We were making our Labor Day weekend plans to visit our good friends Andy and Iris Ann in Sunnyvale when the thought hit us...just when is "Black Rider" playing anyway? The musical "The Black Rider" was being staged by the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and we never thought we would be able to attend. Turns out it opened in late August and ran through September. We decided it would be the perfect opportunity to see it, so we bought tickets.
|Craig worked from home today (the traffic had been very bad all week and he didn't want to risk it). It had been a very busy week for us (we had taken our friend Frank to see B.B. King the previous night, and hadn't gone to bed until around 1:30). I left work early, and, after printing out our boarding passes at home, we headed to the airport at around 4:30. The airport wasn't crowded at all. We ate dinner at Burger King, and our flight left at 6:20. We started watching the in-flight movie ("New Suit"). We were very entertained by the first 10 minutes, after which it lost its sound and we were no longer able to watch and we tried to nap instead. We arrived at around 9:30, and Andy picked us up at the airport. The terminal was packed with people and Andy told us that Southwest (which shared our terminal) had 5 different flights coming in between 9:30 and 10:15 so we wandered through the crowds of students heading off to school. A short drive and we arrived back at their house, which looked great with its new addition. We entered their new living room, formerly the garage, and were warmly greeted by Iris Ann. We chatted for quite a while, got a tour of the new addition, etc. It was great to simply hang out and chat with our friends. We always have a lot of laughs. We ended up going to bed at around 12:15.|
It always seems to be record heat when we visit Andy and Iris Ann. This was no exception. It was in the high 90's in Sunnyvale today.
We slept in a little bit. Andy and Iris Ann served us coffee from their funky Swiss coffee pot. Iris Ann made excellent French toast and scrambled eggs. We chatted for hours. Andy showed us some of his night photographs, and Iris Ann showed us some of her scrapbooks. We watched an episode of "Trading Spaces" on TV while chatting.
Mid-afternoon, Andy drove us into the city. He was going to drop us off for "The Black Rider", and then go to his night photography class and pick us up afterwards. On the way, we stopped at Sutro Baths near Cliff House. It is right on the ocean, and used to be the site of seven swimming pools holding 1.7 million gallons of sea water in 1896. 10,000 people could use the Baths at a given time. In the 1930's, part of the Baths was converted into an ice-skating rink. In 1966, a fire destroyed what was left of the site, but the foundation of the pools still remains. The site became a part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1973. The pools are now all filled with algae, and only sea birds bathe in them these days. This is one of the places Andy discovered while doing night photography. There was a neat tunnel through which you could view the ocean breaking on the rocks. There were some large rock monoliths out in the ocean, one of which had a heart-shaped hole in it. It reminded us of Pfieffer Beach in Big Sur. Even late in the day in San Francisco, it was still very warm in the sun. We walked around Sutro Baths for about half an hour walking around, enjoying the scenery, and enjoying the summer weather. Something we got very little of at home this year.
The Baths are located at one end of Geary Street, and our theater was located on the opposite end. So we drove through the city on Geary Street, stopping to take a photo of the beautiful Holy Virgin Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church with gold spires that resembled St. Basil's cathedral. We got to Union Square and ended up in a series of one-way streets with lots of traffic that made it a little difficult to actually get to the theater. Eventualy we got there. Andy pulled over in front of the theater and let us out. While stuck in traffic he snapped a photo of us under the "Black Rider" poster.
"The Black Rider" is a collaboration between Tom Waits (music and lyrics), Robert Wilson (direction, set design, and lighting), and William S. Burroughs (text). It is based on a German folk tale that first appeared in "Gespensterbuch" (The Book of Ghosts) in 1810 and was adapted into Carl Maria von Weber's 1821 opera, "Der Freischütz" (The Free-Shooter). "The Black Rider" premiered in 1990 at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg. At that point the songs were in English, and Burroughs' text had been translated into German. It had its North American premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music (also in German) in 1993. In May of 2004, an English translation premiered at the Barbican on London. In late August, it made its only North American stop at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Next it heads to Sydney. The subject matter of the play (a young clerk named Wilhelm accidentally shoots and kills his fiancee Käthchen after making a deal with the devil) resonates oddly with William S. Burroughs' own life. Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his own wife in Mexico in 1951 in a drunken game of "William Tell". Burroughs himself died in 1997 at the age of 83. A lot of information on "The Black Rider" can be found at the Tom Waits Supplement web site.
