New Directors/New Films: Every Little Step (2008)

[This is the third in a series of dispatches relating to the New Directors/New Films series, running between March 25 and April 5 at MOMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.]

everylittlestep

An actor friend and I recently entered into a heated but civil disagreement about his career. My friend insisted that it was now the time to self-promote and self-aggrandize like there was no tomorrow. I pointed out to my pal that he had talents that simply hadn’t yet been recognized by the right people, and that getting noticed simply wasn’t something he could calculate. He had the goods, but I had grave concerns that his work would be marred by solipsism, whether real or perceived. He had the obligation to stay working — whether it be dinner theater, off-Broadway, or top-notch production — and to practice as much humility and tenacity and dignity as he could under the circumstances. The acting business involves a lot of waiting, many nos, and an array of judgments which simply do not exist in any other occupation. Small wonder then that, when an actor does manage to secure himself a top perch, he is granted an unprecedented amount of assistants and press protection. For by the time an actor has made it this far, the relatively anonymous artist who struggled for years has capitulated his relative obscurity. But isn’t the acting profession something of a devil’s bargain? You entertain a crowd, but you do so at the expense of presenting your true self. And you do so knowing that you will have to fight tooth and nail to keep the rent paid and the work coming. Not many people can do this, but so many are driven to expend every ounce of spare energy into seizing a small scrap of the stage.

The documentary Every Little Step examines these often underreported realities with the casting sessions for the 2006 A Chorus Line revival. Filmmakers James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo were apparently granted backstage access as the casting stretched into endless callbacks over many months. I do not know if there were any quids pro quo arrived at during this documentary journey, but there’s certainly a meta irony given the show in question. As audience-friendly as A Chorus Line and Every Little Step both are, Stern and Del Deo are to be commended for exposing a handful of the profession’s ugly little truths. There is, for example, some concern about an actress up for the role of Connie. She was born in Japan, but can she nail the right dialect if she wasn’t born in the States? A cocky dancer and choreographer named Tyce Diorio boasts to the camera that he wants his own television show. But his clear hubris is immediately observed by the casting team and he is dumped. One dancer is asked to reproduce what she did last summer, but cannot recall specifically what it was and is too nervous and shell-shocked to ask.

The film is careful to expose what lies in the future for these young and hungry gypsy aspirants, but it doesn’t always present its mini-narratives holistically. One dancer’s father describes a moment in his early forties when both of his knees blew out. He still tried to dance anyway and found himself backstage with his boots soaked in blood. But what did he do when he knew he couldn’t dance? That might have been another documentary altogether, but this intriguing yet unfulfilled story demonstrates the film’s weakness in trying to tackle too much.

Of course, as every good Broadway aficionado knows, A Chorus Line was one of the first major Broadway productions to be workshopped, with Michael Bennett leading a recorded series of confessions after midnight that served as the transcribed template. The film does not quibble with the controversial claim that Bennett was the sole man behind the show, nor does it quite expose Bennett’s tendency to control every project that he was involved with.

I likewise found myself wondering how much Bob Avian (the revival’s director) was playing up his kindness before the cameras. He is presented here as a gruff, no-nonsense, barrel-chested administrator, his team shuttling around and encouraging prospective applicants. But Avian is capable of being genuinely moved. When Jason Tam delivers his gut-wrenching monologue as Paul, both the show’s production team and the audience watching this film know that he will get the part. So perhaps Every Little Step functions on three levels: the Broadway audience who will see the show is “entertained” by dancers begging for their parts (lightened somewhat by the Marvlin Hamlisch’s famous bouncer, “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”), the audience who will see this film is “entertained” by dancers begging for their parts (lightened somewhat by crowd favorites getting the role), and the director being photographed is “entertained” by prospective dancers while making often brutal decisions (his duties lightened somewhat by a few on-camera moments that suggest he’s not that bad of a guy).

I was less taken with the film’s clear promotion of A Chorus Line, but quite engaged by the process of auditioning itself. Hearing a director describe the ideal Val as someone with “a truck driver’s mouth, but who’s really a sweetheart” is a sentiment you might find on any promotional pamphlet, as is Hamlisch himself describing yet again how the title “Tits and Ass” transmuted into “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” But seeing a director quietly beseech an actor on stage to get a performance right, because there may very well be some rejection that he must uncomfortably come to terms with, is the mark of a decent documentary. I wished Every Little Step had pursued more moments in the latter category. But a struggling actor may find some of the film’s quiet revelations engaging — in large part because the actor doesn’t always see himself from a camera’s third-person perspective.

