- like, OK-- now we're in a sweet sensitive part.. now we're doing an intense angry thing... now we're being fast and intellectual... not quite sure what we're up to now... annnnd big finish!  I could get the shapes; only the specifics were alien to me.

The final thing to know about Elliott Carter is that he just died at the age of 104. His most prolific years were after his 90th birthday. So that's something to think about.