steven dietz’s “yankee tavern” – a post 9/11 mystery

attended a reading of “yankee tavern” at geva theatre yesterday.

the play, written by steven dietz, has been described as a “post 9/11 mystery”. it’s a multi-layered story with 4 characters. adam and janet r planning to get married but there seem to be some uncomfortable secrets, some unsaid things between them. adam has inherited his dad’s run-down tavern along with his dad’s best friend ray, who is a tireless conspiracy theorist. as he talks about the real moon vs the invisible moon and how kleenex made the most of a spore lab-designed to trigger allergies, we find it easy to ignore or mock him. but then the conversation turns to 9/11 and ray becomes quite lucid – he asks some hard-hitting questions which r not so easy to dismiss. a mysterious man named palmer appears on the scene. he seems to have an insider’s knowledge about some disturbing facts related to 9/11. the plot begins to thicken and the play transitions seamlessly from comedy to drama to mystery. well written, tightly wound, and thought provoking, with the events of 9/11 at its core, yankee tavern finds it easy to draw its audience in.

the reading was followed by a discussion with three local “instigators” – a u.s. army general who did a tour of duty in iraq and who had been working at the pentagon before 9/11, a reporter for the democrat and chronicle and an activist/free lance journalist who writes for city news. i have to say that the retired general’s comments were the most cogent and interesting to me. he confirmed in some detail how they had already been working on iraq before 9/11 ever happened, in fact as soon as the bush administration came into office. there was a great push from the neo-cons to make iraq happen and 9/11 was just a convenient cover that fell into their laps.

of course this is not something new. what’s shocking is that it has not yet seeped into mainstream consciousness. that was my question actually: what is the definition of conspiracy? is it anything that contradicts the govt’s official story? didn’t we learn from watergate that govts lie, even ours? and if so, why discredit skepticism about the govt’s position as “conspiracy”? the reporter on the panel made some lame comment about how a conspiracy can be defined as something not confirmed in mainstream media. btw this guy also believes that the ny times and wall street journal r the ultimate bastions of truth. i was glad when the free lance journalist didn’t let him get away with that and pointed out the damage done by the ny times in the run-up to the iraq war. the general answered my question thoughtfully by appreciating the importance of skepticism in a democracy. he also said that based on his own experience of working for the govt he wouldn’t be surprised if some of the “conspiracies” mentioned in the play were in fact true.

there was a lot of talk about oil being at the forefront of our motivation to go to iraq. i couldn’t help interjecting from the audience that oil might have been an attraction but there is more to it than just that. someone asked about the accuracy of the information presented in the play and i was a bit annoyed by one of the organizers who said that every fact mentioned by dietz could be found on the internet thus eliciting a wave of laughter from the audience. i don’t like it when people diss the internet. oh sure, there is much which is worthless and offensive on the web but anyone with half a brain can figure out rather quickly what to look for. the internet gives us democracy now, mosaic world news, al jazeera, counterpunch, the guardian, truthout, dahr jamail, jeremy scahill, pulse media, flashpoints and much much more. it’s rich, multi-dimensional, accessible (hopefully to more and more of the world population), instantaneous and almost free. what’s there not to like? it’s the democratization of information which is obviously a threat to the old establishment and so here goes the dissing again.

all in all it was an interesting evening. i shook the general’s hand before i left. he and i seemed to be on the same page.

kudos to geva theatre for putting this event together. yankee tavern was the last play in geva’s “the hornets’ nest” series this year.

9/11 questions

Waste Land

saw a beautiful film last sunday – a documentary called “waste land.” it illustrates the sacred intersection of art and social change through a brilliant journey undertaken by artist vik muniz. muniz goes back to his native land to work with garbage from brazil’s largest landfill. he gets to know the pickers and involves them in making artwork. he realizes, like the rest of us, that garbage is only ugly when u’re looking at it from afar. as u become immersed in it, as u become familiar with the people who pick thru it and live in favelas surrounded by trash, u begin to see how beautiful they r, how heartbreaking their stories, how radiant their spirits. oh, and muniz’s art is magnificent.

more films from rochester’s 360/365 film festival

saw three movies last saturday.

