Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Iphigenia 2.0 and Guitar Master Les Paul

Quick notes on my two most interesting outings in the city last week. I took in Charles Mee's Iphigenia 2.0 at the Signature Theatre Friday before last and I saw 92-year old jazz guitarist Les Paul's ongoing Monday night show at the Iridium last Monday.


Iphigenia 2.0 rocked my whole world. I was feeling pretty provincial and sad being the only person I know who did not like The Misanthrope at NYTW (bleeeeechhh! yeeeeek!). In fact, there was a little elderly woman at The Misanthrope who got up from her seat in the middle of a middle row in the theater and walked out huffily in the middle of the show-- and that woman has been my secret hero for the last few weeks. My role model and the person whose balls I most covet. I was so miserable. And I wondered if I had just spent too long in Orange County sucking at the SCR playwriting development breast and having my appreciation for avant-garde NY downtown theater eroded.

Then, Charles Mee made me feel good about myself again! He took the Iphigenia story (one of my favorite Greek tragedy sagas since I did a high school monologue from Agamemnon long ago) and tranformed it into a hugely relevant contemporary political drama/farce in which a president (a lot like Bush) is ordered by his troops and general to sacrifice his daughter (a lot like the blond Bush twin) to prove that he is willing himself to endure the sacrifice he is asking of his nation. His wife, Clytemnestra (nothing like Laura Bush-- way cooler as played by the astounding and gorgeously vicious Kate Mulgrew who I love almost as much as the woman who walked out at NYTW!) protests and vows vengeance. The produciton was lavish, full of music and dance, timely and timeless at the same time, spectacularly choreographed and brilliantly acted. I wish I had gone earlier in the run so that I could see it several times.

The text of the play is posted online by Charles Mee here. Agamemnon's opening monologue is worth a few reads, even if you don't have time/inclination to read the rest of the play. I subscribed to the rest of the Charles Mee series at the Signature and will be seeing his next play, Queens Boulevard in November.


My friend Jordan, who is a travel writer for the AAA website, came into town last weekend and got us free press tickets to 92-year-old jazz guitar great Les Paul's ongoing show at the Iridium last Monday night (that is Les' pciture above, taken by Jordan). Normally it is a $45 ticket and a $15 drink/food minimum. We only had to pay for food. Here is the Iridium's calendar in case you want to go check it out.

I am the least musical person on the planet and I loved every second of this concert. Jordan had to explain to me several times who Les Paul is-- in case you don't know, he is the inventor of the electric guitar (although, I think the Leo Fender estate disputes that? One of my Fullerton buds should know). He also colloborated with just about everyone in the music business in the 40s and 50s.

The format of the show mimics an old-style musical variety show. Les has arthritis in his left hand, but still manages to pick out a fair riff with just two fingers. But he can't play all night, so he brings lots of guests on stage to come up and play with him. There was a great tap dancer, even better harmonica guy, some guitarists, and Richie Sambora (from Bon Jovi) who was just in the audience (he showed up shirtless underneath a black suit jacket, so one supposes he had some expectation of getting up and playing a song or two, despite some rather hammish demurring when he was first called on stage).

Les told great stories about Bing Crosby inviting him to record with him 'just after the war' and was really sharp. Made a lot of witty jokes that I liked. Every time a new musician joined him on stage he would put the fellow through a mild hazing period before letting him play: To the harmonica playing guy: "How are the subways treating you?" Apparently it is a deathly insult between muscians to be considered a subway performer. To the guitar player who arranged a microphone in front of his acoustic guitar "Oh, that's clever. That's a clever idea. That's why I invented the electric guitar, actually." To his attractive female bass player "You make me feel like a condemned building with a new flagpole."

Highly recommend this show. He is going strong for 92, but who knows how much longer Mondays will be this cool at the Iridium? He signs autographs afterward and chats briefly with the audience. Go to the 10pm show because he plays longer than at the 8pm. It would be a great gift outing for a beloved music buff, too.

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