We have been fans of the "Black Rider" album since Craig first got a hold of a recording of demos in 1990. Something about it was unlike anything he heard before and yet he was intrigued by the songs and sounds. It really grew on him with each listen. The album officially came out in 1993 and we were hooked. The album is great (Tom Waits performs the songs himself) but we never thought we would get a chance to see and hear the songs performed in the context of the play itself. It was hard to believe that we were about to get our chance, and we became more and more excited as we saw the posters and signs advertising the show. I took some pictures of the signs, and then we went in to the box office and picked up a few pamphlets, and Craig picked up some cool Tom Waits postcards. We had originally considered attending a matinee, and were glad we decided against it, as a sign said that Marianne Faithfull does not appear in the matinees. We took a walk around the block, saw the St. Moritz Hotel (another Tom Waits lyric reference), etc., and looked for a quick place to eat dinner. It was now around 6:30, and curtain was at 8 pm. We saw a cute blues place called Biscuits and Blues right across the street from the theater. They have blues nightly. We put it on our list of things to do when we return to the city, noting the types of performers on their schedule (including Bobby Rush in late September). We decided to eat at the Pinecrest Diner, which is on the corner right near the theatre. It was an open 24 hours/serves breakfast all day kind of place that seemed to fit in with the Tom Waits theme of the evening. We decided not to get breakfast, since it couldn't have compared to what Iris Ann made us this morning. So Craig got a burger and fries and I got a turkey club and fries. The food was so-so, and rather overpriced for what it was. But luckily Craig noticed the presence of milshakes on the menu, and we ordered vanilla ones. They were served with whipped cream and they certainly redeemed the meal. They were so vanilla-y. They were absolutely superb and we could have easily sucked them down. Fortunately our cautious approach to consuming them prevented an ice cream headache. We were done eating at around 7:30, and headed next door to the theatre.
They had a little souvenir stand where they were selling merchandise. They were out of the "Black Rider" poster, but we were pleased to see that they had a little book of color photos and lyrics from the show, and another book of commentary on the play. We went up the stairs to our seats, which were the front row of the mezzanine (also known as dress circle), off to the right hand side. We had an excellent view, and the anticipation was mounting. The curtain said in very angular letters "The Black Rider: The Casting of the 12 Magic Bullets." We could see down into the orchestra pit, which was populated with some very interesting instruments, such as a toy piano, glass harmonica, saw, Stroh violin, ondes Martenot, cristal Baschet, didgeridoo, ukelele, banjo, mandolin, and pocket trumpet. The costumes and sets were very avant-garde. All of the actors had white makeup, and their features looked very severe. The sets were very angular.
The play started out with one of the characters (Wilhelm's Old Uncle, played by Jack Willis) walking through the orchestra area with a megaphone singing "Lucky Day Overture". Then Marianne Faithfull came onstage dressed as Pegleg, an androgynous incarnation of the devil. The rest of the cast then appeared, and the plot commenced. Käthchen's (Mary Margaret O'Hara) father Bertram (Dean Robinson) refuses to let her marry her love, Wilhelm (Matt McGrath), because he is not a hunter. Pegleg tempts Wilhelm with magic bullets that never miss their mark. Wilhelm accepts the magic bullets, and is confronted with a shooting gallery of bucks, and he is able to hit each one, without even looking. The scene then changes and Käthchen awakes to find her house full of dead game. The carcasses look very creepy, splayed out on the floor next to an oversized table and chairs. There is an asymmetrical portrait of Kuno the Old Forester on the wall, and it occasionally speaks as it watches the action unfold. Wilhelm is able to win over Bertram with his hunting prowess, and a wedding is planned.
