Sunday, November 8, 2009

Woolly Moves Audiences "Full Circle"

Woolly Mammoth, always avant of the unconventional, has once again created a tour-de-force theatrical experience. Full Circle, playing through November, pushes the envelope - or shall we say, the audience - in every direction possible, from lobby to rehearsal hall, from watching actors crosing a single wire "rope" bridge, to watching action from a descending catwalk in a reconfigured theater-in-the-round. As theater exercise, it is bracing; as art, it doesn't work.

How to "read" a play where Pamela Harriman and Warren Buffet meet in East Berlin at the start of the revolution (Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!) as Pamela is being left holding a baby until his mother returns, where socialite Harriman and billionaire Buffet then meet up again at wedding feast between a young woman, whom Pamela has hired as a young East German "revolutionary" as the baby's nanny, and both Pamela and the nanny are pursued for "kidnapping" former Prime Minister Erich Honecker's baby (Karl Marx Honecker is the result of a union between the aged P.M. and his young mistress Christa)? Where they escape the Stassi police with the help of the au pair pushing Pamela and baby in a grocery cart that passes for a truck with no transmission? Or where the play-within-a-play that starts the program is performed in ersatz Chinese and German, with subtitles, between a Chinese Communist Party apparatchik and an East German agricultural expert about selling sharing land for rice production? All this with occasional audience sing-alongs, karaoke style, to the Beatles' "All You Need is Love."

I frankly didn't get it.

According to program notes, playwright Charles Mee was inspired by The Chalk Circle, a Chinese "zaju" play by Li Qianfu, which in turn inspired The Chalk Circle by German poet Klabund, finally punching out in Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle.

The knowledge of the play's antique provenance left me wondering about the "chalk circle" proscribed on the remodeled Woolly stage, where Woolly's Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz portrayed his fictional East Germany counterpart as artistic director of the East Berlin theater, belaboring his alleged artistic "crimes" during a long second-act monologue before being appointed judge for the crime of kidnapping the Honecker baby. His State-prescribed duty was to determine whose baby Karl Marx Honecker actually was - the birth mother (the now-deceased Honecker's ex-mistress), Pamela Harriman (who invited the audience to join her and Warren for their coming nuptials in Biarritz) or the young woman who nurtured the baby throughout the the chase by Stassi officers as they ran from Berlin to Dresden.

Shalwitz, instead of being prosecuted for cooperating with Communist authorities to remove the "art" from his theater, is named judge to determine who should retain custody of baby Karl Marx. As if to underscore the allusion, the police note that the theatrical director's task as judge is of Solomonic proportion.

At one point, while we were gathered in the theater, I found myself sitting next to Bob Mondello, theater critic, taking notes on a manilla envelope. While it was too dark to see what he wrote, I did note that the critic cracked a smile once or twice (the show is nothing if not absurdist humor), but I also saw a wide and undisguised yawn. Once we moved out into the lobby for intermission, which turned out to be an arranged wedding for the young woman with her brother's moronic next door neighbor/auto mechanic who changed tires only, replete with dancing on the table and fortune cookies (!) for the audience, I lost track of Mondello, but did wonder about the accessibility of this play for the elderly, wheelchair bound or otherwise-impaired theater-goer who might want to puzzle out the possibilities of this play.

Though people speculated aloud whether this show was designed to point up how those experiencing the opening between East and West back in '89 could have viewed the replacement of one -ism -- Communism -- for another 'ism -- Capitalism, most people appeared to take away the fortune cookies.

All together now, "All you need is love. Da-dah-dah-da-dah."

I can't say how this was supposed to fit together. Only thing I can say for certain: this show was not about was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Or the trials of King Solomon. Or the wisdom of Woolly.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


New Miramax film based on Colette's novels, Chéri, and La Fin de Chéri. Is it still taboo for a romance between an older woman and a younger man in our society? This was la Belle Epoque in France, where a "lady of the evening" (Michelle Pfeiffer) found herself too old to court the haute societe of the day but takes on the 19-year old son of one of her erstwhile friends and former rivals (Kathy Bates) and they find themselves, mysteriously, falling in love. But by that time, it is too late. A beautiful cinematic achievement, with lovely performances and gorgeous costumes.

What do we do make of the romantic love of an older woman for a young man today? Is that a romantic notion, or as the young woman who Cheri finally weds observes, do we still think of such liaisons as "debauched?" Is it okay for celebrities but not the rest of us?

Would such a pairing today end up in tragedy? What do you think?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mortgage-Backed Suspense: Crisis Redux

Hubby and I wrote a novel in the '90s based on his work for the now-infamous Freddie Mac. We didn't know then that Freddie and its sister mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae would today be barely afloat under the weight of a nation of mortgage and derivative investment defaults and under U.S. government control. He was then working out their vast pool of defaulted multifamily loans, as opposed to today's multitudinous backlog of single family and subprime mortgages (what's old is new again). Most of his work took place in NYC, home of the neo-meltdown of 2008-09, among corrupt, greedy and unethical lenders and landlords in some of New York's seediest, pre-gentrified neighborhoods (remember, this was the last housing crisis - in the early 1990s).

