Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Wild" Adventures

Scene: My local Indian-food joint, 9:30 PM on a Saturday night. I have a habit of going there for a late supper and feeling like the modern-day equivalent of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks." I am eating Mutter Paneer and reading Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild, thoughtfully sent to me by my mother last week.

SERVER: You know he dies in the end, right?

ME: (assuming this is the standard joke my server makes whenever he sees someone reading a book in the restaurant) Ha ha...

(Then it occurs to me that my server might actually be a literature-lover who has fallen prey to the dread Title Confusion.)

ME: You know, this isn't actually the book where he dies in the end.


ME: That one is Into the Wild -- about the kid who goes to the Alaskan wilderness and dies there. This one is just Wild. It's a memoir, by a woman, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail -- so you see she couldn't die in the end, or there wouldn't be any book!

SERVER: Oh gosh! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean -- I wasn't even thinking about that other book--

ME: It's OK... I thought it was funny, how their titles are similar.

SERVER: It's just something I always say when I see people reading.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Taking Characters from Greek Mythology

"How can you copyright an enterprise, a profession? I must be free to film a story of a newspaper publisher. If I am restrained, it will force us all to go back and take our characters, say, from Greek mythology. And even then I suppose somebody would contend he was Zeus."
--Orson Welles, quoted in Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu by Simon Callow
 Working hard on my 1940s play that depicts Zeus as a movie-studio boss (ooh, how meta!).

See also the New York Times' recent review of a film book, Gods Like Us, about movie stardom, abounding with Greek-mythology references.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We & Orson Welles (Theater Pub column)

I'm finally managing to read Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu, one of the books I meant to read this summer, and I'm finding it totally engrossing. Going into it, I had the question, "How did Welles become so accomplished at such a young age?" and it turns out that, in large part, the answer to that is "because he was a self-promoting, workaholic, egotistical jerk." So, fortunately, rather than filling me with envy and resentment of Welles' success, this book is making me feel better about the choices I have made and am continuing to make.

More of my thoughts about this book and about the young Welles are in my latest column over at SF Theater Pub.

See also: my review of Me and Orson Welles, the 2009 film about Welles' 1937 Julius Caesar production with the Mercury Theatre.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

J'adore the Flore (Theater Pub column)

If you want to see me pay tribute to the Cafe Flore, admit to my latest beverage addiction, and make grandiose comparisons between my writing habits and those of Tony Kushner and Stephin Merritt, check out "J'adore the Flore," my latest column at the SF Theater Pub blog.

(One must also note that I named my column after a Stephen Sondheim song and I watched a Judy Garland documentary on TV tonight. I swear, my soul is that of a middle-aged gay man.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Books I Meant to Read This Summer

Labor Day always holds a kind of melancholy for me -- growing up, it was the night before the school started, and the crickets would chirp as I lit a sparkler saved from the Fourth of July and said goodbye to summer -- so tonight I find myself thinking of what I never got around to doing this summer. Like uploading my photos from my Europe trip, or writing that blog post going into my Pint-Sized show in more detail. And for some reason, I feel compelled to compile a list of all the books I meant to read this summer and never did.
  • Something by Charles Dickens: I was going to read a Dickens novel (maybe Bleak House?) when I was in London, as it is the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth and the place where I stayed was around the corner from the Dickens museum. As it was, I packed Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus instead, barely got through a few chapters (when I'm traveling, I always think I'm going to read more than I actually do) and haven't touched a Dickens novel in years.
  • Other People We Married, by Emma Straub: Straub's debut novel, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, is coming out tomorrow, and as you may recall I'm super excited to read it. But I wanted to read her first book, a short story collection, beforehand.
  • Wallflower at the Orgy and Crazy Salad, by Nora Ephron: Last summer, when I was writing Pleiades and seeking resources about the early '70s, the fabulous Megan Cohen told me to read  Ephron's first two collections of essays. I never got around to it, but when Ephron passed away in June, and several tributes mentioned just how terrific her journalism was, I publicly pledged (on Twitter) that I would read these essay collections this summer. Especially because I would also be revising Pleiades. But I couldn't find these books in any bookstore, and now I'm about to give the revised version of Pleiades to my publisher, and am irrationally freaking out like, "If only I'd read Ephron, my play would be better!"
  • Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu and Orson Welles: Hello Americans, by Simon Callow: These biographies have gotten terrific reviews; Welles is a fascinating figure for anyone who cares about theater and cinema; and I'm writing a play about a 1940s Hollywood starlet and, lest we forget, Welles married Rita Hayworth. Plus, I turned 25 this summer, Orson Welles was 25 when he made Citizen Kane, and I want to figure out how the hell he did it. All compelling reasons to read these books... but it hasn't happened yet.
  • Cultural Amnesia, by Clive James: I've had this erudite tome of essays on my bedside table for over a year now and keep telling myself that I will read one essay per night before bed. Then, when I was in London, the story broke that Mr. James has leukemia and does not expect that he can fight it much longer. As it is always nicer to read and appreciate someone's work while he is still alive (instead of saying, as I did with Ephron, "Oh, I always meant to read her book, and now she's dead!"), I recommitted myself to reading this. But it's a rare night when I actually do read one of these essays before bed.
My parents would probably tell me to focus on what I accomplished this summer and stop beating up on myself, but Labor Day is a time for melancholy, and I have no sparklers or crickets at my disposal, so let me think, with a sigh, of these unread books.