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Holiday Hiatus!

Happy Holidays to one and all!

Play a Day will be back in 2011!

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Spinning into Butter

by Rebecca Gilman

Has anyone seen the movie they made of this play? I checked out the trailer on IMDB - not impressed. I would be interested to hear people's thoughts on the stage-to-film adaptation..

I like Rebecca Gilman as a playwright but this is not my favorite of her plays. A while back I mentioned that mysteriously, I end up reading plays that have similar themes (or perhaps I just find things in common about the pieces I choose) .. apparently this week the theme is unsympathetic characters!

Sarah is the newest Dean at a small college campus in Vermont. She is brought on specifically to deal with issues of diversity and when a student begins to get threatening notes because he is black, Sarah is quick to defend. Gilman sets us up to fall in love with Sarah - her empathy for the students, her open mind, her ability to stand up to the other Deans.. and then we find out that it's sort of all an act and that Sarah, the voice of the minority student, the champion of diversity, is actually a secret racist. It's a big letdown. And yet, somehow realistic and human in a sad way. I think this play raises important questions and certainly reminds us that racism is still a hot-button issue and not a thing of the past.

When Sarah reveals her struggle to Ross, her ex-lover, he tells her that she is being a coward and that, "Even if you can't find the perfect solution, you should find the best you can and at least give it a try." She acknowledges that what she is feeling is wrong, she even tries to talk herself out of judging people unfairly but she just can't stop. When Ross tells her to open up a dialogue, she responds:
Public dialogue is never real dialogue. Nobody will admit to anything in a crowd. I mean, I can't believe that I'm the only person that feels this way.
She brings up a good point here - it's easy to say the right thing in public, when you're under pressure to do and be good. To tell the truth, as Sarah has, no matter how ugly, is the more difficult thing. They say the first step in solving your problem is admitting you have one. At least Sarah can admit that she is wrong, rather than saying one thing to a person's face and another behind their back.

There is a Yeats quote that is brought up during this conversation that rings so true to our political climate at the moment:
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
In my opinion, the best have conviction, the question is whether they can be heard over the screaming ignorance of the worst.

Enough of that.

Gilman blends nice moments of lighter fare throughout so that the piece is not bogged down by the weight of its subject matter. When speaking of a student's home, Meyers, Sarah's only friend on campus, comments:
The bathroom was nice. I guess it was a guest bathroom. They had the liquid soap in the dispenser, though, so you could really wash your hands. Sometimes people put little special soaps in the guest bathroom. Little soaps shaped like roses or something. I never know if I'm supposed to use them or just look at them. 
Yeah, but they're so pretty!

Tomorrow's Play: Iphigenia by P. Seth Bauer


Blood Wedding

by Federico Garcia Lorca in a version by Ted Hughes

All poets are not alike. Not all poets impregnate every woman they come into contact with.. (if confused, see my previous post). Thank you Ted Hughes for your beautiful version of Lorca's shocking Blood Wedding. This piece is so effective - it spoke to my soul and to my heart in a heightened way that felt both classical and modern.

It's a story of tortured love - a bride is set to marry.. but Leonardo, the man she truly loves, is married to another. They try to contain their passion for each other but Leonardo tells the young bride:
We cannot punish ourselves worse than to burn and stay silent. What good did my pride do me - not seeing you, and knowing you were lying awake night after night. None! It only poured blazing coals over me. You think time heals and that walls shut away but it's not true, it's not true. When things have pierced to the centre nobody can pull them out.
With such deep passions and such heavy words we know this can't end well...

Their love is so strong and so secret that naturally, everyone in town knows about it. The day of the wedding comes but Leonardo and the bride ride away together on horseback. Happy ending, right? Too easy. The lovers (who aren't lovers, as the bride remains chaste) escape into the woods and share a few moments together, all the time knowing that they will be caught. Three woodcutters discuss their flight, saying that "the blood cannot be denied."

          First: When the blood chooses a path it has to be followed.
          Second: But blood that sees the light is swallowed by the dust.
          First: So? Better be a bloodless carcass than alive with the blood rotting in your body.

Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? ..I believe this to be true. Though it hurts, I'd rather feel the extremes than live a life of numbness.

The groom is furiously searching for his runaway bride (unintentional endorsement) and when he finds her with Leonardo, the two men fight and are both killed. The mother of the groom is heartbroken but instructs her neighbor:
Will you be quiet. I want no weeping in this house. Your tears are just tears, they come from your eyes. My tears will be different. When I'm alone my tears will come from the soles of my feet. From my very roots. And they'll burn hotter than blood.
The bride comes to her, alone and desperate, having witnessed the death of the two men in her life, wanting only one thing. She asks the old woman:
Stop talking. Take your revenge. Here I am. Here's my throat. You see how soft it is. Easier than cutting a dahlia in your garden. 
The bride is alone with her grief and sees no release from it other than death. She insists that she is pure and has never betrayed the old woman's son. The woman will not draw blood and the bride is left alone to sob in the corner.

Admittedly, this play could be a bit of a downer. Unless you're drawn to the grand, dramatic stories, as I am. I relish in the language and the elevated emotions. Hughes' poetic tendencies ebb and flow throughout, adding beauty to a gruesome story based on a true event.

Tomorrow's Play: Spinning into Butter by Rebecca Gilman


All This Intimacy

by Rajiv Joseph

I've been putting off writing this post. I thought a LOT about how I feel about this play. I liked it. And I didn't. In a nutshell, the play is about a man who gets three women pregnant in one week - his girlfriend, his next door neighbor, and his student. Now, this man is not a stud. He is just vulnerable. That doesn't make him less of an asshole, however. I struggle with the play because I don't sympathize with the main character - Ty, who is a poet (of course). And before you say that I just hate him cause I'm a woman and what girl wouldn't think he's awful, let me go on to say that I also do not side with any one of the women. From the text, I don't feel emotionally connected to any of them. So, I'm left with lots of feelings and none of them good. But it's Thanksgiving and I'd like to feel happy things today so I'll mention some moments in the play that I did connect to.

Jen is Ty's girlfriend who, when we first meet her, is breaking up with him. She tells him:
When it comes to figuring out what to do with my life, I've been seriously claustrophobic. Because choosing things narrows down your life, it limits you and it freaks me out. I'm not kidding. Every time you make a decision, you narrow your life more and more...
I responded to this moment because it reminded me of a conversation I had with an agent a little while ago about how sometimes you have to limit yourself temporarily in order to expand your options in the future (for more on that conversation, buy me a drink). It can be hard to make those big decisions. For Jen, her path was pretty much revealed when she found out she was pregnant. It's funny how life will hand you something wonderful just when you need it. Or just when you can't have it. Or just when you least expect it. Or, or, or...

