i'm writing this on baker beach at 2 in the afternoon. the surf is pushing masses of sea foam up the beach. to the north -east, only the foundations of the golden gate bridge are visible; the tops are covered in a thick fog. i'm here for the boxcar theatre company's free performance of zen, a play they wrote, workshopped, and produced. it's a play about urban isolation and expectation, full of pop culture references and energetics, with a light set and good ensemble acting going on -- it's a bit like one, for those who remember it and can think on it without a mild flush of embarrassment. zen is running for free tuesday through sunday this week at the magic theatre in fort mason centre, for anyone who's local to the bay area. i gave them a box of madeleines, since they were looking cold.

we went to see lear last night, at dominican university's forest meadow amphitheatre. before getting to san rafael, chris, andy and i went to drakes beach in point reyes national seashore. the beach was only 36 miles from san francisco, but it took almost two hours to get there. CA1 is scenic, and for its first 10 marin county miles, it runs along the pacific cliffs and so constantly reveals to ungrateful drivers magnificent vistas composed of layers of all the organic greens and blues. the pacific coastline is apparently equally frequently bathed in sun and wreathed in mist and fog, but it is most beautiful between the two states when the mist pours across and over the topography and patches of shadow and sun darken and lighten the sea. at drakes beach, in the windshadow of the cliffs (cream, ochre, and tan sandstone, precipitous and covered in trailing masses of fleshy succulents), the sand was warm, a family of sea otters bobbed up and down, surveying the shore, and flocks of brown pelicans plummeted from the air, landing gently and without a splash. i'd brought green table grapes, a bottle of painted ridges pinot noir and a single plastic tumbler so we passed that around for a couple of hours talking about not very much in particular. steve craig had sent chris and i notes of charming formality to thank us for helping to open up the trinity cabin, except that in chris's envelope had also included a check for $267, to cover expenses. temporarily perplexed by this largesse, we decided to establish a cal academy trust fund, for use whenever we hang out. which is how we got dinner for free last night at rosie's cowboy cafe in point reyes station (pop. 333, yet abundant in fancy cafes serving really quite spectacular food). at rosie's the high chair was the same shade of sea-foam green as my shirt, a benevolent sign of the meal to come -- a chili verde with oregano-scented red rice and black beans (the oregano was odd) in which the cubes of pork had been simmering for so long that they'd begun to fall apart. we didn't have time to stay for dessert, but the drive to san rafael on the petaluma road took us (a caravan of cars, in true california style: jay's chris's, and mine) through soft, round hills covered in dried and golden grasses and deep green pines that look always to be in the middle of being shredded by the wind.

watching zen on baker beach makes me want to stage the tempest. the beach is a protean space that lends itself to spectacularly stripped-down performances. the zen set is a little surreal and looks maybe like something salvador dali might have painted. there's a hollow grandfather clock and a ladder slightly askew in the sand, and they very successfully showed sisyphus toiling up the hill with his rock using an old victorian leather armchair. ever since we read the tempest years and years ago, i've wanted to put it up in a sheltered cove, with the playspace perpendicular to the beach and enclosed on either side by cliff and surf. staging plays outdoors eliminates, at least for me, any ingrained need as a director to have a busy stage. i've always been more engaged by stagings that depend less on elaborate than on minimal but carefully-conceived trappings -- the best play i've ever seen: rosencrantz and guildenstern are dead, at the WTC almost ten years ago, which had the most intelligent use of space (including the shipping exhibit room) imaginable. we were pretty stripped down too, with woman in black. building a playspace from the ground up (literally, including sweeping out 6 bags of dead cockroaches from the toilets) made for a black box feel without the kind of pretention that seems inevitable in a black box setting. come to think of it, wouldn't be so bad either to run rosencrantz and guildenstern together with hamlet, using the same cast and overlapping playspaces. it would only require a bit of juggling and timing to get the two storylines to run almost seamlessly together so that the audience could roam freely through the rooms of elsinore in perhaps the first not-abstract play with simultaneous storylines ever.