Monday, March 31, 2014

"The Homo Poe Show" from Iron Crow Theatre

So, I FINALLY have a car again, and am having fun doing stuff I wasn't able to do before, like going to the library or grocery store on impulse. I'm looking forward to be able to visit parks and have adventures. And going to the theater!

I found out about this by chance when browsing the Baltimore Sun's gay news page, got a ticket online, and braved an unexpected slush storm to get there. And I'm glad I went.

Produced by Iron Crow Theatre, a Baltimore-based LGBT theater group, this puts an interesting gay twist on the works of Poe. Of course, some of Poe's work kind of lends itself to gay interpretation; I always wondered about C. Auguste Dupin. Seriously, this is a fun, provocative work.

Something interesting about it, besides being a series of vignettes doing a gay twist on Poe, is the amount of aerial choreogrpahy (from Mara Neimanis), with characters climbing on large rings, and at one point, an arrow, hanging from the ceiling. It gives a unique aspect to the staging, which also includes some dance as well.

It kicks off with "I Dreamed of Poe," in which Neimanis engages in some aerial work, including making a pendulum of herself. Then up is "Thomas," a sort of gay twist on "Eleonora" with aspects of "Annabel Lee." Then comes my favorite part of the show, "Timothy," which is more directly influence by "Annabel Lee" but also tackles a gay man's obsession with youth, always chasing young guys who represent his long-lost first love, and being mocked all the while by Time, swinging on a pendulum. Then up is "Super-Hot Raven," an amusing satire on super-politically-correct intellectualism, as a lesbian poet comes home to find a handywoman in a Ravens jersey fixing the radiator...and then they fall in love.

The second part is rather dance-oriented, kicking off with an aerial piece by Neimanis, "Points of Grief," and then a forceful dance/choreographed fight between two men, "Do You Mark Me Well?" The last piece, "Grieving and Sequins," hits on Poe's themes of loss of loved ones, and borrows a bit from "Masque of the Red Death," as a man who lost his lover to AIDS confronts the specter of his infection and how it keeps him from engaging with life.

There's good performances all round, and a very literate and intelligent script. The combination of traditional theater with dance and aerial choreography makes for a blast of a theatrical experience. There is some brief nudity, which I certainly enjoyed but it's worth mentioning for those with delicate sensibilities. But if you have delicate sensibilities, what the hell are you doing reading this blog?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I MARRIED A DEAD MAN by Cornell Woolrich

But wait, I hear you cry. That picture says "William Irish"! Well, yeah. That was a pseudonym used by prolific pulp author Cornell Woolrich; when it's reprinted today (which is rare, for some reason), it's credited to Woolrich. (That's an old cover above; the version I have is much less interesting artistically.)

It's the 1940s. (The book was published in 1948, and no other time is given.) Helen is eight months pregnant, unmarried, and has been cast aside by her paramour, who has simply sent her a train ticket back to her hometown of San Francisco, and a five-dollar bill. Depressed and miserable, with nothing to live for, she is temporarily cheered on the train trip by meeting young married couple Patrice and Hugh Hazzard, who are on their way to meet his parents. Patrice is pregnant as well, almost as far gone as Helen. And she learns that Hugh's family has never met Patrice, and doesn't even know what she looks like.

Naturally, it happens. Patrice and Helen are in the washroom together. Patrice complains of her loose wedding band, and asks Helen to hold it for her. Helen puts it on her finger to keep it safe....and the train is in a horrible accident.

Helen gives birth in the wreckage, passes out, and wakes up in the hospital...and discovers she's been mistaken for Patrice. The Hazzards are dead, and the REAL Patrice was mistaken for Helen. Her first instinct is to set the record straight...but nobody takes her seriously, then she finds out the Hazzards are incredibly wealthy, and thinks of how they would provide for her child much better than she ever could. So she goes along with it, slowly adjusting herself to her new lifestyle and happily caring for her child.

Until one day, an envelope arrives in the mail. Inside, the letter has a single sentence. "Who are you?"

Really, if you think I've given away a lot, I haven't. This is the basic setup, and what follows is a dark and twisted tale of secrets, lies, blackmail, and murder.

If this sounds like film noir, or Hitchcock, you wouldn't be far off the mark. Countless classic films have been made from Woolrich's works. Rear Window. Phantom Lady. The Bride Wore Black. The Leopard Man. Night Has a Thousand Eyes. The Window. Mississippi Mermaid. Original Sin. Many more. And this novel was filmed in 1950 as No Man of Her Own, with Barbara Stanwyck. It's said that more films noir were based on his work than any other crime writer, and it's fitting. His style is spare but cinematic, lending itself well to dramatic interpretation.