Theater Review: Queens Girl

Queens Girl is a one-woman show written and performed by Lauren LoGuidice. It is playing here in New York at a venue called Stage Left on January 29, 30, and 31st. From there, it moves on to San Francisco. I was contacted out of the blue by a publicist and opted to attend. My +1 had to back out. My alternate +1 likewise found himself busy. I was frankly too lazy to enlist a third +1. So I attended alone. I was one of two press members in the audience. I am still not entirely sure why I was contacted.

I am informed by Ms. LoGuidice’s website that the show was once called Skinny Girl, but there is no specific reason given for this title change. My own titular preference is Queens Girl. And having seen the show, my own preference would have involved less multimedia and more performance. I suppose the idea here was to suggest distractions which present one from being true to one’s self, but bombarding the audience with often needless visual information and regrettably obvious musical cues (e.g., The Godfather theme playing when we learn about the Italian neighborhood Ms. LoGuidice grew up in) only succeeded in this reviewer wondering why the real Ms. LoGuidice was still hiding, and why she cared so much about appealing to the crowd. The show’s truest moment came with Ms. LoGuidice impersonating a homophobic ruffian shrieking at “Ms. LoGuidice” to leave the neighborhood. That such a moment comes from the portrayal of another figure reveals the show’s central problem. We learn that Ms. LoGuidice has spent all of her adult life running to other places. Bombay, San Francisco, the Meatpacking District. But to what end? We never know. The multimedia proves too intoxicating.

Now ancillary information is sometimes a regrettable obstacle that hinders an individual from telling the truth. I can tell you that the show’s running time was sometime between 32 and 37 minutes. Had my cell phone battery not expired, I would be able to give you a precise figure. The other journalist attending the show, who was diffident about revealing his name and outlet to me, informed me that the show was 37 minutes. But he had determined this fact from looking at his own cell phone once the show had concluded. It read 8:37 PM. There was then a minor but conciliatory point of argument between us in the elevator ride down over whether the show started at 8:00 PM or 8:05 PM. I advocated the latter time, even though I truthfully wasn’t paying attention and suspected I was wrong. This was not what I would call a prevarication. I was merely being jocose. The idea here was to present a possibly erroneous piece of temporal information for this gentleman to correct me on. But I apparently conveyed my position to him with some entirely unintentional authority, a deadpan confidence that had him believing that the show had started at 8:05 PM. And even though I began to get the sense that I was probably wrong, I politely agreed that the running time might possibly be 32 minutes instead of the 37 minutes he had initially estimated. We both agreed that it was a bit unusual to attend a theatrical presentation that lasted considerably shorter than our subway ride to Stage Left.

Stage Left itself is located on the fifth floor of an edifice located on West 37th Street. There is nothing, aside from the space’s proximity on the western side of the building, that suggested a possible origin for the name. Perhaps there was another imputation behind the name: fringe theater that came out of left-field. But none of this really matters.

I can also report that I was one of only five men in the audience. My audience estimate was 25 people, most appearing to be friends of Ms. LoGuidice. I took notes in a five subject notebook — a knockoff that I had purchased two nights before for $2.79 from a small shop in Tribeca that was something between a bodega and a pharmacy. The pen I used to take notes — a black Uniball — was on its last legs. In looking at the eight pages of notes I took, I am struck by two things: the gradual waning of the ink and my own fierce efforts in the dark to force more ink on the pages. Given that I also took notes on Wednesday night during the Barnes and Noble New York Times event and did not use any of them, I think that I will do the same for this piece. But I will present one note, picked entirely at random, that might give you some sense of my theatergoing experience: “Relies too much on music.”

Those last three paragraphs may be interesting to my friends, but they don’t really tell you anything.

Fringe on the Horizon

About three years ago, when I talked with fellow theatrical producers at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, many of them told me that they had serious reservations about the New York Fringe scene.

“It’s all money over there,” said one. “They’re just looking for the next Urinetown.”

I was a bit skeptical about this charge back then — perhaps because I’m naive or perhaps because, if you have any ambition, it’s extremely difficult to make money at micro-theatre. (It’s worth noting that my own show cost around $3,000 to make, which I was able to generate after selling off most of my music collection — and that’s not even counting volunteer time. Even if I had filled every seat, there was simply no way to break even. But it was worth it.)

