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Boiled Hippos & Beat Women

My dad loaned me the book AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS, by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. This was just before Sare and I started working on our novels, so late October, and at the time what was interesting to me was that the same way she and I were going to swap off books, Burroughs and Kerouac swapped off writing chapters. In HIPPOS, I mean. The whole book is a fictionalization of a true-life crime their social circle experienced. I enjoyed IN COLD BLOOD. Why not give this one a try?

I had never read ON THE ROAD or other Beat literature, though over the years Dad’s given me a bio on Allen Ginsberg and one on Kerouac, both of which are currently sitting unread on my bookshelf (Sorry, Dad).

As I read through HIPPOS, I enjoyed it. The writing had a clear, frank style that was appealing. I also realized this was a really masculine eye on the time period. Hyper-masculine, in some ways, even given the twists and turns of the plots, in that the women in the story exist only for moments as they intersect with the book’s narrators.

Enter Google.

From Wikipedia’s entry on the Beat Generation:

“Notable Beat Generation women who have been published include Edie Parker; Joyce JohnsonCarolyn CassadyHettie JonesJoanne KygerHarriet Sohmers ZwerlingDiane DiPrima; and Ruth Weiss, who also made films. PoetElise Cowen took her life in 1963. Anne Waldman was less influenced by the Beats than by Allen Ginsberg’s later turn to Buddhism. Later, women emerged who claimed to be strongly influenced by the Beats, including Janine Pommy Vega in the 1960s, Patti Smith in the 1970s, and Hedwig Gorski in the 1980s.[35][36]

Seeing that this line led exactly where I expected it to – Patti Smith and the punk scene – I’m really, really excited about taking a dive into this subject at some point in the future.

Anyways, back to HIPPOS. The book was interesting to me because of how the voices of the characters overlapped, in part, and because of the subject matter’s factual beginnings. It reminded me of a blog I read the other day, an excerpt from a nonfiction book. I’d been interacting with its author for a few weeks on Twitter, and had expected her book of essays and other writings to be more…essayish, I guess. Just – a reminder of how important it is to play with the form one works in. Which, in turn, reminds me of the book another friend bought me once, THE PENELOPIAD. (Was that by Margaret Atwood?)

The same as reading experimental literature from the past helps remind you that words and literary forms are plastic and subjectable to manipulation, reading experimental literature from the present helps remind you that while brand-yourself and death-of-the-title culture are at a forefront in today’s writing, writers need to remember that pushing form is just as important as practicing craft, and that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Yes, it’s important to make sure you can write those words, craft those plots and flesh out those characters… but once you can do those things, applying them to experimental forms is also critical to the growth of writing and literature as a whole.

And by you, obviously, I mean me.

End story? Dad was right, and HIPPOS was well worth reading. 



THEATER REVIEW: “Evil Dead: The Musical” at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto, CA

A Note From Rachel: Earlier this week, while I was prepping for the opening of NaNoWriMo 2013, my friend Sheilah O’Connor went to the opening night of Toronto’s latest run of Evil Dead: The Musical. Here’s her review of the current production of this cult hit.


Evil Dead: The Musical. Ryan Ward and Laura Tremblay. Photo by David Hou.

Evil Dead: The Musical. Ryan Ward and Laura Tremblay. Photo by David Hou.

Evil Dead: The Musical
The Randolph Theatre, Toronto, Canada
Reviewed by Sheilah O’Connor

When Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, he clearly was not thinking of Evil Dead: the Musical which has returned for the third time to the city in which it was created. Toronto also welcomed back Ryan Ward who originated the role of Ash, and cowriter/director Christopher Bond.

I didn’t know much about Evil Dead: the Musical beyond the fact that it was based on movies and has a “splatter zone”. It turns out, that didn’t much matter. While there were a few moments that were clearly set up for fans of the Evil Dead franchise, the musical was very accessible to anyone who appreciates a lively, corny romp.

evil dead photo10559352115_48c642fdba_h

Evil Dead: The Musical – Laura Tremblay, Alison Smyth, Ryan Ward, Margaret Thompson, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll. Photo by David Hou.

The actors are all excellent in their roles, able to act, sing and dance. While Ryan Ward is a natural, given his long history with the production, Alyson Smyth is a standout, able to move easily from annoying younger sister to evil punning demon. Daniel Williston was an unexpected surprise. Much lighter on his feet than seems likely when he first appears, his song Good Old Reliable Jake was a clear homage to Meatloaf in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and his ballet moves later brought down the house.

In fact, many things brought down the house. The audience cheered as the production began and frequently thereafter. The beer that could be brought to the seats perhaps played a small part in that but this was a crowd ready to have a good time and the actors clearly fed off the excitement.

