Friday, February 14, 2020

Some Valentine's Day Cards


Usually for Valentine's Day, we make each other cards, but this year with our trip to Atlanta and work on Stephen's studio and me with a full plate of design projects, we agreed to skip a year. Stephen said he was going to post a retrospective of the cards he'd made for me in the past so I thought I'd do the same. Here are my cards to him for the past handful of years.

2010. After Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power in the film Marie Antoinette. Inside the card I quoted, "Everything leads me to thee."


2011. After a painting by Winterhalter.

Detail.

2012. After an old Victorian Valentine's Day card.
2013. After Joan Crawford.

2014. The outside of the card, cut to shape.

The inside.

2015. Because we were performing in the opera Carmen that year.

2016. After Tom Jones. And because we were performing "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe on stage as Earl and Lady Bungalow.

2017. After... well, you know.

2018.

2019. After a couple of sweet potatoes.

a moment in the day: lick


I'm sound asleep when Stephen licks my elbow to get me to come awake.

Maybe I was snoringI've been snoring some lately with this cold of minebut I don't see why he would want to rouse me by licking my elbow. That just seems strange. Maybe it's because of Valentine's Day. Maybe he's making some weird frisky gesture because it's now technically Valentine's Day, and he thinks wouldn't it be cute if he just, you know, licked my elbow a little, and

Wait. It was Nicholas. Nicholas licked my elbow.

Come to think of it, that makes more sense.

I reach down under the covers to where he's curled up by my belly and pet him and then go back to sleep.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Book cover: A Small Crowd of Strangers


Whenever I start work on a new book cover, I ask myself what the challenge with this one will be. It's one of the things I like most about designing book covers, that there's always some specific challenge, whether that be fitting all the elements in place, or setting the right tone, or trying some graphic process I've never tried before, or trying my darnedest to make an idea work when it probably isn't going to work, or, or, or.

With Joanna Rose's novel A Small Crowd of Strangers, due out later this year from Forest Avenue Press, the challenge was coming up with a concept. How best to create a design around a book that's not only quirky and funny but also about some heavy topics like religion and abortion. Pattianne Anthony, the book's protagonist, and her boyfriend/soon-to-be-husband are on two different sides of the abortion debate, and it gets personal when she becomes pregnant.

My first idea for a design grew out of that tension. A figure representing Pattianne but cut in three pieces, each piece pointing a different direction. My thought was that this would show she was a character divided, someone who didn't know which way to goand if people made the connection between her centrally located belly and the topic of abortion and body autonomy, that would be great, but not necessary.

Publisher Laura Stanfill explained that Pattianne's not so much divided as falling into things all the time. The more we talked about it and the more I read pieces of the book, I realized I was focusing too much on the abortion topic when there was so much more this book was about. I tinkered with a number of different concepts but there was one idea we all kept coming back to as I submitted samples. This one started out from the characterization of Pattianne as a dreamer who, in the end, is just trying to find her people, to find connection.

That's what I think of with the figure I created for Pattianne in this early draft. A dreamer wistfully looking into the future. The second character is Bullfrog, a dog who figures significantly in the story. (And who better to exemplify the longing to find connection than dogs, amirite?) From the description of Bullfrog in the book, I figured he must be a basset hound so I looked at a lot of photos and created him from images of particularly sweet looking dogs. This early draft was before I really started tinkering with his coloring, but as an aside, I kind of liked that the color I used for Joanna's name here is rose.

We were getting feedback from Publisher's Group West that the bright color scheme along with the woman figure might skew "women's lit" so I tried a similar design with darker hues. And experimented with Pattianne removed and just Bullfrog remaining. Like in this street sign design I worked on from an idea Laura suggested to me.



In the end, between all of us and author Joanna Rose, we decided to leave Pattianne off and give Bullfrog the spotlight. But there was one more detail to work out. Bullfrog wasn't exactly Bullfrog. He wasn't a basset hound as I'd originally thought. And in fact, he had once been a real dog, Joanna's dog, and I wanted to honor that as best I could.

