WBEZ | Philip Glass http://www.wbez.org/tags/philip-glass Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Queering Poe: Chicago Opera Theatre goes full-on gay in 'Usher' http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/queering-poe-chicago-opera-theatre-goes-full-gay-usher-105770 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/USHER.jpg" title="(Chicago Opera Theatre)" /></div><p>Same-sex makeout sessions. Punks with mohawks. Guitars. Nazi references. These are not phrases one generally associates with a night at the opera, but the Chicago Opera Theatre all but flew over the cuckoo&rsquo;s nest with their staging of Philip Glass&rsquo; <em>The Fall of the House of Usher</em>. With Edgar Allan Poe and Glass, one expects a prerequisite amount of strangeness, as Glass&rsquo; minimalist loopiness and Poe&rsquo;s wall-to-wall macabre stylings are brands in themselves. However, director Ken Cazan&#39;s production is effusively bonkers in the best possible way. General director Andreas Mitisek kicked off the evening with a fictitious letter directed from the deceased Poe to the audience. Sounding a bit like Christoph Waltz, the Austrian-born Mitisek told us of Poe&rsquo;s journeys in Hell, while also reminding the audience to donate. We were clearly in for a weird night.</p><p>As Chicago Opera Theatre&rsquo;s newest director, Mitisek has promised that, under his tenure, the company&rsquo;s vision will be bold and boundary-pushing. Although it&rsquo;s far from Glass&rsquo; finest work, <em>The Fall of the House of Usher</em> is a perfect thesis statement for Mitisek: a production that unleashes all the ghosts and the insinuations buried within Poe&rsquo;s texts and brings them to light. Like a heart beating in the floor boards, Poe deals with our hidden ghosts, the terrors we think we can keep to ourselves. And Alan Muraoaka&rsquo;s sets give them nowhere to hide. The sparse set design and ghoulish lighting accentuate the actors&rsquo; shadows, ones that consume the backdrop. Although Poe&rsquo;s story refuses Roderick or William&rsquo;s motivations clear, Cazan and Mitisek give their demons life.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/HarrisTheatre.jpg" style="float: right;" title="(HarrisTheatreChicago.org)" />A major hook of the production was the Chicago Opera Theatre&rsquo;s queering of Poe, as their interpretation literalizes the psychosexual subtext in the Usher melodramas. Whereas Poe hinted at themes of doomed, unspeakable love, the COT goes full-on gay&mdash;with the aforementioned soft-core scene, multiple massage interludes and an extended three-way incest fantasy straight out of David Lynch. If Mitisek wants to prove he&rsquo;s unafraid to take chances, this is the way to do it, as the predominantly heterosexual audience was squirmy throughout. I noticed a lot of coughing, throat clearing and butt shifting in the seats around me. Clearly they didn&rsquo;t get the memo. They came for <em>Einstein on the Beach </em>and Cazan gave them <em>Poeback Mountain</em>. The whole thing is impressively ballsy.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">As Poe&rsquo;s story ends in (19th century spoiler alert!) Roderick&rsquo;s eventual death, the gaying of the joint could have felt like a cheap way to capitalize themes of LGBT suicide. However, adding social relevance to the play brings an unexpected emotional center to Poe. We share William&rsquo;s sense of doom not just about the Usher house&rsquo;s legacy but the loss of his beloved, who descends into an increasingly over-the-top madness. Ryan MacPherson does an outstanding job of highlighting Roderick&rsquo;s gothic eccentricity without descending into too far into camp, and MacPherson makes for a fitting juxtaposition to Lee Gregory&rsquo;s baritone innocence. They transform Roderick and William into natural stage partners and make their tragedy touchingly human.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">However, the opera&rsquo;s camp element is left to Suzan Hanson as Madeleine, and Hanson nails it. Instead of a corpse hidden away, Glass and Cazan imagine Roderick&rsquo;s sister as an omnipresent apparition provoking the characters&rsquo; split psyches. Hanson&rsquo;s Madeleine is present for what <em>feels</em> like every second of the play, wailing the libretto and stealing the scene without disrupting it. In a memorable sequence, she crawls between Roderick and William as they attempt to eat dinner, writhing on the glass table and doing her best Helena Bonham Carter impression. After her death is revealed, they will then dine on her remains&mdash;in a sly nod to Alfred Hitchcock&rsquo;s <em>Rope</em>. For those who dismiss the opera as boring, <em>The Fall of the House of Usher </em>proves to be anything but. In its 80 minutes of unbroken descent into Hell, it&rsquo;s tense, gripping and more fun than a tragedy has any right to be.