It was a relatively small stage so good use is made of lighting and the occasional backdrop. The infamous “Splatter Zone” where audience members get coated in blood was, I’m told, expanded and to ensure that everyone got their fair share, blood rained down from the ceiling as well as from the stage.

evil dead demons

With so many things done right, it was disappointing that the music so often drowned out the singing unless the actors were facing the audience. Since the music runs from tangos to 1950’s do-wop, it’s crucial to get the full effect, and we didn’t. This was opening night though. Now that they have a theatre full of bodies to test the sound with, I expect it will improve quickly.
Evil Dead: The Musical runs through Dec. 22, 2013 at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto before moving on to other cities. The cast recording is available on Spotify. Photos courtesy of rockitpromo


ALIENS for the first time

#1 Ellen RipleyI watched ALIENS this weekend for the first time. Before you ask, I haven’t seen the first one yet – though I plan to. Why pick now to watch this classic piece of Sci Fi Action/Horror? Because a friend recommended it. Multiple times. Then gave me a special DVD copy for my birthday earlier this month.

I’m glad I waited to watch ALIENS until I had a good sound system and decent-sized screen to watch it on. I could appreciate the sets and detail in the SFX in a way that I doubt would have come across if I had been watching on my funky laptop screen, or even my less-dinky desktop screen.

Once I popped the DVD in and started it up, I realized I was faced with a choice: watch the original theatrical release, or the special extended edition from 1991? After a quick Twitter poll I decides on the original release. I’m always torn when it comes to picking versions of films – you can only see a movie once for the first time, and the question of following the studio’s vision or the director’s can sometimes be paralyzing. I still think version fatigue Kay play a part in why I still can’t really say I’ve seen Bladerunner, despite multiple attempts. (And yes, by virtue of admitting that here, I’ll probably wind up trying again soon).

(Interjection – I’m writing this on the train and they just ran a missing child announcement. First time for everything, I guess. Anyway, back to the film…)

I liked ALIENS. A lot. It shook up my perception of what a sci fi horror movie could be. It gave me a new lens on a new (to me) action hero. Apparently James Cameron was re-inventing the genre when he made it, so that always helps male things fun, although his fingerprints were also visible all over the shooting style and particularly the wide shots. Then again I suppose that’s part of why people enjoy him – an identifiable style they associate with his movies.

I liked the group of space marines, particularly how each of them was an individual whose story you could watch and get involved with. Did anybody else think, however, that sending them in with their guns seemed like woeful underpreparation at best, and wilful recklessness if we look at the film’s darker consumerist underbelly?

Speaking of dark consumerist underbellies: holy crap, Paul Reiser! When I was little he was on Mad About You; part of me kept waiting for Helen Hunt to show up, or for how character to start swatting at invisible flies. It was obvious from the start, to me, that he’d end up doing something crooked, and I wasn’t sure why Ripley would have taken him at his word, but maybe she let hope cloud get judgement.

And Newt. Newt was awesome. The scenes between her and Ripley were tender but also realistic – I loved that Ripley didn’t talk down to her and how she was brought in by the group of soldiers.

Overall? Glad I watched it. And I’ll probably watch it again – maybe next time, I’ll tackle the special edition.

Geek Girl Con weekend: Friday

There’s a puppy sitting behind me on the plane. If it wasn’t a service dog, I would be fighting the desire to ask to hold it.

We’re flying over Canada today on the way out, and supposedly the weather in Seattle will be good and I’ll have a view of Mount Baker as we fly. I already had a view of sunrise over Queens, this morning:


In six hours or so I’ll be touching down in Seattle. Last night I had the obligatory last-minute panic over every single thing my brain could dredge up to panic about, but I was able to identify what was going on as a panic attack rather than actual thoughts to pay attention to. I guess that’s what’s called progress.

They’re closing the doors, so that’s me out – catch you all later!

Walking the Road to Change: Ending Child Sexual Abuse

roadtochangeIf you’re a long-time reader, you’ll have seen my review of Matthew McVarish’s TO KILL A KELPIE – a play about two brothers, the abuse in their past, and their present-day relationship. Today, I want to tell you about Matt’s latest project: a 10,000 mile ([insert appropriate Scotsman/Proclaimers/I Will Walk 500 Miles joke here]) walk across Europe to highlight the importance of ending child sexual abuse.

Matt and I were at drama school together in Edinburgh, and I’ve been a fan of his dramatic work for years, and last year he was instrumental in getting my ten-minute play MILLENNIAL EX into the right hands for its production at Glasgay in Edinburgh, Scotland. His work has consistantly highlighted social justice movements.

Matt has been working non-stop for the last few years to raise awareness of child sexual abuse and how to help stop it. Currently, he’s three months into a his walk – and he’s been blogging and sharing his journey every step of the way.

I’d like to ask everyone to take a moment and check out Matt’s blog about his journey. If you have a few dollars (or pounds), consider donating to the cause or to Matt’s efforts as he walks.

map-largePlease share the blog and Matt’s mission with those you know who might be interested. So far, his reception at countries in Europe have been nothing short of astonishing, with ambassadors accompanying him on the road; his outreach is having real effects.

Read about his adventures, and help spread the word!

For more information:

Road to Change blog
– Help Matt’s mission succeed with walking supplies


Theater Review: BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON at ART of WNY in Buffalo

Bloody Bloody Andrew JacksonBloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
American Repertory Theater of Western New York
Written by Alex Timbers
Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Jeffrey Coyle



A couple years ago, the original production of this show was taking downtown NYC by storm. While I missed it there, the production currently taking place on Linwood Avenue in downtown Buffalo was an opportunity to see a skilled, professional and hilarious regional premiere. Told with enthusiasm and precision, this is a production worth buying tickets to immediately.