Bullfrog.

He had very different ears. And a very particular spot on his back. I added that spot, although I simplified him a little in keeping with the spareness of the design, so I only focused on that one spot while he has a few others. And if you look close you see some brown around his one eye.


Oh my gosh, this picture!

I asked Laura and Joanna if I could expand on that brown and turn  it into a more obvious spot because it was the only way I could keep the white of that eye from disappearing against the background. They were OK with it. Then I added some shading to the other side of the face, a shadow, to take care of the same issue. It's an interesting give and take, wanting to honor the memory of a real being and at the same time honor the principles of aesthetics. When I was done, I sent it to Laura and she sent it to Joanna and Joanna said, "That’s him!!"

My heart leapt for joy.

There was still fine tuning, with color and shading, and the darkness of the ears, and the question of shadow on the right front paw. Here's a little montage of Bullfrog through his evolution.


In the end, with Bullfrog in the spotlight and using the sunburst in the lettering that had arisen back when I was playing with the very dark, almost underwater-looking idea I showed off above, we finally had our cover.


Check out that blurb by Paulann Petersen!

A Small Crowd of Strangers is due out the fall of this year from Forest Avenue Press. More information is here. Here's a snippet from the book:

She’d always had a dog. She’d had Starla since she was in grade school, and before that there was a beagle named Short Stop who slept with his nose at the crack under her bedroom door, wanting to get in. Her mother said, No dogs in the bedrooms. And then when they got Starla, she heard them one night after dinner, her mother saying, No dogs in the bedrooms, and her father saying, Oh, what can it hurt? That night, she learned something about her father. She was only little. And it was her bedroom, not Jen’s.

She was just starting to realize that she really should call Michael, and maybe she should at least go buy some dog food and spend some time with Bullfrog before saying Yeah, I’ll take him to be my dog, but then there they were. And she wanted him, as soon as she saw him, all down low and wagging, and not shedding all that much, really. He was mostly white, just a few brown spots, and soft brown ears. She got down by him.

“Well,” Frankie said. “Really? You’ll take him?” He got down, too. “To keep?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “That’s what she said. To keep.”

Then Frankie got all teary, and Pattianne did too, and he handed her a brand-new red leather leash with the price tag still on it. It matched his collar.

“I have a twenty-five pound bag of dog chow in the car,” he said. Teary.

“Okay.”

“And a big box of Milk Bones.”

“Okay.”

“And his rabies papers and all are in here.”

He handed her an envelope, and then he hugged her, and they were a circle with Bullfrog in between them, Elizabeth laughing, although she didn’t sound very happy, but she was laughing. Michael would laugh too. Bullfrog was a funny guy.

Monday, February 3, 2020

two moments on airplanes


We're thirty thousand feet up. I'm kind of terrified of flying but I love all the parts that most people who fear flying fear: takeoff, touchdown, turbulence. Generally during the flight, I'm OK if I keep my mind on other things than the possibility of a fiery death: the movie playing on the little screen built into the back of the seat in front of me. The tiny bottle containing seven thimbles full of white wine. My nine dollar box of apple slices and cheese.

Down the right-hand aisle comes one of the flight attendants, who stops at the empty seat at the end of the row before mine. She leans in and asks the man at the other end, "Where's the man who was sitting here?"

"I don't know. He's been gone a really long time."

She picks up a small backpack from the seat. "He left his bag."

Well, there we go. It's a bomb.

I'll never see Atlanta and eat pimento cheese.

The flight attendant takes the bomb up and down the aisle, asking people if it's theirs. No, I'm sorry. No, I'm sorry. Well, of course it's not theirs. The man who left it has parachuted out of the back of the plane and we're all going down.

"Excuse me, is this yours?" There are two flight attendants now, checking with passengers. I wonder how much a bomb weighs. I wonder if time bombs actually tick.

