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13th Apr 2014, 7:57 AM

whoisdahlia

Steampunk Romeo and Juliet a Huge Success: Adds New Elements to the Tragedy

Friday night in Vancouver is a quiet time.  The downtown streets clear fast; the coin-operated parking meters (a relic of a yesterday that I can still sharply recall) stop collecting at six; but inside the Magenta Theater, on Sixth and Main, things are just heating up. A blast of steam, a chorus of industrial music, and the slow ticking of a clock fill the air as gears turn on a stage, revealing the backdrop to a Verona framed not by fair rivers and tall trees, but by thick copper pipes and golden gaskets. This is Verona as envisioned by a Steam Shakespeare.

This is Romeo and Juliet, the Steampunk version, adapted by director/writer David Roberts. The spoken words are Shakespeare’s own, but everything else has been given top hats and goggles; in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Many have read Romeo and Juliet, but to fully appreciate its tragedy requires witnessing it on stage.  To understand the wild and intense emotions of the leads, you have to see their youthfulness, set against the age of their overbearing and unintentionally cruel parents.

This contrast between the hope of youth and the dour authoritarianism of age is captured wonderfully in the Magenta Theater production by Hannah Mock (Juliet) and Robbin Goss (Romeo).  Goss portrays Romeo as a young man of extremes. One moment he is sunk in the melodramatic throes of unrequited love, slumping, dragging his feet and pouting as only a teenager can. The next, he is giddy with joy, bounding around the stage with the energy and excitement of a puppy, a toothy grin on his face. It’s the perfect Romeo—one who is a slave to his emotions but cannot be blamed for it, because he’s simply too adorable.

It is a Romeo you could believe would break into the Capulet’s gardens for a glimpse of Juliet. It is a Romeo who does the most harm through innocent naiveté. It is a Romeo who, yes, would think the world was over after he is exiled from his family and home city—he is, after all, only a child. But this is not to say that Romeo cannot display real emotion. Goss brings a sudden and unexpected heaviness to his performance from the moment Tybalt dies, crying out in a very adult voice of pain and terror: “I am fortune’s fool!” A boy in love but a man in pain.

If Goss captured the innocence of Romeo and Juliet, then Mock personifies the true tragedy of the play… and that tragedy is not Romeo’s, but belongs wholly to Juliet. Remember: it is not Romeo and his Juliet… no, Shakespeare writes “never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Mock’s bright eyes and sweet smile make this tragedy real, especially as that smile begins to falter, as she becomes more and more the frantic caged bird, forced to bow to the will of her father and the impulses of Romeo. So well performed is her final bedroom scene (where Juliet contemplates taking the infamous sleeping poison) that it is difficult to watch. The culmination of that scene, where she shrieks that she sees the ghost of her dead cousin Tybalt, made Max and Jon jump in our seats—it was a culminating moment showing that this is a girl who may not ever recover from the frenzy of the past forty eight hours.

If Hamlet is a play about a man standing in one place, then Romeo and Juliet is the height of activity. The Magenta Theater’s production misses no opportunity to showcase this action. The choreography is varied and entertaining. The Steampunk elements are at their strongest here, too—Tybalt locking his ornate blade against Benvolio’s cane sword, for instance; or a young Capulet vixen attacking a Montague with an umbrella. The dance during the party scene is a feast for the fan of Steampunk, complete with corsets, pinstripes, and petty coats, all swinging in time with the beat of a Baroquian hip-hop, part of a well-chosen soundtrack for the production.

The most intriguing choice made by the director was to cast Mercutio as a woman. Mercutio is one of the most interesting and colorful characters in Shakespeare’s plays. He is also one of the more enigmatic; launching into crazed soliloquys about Queen Mab, blurring the lines of gender with his near sexual advances towards Romeo, and possibly even inviting his own death by seeking a sword fight with Tybalt—depending on your reading of the play.

