GERMANY 2018

This past May, I went to Germany! I saw some theatre!

Here’s how it went down:

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a moment from DER DEUTSCHEN MUTTER, by Frederik Müller

DIE LANGE NACHT DER NEUEN DRAMATIK 2018 // Münchner Kammerspiele

Four plays, one night, €15,000 in prizes: FALLEN by Anna Gschnitzer, BOOKPINK by Caren Jeß, DER DEUTSCHEN MUTTER by Frederik Müller, and LERCHELEIN by Danijel Szeredy! The colorful, much-lauded Art Nouveau building of the Münchner Kammerspiele always feels like this beautiful balance of homey and refined to me, a feeling that was magnified on this night by an auditorium full of warmth and excitement. Each play was presented in a staged reading; some were more elaborately outfitted than others (set pieces! music cues! live feed video!!!), but all were thoughtfully (and interestingly!) directed. My favorites of the evening were BOOKPINK, a playful examination of beauty and belonging starring a motley menagerie of birds, and LERCHELEIN, an adaptation of a Hungarian novel in which political unrest simmers underneath the everyday worries of a couple tending their newly emptied nest.

 

Gob Squad zeigt: „ Creation (Pictures for Dorian) „ HAU Zwei, Urauffuehrung am 2. und 4. Mai 2018.

CREATION (PICTURES FOR DORIAN) // Gob Squad

The artists that make up the irresistibly playful Gob Squad are now all middle-aged, and while this show isn’t just about that, it’s the delightful, self-skewering in-road to what becomes a bigger meditation on things like how you choose (and don’t choose, actually) who you become, what it means to create connection, and what it means to spend a lifetime making art. Three core members of the Squad (as with all their pieces, they are always playing versions of themselves, and the casting line-up is fluid from night to night) are joined over the course of the piece by three young people just beginning a career in the arts and three elders within sight of the end of their career in the arts — a beautiful choice in casting that not only complicates Gob Squad’s questions in terms of age, but also brings a welcome panoply of other genders and ethnicities and lived experiences to the evening’s gentle explorations. It’s a bittersweet ode to the beauty in decay, to long lives lived well, to the idealism and confusion of youth, and, really, the idealism and confusion of just being a person trying to make things in the world.

Also unexpectedly fantastic was the surprise that this show is completely, seamlessly bilingual, performed in English and German for an audience who is assumed to understand both. Questions are posed in German and answered in English, and vice-versa. Performers speak their native languages and code-switch without pausing to translate. Nothing is unsatisfactorily paraphrased or otherwise flattened; every moment is allowed to live in its own lovely complexity. I left feeling refreshed, and also somehow more human than when I went in.

 

Fresque

FRESQUE // Old Masters (Theatertreffen Stückemarkt 2018)

Every year in May, the ten “most noteworthy” productions from the German-speaking world are invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen: three glorious, whirlwind weeks of performances, workshops, panel discussions, the works in Berlin. The Stückemarkt is part of the Theatertreffen, but its focus is international and on works/texts of a generally smaller scale. Enter the two-person, multi-sculpture FRESQUE!

Performed in French with English supertitles by the Swiss collective Old Masters, FRESQUE is an experience suspended somewhere between installation and performance, and one that I found both kind of bewildering and kind of delightful. In what feels like a first act, two plaster-wigged characters muddle through a series of intentionally vague and emotionally mild encounters. Their relationships to each other and their environment(s?) cleverly evade any attempts to narrativize what’s happening before they cede ground to the imposing sculptural components of the piece. Despite the sudden lack of human characters, this second part is the most “dramatic.” Sound escalates into a seat-rattling roar; lighting that started out inoffensively functional becomes kinetic and dangerous. Time clearly passes, at speed, and maybe space does too, and as the lights come up we have somehow been marooned somewhere entirely different than where we started — all with only minimal changes to what’s visible and invisible in the picture above. Like I said before: bewildering, and delightful.

 

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FAUST // Frank Castorf (Theatertreffen 2018)

Director Frank Castorf is his own genre — and his trilingual, multi-textual FAUST is seven-hours-minus-twenty-minute-dinner-break of unadulterated that. I was basically delirious by the end, I definitely fell asleep at one point, it was glorious and occasionally offensive and truly weird and also incredible?