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ChicagoOperaTheatre.jpg" style="width: 320px; height: 220px;" title="(ChicagoOperaTheatre.org) Harris, left, Macpherson, right" /></div><p>If the queer interpretation goes over like gangbusters, I was less a fan of the show&#39;s punk aesthetic, which felt too on the nose. Rather than reifying Poe&rsquo;s dragons, costume designer Jacqueline Saint Anne transforms the house&rsquo;s spirits into eight mohawked rebels, who are charged with moving around set pieces. Although making the spirits into physical bodies is a creative way of bringing the house to life, the goth costuming is irritatingly obvious. I don&rsquo;t want to have what Andrew Lloyd Webber is having. If Cazan wants to instill a sense of dread in his rock opera, the Riefenstahl-esque columns of the House of Usher achieve what his goths cannot. They draw us into the House, as its walls slowly imprison Roderick within it. With Glass&rsquo; chilling score behind it, we can&rsquo;t help but get pulled in with him.</p><p>Glass&rsquo; chamber opera will be playing through March 1 at the Harris Theatre on 205 E. Randolph Drive, and tickets range from $35 to $120. You can purchase tickets at chicagooperatheatre.org or by phone at 312-704-8414. Don&rsquo;t miss your chance to see Poe as you&rsquo;ve never seen him before&mdash;or are likely to ever again. If he is in Hell right now, he&rsquo;s likely burning with a smile.</p><p><em>Nico Lang writes about LGBTQ life in Chicago. Follow Nico on Twitter @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/nico_lang">Nico_Lang</a> or on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/nicorlang">Facebook</a></em></p></p> Wed, 27 Feb 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/queering-poe-chicago-opera-theatre-goes-full-gay-usher-105770 Wish I was in Austin: Saturday @ SXSW Interactive http://www.wbez.org/blog/wish-i-was-austin-saturday-sxsw-interactive <p>Saturday started cold and overcast, the standard issue of tshirts or oxfords were hidden by coats and sport coats. We opened the day with Alex Hillman's core conversation "<a href="http://sxsw.com/interactive/talks/core_conversations?action=show&amp;id=IAP0900509" target="_blank">Working Alone Sucks: Join the Coworking Revolution</a>." Finances seem to invade many of the conversations at SXSW this year; coworking related questions were how to get a coworking space started. Several financial models were discussed, using the community to fund, providing a cash infusion from your own pocket, and then there's the "Sugar Daddy" model that <a href="http://gangplankhq.com/" target="_blank">Gangplank</a> in Phoenix uses. Someone called the room a bunch of "communists" for working so hard towards collective success and someone else posited the reason that coworking spaces have become so popular lately is that "we want to effect change as fast as possible, we have‚  a timeline for this..." Next we headed over to <a href="http://barcamp.org/BarCampAustin4" target="_blank">BarcampAustin4</a>, the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference" target="_blank">unconference</a> that runs parallel to SXSW every year. Barcamp is a playground for geeks and is as much about sharing information as it is about drooling over all the coolest tools, tips and tricks. This year, <a href="http://twitter.com/giovanni" target="_blank">Giovanni Galucci</a> and <a href="http://twitter.com/whurley" target="_blank">William "Whurley" Hurley</a> put it together in less than a week but you couldn't tell (although‚ Giovanni mentioned that when they got into the vacant club to clean it one week before it "...smelled like dead people"). The space itself was a humongous and recently vacant club with bright spot lights spaced around the location providing just enough light to see your computer screen and shadows of your neighbor, giving the club a feel like an unearthed tomb that is still being excavated. Judging from the amount information being discovered and discussed, this wasn't far from the truth. <img class="alignleft" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 7px; float: left;" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs/2009/03/barcampaustin4badge.jpg" alt="barcampaustin4badge" width="180" height="240" />Geeks were greeted at the entrance with free badges showcasing the common armadillo theme and a place to put your twitter and information. Fake plastic grills and cheap silver bling was handed out for mouths, fingers and necks, matching this year's‚  "gangsta" theme. Graffiti writers came in early to paint a backdrop for people's photos. Bins of Red Bull and Sweet Leaf Tea were spaced out in cubby holes and all around the space. In one corner, all you can eat burritos and vodka, in another, airbrush tattoos and free tshirts, in another a custom airbrusher was painting shoes for interested shoe festishists. The center of the room was a pit of sorts with a presentation screen and two cages that should have been filled with writhing dancers. Instead, a geek with a microphone called out for colors and adjectives for Startup Company Improv where a crowd of people make up names and a backstory for an imaginary Web 2.0 company. A board on one wall listed times and all the scheduled presentations and conversations for the day. People were armed with all manners or gadgets, cameras, gear, and smiles. At 6PM a fake gang fight was staged with freestyle rappers and a nerdcore rapper. All manner of geeks were milling around including Josh Holmes of Microsoft who was almost attacked by a wayward robot at last year's Barcamp (<a href="http://talk.bmc.com/blogs/blog-whurley/whurley/340lbs-open-source-battlebot-malfunctions-nearly-maiming-microsoft-employees-in-random-attack-at-barcampaustin3-during-sxsw" target="_blank">video</a>). Read on for details on the Razorfish party and Chicago's karaoke representation from David Armano and Stacy Jill... <!