Interactive Van Gogh

As Vicki and I were sitting in the middle of the Interactive Van Gogh Experience (in the building that was once the Fillmore West in San Francisco), she turned to me and said, ‘I wouldn’t want to see this stoned.” Neither would I.

The experience was breathtaking, amazing, expensive and safe. See it if you can. Bring a cushion; the seating is hit and miss.

But Vicki’s comment did send my mind reeling back to the summer before my freshman year in college, 1970, when Portland hosted several rock concerts that included the then-new import from San Francisco: the light show. Oil and water dancing above colored lights on an overhead projector was the height of technology at the time. I was mesmerized.

A half-century later, we spent an hour inside Van Gogh’s mind, to a clever (if sometimes a bit bombastic) sound track that put the stacks of speakers in Portland’s Masonic Auditorium to shame.


Theater Vs. Movies

San Francisco Chronicle film editor Mick LaSalle recently wrote: “movies and theater, at their best, are equally great. But at their worst, theater is much worse. This is why: When a movie is bad, it’s usually because it’s imitative. It’s cheap. It’s trying to please in obvious ways and not succeeding. When theater is bad, it represents the collective effort of people to say every single thing they’ve ever wanted to say. It doesn’t try to please an audience; it begs the audience’s indulgence. Bad theater assumes that sincerity gives it the right to bore an audience to death for 2½ hours.”

I quote him only in order to disagree, and to express my long-held personal view of the difference between the two media. I have always found films to be entertainment first/about something second, and theater to be about something first/entertainment second.

And, although the hundreds of movies I’ve seen in my life don’t match Mick’s output from last year, I must say I’ve seen a lot more rotten film than rotten theater. Ask me to gamble on an unknown movie versus an unknown play, and I’ll pick the play every time.


The Invention of Love

That Tom Stoppard. He's at it again. The Invention Of Love was a hit in London, but New York decided the play was too esoteric and British to succeed in the Big Apple, so they decided not to produce it.

Fortunately, Stoppard has a relationship going back 20 years with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where I saw it last night with a sell-out audience that included my daughter Rae and her friend Lizzie, a pair of high-school freshmen who enjoyed it as much as I did.

Admittedly, the material seems unlikely; it is about the study of ancient Latin and Greek texts in Oxford in the 19th century. It is also about Oscar Wilde and homosexuality. But most importantly, it is about the life of British Poet A.E. Housman (author of Shropshire Lad) from his Oxford matriculation until his death, at age 76, in 1936. Like his previous stage plays and his radio plays, Invention has a lot of small overlapping scenes and clever devices, the cleverest of which is to have Housman appear on stage at age 26 and 76 at the same time.

Rae was particularly upset with the scene in which Housman tells his long-time friend and roommate, the heterosexual athlete Moses Jackson, that he's "sweet on you." Jackson reacts very calmly and rationally, yet firmly makes it clear that won't happen. It devastates Housman, who, according to the play, never loves again. Rae found it heartbreaking, but after discussion, agreed there is no easy way out of such a situation.

I have never seen a Stoppard play I didn't like. I've also never seen one where I didn't feel compelled to buy the script (almost always on sale in the lobby). Invention of Love was no exception. Apparently, the season ticket holders to my left and right felt differently, as they bailed at intermission. I supposed the subject matter might offend some, but I feel I know much more about Greek and Latin textual analysis then I did before I saw the play. Stoppard has a way of making you feel smarter.