Saturday, July 25, 2015

Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang/ Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang
Hub Theatre Company of Boston
Directed by Margaret Ann Brady

Review by Doug Holder

Have you ever had a significant encounter with someone at Market Basket-- in-- say, the frozen food section? I can't say that I have...but while fondling a yam—I had an idea for a poem, but I digress. In playwright Christopher Durang's play “ Laughing Wild,”presented by the Hub Theatre Company of Boston, at the Club Cafe in the South End of the city, something significant happens between two conflicted characters in the tuna fish aisle at Gristede's in New York City. The play ( set in the 1980s)  directed by former Somerville resident Margaret Ann Brady, uses this encounter between an unnamed man and woman as a conduit for an exploration of ontological questions like: why can't I find love? a job? meaningful work? spiritual fulfillment? etc... 

Lauren Elias who plays the unstable woman (the character has had several stints at the state mental hospital) assaults a neurotic male New Yorker as he ponders the existential question: “ What brand of tuna should I buy?” Elias has a set of pipes like Ethel Merman, and the comic flair of the manic Toti Fields. Her eyes are wide-open pools of angst, and fear-- as if some spectral presence revealed itself to her. I also focused on her mouth, a wide, nattering orifice, that chattered incessantly, as if we were viewing a Beckett play. There was a yin/yang thing going on in her performance-- a raging Prince Hamlet throwing barbs at a hypocritical society, the thinning of the ozone layer, Ronald Reagan, even Mother Teresa and her dreadful love of children. On the other side is a women seeking connection, and realizes her search for the silver lining is lost in the dark cloud banks.

Robert Orzalli, the object of the woman's attention, has a wonderful doughy and rubbery face, and shock of Harpo Marx curly hair, all of which help convey his zany embrace of New Age philosophy and the obligatory platitudes—while at the same time letting out burst of contempt about the search for beauty, relationships, a meaningless job, his life as a Gay man, and the list goes on.

Brady, who told me she once lived on Ibbetson Street in Somerville ( Where my Ibbetson Street Press was founded), and was part of the Mrs. Potato Head comedy/musical troupe with my next door neighbor on School St., Berklee professor Lucy Holstedt, has long been a fan of Durang—a master of satire, dark comedy, and all kinds of absurd drama. This is evident in the energy the players bring to the stage, and the audience “laughing wild” in their seats.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Interview with Heather Aveson: New News Director of Somerville Community Access TV

Interview with Heather Aveson: New News Director of Somerville Community Access TV

By Doug Holder

Heather Aveson joined me at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square to talk about her new role as the News Director of Somerville Community Access TV's program,  Somerville Neighborhood News. Aveson is an energetic woman with an infectious smile, and is as accessible as any of the staff at the station, who I have worked with over the years. From my chat with her I came away with the distinct impression that she abhors the obvious story, and always digs deep into its soft underbelly.

Aveson is no stranger to Somerville. She has lived on Willow Ave., and bought her first house on Lowell St. with her husband, before defecting to the 'burbs. I asked Aveson what she thought about the gentrification of Somerville.  As chance will have it she told me she was working on a story about this very subject. She has already learned that much of the investment in real estate in our community is coming from Russian and Chinese interests.She said, “I am asking, 'Where are we going from here?' I wonder if people who are born and raised in Somerville will be able to continue to live here. I am afraid Somerville may be on the road to becoming a sterile environment -- like say Kendall Square in Cambridge.”

Aveson took over the directorship of Somerville Neighborhood News when the founding director Jane Regan moved on to new horizons. Aveson was a former news producer at WGBH on the 10:00 News with Christopher Lydon. She told me," Chris set the bar very high. He always encouraged me to dig deep.”

Aveson reflected, “ I want to continue Jane's mission of giving a voice to people who don't have a voice.” And some of these people she gave a voice to were the Nepalese community in our city, as well as the janitors at Tufts University who were being laid off, etc... Aveson said he wants to report on stories that are interesting, controversial, and important to the community.

Although SCAT has a a lot of new innovations and cutting-edge technology, it of course can't compare to WGBH where Aveson once worked. Aveson opined, “ Telling a story, is telling a story. It is what you bring into it. I want to be a hands on person with a close relationship with the community.”

When I asked Aveson to talk about her time with Lydon on WGBH her eyes' lit up. She said “ Chris brought a curiosity and passion to his work. We did a diverse group of stories from a local piano builder in Woburn,  to a piece on  Stan Grossfield' (The Boston Globe) war photography concerning the Beirut conflict, and other fascinating stories.”

