Letter from Cyprus

We got down and dirty with Act III tonight. (It's the Act where neither Othello nor Iago EVER STOP TALKING.) I choreographed a couple of knife fights the other night, which actually look pretty kickass, I'm kind of proud of myself.

The cuts in the script have been judicious. Being an outdoor performance, beginning at 8 pm, we absolutely must bring this beast in at no more than 2 hrs. and 15 minutes, including an intermission, due to neighborly considerations. Hence, some cuts. Painful, but necessary (I'm an Actor, yes, but at this point not even I can play "declin'd into the vale of years"). Othello loses some pretty definitive bits, but not nearly as much as Iago, who just doesn't stop scheming, the little bastard.

I believe in a Living Text, I believe in a playable text, and I believe that not mine nor any individual production of this text will ever be The Definitive Production. At least, not yet. Much better to always have room to improve, and add things as our pace improves, than to sink under the ponderousness of weightiness from the outset. For myself, I'm confident I can play the nuance of the verse in many cases more effectively than I can speak it. I recognize that this is a dangerous and modern trick, but I often feel it necessary. We can always do museum-piece authentic performances; it's the rare, movingly effective performance that I'm aiming for.

I'm feeling cautiously positive about things, all in all.

If I spend more than two hours at a time on my lines, something breaks loose and I don't rightly retain whatever comes after. Actually, this becomes an obstacle only in that I constantly want to spend more time poring over these verses.

Much has been made of how Othello's language and usage are unparalleled amongst the passionate tragic heroes. There is an unusual number of one-and-only coinages in his text--words that appear nowhere else in the Canon, or in the English language, for that matter. Words like agnize, unbonnetted, antres, out-tongue; phrases like ocular proof, exsufflicate and blown surmises, goats and monkeys--these distinctive usages and combinations, taken with his distinctively awkward thought-lines, make for a verse that's tumultuous and visceral, erratic yet unstinting, powerful in its awkward heft. When I work through this Verse I feel like I'm slinging an intricately carved sledge hammer, crafted of teakwood and adamantine.

In working on Othello, often think of images of U.S. Grant, with that wearied, tenacious, piercing stare half-hidden in his thick beard. I think of matadors and toros bravos (I am a Taurus. Iago the Toreador= Santiago Matamoros=Iago the Moorslayer). I have images of Chinese Army soldiers training as UN Peacekeepers, and of ancient Assyrian lioness-demons (Desdemona=Beloved of Demons).

I still have a pile of ten more scripts to read, for more staged readings tommorrow, in a high school, this time. I just finished writing a very surprising letter for a very beloved friend. Portions of said letter may soon appear here shortly. Go, Now, buy and read Paula Vogel's latest, "The Long Christmas Ride Home (A Puppet Play With Actors)." It joins Sarah Ruhl's "Eurydice", Joseph Addison's "Cato: A Tragedy", Christopher Marlowe's "Massacre at Paris" and Naomi Iizuka's "36 Views", and, of course, that which I'm currently working on, all of them Plays I Would Trade Portions of My Everlasting Soul to Perform.

Gather ye rosebuds,



An Open Letter to the Heavens Conspiring Against Me

Dear Heavens Conspiring Against Me:

This is getting ridiculous.

First you take away my favorite German scarf. Then, my indispensable Book of Days. Then my excellent and well-beloved Thermos (but I know precisely where that is and I'll be retrieving it tommorrow, you petty excuse for a kleptomaniacal meta-cosmic abstraction). Now, my cell phone...?

If you want a piece of me, you come on down here and face me, you pansy-colored ass-hat.

I. Will. Eat. You.

kind regards,



And when I love thee not, chaos is come again.

Of all the lovely adventures this theatre business has to offer, it is the reading of new plays, written by neophytes, which yields the most instantaneous gratification for me as a performer.

I think this has something to do with how immediate and genuine the work tends to be. Usually, I'm handed a script, of perhaps a scene or so, written by a teenager or a cancer- or PTSD-survivor or what-have-you, and, with maybe a weeks' worth of time to review the scribblings, in we go to stage a reading with as much pluck as we can muster, with the usual rag-tag thrown-together cast of exceptionally talented and brave actors, amongst which I stick out like a dandelion in a field of chrysanthemii.