As a woman, another element is added to Mercutio. Mercutio has a lot of lines where she grabs her crotch, or otherwise makes bawdry reference to her “sword,” and she has about a dozen different metaphors for a vagina. Case in point: she spends a whole scene sexually taunting Juliet’s aging nurse, cackling madly all the while. As a man, this bawdiness comes off as juvenile, but in the hands of Beth VanBuecken (Magenta’s Mercutio), the character appears to mock, rather than celebrate,  the masculinity of male counterparts and their preoccupation with their nether regions. It’s a subtle touch that showcases Mercutio as fighting a different feud than her Montague friends: she is fighting a feud of gender equality. A nice addition, snuck into the play without the need to adjust any of Shakespeare’s actual words.

The casting decision also adds in an unexpected twist: that of a hidden tragedy between Mercutio and Romeo, a love expressed from one but not seen by the other. Mercutio as a woman is still clearly just friends (albeit a close one) with Benvolio, but a sexual tension quickly builds between her and Romeo. VanBuecken brings this new tragedy to a height when she kisses Romeo while bleeding to death in his arms.

It is simultaneously tragic, desperate, and erotic.

Another of the highlights of the night was Reba Hoffman, as Juliet’s Nurse. The Nurse is a difficult character—fun to watch, but easy to write off as a buffoon or the comedic relief. However, Hoffman’s Nurse brought out previously undetected complexity and demonstrated a min-tragedy taking place in the larger narrative. Hoffman’s Nurse dotes on Juliet in both word and act. Her nervous giggle and constant possessive hovering over Juliet hints at a Nurse that wants to be Juliet.  Nurse volunteers to entwine herself into Juliet’s little drama but also joins in mocking her with the Friar (also extremely well acted, by David Bower), showing her awareness of Juliet’s naiveté. However, Hoffman’s Nurse is also the one Capulet most truly devastated upon discovering Juliet’s body. The agony she portrays is perhaps the most upsetting of the crowd around her body, and it is suddenly easy to recall that this is a woman who nursed Juliet and has spent more time with her than her actual mother. This is Juliet’s real mother, and the one who will suffer the most from her passing, especially as her suffering will not be acknowledged as much as that of the parents. The Nurse is left to suffer alone at the end of the play, and Hoffman breathes such life into her that you cannot help but wonder at her fate.

It seems cliché to call Romeo and Juliet a timeless piece, nor does that do justice to a production directed, constructed, and performed as well as the one put on by the Magenta Theater Company. Romeo and Juliet covers themes (such as young love, the difference between wisdom and innocence, and the futility of endless feuds) that are timeless and universal, but it takes more than speaking the words and updating the costumes to make the tragedy work. Much like a good Steampunk, you know a good production of Romeo and Juliet not by how flamboyant and rich the costumes are, but by how emotionally attached you become to the characters.

Underneath all the beautifully designed top hats and dapper suits is a pulsing heart, each beat strongly resonating through any audience that will attend the Magenta Theater’s production.

* * *

Romeo and Juliet runs from April 11th until April 26th

For tickets visit magentatheater.com
 

Cast of Characters (in order of appearance)

Sampson……………Tony Provenzola

Gregory……………...Jozy Bower

Abraham……………Ryan Wilmington

Balthasar…………….Joseph Culley

Benvolio……………...Matt Newport

Tybalt………………….Eli Swihart

Lord Capulet………...Bob Lawson

Lady Capulet………...Brenda McGinnis

Lord Montague……..Curtis Hope

Lady Montague……Jaynie Roberts

Royal Guards………….Jonathan Campbell, Steve Goodwin

Prince Escalus………..Tim Klein

Romeo……………………Robbin Goss

Paris………………………Steve Goodwin

Peter………………………Johnathan Campbell

Nurse……………………..Reba Hoffman

Juliet………………………Hannah Mock

Mercutio…………………Beth VanBuecken

Friar Laurence………...David Bower

Messenger……………….Ryan Wilmington

9th Apr 2014, 5:17 PM

whoisdahlia

Feature: Coloring Outside the Lines

A gallery of Erica's paintings

Jonathan here. Erica Melville is an astounding artist. Her website lists her talents simply as "drawing and painting," but that does little to capture the emotions she can lay on a canvas with the perfect balance of color and the perfect layout of ink strokes. Nor does it highlight her coloring work on comics, such as Terra Tempo. The Dahlia Team had the pleasure of having her color the cover for Book One, but we weren't ready to say goodbye after that, so we asked Erica if we could throw a couple questions at her about the coloring process. She kindly agreed, and we wanted to share her answers! That's not all, either. Erica will be coloring the cover for Book Two when it is funded on Kickstarter. And who knows? Maybe someday we'll see a special color edition of Dahlia.