The flight attendants come back up the aisle and finally stop just about where they began. "Excuse me, sir," to the man sitting in the seat in front of the empty one. He's an older man with white hair. I don't hear what he says, but he takes the bomb from the woman and apologizes. In a second I see his hand reach back into the seat pocket behind him, slowly pulling out the book he also left behind.

*

We're on the return trip from Atlanta. There are three in our row, Stephen, me, and the guy in the window seat who keeps getting up to use the bathroom. All three of us have our screens going and ear buds plugged into seat backs, watching movies. It's been a good trip, a whirlwind that included Stephen's two art events, visits to Martin Luther King's grave and the High Museum and the Madam C. J. Walker Museum and the Cyclorama and more and more and more. Fried green tomatoes. Pimento cheese.

Now, we're heading home.

I've been watching Fiddler On the Roof, and Tevye and Lazar Wolf are singing and dancing. It's a perfect distraction from the possibility of a fiery death to immerse yourself in musical joy.

As my eyes blink from one screen to another in front of me, I notice it's all music. A coincidence of timing that lets the song in my ears run through all three visuals. The guy to my right: a guitarist wailing away in a recording studio. Stephen to my left: Luciano Pavarotti belting an aria. It's a funny little montage. No matter what they're singing or playing, the music is mine. L'chaim, l'chaim, to life.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

a moment in the day: practice


Out loud in the car:

That way the noise is. Tyrant, show thy face!

As I drive, I’m practicing for the Shakespearean house salon we’re doing this Saturday where a whole group of us will be reading Macbeth. I don't know the text well enough, so for a lot of the drive I'm just speaking the same passage over and over. The pages with my parts are sitting on the passenger seatbut no peeking unless I’m at a stoplight. A glance to jog the memory and then recite, recite, recite.

That way the noise is. Tyrant, show thy face!
If thou be'st slain and with no stroke of mine,
my wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still—doggy!

A woman walking a little, brown poodle along the sidewalk.

If I don’t practice to the point of near-if-not-complete memorization, I am not a good reader, especially in public. I'm bored of the repetition. I want to stop and switch on the radio but I need to focus.

I cannot strike at wretched kerns, whose arms
are hired to bear their staves: either thou, Macbeth,
or else my sword with an unbatter'd edge I—dude, dude, dude!!

I slow the car as I approach the intersection. I'm sure the woman with the pink hair who just nearly barged into the crosswalk on a green light didn't hear me, but she stops and backs up the couple steps to the curb. And for the moment quietly unshakespear'd, I continue upon mine own way.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

My first book


Recently I was rummaging around in a box of my old kid things and I came across the first book I ever wrote. Paper stapled into cardboard and illustrated. My spelling and grammar did eventually get better, but I doubt my handwriting did.

I think my favorite part is where I almost wrote "by Gigi Little" on the cover and then fixed it, writing a bolder letter d in place of the b.








The ending was a shameless plagiarism of the ending to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

...but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye 

and sailed back over a year 

and in and out of weeks 

and through a day 

and into the night of his very own room 

where he found his supper waiting for him 

and it was still hot.

I wasn't old enough to understand just why those last five words were beautiful, but somehow I knew they were. And I stole accordingly.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, some passages about my friend Shena in my old kid diaries, with the spelling and punctuation errors intact


1978

January 27—I sang on a tape. I got to keep my tape. We got or had to find the write batteries for it.

January 30—I almost didn't get lunch. But I did. Shena got to talk on the tape with me.

February 7—I went to Shena's house and I got to speek to the women that plays the Bionic women on the phone.


1979

March 8—I went to the roler rink it was flooded. I went with Shena.

May 5—Shena And I found a meeting place; hidaway 1 and 2. At the camp. Went to Sea World.

May 13—today I went to Magic Mtn. I went on the revalusion. We saw a lady and a man fighting seamed like killing. Heather came too and Shena, Mara, Edina. Heather's birthday party.