This week, I've been working on not one but three batches of these things, each batch averaging about 5 or 6 scenes' worth of material, each with different casts, split from two different theatres, on top of the Othello rehearsals in the evenings. (And I've been having lots of inexplicable nosebleeds lately, so in between my cousins visiting from Canada and poring through these great drifts of scripts in my Portable Airborne Oceangoing Office-Pack, I've been sleeping a lot and consulting physicians.) (I think I'm going anemic again.)

But the great privilege of these things is how much of a workout they can be. I try things and learn things that months of dedicated work would not let me remotely consider, within the structure of these one-off, staged-reading events, performing in a variety of spaces with playwrights as well as random types in the audiences. It's more than just dialects and physicalities; it's about living and being in a vibrant space, voicing something out of nothing, stitching breathing images out of the faintest webs of someone else's imagination, made possible by the judicious application of a little bit of my soul. I think of film developers in their crimson darkrooms, mixing precious drops of corrosive chemicals to suddenly coax the most complicated ghosts from their empty sheets of photostock.

The experience is heightened, I think, by virtue of the limited and daring nature of the staged-reading format. It is generally understood that we have permission to limit our performances; I'm not afraid to suck, since I've got these pages in my hand to hide behind. And these things only live, by and large, for a single night. The trick of it is, that having the Permission to Suck Ass also comes with a Secret Mandate to Rock the Fucking Casbah, and, in the hands of compassionate, insightful and energetic directors, such Mandates are hard not to carry through.

In the last several days, I've played Othello, a noble and jealous Moor; Angel, a Latino gangster; Patrick, a nervous fiancee; Jack, a dead body; Toe Fu, (too much to explain); Alberto, an Antarctic explorer; Sven Circleson, a scheming corporate geomancer; Jake, a caring brother; John Jr, a slain high-school basketball star; John, his coach and father; Marcus, John Jr.'s drug-addled friend (those last three all in the same scene, I might add)... The schizo-frenzy of it all makes it very easy to build up a simmering head of steam with which to carry it all along.

The weather has been breathtaking here. My Desdemona is utterly, smashingly lovely. I spent far too much money in the bookstore again. I saw an old friend again for the first time in many months last night. 55 days to the next Harry Potter book.




The View of the Audience.

The View of the Audience., originally uploaded by paulmonster.

Looking from onstage into the audience. That's me with my trusty battle-bike, to give a sense of scale. But in truth, there's much more space for people to set up around us; this is where the heart of the audience will probably be.

The Playing Space.

The Playing Space., originally uploaded by paulmonster.

This is the magnificent stage where we'll be playing. Beyond the frame, there's more water, tall apartments and office buildings, postmodern architecture, lovely trees. Goats and Monkeys!!

So. Okay. [deep breath.] I'm playing Othello.

I'm about twenty years too young to be playing the Moor. How apt, to be so worried about growing old and stale, while living my waking life impatient with my youth.

I'm so stoked to be him. I'm scared shitless. As you may recall, my particular bete noir, my peculiar affinity, at this stage, is for a Theatre which deals explicitly and directly with Race. I'm not saying that all Theatre should do so, I'm merely nursing an appetite for something with which my culture deals far too seldomly. So to be playing Othello right now is a bit of a coup in quite a number of ways. To put it lightly.

Right now, we're immersed in tablework, hammering out and pounding away at textual and contextual questions. Scholarship, matters of Quarto and Folio, questions of intent and scansion. The meat and potatoes, the dry fiber of Shakespeare that puts off a great many modern actors, but also brings out gloriously, devastatingly intelligent talents. And here's where it gets tricky--my Desdomona and my Iago are both very intelligent and far more experienced than I. They are local actors of reputation and skill. To be honest, the only reason I was cast as Othello is because there are practically no actors of color in this city, a product of the aforementioned tendency for my culture not to deal with Race constructively. So I'm feeling a substantial degree of entitlement-anxiety, compounded with the assured evidence that I'm substantially outclassed by at least two of my principal castmates.