Jon: Your painting work focuses on expression through color. What does color mean to you, and why are you so drawn to it?
 
Erica: To me, color is emotion, it directs communication, and it opens up a world of exploration. The application of color, or lack thereof, has a lot of meaning. In my paintings I like to explore its nuances and how one color behaves in relation to another.
 
How did you get started in coloring for graphic novels?
 
My first graphic novel coloring experience was Terra Tempo, volume 1. It started out with just doing a few pages to create a promotional website for the book. When the pages turned out well, I ended up doing the whole book.
 
What guides your coloring decisions in a graphic novel?
 
I approach graphic novel coloring similarly to the way I approach painting: I choose colors I think work well and then push them to their limits, exploring the dissonance and/or harmony among them. For graphic novel coloring I then often have to pull things back a notch to get the colors to exist in the same space or to make them work well with the other pages and the book as a whole.
 
What's the hardest part about your process? ... favorite part?
 
The hardest part for me is the blank canvas or the uncolored page. There are so many directions to go in, it can be intimidating, although very exciting. Once I get a shape or a color or two blocked in, things start to make sense. My favorite part is the part toward the end, maybe when the page or painting is about 75% complete, and I reach some sort of epiphany--whether big or small--about where the final look is going. It can be energizing.
 
If you could color any kind of graphic novel, what would it be?
 
I like anything with interesting landscapes and dynamic skies or lighting. Underwater scenes are fun to work on, too.
 
Who have been your inspirations in painting and coloring? What do you find inspiring about them?
 
A lot of my inspiration for graphic novel coloring has come from Steve Hamaker's coloring of the Bone series by Jeff Smith. When I'm in a book store, I like to flip through graphic novels or any illustrated books for inspiration. Anything with some sort of dramatic quality or uniqueness will catch my eye. For painting, my inspirations are much more extensive. I would say as a young artist one of my first influences was Van Gogh, but my list of contemporary artists is bountiful. They include Brice Marden, Joan Mitchell, Wolf Kahn, Julie Mehretu. Color along with line and form is important in all of their work.
 
[Note from Jon: Bone is awesome, as is Jeff Smith. If you haven't checked them out, do so!]
 
Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
 
I'm currently finishing up coloring the third volume of the Terra Tempo series. This one has a wide gamut of scenery and interiors, so it has been very interesting and exciting to work on.

29th Mar 2014, 2:18 PM

whoisdahlia

Patrick Rothfuss, Paul and Storm, and the Best Night of My Life

Jonathan here. Around 2010, I finished George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows, at that time the last book in his Song of Ice and Fire series. I was eager for more fantasy, but despaired of finding a writer at the same level as Martin with the same ability to completely lose me in his world. I briefly debated turning back to Lord of the Rings (the equivalent of sleeping at your ex’s), before deciding I could at least go browse the fantasy section of Powell’s books. Maybe some old dusty tome would grab my eye.

Of course I ended up in front of The Song of Ice and Fire. I wistfully stared at the four books on the shelf, trying to wish into existence the fifth book. Maybe I’d missed the release, the way I’d missed the release of the seventh Harry Potter book. I begged the laws of the universe to look the other way for just a moment and drop that fifth book into my hands, regurgitated out of some worm hole leading to a dimension where Song of Ice and Fire was complete.

And in a way, the universe listened.

A Powell’s employee appeared, a brunette girl with bright red lipstick and thick-rimmed glasses. She brusquely said “excuse me,” and knelt down next to A Feast of Crows, affixing a little sign underneath it. Then she left and I saw what the sign read: “Tired of Waiting for the Next Book in Song of Ice and Fire? Then Check Out Name of the Wind, By Patrick Rothfuss.”

And that is how I became a bigger fan of Patrick Rothfuss than I am of George R.R. Martin. Or, for that matter, of Tolkein, or Gaiman, or Sanderson, or Rowling.

Anyone who has read Name of the Wind has a story like this, about how they came to find it. This is because, for the lover of fantasy, there is nothing like the first  time you read Patrick Rothfuss… except maybe the second time. Or the third time. Rothfuss’ writing is like music. You hear different things every time you play the tune.

