May 2012




The book opens with…

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning in my mind ever since.
        "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

…and closes with:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The book is The Great Gatsby. And I recently got to hear it read aloud in its entirety, in one of the more compelling, unique and dynamic pieces of live performance I have ever experienced. The elapsed time came in at eight hours and fifteen minutes (3-11:15 pm) including a few brief intermissions, and an hour and a half break for dinner.


Who? What? And most curiously, why?


The Elevator Repair Service is a New York-based ensemble theatrical company, given to exploring new challenges in live performance. One such challenge they set for themselves, was to bring this novel to the stage, and not the other way around. A critical distinction.


Their production is not a play based on The Great Gatsby, but The Great Gatsby itself—word-for-word, uncut! This is theater in praise of the act (and art?) of reading. "Gatz" by the way, as in James Gatz, is the legally given name of Jay Gatsby, as we are told in Fitzgerald's narrative.


As the director John Collins explained in a YouTube interview, the richness in the writing of "Gatsby"—a prose so poetic and a story told mainly via the insightful narration of a key character, Nick Carraway — is such that it cannot be cut without losing the power of this masterpiece.


In this production, Scott Shepherd, a little known actor, plays that character while reading the entire book aloud. His performance is perfect in pitch: simple, yet with total command. And as it turns out, he wouldn't even need to have book in hand, as he has long since memorized The Great Gatsby in its entirety; all 47,094 words! In fact, at the beginning of the final chapter, which is 19 pages long (Scribner Paperback edition), he puts the book face down on a table to conclude the story; a sterling moment all its own given its unexpectedness. And as I further learned from that aforementioned interview, given any four consecutive words from any part of the book, Shepherd can pick up the narrative at that point, and go on without missing a beat.


Yet with all this dramatic reading and recitation—and no other words are spoken that are not in the book— there is also an inventive and exciting staging here at work. It incorporates a sizable cast of thirteen actors, and the springboard for their action, lies in a premise that would at first blush seem random and counter to the exercise at hand. But it turns out to be an inspired means to get to the text. It goes like this.


Waiting for a sluggish computer to start in some dusty, dreary office of some small undisclosed and unremarkable business (circa: late 1980's?), a sleepy-looking man—the first one in that morning—finds a paperback copy of The Great Gatsby in an oversized Rolodex. He begins to read it aloud and soon is consumed with it, to the point where he can't put it down. Sheepishly, he looks up from time to time, at his bored and boring-looking co-workers, who begin trickling into the office one by one. They in turn steal glances back at him with some puzzlement and curiosity, as they silently go about their business.


In time, they will all slowly begin to morph into the various characters in the book. And that begins startlingly, when one office worker over by a file cabinet, in becoming Tom Buchanan, blurts out the first words not said by the narrator: "Don't believe everything you hear, Nick." And the "play" is off and running. It is a marathon that the audience will come to follow unflinchingly. I might have heard at most, two or three of those restless "church coughs" throughout this long day's journey into night.


In particular, the "choreography" of the drunken-afternoon-at-The-Plaza scene, is a tour de force all its own. And the juxtaposition of these mundane office workers, taking on the glitz and glamor of Fitzgerald's "jazz age," adds another interesting theme that of course is not in the book.



Gatz; 00:53 trailer:


I went to see it so that you won't have to. Or will be unable to. Or have no OCD predilections to. Though I say this all facetiously, as this is about paying homage to a great piece of literature, not about endurance and stamina or compulsion. Long after Gatz leaves the legendary Joseph Papp founded Public Theater, The Great Gatsby will remain. Forever accessible to all.


It was impossible for me, not to go back and pick it up yet again, despite having read it three times at various points in my life. It reminded me that while reading does make special demands on our time, energy and focus, the rewards are great. Though given the ever expanding roles of visual communications, those rewards may no longer be so self evident.


Yet one might make the argument that with the growth of Kindles, Nooks and other eBook platforms, the reading of good books will only increase, not diminish. One would hope so. For when literary works are adapted, edited, cut… something gets lost in the translation. A lot in fact. Gatz brings this point home in dramatic fashion.







"It's Not Always Cancer"


—Dr. Uttam Sinha
Department of Otolaryngology, USC




Sometimes it's cancel, canker, canter,
If one is inclined to play in a sandbox of words.
Sometimes it's nothing. Though nothing
Carries a weight all it's own.

Nothing can be a something
As in a black hole that festers
Beneath the rind
Sucking life through a straw
If one dare probe deeply enough.
Yet dare one ignore?


According to science existence began
With a Big Bang born of nothingness.
From there came mortality
With its cheap commodity of time.


Followed or preceded by an immortality?
A rarer than never form of I?


Unless there is something after all
To those Greek and Roman gods
Channel surfing to check on the fray
Throwing their hate into the ring—
Cantankerous cusses in delirium are they.


Invasive when not given to non-intervention;
Rounders up of white cells in black hats
To battle the good guys oddly in red;
Promising some grapes of discomfort…
Delivering the whole vine of wrath.



Green-gowned and rubber-gloved
He slips into the room
God-like in his own but benevolent way
Just back from parting a red sea of blood.


