Notes on Words

for Writers, Readers, Logophiles and Logorrhetics

Don’t Worry Philly, There Will Be Theater in August — July 30, 2013

Don’t Worry Philly, There Will Be Theater in August

Ugh . . . Moms!August is not the most auspicious of theater months. For most theaters, mainstream and small, the season is still a September or October to May session.

With FringeArts taking over September for the last decade and a half, many companies frame their first show around this. Some, like the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium and EgoPo take advantage of the fest, which this year runs Sept 4-22, to stage their first shows (The Castle and A Doll’s House, respectively) as part of it.

The Arden curtains their season directly after with Parade on Sept 26th, Philadelphia Theatre Company opens 4000 Miles well into October (apparently to celebrate my birthday on the 11th), Plays and Players and InterAct open even later.

The Walnut doesn’t seem to worry about the competition, running In the Heights from Sept 3. The Lantern is a bit more cautious, opening Emma toward the end of the fest at Sept 19th.

There is this concept that people go on vacation in August. Well, not in this economy, suggests Rich Rubin of Quince Productions, whose third annual GayFest! presents 18 widely varied shows throughout the month of August this year.

Read my preview of this interesting and growing festival here.

Philly’s got Gay Cabaret – what’s your city got?? — July 22, 2013

Philly’s got Gay Cabaret – what’s your city got??

What's the glove symbolic of? Send in your guesses for the chance to win a prize!
Dito van Reigersberg (left) and John Jarboe getting creative with textiles. Photo credit Plate 3 Photography.

Click to see my latest article at Martha Graham Cracker and the Bearded Ladies double-team Philly’s audiences at the Wilma Theater with socially relevant and thoughtful cabaret, with free drinks.

Logorrhea Going Native — July 20, 2013

Logorrhea Going Native

Actually looks like someone's thumb got in the way . . .
Earth’s umbra on the moon

. . . He opened the door and rushed out onto the lawn, a frantic naked man utterly unable to comprehend–his unmonitored pulse galloping headlong toward the finish line without him–the rather unexceptional fact of his victimization by the forces of modern life. Someone had dared to steal his fucking car.

I’m reading Going Native by Stephen Wright. The book’s language is dense, in some places “over-written” as my friend pointed out, but at other points lucid or hilarious. And unlike Blood Meridian, the last big novel I took on, it’s pretty spare on the $20,000 words, so I can actually get a good pace going without stopping every two minutes to pull out the dictionary (laptop). Two chapters in, I’ve learned four new words, two of which are probably not going to be usable by anyone.

The most recent is brier. As in, “He nodded genially in her direction, the apple-cheeked country squire savoring his evening brier.” In this scene, “he” is smoking a crack pipe.

The simplest definition of “brier” is that it is an alternative spelling of “briar,” which of course means a thorny bush, or a twig covered in thorns, or a mass of prickly plants.

None of these make particular sense, but then, if you scroll to the bottom of The Free Dictionary’s list of definitions (I generally use The Free Dictionary–I find its explanations at least as accessible as any other, and its format more user friendly than Merriam-Webster) you find this pair of meanings:

Image courtesy of
Brings me back to my country squire days

briern. 1. the white heath, whose root is used to make tobacco pipes
2. a pipe made of brierroot

Then, that meaning well in hand, I was able to feel mastery of the paragraph and give a short chuckle.

The other unlikely-to-ever-be-used word I puzzled over so far is “rheostat.” At one point in chapter two, the days and nights are rushing by in a crack haze: “. . . the miracle of the cracked ceiling she had been acutely attending for hours and hours, it was glowing, the intensity of its illumination multiplying surely but imperceptibly under the care of her watch, she imagined a hidden rheostat somewhere manipulated by a withered old hand, and then, with a start, she comprehended the meaning of this fascinating phenomenon.”

Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with the frighteningly technical-sounding “rheostat” left undefined. After some digging and picking my way through unparseable conundrums of definitions like “a continuously variable electrical resistor used to regulate current” and feeling like I’m doing my taxes, I learn what it all means. A rheostat is a fancy term for the electrical component which makes dimmer switches possible.

(A rheostat surely has other uses than dimming lights; it allows for variable current, unlike a regular switch which allows for only on or off. But I can’t think of any, and dimmer switch is exactly what Wright means in this moment, fortunately.)

Again, the paragraph makes sense–and her drug-addled misinterpretation of perfectly natural illumination is now funny.

Maybe some day I will hear the word “rheostat” again and know what it means.