My father’s story is a little bit shorter. This is how he told it to Rothfuss last night, at the Aladdin theater here in Portland, Oregon: “I introduced my son to reading, and he introduced me to you.”

It’s a true story: for my whole life I’ve shared books with my dad. Last night (March 28) I bought tickets for us to share another experience, that of seeing Rothfuss live. It was a perfect evening. I wore my talent pipes and we sat three rows in front of the stage, about fifteen feet from the man I consider the greatest living writer. And we got a hell of a show.

Rothfuss didn’t show up alone. He is touring right now with Paul and Storm, a musical comedy duo who are to geek culture what Flight of the Conchords was to pop culture. Last night was a three-hour variety show, starting with Paul and Storm, then transitioning into Rothfuss, and ending with the three of them together singing “The Pirate Song.” It was like no author reading I’ve ever been to. Case in point, Paul and Storm opened with a song begging George R.R. Martin to finish Song of Ice and Fire. You can get the full song here.

If anything, it was more like being at a live showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Portland crowd makes for a fantastic audience. There were unasked for call-and-answers. At one point, a pair of men’s underwear was thrown on stage, along with a bow tie, and an unopened DVD of Zombie Strippers. When Paul and Storm needed to use the theater screen, the audience sang the Star Wars Imperial March while waiting for the screen to slowly descend onto the stage. In short: it was a show I don’t think anyone else on the tour is going to get, not like it was last night. Quite often the performers were laughing so hard they had to stop their act. Say what you want about Portland being weird: “We entertain our entertainers.”

This flurry of comedy built up the audience nicely for Rothfuss’s entrance. He was greeted onto the stage like a rock star and then proceeded to take us through a literary journey that was funny, intellectual, melancholy, and meaningful. Trying to talk about his performance is like trying to explain Shakespeare to someone who has never read him. You can’t do his readings justice. I can’t adequately capture the emotion behind his heartfelt dilemma of feeling torn between spending time with his son and spending time with his Worldbuilding charity (which saves families from starvation in other countries). Nor can I explain how easily he transitioned from that into a story about drowning guinea pigs.

I can talk about these things, tell you they happened and that they were funny or emotional, but I can’t recreate them. Not without his exact script in front of me. I’d have to present it exactly as he wrote it; he’s too good a writer for it to work right any other way. Fortunately, a lot of these writings are up on his blogs or on Facebook. You can read the one about his son here.

My favorite part of the night was Pat’s reading of The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, his kid’s book that is not for kids… but maybe is more than you’d think. If that’s a little confusing, that’s the point. After all, this is a book that begins with marzipan castles and ends with teeth… although it kind’ve begins with teeth, too. What was great about Pat’s reading was not just the book itself, but his deconstruction of the way our mind works as we read the book. “This is my punishment for your assumptions, and anyone who buys a kid’s book because of that little gold star on the cover deserves what they get,” Pat told us, and it’s a piece of The Princess that I’d never considered before. Typical of Patrick’s depth, there is a meta-layer to The Princess that is a warning against making assumptions or relying too much on our pattern-seeking conscious minds, without engaging in critical assessment of what’s in front of us. He showed us, in his reading of the book, how blind we can be to reality when it’s presented in a certain way.

Patrick also took questions from the audience, and his answers proved as interesting and unique from other author readings as everything else about the event. I’ve been to question and answer sessions where the author will expound for fifteen minutes on  question about how they named a character or how they wrote a single scene. In contrast, when one fan asked Pat how, as a non-musician, he writes the incredible musical scenes in Name of the Wind, he answered in four words: “I make shit up.” Next question.

Nor did my question about his inspiration for the love story between Denna and Kvothe manage to launch a discussion about his process: “I love the word inspiration,” Pat said. “But the idea that this outside force enters you and fills you with ideas isn’t how it happens. That takes away the responsibility from the author for what they’ve created.” He continued: “I don’t grab people from my life and shove them into my stories. I don’t think of that as good writing, I think of that as bad Photoshop.” Next question.