Aveson told me she also works as a programming coordinator for Wilson Farms in Lexington. She created the famed “ Spooky Hayride” event that has run for the past ten years. She is a strong advocate of urban farming—creating plots to grow veggies amidst the hot asphalt of the city.

Aveson tries to instill in her staff and interns the need to research a story—and to have a sense of history. For instance, instead of  simply writing a story that a new business opening in Somerville, the reporter should ask questions like, "Why did they chose a place to do business where things can change drastically in just a few years, etc... Aveson said, “ You have to be open to the fact that a story unfolds one way,  but it may go in a totally different direction. You have to be flexible"'
I am looking forward to the ongoing changes Aveson will bring---  here... in the Paris of New England.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Underwater Typewriter By Marc Zegans

Poet Marc Zegans

The Underwater Typewriter
By Marc Zegans
Pelekinesis Press

Review by Meghan Guidry

Charting the Depths – A Review of Marc Zegans’ The Underwater Typewriter

Poets who are capable of fearlessly engaging with the sting of absence are rare, and in his new collection The Underwater Typewriter, Marc Zegans’ has proven that he is in that select few. The collection is visually lush and carefully crafted, the mark of a poet who is deeply attuned to the undercurrents of the world as it is both experienced and imagined.

Stylistically, Zegans draws from the American Beat Poets and British Romanticism to shape an immersive poetic landscape simultaneously luminous and lonely. He is fearless with language, weaving luxurious description into every line of text—yet Zegans knows that compelling poetry needs more than description alone. What makes The Underwater Typewriter truly alluring is the poet’s clear vision and interlocking themes.

Human engagement and connection is a negative condition of survival in Zegans’ poetic environment. Without it, we perish. This is the axiom of Zegans’ work: The whiplash anxiety between grasping for connection and the moments of grace when it’s obtained.

Zegans’ speakers’ voices are at once wise and terrified, the latter because of the former. Understanding the importance of skin, of smile, of safe silence between self and other, Zegans’ poetic avatars turn the world for authenticity, and for meaningful connections to place, to time, and most importantly, to people.

Absence and distance are tangible beings in Zegans’ work. These are no less important, and no less real, than the speakers themselves. They are the tactile gulfs separating us from each other, whether by circumstance or design. Zegans both maps and mitigates these gulfs, charting the places where two souls press against the shared distance between them.

    Imagine two perfect absences
    separated by interval
    un-reckoned by the cycles of light.

                                                                   (from" The Reunion of Darkness")

Zegans charts these distances not through measurement, but by artifact, by what he pulls from the depths of the spaces between us, executed expertly in poems such as “Salvage” and “Hacking”

        Yet we haul and fondle worn bits, gauging
        texture and mass, function and fit, and loss
        holes and breakage, sometimes signifying.

                        (from “Salvage”)

        Air rises between me
        and the coat, stained
        orange. What does
        it say about me
        that I wear this pen
        splotched relic
        out and about?

                        (from “Hacking”)

Zegans doesn’t dwell where life dramatically ruptures; instead he rests at the jarring moments when, in the ordinariness of our everyday habits, we are suddenly and inextricably reminded of the abyss lurking just beyond the mundane.

Zegans also brings illusion to the forefront as an incarnation of the fantastic and as a condition of human existence. If illusions of self and meaning separate us from each other, then this poet strives for an inroad that is tangible and sacred in the overwhelming weight of our multitudes of masks.

    As if every part must be a sign post

    A ballyhoo for that which isn’t there
    She’d come quieter, drawing my hand

(from “drawing”)

Zegans is at his best when he, as Helene Cixous wrote, “writes by the light of the axe.” His language is vivid, colorful, and sensory, but it is the moments he speaks unadorned that truly sing, the moments in which he bravely confronts the reader and dares us to know him:

    I cannot raise the strength
    to summon the day dream
    that allowed me know
    the world without border

(from “perchance”)

The Underwater Typewriter isn’t merely a collection of poems. It is an assembly of artifacts dragged from the depths of human relationship and heart, laid bare to turn, to witness, and ultimately, to love.

The Underwater Typewriter is published by Pelekinesis Press, and is available for pre-order here:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Furs Not Mine By Andrea Cohen

Andrea Cohen

Furs Not Mine
By Andrea Cohen
Four Way Books
New York, NY
ISBN: 978-1-935536-51-2
89 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Poems as polished as those by Andrea Cohen give up their secrets very slowly. Furs Not Mine, Cohen’s newest collection encourages her readers to enter its confines with enameled logic and diamond-edged imagery. Once inside one finds a sense of loss, a Siberian coldness, and a ghostly hunger for a way out. Escape, however, may not be in the cards. The chilliness continues even after the book’s completion and Cohen’s well-wrought lines ebb away into mnemonic limbo.

