When I was a UCLA undergrad studying literature in the 1970s, the feminist movement was in full flower across the cultural spectrum. Women protested at New York¬ís Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art about the lack of female artists in their collections. Bras were burned, Ms. Magazine was born, and women¬ís studies classes were popping up on college campuses across the country.
My women¬ís literature class introduced me to Ana√Øs Nin. Nin was living in Los Angeles where an adulatory circle of admirers championed her work and emulated her tell-all writing style ¬ó and in some cases, her lifestyle.
Revered for her openness, Nin wrote diaries in which nothing was withheld but much was changed, including biographical facts. She lived a brilliantly artful and duplicitous life, juggling her bi-coastal bigamous relationships, an act of creativity in itself.
She would not publish the diaries until after husband, Hugh Guiler (Hugo), died, for although Rupert Pole, her West Coast husband, had discovered the truth of her bigamy (their marriage was annulled), Hugo did not know and she didn¬ít want to hurt him.
A heroine to some feminists, she was a siren to men, exploiting her adventurous sexuality to achieve her ambitions. In Paris, Hugo financed her writing and publication ¬ó and through her charming wiles, the writings of Henry Miller (¬ìTropic of Cancer¬î), with whom she was having a torrid affair (a fictionalized version of her book ¬ìHenry and June¬î was made into a movie about their relationship). She reconnected with and seduced her own father, who had abandoned the family when she was just a girl and had affairs with her psychiatrists, among numerous other men.
To Nin, life and art were one and the same. Her diaries, ostensibly true journals about her life, made her famous, but they were carefully edited works of rewritten history. The controversy over these issues would contribute to the fascination with her work.
It¬ís tragic that just as she was achieving her long-desired literary fame, cancer would return to claim her life.
Author Barbara Kraft has written a poignant, poetic and profound examination of Nin, in her memoir ¬ìAna√Øs Nin: The Last Days.¬î It¬ís an e-book published by Sky Blue Press, available on Amazon, iTunes for iPad, and other e-book distributors ¬ó www.bkraftpr.com/works.html.
Nin occasionally took talented writers under her tutelage; Kraft is the one whom she most considered to be like a daughter, not only giving her the push she needed to publish her own book (which up-ended her world), but helping her leave her troubled marriage.
Kraft became part of her closest circle of supporters, which included Rupert Pole, the keeper of Nin¬ís legacy, so close that Nin hoped to pair them up before she died. Kraft said no.
Nin¬ís life and death are illustrative; Kraft shares entries from her own journals of the time that offer astute observations not only about the effect Nin had on others, but the realities of the disease that took Nin, piece by awful piece.
Nin asked Kraft to tell that story to the world, and she has written an honest homage to a woman for whom truth itself was a creative act.
Kraft introduces Nin this way: ¬ìI have chosen to reveal the intimacies of Ana√Øs Nin¬ís last days as I witnessed them so that the story of her death is not lost. Everything comes back in the mind¬ís eye. Everything comes back in the crucible of the heart. She remains in my psyche all these years later as the most refined and rarefied human being I have ever encountered.¬î
Barbara Kraft reads from ¬ìAna√Øs Nin: The Last Days¬î this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd. in Venice, Calif. For more information, visit www.beyondbaroque.org or call (310) 822-3006.
Buster Keaton goes French
If you remember the TV sitcom ¬ìThird Rock from the Sun,¬î you¬íll remember the ¬ìbiggest idiot in the universe,¬î Harry Solomon, the character portrayed by actor French Stewart.
Stewart¬ís far removed from that idiot now that he¬ís playing one of the greatest comedy icons of the silent film period, Buster Keaton. He stars in ¬ìStoneface: The Rise And Fall And Rise of Buster Keaton,¬î presented by Sacred Fools Theatre. It¬ís the role of a lifetime, as Keaton is one of Stewart¬ís idols (his wife wrote the script for him).
Creative sleight-of-hand is on display in this live-stage version of a black-and-white silent film world. While it¬ís neither all-silent nor all black-and-white, it is a brilliant production.
This is the story of Keaton¬ís broken down phase. With his porkpie hat and downturned, sad sack face he was one of the most recognizable figures in popular culture ¬ó until the talkies came in.
But alcoholism and an unhappy personal life set him on the road to ruin. With a clever pairing of the young Buster (in his first appearance, Donal Thoms-Cappello) and older Buster (including a spectacularly staged boxing ring bout between them), we see the progression of personal and professional misery, commercial performer versus striving artist, warring inside Keaton.
But there¬ís redemption, too: after checking himself into rehab following one drinking bout too many, Buster finally meets and marries the right woman; then he is ¬ìrediscovered¬î by Hollywood and revered for his work.
The physicality and footwork in this production are astounding: from the amazing replication of slapstick antics in chase scenes, replete with trampolines and slamming doors, to the terrific trick of live action on stage stepping into film action on screen; the faux biographical films; and a remarkable piece of Rube Goldberg wizardry in the ¬ìlazy¬î scene, where Keaton and pal Fatty Arbuckle drink, play cards, light cigars, all without moving from their chairs by pulling weighted ropes controlling the different contraptions that serve their needs.
No wonder ¬ìStoneface¬î has been extended. It runs through July 15, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and 2 p.m. on Sundays at Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood. For tickets, visit www.sacredfools.org or call (310) 281-8337.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.