This is most apt. Here I am, usually the one castmate always arguing for more intelligent discussion, more research, more tablework, much, much more--and now to be so singularly and comprehensively outclassed, undereducated, inarticulate compared to half a dozen brighter lights in this cast, and this when all eyes are on me to hold forth and carry a greater momentum in the discussions than anyone else, save the director (and, yes, granted, Iago definitely should be talking more than me, too).

How the hell am I supposed to hold my own, much less dominate, much less deal with them on an equal basis? I can't hide out in my removed, rarified, misanthropic manner, seeing as how my character's name is in bold print everywhere. And these people expect me to lead this cast. This of the guy who couldn't lead a line of kindergarteners without getting tied up on the monkeybars by the little snotrags.

That said, I do have some faith in my own abilities, in my training and in my book-learning. More importantly, faith in the fact that I LOVE THIS TEXT. I may not be as assuredly expert in its workings, but the power of the verse can and does speak through me, I do know this. Paul Robeson has always been one of my sainted heroes, and the resonating recordings of his performance certainly inspires me. I approach this experience with humble determination, mindful of my inadequacy yet all the more devoted to serving this powerful text. It is the cause, it is the cause, o my soul. These glorious lines, these sweeping, heaving, billowing verses express the scale and pitch of utter heartbreak, and they are so very, very beautiful to hear and speak. I've never tired of them. Lear and Hamlet are too overmuch. Mac lacks scope and depth. Richard II is too weak. But Othello, now here's a fellow of some soul.

I'm looking ever forward to getting off book as quickly as humanly possible. Quick's the word, and sharp's the action. Expect to read a great deal about this in the next few weeks.


In other news.

I saw Revenge of the Sith tonight. Because I'm Better Than You. An advance-advance, hush-hush deal. Finally, AT LONG LAST, a great Star Wars prequel. (Excepting the bits when people are talking) ("Younglings"? Please. Luckily, this movie is all about the lightsabers.)

I discovered the name of a librarian, for whom I've long nursed a passing infatuation. Salt-and-pepper hair, wan smile, distant and pale eyes, a languid sweep in how she handles the curve of her hips. As usual, no hope in this for me whatsoever, just the deliciousness of a simple, small, hopeless crush.

I remembered to water the plants.

The Fuente Ovejuna cast had a party the other night, in a beautifully restored mansion in NW Portland. We took lamps and candles and explored the highest and darkest attic to discover a door to the roof, with a breathtaking view, hills and bridges illuminated in the cold spring night.

I've befriended a number of spiders. They have no idea where my Book of Days might be.




I'm So Screwed.

I've lost my Book of Days again. It's a small black moleskin pocketbook that only happens to be the single most important article in my Portable Airborne Oceangoing Office. It annotates, in meticulous detail, the particulars and wherewithals of the Othello rehearsal schedule, the potential PCS staged readings gig, the highly sensitive JAW/West specifics, the Inkwell in Ashland prospect, the conflicting As You Like It schedule, the nascent Philippines VIII trip, and, oh, you know, the map to the Valley of the Crescent Moon where the Holy Grail resides. ("'Well, don't you remember?' 'I wrote it all down in my Grail Diary so that I WOULDN'T HAVE TO remember.'") And my roster for the Library Sort Center. And a number of other peoples' birthdays, most of whom I never remember anyway.

I've searched my briefcase. I've upended the messenger bag. The contents of my knapsack are now strewn across the floors of three rooms in my house. I'm very, very worried that it may in fact be lurking somewhere on my hopelessly ruined Desk. This is the Desk that makes the destruction of Gomorrah look like an informal tea party. Animals and small children squeal inconsolably when brought within a two-mile radius of its noxious maw. Grown men crumple and weep, women run wild screaming weird imprecations, ravens croak, horses froth and foam...

The whole reason why I keep all my stuff in my briefcases and messenger bags is so that I don't have to deal with the morass of misery that is my Desk. I've put off looking for it long enough to realize just how totally screwed I am.