I don’t think he’s at all interested in individual plays except for whatever kernel of inspiration he’s selected as the springboard that’ll get him to what he actually is interested in talking about. There is so much going on over the course of the thing that a plot summary (or even just a coherent list of sequential events, plot be damned!) is both impossible and irrelevant, but here’s at least some of what I got out of the madness:

  • There are some characters who recognizably belong to FAUST for at least some of the time
  • an entire Émile Zola play inserted in the second half just because
  • interjections of first-hand accounts of Algeria’s fight for independence from France
  • musicians that show up to sing songs that are fantastic but don’t appear to have any clear connection to whatever happens to be happening at the moment
  • the three-story labyrinth of a set piece revolving to reveal a multitude of hidden worlds in its many, many, many corners, including an entire 19th century Paris metro carriage with a full-on greenscreened cityscape flying past its windows
  • multiple camera crews chasing the action onstage for the vast majority of the performance, as it’s often otherwise completely obscured by aforementioned utterly massive set piece
  • somewhere a true hero of a video editor is editing those feeds live (!), turning them into what feels like a single camera TV drama, projected onto giant billboards
  • supertitles in English, supertitles in French, supertitles actually at one point chastising an actor for relying on them instead of having memorized his lines (scripted?? unscripted?? we’re maybe three hours in and not even halfway through, it’s hilarious, who cares!)
  • an unbelievably hardcore cast of actors who were going just as hard at midnight as they had been at 6pm.
  • (Bonus: the fourth wall doesn’t exist, it never existed!)

Castorf directs like he’s curating a multimedia installation of loosely interconnected works, but his materials happen to be humans and time and live video and towering set pieces that defy every conventional idea about dramaturgy and narrative cohesion. Despite theatre’s inherent collaborative nature, his works are so clearly specifically his, and he is doing so many things at once, all the time. I don’t know that he needs seven hours to do that, but he wants seven hours, so, why not? Why not throw everything together in a mess of associations and historical ephemera, and let the audience pull what they want from the pile?

Honestly, though, any intended or implied snark aside, I do admire Castorf’s ambition and the precision with which every last bit of chaos is executed (bless you, undoubtedly extensive stage management team, bless you). Exeunt’s Lee Anderson called Castorf’s approach “liberating and infuriating in equal measure” in his hour-by-hour recap/review of FAUST, and I completely agree. Some of it’s brilliant and illuminating! Some of it’s obnoxious and tiresome! A lot of it’s loud! But there is something truly wonderful about how batshit crazy it is — how exhilarating it is to be caught up in something that is so awe-inspiringly huge and that creates the conditions for almost literally anything to happen onstage. It’s thrilling to experience an evening where the rules of engagement are not only suspended, but fully and completely obliterated. Even with the aid of supertitles, I still don’t really know what it was about, or what Castorf wanted me to take away, but I’m also pretty sure that’s not the point. It was a singular evening spent in an entirely different theatrical universe, and I’m so glad to have been entertained and exhausted by its singular insanity.

top picture via the Berliner Festspiele

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CENTRAL // Virgilio Martínez & Pia León

Central is not really a restaurant. Sure, it was listed among the top ten restaurants in the world this year, and, to be fair, it has a lot in common with restaurants: a softly-lit dining room, a shiny and lively kitchen, visionary founding chefs with a battalion of talented cooks and servers doing their thing with precision. There is food made, served, eaten, paid for. The form might be restaurant — but the content is art.

It starts at the gate to the property, up the winding path to the low-slung building of concrete and glass. Generously spaced plantings are lit from below by warm yellow lights; the entryway glows golden. It feels like entering a secret hideout, like we’re about to be briefed on a delightful special mission. Already, what’s familiar looks different — or not different, exactly, but worth a second look. Deserving of generous attention.

Inside, calm. We’re seated. Our table is draped in white linen, though several others have been left bare; made of grey stone rippled with white and brown, they are somehow both solid and delicate, raw-edged while also polished smooth. The dining room is wide and open, high-ceilinged but still cozy. Soft, ambient music like a blanket that’s just the right weight. At the far end, the kitchen bustles quietly behind a sound-proofing wall of glass.