Becca is Ty's student who won him with her wistful words.. When speaking of his new book of poetry, she encourages him:
It doesn't matter how many you sell. If your poetry affects one person, then that's all that matters. That's how you change the world. You're changing the world with your poetry.
This could easily come off as cheesy, but the romantic in me believes that art can and does change the world. Poems speak right to the heart, just as songs change minds, and theatre drives you to action.

The other mother of his child is his neighbor, Maureen. Ty decides to host the most awkward of all dinner parties - including his three baby mommas, his ex's sister and her fiance, who also happens to be his best friend. At this "party" all of the women find out about each other and.. well, it's dramatic. Ty tells the audience:
I wanted this. I wanted everyone to converge. I needed it to happen. I mean, breaking this kind of news to a girl... THREE TIMES... and having to deal with the fallout three times and I'm telling you: I just couldn't handle that. I'm weak. So... Dinner. Everyone at once. Three birds with one stone. 
And herein lies my main issue. I think that he should have to go through that three times. Each woman is unique and deserves to hear the truth from him individually. I don't think it was weak of him, I think it was cowardly (ultimately more dramatic for play purposes? yes, but still). I just can't feel bad for a guy who takes the easy route. And don't think you'll win me over with your heartfelt soliloquies.. that didn't work for Richard III and it won't work for you, Ty.

I should note that this play is very funny. If the female characters were expanded a bit more, it would grow in my esteem.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow's Play: Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca, in a version by Ted Hughes


Henry IV, part 1

by William Shakespeare

Firstly I must say that this is the 100th play that I have blogged about. Yes, I'm a little behind, but hey, sometimes life interrupts. Regardless, I'm pretty proud that I've kept it up this long. So thanks for being a part of the journey.

Second, it's no mere accident that my 100th play is a Shakespeare play. If I'm gonna celebrate, I want Will with me.

Thirdly, I'd like to take a sec to plug the Globe's travelling production of Merry Wives of Windsor that I saw this past weekend. Hilarious. So fun. If you missed them this year, be sure to catch them next year when they're back in town!

And now. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Where to start? Well, after seeing Merry Wives I have Falstaff on the brain. And all through reading this play I kept picturing the actor from the Globe's production (the brilliant Christopher Benjamin) playing Falstaff in 1HenryIV. There are so many brilliant Falstaff moments - mostly jokes made of his behalf but certainly he has plenty of his own. The very first time we see Falstaff, Hal is making fun of him. Falstaff merely asks Hal the time, and this is the response he gets:
Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst know. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.
A simple 'ten o'clock' would have sufficed. This sets up Falstaff's role in the community and also lays the ground for many a fat-joke throughout the rest of the play. This is also the first scene where we meet Hal, the prince and heir to the throne. His 'loose behaviour' is set up here, showing him drinking and carousing with his friends -- not very princely. In the previous scene his father, the King, was telling us how he wished that his son had been switched at birth with the noble warrior Percy. Ouch. That's rough. But then comes this brilliant speech by Hal (and one of my favorite male monologues in Shakespeare.)

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be a tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behaviour I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

And in about two hours, that's exactly what he'll do.

This next quote comes from the pompous Own Glendower as he's speaking to the hot-headed Percy, aka Hotspur. He tells him:

                                       Give me leave
To tell you once again that at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have marked me extraordinary,
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.

Okay, so put away the measuring sticks boys. I like this speech because he gets to say ex-tra-or-di-na-ry with all of it's syllables and that's not the way we hear that word very often. It makes me smile. Also, it's funny to hear a guy talking about what happened on the day he was born, as if he would know. Also, was he born in a field? Why were the goats so scared? Anyway.

In this play Falstaff gets caught in many a lie and more than one sticky situation. You'd think he would learn, but no. Earlier, he fell asleep behind an arras and is now accusing his hostess of picking his pocket. This infuriates Hal and Falstaff is quick to make good:
Dost thou hear, Hal? Thou knowest in the state of innocency Adam fell, and what should poor Jack Falstaff do in the days of villainy? Thou seest I have more flesh than another man and therefore more frailty. You confess, then, you picked my pocket?
Oh, is Falstaff overweight? I hadn't realized. I'm glad he told us. Seriously though, how many Falstaff=fat jokes do we think are in the play? 100? More?

Falstaff makes for many a merry scene but the driving action of the latter half of the play is the epic battle of the rebels versus those in power. Both sides are hurting for men, rest, and strategy, but Hotspur and his noblemen are down a few major players. He gets the news that his father will not be joining him, as he's in poor health. Needless to say, Hotspur isn't happy:

Zounds, how has he the leisure to be sick
In such a jostling time?

It seemed to me slightly suspicious that he was sick at this critical moment. That may just be the cynic in me, but perhaps we'll learn more about that in 2HenryIV.

I cannot honestly imagine Falstaff fighting in a war. I just feel like he would hide behind a tree and get out his flask and make up insults for the soldiers passing by. Perhaps he would narrate the fights - the world's first commentator. Apparently, he will fight, and he's not happy about it:
Well, 'tis no matter; honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word 'honour'? What is that 'honour'? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o'Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. 'Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.
Wise words. When he uses his wit, he sometimes says things worth hearing. And yet, his honor does lead him on to fight, and he must not be half bad either, because he lives to see another day. Though, not without some trickery. More on that later.

I was cheering for Hotspur all the way through. That may just be because I'm partial to that scene between he and his wife, but I sorta fell in love with him. He's damaged but he's only human and he know what he's good at. Yes, he has a temper, but he's a WARRIOR. Hello. As he rouses his men to fight what will end up being a losing battle he tells them:

An if we live, we live to tread on kings;
If die, brave death when princes die with us. 

To tread on kings. What an image. Whether he is speaking metaphorically or literally, the idea is a strong one and his men fight bravely. Alas, Hotspur is killed by Prince Hal in a moment where Hal reveals his true colors. We see the man who may be King and he has earned the honor. He is even gracious in his win, complimenting Percy after death:

When that this body did contain a spirit
A kingdom for it was too small a bound,
But now two paces of the vilest earth
Is room enough.