“monogamy” has one of the weakest, most vacuous, most annoyingly trivial scripts i have ever encountered – it takes a lot to turn a film about voyeurism into a crushing bore!

“io sono l’amore” (i am love) is a tribute to the douglas sirk larger than life, beautifully shot melodrama. repressed desires, familial responsibility and honor, forbidden love, impossible grief – all converge on an italian family dynasty, tilda swinton being at the center of the storm. the operatic score by john adams adds much passion and intensity to the film.

“winter’s bone” which got several awards at sundance, is set in a dismal trailer park in missouri. it’s raw, violent, unflinchingly realistic but jennifer lawrence’s performance (as a gritty 17 year old taking on her dangerous neighborhood to protect her family) shines brilliantly throughout the film.

WOMEN WITHOUT MEN – a film by Shirin Neshat

saw shirin neshat’s “women without men” on friday. stunning film full of mystery and magic set against the very concrete backdrop of the 1953 cia-backed coup against mossadeq. neshat’s artistry is apparent in every frame of the film – the images are beautiful, impeccably composed, rich with emotive meaning. based on the book by shahrnush parsipur.

review: VIDEOCRACY by Erik Gandini, Sweden 2009

a fascinating and sometimes chilling visual essay, videocracy examines italy in the age of media baron and current prime minister silvio berlusconi.

erik gandini is an italian filmmaker who went to film school in sweden. u see some of that influence in his work – a certain sparesity in narration which is more than compensated for by the cinematographic content of the film. gandini loves the documentary form on account of that flexibility – u can communicate what reality feels like without having to articulate what it is.

at the beginning of the film he explains how u have to be inside of italy’s berlusconi-induced video culture in order to understand it, it’s not enough to look at it from the sidelines. and inside we go as the film plunges into a collage of footage from tv shows. one of the producers explains how the images and sounds that emanate from berlusconi’s tv programming represent the man himself, his persona. he likes naked voluptuous women, fun parties, loud colors, and money and that’s what u see on-screen.

reality tv is immensely popular in italy and so is the idea that there is no point in just “being” unless u r “seen.” we meet a young man who has been training to become a cross between jean-claude van damme and ricky martin for 12 yrs so he can be on a tv show. he complains about how girls get all the gigs: “the girls will do anything to be on tv. they have an advantage. it’s not fair. why should i be a mechanic for the rest of my life?”

he is right. girls do have an advantage. many of them dream of becoming velines, tv show dancers who accompany the host on stage. they never speak but perform a rather ridiculous dance which is meant to engage the audience in between breaks. whether they r velines or housewives on reality tv, women r constantly objectified, degraded. i couldn’t help ask myself whether it’s worse for women to be hidden away by the taliban or to be stripped naked in front of cameras by talk show hosts. of course there is the question of free will – but is there?

we are introduced to a cherubic friend of the prime minister’s: lele mora is the most powerful talent agent in italy. he can turn regular people into super stars. everyone wants him. he’s a master puppeteer. gandini’s camera lingers on his face – an odd mix of beatific smiles and sleazeball ambiguity.

one of his proteges is a man named fabrizio corona. he employs paparazzi to hound celebrities and sells their compromising photographs back to them. he gets 80 days in prison for extortion but comes out tanned, buffed up, rebranded and fully merchandised. he becomes a celebrity and starts making some serious dough – his job is to show up at parties where people can get pictures taken with him. when he starts to lose his touch, he decides to go to murder scenes and ask the families of murder victims to sport his t-shirts in exchange for money. that doesn’t work out too well. he straps a video camera onto his body and secretly films his own divorce proceedings. he’s a survivor.

it’s a nightmarish world – surreal in its vulgarity, horrifying in its vacuousness, disturbing in its ability to produce mass appeal. the film ends with some text: 80% of italians get their information from tv. it’s the legendary panem et circenses and we would do well to recognize where we’re headed.

girls auditioning for the much desired job of veline.