Some people might views these answers as reticent, but I saw it as unbridled honesty. Patrick pointed out what I think most of us are afraid to admit about writing, because it simultaneously removes some of the elitist intrigue from it, as well as dashing the hope that words will magically flow from our fingers if we want it bad enough: writing is mostly about hard work and a lot of practice.

He did have more to say about Denna later on: “Some people really don’t like her. And because of that, sometimes I think of her as my greatest failing. Because I wasn’t able to bring her to you the way I wanted you to see her. But then I think she’s also my greatest success, because we all don’t all like the same people. That’s what makes someone real. Just because two girls are friends with the same guy doesn’t mean they are going to be friends with each other. That only took me thirty years to figure out.” The audience laughed: Pat often makes fun of the disasters of his love life. He’s shares a lot in common with Kvothe when it comes to encounters with women (I think most males do).

Patrick’s favorite question was this one: “Which of your smoking hot characters would you most want to bone?” He determined that, if there was consent and no consequences, “who wouldn’t I want to bone?” And then he got philosophical: “If I’m the writer, could I actually have sex with my characters and have their consent? Would it really be consent?”

He talked about his favorite book, The Last Unicorn, and how the language of that story is the most beautiful he’s ever read. He also talked about his upcoming book. November will see the release of another book in the Name of the Wind world… no, it is NOT book three of the Kingkiller Chronicle. It is a novella about fan-favorite Auri, the mysterious waif and former magic student who lives in the sewers underneath the university. And what of book three, then? It’s hard to tell. I think Patrick was making fun of us when he pointed to the blank theater screen as he was setting up for The Princess and Mr. Whiffle and quipped, “Here’s a picture of book three!”

I think.

The evening ended with a chorus of “The Pirate Song,” some of which you can watch here. Unfortunately, I stopped filming right before a ten minute segue about a sequel to Everyone Poops, called Nobody Poops, that left the audience and Pat, Storm, and Paul doubled up with laughter on the stage. Okay, it might sound a little childish now, but I assure you, it came from a good place (specifically a play on William Shatner’s name… Shat? narrrr… I’ll let you figure the rest out). Smiles and roars of approval were on every face in the crowd: from the family and their two young kids crying with laughter behind me, to a cute giggly twenty-something girl with blue hair a couple seats in front of me, from my beaming sixty-year-old dad, to my own splitting grin. It’s a sign of how many generations Pat has touched, and how connected we all are through his writing and through the larger umbrella of utter geekdom that he encourages us to embrace.

It was the perfect way to end a perfect night.

23rd Mar 2014, 9:39 AM

whoisdahlia

Big Red turns 20: Hellboy

Jonathan here. Ever have one of those moments where you learn how old something is and your first reaction is, "no way?" Ah, but then you start to sort through the pictures in your memory and admit that the object in question has had an impact for longer and through more life events than you thought.

This was the experience Max and I had yesterday night (March 22), as we set out to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy at Things From Another World. We were last here for the Gail Simone signing and TFAW threw just as good a party this time, complete with beer and food. I hear the red velvet cupcakes were home-baked, and whoever made them should know they were delicious.

On hand for tonight's event were three Dark Horse heavyweights and H.B. alumni: Scott Allie (editor in chief of Dark Horse comics and writer/editor of DH titles Conan, Serenity, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Solomon Kane); Dave Stewart (eight-time Eisner Award winning colorist who has worked on titles for Dark Horse, DC, and Marvel); and Tyler Crook (artist for B.P.R.D: Hell On Earth, Bad Blood, and Petrograd, and winner of the 2012 Russ Manning award). Also Red himself. Max has the pictures to prove it.

It was a great chance for comic fans to ask questions like “how does an aspiring writer get into comics?” Scott’s answer: “Do it obsessively. Generate a lot of material, then team up with an artist and get some of it drawn. Don’t turn in scripts, and don’t try to go for your epic opus right away. Create a relationship with someone by doing a few shorter issues, see if you guys can work together… and then you’ll have these end products that you can show around. That’s the portfolio you need to break in, and your artist is going to want that, too. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

People at the event were enthusiastic, and that has a lot to do with the sheer variety of the comic. We’re talking about a superhero who fights demons from the Bible, witches from Russian folklore, horrors from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft, werewolves, and Nazis. No other graphic covers this sort of distance, with a guide this overpowering. Here’s a red giant, cocking a gun with a barrel you could fit your whole fist into. He chain smokes. He’s got a glare that could stop a charging bull. He’s 300 years old, but everyone calls him Hell BOY. In short, he’s a monster, and part of the fun is watching him go toe-to-toe with other monsters, especially since he always just barely seems to win. It’s like mixing the Hammer Horror films with Wrestlemania, complete with all the humorous side-line taunting.