At each place setting, there is a small circle of brown paper. Each is printed with an undulating curve of ink, meant as a stylized elevation map, and Central’s slim logo. Our server — one of many we’ll have throughout the night, clad all in muted blues and grays and moving soundlessly from table to table, tending to our tableware and dishes and multilingual questions with grace— prompts us to flip them over. Starting on the edge and gradually spiraling into the center, marked Ecosistemas Mater (Mater Ecosystems), are the dishes for the night’s tasting menu. For each, there is a title, a short list of featured ingredients, and an elevation marking: -10 meters, 180 meters, 2450 meters.

This is the key thing about Central. There is only a tasting menu, which you can experience in variations of twelve or sixteen courses. Each dish is intended as a snapshot, an experience, of a different elevation within Peru — and for a country with inhabited elevations between zero and seventeen thousand feet, as well as twenty-eight of Earth’s thirty-two possible climates, the possibilities are incalculable. Consider the fact that Central is partnered with its own research institute, Mater Iniciativa, which scales the heights to source ingredients and learn traditional preparation techniques from different Peruvian indigenous communities, and the possibilities become literally endless.

We ordered the twelve course meal. A quiet parade of tiny but unfussy dishes served on rounds of rough ceramic, or rocks, or piranha heads. Our servers gently instructed us to eat most of the courses in one bite, a direction that made for some of the most complex and surprising tastes I’ve ever experienced. It is rare to eat food that you have absolutely zero point of reference for; it’s rarer still to be truly surprised by the actual experience of eating. I ate more slowly than I ever have before, enamored of every sensation. A naked clam the size of my pinky that burst in my mouth. A little pot of what appeared to be powder, red and dusty like old rouge, only to reveal a creamy, sweet butter layered underneath. A frozen cube of seaweed-lined cactus fruit that dissolved immediately in a rush of flavor. Even more familiar-to-me ingredients became strange and beautiful in new contexts: translucent slices of melon spiced with the saltwater tang of scallops, chocolate mellowed by the grassy earthiness of coca leaves, an air-light mouthful of fire-singed potato bread.

What do you call an art exhibit where your primary method of engagement is eating? Where part of how you even approach the eating part is the choreography of the dishes being placed, silently and simultaneously, on the table, or the miracle of a perfectly placed fork appearing at your elbow when you’re not looking. Or how the vessel my cocktail was served in (a thick-walled, irregularly-finished ceramic tumbler, pockmarked and ridged) was as important as the ingredients it was made with (presented to me alongside my completed drink in a small wooden box, so that I and everyone else at the table could examine them individually in their original state). Or the drama of a dish transforming before your eyes: little cairns of spherical lake algae, green and white like sea glass, floating up from their nests like tiny balloons as the servers carefully tip the after-dinner digestif into their elegant glasses. The fabric of a napkin. The angle of a sweet potato leaf.

Like the art I tend to connect with the most, the point isn’t necessarily enjoyment or satisfaction; the point is engagement, stimulation, a new perspective, an invitation to look — or, in this case, taste and smell and touch — closer. This is not to say that the food at Central isn’t enjoyable; not every dish is for everyone, but for me, the meal was as delicious as it was strange as it was joyful. As the evening itself was a stunningly beautiful, heartfelt piece of art.

P.S. If you want a taste (lol) of what eating at Central is like and the brilliance behind it, please check out episode 3.6 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table!

Picture via Central

MAGELLANICA // Artists Repertory Theatre

Eight strangers are wintering over at the South Pole in the name of science. It’s 1986. They’re researching known and unknown phenomena. Some are researching in established fields, others fighting to prove their version of the truth, and all of them facing down complicated revelations about themselves and the world they’re all trying, in one way or another, to preserve. They have eight months in sub-zero conditions to prove their hypotheses. Or change their minds. Or save the world.

This is the kind of period piece that, wonderfully, shows when it was written more than when it takes place. With the advantage of watching from thirty years in the future, we already know about the ozone hole and the melting of polar ice and the thousands of ways we’ve destroyed our generous planet, but the moral and philosophical struggles of this little international crew are the same difficult questions we’re facing down today. How do you build trust with someone whose country (and perspective) is at war with yours? How do you take on a problem so large it might swallow the world whole? How do you continue to choose to be brave?