Like now.

While the idea of America’s seventh president as an “Emo Rock God” might seem incongruous at first, with cast members entering the performance space in ripped tights, black netted shirts and enough eyeliner to kill an elephant (if elephants ate eyeliner and eyeliner was poisonous, that is), the rockstar nature of Jackson’s DGAF frontiersman ‘tude and the often tongue-in-cheek style of delivery bring this story screeching into the 21st century. In a skillfully-observed marriage of styles, the style of Michael Friedman’s music and lyrics compliment the rage and emotion of American politics.

The talented cast delivers on all scores – even when technical malfunctions took a headset mic out of play, Steve Copps (as the titular Jackson) didn’t miss a beat. Between asking whether audiences wanted to see his “stimulus package” and taking part in bleeding rituals (“it’s a real 19th century medical practice!”), it’s easy to see Jackson in the role of band frontman a la Panic at the Disco and other emo trendsetters of the early 2000s.

The show says a lot about how America has changed, and how it hasn’t. Jackson’s determination to rid the country of the native population and the wink-wink comparisons to modern-day populist movements are disconcerting. There’s one line in particular where he points out that he’s making the changes the American people want to see made which is disturbing in that it grasps the precise conflict between majority rule and the protection of minorities: where is the protection for disadvantaged, harassed and discriminated-against groups when leaders serve the general will of the people?

Not that Jackson’s predecessors are portrayed as having made much of a contribution in this area. The menacingly hilarious quintet of elder statesmen: Van Buren (Steven Brachmann), Monroe (Matt Kindley), John Quincy Adams (Matthew Mooney), Calhoun (Christopher Parada) and Clay (Rowlins) and the rest of the founding fathers mentioned in the book are portrayed as wig-and-lace wearing toffs, right down to the hilarious New England accents they wear. The show portrays the quintessential American dilemma of civilization vs. frontier by following Jackson as he takes Florida from the Spanish, Georgia from the Native Americans and more: to Jackson’s friends, family and neighbors, the threat from these groups is immediate and deadly. To the federal government, however, the logistical and legal issues at stake leave no room for understanding the actual plight of those on the ground. The resentment this breeds is unsettling in that audiences will immediately be able to track the political commentary to today’s world, quickly realizing that while the names of the “enemies” have changed, American tactics for dealing with those who encroach on this great land of ours (emphasis mine) have not.

This Buffalo production is rife with talent, from the specificity of Coyle’s direction to the management of a stage ensemble nearly 20-strong to the obvious control and focus of each performer. Some specific delights: Priscilla Young-Anker does much to set the tone as the Storyteller, who emerges in a motorized scooter to fawn lasciviously over Jackson in his early days and winds up taking one in the neck when her interjections become too intrusive. The angry, disaffected attitude thrown up by so many of the shows movers and shakers – particularly the dead, passionless tone taken by Jackson’s mother in her early scenes (the actress, a member of the ensemble, is sadly not noted for this role in the program, though if anyone from the company would like to provide her name I’ll add it here later) – set a tone for the mix of hilarity, resentment and angst that pursue Jackson throughout the show.

For audiences concerned about the production’s edginess, the play is so skillfully executed and so fast-paced that the bawdy humor avoids becoming awkward for, say, an audience member who brings her parents along. All three members of my party were laughing hard throughout the production; most of the time, I was laughing so hard I had to wipe tears from my eyes to be able to watch the show.

With tickets at $25 for regular audience members and $15 for students, this fast-paced, intermission-less production leaves nothing to be desired; it’s a thrilling professional production of a meaningful and politically-charged play.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs select evenings through October 12, 2013 at ART IN THE BOX, 16 Linwood Avenue, Buffalo. The Broadway cast recording is available on Spotify. Tickets for this production were purchased by the reviewer.

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Ticket to LARP – The Brick Theater, The Dance & The Dawn


I got a notice in my email about “The Dance and the Dawn” this morning, taking place at The Brick theater in Williamsburg. Playing from September 7-14th, the performance takes the shape of “live action theater-style gaming.”

You sign up for a ticket, attend the evening in question as your assigned character, and bring along your own costume. While much of the evening is spent waltzing, the show’s page over at the theater’s website says there will be a brief lesson beforehand, so non-dancers shouldn’t worry.

If anyone goes to check out this production, let me know what you think of it – scheduling means I won’t be able to go take a look myself.
From the summary, the play sounds like a free-form, stylistic piece rather than a tight narrative, which makes sense given the performance style.

Ultimately, the production’s success will depend heavily on the preparation and enthusiasm of its audiences. After completing a questionnaire and being assigned a character, a little homework is required – as the site says, “If you show up having read those materials…” you’ll have a good time. One hopes all the audience members arrive prepared for their roles, and wonders what happens in the event of someone not turning up to use their ticket.

With the ending left to the participants, and for a ticket price of $20, this sounds like it could be an intriguing evening of high-involvement theater.


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