But then there’s a lot to unpack underneath all that. Hellboy isn’t all about quips and one-liners (though they are there in spades). There is a tragedy and loneliness to the Big Guy that’s hard to put into words, maybe because he himself never does. From the very beginning, Hellboy has seemed exhausted by his battles. It doesn’t mean he’s going to stop; he’s NEVER going to stop, and maybe that’s the tragedy. He can’t stop. He’s stuck doing this forever, for the protection of a humanity that can’t allow him to stop, and for the entertainment of a readership that doesn’t want him to. Hellboy is nothing if not a performance artist, and he knows his role well.

Scott, Tyler, and Dave know the role, too. One of the questions asked tonight was how they prepare for the creation of a Hellboy novel, and their answers were all essentially the same: they try to get inside Mike’s head. They have to know that role he’s created for Hellboy and how far he would take it. Scott elaborated: “[As a writer and editor] I get to work with some intense people, and I learn a lot about them… and I have to do what I think they would do, if they had the time to be the writer on every issue and every story involving their character.”

One of the things Scott learned about Mike early on in their relationship is that his favorite book is Dracula. Mike’s creative mind has been defined by Bram Stoker’s gothic horror tale of a monster stuck in a role he has no hope of ending (seeing the influence?) Along those lines, one of the little teasers dropped last night was that Mike wants to bring more vampires into the Hellboy storyline. Will that be in the form of an overarching plot? Maybe. Scott, Tyler, and Dave all expressed that Hellboy in Hell is their favorite story arc yet, and that’s a continuing storyline that is bringing in all the horrors that Mike wasn’t ready to touch on in the original series. From Dark Horse’s excitement about the series, it sounds like the arc to get into, whether you’re new to Hellboy or not.

One thing that isn’t going to come out is another film, at least not for a good long while. It was made clear last night that Hellboy 3 is officially off the table. This doesn’t come as a surprise. Though the first two films didn’t do poorly at the box office, they are expensive to make because of the need for practical make-up effects to create the central character, and heavy computer graphics to create the wide range of villains he faces. Even so, I could feel a wave of disappointment pass through the room at the news. Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman, in particular, made the transition from comic to screen brilliantly and captured the feel of the character in exacting terms.

I’ll admit, Hellboy was only on the periphery of my comic experience until the films came out. Max was a more avid reader of the comic. That said, I remember Hellboy from back when I was still wearing plaid and listening to a Walkman. It was always on the higher shelf of the comic book shop I used to visit in middle school, and every time I would reach for it, the owner of the shop would give me this look like I was reaching for the porno section. Then his eyes would flicker perceptibly over to the X-Men or Batman stacks. The implication seemed clear. This comic was for heavies. The other comics: those were for kids.

Last night I finally bought my first Hellboy book: Darkness Calls. I could still feel the eyes of that shop owner as I paid for my copy, but for the first time I wondered if maybe I had misinterpreted his look as a child. It wasn’t a disapproving and warning glare, it was a look that said, you’re about to get into something good. It was a testing look, to see if I would take the plunge, a look of deep respect for a graphic that has always remained different and fresh and inexorably separate from other graphic experiences. Hellboy is a superhero like the X-Men and Batman, but the difference is that he is a literal monster and when you stare into him, a little bit of you stares back.

16th Mar 2014, 10:01 AM

whoisdahlia

Pencils and Script: Off Rails

Full page: the train jumps the track and crashes. Details to show: train jumping the track; train flipping onto its side; carnage. The cars are still connected but are over turned and wreckage sprawls all over the ground.


Panel 2, bottom. Same shot as Panel 1 and 2 from last page, but now smoke pours out from the right side of the panel. Chandler is getting to his feet, hands on his knees, the way a middle-aged man rises. It’s time to go to work.