Friday, June 17, 2011

Chasing Tales.

So I'm in San Francisco to see a new musical based on Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City with music and lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden of Scissor Sisters fame.  (Wow, there are a whole lot of weird references in that sentence that likely make no sense to the vast majority of Americans.)  And I figure the best way to kick off this adventure is to take a self-guided walking tour.  I have to give a big shout out to Tours of the Tales, a web site that offers downloadable, impeccably-researched PDF walking tours based on the Tales of the City novels. It would have been impossible to find these locations and to remember how they factored into the stories without these guides.

I started at The Buena Vista, a bar at the corner of Hyde and Beach.  It's here that Mary Ann Singleton drank three Irish coffees and then called her mom in Cleveland to tell her Mary Ann would not be returning from her San Francisco vacation. Of course Felix and I had to have an Irish coffee.  But I stopped after one for fear I might end up staying in San Francisco.

We left the bar and followed the same path Mary Ann did, walking across the street to Aquatic park.  It's here that Mary Ann looks toward Alcatraz and vows not to think about her mother for a while.  In the mini series, Laura Linney is seen on the concrete stairs in front of the Ghirardelli sign.

We moved on to the corner of Hyde and Union, a neighborhood that features frequently in the entire Tales series.  I, like Brian Hawkins, have now purchased a Milky Way at the Searchlight Market.  And like Michael "Mouse" Tolliver I've purchased Oreos in the same iconic store.

And, I've now had ice cream at Swensen's, the place where creepy Martin Williams bought Mary Ann ice cream in the first book.  In the most recent book in the series, Mary Ann in Autumn, Mary Ann returns to her old neighborhood after 20 years and gets a Swiss Orange Chip cone.  I chose the same flavor.

There are two tiny streets in San Francisco's Russian Hill district that were Maupin's inspiration for the books' central location, 28 Barbary Lane.  The first is a magical street that is really more of a garden path.  I had to take pictures on the rickety wooden stairs that lead to Macondray Lane, where many scenes from the Tales mini series were shot.

The second street (Havens) is also accessed through a tiny, stair-filled path.  Just about every house on Havens could serve as the inspiration for 28 Barbary Lane.  The writers of Tours of the Tales suggest that the inspiration might be 39 Havens, and it certainly looks like a place where Anna Madrigal might grow pot.

A few more photos from Havens.  I almost expected to run into Mouse.

Sure this is a geeky post.  But this walking tour was really fun.  And it took me to some magical places in San Francisco; places I would never have otherwise gone to, let alone found.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I learned at Storm King: Art is serious.

Yes, Art is serious.  SERIOUS FUN, that is!

Storm King is nothing if not fun.  Sure there are works of art with signage that asks the viewer to not touch.  But most of the time, Storm King works overtime to get you to interact with the art.  There are works you're expected to climb into, walk over, or even bang with giant mallets to create sound.  Felix was perfectly happy to take this attitude to heart.  Here he and I will demonstrate some of the ways to have fun with art:

You can create goofy, fake perspective gags.  Here's Felix holding up Menashe Kadishman's Suspended (1977, weathering steel). Felix is strong.

You can mimic the Art.  Here's Felix returning what looks like a thumbs up from Emilio Greco's The Tall Bather (1957, Bronze) You go girl!

You can climb inside the Art.  Here I am emerging from Isamu Noguchi's Momo Taro (1977 - 1978, stone).

You can sleep with the Art.  Felix napping with Nam June Paik's Waiting for UFO (1992, bronze, stone, plastic, and concrete [in three parts]). It's so relaxing.

And, of course, you can pick Art's nose.  I leave you with one of Felix's finest fine-art moments.  He's seen here with a reproduction of an Easter Island Head (1970, aggregate composition stone).

I think more art should be this much fun.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What I learned at Storm King: Things are not always as they appear.

A visit to Storm King borders on the magical.  That's because objects that appear to be one thing, may surprise you. Here are a few of the ways Storm King delivers the unexpected.

Giant hand-hewn boulders look like they were created for a game of marbles between a couple of trolls, particularly as they sit silently in the forest.  But really, they're hollow and constructed of terracotta, cement, and wire.

Not all picket fences are created equal. Alyson Shotz's Mirror Fence (2003/2010, acrylic, wood, aluminum, stainless steel) is enchanting.  It's like something that would surround the yard of a disco-addicted gay couple.  But it's more enchanting than that.  Sometimes it almost disappears into the landscape. And it gets even better when nature interacts with it.

As a side note, Shotz had another work on view at Storm King.  This is Viewing Scope (2006, mirror polished stainless steel tubes, glass lenses, steel). It provided a striking way to reconsider the environment.

Storm King is a marvel of untouched nature married with the man made.  At least that's what we're supposed to believe.  But as you learn more about the place you discover that mountains have been moved, vistas revised, and mother nature tamed to create the picture perfect place for each work of art.  Sometimes, that attention to detail pays off in whimsical ways.  As you rode around the corner on one of the bike paths, you came across this brilliant scene of a perfect white square framing nature.

But if you got off your bike to interact with the sculpture, you quickly realized that the creators of Storm King wanted you to experience the work in different ways and that the landscape had been redesigned to position the artwork perfectly.  Here's a close-up view of the sculpture.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A missionary among theater goers.

There's a definite possibility that I was the only actual returned missionary in the Eugene O'Neill Theatre for a recent performance of the hit Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, a show all about Mormon missionaries.  Still, it's obvious that Trey Parker, Matt Stone,  and Robert Lopez have done their homework.  They're surprisingly adept at capturing the realities of being a Mormon missionary, particularly since none of them have been on a mission.  Sure, they get a bunch of stuff wrong.  The way they represent the Missionary Training Center (MTC) is off by at least a mile but nonetheless hysterically funny.  The stuff they get right, they get really right.  As a return missionary, there a few moments that were freakishly accurate.

The show-stopping song, Turn It Off, about that "nifty Mormon trick" of ignoring troubling issues and putting on a happy face certainly rang true for me. Or how about Scary Mormon Hell Dream.  This satanic, chorus-line-inspired extravaganza is a riotous good time.  My favorite moment? The dancing coffee cups as a temptation.  Brilliant.

Which brings me to a few ideas raised by this show.  First, the calculated offensiveness of the show.  This is a musical designed to push buttons.  A lot of Mormons might be upset by the flippant way the creators treated their beliefs.  But skewering Mormons is just the beginning.  The Book of Mormon takes on everything from AIDS to female circumcision (I'm pretty sure this is the only musical that uses the word clitoris on multiple occasions) with a South-Park willingness to offend.  And while it's brilliant today, I wonder if this show will be as tolerable in the future.  I can imagine a time when some of the ideas expressed in this show won't be acceptable to a more politically-correct audience.  Although I was surprised at how relevant a sexist musical like How to Succeed in Business is in our modern world.

On the positive side, it's obvious that Parker, Stone, and Lopez love Broadway.  With toasts to Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Lion King, even the work of early musical-theater geniuses like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, this show is a little love letter to the Great White Way.

I also have to note how spectacularly The Book of Mormon communicates the style of Matt Stone and Trey Parker.  I approach most things with a eye toward visual art.  I appreciate artists that are informed by history, but create new and exciting work with an identifiable style. Stone and Parker have accomplished that difficult trick.

In the end, this is a story about faith.  About believing in something bigger than ourselves. And while The Book of Mormon may have a riotous good time at the expense of Mormons, it also reminds us that people who believe in things that might seem incredible, often accomplish miracles.  Maybe that's why it's so delightful.