It's a black notebook, 9 cm wide and 14 cm tall. It's got a sticker of a penguin on the front, with the legend, "KEEP FROZEN", and an "I [Heart] Fencing" sticker on the back. My vitals are listed on the inside cover. Come back to me, come back, I beg of you.

If you think you might hold the Key to My Universe, please contact me without fail. I'm going to go sit in the corner and gnash my teeth now.




An Aside.

It is sometimes asked of me, why I play so solitary and misanthropic a course when there is much I do value and hope for in the company of others.

To tell you the truth, it is as much a point of pride as anything else. I'm uncomfortable in settings where I have nothing to bring to the table; it highlights how out-of-place, how unintended my presence seems. There is so very little in my personal life which I can relate to the experiences of those around me; you try finding peers who happen to have 27 other cousins in their generation, or families riddled with rice farmers, poisonous doctors, Army officers, dying nurses, bankrupt accountants...

So in many ways, and especially when I was younger, Theatre represented a plausible excuse for indulging in the company of others. Usefully so, even. Personal identities are superfluous to the work at hand. Improvised camaraderie and ingenuity are affectionately regarded.

Now that I'm a "Grown-Up", as it were, things are a bit more complicated, as they tend to be. Theatre exerts as much of a misanthropic influence on my behavior as my family does. I've been emotionally trained to regard the people I respect and admire as ephemeral, here in this cast today, on the other side of the country tommorrow. I, too, have a penchant for being distant from those who may seem to want me around, although in truth I would be surprised if anyone falls within that category, given my strange construction. (Me: "Oooh, look, guys! It tastes like applesauce!" Them, whispering: "Just back away slowly, and try not to make eye contact with it." "Woah. He's turning pink.")

Today, while cleaning, I came across an old notepad in which were kept rough drafts of letters from back when I used to write rough drafts of letters. (It seems I once was blessed with substantially more time than I am these days.) And while I could readily recognize the strange and self-absorbed pogue behind the inkstained lines, there was much that was fresh and nearly forgotten, that I never realized I'd left behind. I'm saddened to think that my self of four years ago was much more open, much more impulsive and rash, yet also more expressive and somehow richer, than the self I see in my words now. There was simply more to me then, than there is now.

In this regard am I apprehensive of growing older. I worry that the loss of what I describe above is the effect of a kind of slow decay, like bread left to grow stale on an uncovered shelf.

But a Remembrance of Things Past I am not. I emphatically espouse the principle that my best days are always ahead of me, irregardless of whether or not they actually come to pass. It is in placing the emphasis of one's memories as a predicate of what may come that their greatest potential is realized. These nagging doubts are what they are, the distractions of an honest mind. Be that as it may.



PS--By the way, some of you Anonymous Post-ers out there, I have no idea if you're laughing with me or at me. I don't really mind either way, I just want you to know I have no idea what your deal is. Yes, yes, I'm silly that way, I know, whatever. That's all. Carry on.


monster's almanac

On this day in 1812, British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons, the only Prime Minister of this dubious distinction. His assassin was a disgruntled British subject demanding restitution for his recent imprisonment in Siberia.

On this day in 330, Byzantium was named the new capital of the Roman Empire, and styled Nova Roma by Constantine the Great. But everyone just called it Constantinople. Except for the Greeks, who began referring to it simply as, "The City" (tea polis). (It turns out, the Turks renamed it Istanbul as a corruption of 'Tea polis'. But that's nobody's business but the Turks'.)

Baron Munchausen was born, probably on the moon or something.

Salvador Dali was born in Catalonia on this day, in 1904.

Richard Feynman was born in 1918, in Far Rockaway, Queens.

Explorer Robert Gray first sighted the Columbia River on this day in 1792.

A swarthy, strange, foul-smelling monster with an apalling appetite first made his appearance at the Good Samaritan Hospital in NW Portland, a bit overdue, as usual, 24 years ago today. The world has never been the same since.

A poem for today:



I have accepted my longing for you.
It’s comforting to me,
To live with a fading memory of
something only
I might interpret
as a beckoning smile of yours,

the merest shred
of an exchange
that only barely qualifies as a conversation,
words like pennies in the dirt, that’s all.