The William Burroughs-penned dialogue was very intereresting: humorous onomatopoetic couplets that sounded like Shakespeare meets Dr. Seuss. The music was great, and it was fun to be able to look down on the pit and see musicians quickly changing from such diverse instruments as the marimba to the accordion to the saxophone. The cast and band's interpretations of the songs fully lived up to the Tom Waits originals we have come to know and love.
One of our favorite numbers, "Crossroads", occurred just before intermission, and it brought down the house. At first Bertram came out and recited the lyrics as a monologue. He recounted the story of Georg Schmid, who made a similar pact with the devil, which eventually led to addiction and madness. After this monologue, the curtain was raised and George Schmid repeated the monologue (this time as a song) and acted out his story. At the end he got tangled up in strings and eventually went mad and had to be straightjacketed. Georg Schmid (with his asymmetrical haircut) was played by Nigel Richards, who in my opinion was one of the most impressive performers in the production.
It was very warm by intermission time. I decided to go for a little walk and went down to the orchestra (just to check to see whether Tom Waits was there, as he had reportedly been for earlier performances). No such luck. I went out onto the sidewalk where it was slightly cooler, but the lack of fresh air due to all the smokers drove me back inside. Craig and I chatted excitedly about the performance until Act II started. It was fantastic as well.
Wilhelm goes back to the forest to seek out Pegleg. Pegleg descends from the sky on a swing, with her fingers on fire. She sings "Gospel Train" and gives Wilhelm seven more bullets, saying that the last one is special. Old Uncle then comes out and does a little one-man show about Ernest Hemingway's sellout to Hollywood (another deal with the devil). The scene is tinged with black humor, as is much of the play. Then the bridal party arrives in the forest. Wilhelm is supposed to shoot a wooden bird out of a tree in order to win Käthchen's hand. By now he has used up all of the bullets save the last "special" one. The silence of the scene is truly deafening as Wilhelm takes aim. When he finally shoots, the bullet is heard sailing around the theatre and eventually leads straight to Käthchen, killing her on the spot. Robert Wilson's artwork scrolls by on a clothesline, and each character walks by and steps into a black box. Each character is signing a different song simultaneously. It was very cool to hear how all of the songs sounded when overlaid. So you had the utter silence of one scene followed by the cacophony of another. The schizophrenic nature of it helped to underscore Wilhelm's descent into madness after accidentally killing his true love. At the end, the whole cast was onstage for a simultaneous curtain call. We were blown away by the whole thing. On our way out, we stopped by the orchestra pit for a better look at the instruemnts and to compliment the musicians.
I was able to get some decent (non-flash) photographs by putting my camera on the railing in front of us. Nothing specifically said no cameras, and I figured that without a flash I wasn't really bothering anyone.
We headed to a nearby liquor store to buy some cold Gatorade, since we were parched. We then went to Union Square to our appointed meeting place to meet Andy. Within 5 minutes he arrived. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. It was now 11:00, and Andy offered to take us to some of his favorite night photography spots. His website of night photographs can be found here. We started out at the Marin Headlands, which overlook the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw Battery Spencer, an historic military post that guarded the area in the early 1900's. There was a beautiful view of the bridge and the recently full moon hung over the bay. It was really windy and cool, which was refreshing to Craig and I. Andy, however, was chilly. Next we went to Fort Point at the Presidio, where we got a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge from below. It was funny, as we walked all the way to the end of the road we could see a police officer parked at the end making sure nobody was there with bad intent. Our arrival was likely the biggest excitement of the night. They were doing some construction work reinfoircing the underside of the bridge where it met the land. After a quick photo and a stop at the all-night restrooms, we wandered back to the car. Seeing the bridge at night was a very peaceful experience and although a common sight for Andy, who photographs here often, it was new to us. In the distance you could see the lighthouse on Alcatraz Island. Next we went to Twin Peaks, which is an Inspiration Point type of place. Although it was after 1:00 by the time we arrived, the place was hopping with teenagers. It gave you a great view of the city and the bridge was visible way off in the distance. It was very impressive seeing the city from here but we were finally getting tired. We got back to Sunnyvale at around 2:00, and headed straight to bed.