--break--> Back at the convention center we saw <a href="http://lessig.org/" target="_blank">Lawrence Lessig</a> get called the L-dog just before he said "Voters are looking for authenticity over perfection or the perception of perfection." The TechSet Blogger lounge was full of Twitterati like <a href="http://twitter.com/stephagresta" target="_blank">Steph Agresta</a>, <a href="http://twitter.com/ericaogrady" target="_blank">Erica O'Grady</a>, <a href="http://twitter.com/chrisbrogan" target="_blank">Chris Brogan</a>, <a href="http://twitter.com/briansolis" target="_blank">Brian Solis</a>, <a href="http://twitter.com/jeffpulver" target="_blank">Jeff Pulver</a> and <a href="http://twitter.com/missrogue" target="_blank">Tara Hunt</a>. Near happy hour we bounced to the <a href="http://www.governor.state.tx.us/film/" target="_blank">Texas Film Commission</a> party and Chicago's own <a href="http://www.razorfish.com/" target="_blank">Razorfish</a> party at The Madison. Razorfish was packed and featured a Microsoft Surface demo with geeks crowded around the unholy glow of the "<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZrr7AZ9nCY" target="_blank">big ass table</a>." We then raced to the <a href="http://trimpin.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">Trimpin</a> premiere only to find that the film had already started but that we were just in time for the premiere party. The room was full of musical toys created by the oddball German composer <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimpin" target="_blank">Gerhard Trimpin</a>. The best was an Alexander Calder like mobile of clogs that played a rhythmic percussive piece when a quarter was inserted in a connected box. A coin operated phonograph "played" Philip Glass' 4:33 of silence when you put in another quarter. As the premiere party started, Trimpin himself set in motion a polyphonic piece on toy pianos, increasing in tempo until all the keys were seemingly hit at once. Morgan Spurlock was on hand for the party, apparently he's working on a documentary about The Simpsons. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stewtopia/"><img class="size-full wp-image-2101" title="Time of My Life" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs/2009/03/cogaoke1.jpg" alt="Time of My Life" width="500" height="333" /></a> We finished the night with <a href="http://www.cogaoke.com/" target="_blank">Cogaoke</a> at Red Scoot Inn, arguably ground central for the influx of East Side parties when years ago Giorgio Angelini demonstrated the fertility of Austin's East Side with his Eastside Scootenannys. The night started with a large man with interesting facial hair and red face paint and a guy who could have been Castro, 50 years ago with a red beard singing "Time of my Life." The contest included an American Idol like voting board and the top 20 contestants who made it through the online voting prelims. First up was someone doing a terrible rendition of Kanye's Stronger who possibly had never heard the song. The rest of the night demonstrated that, without naming any names, there are levels of underpreparedness and overpreparedness that can ruin your karaoke performance. Representing Chicago was <a href="http://twitter.com/armano" target="_blank">David Armano</a> of <a href="http://www.criticalmass.com/" target="_blank">Critical Mass</a> and later <a href="http://www.stacyjillontheweb.com/" target="_blank">Stacy Jill</a> doing the Time Warp Again. We also had Beastie Boys from Alex Hillman doing all three Brooklyn accents and a girl dressed like a cowboy singing about her friendly little cat. The grand prize, a lifetime of free hosting, was won by New Work City's <a href="http://twitter.com/tonybgoode" target="_blank">Tony Bacigalupo</a> whose rendition of 'Come Sail Away' with inflatable guitar had the audience screaming along. <div class="zemanta-pixie" style="margin-top: 10px; height: 15px;"><a class="zemanta-pixie-a" title="Zemified by Zemanta" href="http://reblog.zemanta.com/zemified/c5711ddd-29de-4bf4-b305-ccaec16613ac/"><img class="zemanta-pixie-img" style="border: medium none; float: right;" src="http://img.zemanta.com/reblog_e.png?x-id=c5711ddd-29de-4bf4-b305-ccaec16613ac" alt="Reblog this post [with Zemanta]" /></a><span class="zem-script more-related"><script src="http://static.zemanta.com/readside/loader.js" type="text/javascript"></script></span></div></p> Mon, 16 Mar 2009 16:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/wish-i-was-austin-saturday-sxsw-interactive