The opening poem, a really marvelous short piece entitled The Committee Weighs In sets the tone. Give and take repartee between mother and daughter exudes warmth, family closeness, and intellectual life. Then, of course, clarity enters with its uncomfortable surprises. The poet’s persona has just jokingly announced her reception of the Nobel Prize to her mother who engages playfully. The poem continues,

Again? she says. Which
discipline this time?

It’s a little game
we play: I pretend

I’m somebody, she
pretends she isn’t dead.

Notice that the startling last line all but swallows up the self-deprecating humor prefacing it. Nice touch.

Breaking and Entering, a poem of profound pessimism, leaves one locked in a world of night where homes devolve into lonely interiors. Cohen’s wit takes control here, saving the day and keeping the piece emotionally taut. Here’s the heart of the poem,

Mostly the home
invasion is an inside
job: your interiors
get ravaged and pointing

a finger, you
mean to seek

damages. I left
the window open,

told the guard
dogs to roll over.

He pinched my last

Cohen’s poem Macaroons quips about the penultimate things of life, as well as the acceptance of death. Her tone is clipped. The phrase “I get it” takes on a sullen choral power not directed at her dead mother, but rather at the deal humanity gets as one by one they make their way through the brutish and duplicitous aspects of life. The poet especially pummels the concept of the Promised Land. Navigating the short lines and tight logic I felt breathless, caught in the poem, unable to slip out between the syllables. From the very first line the tone of the piece never varies. Cohen opens her strange lament with acceptance, aggressive acceptance,

I get it now
You’re dead.
You can’t do
you used to.
Reruns instead
of new episodes.
I get it.
You can’t send
Macaroons this Passover…

My favorite poem in this collection Cohen entitles Bargain. The poet relates a story line as old as human kind. Well-heeled travelers are led into the desert, perhaps for quixotic reasons (Magi? tourists?). Their guide wants to renegotiate the terms of their agreement now that he has the upper hand. In the desert no deal is iron-clad. Everything can be renegotiated when circumstances change. The irony of their situation strikes a chord due to the self-satisfied arrogance that led the travelers into this trap of their own making. In fact I know a little bit about this type of negotiation, only it happened to me at 12,000 feet in the Hind Kush Mountains. My guides, who otherwise were quite honest, saw an opportunity to exercise their business acumen. We compromised. Back to the review at hand. Cohen ends this poem with a grounding eye-opening flip. She uses this technique in many of her pieces and she does it well. Actually, she does it better than anyone I can think of. The poet details a changing reality,

Such slim wages

to take us, without
complaint, all the way—
so far, without a star.

We were in the middle
of nowhere, or at its edge.
Friends, he asked, from

inside that blackness,
what will you pay me
to take you back?

The word “Friends” in this context deserves special mention for its remarkable and almost instantaneous transformation into a sinister threat par excellence, infused with surrounding darkness in case one misses the point.

Furs Not Mine, the title poem, seems almost etched onto the page. Each line exposing angular depth as it builds into the singular metaphor. The poet’s spiritual iciness speaks for itself. Consider these telling lines,


need not be or speak Russian
to comprehend the sense

of furs not mine. One need only
to have known deep cold, an inmost

Siberia made more Siberian by one
who basks nearby, oblivious in her Bolivia.

Like an unindicted co-conspirator he lords over us, this God of ours, the God of Job, with arched right eye and then judges us for what we do and don’t do. Yes, we created this God not only to share our guilt, but also to commiserate with us over his so-called gift of free will. Yeah, thanks a bunch. Cohen puts it another way in her riveting poem entitled Sins of Omission. Her protagonist, stricken with regret over life choices and lost potential, tests the very reality of her dream-world and calmly arrives at its dead end. Her family dissolves as she steps back in existential dread,

…God knows
we’ve been left
out by God.
The last part I
say under my breath
so my son
won’t hear. But—
little pitchers—he
does. Mom, he
says his brow knit.
It’s the moment
I’ve dreaded. You
know I don’t
really exist, right?

Poems that confront the glacial landscapes deeply within our shared consciousness are few and far between. Cohen’s icy architectures in this stellar collection showcase her uncommon bravery in facing humanity’s common, but no less scary, demons. Engagement generates warmth. That’s one of the poet’s secrets. Now breathe.