But land sakes, it's DARK. I'm not giving anything away when I say it ends on a dark and despairing note, as it begins with that and the story is told in flashback. This is that dark, cynical universe where the bad guys might get theirs but the good guys may get screwed over in the process. After reading this I need a nice cozy ghost story to brighten my mood. Supernatural terrors are one thing, but man's inhumanity to man, and the cruelties of fate, are something else, and much worse.

Woolrich can be hard to find; much of his work is out of print (estate issues, saith Wikipedia), but every now and then you can find something in your local friendly used-book emporium. Once I even found a hardcover collection, "The Best of William Irish", that had PHANTOM LADY, DEADLINE AT DAWN, and an assortment of stories, and no mention of the Woolrich name. But keep your eyes open, you might find something. And note the titles of the movies based on his work; even when diluted for the screen, they're an experience. (And boy, was The Bride Wore Black diluted, robbed of a brutal, ironic twist at the end...)

Monday, March 17, 2014

March's Night Out at the Movies!

It's a snowy St. Patrick's Day, and we're avoiding the chain restaurants and bars and instead going to our favorite restaurant and then to a movie!

Opening the evening is a hopeful tale of spring, 1912's "L'iris Fantastique."

Tonight, it's the weird Western "Hidden Valley," from 1932, which mixes murder mystery with elements of a Lost World romance.

And then it's down the street for a few drinks and conversation before going our separate ways...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Death on Milestone Buttress, by Glyn Carr

The thought of a mountain-climbing themed mystery has potential interest. I grew up in the hill country of western Maryland, and while we always called them "mountains" they were no real challenge to climbers. Let's be honest, they're hills. But I have some happy memories from my youth of clambering over rocks and pausing to look at views. So I'd thought I'd give this a try.

Shakespearean actor Abercrombie Lewker ("Filthy" to his friends...yes, Filthy Lewker, get the groaning overwith now...) has wrapped up a tour, and his wife is going to stay with a pregnant friend, so he decides to take off for a climbing vacation in Wales. On the way, he meets pretty Hilary Bourne, a novice climber who's seeking a break from her dreary job in the city. They're both staying at a guesthouse near Tryfan, a real mountain in what is now Snowdonia National Park. (The park was established in 1951, the same year this was published.) They share the guesthouse with an interesting family and their friends, and tension abounds. There's a glowering minister, his long-suffering wife, his repressed daughter, and some friends including a nuclear scientist and his assistants.

There's no end of interpersonal tensions and intrigue; Raymond, one of the assistants, has a roving eye and seems unpopular with the overall group. Finally, he takes Hilary on a climb, even though she'd much rather be with Michael, the other assistant. Raymond attempts to take liberties; she rebuffs his forcibly, including giving him a head butt, which I loved. But then he goes over a ridge, and she hears a yell....and when she climbs over, he's dead from an apparent fall.

But he was an experienced climber, and they're on Milestone Buttress, a part of the mountain that's easy to climb and mostly used by novices. It was drizzly that day, and some fog did come up; did he slip? Or was it...murder?

Well, of course it was. Hilary and Lewker team up to figure out who did it; she's horribly afraid Michael was responsible, and the others in the group are her friends and it pains her to think one of them may be a killer.

It's pretty entertaining, actually. Almost half the book is build-up to the murder, and you get a good idea of the tensions in the guesthouse group. And it's also a look back to attitudes of yesteryear, when membership in the British Communist Party was not all that unusual (the USSR was a threat, to be sure, but the British hadn't forgotten their alliance in defeating Hitler), and an unmarried girl losing her virginity was a catastrophe. This is also a sort of variation on the locked-room mystery, with the "locked room" being a remote physical location. Clues are fairly provided, and the mountain-climbing scenes are nicely done, as well as the overall descriptions of the mountains.

Glyn Carr was the pseudonym of author and mountaineer Showell Styles, who had already written three thrillers about Lewker in the 40s, under his own name. One supposes the earlier books were forgotten or he felt they weren't worth remembering, so he just recycled the character, with a few references to a Secret Service background, and proceeded on a new career for him as a mountaineering detective. There's 15 Carr/Lewker books in all, from 1951 to 1969

It's all good fun, and makes me want to breathe clean mountain air again. It's in print, from the good folks at Rue Morgue Press, so go check it out.

Tryfan, in all its glory. Looks like a challenge, doesn't it?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dust & Corruption Calendar for March 2014

Winter has been lingering like an unwanted guest. We just had a few inches of snow and a day of subfreezing temperatures in Baltimore. Hard to believe that in a few weeks the Cherry Blossom Festival is kicking off in DC. And I'm worried I'm getting a cold or sinus infection. Blech.