An important part of understanding this play is that this “you” is distinctly American in perspective. For all of its many cultures (and, wonderfully, its many languages —there is a long, glorious stretch of largely untranslated Norwegian that is simultaneously one of the funniest and most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen on stage), this is an American play. And I mean that in the best sense of the word! E.M. Lewis’ writing is beautiful and the scope of her themes appropriately epic — much like The Kentucky Cycle, or Angels in America, both marathons Magellanica has already been compared to.

(Though its Americanness also presages an ending that is a little too tidy and uplifting for the reality we can all now see for ourselves, inside the theatre or out. I guess that’s another question: how do we, as Americans, hold onto hope without blinkering ourselves?)

Also, for what it’s worth, there’s something especially thrilling about seeing a new Oregon play with an almost all-Oregon cast at one of the most established Oregon theatres. Some parts of it are more successful than others — there are plotlines that could do with a little less air, and Dámaso Rodriguez’s determinedly literal direction has an unfortunate tendency to squash some of the text’s potential poetry — but when it works, it really works. Over the course of these long winter months, these five hours, we watch these eight characters bloom into full, complicated people. We huddle in together to listen, and learn, and wait for the sun.

 

photo via Artists Rep

WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT // Nassim Soleimanpour

In order to get to White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour — as much as we can, that is — we need to start here and now. For me, here and now means sitting in front of a computer at my day job at 8:44am on April 13th, 2018, trying to rewind to where and how I was last night in seat 44D, watching Susannah Mars slit open a white envelope, lean forward, and begin.

Here and now for you is something else. You are somewhere, too, reading these words that I am typing and deleting, typing and deleting again, trying to distill a wild tangle of thoughts about performance and politics and ostriches into what is, at the end of the day, a collection of pixels on a screen. I don’t know where you are, or when you are, or even if you are. Do we have anything in common? Is when you are anything like when I am? Despite the superficial differences that are sure to exist between us, there are some things that don’t change. More importantly, in this moment of me writing, which is my present and your past, and your reading, which is your present and my future, we are connected.

This is only the tiniest fragment of what makes White Rabbit Red Rabbit special, and there is only so much I can say about how and why it works before it feels like a betrayal of the piece, not to mention of both the Nassim Soleimanpour who wrote it in 2010 and the Nassim Soleimanpour who, we assume, we hope, is still out there writing in 2018. The set-up is deceptively simple: every night, a different actor takes the stage (in this run, as part of the A.R.T. Frontier Series: Susannah Mars, John San Nicolas, Ayanna Berkshire, and Darius Pierce). In the room are a sealed envelope containing the text, two glasses of water, a ladder, a group of individuals who have decided to become an audience. Crucially, the actor has never seen the text before, and together with the audience, they plunge blindly into a tale that slips from broad, comedic allegory to presumed autobiography to a subtler critique of the many visible and invisible systems that have convinced us we are under their control.

It would just be a clever gimmick, except that the precipice this mechanism strands the actor and the audience on, together, is what creates its power. It’s also its greatest weakness, a intentional duality of form that’s reflected throughout the piece’s many narrative strands. The success of this show is inseparable from the particular give and take between that night’s actor and that night’s audience, which is an electrifying prospect; however, on the night I saw it, the vocal overconfidence of a few, scattered audience members pulled focus in ways that deflated moments I would have liked to have seen breathe, and overall made for an experience that was more uneven than I would have liked. But I want to be clear that, in this, my disappointment might very well have been someone else’s delight — any frustrations or false starts are also very much the point, and I’m tempted to think that Nassim Soleimanpour would actually be thrilled.

After all, there is no real way to prepare for whatever will happen next. There are no rehearsals for choosing to trust someone, for making up your own mind, for doing the right thing. Over 12 hours later, here in my present that is also your past, sitting in front of a computer at my day job, I am also still frozen in seat 44D, my stomach knotting as Nassim Soleimanpour, with the skill and cooperation of Susannah Mars, and the attention and cooperation of April 12th’s audience, slowly twisted a rhetorical knife that didn’t seem dangerous until it was too late.

