Stephen Fife

Writer, Non-Registered Critics

Those of you who read my column regularly - and yes, I mean you, Sandra Zeitzew, and you, Mary Tierney, and you, guy I went to high school with, who has hated me ever since I didn't return your wave "hello" in 8th grade (I didn't see you!) - oh, and you, person of taste, whose face I can't quite make out - you know that I've been posting my "Hipster Tips" and "Hipster Laments" for the last few months.  Making or breaking shows, wielding a mighty influence with the light touch for which I am known.  And now here is an entire column of "Tips" and "Laments" - can it be a new spring/summer ritual? - some new, some shows I've mentioned before and am reminding you of before they close (you're welcome).  One whose demise I've chosen to analyze, because that's the kind of guy I am.

HIPSTER TIP: LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD'S HOME FOR UNWED MOTHERS at the Skylight Theatre - I wrote about this in my column of 5/9, and it's closing this weekend, folks. Just sayin'.

HIPSTER TIP: SHANE GUFFOGG's art exhibition "The Dance of Thought" at the Manhattan Beach Art Center closes on June 11th. I wrote about this show in my 4/18 column. It's a dazzler, and it's free. Go for the art, stay for the sunset. (1560 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach 90266; Wednesday-Saturday 10 AM - 9 PM; Sunday 10 AM - 5 PM; FREE)

HIPSTER TIP:  MARTHA, at the Whitefire Theatre, is a one-woman bio play by Ellen Melaver about Martha Graham, the American diva of divas and founder of Modern Dance. It has been performing once a week (Sunday evenings) for the last 3 months, but it's about to close this Sunday, and its future is uncertain. I urge you not to miss it if you have any interest at all in the expressive powers of the body and soul. While I freely admit to not liking one person "genius" shows in general, I have a soft spot for this particular show because I was at the Shenandoah Playwrights Retreat along with the author when she was writing it. But the play needs no apologist, no more than Martha herself does.  Martha was a genius of the grand style, a visionary with an imagination that spawned and embraced the mythical.  The author creates a cogent narrative that moves gracefully through the major events of Martha's life, while conjuring up a believable "goddess" who struggled with the smallness of most human aspirations. Christina Carlisi brings Martha to vivid life as a woman and artist tormented by betrayals (especially by her own body) and director Stewart Zully keeps everything moving briskly, providing wonderful images projected on the brick wall.

Jerry MacKinnon and Samantha Ressler; photo credit: Chris Whitaker

HIPSTER TIP: ACTUALLY at the Geffen Playhouse's Skirball Kenis Theatre is a new play about a date rape case at Princeton by Anna Ziegler that runs until June 11th - after which it will be performed at every college campus and many small theaters throughout the country, so you might as well see it now in this excellent production. It's literally the perfect play for our time - requiring two late-teen actors (Jewish young woman, African American young man) and two chairs and an audience. The play is maddeningly manipulative, setting up a cage match of legal arguments for and against the case for rape, but in the process the playwright does create the basis for two credible character, who these actors (Samantha Ressler and Jerry MacKinnon) do everything in their power to imbue with complex humanity, under the exacting direction of Tyne Rafaelli. While the audience is being appealed to as judge and jury, what emerges is a terribly sad, even tragic, story of teenagers who don't know themselves much less each other, and who are trapped inside a narrative that they can't really fathom, no matter how many layers of explanation they try to provide. And yet this haphazard event will determine their futures.

HIPSTER LAMENT: AMERICAN CRIME (ABC-TV) - In my column of March 30th, I lamented the degeneration of this show, which boasted one of the best writing staffs and acting ensembles on any platform, anywhere. Under the leadership of Oscar-winner John Ridley (12 Years A Slave), it had a brilliant first season, and a pretty good second season. But the third season was just awful - the waste of so much talent was a crime against art, not to mention how little commerce it did. And now it's been CANCELLED. What was awful about this season was the sense of victimhood that haunted every scene like a ghost, never allowing us to believe a positive outcome was even possible, much less likely. Yet if you go to John Ridley's IMDB page - which you really should, since his Comments page is longer than the Gettysburg Address - he makes it very clear that he hates the victim mentality that infuses so much of the American dialogue about social issues. So what happened? I'll tell you - this guy is simply too busy, the quality is not keeping up with the quantity. He has documentaries (Let It Fall about the Rodney King riots) and new series (Guerrilla on Showtime) and movie scripts and novels and direction and producing and... well, you get it. I watched the first episode of Guerrilla, which had all the trappings of being good without actually being good. It just didn't seem credible, this too-easy prison break in 1971 London. The style is great, but where is the substance? I can understand how hard it must be to say "no" to a project when everyone is telling you "yes." Sometimes, however, that may be the best thing you can do.  Or so it seems to me from my seat here on the sidelines.

Steve is a 5-tool writer (plays, screenplays, novels, poetry, journalism) who has had 11 books published, 10 plays produced, and has written for the New York Times “Arts & Leisure”, Village Voice, New Republic, and many others. He is one of the few people on the planet who can lay claim to spending time with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, as well as so many other extraordinary people who refused to color inside the lines. He is always on the lookout for the original and the incisive.