Probing where a gag reflex lies in waiting,
He can quite put his finger on the problem.
As if a diving rod
It finds a fertile ground between
Nothing and Something:
A damage that can be easily mended.
"It's not always cancer," he states as if
Discussing the ripeness of fruit
Feeling his way about the troubled tissue.


His word made flesh—the spirit awakens
To roll away the stone.
Then out the evolving door it flies
Into heavy yet now negotiable
Freewill traffic.

                                     —Ron Vazzano






A Clark Encounter of a Life Kind



With the passing of Dick Clark last month at age 82, those of us of a certain age, could not help but recall American Bandstand, the program he hosted for many years beginning in '57. It was "must-see TV" for a legion of teens, especially in those infant days of rock 'n roll.


As a figurehead, he seemed the epitome of "square." What with his black patent-leather hair, and in suit and tie, he could have been for all the world somebody's high school English teacher. Yet there he was, promoting a new music genre, that would go on to become a touchstone in our sociological history. For the first time, teens would begin to establish an identity that wasn't just an extension of their parents. They now had their own music. And things would never be the same. And Dick Clark played a major role in that development.


Later of course, he would become the American face of New Year's Eve—an icon—in much the same way Guy Lombardo (a Canadian), had previously been.




In an appraisal written by Stephen Holden in The New York Times following Clark's passing, he noted that: "A key to Mr. Clark's appeal was his utter lack of grandiosity."


I got to witness that up close one time, upon being invited— along with a number of other folks in the ad biz—to a soiree at his house in Malibu. "House" here, being an understatement of gigantic proportions. It seemed the size of a grand hotel, with a boundless living room serving as its elegant lobby. And situated oceanfront, it was in touching distance of the waves rolling in just off the veranda. Yet while the dwelling was grandiose, to echo Mr. Holden, the man himself was not.


He greeted us warmly at the door and immediately stated, that those ties we all sported back then, had to come off immediately. It was time to "loosen up, relax, and enjoy the evening." And despite being the consummate man of business and a known workaholic, whose worth is in the hundreds of millions, he seemed almost apologetic later in conversation, when someone asked what might be a typical day for him.


"I can get a lot done that way," he said when discussing how he worked the phone from the back seat of his chauffeured car, on his way to the office each morning. As this was 1983, the ubiquity of the cell phone had not yet come to pass. And though now here we are in 2012, most of us have the phone, but where is that ride?


I would then go on to have a private moment with him that night, that is still so distinct after all these years, despite how rather benign it all might seem.


How the conversation got started, I can't recall, but he was telling me about his collection of Life magazines. And when I showed a real interest (I have been known to collect a few things myself), he took me to a room downstairs that housed every issue of Life ever published. It began with that first one of November 23, 1936, that was passed on to him by his grandmother. Grandma would also pass on other Life's, and into adulthood, his collection would continue.


As he slid out one of the custom made glass panels built into the wall, here was that inaugural issue on display.




It struck me how proud he was of his collection, and how incongruous this all seemed. One would expect that if one were to be made privy to any sort of collection by a celebrity of that magnitude, it would be something along the lines of original works by well known artists, a la Steve Martin, or say in the case of Jay Leno, luxury cars. But here I was, alone with Dick Clark and his Life magazines. And despite all his wealth, you could sense that the value to him of what lie within those sliding panels, was as they say… Priceless!


Rest in peace Dick Clark (1929-2012)






Quote of the Month




                     Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica California April 18, 2012; photo by Ron Vazzano ©







Damsels in This Dress




Not long ago, I happened upon the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and a wonderful exhibit entitled "IMPACT: 50 Years of the Council of Fashion Designers of America." It traced the various fashion trends by decade, with various exemplary attire on view. The 1960's were described as a "Youthquake! A Fashion Revolution." What else. For when one speaks of that era, a descriptive of "revolution" is never far behind.


What caught my eye here in particular, was an over the top Bob Dylan dress displayed in a plexiglass case. I remember the 60's (despite the cliche that "If you remember the 60's, you weren't there"), but I don't remember that dress. It turns out to be made of paper no less (no rhyme intended).


I remember the war, but fashion statements, other than long hair, bell bottoms and tie dying, were not on my radar. Maybe it's just a draft-board-breathing-down-your-neck-during-an-even-Walter-Cronkite-denounced-war, guy kind of thing. So I snapped. A picture. And decided to check it out further, so cool and funky, this garment.



                                                                                 Carnaby Street


A particularly helpful website noted that:

"The wonderful paper dress was a must-have fashion item in the mid to late sixties. They were designed by people such as Andy Warhol and featured icons such as this Blonde On Blonde era black and white image of Dylan.


The paper dress (blended with other cellulose material) was introduced by the Scott Paper Company in 1966 as a promotion tool for their range of paper towels and coloured toilet paper.


The dresses became an instant success and sold over half a million at around $1.50 each. (One of the originals might now cost well over $1,200 according to another on line source).

By 1968 the demand for this fashion fad had waned, and the paper dress was discarded."

While all this is very informative, reports on its demise are greatly exaggerated, as the damsels in this dress might indicate.





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