That certainly puts things in perspective. Hotspur was a man that was feared; the very mention of his name brought with it an air of honor, courage, fierceness, and yet all men must die. As Hal says, "thou owest God a death." He died in battle, as he would have wanted. And the stories of his conquests will always live on....

Perhaps my very favorite moment of the play was when Hal mourns the loss of Falstaff, exits, and then Falstaff pops up, alive as ever. Of course he would fake his own death in order to escape death. Brilliant. Lucky for him, Douglas didn't give him an extra stab in the gut after he fell to the ground. That would have thrown a wrench in his plan. Thank you Shakespeare for not killing off so brilliant a character.

The best part about finishing a history play is knowing that there are more to come..

Here's to the next 100 ... *cheers*

Tomorrow's Play: All This Intimacy by Rajiv Joseph


The Four of Us

by Itamar Moses

In my most recent trip to the Strand (seriously, I should get an endorsement deal), I found this gem. After my love of Moses' Bach at Leipzig, I was eager to read more of his work.

The story centers on best friends and writers, Benjamin - a novelist, and David - a playwright. Though the driving motivation throughout the play is David's jealousy of Benjamin's recent success (in the form of a two million dollar book deal), the most interesting moments to me came out of the guys' less heated exchanges. The love/hate friendship between the guys reminded me of Adam Rapp's characters in Red Light Winter.

The scenes jump around in time, showing the writers from ages 17 to 27 "though not in that order." We are first given a glimpse into the 'present' - Benjamin, having received his book deal is treated to a congratulatory lunch by David, and it is here that the green-eyed monster begins to show his head.

A few scenes later we jump back in time, when the guys were in Prague, where Benjamin began his book that would become his meal ticket and David spent most of his time at the bar, picking up ladies. Here the roles are slightly reversed, in that we see Benjamin's slight jealousy at David's ability to take a girl home whom he barely knows. His jealousy is masked in friendly concern (well, more like judgement), as he argues with David about the benefits of a relationship vs. random hook-up. He prefers to come home early and read letters from his girlfriend. "Love letters," David mocks. Benjamin responds:
Well: all letters are love letters.
In a way, I suppose they are. Especially these days, if someone is going to take the time to hand write you a letter or a card, there is more than likely some love behind it. There is a certain intimacy in seeing someone's handwriting.

David is not convinced as to the merits of relationships. He struggles with them, finding only the beginning to be satisfying, and the rest somewhat trying. He suggests:
..why not just have a series of very very beginnings, and if that isn't better, then why does it feel so much better?
The trick is finding someone who makes you feel like every day is better than the last. I think.

A big topic in the play is the public nature of writing. The difference between writing something just for yourself and writing something for the public... and potentially, writing something just for yourself that then becomes something for the public. Benjamin and David have differing points of view on this, even though both mediums - fiction and drama - are intended to be widely experienced. Benjamin, in a moment of frustration caused by speaking about the merits of graduate school, tells David:
Look, all I'm saying is: I think the thing to be afraid of is not that you will never publish, or whatever, but that you will never write anything good. And I think if I did write something good, if I knew that I had done that, I would be satisfied to let it just sit in a drawer forever. And I think that if that's not true, then the things I write probably won't be any good anyway.
That's easy to say, but if you wrote a masterpiece, no matter how humble you may be, I'm pretty sure you'd want to share it with someone. Probably lots of people. Preferably who give you money.

Here's where things get crazy. We learn that David has written a play, a successful play about his friendship with Benjamin, who has come to see the play and is upset about it. In their confrontation we learn that David has exaggerated moments that were in scenes that we saw, causing us to wonder if all of the previous scenes were the "show" or what really happened? It's a fun twist that makes the ending more poignant. The guys come to a point of reconciliation as David expresses the challenges of the workshop/preview process:

         David: People keep telling me to change it.
         Benjamin: Well, don't.
         David: Cool. Thank you.
         Benjamin: It's just what I think. (Beat.) People?
         David: Yeah, random people who insist on terrible ideas. It's called "collaboration."

I still prefer Bach at Leipzig, though apparently Charles Isherwood prefers The Four of Us, so there's that. Whichever you prefer, you won't be disappointed. I can't wait to see what Moses does next.

Tomorrow's Play: Henry IV, part 1 by William Shakespeare


by Sarah Kane

Okay. I'm not going to presume to know what Kane intended for this play to be. I think she left certain things purposely vague, which is incredibly trusting and creative. So I will simply speak to my own interpretation of the play.

For me, this is the style of play that is difficult to read. Because most of the dialogue could be directed to any of the characters, it becomes a kind of nonsense without any sort of direction placed upon it. In performance, the actors and director must make choices about the relationships, but the text itself has no stage directions to clue the reader in to what's going on. That being said, I started to imagine what I would do with this play. In articles I've read it's been suggested that the four characters - C M B and A - represent four different parts of humanity, or that they are two pairs of lovers.

I imagined that this play took place inside the mind of someone who is dreaming. Each character could morph into different beings and take on different roles within the dream. I often have dreams that are difficult to put into words because they don't make logical sense. This is the world of the play, in my creation. It can be argued that in dreams, your subconscious raises issues and ideas that your conscious mind may not be able to handle. More than once I have woken myself up out of fear or grief in order to stop myself from living the dream I'm having. This dream-like world is attractive to me as a setting for Crave because truly anything can happen.

When she wrote Crave, Kane regarded it as the "most despairing" of her plays, created at a time when she had lost "faith in love." Each character is distressed and vocal about the reasons why. Some of the lines stood out to me more than others - what they say about my current state of mind would be revealing, I'm sure. Feel free to imagine:
Because love by its nature desires a future.
I have a black black side I know. I have a side so green you will never know.
You look reasonably happy for someone who's not.
You get mixed messages because I have mixed feelings. 
 I won't settle for a life in the dark.
What I sometimes mistake for ecstasy is simply the absence of grief. 
Reading Sarah Kane makes me feel that I have things easy. Even my darkest moments cannot compare to the despair in her writing. I hope she has found peace.

Tomorrow's Play: The Four of Us by Itamar Moses


The Zig-Zag Woman

by Steve Martin
In the beginning of something, its ending is foretold.
What would we not do for love? This is the tale of a young woman who wants to catch a certain beau's eye so she places herself in a magician's box that allows her middle to be separated from her head and feet - thus, the zig-zag woman. "Maybe now he'll notice me," she says.