But next month, I’ll be able to confirm the veracity (or paucity) of these charges at the New York Fringe Festival, which occurs between August 10th and August 26th. Are these shows designed to catch the eye of off-off-Broadway producers? I’d like to think — at $15 per show — that the Fringe scenario here is fairly comparable to what I experienced in San Francisco.

I’m hoping to offer some coverage here.

Mike Daisey Update

The Boston Globe‘s Geoff Edgers has done some reporting on the Mike Daisey walkout mentioned here on Saturday. It seems that, contrary to Daisey’s claims, there was no religious affiliation with the group. As Edgers reports (in a message received from Principal John Johnson of Norco High School):

It is a choir made up of 15-to-17 year-old students who were in town singing at a festival. As for the chaperone who poured water on Daisey’s notes… Johnson flat out apologizes. “I agree with Mike Daisey,” says Johnson. “With everything that’s going on in the world today, to have somebody come up on stage and take the water and pour it on his script was very inappropriate. I want to make this very clear, I apologize for that happening.”

Now by Johnson’s own admission, we still only have third-hand information to go upon here. But Johnson claims that Daisey’s show was intended as a theatrical experience for these kids and that Daisey’s ample use of “fuck” was one of the motivating factors behind the walkout. But if this is the case, I find it highly implausible that these kids have lived such sheltered lives that they haven’t heard profanity.

As for the man who poured water onto Daisey’s script, he was apparently one of the adult chaperones.

(Thanks, Geoff, for the update.)

[UPDATE: Mike Daisey offers an explanation on his blog:

The group responsible for the incident is from a public high school, though they identified themselves to me as a Christian group as they fled the theater–it’s barely audible on the YouTube clip, as an adult tells me they are a Christian group, then flees for the door, refusing to engage with me. Then in the lobby of the theater and on the phone to the box office they identified themselves again and again as a Christian group–I don’t know what that says about the division of church and state in Norco, California. As a group, the people in charge freely identified themselves as a Christian group, until reporters call and they remember they are from a public high school.

He’s also talked with the man who destroyed his outline.]

Mike Daisey Hijacked Mid-Show

I briefly interrupt my two and a half day hiatus with some important and shocking news:

If you care about the arts, and if you want to see how truly despicable some purported “Christians” are, check out Mike Daisey’s blog. Apparently, as Daisey was in the middle of performing, eighty-seven members of a Christian group walked out en masse and spilled water on Daisey’s ONLY copy of his outline.

Daisey also has a YouTube video of this.

As a person who has written, staged and performed theatre, my greatest empathy goes out to Mike Daisey, who should never have experienced such rampant cruelty. The faceless cowards who did this are no better than the ghouls who burned the Great Library of Alexandria. And I hope that he can comes to terms with this horrible event in the best manner possible. Fortunately, as seen on the YouTube video, he responded to this incident with good humor.

[UPDATE: The Boston Globe‘s Geoff Edgers has done additional reporting. Contrary to Daisey’s assertions, the group was not a Christian one.]

Central Arbiter, My Ass

Robert Brustein: “I realize the changes at the Times are part of its effort to keep financially afloat when the print media are failing to attract enough readers. And yet, despite its abject bow to cultural illiteracy, The New York Times continues to regard itself as the maker of theatrical standards. The New York Post recently reported an angry encounter between the playwright David Hare (whose The Vertical Hour was recently backhanded by the Times) and the paper’s managing director, Jill Abramson. Hare accused the Times (correctly in my opinion) of having little interest in theatre, and even less in plays. Ms. Abramson allegedly replied, “Listen, it is not our obligation to like or care about the theater. It is our obligation to arbitrate it. We are the central arbiter of taste and culture in the city of New York.”

Much as Sam Tanenhaus corrupted the idea of the New York Times Book Review as a “central arbiter of taste and culture” and litblogs have, to some degree, picked up the slack (although the recent “Fiction in Translation” issue was a welcome aberration), perhaps theatre blogs might do the same for New York. I must confess that I’m not entirely familiar with the Broadway blog scene (this will change soon), but Terry Teachout’s theatrical riffs at About Last Night, Broadway Abridged, Broadway and Me and Off, Off Blogway are some blogs I’ve encountered that come to mind. And, of course, here in my town, nobody can touch Michael Rice’s Cool as Hell Theatre, recently picked up by KQED, for in-depth theatrical coverage (116 podcasts!) of the Bay Area theatre scene.

Some newspapers seem to be going well out of their way to make their positions as arbiter…well, less central.

