Thursday, November 24, 2011

Miller, Bonfield and the sounds of the season

Kristen Miller and Ken Bonfield perform 'Soulful Strings' Dec. 4.
Kristen Miller is a cellist who has been turning the instrument on its head for years, mixing hypnotic African rhythms and Eastern melodies with rock attitude, vocabulary and gear. Ken Bonfield is a Gloucester-based multi-instrumentalist who has developed a style that's difficult to pin down, combining elements of folk, Celtic, classical and blues for acoustic guitar to create a mash he calls, for better or worse, fojazzical. They've both got Christmas albums out: Bonfield’s subdued, introspective “WinterNight,” coming out more than a decade ago, and Miller’s 2010 “Winter Loves Company,” a collaboration with sound guru Tom Eaton, a sweet mix of cello and piano with a Windham Hill sensibility. Both include fresh arrangements of traditional carols as well as original seasonal compositions. They'll be playing a holiday show together next week, but, given their idosyncatic musical histories, it is unlikely that their “Soulful Strings,” show at the First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist  Church in Newburyport next week will be your traditional rum-pa-pa-pum kind of show, but it’s gonna be nice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover

They say you can't just a book by its cover. Which is bunk. Just ask Joel Brown. Last year, right about this time, the Boston Globe scribbler and Port novelist was in Carriagetown, trying to score some of that fancy, super-nutritious and undoubtedly horribly expensive food for his dog Buffy. All his Port connections had gone dry. That's when he spied Bertram & Oliver, a book store that had just opened a couple of months before. Brown had just self-published "Mirror Ball Man," a  mystery set in a little seaside community very much like Newburyport and had a couple of copies with him, and when you self-publish, you also self-promote and you develop a thick skin. You learn that cold-calling bookstores is no worse than, well, stopping strangers on the street and asking them what it's like living in a city that's being overrun by bloodthirsty zombies, activated by a mysterious cell phone signal, like in "Cell," a Stephen King book based in real-life Malden — a fun, goofy assignment for the Globe that is responsible, in a way, for Brown's being able to come to terms with his secret desire: Writing fiction. So he swallowed hard and took the plunge, pitching to B&O owner Joanne Wimberly. She cooly assessed the cover, a picture of the Plum Island Lighthouse with a disco mirror ball shining from inside, and bottom-lined it: "Right cover, right price. I'll take six."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A proper peek at Pullins' Pico

Ian Thal playing the Sprite in a recent production of 'Pico.'
Photo courtesy Daniel Bourque.
Complicated world we live in. Most people aren't really happy until they get the whole story, but, in this sad era of diminished expectations, we're happy enough, or we'll settle for, a piece of the action. Because something's better than nothing, right? Because you can't always go whole hog. Which is what Ralph, the philosophy-reading, pig-in-a-blanket-on-a-stick-selling hero of "Plato on the Corn Dog" wants to do when he gets caught up in the say-anything-to-sell madness of a slick infomercial king in the new (sort-of) theater short from Port playwright Ron Pullins. And what is really interesting here is that this play, which the playwright is offering up, for free, to anyone who wants to participate artistically and vicariously in Occupy Whatever movement, and "Pico," which was just published by Steel Toe Review, were pulled, whole hog, from larger works — the former from "The Dollartorium," the playwright's funny take on the ugly side of the American dream and what it takes to sell it, and the latter from "Woman. Bicycle."

Pullins, who owns Focus Publishing, the Port publishing house specializing in classical Greek and Roman drama as well as deadly dry academic textbooks, describes "Pico" as "commedia dell’arte and a miracle play in a form Pinter might have imagined." Not bad. Guy ought to be a writer or something. But we see it more like Godot meets Kafka's K in a low-rent bar just down the hill from the Castle, called upon to perform a play no one in Moss's remembers, despite the fact that the little sprite, like Kafka's surveyor, is certain he is in the right place at the right time and ready to do the job they wanted him to do — even if no one else remembers engaging him.

It started out as a scene for "Woman. Bicycle,”a complicated play to summarize if you want to go beyond the playwright's dismissive "someone comes, something happens." Could be two strangers, a guy and a girl, collide while riding bicycles. Could be they’re out riding together and grabbed by a couple of rightish thugs who hassle them because they’re obviously of the wrong political persuasion. Lot of that going on these days. Or could be a guy trying to write a story and a woman who just wants to get him between the sheets. "Plato on the Corn Dog" drops its old-school 'tude, riffing on "The Cloud," Aristophanes’ spectacular hatchet job on the looking-very-familiar Greek intelligentsia at a time, like ours, when sophistry, not philosophy, ruled, taking aim at the insanity of our consumer, marketing and financial um ... culture?

The best thing about all this, at least for lazy theater-goers like me, is that you get to experience the stage without ever leaving the comfort of your computer. You can read "Pico" here and you can check in on the American dream with "Plato on the Corn Dog" here. Now, if only someone, somewhere, could do something so I wouldn't have to get off the couch to experience theater ...


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Project comes home for the Holadays

Joe Holaday may well be, and, for the record, these are his own words, "a boring rock star." He's a house-husband and dad who eats (and likes) oatmeal, plays basketball three days a week in an old folks lunchtime league at Latitudes  (“My jump shot hasn't left me,” says the 54-year-old Port musician) and actually shows up on time, sometimes a little bit early, for interviews — even in the morning. But, romantic ideas about the lives of rockers aside, he really is a very busy boring rock star. The bassist, probably best known for his long-running gig with The Fools, is back in town after a recording date with Fran Cosmo, the "other" singer from the band Boston, sharing session credits with keyboardist Steve Baler, Holaday's bandmate from Beatlejuice, the Fab Four tribute band that had been fronted by original Boston vocalist Brad Delp until his death four years ago, and that has soldiered on in the wake of his suicide — and in Velvet Elvis, another tribute band, this one giving props to pre-Vegas Elvis and other golden age of rock pioneers: two bands that, to make things even more complicated, include, among other people, Mike Girard and Rich Bartlett from The Fools. And, come to think of it, Holaday's sons, Jared and PJ. They have been known to take the stage with Beatlejuice, which is one of the reasons that a couple of their "goofy uncles," which is how Holaday Senior describes the relationship between his sons and the boys in the band(s), perform  in the Holaday Project, the family band that makes its formal debut at the Firehouse this week. And, yeah, we're talking about the mayor's hubby and kiddos.