UNCLE VANYA // PETE

I once took a directing workshop where the facilitator’s approach to Chekhov was to have actors physicalize their characters’ subtext and then cram that sensation back into the translucent container of the lines. It’s an interesting exercise, but it begs the question: why the extra step? Why not just let the subtext lead the charge? Why not shake it up like a bottle of champagne and let it explode all over everything?

PETE’s Uncle Vanya does exactly that, and it’s glorious. All the little kinks and complications of plot are there too, if you want to look for them, but this production does something braver and more beautiful than just retreading the events of the play — it stages the heart beating under the text. Every word that isn’t straight from the heart is a smokescreen, and both Štěpán Šimek’s translation and Cristi Miles’ direction know it. (Adjectives fail me here, for their contributions as much as for the staggering work of all the designers, actors, and musicians combined: vivid, sharp, wild, brilliant in every sense. “Loose” feels somehow right, too, but that would deny the precision and clear intent every component of this production radiates — loose in the sense of having room to breathe, to really laugh, to take a shot and shimmy across the floor if that’s what the moment needs).

It works because so much more than writing about country estates or samovars or strategically placed firearms, Chekhov writes about being human. About pettiness and stuffiness and snobbery, sure, but also about the deliciousness of inopportune fits of longing, or the burst of giddiness that comes with an epiphany. His characters are always trying desperately to be alive, and always blind to the fact that trying so hard defeats the purpose.

Sometimes you go see a show and you come out entertained. Sometimes you come out energized, or outraged, or weeping. I left thinking that this is what theatre should always feel like — slipping in through the back door to a party in full Technicolor swing, with tears woven in through every laugh, and the reminder that being our most human is the best we can hope to be.

 

photo by Owen Carey

CORBEAUX // BOUCHRA OUIZGEN

We (the audience) are standing in a loose circle in a big open warehouse space (corrugated walls, concrete floor, fluorescent work lights). It doubles as the late-night bar/venue/dancefloor for the TBA festival, and so it feels a little bit like a nightclub with all the lights turned on — landmarks that should be familiar are made unfamiliar again without their usual dressing. There is no pretense of hiding the unused late-night stage, the bar menu painted ten feet high on a back wall, the backstage area built out of pipe and drape.

The particular patch of floor we’ve gathered around isn’t much different from any other patch of floor. Some people stand with their arms folded, some chat quietly with their neighbors or fiddle with their phones. Others post up on the runway that’s been built for the drag extravaganza later that night, treating it like one long bench. One man sits crosslegged in what might be considered the front row, arms extended with his palms face-up on his knees. Festival volunteers, myself included, hang back as the circle forms, expands, adapts.

So we-the-audience wait, and then they are there: a shoulder-to-shoulder silent pack of women, walking calmly to the edge of our audience circle. They are all dressed head-to-toe in different shapes and textures of black. A span of ethnicities, a far greater span in ages. Each woman has a white kerchief wrapped around her head and knotted in the front.

One by one, walk in among us: slowly, calmly, focused. Blank, almost. They find their places, facing us and each other at angles. It takes a while but soon they are all stationed exactly, a pattern of women.

All is still, and then it begins: half the women throw their heads back, half throw them forward, chins to chest, and with this movement the group lets loose a cry/yell/grunt in a steady rhythm. Forward, back. Forward, back. Sharp and precise like chopping wood. They are loud in ways women are not often seen to be or allowed to be loud in public, and it is thrilling.

This kind of noise takes effort. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes in, and we (the audience) can feel it. The performers are sweating. One or another falters just a little, her cry a half-second behind, but the others’ voices buoy her back into the rhythm. Some have balled their fists. One woman’s kerchief loosens and slips down. It obscures her face entirely for a few cries before it settles around her neck for the rest of the performance. The rhythm never once falters.

We (the audience) stand still. Some people are moving a little bit, consciously and unconsciously. I see one woman with tears in her eyes and her hand pressed over her heart. Still the women in the middle of the circle press on, their feet rooted and solid on the ground.

