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Jonathan Saville and the Reader

Whoopi Goldberg, Yosemite's Glacier Point, For Colored Girls, Godspell, the new Wild Animal Park

Baby ostrich. "Whenever I go to a zoo I find myself being amazed that wild animals should exist at all."
Baby ostrich. "Whenever I go to a zoo I find myself being amazed that wild animals should exist at all."

How Saville came to work at the Reader:

In 1972, I was an associate professor in the Literature Department at UCSD. I had an office on the Muir Campus, with my door usually left open in case any students might show up with problems.

One day, a tall skinny fellow showed up and made me an interesting proposition. He was not my student at all, but rather a graduate student in the Philosophy Department, who – dissatisfied with philosophy (who can blame him?) or with the department – was leaving the university and setting off on a different path. He was creating a San Diego version of the Chicago Reader, where he had worked earlier, and he offered me the position of theater reviewer.

I jumped at the chance, because it meant that I could test my skills in writing critical articles, and because as a reviewer I would be able to attend plays free of charge. The latter advantage made up for the fact that my pay for each article would be five dollars. Each Sunday from then on I would type up my article and drive down to the Reader office-garage near Windansea.

The result of all this was that I discovered in myself a passion for journalism that I had never suspected, that I eventually branched out into reviewing classical music and the visual arts, that I learned a great deal about art and artists, that I met interesting and engaging fellow journalists, and that I had an additional source of income (the pay did not remain at five dollars) that enabled me to buy all the books and records I desired. The office visit of that tall skinny fellow changed my life.

My favorite stories I wrote for the Reader:

Issue commemorating music critic Steve Esmedina
  • A critic looks at a critic

  • Of the paper’s various locations in those years, my favorite was an elegant little building on Kettner Boulevard, where the ambience was so attractive that on occasion I even wrote my reviews there. It gave a pleasant infusion of adrenaline to be typing away, against deadline, amid the noisy bustle of the whole newspaper shebang, as though I were a hard-bitten journalist out of The Front Page, with a broken cigarette hanging from my lips. (Sept. 20, 2001)
  • San Diego Wild Animal Park, one year after opening

  • I can't believe that the elephants and rhinos, the antelope and zebras, the ostriches and cranes in this vast park dedicated to their comfort and fruitfulness can be anything but very, very happy. They have as much space as they could possibly want to run about in; without effort on their part they are provided with all the food they can eat. (Aug. 23, 1973)
  • Reader critic blacks out during Otello

  • I knew that I had to get to a doctor as soon as possible. By good fortune I bumped into B., strolling outside for a breath of air. I could not recall the words for doctor, hospital, attack, or help — not to speak of alexia (inability to read) or aphasia (inability to use language) — but with great effort, I succeeded in forming the sentence, "I'm in trouble." Soon we were on our way in B.'s car to the emergency room.
 (Apr. 10, 1986)
Unlike many actresses with more extensive classical training and experience, Whoopi found the right tone immediately.
  • Whoopi Goldberg is back

  • In the mid-1970s, when I first encountered her in San Diego, she was doing comic improvisations in response to audience suggestions. Mike Addison took the risk of casting her in San Diego Rep’s production of Mother Courage in 1977. Later, in the Bay area and on tour, Goldberg developed her own brand of solo performance, which in New York caught the attention of Mike Nichols. (May 13, 1993)
To say that backpackers stand before this view in state of awe and reverence would not define their attitude precisely enough. They look at the scene as if, in some small measure, they had participated in creating it.
  • Yosemite's Glacier Point and the people who come there

  • The backpackers, who have hiked the trail from the valley floor (a climb of 3400 feet in four and a half miles), or have come from even further away. There is no point in romanticizing the Yosemite backpacker; one of the reasons they are silent is that they are exhausted form the climb. But it is also undeniable that they react to the view from Glacier Point in a way very different for that of the noisy comedians on wheels. (Aug. 30, 1979)
For a Christian, this was more than theater.
  • Baja men perform Passion play outside in San Diego's Old Town