But Stephen Wright’s novel has thus far provided at least two fun, useful words to take home, as well:

Going Native
That car is going off the road a bit

minatoryadj: threatening or menacing
alt. minatorial, minacious

. . . he halted, frozen in place, his arrested shadow lofting gigantically up the wall, across the low ceiling, a slick black membrane quivering in minatory shapelessness close overhead.

And, toward the close of that scene comes this:

“There now,” she declared, “look at you,” casting a triumphant finger wallward at his anatomically correct umbral self. “Enormous. You’re one big guy.”

I know “umbral” has to do with shadows, and that makes sense here, but I try not to guess at words that I’m not sure about. My consistency payed off, because when I looked up “umbra” I found something fun:

umbran. 1. A dark area, especially the darkest part of a shadow from which all light is cut off.
2. Astronomy
a. The completely dark portion of a the shadow cast by the earth, moon or other body                                    during an eclipse
b. The darkest region of a sunspot
adj: umbral.

The concept that the “umbra” is the darkest part of a shadow, or a sunspot, or an eclipse–the part completely devoid of light–is really exciting and useful.

Then you get on to definitions three and four:

3. The usual accompaniment of a person or thing
4. A phantom or ghost.

“He became his girlfriend’s umbra and soon lost all of his friends.” “Controversy was umbral to him, chasing him from place to place.”

They're actually not that cute, even up close
Some lovely white heath bushes
The insanity of Phillies fans. — July 17, 2013

The insanity of Phillies fans.

Phillies Fandemonium
‘Ware – here madmen be

I went to the Philadelphia History Museum last week on a tipoff from Mary Syndor.

The Played in Philadelphia gallery,” claims their website, “will feature changing exhibitions devoted to the city’s history across several cultural genres including theater, music, performing arts, film, broadcast, electronic media, and professional and amateur sports.”

This, too, is basically how Mary put it to me. What their site also said, but could have made more clear, is that Played is a changing exhibit and only focuses on one of these topics at a time. And that the current title of the exhibit, Phillies Fandemonium, meant that it would be about the insanity of Phillies fans and the hoarders who collect their promotional garbage.

I’m sure that that’s not really the focus of the exhibit–but that’s what it said to me. The 400-square-foot room in which Played in Philadelphia lives (tiny!) features, on two walls, spreads of each of ten fans who won a Philadelphia Magazine competition for the Phillies’ biggest fans, with pictures of them in their natural habitats. These people are truly nutty, the craziest being the one who named his son Chase Luke Ryan Howard Yalon.

What if this boy wants to discover the secret of marketing infinitely renewable energy to city centers? Or to cure AIDS? No, he will always be branded by athletes he’s never met and who lived in the distant past.

One wall, by way of color and background (the museum is beautifully made-up) is plastered with a cinematic image of a bandstand filled with fans. There are jerseys from two major players and an empty champaign bottle from when the team won the world cup or the ashes or whatever baseball players play for (still with the spit of the players on the rim? Come all ye mad cloning scientists/sports fans!). And in the middle of the exhibit, in two glass cases, treasures from the hordes of hoarders: magazines, dolls, McDonald’s or Wheaties toys featuring the team, pencils, etc. People who filled their living rooms and attics with red and white stripes.

“The team gives us something to unite over,” says one of the mad fans–or something like that. This Phillies memorabilia say nothing to me, but to many it must seem unimagined wonders. And the exhibit does, with items like the champaign bottle, do exactly what this museum does very well: let objects tell stories.

From the William Way LGBT Center's exhibit in the changing Philadelphia Voices room
The PHM lets objects tell the story

I actually did a little review on the museum for Art Attack, particularly the eclectic The Power of Objects exhibit, highlighting this relationship with objects that so spurred my imagination. Prowling the brief but well-used purlieu of the museum, I felt a bit of the magic that I’ve felt at the (much larger) British Museum.

The PHM dedicates itself to telling the story of “daily urban life” in Philadelphia. So no more weight is put on the desk of President Washington or General Meade’s gift sword than a pair of anonymous bocci balls or a ratty jewelry box brought from Ireland by an unknown woman.

No idea what is next for Played in Philadelphia, but I do hope that the curators will put some of their considerable talent into a theater exhibit sometime soon. No telling, either, when the exhibit will change. They were meant to change “every four months or so” according to an article put out in September, when they re-opened, but it has so far been ten months of Phillies fans.

That said, the PHM has found its way onto my list of unique Philly attractions enjoyable in one to two hours. It has good company there, with institutions like the Rodin Museum, the Mütter, the Magic Gardens and the perimeter of the PMA.

SoLow Post-Mortem — July 9, 2013


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Notes on Words

for Writers, Readers, Logophiles and Logorrhetics