This is enough
for me to paint your lips
across the canvas of the best hotel sex ever
imagined as a memory relived
in the crush of a pink cadillac’s
crushed velvet seats

Those pennies in the dirt
are the seeds of a garden so lush
that I don’t have to know its fragrance
to remember it

It comforts me
so much that it aches.


Be well, do good work, and keep on the good foot.




I once bought a necklace for someone, some years ago, and I no longer know what has become of it, nor of her, for that matter.

The necklace is a tear-shaped pewter pendant, suspended from its string with the point of the tear pointing to the ground. It is adorned with spare, elegant art-nouveau facings and engravings where the string meets the pendant. It feels heavy and fits snugly in the palm, like something that's meant to be held.

I imagine this pendant suspended above a tablet of blank sand, describing ever narrowing circles as it slowly comes to a centering of stillness. In my own way, by clumsy fits and fumblings, I try to still myself just so.



At the end of my shift in about an hour plus, I'll have clocked in over ten hours in the saddle here at the Library. Among many other adventures, now I drive the delivery trucks from branch to branch, like the Buddhist monk in Journey to the West, traveling long miles with a load of holy texts, beating the crap out of mountain demons, evil dragons and stupid people who don't know how to drive.

And without pausing for so much as a cup of coffee, as soon as I'm done here I fly straight into the theatre for yet another rousing night kicking rebel scum around Fuente Ovejuna.

I'm worried about my Grandma, who got out of surgery yesterday and who I still haven't gotten around to seeing yet. I'm worried about my Uncle, dodging suicide bombers in his humvee in Iraq. And my Mom pisses me off to no end these days...

Othello rehearsals start on my birthday, next week. There's talk of Ashland adventures in August. I have no less than 9 pending letters in my kit right now, half-written or waiting for their seals and stamps. NOW IF ONLY SOME OF YOU LOSERS OUT THERE WOULD MAYBE WRITE BACK, I might apply some swiftness there, now wouldn't I?


I think I will risk a small delay, and stop for a cup of coffee en route to the Theatre tonight.




Goats and Monkeys.

Fuente Ovejuna is running along with great energy and forcefulness, benefiting from substantially glowing reviews and enthusiastic (if whelmed) audiences. There's a picture of me as a goon wrestling with rebel scum in the local paper, which is kind of cool (I'm especially proud of my rear quarter haunch's smart profile).

It's nice to be performing in a play which works, largely succeeding in that mystic alchemy of cast and crew and production values and writing. As I've pointed out before, any one or several or even all of those factors might be irreproachably, impeccably superb, and still the production may fail. Odds are further lengthened upon the involvement of the likes of me ("SM, this is Stage Left. Susi is bleeding again"). And yet, because of the enormous heart everyone has brought to this process, and in spite of the odds against us, this show has succeeded in tapping something which a lot of people are reacting positively towards. And that's quite satisfying.

A perfect production this is not, of course. Everyone has stories they could tell, liberally leavened with lighthearted and punch-drunk giddiness.

A giddiness, incidentally, closely akin to what I am now experiencing, having just returned from (for me) an unusually exciting audition process.

I attended Call-Back auditions for a production of Othello, to be staged in the park this summer. I've done Shakespeare in the Park before; I played Don John in their production of Much Ado About Nothing four years ago, and it was, of course, great fun. But frankly, of late, I've been little moved to audition again for them, as the quality of their work is often constrained by circumstance, like, say, unruly barbarians in the audience, or sunstroke, or rival productions of the same work in this small city. But this year I was moved by the presence of two talented directors new to their organization, and a summer season consisting of the oft-paired Othello and As You Like It, excellent plays both.

But more than this, I visited the proposed playing space for Othello late this evening.

And. I. Was. Floored.

Imagine, o reader, late this evening, drizzling rain stippling the concrete pavement. I'd just finished reading for a number of characters, with a number of talented potential castmates. I'm up for the big O himself, but I consider this a long shot, and would be quite content with worthy Michael Cassio or some such. (The director, damn him, had me read for Iago even though that villain is already pre-cast. And which do you think I had the most fun with, of course? How can you not have fun with the "Put money in your purse" speech? But let that pass.) All I knew was that the performance space was to be a fountain in the downtown area, and that, contrary to tradition, this production would not wander the parks all over the city but stay rooted in this fountain, effectively converting the public space into a true theatre.