Before we meet the object of her affection, we meet an older man, who tells her, "It's really nice the way your head is separated from your body like that." He imparts wisdom to the Zig-Zag Woman about his dearly departed wife, declaring that "love is a promise delivered already broken."

Next, we meet a middle-aged man, who brings his own sort of wisdom:
Tough debate. Married or single. Single brings a sadness, but sadness has its own perfection. Marriage brings a misery of a rare kind, the kind that loves company.
Finally, we meet the object of the Zig-Zag Woman's affection. He is a young man who has had a "brilliant flash of insight." He doesn't notice the Zig-Zag Woman but he tells the other men:
Every emotion is consumed by its opposite. Every ounce of pleasure is balanced by an equal amount of disaster. Generosity breeds contempt; power breeds weakness. Agony leads to a greater appreciation of bliss. You love your friends, they start dying; when your friends start dying, you take more chances with your own life. Every ache you feel makes its inverse more possible. And that is the ecology of joy and pain. 
Why do we constantly fall for the Hamlets of the world? I suppose there's something beautiful about pain.

With a little help from the aptly named "middle man," the young man does finally notice the Zig-Zag Woman. "How do you think they will end?" the middle man asks.

I hope the older man is right when he says, "Just when you think love is dead, it is waiting for you like a crouching panther."

Tomorrow's Play: Crave by Sarah Kane


Patter for the Floating Lady

by Steve Martin

Do not be fooled by the length of this play. Martin has packed it full of emotional depth and despair.

This play shows that even in the most magical of worlds love is never simple, never easy. A magician is in love with his assistant, Angie who, though mean on the surface, does actually love him in return. The magician plans to levitate Angie, and by doing so, give her something in return for all that she has given him. He thinks she will appreciate it, even if it's done by trickery because:
She understands, as I do, that with the exception of a few profound and fleeting moments in our lives, everything we say is a lie.
I could not love a man who felt this way. Or, rather, lived this way.

The magician's plan backfires, for once under the trance Angie has the power or freedom to say how she truly feels about him. Essentially, she leaves him because he is not strong enough. He is needy and jealous and read her diary:

          Magician: A moment of weakness.
          Assistant: More like a lifetime of weakness revealed in a moment.

There is always a darkness living in the best comedians. I like seeing this other side of Martin.

Tomorrow's Play: The Zig-Zag Woman by Steve Martin

The Farnsworth Invention

by Aaron Sorkin

I heart Aaron Sorkin. The quality of his writing is such that I know I will never be disappointed. I was super excited to read this play, since I didn't get the chance to see it when it was on Broadway a few years back. As expected, I was not disappointed. Sorkin's quick-witted dialogue is right up my alley. Admittedly, this could just as easily be on the big screen, and perhaps should be, but that doesn't make the story any less entertaining.

The Farnsworth Invention is television. This title leads you to think that there is no doubt about who actually invented it but the action of the play revolves around the competition between two men - Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff - to be the first to put TV on the map. Sarnoff is mostly in the radio business but he has men who are working on TV, albeit slowly. Farnsworth is a guy from rural Idaho who just happened to be a genius.

It's not just about two men battling it out. The play also touches on media ethics. In reference to the surge in advertising on the radio, Sarnoff argues that time on the air shouldn't be sold. He feels that radio should be a platform for education and reforming cultural taste. He is asked:
Who gets the final call on what public taste should be, to say nothing of education and information?
These sorts of questions should still be asked. We take for granted that what we see and hear around us - on TV, in advertising, on the radio - is informative and beneficial. We know in the back of our heads that regulations are in place and that people follow rules and therefore all that we see is fair, and true. UH. We also know that this is NOT true. One only has to watch certain entire networks to know that bias is out there. It is up to us to educate ourselves from multiple media outlets and then determine what is the truth.

By the end of the play it almost doesn't matter who invented television, what matters is that it exists. Sarnoff explains to his wife:
It's gonna change everything. It's gonna end ignorance and misunderstanding. It's gonna end illiteracy. It's gonna end war. By pointing a camera at it.
If only.

For the West Wing fans in the house, Sorkin recycles (well, slightly changes) a quote from an episode about travelling to the moon. On WW it was Sam Seaborn, here it is Sarnoff who tells us:
I don't understand people who say what business do we have going to the moon when people around the world are starving. First of all, people aren't starving because we went to the moon, one doesn't have much to do with the other. But you go to the moon 'cause it's next. We came out of the cave, went over the hill, crossed the ocean, pioneered a continent and took to the heavens. We were meant to be explorers. Explorers, builders and protectors.
Just thinking about West Wing makes me feel patriotic. So, remember to go out and VOTE!

Tomorrow's Play: Patter for the Floating Lady by Steve Martin


by LeRoi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka

I cannot even begin to imagine the impact this had when it hit the stage in '64. I was shocked reading it now, over forty years later!

The play is set on a subway car in NY and consists of an entire relationship, beginning to end, of two strangers - a young black man and a slightly older white woman. What starts as an innocent flirtation quickly progresses to a violent encounter..

Lula enters the car and spies Clay. She is not shy about coming on to him. Hers is a cruel provocation and I couldn't help but wonder if Jones' divorce from his first wife had influenced this play at all. Lula says to Clay:
I lie a lot. [smiling] It helps me control the world. 
She certainly attempts to control Clay, publicly dancing and asking him to "rub bellies" with her. Clay has maintained his cool but Lula's harsh words become too much for him and he snaps:
Don't you tell me anything! If I'm a middle-class fake white man ... let me be. And let me be in the way I want. [Through his teeth] I'll rip your lousy breasts off! Let me be who I feel like being.
I won't reveal what happens at the end because I hate when things are ruined for me, but I will say that Lula came on that train looking for trouble.

What I took away from this play is that history repeats itself. Race conflicts may not be quite so prevalent in 2010 but people are still judged and hurt for being "different." When Clay says, "Let me be who I feel like being," he could easily speaking for his generation. I could find a million people who would ask the same thing today. The best gift we can give others is our acceptance. We should all feel free to be true to ourselves.

I received this suggestion from a friend who runs a great organization here in NY called The Shakespeare Forum. It's a great, affordable place for actors with a passion for the Bard (or not) to get together and PLAY. Check it out - we're having a workshop tomorrow night from 8-10! I'll be there. Will you?

Here are the details:

The Forum on Tuesday, November 2nd will be at SPACE ON WHITE at 81 White Street.