May 17—I went to a piano odition then out to lunch then to a supermarket. i was in the Toy area with Shena and a cloun jumped out and scared me.


1980

May 9—It's Heather's birthday. We're going camping. Shena and I went back to highway 1 & 2. I got a rock from h. 1. Tomorrow we'll go to Sea World.

May 10—We didn't go to Sea World. it rained. We saw a movie Kramer Vs. Kramer. I went to Farrels. I got to be in a comercial for Campland. I got an autograph of Gayle Sue and Keven. Shena lead us back. I saved Tom from getting hit by a car. (God did). Gayle and Keven sang happy birthday to Heather.

May 11—Today I got in another comercial. I was a background. We made a mound of sand for friendly the wolf to sit on. Shena, Heather, Tom, Edina, Mara, Ryan and I walked in the background while friendly the wolf talked. We went home. I watched video taped movies.


1981

September 20—We slept at Shena's house. I went to "couch" at 1:30.


1982

June 20—I got 2 new coins from Isriel, from Shena for my collection.

September 17—Shena is over we're making a nativity scene. Shena once had a dream (after her grandma died) that she went up to heaven & saw her. She said goodbye right before she woke up. Today Shena turned off the T.V. & it turned on again. I heard far away piano for an instant before going to bed. I kept seeing teath and spirits in my head.

October 16—We played our soap opera. You see, about a weak ago we made a soap opera. I'm Lisa Van Jua, a snob. Mara's my sister Andrea. Heather's Stephany Shore. Edina's her 16 year old sister Kathy Morgan. Shena is Jackie Benit. Frankie is Christopher Shena's son & Heather's adopted son. I'm a modle. It's a lot of fun!

December 7—The McLittle Theatre is going to do "Best of Friends" in Feb. when noni & Coco come out. I'm Jenni. Frankie's Jonathan, Heather's Susan Evans, Edina's Dad, Shena's Mom & Mara's Mary. & I just can't wait! It was soooo! windy at night!!!!

December 8—We're not doing Best of Friends.


1983

January 11—I finished "the talking skull." I watched the 2nd part of "Nicolas Nickelby" I got Shena a crystol & 3 prints (pastel) for her birthday tomorrow. I also got a crystol & a print & a copy of "Young Miss" (magazine) which I'll be getting soon. I got an autographed picture of Sally Struthers. (with my name on it.)

February 6—We figured out the whole play & finished posters (I did bar scene) & now we most likely have to wait till next year to do it 'cause we only have 2 more weekends & we're going to the lake house & we'll need Shena & Mara to learn they're lines. I saw part of "Winds of War."

February 20—We went to a mission. Then we ate breakfast out. Then we went home. Noni had a big get-together, the Butlers came. I was so mad. Shena and Mara were acting all hot. I got to Special on Lady bug again. We had sundaes.

May 14—Shena came over. After I finnished cleaning my room, we went to her house. I spent the night there. I saw "An officer & a gentleman" twice off of their rented video tape. Shena & I talked over 'old times'

May 15—We (Shena & I) had 2 doughnuts each when we came to my house to get some Atari cartages to play at Shena's house. I went with Shena & Peg shopping for a shirt for Shena to wear to model some homemade pants in a fashion show. 

June 18—Shena & Heather spent the night. We ate the table & talked about the end.

June 30—We sleaped at Shena's and saw "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".

Friday, January 10, 2020

a year in the life of a knife


January of last year, we stepped up to our porch to find this tiny pocket knife sitting on the top step. No idea where it came from. Then we just left it there. All year.

I took a few pictures.

January. First appearance.

February. Sun and creeping shade.

February. With snow and birdy footprints.

April. With small flower.

May. With raindrops.

July. Knife on top, walnut shell on bottom. I kind of pictured the squirrel who probably put the shell there finding the knife and squirreling it away for future tough nuts to crack. Or maybe for street fights.

