Thursday, September 13, 2007


The roof joists are up over the master bedroom wing, as seen above. One thing I can tell you is that this house is BUILT. The heaviness and solidity of the framing is really impressive. The windows begin arriving tomorrow (Friday) for installation sometime late next week.


Final dress rehearsal for The Inman Diaries went very well last night. Lamps in the lighting instruments are still blowing out with unusual frequency, which is frustrating the hell out of the theater’s lighting technician who can’t get to the bottom of the problem, to say nothing of me. I sat there Wednesday night as we went through the two acts watching a light go dark every now and then, including one that went with a loud, shattering crash—the quartz lamp had simply exploded inside the instrument. Unnerving, to say the least.

Personally, I think a large part of it is in the big Strand lighting control board that seems to have a roaring case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It clearly has several favorite instruments in its electronic head that it wants to be in the production whether we want them or not. We noticed the problem after the first technical rehearsal, during which we’d set all the light cues, entering which instruments, and at what light level we wanted them, into each light cue. We archived the entire cue sequence, then began to shut the board down only to get a “Warning: show not saved” message. It took almost ten minutes of alternate archiving procedures to get the cues secured before we could shut down safely and leave.

BUT, the next time we fired up the board for a rehearsal, there were extra instruments that appeared in almost all the cues. Not only that, we’d programmed our light levels according to Strand’s scale of 0 (no light) to 100 (full light), and I only ever ask for five point increments, calling for levels like 45 or 70 or 30. The cues came up with levels like 41 or 67 or one remarkable level of 4, which you almost certainly would never detect, even by holding a sheet of white paper in front of the instrument.

We got everything corrected and all the instruments equipped with viable lamps (that’s bulbs to you guys, but they’re officially lamps in the theater) and had a fine rehearsal—but it’s anybody’s guess what the light board will give us during the opening performance on Friday!


We drove to Portsmouth tonight for the Edith Piaf biopic "La Vie on Rose." Marion Cotillard stars as Piaf and is simply extraordinary in a totally committed, tremendous performance. Among her many skills, her lip-synching is the finest I've ever seen from an actor--it is literally impossible to detect that she isn't actually singing the many songs used in the movie, all of which feature actual Piaf recordings.

It's a difficult movie to watch in places, not because of any faults in acting or direction but because Piaf's life was a hard one, a tale of woe from beginning to end. Moreover, Cotillard and some excellent make-up artists approached the wreckage of Piaf's body from drugs and alcohol with unrelenting honesty, with no atempt at sentimentality or prettying up the truth to allow a star to remain glamorous

After a good, inexpensive dinner at a 1950s bistro named Friendly Toast (I had a vegan wrap with the finest french fried sweet potatoes I've ever eaten) we grabbed coffee and dessert at a new coffee house along Congress Street and then headed to the Portsmouth Music Hall for the movie. The Music Hall has just reopened from the restoration of the dome over the auditorium. For years it was a shabby, whitewashed mess. Gradually throughout the spring, more and more of the original painting emerged from test areas that had been cleaned to determine if the original painting had surviverd at all; it was discovered to be pretty much intact under all that calcium overpainting.

Tonight the dome was finally revealed in all its considerable beauty, now fully retouched and restored. Unfortunately, pictures of the finished dome haven't hit the web yet; shown here is a patch of the original painting emerging from the whitewash.

There are still some areas of the building that need work but the main auditorium is now close to being completely transformed BACK into the handsome late-Victorian ornamentation and finishing detail meant for it by its original architect, ornamental plasterworkers and painters.

A large project to come will be the complete overhaul of stage machinery and lighting. The building as a whole needs more structural reinforcement, and a new layout for public spaces is also in the cards as soon as sufficient funding is in place.

As for "La Vie en Rose," it's a fine piece of work with an excellent cast and some particulrly vivid characterizations. And you get to hear lots and lots of vintage Piaf, which is a very good thing indeed.


Friday afternoon update: We're getting very strong advance publicity on The Inman Diaries--here's the music article in today's Boston Globe:

Classical Notes
One man's 17 million words inspire an opera
By David Weininger, Globe Correspondent September 14, 2007
A man sits in a dark room in his Back Bay apartment and writes. He is writing a diary, one that will eventually grow to some 17 million words that cover in exhaustive detail his life, times, and individual pathologies, as well as those of several people he has invited into his gloomy domicile to talk.

This may not sound like promising material for drama, let alone opera. Yet the diary of Arthur Crew Inman, a notorious recluse and one of Boston's great eccentrics, has already been transformed into a play: "Camera Obscura" by Lorenzo DeStefano. Tonight the chamber opera company Intermezzo premieres "The Inman Diaries," an opera by Thomas Oboe Lee based on the play and on Inman's colossal diary.