Once a week, actors, directors, producers and artists from all walks of life come together to work and play with the words of Shakespeare. Okay, so sometimes it’s not Shakespeare, but the spirit of exploration is ever-present as we delve into the text, challenging ourselves and each other to grow and change. 

This is a donation-based class. It’s not about the money, it’s about resurrecting the true artist spirit- an open heart, a sense of humor and a belief that we are stronger when we are together.

The closest subways are Canal Street (J,M,Z,N,Q,R,W,6), Canal-Church Sts (A,C,E)

Hope to see you there! Check us out on Facebook!

Tomorrow's Play: The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin


Lascivious Something

by Sheila Callaghan

Someone wonderful gave me this play and I am so happy that I read it - I was not familiar with Callaghan's work before now and I can't wait to read more of her stuff. This play is beautiful and sexy, creative and smart. The best thing I've read in weeks. Did anyone see it when it was at the Women's Project?

The story focuses on a pair of ex-lovers: August, a one-time radical activist who ran away from the US and now spends his days radicalizing wine-making and living with his new Greek wife, and Liza, who has searched and finally found him, but who comes bearing a secret.

They meet again.
They discover some things have changed. Others have not.
August is now making wine. He'd like to teach Liza.
They reminisce:

          August: Are you as self-absorbed?
          Liza: You can't tell?
          August: Then you will learn a lot, for fear of being made a fool.

The relationship between the two is ripe (wine pun intended) with sexual tension. Daphne, August's wife, can sense this. It makes her uncomfortable, and yet she tries to be supportive of her husband. She deals with the threat by raising her game:
Old love makes the ground beneath you slick. I understand this. I could sparkle for you now, if you like. I will become a holiday. I will decorate myself with twinkle lights and sing a song about a man who buries his heart in the dirt and later eats the dirt to remember how the heart tasted.
One thing that I love about this play is the way the stories are told. Callaghan employs a device where some of the scenes "rewind"... we see the scene played out one way, which more often than not ends up being the way things would have gone if people told the truth, no matter how harsh. Then we "rewind" and see how the scene really played out. I loved this device because it kept me on my toes but I found myself wishing that things happened the first, and often, more harsh way.. it would have created some seeeeerious problems - for August especially.

Callaghan has passed on her gift of storytelling to her characters. At one point August and Daphne reward Liza with a legend.

      Daphne: Legend one. Young Dionysus, son of Zeus and of Semele, traveled one day to the island of Naxos---
      August: --where he saw a plant so beautiful and frail he wanted it all for himself. He teased it from the earth and laid it gently inside the bone of a bird to keep it alive--
      Daphne: --but the plant grew so fast its roots shot from both ends of the bone. So--
      August: --Dionysus found a lion's bone, and stuck the plant and the bird's bone inside that. But--
      Daphne: --the plant continued to grow, so Dionysus found an ass's bone, into which he placed the roots and the bird's bone and the lion's bone. He--
      August: --went home, dug a big hole, and buried the whole tangled mess into the earth. The plant--
      Daphne: --grew into a grand vine and yielded magnificent grapes, and Dionysus made wine from those grapes. He gave--
      August: --the wine to his men to drink. At first, they sang like birds. They drank more and they became as strong as lions. And then--
      Daphne: --they drank too much and their heads drooped and they became as stupid as asses.


This whole play feels gritty, like you can taste the earth, smell the wine, feel the stones beneath your feet. It's a play full of texture and depth. Though August is talking of wine, I feel the same could be applied to reading this play:

      August: See how clear the moon is through the wine?
      Liza: Yeah.
      August: That's a very very good sign.
      Liza: Of what?
      August: That your mind is about to be blown.

Tomorrow's Play: Dutchman by LeRoi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka


Weekend Comedy

by Jeanne and Sam Bobrick

This is the tale of two couples. One day, an old couple rented a cabin for vacation. Soon, they met a new couple.... who had rented the same cabin. Neither wanted to leave ... much hilarity ensued.

Truth be told, I found most of the comedy in this play predictable. Entertaining? Yes, that too.

Each couple learns something about their relationship through watching the other couple. There are heartwarming moments, but mostly it's wise-cracks from the crotchety older husband, Frank. He initially invites the younger couple to stay for the weekend after a night of drinking.
That damn champagne! I'm not used to that stuff. It makes me too friendly. 
On his website, Sam Bobrick says:
For the most part, my plays are comedies. There is nothing more satisfying to me than to sit in an audience and listen to people laugh. Although I feel there are moments of insight and enlightenment in my plays, I've never really had a depressing message I felt necessary to share with the public. My main goal has always been to entertain, to have people leaving the theatre feeling good. Life is tough enough. Why send an audience home suicidal. It only cuts into future ticket sales. 
 Fair enough. He also wrote a play called Hamlet II - Better than the original. The summary reads:
"Hamlet, but with a happier ending. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are Groucho and Harpo, Ophelia is a slut and Hamlet is a pest. If you've had trouble grasping the intent of Shakespeare's classic endeavor, this should clear it up once and for all. The text remains very true to good old Will's basic fundamentals. The play is frequently performed in high schools and colleges as well as by professional theatre groups."
THAT I want to read. Anyone have a copy?

Tomorrow's Play: Lascivious Something by Sheila Callaghan

The Agony and the Agony

by Nicky Silver

Boy, after reading God and this play, some pieces just feel like intellectual exercises that are meant more for the author. The Agony and the Agony is about Richard - a failing playwright who is always working on something but never successful. His wife Lela, a struggling actress who sleeps with everyone in town, doesn't support him and he feels defeated all the time. In fact, now that I think about it, Richard kind of speaks like Woody Allen:
I hate the movies. All that air conditioning - a person could catch pneumonia.
Apparently this week's theme is neurotic writers who aren't satisfied with their work.