And then suddenly it’s twenty, twenty-five minutes in. In groups, they fall silent. Only one woman is left, rocking back and forth with her cries. So many voices, whittled to just one in all this space. And then it is still again.

Neatly symmetrical.

Except.

Now they are throwing their hands up in joy! They are clapping, they are whooping with happiness, they are wheeling around the circle and straight-up busting a move — not in any choreographed sense, in a hello-we-are-alive way. Alive, and what a marvelous thing that is. Young and old. Red-faced and grinning. At their clear and delighted invitation, we the audience clap and whoop along with them. They dance and dance and run and dance. We dissolve into them, or they dissolve into us. We, all of us, in a circle, alive and cheering.

some feelings about “mother!”

First, a few words about what this is not:

  1. This is not a review. There are plenty of good ones out there, if that’s what you’re looking for.
  2. This is not an essay on what the movie is About. Plenty of excellent folks jumping on that as well.
  3. This is not an indictment (or a pardon).
  4. This is not spoiler-free! Turn back now if you want to see it for yourself first.

Most importantly, this is only nominally about mother! — it is one movie of many, and this is less about what the film is doing (or attempting to do) and more about what I brought to the table when I sat down in that theatre, and what I am taking with me now that I’ve left.

I felt useless. The credits rolled and I felt utterly depleted. Not in a good, sexy exhaustion kind of way, not in a cathartic and-now-I-am-reborn-from-the-ashes way, in an all-I-want-to-do-is-leave-but-I’m-too-tired-to-stand way.

I am tired of the abuse of women being aestheticized. I am tired of male artists justifying the suffering of others (but very often: women) as a necessary sacrifice for their Art*. I am tired of abusers getting to walk away and start clean, while the people they’ve abused (very often: women) are left shattered. I am tired that the work women do has been and continues to be undervalued, under-appreciated, underpaid. I am tired of the outdated and offensive definition of women as bodies-with-uteruses. I am tired of this fight my grandmothers were fighting and that my granddaughters, should they ever exist, will likely be fighting too.

Mostly, I am so, so tired of women being metaphors instead of real fucking human beings.

I should also say: there was so much about this movie that I was ready to love (not really the right word, but it’s as close as I can get right now) — and I’m not convinced that Aronofsky doesn’t want me leaving his movie outraged by the cruelty it contains. It did, at least, make me feel something. Maybe the allegorical cleverness of it all will, with some distance, outshine the knot in my stomach. Maybe my outrage and exhaustion will crystallize into something more useful. I don’t know.

 

 

 

 

*To be clear, I am talking specifically about Javier Bardem’s character, not Aronofsky

Guest Post for RISK/REWARD 2017!

Twenty minutes is nothing, and forever.

At Risk/Reward, twenty minutes is an entire ecosystem. A planet that unfolds itself, envelops you in its particular air and quality of light, and then—with varying degrees of gentleness—spits you back out into the stars for the next planet to appear out of the darkness and pull you in. Two hours later, walking out after the last piece, I felt like examining myself for passport stamps, skinned knees, seasickness: any lingering sign that my heart and mind had just been whirled into and out of six stunning and gut-busting and gloriously difficult worlds.

read the rest over at the Risk/Reward blog!

RODNEY KING // Roger Guenveur Smith

Rodney King is the most profound solo performance I have ever seen. Roger Guenveur Smith is a jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly incredible writer and performer. Three days on I am still reaching for words that will fit the enormity and depth of the experience. I don’t know that they exist. Even if they do, my voice really doesn’t matter much in this conversation: I’m a middle-class white girl. With a show like this, with history like this, it’s my job to show up and listen.

What I can tell you is, whether you too are a middle-class white girl or not, listen to what Smith is doing, and listen hard. From the moment Smith appears, words already rolling out of his mouth at a steady, studied clip, until the last, slow-motion second as he disappears from view, he pulls the audience to him. We are, instantly, in his world. He moves, constantly and with complete control, riding out invisible shifts in the ground that are one moment waves, then a Los Angeles freeway, then the swimming pool where Rodney King was found dead, then waves again. Though his narrative meanders, it circles itself with precision: there is not a word or a motion wasted, and it is utterly mesmerizing.