  • (best thing I ever wrote!)
  • When Jesus, tied to a tree in Old Town Plaza, was being mercilessly scourged by a centurion, the announcer cautioned us not to believe in what we were seeing. As the bloody, exhausted, thorn-crowned Jesus dragged the heavy cross along the Via Crucis (San Diego Avenue), the announcer insisted that the audience ought not simply to observe and empathize with Christ's suffering, but that we should try to understand and remember its doctrinal meaning. (Apr. 19, 1979)
Only in America, the land of opportunity, could a coddled, Ivy-League-trained, rich girl from suburban New Jersey achieve success by turning herself into a uneducated lower-class Zulu.
  • For Colored Girls is a weapon in the fight to destroy men

  • According to Miss Shange, all men are essentially rapists; their only relationship with women is to beat them, deceive them, exploit them, kick them around, break their hearts, and make sure of their bodies; the typical male, in For Colored Girls, is someone who drops little children out the window. (Sept. 21, 1978)
  • Your review of Chekhov's The Seagull is the worst ever

  • As if it mattered whether the Russian names were pronounced correctly. I didn’t see any Russians in the audience, and no one else except a pedantic critic could tell the difference anyway, so what did it matter? Speaking personally, I liked the way those names sounded; SEMyon, and KONstantin, and BORis, and KiEV, and NiNOCHka, and MedveDENko. (Jan. 26, 1978)
Once Leonard Bernstein smiled at little Henry on an airplane. And there he goes, conducting the entire concert from row M of the balcony.
  • Abominable members of the classical music crowd

  • He is a self-appointed expert on Wagner’s leitmotifs — those repeated themes that serve to identify characters, places, events, ideas – and he provides the lady with a running commentary on their appearances in the music. “Blood on the Waelsungs,” he tells her (and all her neighbors within a dozen square yards). “Siegfried the Hero,” “Alberich’s Curse,” “The Rising Horde no, that’s horde, honey.” (Aug. 4, 1977)
Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Nietzsche and other philosophers and theologians appear on stage and spout meaningless fragments from their works, all the while twitching and jerking like mechanical dolls.
  • Can Christianity survive Godspell?

  • Were they really trying to make Christian doctrine accessible to the poor in spirit who constitute their audiences? Or is the entire enterprise designed to throw Christianity into disrepute? What, for example, are we to make of the unutterable bathos of Godspell’s crucifixion scene? The Jesus-clown, tied to the playground fence, singing in a weak Mickey Mouse voice, “O God! I’m bleeding!” (Oct. 24, 1974)
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Baby ostrich. "Whenever I go to a zoo I find myself being amazed that wild animals should exist at all."
Baby ostrich. "Whenever I go to a zoo I find myself being amazed that wild animals should exist at all."

How Saville came to work at the Reader:

In 1972, I was an associate professor in the Literature Department at UCSD. I had an office on the Muir Campus, with my door usually left open in case any students might show up with problems.

One day, a tall skinny fellow showed up and made me an interesting proposition. He was not my student at all, but rather a graduate student in the Philosophy Department, who – dissatisfied with philosophy (who can blame him?) or with the department – was leaving the university and setting off on a different path. He was creating a San Diego version of the Chicago Reader, where he had worked earlier, and he offered me the position of theater reviewer.

I jumped at the chance, because it meant that I could test my skills in writing critical articles, and because as a reviewer I would be able to attend plays free of charge. The latter advantage made up for the fact that my pay for each article would be five dollars. Each Sunday from then on I would type up my article and drive down to the Reader office-garage near Windansea.

The result of all this was that I discovered in myself a passion for journalism that I had never suspected, that I eventually branched out into reviewing classical music and the visual arts, that I learned a great deal about art and artists, that I met interesting and engaging fellow journalists, and that I had an additional source of income (the pay did not remain at five dollars) that enabled me to buy all the books and records I desired. The office visit of that tall skinny fellow changed my life.

My favorite stories I wrote for the Reader:

Issue commemorating music critic Steve Esmedina
  • A critic looks at a critic

  • Of the paper’s various locations in those years, my favorite was an elegant little building on Kettner Boulevard, where the ambience was so attractive that on occasion I even wrote my reviews there. It gave a pleasant infusion of adrenaline to be typing away, against deadline, amid the noisy bustle of the whole newspaper shebang, as though I were a hard-bitten journalist out of The Front Page, with a broken cigarette hanging from my lips. (Sept. 20, 2001)
  • San Diego Wild Animal Park, one year after opening