Lee, a biography fan, stumbled on a two-volume edition of the diary while browsing in a Cambridge bookstore; the complete edition runs to 155 volumes. The further he read, the more Lee thought, "This thing might work," he recalls by phone from his home in Cambridge.

Born in 1895 to wealthy Southerners, Inman suffered some sort of breakdown while at Haverford College. Though he always claimed his ailments were physical rather than mental, he developed serious phobias to light and noise, and he spent virtually his entire life in a heavily curtained room on Garrison Street. (He also rented the three surrounding apartments to ensure quiet.)

His family's wealth made it unnecessary for him to work, so he could concentrate on his life's ambition, which was to become famous. Having failed to secure his immortality through writing poetry, he set out in 1919 to keep a journal of himself and his times, complete and completely candid.

There was an obvious problem: How does a recluse and self-described "semi-invalid" gather material beyond his own penchants and propensities? Inman hit on the idea of advertising in Boston papers for "readers": men and women who would come to his apartment and tell him about their lives. Their stories are mundane, exotic, tedious, and often weirdly absorbing; they also offer a fascinating portrait of a world and a city that were experiencing profound and often calamitous changes.
The readers allowed Inman pleasures both vicarious and immediate. (He seduced some of the female participants, a situation his long-suffering wife knew of and accepted.) And the readers, along with a succession of doctors and domestic servants, fill out Inman's strange world in a way that makes it suitable for dramatic treatment.

"For an opera character, here's this guy who's larger than life in terms of what he did with his diary," says Lee, who acknowledges that the diary makes for disturbing reading, as randomly chosen quotations bear out: "Last night, lying awake, I was wondering just why I do fall so thoroughly for young girls"; "My Lord, but that Hitler is an astute man."

Lee says he tried to find depth to Inman's character, driven by his mania for recording everything in his sight. "What I try to portray in the opera is not just a portrait of this creepy guy, but I also try to find the humanity in him - this complex person who in many ways was honest with himself, at least," he says.

To create "The Inman Diaries," Lee, librettist Jesse Martin, and Intermezzo artistic director John Whittlesey sat down with a one-volume edition of the diary called "From a Darkened Room," as well as DeStefano's play, and plotted the sequence of scenes. The action is largely concerned with Inman's interactions with his motley supporting crew, though Martin's text also interweaves his thoughts on current issues, such as his contempt for Roosevelt's New Deal and unease at the prospect of the new Prudential Center across the street from his apartment.

Lee composed the entire 100-minute opera in about four months. The chamber orchestra has seven instruments, and there are nine vocal roles. Lee's music is tonal and liberally spiced with elements of jazz, which lies deep in his musical background, as well as inflections of blues, tango, and bossa nova. "American composers don't appreciate the advanced harmonic language jazz has provided for this culture, and I think it's to their detriment," he says.

Inman committed suicide in 1963. The legacy he left is troubling and unwieldy, yet also strangely foresighted. In an age when people spill their entire lives into blogs and YouTube videos, Inman looks almost like a prophet. "The Inman Diaries" gives his confessions another chance to reach the public he so desperately craved.

Tonight through Sunday at Tower Auditorium Theater, Massachusetts College of Art. 617-899-4261,

When I saw La Vie en Rose in the theatre, the credits listed another singer as well as Piaf. Further research indicates that a few of the songs were sung by Jil Aigrot. I suspect they couldn't find good recordings of those songs, though I don't know for sure.

I don't think I would have known they were imitations if I hadn't seen her credited. Some of what I've read on the web says that Ms. Aigrot lacks Ms. Piaf's volume, which seems very likely, given that pretty much nobody has that strong a voice. The large majority of the music is sung by Piaf herself, of course.

I agree with your assessment: terrific movie, hard to watch.
Your house is really looking SPECTACULAR! As a fellow designer, i'd really love to see your design. Do you have plans, drawings or sketches you could post on your blog? Congratulations thought, i can tell it is going to be a really cool place for you guys. Enjoy your blog so much.
i was not aware that mr. inman committed suicide
the knowlege i gain by reading you!
Hey, if you're going to have a case of OCD, it may as well be a "roaring" case of it.
I'm a big fan of Cotillard's performance in "La Vie en Rose." She has my vote for the Oscar.

While watching the movie I felt like she was Piaf. Also, the guy playing her Moroccan boxer boyfriend, hot stuff.
Looks like the house is really coming along! You must be excited!
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