Anyway, there are some laughs to be found in this play, as in all of Silver's work. When Lela finally lands an acting gig (through flirting with a producer at Bergdorf's) she says:
I GOT A JOB! Law and Order!!! It's just the corpse in the cold opening - but you know Law and Order. This week's corpse is next week's killer! 
How long can we keep making L&O jokes?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were also moments that delved deeper under the surface, into the tortured soul of the artist. Richard addresses the audience:
It's times like these I ask myself, "Why are we so cruel? Why do we hurt each other with such reckless abandon?" Is it because we're all so desperate to create? Because we're artists trying to live in a world that devalues art, that places no importance on our work, on our lives. So we fight, urgently, for a piece, a tiny piece of a pie that's so small it couldn't possibly nourish all the thousands of actors and artists, musicians and human being starving, decaying in the wilderness? Or are we just pricks?
There is some truth to the "dog eat dog" nature of our business, but it is my belief that to find happiness and fulfillment in this career path, we must rise above the petty judgements and competition and reach out a helping hand to our fellow artists. This business will be what we make of it - if we choose to move things forward in a more positive manner - one that focuses on the emotional and physical well-being of people on both sides of the table - perhaps we will find more day-to-day joy. Pay it forward, friends. It'll come back to you.

Tomorrow's Play: Weekend Comedy by Jeanne and Sam Bobrick


by Woody Allen

The last time I read this play was for my high school acting class when we did a production of it. I don't remember it being so strange. And I seem to have a vivid memory of a very real Deus ex machina Zeus flying down from the ceiling of our auditorium, which I know can't possibly be true.

It's funnier than I remember too. Or perhaps I just better understand all the New York humor now.

           Woman: They had a knife, they wanted my money.
           Diabetes: You should have given it to them.
           Woman: I did. They still stabbed me.
           Chorus: That's New York. You give 'em the money and they still stab you.

What an interesting man. This play is not his best, by far, but I am amazed at how all of his work is so deeply personal. Perhaps because he acts in his films and writes and directs it is impossible for things not to get personal, but I think it takes true talent to define your voice as an artist and he has certainly done that. I feel that he has lived his life in a transparent way - putting everything on the stage or screen. To be that bold, that giving of oneself, take guts.

For that, I tip my hat to you Mr. Allen. *tip*

Tomorrow's Play: The Agony and the Agony by Nicky Silver

How I Learned to Drive

by Paula Vogel

Re-reading this play made me so happy. It is even better than I remember. I used to do a monologue from it that I really enjoyed, but turns out people don't really like to hear about sexual abuse when they first meet you, fictional or otherwise. Weird, huh?

Hands down my favorite monologue in the show belongs to the "mother" chorus member (my additions in red):

A Mother's Guide to Social Drinking: 
A lady never gets sloppy - she may, however, get tipsy and a little gay. 
Never drink on an empty stomach. Avail yourself of the bread basket and generous portions of butter. Slather the butter on your bread.
Sip your drink, slowly, let the beverage linger in your mouth - interspersed with interesting, fascinating conversation. Sip, never ... slurp or gulp. Your glass should always be three-quarters full when his glass is empty. (sounds about right for me)
Stay away from ladies' drinks: drinks like pink ladies, slow gin fizzes, daiquiris, gold cadillacs, Long Island iced teas, margaritas, pina coladas, mai tais, planters punch, white Russians, black Russians, red russians, melon balls, blue balls (?), hummingbirds, hemorrhages and hurricanes. In short, avoid anything with sugar, or anything with an umbrella. Get your vitamin C from fruit (yeah!). Don't order anything with Voodoo or Vixen in the title or sexual positions in the name like Dead Man Screw or the Missionary.
Drink, instead, like a man: straight up or on the rocks, with plenty of water in between.
Oh, yes. And never mix your drinks. Stay with one all night long, like the man you came in with (:)): bourbon, gin, or tequila till dawn, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

She sounds like a pretty cool mom. Or maybe a drunk.

This play made me think a lot about how vulnerable we are as we are growing up. How the idea of "normal" is so relative and so much of who we become as adults is due to sheer chance - where you're raised, who your family is, the country into which you were born. It's not until Lil Bit goes away to college that she realizes there's anything wrong with the relationship she has with her uncle. Once she experiences life outside her bubble, the views of others change her. The love is deeply rooted and not easily forgotten, but that outside influence shifts her thinking. It allows her to come to peace with her past and move towards to a happier, healthier future.

My heart goes out to all those for whom this play hits a little too close. 

Tomorrow's Play: God by Woody Allen


House of Blue Leaves

by John Guare

This is coming back to Broadway? I wonder why. I mean, it's a funny play and I enjoyed reading it but I can't imagine what will be new about it - or so relevant to today - that it has to be produced NOW. I guess we'll find out... Ben Stiller is set to star. Click title above for article.

Reading Guare's introduction to the play was almost more entertaining than the piece itself. He says that growing up a 14-minute train ride from New York felt just as far away as if you lived in another state. All he wanted to do was get there. Get to New York. He asks:
Why do my dreams, which should be the best part of me, why do my dreams, my wants, constantly humiliate me?
This idea of humiliation, or rather - the avoidance of it, becomes the focus of the play. Each character's best qualities seem to be their downfall.

Artie, the main character, writes songs, and claims to be "too old to be a young talent." He hasn't been discovered and is living miserably with his wife Bananas who has gone, you guessed it - bananas. He is awfully cruel to her and tells her of a dream he had where their son was the Pope and only loved Artie.
What a dream... it's awful to have to wake up. For my dreams, I need a passport and shots. I travel the whole world. 
His dreams are his strength and his weakness. He wants desperately for his songs to be in the movies but he can't seem to make it happen. As it turns out, the actual Pope is coming to New York and has caused quite a stir. Artie's lover, Bunny, wants Artie to brings his songs to the Pope to be blessed. My favorite part of the show was when Artie's wife asks him to play one of his songs and then she shows him that it has the exact same melody as "White Christmas." Revenge is sweet.

Many ridiculous things occur - three nuns chase the Pope around as if he were a Beatle, Bananas tries to scald Bunny with hot water, Artie's son Ronnie blows up part of the apartment building, Bananas swallows some hearing aids.. Artie's friend Billy, a big movie director comes to the apartment and Bunny is overjoyed! She senses the sweet smell of success and in a moment of passion, proclaims to Artie:
All my life I been treated like an old shoe. You turned me into a glass slipper.
That's love, I guess :) ... though it doesn't take long for her to leave him for Billy and fly off to California. Before he goes, Billy tells his friend:
Do you know what the greatest talent in the world is? To be an audience. Anybody can create. But to be an audience ... be an audience ...
I don't really agree. Anybody could create, but not everyone has the courage to. Or the desire. Likewise, anyone could be an audience. To be a good audience, that is, a real listener - someone who can listen selflessly and respond from the heart.. that does indeed take talent.