August. I came out to find the knife gone one day. I thought the story was over. Then I was weeding the edges of our flowerbeds and turned and there it was lying in the grass.

So I put it back.

September. With turning leaves.

October. With rose.


December. With holiday lights.

January again. Under dog.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

a moment in the day: noise


It's ten after five in the morning and I hear a noise in the house. Me at the computer desk, Nicholas on the little futon bed across the room, he hears it too and his head comes up and he looks at me.

We're upstairs where I sometimes sleep when I have to get up early-early or Stephen or I are sick. First thing I do every morning is wake up my computer because sometimes it takes a long time. But today it powered right up and I got sucked into an article—OK, about Bunnicula, if you must know—and I'm still here reading when the noise happens.

Thud! My eyes on Nicholas, his eyes on me. Stephen is asleep downstairs.

Prowler? My brain is equal parts go down there and don't go the hell down there.

In the next second my brain goes where it's always gone when I've heard a noise in the house this past year. Ever since the huge thud in the middle of the night before New Year's Eve when Stephen fell out of bed and we awoke groggy and confused and headed to the emergency room.

I get up from the computer. Nicholas, weirdly, puts his head back down, unconcerned. I creep down the stairs to where the door is shut at the bottom, and listen. Nothing. Open the door. It's all black in the house.

Fear sits on top of the background hum of general anxiety that I have lately. Somehow the immediate fear seems to magnify those other fears. Fires in Australia, earthquake in Puerto Rico, the U.S. baiting Iran. War, climate change, war, climate change. Growing old.

I creep through the dark kitchen, into the dining room. The Christmas tree is a black shadow in the corner.

I stop at the open door to the bedroom. All I see is black. I try to hear him in there, breathing.

I have to touch him to make sure he's there.

Don't want to wake him up. I could shine a light but I forgot my cell phone upstairs.

What would be worse? Touching him or blasting a light in his face?

I step forward, quiet. Creaky, old floorboards in this house. Reach a hand out. Touch lightly.

A lump in the bed. A leg.

He doesn't stir. Good. OK. It's OK. I can get on with the day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Books in the world


When I design a book cover, I'm fixated on the creation of a thing, that design, that look, but down the line, those designs become part of real books and those real books have lives of their own, and I love to catch glimpses of those lives. Recently, I asked authors and publishers of books I've designed covers for if they'd like to share some favorite photos of their books out in the world, and this is what I got.

Liz Scott signs her memoir This Never Happened, during her Powell's book launch.



Liz Prato ordered this Bowie bag specifically for her book tour for her short story collection Baby's On Fire. She took this fab shot as she was prepping for the 2015 AWP.


I love this picture Melissa Duclos took as she was heading out on book tour for her novel Besotted. She tells me that she was on the way to Dallas. What better way to celebrate than with a little airplane mimosa?



A multiplicity of Jackie Shannon Hollis' memoir This Particular Happiness. I like how the name and logo of the shop creates a shadow across the books.



Joe Bardin's doggy Marco relaxing with a good book (that's Joe's memoir Outlier Heart).


Susan DeFreitas offered up this favorite picture of writer Lidia Yuknavitch cuddling with her novel Hot Season as well as Jenny Forrester's memoir Narrow River, Wide Sky (which I didn't design for but did read and it's gorgeous).



Jeff Johnson sent this pic of his book The Animals After Midnight, the third in his Darby Holland series, relaxing on vacation in Eastern Oregon.



Publisher Leland Cheuk of 7.13 Books offered this shot of three of his titles, all of which I designed covers for, sitting on his dining room table.



And one of those authors, Alex Behr, shared this pic from Instagram because social media is one of the many ways books live in the world. She had this to say about it: "I like this photo bc my friend Cookie got it in the mail and I named a character after her. I've never met her in real life."

I like how Cookie describes Alex in her post. Feminine, bloody, and strange.