So here's some stuff to ride out the monotony until spring really arrives....

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

3/6 - Molotov Theatre Group presents "Normal", the true story of Peter Kurten, the Dusseldorf Ripper. Runs through 3/30, Thursdays through Sundays. 7:30 pm, DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St NW, Washington, DC. Tix $25.

3/7 - Tassels and Tulips! Hot Night Productions puts on an evening of burlesque and comedy, with Glam Gamz, Ruby Spruce, Hayley Jane, Cherie Nuit, and Miss Liberty Rose, hosted by my pal Hot Todd Lincoln. The Bier Baron Tavern, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. Doors 8:30, tix $15 at the door.

3/7 - House of Sweetbottom Blues and Burlesque. My lovely friend Cherie Sweetbottom presents her own evening of burlesque and music, with Cherokee Rose, Candy del Rio, Jonny Grave, and GiGi Holliday. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Tix $15; two shows, at 8:45 and 11:00

3/7 - Curioso on Charles Variety Show. Christopher Scarborough and Joe Taylor, hosts of the Curioso Podcast, will host an evening of burlesque, sideshow, and music. (I plan on being there.) With Hot & Bothered, Addie Pocere, Valeria Voxx, and Shaggy Wilcox. The Yellow Sign Theater, 1726 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD. Tix $12, doors 8:00, show 9:00.

3/13 - 9 to 5 Burlesque. My lovely pal Eyrie Twilight stars with Miss Liberty Rose and Honey Tree Evil Eye in a show themed around the movie 9 to 5, and benefiting the Women's Medical Fund. Upstairs at the Trocadero, 1003 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA. Tix $15, doors 8pm, show at 9.

3/15 - Gettin' Lucky Burlesque. Twisted Knickers presents more naughty fun with Aurora Wells, Kiki Allure, Cherie Nuit, Lunchbox Lauren, and Glam Gamz, hosted by Hot Todd Lincoln. The Bier Baron, Washington, DC. Tix $15, $12 in advance. Doors 7:30, show 9pm.

3/21 - The Vernal Equinox. Honor the coming of spring in some way; have a ritual, say a prayer, open the windows (if it's warm enough), plant a flower, or just sit and meditate for a bit.

3/21 - Limelight Cabaret, presented by Gilded Lily Burlesque. A naughty tribute to the blues, with Maria Bella, Mark Slomski, Bitsy Buttons, Nona Narcisse, Sophia Sunday, Sophie Sucre, and Cherie Sweetbottom. The State Theater, 220 N Washington St, Falls Church, VA. Tix $20, $17 in advance. Doors 8pm, show at 9.

3/21 - Cabin Fever! Hot Night Productions and Palace Productions present a tribute to spring, with Dangrrr Doll, Reverend Valentine, Cherokee Rose, Mab Just Mab, Cherie Nuit, and host Hot Todd Lincoln. The Black Cat, Washington, DC. Tix $15, $12 in advance. Two shows, doors at 8:45 and 11:00.

3/22 - The Weirdo Show. A monthly show of berserk weirdness, this time with Dainty Dandridge, Mandy Dalton, the Misbehavin' Maidens, and modern sideshow performer Harley Newman. The Bier Baron, Washington, DC. Tix $15, $12 in advance. Doors at 8:30, show at 10.

3/29 - Prepare to Be SHOCKED! Twisted Knickers presents a night of "the most fucked up burlesque and sideshow acts you can imagine!" With Tapitha Kixx, Reverend Valentine, Shortstaxx, Cherie Nuit, Jim Dandy, and host Hot Todd Lincoln. The Yellow Sign Theater, Baltimore, MD. Tix $15, $10 in advance (recommended). Doors 8, show 9.

And there's probably more out there....but I need sleep...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

March's Return to the Phantom Concert Hall!

So it's a bracing evening in late winter, and to beguile the tedium of a season that simply won't go away, we've manage to get concert tickets.

We've had to bundle up, as it's still bitter cold. And while the concert hall is lovely and old, the music itself is strange and modern...

Olivier Massiaen (1908-1992) was one of the 20th century's more prominent composers, and this particular piece was commissioned to memorialize the dead from the two World Wars. It was first privately performed in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris in 1964, and just imagining this piece in that beautiful place...well, wow. I'd have loved to have been there. But the New York premiere, during Pierre Boulez's controversial tenure at the New York Philharmonic, had people staggering out almost traumatized.

And we're left feeling impressed and overwhelmed, and conversation at our late supper afterward is almost nonexistent. We just don't know what to say.