Broadway’s Racial Divide

New York Times: “Urban theater — or what has been called over the years inspirational theater, black Broadway, gospel theater and the chitlin circuit — has been thriving for decades, selling out some of the biggest theaters across the country and grossing millions of dollars a year….The word in the industry is that urban theater is about to go mainstream.”

So let me get this straight. Theater that has proven consistently popular among audiences and that has consistently sold out theaters is not considered mainstream? Simply because of the race of its cast and theatergoers? I have to ask: What does African American-based theater have to do in order to be recognized as “mainstream?” Or perhaps the answer is more ingenuous: Great Jumping Jehosophat! Black people attend the theater too!

In fact, the Times, reporting on New Brunswick theatrical developments (including an all-black version of David Mamet’s American Buffalo), published more or less the same article nearly twenty years ago. Great Jumping Jehosophat! Black people attend the theater too!

A few weeks ago, I attended a revival of Follies, now playing in New York City Center. And one of the things that troubled me about the Follies show was that not one of the theatergoers was African-American. Every single person was white. The only black people in the room were the ushers directing septuagenarians to their seats. And it had me wondering whether I was living in 1957 or 2007.

Granted, one does not attend a Stephen Sondheim revival to find black people. But just as Hollywood continues to remain baffled that black people see movies, Broadway (or, more specifically, the New York Times) does not seem to understand that black people do indeed attend theater and that, heaven forfend, there may be something to this so-called “urban theater” after all! Yes, darling, this “urban theater” is something we simply muuuuuuuust bring up at the next neighborhood association meeting! But we muuuuuuuust see Follies first!

Why this ridiculous categorization of “urban theater?” I certainly don’t call Zora Neale Hurston an “urban writer,” Tupac Shakur an “urban rapper,” Paul Laurence Dunbar an “urban poet” or Scott Joplin an “urban pianist” (although at the 1893 World’s Fair, Joplin was banned from performing ragtime inside the Midway, presumably because he was considered too “urban”). I admire an artist great not because she is “urban” or because she has a darker skin color, but because she produces great art.

San Franciso Fringe Festival

As a man who has volunteered his services in the past for various Fringe plays and who even wrote and directed one (and who is, in fact, working on another), it would be unconscionable of me not to point out that this year’s San Francisco Fringe Festival starts tonight.

There are a few things to observe here:

First off, that sexy podcaster Michael Rice has interviewed many of the Fringe participants (and recently reached his 100th show; congrats Mike!).

Second, a number of regulars return to the Exit’s three stages (and beyond). Jeremy Jorgenson, who put on The Thrilling Adventures of Elvis in Space back in 2004 (the year Wrestling went on), returns with a stirring sequel. The nEO sURREALISTS return with Yeastboy and PigKnuckle. Noah Kelly, a cool cat I know, is one of the talents involved in RIPE Theater’s @Six, performed, believe it or not, at Original Joe’s. And if restaurant cabaret rooms weren’t enough to tickle your fancy, why not try out the play performed on The Mexican Bus?

Jimmy Hogg’s Curriculum Vitae is a one-man show outlining Hogg’s employment history. John Rackham’s Exiles, a play outlining a world without bars, cinemas, theatres and other pleasures, looks interesting. Theatre Tremendo offers a Twilight Zone-style play. There’s even a rock opera called Thanatics.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the excellent Banana, Bag & Bodice has returned with a new play entitled The Fall and Rise of the Rising Fallen, in which Jason Craig and Jessica Jelliffe will not be present, but contacted from the dead.

I hope to catch at least a few of these plays next week and I will report back some of my findings.

Come for the Streep, Stay for the Kline?

New Yorker: “While it is no shock that Streep and Wolfe are faithful to Brecht’s theatrical philosophy, it comes as a pleasant surprise to see Kevin Kline invest himself to a similar degree. Kline—who was the terrifying Nathan in ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ and Trigorin to Streep’s Arkadina in Mike Nichols’s 2001 production of ‘The Seagull’—is, quite possibly, the best partner Streep has had onstage or onscreen.”

Whose Game Is It Anyway?

Back in 1993, when I had grand plans of forming an improvisational troupe in Sacramento that fizzled, I wrote down a list of all of the games in Whose Line Is It Anyway? that I used for auditioning potential actors. I lost the list many years ago, which is just as well, seeing how terrible my handwriting is. Thankfully, Wikipedia ha a list of nearly all of the games used on both the UK and the US incarnations of the program.

Also, if this is true, I had no idea that Tony Slattery went through a midlife crisis where he refused to answer the door and the telephone for six months.

Can There Be a John Osborne Today?