The book is out now, the hardships experienced in the wake of this mortgage crisis eerily presaging today's economic melt down. The new suspense thriller is available on

Check out an excerpt from Satan's Mortgage ©2009 by Robin S. Payes and Richard I. Payes:
It was noon when Tommy, Louis Peller's driver, dropped him off at the corner. Louis told Tommy to meet him back at the same corner at 2:30, sharp. No dilly-dallying in this neighborhood, especially not after 3 p.m., when the hoodlums got out of school and the dope dealers and their couriers took up residence on every-other street corner.

Despite the squalor of the street, Louis was savoring the sunshine on this brilliant blue spring day. The sidewalks, for once, were deserted. This part of the Bronx was generally teeming with life whenever he came up here to check out a building, boiling over with tension. Louis liked to get in quick, and get out.

Suddenly, he heard an explosion, the shattering of glass and the crash of brick on concrete. It sounded like a bomb detonating in his path. As he looked up, he witnessed the top two floors of this six-story apartment house crumble right before his eyes. He watched, dumbfounded, to see the upper third of the mural fold in on itself, leaving only the names and the lower third of the cross to mark the memory of the young victims of poverty.

Peller immediately ran, thrusting himself to safety. He crouched behind a dumpster, the closest cover he could find. He smelled fire. The air was blistering. Through his nostrils, he breathed in acrid smoke. He could almost feel the air singe his eyebrows. Chunks of brick and mortar rained down around him. He crouched down still further, searching for somewhere safer to hide, some cover to protect his head.

He could hear people wailing, whimpering, weeping nearby.

Looking at the luminous sky now choking with flame, he had to shield his eyes against the debris. When he dropped his gaze he saw people crawling from the building on hands and knees like animals, choking in the smoke-filled air, screaming, as panic flowed into the street. Smoky silhouettes of mothers with babies clutched in their arms their cast shadows against the sidewalk partially obscured by billowing smoke and yellow flames that were breaking out in what remained of the top two floors.

Peller was frightened, trembling. He had to get away. He decided to make a mad dash, even though he was partially sheltered now from the fallout of the apartment building. It was difficult to breathe. He must make it out of there, quickly.

No. He felt guilty for his selfish impulse to flee when people's lives were at stake. Could he -- dare he run back to help?

"Quit wasting time, Peller," he lectured himself, angrily. "Do something. The right thing." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

He ran.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Maryland Lawyers for the Arts Copyright Workshop for Visual Artists April 4

Maryland Lawyers for the Arts ( is presenting a workshop for visual artists called "Protecting Your Work with Copyright" on from 2:00 to 4:00 pm on April 4 at Plaza Art, 1594B Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852 “Pictorial, graphic, or sculptural” works are protected by federal copyright law. But that protection isn’t unlimited. Find out where those sometimes shifting boundaries lie and what you need to do stay on the right side of them. Ober Kaler attorney and MLA board member Cynthia Sanders, an IP and entertainment law attorney (as well as a MICA-trained artist) will be speaking. There’ll be Q&A so it’s a great chance to talk to an attorney for less than $250 an hour! Contact to register. Tickets are $30.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Paris Gems: La Piece de Resistance IS the Louvre

Paris photographer Gadi shows the Louvre Museum as an artwork in its own right. Check out his work as Wee Planet on Flickr for a new view of the planet, Le Petit Prince. Antoine de St. Exupery's famous work about a little boy exploring an asteroid, with charming illustrations of himself standing at the pole of his tiny orb.

The photographers invitation opens to us, voyeurs, to see The City of Lights using his 360 degree vision. Can't wait to see Paris with new eyes this visit, although I certainly will not be able to capture anything like this perspective with my own photography.

Imagination opens the eyes to see what the world has to offer. As the Little Prince observes from his vantage point atop a tiny, lonely celestial body with only a rose to accompany him on his daily journey through life: "What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is only with the heart that one sees rightly."

Awesome creativity helps us see what is invisible to the eye.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Draw Out The Blue Line's Magic

The Blue Line is a DC phenom, four rockers who met out of college and took their passion for music out of the garage and into the nightlife in Adams Morgan and U Street combining musical talents, rocking out with their own tunes to a driving, insistent beat that is at once passionate and musically adroit. The sleek tones and satiny vocals of lead singer and rhythm guitar Ben Payes synchronize with lead guitarist Ross Jacobson's intensely saturated riffs sending out a strong emotional energy. Nick Scialli on bass and Dave Chaletzky's percussion demonstrate strong command of their respective instruments to stand out in harmonic and sometimes dissonant counterpoint to create the band's unique sound.

Aranoyas, Fantasy Girl and Underwater Dreams are first out of the box on the new CD. Hear 'em all at Blue Line Rock.

The band - sounding a high octane blend with mellow notes - creates a magical energy all its own.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dialogue in the Digital Age

"The act of theater is the act of communion between someone in a living space with other people in that space. What's important about theater is
actually its scarcity. As you enter the digital age and everything can be
digitized, a live event where someone is physically present cannot actually be
commodified" [i.e., bought and sold as a product].

"The core experience cannot be reproduced, and that's incredibly precious."

Mike Daisey, on state of American theater
Quoted in The Washington Post, January 2, 2009