Friday, May 31, 2019

Inez Hedges and Avriel Hillman : Two Talented Somerville Women Behind 'Kafka in Palestine'

Avriel Hillman ( left)   Inez Hedges ( right)  

By Doug Holder

Playwright Inez Hedges and Director Avriel Hillman seemed to be joined at the hip when they met me at the Diesel Cafe at Davis Square in Somerville. It seems that the duo has great chemistry—sharing knowing smiles and quick laughter. Inez Hedges, who was a film studies professor at Northeastern University for many years, has a new play out titled, "Kafka in Palestine” that  deals with the friendship of the noted writer Franz Kafka, and his sister in the early 20th Century. It is directed and Is being further developed for an NYC production by Avriel Hillman.

Inez Hedges, who lives near Davis Square, is very invested in the community  Avriel Hillman, who resides in Union Square, is an accomplished actor, teacher, director, and script coach who is very passionate about theater development. She studied play development and directing at Brown University with the likes of playwright Paula Vogel and director/dramaturge Oskar Eutis of the Public Theater.  She is known for her years on the HBO distributed video series, “ The Babysitter's Club” and as the voice of Penny on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Hedges told me she has lived in Somerville since 1994. She loves the area — noting the block parties, the community spirit, and she has a particular place in her heart for Somerville Open Studios -- that she tries to attend every year.

Hillman’s reflections on our city, as a native New Yorker, were much about it’s unique beauty and peace, a change from New York, where she maintains many professional contacts, clients, and projects.  She travels back and forth for work often, if not weekly, but values the energetic contrast of Somerville, and the opportunity to build something here that is missing in the community as a professional acting coach and developer of new works, where much of her passion lies. 

Hedges, whose father was an American diplomat -- had a wanderlust of a childhood, living in Germany, France, Turkey, Switzerland and elsewhere. She told me under the regimented French school system—she never learned about French antisemitism, or even the Holocaust.“ The curriculum stopped in the 17th Century. Talk of antisemitism was brushed to the side. This, in spite of the fact that 76,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps during World War 11 from France,” she said.  When Inez married the noted historian Victor Wallis, and talked to his extended Jewish family—she was informed fully about the long history of hatred toward the Jews. So it follows Hedges would write about Kafka, who fretted about antisemitism in his native Prague.

I asked Hedges why she chose Kafka as a focal point for her play.   She replied “I studied German as well as ancient Greek at Harvard. It happened that I was helping a friend on a project centered around Kafka's works. I wound up reading many of his stories. I was interested in many of the ideas he espoused in his writing. For instance: his concerns with stifling bureaucracy, the hamfisted, illogical rule of the state, things like this spurred me on to write a play where he was featured.” 

Hillman has a similar affinity with Kafka.  She shared that the first piece she directed out of Brown University was a version of Kafka's “The Castle” in Seattle, and how she has always been drawn to Kafka's unique intelligence and ability to identify the absurdity of beaurocracy and authoritarian structures and his identification of systemic roles and identities that impede free will, the liberation of the spirit, and the consciousness of man.  Kafka spoke to her in his innate way of challenging how societal constructs, which “we” consume and absorb, can belittle the soul. 

Hillman, who is intent on developing film/theatrical work that is political in nature, is the progenitor of the “Authentic Acting Approach” dedicated to enhancing organic connections to material for actors, and is a certified instructor of the Chubbuck technique, which is hailed by A-list stars for creating dynamic award winning performances. She is also launching a new theater company that will inspire new voices that provocatively explore the notion of the heroin archetype and, like Kafka, the importance of discovering and speaking the truth.

Hedges told me she would be presenting a shortened version of the play at the Playwrights Platform Festival in Boston, and a full production is slated to be presented in Austria.

These two brilliant women, are just part of the many fascinating stories that we have here in “The Paris of New England.”

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Alec Hutson: Working Outside of the Music Box.

Alec Hutson at the Bloc 11 Cafe

Alec Hutson: Working Outside of the Music Box.

By Doug Holder

It is hard to label Alec Hutson, and that's OK with him. He is an eclectic artist who is involved with many different projects. I met Hutson in the backroom of my usual haunt, the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. Hutson is a 30ish looking man, with a shaved head, a well-trimmed beard and an intense intellectual look about him. Hutson told me that he has lived in Somerville for the past 4 years.

He said he loves living here, but qualified it. “It is very expensive. Because of gentrification artists have to be very creative about how they earn income. Hutson lives in a cooperative house in the Spring Hill section of the city. He works as a freelance graphic designer, a waiter at the famed Club Passim, and the leader of the band, aptly named, “Alec Hutson.”

He defines the music he and his six piece band play as experimental pop music. Hutson explained, "It is a tricky genre. My music revolves around several different types. Categories like soul, rock or folk don't quite fit. My music is both catchy and experimental.” Hutson told me that the band “Talking Heads,” is an inspiration. Like the Talking Heads he incorporates many different types of music into his work like: Bossa nova, jazz, Russian and Jewish music, etc...

Hutson told me he started out studying classical piano. He went on to play the guitar in high school. He went to school at U/Mass Amherst for architecture, but as a post graduate he trained himself in video production, design, and multi-media production, thus his part time gig as a freelance designer.

In terms of lyrics for his music Hutson counts singer/songwriter Ainslie Wills, and Jeff Buckley as influences. He said, “ I like how they draw things from their experience, not from whatever is popular at the time. The lyrics feel true. They write about what moves them. I can relate to what they are saying.”