Next Monday is the 50th anniversary of the opening of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. And a new Osborne bio is just out. But is Osborne’s seminal play, with its kitchen sink realism and its Angry Young Man archetype, as influential as people made it out to be at the time? I would argue yes, with the stipulation that if Osborne had not come along, someone else would have. Theatre was intended to break out of its decorum at some point and Osborne’s work, even if you view it as one-note, certainly fits the bill, paving the way for later work by David Mamet, Edward Albee, David Storey, Harold Pinter and David Hare (the latter, incidentally, is one of Osborne’s great champions).

The question of whether Osborne is a seminal figure or not has me wondering whether theatre is still something of a troubled medium. I’ve remarked upon this before, but, here in San Francisco, I find it particularly disheartening to see a lot of theatre people catering to audiences, resorting to staged adaptations of films (Evil Dead Live) and even television (the Dark Room’s Twilight Zone productions) to get young people into the seats.

What this suggests to me is that something which confronts will be either viewed as bad performance art (and let’s face it: much of it is) or it will be ignored by audiences looking for some comfort zone: essentially, a reproduction of something that can be seen on their televisions at home. Because of this, I wonder if an Albee or an Osborne is even possible outside of New York. Then again, perhaps not. When the top Broadway draws are The Producers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Spamalot, what hope is there for the next wave of brash young playwrights who hope to present original material?

It’s a troubling thing to think about fifty years after Osborne stirred the stage and I hope theatre, in all of its many venues, stumbles upon an answer.

Oedipus the Chat King

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A team of archeologists have unearthed an unfinished work from Sophocles entitled Oedipus the Chat King. What is particularly amazing about this excerpt is that it seems to closely match recent, but by no means confirmed, events. Return of the Reluctant has obtained an exclusive translation of Sophocles’ one act play. Please bear in mind that this is very rough and by no means a complete portrayal of Sophocles’ text. But we offer the rough translation in an effort to promote the humanities and give scholars a first look at this astonishing discovery.]

OEDIPUS

Here too my dialup has often lagged, for twice
At Creon’s instance have I called tech support
When losing a flirtatious email

CHORUS:

My liege, beware! The prophecy! The prophecy!

OEDIPUS

These warnings I disregard, for she is sensuous
Well prepared to wear a hot pink tank top
To match the noble lips, two sets I’ll kiss upon the beach.
Her name: the beautiful Jocasta, jumpy and jocose
Willing to hole up in a Ramada Inn with room service
A fan of reenacting scenes from pornographic pay-per-view
With the nimblest fingers and a malleable mouth
How can I, Oedipus the Great Chat King, lose in the deal?
I know not her age, but she says she’s older
Experience, let us not forget, is a virtue.

CHORUS

Methinks he walks into the Venus Flytrap of anonymity
Whom thou art be careful with, given trannies
Sad sacks, stalkers, DSM-IV exemplars and liars
But this, O Noble Chat King, is not worth your while
Do not be blinded by a titilating faceless JPEG
Thou hath not seen her visage nor engaged in real-world chitchat
Beware, your highness! You’ll never live this down!

OEDIPUS

The chorus, despite my many bribes, is stentorian
Have they no respect for royalty?
It took me five years and many X-rays
To become the Great Chat King
This woman then, who hopes to shift in the sands
Is the most flawless type I have come across
But no more! Hark! She comes near now

JOCASTA

Yoohoo! Chat King? Come closer so we might liplock
And take our sandy tangos to a hotel suite

OEDIPUS

The girl of my dreams! See her white shorts
Her trim legs. I cannot wait to sink my teeth
Into her bosom. Come nearer, Jocasta!
Let me taste your saliva and stroke your thighs

JOCASTA

O Chat King! Your talk pumps the blood
In my varicose veins. I want you, Chat King.
I want to smell you and feel you close to my —
Dear lord!

OEDIPUS

But what is this astonishment, my love?
My — oh fuck! I wanted pizzazz, but —
Mom, could it be you? Ewwwwwwwwwww.

JOCASTA

Let us speak nothing of this, son. It never happened.
It can never be uttered by —

OEDIPUS

The lights! The black and whites on the beach!
We’re done for!

JOCASTA

Now, son, before you were born, I did many things
To talk my way out of a ticket. Indeed, talking was
The least of my worries.

OEDIPUS

Mother! Stop! They’re leading us away!
This terrible tale, foretold by the soothsayers,
Will be spread across the Internet!
I’ll never date again!