  • I can't believe that the elephants and rhinos, the antelope and zebras, the ostriches and cranes in this vast park dedicated to their comfort and fruitfulness can be anything but very, very happy. They have as much space as they could possibly want to run about in; without effort on their part they are provided with all the food they can eat. (Aug. 23, 1973)
  • Reader critic blacks out during Otello

  • I knew that I had to get to a doctor as soon as possible. By good fortune I bumped into B., strolling outside for a breath of air. I could not recall the words for doctor, hospital, attack, or help — not to speak of alexia (inability to read) or aphasia (inability to use language) — but with great effort, I succeeded in forming the sentence, "I'm in trouble." Soon we were on our way in B.'s car to the emergency room.
 (Apr. 10, 1986)
Unlike many actresses with more extensive classical training and experience, Whoopi found the right tone immediately.
  • Whoopi Goldberg is back

  • In the mid-1970s, when I first encountered her in San Diego, she was doing comic improvisations in response to audience suggestions. Mike Addison took the risk of casting her in San Diego Rep’s production of Mother Courage in 1977. Later, in the Bay area and on tour, Goldberg developed her own brand of solo performance, which in New York caught the attention of Mike Nichols. (May 13, 1993)
To say that backpackers stand before this view in state of awe and reverence would not define their attitude precisely enough. They look at the scene as if, in some small measure, they had participated in creating it.
  • Yosemite's Glacier Point and the people who come there

  • The backpackers, who have hiked the trail from the valley floor (a climb of 3400 feet in four and a half miles), or have come from even further away. There is no point in romanticizing the Yosemite backpacker; one of the reasons they are silent is that they are exhausted form the climb. But it is also undeniable that they react to the view from Glacier Point in a way very different for that of the noisy comedians on wheels. (Aug. 30, 1979)
For a Christian, this was more than theater.
  • Baja men perform Passion play outside in San Diego's Old Town

  • (best thing I ever wrote!)
  • When Jesus, tied to a tree in Old Town Plaza, was being mercilessly scourged by a centurion, the announcer cautioned us not to believe in what we were seeing. As the bloody, exhausted, thorn-crowned Jesus dragged the heavy cross along the Via Crucis (San Diego Avenue), the announcer insisted that the audience ought not simply to observe and empathize with Christ's suffering, but that we should try to understand and remember its doctrinal meaning. (Apr. 19, 1979)
Only in America, the land of opportunity, could a coddled, Ivy-League-trained, rich girl from suburban New Jersey achieve success by turning herself into a uneducated lower-class Zulu.
  • For Colored Girls is a weapon in the fight to destroy men

  • According to Miss Shange, all men are essentially rapists; their only relationship with women is to beat them, deceive them, exploit them, kick them around, break their hearts, and make sure of their bodies; the typical male, in For Colored Girls, is someone who drops little children out the window. (Sept. 21, 1978)
  • Your review of Chekhov's The Seagull is the worst ever

  • As if it mattered whether the Russian names were pronounced correctly. I didn’t see any Russians in the audience, and no one else except a pedantic critic could tell the difference anyway, so what did it matter? Speaking personally, I liked the way those names sounded; SEMyon, and KONstantin, and BORis, and KiEV, and NiNOCHka, and MedveDENko. (Jan. 26, 1978)
Once Leonard Bernstein smiled at little Henry on an airplane. And there he goes, conducting the entire concert from row M of the balcony.
  • Abominable members of the classical music crowd

  • He is a self-appointed expert on Wagner’s leitmotifs — those repeated themes that serve to identify characters, places, events, ideas – and he provides the lady with a running commentary on their appearances in the music. “Blood on the Waelsungs,” he tells her (and all her neighbors within a dozen square yards). “Siegfried the Hero,” “Alberich’s Curse,” “The Rising Horde no, that’s horde, honey.” (Aug. 4, 1977)
Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Nietzsche and other philosophers and theologians appear on stage and spout meaningless fragments from their works, all the while twitching and jerking like mechanical dolls.
  • Can Christianity survive Godspell?

  • Were they really trying to make Christian doctrine accessible to the poor in spirit who constitute their audiences? Or is the entire enterprise designed to throw Christianity into disrepute? What, for example, are we to make of the unutterable bathos of Godspell’s crucifixion scene? The Jesus-clown, tied to the playground fence, singing in a weak Mickey Mouse voice, “O God! I’m bleeding!” (Oct. 24, 1974)
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