And I love how there are people we can call "friend" and yet never have met in real life.



Ellen Urbani sent me two pictures with this wonderful story:

When I was 7, I made the front page of the school newspaper, holding up my artwork alongside my childhood best friend, Bob Felker, in Darby, PA. Nearly 40 years later, at Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC, we staged a redux.

Frankly, I think we've held up pretty damn well. As has the art.




Mary Wysong-Haeri does these wonderful wine pairings / reviews of books, and she recently did one for Ramiza Shamoun Koya's forthcoming novel:

Though not due out until early 2020, Ramiza Shamoun Koya’s debut novel, The Royal Abduls, is one to look out for. Both entertaining and thought-provoking, it is the story of a family trying as hard as they can to be “normal” Americans, despite being of Indian Muslim descent. Amina Abdul believes they have succeeded until her young nephew, Omar, begins to speak with an Indian accent. Told from alternating points of view, the novel explores what it means to be different. Omar can’t decide if he is Indian or American; to be both doesn’t seem possible. As Amina struggles to help him, she discovers that she too is trying to answer this very question. Calling to mind some of the struggles of my own family (I am married to an Iranian), I found myself finding extra reading time in order to learn what happens to these characters. The wine I chose to pair with this rich and timely novel is a 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Chardonnay. A distinctly beautiful Yamhill County wine, full of the flavors of Bosc pear and sweet apple balanced by a touch of bitter orange, its finish is long and soft and not unlike the affection I feel for Ramiza Shamoun Koya’s book.


Saturday, January 4, 2020

Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Portland Center Stage


Man, I miss rock 'n roll.

I've realized in the last year or two that I hardly listen to music anymore. When I drive to and from work, I'm listening to the news. On my lunchtime walks, it's podcasts, and when I'm working on a design project and want something in my ears, it's old-time radio shows. In part, I think, because I don't have children, I've lost the thread of modern music. I don't know what it is anymore. But music used to be nearly everything to me.

And Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the film, was huge to me when it came out. What year was that? Wow, 2001. I was nuts for that film, especially the music, so I was equal parts excited and trepidatious when I heard Portland Center Stage's was going to be producing it. Would their Hedwig stand up to my revered image of John Cameron Mitchell? Would the music be tight enough? Would the show (feels silly for me to say, but) rock enough?

(Feels silly for me to say, but) The show totally rocks! And is hilarious and is raunchy and is complex and is a wonderfully immersive experience in the Armory's intimate Ellyn Bye Studio. And the set!

But wait.

Let me give you a recap if you don't know the story. You're in a mall. Yes, you. You're part of the show because you're a member of the audience as Hedwig, the genderqueer (I use that term specifically because that's how John Cameron Mitchell describes her) front-man for the broken-down rock band The Angry Inch, performs a show in the food court of an equally broken-down mall.

As she performs, she tells her story—being a boy in Germany; escaping from East Berlin to America with the aid of a botched sex-change operation (hence the "angry inch"); mentoring young rocker Tommy Speck; losing her way as Tommy Speck became superstar Tommy Gnosis, stealing her music as he left her behind.

Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. as Hedwig

But now, relating her story on stage, accompanied by her four-piece band and her backup singer/husband Yitzhak, Hedwig is head-up and haughty, audacious and sexy as she rocks the house in that sad, dilapidated mall—oh, but I was telling you about the set!

It's perfectly awful. And I mean perfectly in the positive sense. The overflowing trashcan, the broken candy machine, the half-burnt-out neon sign over the entrance to the mall-embedded Chili's restaurant. I love the signs that advertise the place as the "Star Court," a branding that's also on that broken vending machine. But the pièce de résistance is the tongue-in-cheek irony of the poor, dead escalator, standing in for the luxurious staircases of the musicals of Golden-Age Hollywood.