JOCASTA

Hush hush, dear son. One-time Prince of Pleasure.
You trusted my poetry. Now trust my gift of gab.

[Here, the text ends. We leave our audience to judge what any of this means.]

Genuine and Cool as Hell

Michael Rice keeps up the pace with yet another fascinating interview with Brian Copeland. Copeland’s theatrical one-man show, Not a Genuine Black Man, is now the longest running solo show in San Francisco history. Which is interesting, given that Copeland was initially told that black people aren’t interested in theatre. Copeland talks about race, San Leandro being named one of the most racist suburbs in America, and on being considered a sellout, among many other things.

San Francisco Theatre Podcasts

The San Francisco Fringe Festival started this week. We’ve been so busy that, disgracefully, we haven’t yet seen any of the shows, but plan on attending a few this weekend and next week. (And if you’re in the San Francisco area, this is a great way to load up on cheap indie theatre. Each show is no more then $9.) Fortunately, the SFist has an early report and there should be more from Chronicle theatre critic Robert Hurwitt over the weekend.

But here’s the really cool thing: This year, the Fringe (or, rather, the fantastic Michael Rice) is offering podcasts with many of the performers, which can be accessed on the main Fringe page and found at the Cool As Hell Theatre Podcast. Among the highlights: El Camino Loco, Show Me Where It Hurts and, in particular, this brilliant podcast about failed artistry with Kirk White.

Miller Gone

Arthur Miller has passed away. He was 89.

I have a tremendous amount of words to unload for just how important Miller was to me, along with considering the influence of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. But it will have to wait until I get some time.

For now, all that needs to be said is that another genius has left the world, and we are all the lesser because of it.

Beta Testers Wanted

Ladies and gentlemen, our research is done. The writing has begun. Very soon, the beta testing will begin on the next play (tenatively entitled Four Square). This one’s quite different from the last one, inspired very much by Chekhov’s underrated play, Ivanov. If you’re interested in completely decimating theatrical narrative with the most brutal of constructive criticism, feel free to email me at ed @ edrants.com with your qualifications. I anticipate a release of Version 1.0 around the beginning of February.

Mergers, Revelations and Glorious Kooks

The Independent notes that separate literary entities are being killed by their corporate parents. HarperCollins recently killed off Flamingo (home to Ballard, Lessing & Coupland) and Random House threw Harvill into Secker & Warburg, turning it into “Secker Harvill” and forever expunging Warburg, Orwell’s publisher, from the label. When asked about how this will alter diversity, a HarperCollins rep replied, “What do you think literary fiction is? Some kind of affirmative action?” In unrelated news, Bell Curve authors Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray are said to be at work on a new book, The Book Curve, whereby 1,000 pages are devoted to explaining why popular fiction sells more than literary fiction, and proving that some publishing executives have less attention span than the average reader. (via Literary Saloon)

Maud has been interviewed by the Gothamist. Among some of the more interesting revelations: Maud turned down the lead in an Off Broadway revival of The Verdict. Every morning, Maud practices her jujitsu on waterbugs that have a mean height of six feet. (Mr. Maud apparently cowers from anything remotely entomological.) Maud also single-handedly disarmed a posse of Remington-firing Confederates in Brooklyn. She reports that her combat moves were inspired by Carrie-Anne Moss kicking butt in The Matrix.

The Sydney Morning Herald interviews Isabel Allende. Allende’s quite the eccentric: She starts all of her books on January 8, she thinks about Zorro while having sex with her husband, and holes up in her office writing for 8 to 10 hours a day without speaking to a single soul. She also dresses funky, though the Herald couldn’t get specific answers on this end. I wish I was making this paragraph up, but I’m not.

In one of the most anticlimactic journalism moves seen from the Grey Lady this month, the Times reports that the Doyle-Joyce fracas is simmering. Really? 1,000 words to state the obvious in a major newspaper? Sign me up.

The Independent talks to Marjorie Blackman. Her Noughts & Crosses children’s book trilogy examines race relations in an unknown country.

Regina Taylor’s Drowning Crow looks like a fascinating update of Chekhov’s The Seagull. If you’re in New York, it’s playing at the Biltmore. The Times also has a 26-second video excerpt of Alfre Woodard giving Anthony Mackie hell.

And Stephen Fry goes nuts: He’s called the Hilton sisters “a pair of bloody whippets,” Sting “false,” and damns Americans for believing that the key to happiness is thinking about themselves. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortuantely, given the recent Dean demise), Fry wasn’t running for public office.

PlayPlay