Sunday, June 04, 2006

I Left My Computer Due to Early Taymor

"Using projections, puppetry, masks and Goldenthal's richly layered and highly emotional score, Taymor creates an enthralling visual landscape. In this world of kings, queens, storytellers and warriors, Taymor and her co-librettist, J.D. McClatchy, present a Grendel that is a quintessentialy modern anti-hero. With language ranging from medieval to modern, Grendel serves as a gripping theatrical allegory of the human struggle."

Wonderful Husband Himself, splurged on fun special 10th anniversary gifts for us this weekend, the centerpiece of which were non-nosebleed (!) seats at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a NEW! World Premiere opera by Julie Taymor. We are huge admirers of her gift for creative theatrical interpretations of meaty, meaningful stories. This time, Grendel, an original score by her love, Elliot Goldenthal, and her own libretto (they share a life-long fascination with the book by the late professor, John Gardner which in turn was based on the classic old English poem entitled, Beowulf. (I knew nothing of it before yesterday, we went to a lecture at the center before the performance that thankfully gave it all context.) The story itself was rife with juicy notions of what it is to be human as told from an ancient, terrible Monster's point of view. Having him around destroying us defines us, etc.

One of the most exciting aspects for me was that Michael Curry, technical engineer and essential ingredient for Julie's vision to be fully realized, in my opinion, had co-designed and contributed his own gifts to this project. For me, when these two get together, Julie's entree into high levels of literary culture and expressive conceptualizations, Micheal's ability to reach into her mind/vision and bring it out to fruition without losing a drop of it's artistic eloquence, it is one of the most powerful pairings possible. I'm thinking especially of the half-animal, half-flora, "unformed" ten foot creatures that wander as if in a dream across the stage at one point. I can't comment on the music (as I don't relate to music in general) except to say that I thought the visuals and the music were perfectly matched in terms of texture and mood, both primitive, discordant, and of the period in motif.

Aside for some, in our opinion, major set issues from the usually brilliant George Tsypin. (It felt to me as though they had to throw relatively unfinished-looking replacements of their biggest set pieces up after computer glitches had caused the opening to be postponed--though I could be totally wrong about that.) It was as if the set were left largely blank, which unless the bareness deliberate, didn't match the fully-realized puppets and creatures to me. I've been SPOILED by the 1992 Taymor/Curry/Tsypin's Oedipus' set which was much more of a work of art unto itself than this. With that you saw every penny of the millions well used. I suspect if this production opens as planned in New York next month, it will look more at home. (they're calling LA an out-of-town try out!) If not then, perhaps when and if Julie makes Grendel into a film.

There were several moments that blew my mind as we've come to expect from Julie. There was a particular moment at the end of Act 1, when she enhanced dramatic crescendo of the story with modern artful films projected onto black proscenium scrim. It was a moment of the story, the music, the visuals, the multi-dimensionality of the performers on stage and on film coming together creating an experience that transcended mere theater. Brava to Ms. Taymor. There were several scenes that achieved that magic.

Thank you for indulging me in a review. Believe you me, I could go on even more than I have here, but please allow me to attach a personal note. Happy Anniversary, Dear. Thank you so much for grabbing the rare opportunity of a worthwhile way to celebrate our life.

For those interested, another write up here from the Press Telegram;


  1. Anonymous10:35 PM

    That was a lovely evening. The highlight for me was Eric Owen's amazing tour de force toching performance as Grendel. I agree the set had its weaknesses, the biggest being that it relied too much on computer technology. Still, it came to our doorstep. We just had to see it. PK

  2. Wow, sounds really exciting! Like a direct dip into the pool of pure creative energy.

    How can a set rely on comuter technology? Digital projection perhaps?

  3. And Julie's pool has a deep end!!!! Hee. (thanks for the set up)

    The computer was for controlling a "million dollar" 48 foot long x 20 foot high gagillion ton moving set centerpiece that they say was rigged with 26 [computer controlled] motors. Eh? The lecture speaker, Walsh, said that the set itself didn't break but that the "computer" couldn't control it all. Huh? There was a sharply geometric garage door opening in the middle that would swing open to create a rake stage floor for alternate action to take place. I have to tell you, I don't get what effect Julie was intending to create with this thing. For all the hoopla over this set it looked to me like leftover arctic pieces from a Star Trek alien world, glitter sparkle and all. Snorf? Plus, I see in the sketches behind her at the press launch, that this was the intended design?! Murffle?

    The projections were also surely computer controlled as they were timed so crisply to the music and action, that part was absolutely brilliant.

  4. Sounds like an idea from the shallow end, or even the wading pool. Squeefle!

  5. Well first off, congrads on the 10 years - no mean feat these days.

    I have loved everything I have seen that Taymor has done, which does not make me an expert since that is only Frida and Titus, but both I loved for the creative vision she brings to the films.
    I hope she continues to have the opportunity to make films. Hollywood does not have a very good reputation for how it treats it's creative visionaries.

    Grendel sounds pretty interesting.

  6. Mazel Tav y'all!


    Grendel?! Oh, I am SO envious! About a million years ago, when I was on a high school speech/debate team that never actually made it to a competition, I memorized a portion of Grendel... The one part that has stuck in my head all this time is where Grendel bites off a warrior's head, and the blood shoots like a 'hot, thick geyser'.

    ...I'm not much for gore, generally, but there's just something delightful about that description that makes me smile. :-)


    Y'all know that there's an animated version of Grendel? It's an old 2D thang, fairly stylized. I've got a copy on VHS in the closet... Not spectacular, but if you get on a Grendel kick, you might be able to hunt this version down at an especially good rental store.

  7. Thanks all for the well wishes, Mark and Sven!

    Taymor is a creative force to be reckoned with to be sure. I'm sure everything she does is worth seeing. I've missed seeing much of her work, for example I never saw her big splash on the theater scene in 1988, Juan Darien, which I understand was so outside the box that it was what inspired the MacArthur Foundation to honor and support her talent. Meeting her and having the privilege of watching her work up close over several years was affecting and life changing. And she was always kind and generous, regardless of stresses. I saw her have a recliner brought in the little theater in Florence so she could continue to direct immediately following major back surgery. She's amazing.

    She's one of those great visionary talents that come along rarely. Savor her if you get a chance. I can recommend her first feature film, a performance film of her Japanese/Greek opera, Oedipus Rex, (I just rented from Netflix by the way) for a taste of her talents flying high. It's a work of fine art in motion and sound. And for a visual feast there's a great book with tons of large color plates and thorough history of her work thus far called, "Julie Taymor, Playing With Fire" by Eileen Blumenthal (Abrams)

    Sven, you would LOVE to see Julie's Grendel with your knowing the story!! (Gah! so, how long WOULD IT take to drive down?!!!)

  8. I have "Playing with Fire"; amazing. And I've just tonight put my order in to Amazon for "Oedipus Rex".

    I think it would take about 15 hours to drive down... Youch! Still, you've got me considering (or perhaps "fantasizing about") the trip...

  9. When we came home from Grendel, I showed Paul the first few minutes of Oedipus that I had in from Netflix. He was transfixed and saw immediately it's brilliance. We stopped the disk and decided to buy a copy too.

    You and Gretchin coming down for this, wouldn't that be a nice fantasy?! You could stay here, we're only a few blocks from the theater! Then we could hit the Getty the next day... Oh, well, nice to dream about.

  10. OMG I adore Julie's work, how fortunate you were! (and lucky...) sounds like a must see!!!

  11. I should have guessed you knew her work, Ulla! But of course!


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