There are a number of exquisite fountains in this city--exquisite for no real reason other than the uniform affection with which I hold each and every one of them. These are the sites of flowering or failing affections or sunset-to-sunrise birthday parties, or lonely nights under a lamppost with the latest treasure from Powell's clutched in my grubby meat-hooks.

Making out at the Ira S. Keller fountain. Watching babies playing in the Jameson Square fountain. Finishing the Bridge Pedal and doing the obligatory champion's lap through the Salmon Street Springs, showered with glory and recycled water. Eating Elephant Ears at the Pettygrove Arcade fountain. Reading Marlowe plays in a twilit Pioneer Square. The stuff, I tell you, of pure loveliness.

So when I heard this production was to be staged at one of these fountains, immediately my interest was piqued. Would the ochre sandstone of Jameson Square stand in for the rough, arid fortifications of Cyprus? Or would the beetling concrete casements and the cascades of falling water at the Ira Keller Fountain adorn the Doge's Palace at Venice? I instinctively assumed the latter, as I knew of no other fountains in the immediate downtown area that fit the meager descriptions I'd had to go on.

During the auditions, they told us that the fountain in question is known as the Lovejoy Fountain, and I was no little surprised to realize that I knew nothing of this place. You see, I'm a native Portlander; I've traversed the West Hills and the far reaches of both Gresham and Hillsboro on my trusty bike. Downtown Portland is more familiar to me than any childhood home. To hear of some new, numinous place embedded somewhere in this eminently familiar place is entirely unheard of.

Wonder is a rare and deeply prized treasure, but especially and principally so when in the world of the familiar. Frankly, it's easy to give oneself over entirely to wonder when travelling. Seeing, experiencing or passing through the foreign opens myself to wonder without any effort. But in the familiar, wonder ceases to easily flare in me--I notice it's harder for me to write while comfortably ensconced in the familiar--and so the opportunity of wonder beneath the seeming facade of the familiar is not something I dismiss lightly. Correction: it's never something I dismiss. I will always lace up my boots, check my pack, take a deep breath and jump.

Like a Spanish conquistador (except without the rapine, smallpox or religious fanaticism), I set out on foot to find this mysterious fountain in the stippling rain of the night. What I found surpassed my wildest imagination for an outdoor playing space.

I found a wide plaza nestled in an urban amphitheatre, surrounded by high-rise apartments with balconies overlooking the gently sloping space, by turns concrete and greensward. The fountain itself is a pool of still water, fed from a complex of concrete levels "upstage", like a hyper-kinetic version of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. They rise to a dramatic height dominating the square, and are divided by passages and level spaces that rival each other for the eye's attention. There is a large, covered space behind, and intermittent pools of still water at the heights as well as below them. As a whole, the space forms a cohesive unit ultimately by refusing to provide a single playing surface that outmatches any of the others; I would say that half-a-dozen playing spaces are each nested within each other here, and that while there is an obvious 'upstage', 'downstage' or 'center-stage' is much less apparent--and therefore, for me, far more interesting as a whole. Most interesting of all, a series of concrete steps crosses the largest pool at its widest, connecting the various playing surfaces and completing the processional path of the dividing channels from 'upstage'.

I don't know if I'm describing any of this to you such that anyone will understand a word I'm saying. But take my word for it, I'll hold a fucking spear for five acts just to get a chance to play in this space. It's setting alone, surrounded by high-rise apartments in the midst of downtown Portland, is enough to remind me of Elijah in Poland, except with some trees and some water.

I'm so stoked.

I have no idea how I never found this place before. I do not understand in the slightest why somebody hasn't staged something here before now. I fully intend to make many, many pilgrimages to this place, irregardless of how things go down in Cyprus.

This concludes tonight's long, rambling Polyform post. Please refrain from operating heavy machinery, and consult a physician if swelling, redness, nausea, vomiting or wanderlust persists.