Hutson told me he has been involved in Buddhist meditation for the last year and a half. He recently went on a 10 day retreat. Hutson believes that these periods of silence and meditation help him as a person and a musician.

Hutson told me there are Somerville residents in his band, one of whom is his roommate. Another one of his bandmates lives down the block from him. It is evident that Somerville is fertile ground for a harvest of creatives.

Hutson has played at a number of venues in Somerville such as :The Burren, Thunder Road, Bull McCabe's and others. He told me he is about to embark on a three week West Coast tour with his band this summer and he hopes it bears fruit.

I imagine Hutson will progress with his work, and will be another artist who has lived and thrived in the “Paris of New England.”

For more info go to:

Review: Sex & Other Slapsticks by Ellaraine Lockie ( Presa Press)

Review: Sex & Other Slapsticks by Ellaraine Lockie  
--reviewed by Gregory J. Wolos
The title of Ellaraine Lockie’s latest poetry collection, Sex & Other Slapsticks, begs a question, which her poems answer with candid mirth, spirit, and often a touch of wisdom: what do sex and slapstick comedy have in common? Remembering that the term “slapstick” derives from the joined slats of wood used in 16th century commedia dell’arte (think “Punch and Judy”), we have our answer—the two terms of Lockie’s title both require bodies, both imply performance, both can make us laugh or cry; and both remind us of our shared humanity.
A slapstick is a prop, and props and performance draw Lockie’s keen comic appraisal in the poems and brief prose pieces comprising this collection. In “To Dana,” (subtitle :“Whose Deathbed Wish Was for a Friend to Dispose of Her Vibrator Before the Family Found It”), Lockie describes her personal history with props of self-stimulation, highlighting her own fear of “embarrassing” exposure as she imagines her own “piece of personal plastic” “mauled in front of my mother-in-law” by the family dog or accidentally activated at airport security where it “purred itself into a bomb bluff.”
Another poem centered around a prop and imbued with physicality is “Bidet in a Haebun,” in which the narrator and her husband consider with growing curiosity the bidet in the bathroom of their Florentine five-star hotel. At first they guess at its function, then misuse it. After discovering its purpose on Google and absorbing the knowledge that “Americans are unhygienic” compared to most of the world, the poet’s period arrives during the night, while “Light from the full moon/ floods the bed where she sleeps.” The next morning, she follows the instructions on the internet and, experiencing the satisfaction of “[w]ater like a spring brook,” orders her own “Biffy bidet converter” for her “American” toilet.
As in “Bidet,” ignorance or misunderstanding is pivotal in many of Lockie’s poems, such as “Sex 101,” where the narrator is informed “[a]fter forty years of pacifying penises” that her lover’s “morning erection” did not signal “a need for sex,” and she wasn’t “obligated . . . to lighten his procreative load/ in my most copulatory capacity.” In “Reading at the Little Joy,” the narrator, “Daydreaming on a winter evening . . . on Sunset Boulevard,” is mistaken by two young men as a prostitute. After she asks, “You guys wanna read,” they move on, determining she’s “[t]oo whacky” for what they had in mind.
In “Nomenclature in Montana” Lockie uses language as a prop to trace the loss of innocence that parallels a loss of ignorance. “As children,” she writes, “there were no body-part words” for the animals as they were “making babies.” Her father used simple “bodily function” words like “Pisshole and Asshole,” and her mother favored “a more refined Number 1 Place and Number 2 Place” /Like they were addresses.” Eventually, the narrator discovers “Number 1 ½ Place” that could accommodate fingers “and even welcome houseguests,” but didn’t learn the word “vagina” until high school, believing until then that “twat” was the past tense of “twit.” Like most of Lockie’s “ignorance to knowledge” poems in this collection, “Nomenclature” concludes on a note of personal affirmation, as she considers how the value of “my little piece of property . . . increased exponentially when it served/ as an annex through which my two daughters passed.”
Because, after all, the poems of “Sex & Other Slapsticks” are about accepting ourselves: of our ignorance and fear of humiliation; of our bodies and our sexuality. With or without props, Ellaraine Lackie performs her “slapsticks” for her readers with a kind of warmth and humor that enables us to accept ourselves. She encourages us to appreciate our lives as we would a situation comedy, as in “Sitcom in a CafĂ©,” where we watch the narrator’s deaf and nearly blind ninety-one year old mother deposit leftover restaurant food in what she believes is her handbag, but is actually the mouth of “my niece’s Guide Dog for the Blind in Training.” And, in a final prose poem, “The Robe Also Rises,” Lockie sacrifices her dignity for our mutual identification and self-forgiveness. Futilely chasing after her escaped dog at a mountain resort, she lies down in the snow, and oblivious to the public performance, “spread[s] out into an X-rated snow angel,” a trick that had lured her dog in the past. She raises her arms, revealing a “naked pubis that was as black and silky as my robe,” and, in spite of a little boy’s concern that “Mommy, that lady doesn’t have any underwear on,” the trick works: the dog returns to see what she’s up to, and she snares the pet’s collar. As she leads the dog back to her room, she “ignored the fairly large audience of gaping faces.”
Sex and slapstick, props and performance: in the same way Lockie recaptures her dog, her poems capture us, and we share not only the humiliation of exposure, but the triumph of her successes.