The picture that starts this post contains almost every “design” element of the piece: a rectangle of white paint on the floor, surrounded by a moat of matte black, a corded microphone snaking up from below. A black baseball jersey with Los Angeles across the front, black pants, no shoes. All that’s missing is a mad collage of music and TV reportage that ushers the piece in (and, artful and helpful in equal measure, grounds it in its specific space and time), a spotlight that sometimes forms a smaller cage inside the rectangle’s limits, and the awful, blaring red and blue of police lights. Signs and symbols stripped down to the essentials, creating space for the looping, interconnected web Smith is always, always weaving.

In the end, Rodney King is about a lot of things. It’s about justice in America, and how often and horrifically our justice system falls short. It’s about three horrifying, confused days in L.A. in 1992. It’s about the deep, undeniable wounds that racism and violence have torn open (and continue to tear open) in our country. And it’s about Rodney King and his complicated humanity, and the complicated humanity of Smith, too, standing before us with only a microphone and his heart and a story that demands hearing. It is a truly remarkable thing to be present for such generosity of spirit, and I will forever be grateful to have cried and breathed and learned together with that audience.

This weekend, Rodney King comes to Netflix. I am sure it will be a different experience, because these things always are, but watch anyway. It is too important to look away.

 

 

 

Picture by Patti McGuire

YOUR NAME. // Makoto Shinkai

Mitsuha and Taki are, for all intents and purposes, normal teenagers. They have loving, complicated families. They have supportive friends who know when to crack a joke and when to reach out with comfort instead. School isn’t amazing, but isn’t wholly terrible either. Their worries are worries we have, or once had: schoolyard embarassments, menial after-school jobs, family obligations. Dreams of a different, adult life surely waiting in the next town over. And then, just as a rare comet is set to streak across the sky above them, this normal boy and girl begin waking up in each other’s bodies and living one day at a time in each other’s lives.

For Mitsuha, so bored of her quiet and traditional mountain village she’s about to burst, intermittently waking up as Taki in his life as a Toyko schoolboy is a chance to explore the world she has always wanted to belong to. Taki, set loose in a world he couldn’t imagine would hold any interest for him, develops a deep appreciation for the natural world and the traditional religious rituals preserved by Mitsuha’s grandmother.

And so there are all the charming misunderstandings and mortifications you could hope for — they scribble earnest and admonishing notes to one another to explain the rules of their lives, they learn which clothes to wear and which crushes to impress, and, though there isn’t really much critique of gendered expectations per se, they stumble their way through which gendered rules could do with some bending and breaking. Of course, as is inevitable in a story like this, they come to depend on each other, and gradually develop a close bond that overshadows the connections they have with the people physically in their lives.

So many other movies would throw in the expected, last-minute revelation, slap a kiss on the end, and then call it a day. But in Your Name., the (immensely enjoyable) fluff of the first half is merely set-up for the real heart of the story, where the cuteness and the humor fade into the background as the story instead asks a deeper question about our responsibilities to the ones we love and about the threads of time that connect us all.

The animation itself is like the best of Studio Ghibli (a tender attention to the details of otherwise ordinary objects and lives, a grounded sense of place laid out in gorgeous watercolor, a reverence for and understanding of the rhythms of the natural world) and also the best of serial anime romances (a truly wonderful title song sequence with all its non-sequitir foreshadowing, daydreams as hilarious alternate realities, crisp comedic timing that snubs the laws of physics). And it is also its own self, gentle with the desires and doubts of its characters and sympathetic to their dreams. Both the city and the countryside are illustrated with the same golden glow: both are places of goodness and beauty, if you know where to look for it. When the story takes a turn for the serious, the animation style does too — including a breathtaking sequence that calmly rewrites the visual and narrative rules of the story we’ve been seeing so far as it transports us into the fabric of time itself — giving the bigger arc of things the weight and importance it deserves.

It’s a little long — the pacing in the last act is not as sharp as it could be, especially given the spot-on rhythms of the first half of the movie — but the story and its visuals are so beautiful I almost didn’t care. These characters are so dear to us, the worlds they inhabit so welcoming, and their sweet, half-remembered longings worth cherishing.

theatre, etc.