Hedwig is played by actor Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. His vocals seemed a little unsure at the start of the show, perhaps opening night jitters, but it didn't take long for him to find his footing. As an actor, he mixes Hedwig's haughtiness with just the right amount of bitterness and poignancy, and his sexy banter with the audience brings lots of laughs. I enjoyed the moments when he was playing both Hedwig and Tommy, switching back and forth between voices, accents, genders. When he more fully takes on Tommy's character toward the end of the show, it's a fabulous transformation.

As a singer, Curtis has a lovely voice. What an incredible range. It can take him from quite low to beautifully high, as in the surprising opening to his performance of "Hedwig's Lament." And when he's in full-on rock 'n roller mode, he hits some high notes that blow you away.

Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. as Hedwig and Ithica Tell as Yitzhak

If you're familiar with the film, take a tip and see the play. It's beautifully constructed around the device of the shopping mall performance, with the story of Hedwig's life perfectly weaving in and out. You're immersed in not only the drama of the stage play but the joy inherent in a rock show. There's a wonderful moment from an editing standpoint where Hedwig is telling you just how it came to pass that she was persuaded to have the botched sex-change operation. Suddenly the music starts and she sings, "When I woke up on the doctor's slab." From the moment before to the moment after—and you go from this very dark place right into music. Powerful, driving music. That's when I thought to myself, "Man, I miss rock 'n roll."

You could have a blast at Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the music alone, but it's also a surprisingly moving show. Stephen said the same thing to me, leaving the theater: "I was surprised, I got a little teary." (OK, me, I got very teary.) Stephen talked about Hedwig's emotional transformation, and I'm going to leave it at that because there's a surprise twist not only for those of you who, like me, were enamored of the movie but unfamiliar with the stage play, but also for those of you who've seen the play before, and I hate spoilers. But what was interesting to me was that while Stephen's emotional reaction came for Hedwig, mine was for Yitzhak.

Both characters have their moments of emotional climax (man, after all the double-entendres in that show, my brain has a little slant to it today). The thing about Yitzhak is that he's so in the background for much of the show that the conclusion of his particular story arc, at least for me, hits surprisingly strongly. I'll leave it at that because again with the spoilers, but let me talk for a moment about Ithica Tell.

Ithica Tell as Yitzhak

I loved her in a recent production of The Color Purple, and I was intrigued to see her name in the cast list as Yitzak. I thought she was a wonderful choice. She does great deadpan straight-man work as Hedwig's long-suffering husband, and her quiet smolder of in-the-background bitterness provides a great build-up of tension as we follow her own story as it rides secondary to Hedwig's.

Like Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr., Ithica Tell also has quite a range on her, vocally. She's able to go from very feminine to very masculine as she sings backup on Hedwig's songs. This range combined with her beautifully masculine look gives Ithaca Tell's Yitzhak the perfect gender mix for the show, I think, and makes her seem just right as Hedwig's other half. 

I thought she did a sweet turn on her solo "The Long Grift." Her voice on that was clear and lovely feminine. Then elsewhere her sound would be surprisingly masculine, like on the backup vocals of a certain song where she was so deep and angsty she reminded me of the heavy metal music of my youth. It was very different from what I remembered of the same song in the film, and it felt so much more effective, so much more powerful. I loved the interpretation. So much that I wanted to tell you all about it, but one day later, and I can't remember which song! I've been wracking my brains. That's what a lot of my experience of theater tends to be like, actually, with this incredibly flabby memory of mine. The next day I'm basking in the reminiscence of a lovely evening, but the particulars have faded and what I'm left with is the memory of feeling. Of all the laughter, of the joy of music, of the surprise of tears from a moment unexpected. Portland Center Stage's Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a very full show and even as we were leaving the theater, I was craving another look. "Makes me want to watch the movie," I told Stephen.

Stephen countered with, "Makes me want to see the play a second time." 

We may just do that.

*

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is playing now through February 23rd at the Armory. More information is here.

Photos by Owen Carey/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

Poster art by Mikey Mann