We woke up and Iris Ann made us a fantastic breakfast of French Toast, bacon, and scrambled eggs. We chatted for a while, trying to decide what we would do today. It was another hot day, and we decided to head down to Santa Cruz. We hit a lot of traffic on the way down there, and we arrived at around 1 pm. We stopped for take-out at Falafel of Santa Cruz. Although it took a little while for our food to be ready, it was worth it. We got falafel pitas with tomatoes, lettuce, and tahini sauce. We then drove to Wilder Ranch State Park, parked the car, and sat in the shade near the farmhouse and enjoyed our lunch. After that we spent some time in the little gift shop, and then wandered around in the old stables and saw old farm equipment and a chicken coop full of chickens. We stopped back at the car to drop off our stuff, and then we headed down a trail toward the ocean. It was very warm and there wasn't much shade. When we got there, there was a gorgeous view of the cliffs. The land is protected, though, so you couldn't go down to the beach (which would have been very refreshing, given the weather). After a few photos, we headed back to the car.
Our next stop was the Santa Cruz Mission. However, we arrived at 3:55 and it closed at 4. So we saw it from the outside and then took a picture of the Holy Cross, a very nice church next door. Next we decided to head to Steamer Lane, a popular surfing area which overlooks the beach, seals on rocks, etc. It also looks out on the Boardwalk, and you could see the wooden roller coaster and the Ferris wheel from a distance. We saw lots of dogs barking at a dead seal floating in the water, which was very sad. We know this happens but it's never fun to have to see. There was a little lighthouse which housed the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. We went in there and had a look around. It was very small but contained some interesting stuff. We then drove past the Boardwalk. We then headed back to Sunnyvale.
We arrived at about 6:15, and we went to the Afghani House for dinner. It was a very nice, quiet place, and we had a table right in the corner. There were elaborate Afghani dresses and beautiful photographs adorning the walls. The waiter was incredibly polite and even bowed. The food was fantastic. We sampled three different appetizers. One looked kind of like a crispy crab rangoon. It was called sambosa and was described as a fried pastry filled with ground beef and chickpeas. Another was called aushak, and was described as leek and scallion filled dumplings topped with yogurt and meat sauce and sprinkled with mint. The third appetizer was mantu, steamed dumplings with chopped beef, onions, yogurt, and mixed vegetables. Everything was delicious. We also got garden salads with a dill-type dressing. Craig had kabob-e-gousfand, tender lamb kabobs served with brown rice. I had shulgham challow, lamb with turnip and onions and white rice. The lamb was so succulent you could practically cut it with a fork. The turnip was very tasty. As a side dish we had kadu, butternut squash topped with yogurt and ground meat. It was so sweet and tasty! The meal was served with a seasoned flatbread. For dessert we had firnee, a white pudding mixed with almonds and with ground pistachios of the top. We drank Afghan tea with cardamom. You had to ask for your bill because they didn't want to rush us out, even though we had been there for about 2 hours. There was a pot near the door in which we deposited some money to help the Afghani children.
After that we went back to the house and had a mini film festival where we watched two of Andy's movies ("Mach 3" and "Night of the Living Photographers"). We also watched two other films for which he had done camerawork. It was really fun to get to see his work. We chatted for a while afterwards, but it had been a long day in the sun, and we were all rather tired. We printed out our boarding passes for the flight home and went to bed at around 11 o'clock.
|We woke up at 8 and Iris Ann made us some wonderful pumpkin pancakes, sausage, and scrambled eggs. It was delicious. We chatted for quite a while, watched an episode of "Monster House", and then left for the airport at around noon. Both Iris Ann and Andy brought us to the airport, and it was sad to leave them after a wonderful few days. They were great hosts as usual. We wish we got a chance to see them more often, because we really enjoy spending time with them Our flight took off at 1:30. The in-flight movie was "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," which made the flight go by very quickly. The flight arrived at around 9:45, and we were home by 10:30.|