Tomorrow's Play: How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel


Four Dogs and a Bone

by John Patrick Shanley

Before we talk Shanley, I must say - I've not been very good about keeping to my advance play list. I get inspired in the moment and want to switch it up! Some days I just need to read a comedy. Sometimes I can't get through a play. I have tried like four times to read Dublin Carol, I swear I just can't get through it. I will eventually, maybe when it's colder outside. Anyway, this week consists of a bunch of plays that you had no warning about and I hope you'll enjoy them just as much.

And now.......

A failing movie! A young up-and-coming starlet cat-fighting with an almost-washed-up actress! A writer with a drinking problem! A producer in need of money! Lying! Backstabbing! Sex as bait! Sounds like just another day in the Entertainment business. I mean... just kidding, Mom.

It's a funny play. There are witty one-liners like:
Hacks go into rehab. Good writers drink.
It'll make you laugh and/or groan, whether you're in the Business or not. As for the title - there are four main characters all fighting tooth and nail to "make it." Fame as a bone, in this case, makes perfect sense. It reveals the characters at their most animalistic .. their most pathetic, and shows us what the limelight can do when you stop working for the love of it and start chasing your name in lights.

There are even in-jokes for the Shakespeare nerds (she says, proudly)!
Hear me when I say, there's beauty to staying in the background. Remember Brutus. He did very well. Till he wanted to direct. 
Will this play change your life? Probably not. Will it entertain you? Absolutely.

Tomorrow's Play: House of Blue Leaves by John Guare



by Sarah Ruhl

This play is so beautiful and simple and sad. I am drawn to it from deep inside. I want to do this play, now. I keep saying that, but I really mean it this time.

While this play has classical characters, it is modern in tone. Eurydice and Orpheus are young and in love. They are idealistic and at the top we see them having the sort of deep conversations that those young and in love tend to have:
It can be interesting to see if other people - like dead people who wrote books - agree with what you think.
Eurydice's father is dead and on the occasion of her wedding to Orpheus he sends her a letter from the Underworld with his advice for a happy life:

Cultivate the arts of dancing and small talk. 
Everything in moderation.
Court the companionship and respect of dogs.
Grilling a fish or toasting bread without burning requires singleness of purpose, vigilance and steadfast watching.
Keep quiet about politics, but vote for the right man.
Take care to change the light bulbs.
Continue to give yourself to others because that's the ultimate satisfaction in life - to love, accept, honor and help others.

Knowing the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice allows us to see how Ruhl has expanded upon it - the changes she makes and the things that she elevates. It is a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, but what I like about Ruhl's version is the innocence that seems to permeate throughout.. When speaking of her love, Eurydice says:
This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house. The houses of your neighbors look dull and lacking in moonlight. But he is always going away from you. Inside his head there is always something more beautiful.
There is a chorus in the play, in the form of stones. They act as guides, they give warnings, they speak truths. The little stone thinks:
Love is a big, funny word. 
I think love is a small word for something so big.

Tomorrow's Play: Four Dogs and a Bone by John Patrick Shanley



by Theresa Rebeck

This play was super fun to read. But Lauren, it's about stamps. How can that be fun? Well, it's about the greed and intrigue caused by two very rare stamps. And as with all rare things - they cause people to do things.. bad things.

It actually felt like I was watching a movie. The dialogue was crisp and the action was ever-moving. The story follows the struggle of a pair of estranged half-sisters, Jackie and Mary, as they argue over a book of valuable? stamps that once belonged to Mary's grandfather.

At the top of the play Jackie has brought the book of stamps in to a shop to determine their value, if any. The guy behind the counter, Philip, won't give her the time of day because he is basically a dick. Some guy lurking in the corner, Dennis, says he'll check them out and Jackie allows him to flip through the book. He immediately spots two of the most valuable stamps ever (because of their flaws) but tells Jackie that the book isn't worth much. He then jets off to tell his shady boss? employer? guy, Sterling, about them so they can form an offer to bring to Jackie. Naturally, they want to make as much money as possible from the resale and they are counting on the fact that Jackie knows nothing about stamps, so they want to low-ball her while still offering more money than she could ever have thought possible from a stamp.

The struggle comes when Mary discovers that Jackie wants to sell the stamps - for Mary, they hold a lot of sentimental value and as she points out to Jackie, "He was my grandfather. He wasn't your grandfather. Those are - my stamps." Jackie attempts to tell her that there are a lot of debts to pay off and it would be much easier to sell the stamps and take care of it, but Mary wants no part of that responsibility and grabs the stamps back. Everyone is pretty selfish in this play actually.

Dennis visits the house and expresses interest in purchasing the stamps from the sisters. Meanwhile, Philip has caught on to the value of the stamps and, rightly, feels like an idiot. Other stuff happens. CUT TO: Very dramatic stand-off between Sterling and Jackie, arranged by Dennis. At this point, Jackie's done her homework and knows how much the stamps are worth. Sterling is nowhere to be found and Jackie is sick of waiting. Dennis stalls by trying to assure her that this is the best and easiest deal she will get. He says:
I mean, you know what they say about the stamps. It's the errors that make them valuable. That's kind of my theory on people.
She is wary, as she knows that they will probably insult her intelligence with their offer. And, they do. She starts to leave, Dennis tries to make her stay and also reassure Sterling, he calls her crazy and Jackie doesn't take that too well:
I don't like you saying I'm crazy because the fact is I am the least crazy person you have ever met. Logic that you don't see is private for a reason, and that reason is potentially the smartest, least crazy thing possible in any given situation. 
That is certainly not the end, but I'll let you read that for yourself. I loved the play, and my only issue was actually with the ending. *SPOILER ALERT* I wish that Jackie had burned those stamps when she threatened to. Sure, it's nice to imagine her and Dennis sipping margaritas on the beach, but if she had let that page burn she would have taught Mary a lesson she should have learned in kindergarden - how to share.

Speaking of learning to share - come see the show I'm working on! Details below...

WTE Theatre presents
Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana

An Original, Multi-Media Fairytale Show
by Croft Vaughn
directed by David A. Miller

October 7 through October 24
Thursdays at 8pm
Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Sam, Stu, and Sinclair discover an audience in their attic. Clearly these quiet strangers are going to eat them, so they distract their guests with their grandfathers' stories.  They find the courage to create their own tale, and discover the answer to, "Are we still loved after the person who loves us is gone?

Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place (1st Ave & Ave A) / Show me a map!
$18 General, $15 Students & Seniors, $10 Children
1 hr 20 mins, No intermission
Tickets are available through Smarttix.
Michael J. Connolly*,
Lauren Sowa*,
Robert James Grimm III,
Dorothy Abrahams,
Chuck Blasius

Stage Management: Barbara Dente*.  Assistant Director: Lauren Heirigs.

Scenic Design: Jennifer Varbalow, Costume Design: Bradley Erickson, Lighting Design: Kate Ashton & Sam Gordon.

Music: Alana McNair, Animation: Matt Burnett & Double Blind, Video Design: Jeff Heyman.

Press Representation by Emily Owens PR
Robert James Grimm, Michael J. Connolly and Lauren Sowa in Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana*Denotes Actor Appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association
Check out an interview with playwright Croft Vaughn ("Stinky Flowers, Sweet Thoughts")
Proclaim your love for Stinky Flowers by RSVP'ing to the event that is Stinky Flowers on Facebook.

Tomorrow's Play: Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl

Dancing at Lughnasa

by Brian Friel

I love revisiting plays that I haven't read for years. The last time I read this play was in college when NYU did it as a Mainstage production. I was called back for Chris then and she is the character that still intrigues me now (and I'm much closer to her real age now.)

Dancing at Lughnasa is the story of five Irish sisters, all unmarried, all struggling to live day-to-day. The youngest, Chris, has a child named Michael out of wedlock with her on-again-off-again sweetheart Gerry. Michael is seven but only seen on stage in the form of a grown-up narrator, as it is Michael's memories that we are revisiting in the play. The 7-yr. old version is never seen but often interacted with, while narrator Michael voices him from the side of the stage. The other male member of the family - Jack, the girls' brother - has returned from a long trip in Africa and has seen better days.

The title refers to a Festival in honor of the Celtic God of the Harvest, Lugh, at which there is much dancing and cavorting. The sisters haven't been to the festival in years and can't really afford to go, but Agnes, the middle sister, has saved some money from her knitting and wants to treat everyone to an evening of fun! Kate, who at 40 is the oldest and strictest, responds:
Just look at yourselves! Dancing at our time of day? That's for young people with no duties and no responsibilities and nothing in their heads but pleasure.
Why should those qualities should be limited to young people? Everyone deserves a break from the weight of the world (why do you think weekends exist?) Course, for us theatre people the weekend is still the workweek, but even then it's full of pleasure! I digress.

Poor Chris. I feel for her - loving a man that came in and out of her life like a whirlwind, waiting to know if he'll come again, believing his promises even when it's foolish to do so. She has received a certain amount of shame by having Michael without getting married and the shame has cast a shadow over the family. Gerry is not exactly the sisters' favorite person but during the play he comes to visit and sweeps Chris right back up off her feet. They spend the afternoon dancing and talking and Gerry sees his son for the first time in a while. Chris gets her hopes up and then Gerry tells her that he's going off to fight for the Popular Front, a Spanish government. He's a man who is looking for a cause and explains to Chris:
And there's bound to be something right about the cause, isn't there? And it's somewhere to go - isn't it? Maybe that's the important thing for a man: a named destination - democracy, Ballybeg, heaven. Women's illusions aren't so easily satisfied - they make better drifters.
What he really needs is some order, a sense of structure in his life. No doubt he'll find that in a war.

Many more things happen to the sisters over the course of the play that are subtle and moving. I love what Friel has done with the narrator - grown up Michael. He speaks with a beautifully poetic tone that is of course Friel's .. in his closing speech he speaks about dancing in a way that spoke right to my soul.
Dancing with eyes half closed because to open them would break the spell. Dancing as if language had surrendered to movement - as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony, was now the way to speak, to whisper private and sacred things, to be in touch with some otherness. Dancing as if the very heart of life and all its hopes might be found in those assuaging notes and those hushed rhythms and in those silent and hypnotic movements. Dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary ...
That's exactly how it feels to me when I dance. It's a fuller form of expression. So often I feel that words alone cannot fully convey the meaning in my heart or in my head. It's a shame that if I broke out into choreography on the street or in a bar people would think I was loony.. because I'm really just feeling on a different level.

Tomorrow's Play: Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck

Ps. Um, what? There's a movie with Meryl Streep? Netflix!


The Rainmaker

by N. Richard Nash

What a beautiful story! If anyone is confused, this is not the John Grisham story of a corrupt insurance company. No Matt Damon here. What we do have is a story of drought - a lack of rain and a lack of love.

The Curry men are concerned that plain Lizzie will never get married. They do everything in their limited power to marry her off to, well, anyone. How humiliating. Lizzie knows that her father and brothers are shopping her around and this throws her into wildly contrasting emotions - excitement, despair, anxiety, and depression. She knows she is not pretty but Jim, her brother, tries to convince her that she's just going about it the wrong way.
You don't talk to a man the way you oughta! You talk too serious! And if there's anything scares the hell out of a fella it's a serious-talkin' girl!
On a side note, I'm not convinced that Jim is the one she should be taking romantic advice from. After all, he's going with a girl named Snookie. Of whom, the other brother Noah says, "If you wanta get mixed up with poison, you go right ahead! But I wash my hands!" Anyone sense a Broadway revival starring our current media sensation? The audiences would flock! (but the jokes on them, Snookie never makes an on-stage appearance)

Jim is perhaps the most innocent member of the family and through his eyes we see that Noah's warnings are perhaps harsh cynical judgements. Jim asks him:
People want to get together - they oughta get together. It don't matter how, does it?
Love is love. Everyone is deserves it and we are all worthy of it. If the play tells us anything, it tells us this.

Lizzie is most properly matched with File, the local Sheriff Deputy. He is a man closed-off to love but he begins to see the value in having a woman around and comes to visit Lizzie at her home. They get into an argument and File is frustrated with expressing his emotions:
Look here! There's one thing I've learned! Be independent! If you don't ask for things - if you don't let on you need things - pretty soon you don't need 'em! 
I have certainly felt this way at times in my life. It can be hard to ask someone for something, it shows a weakness. File is a proud man and cannot bring himself to admit that he needs Lizzie. They part. Lizzie is convinced that she will end up a spinster until a strange travelling con man who calls himself Starbuck comes to town promising to bring rain to the town for a fee of $100.

Noah is the most skeptical of Starbuck and the most cynical towards Lizzie (though, he'd consider it being realistic). Starbuck is struck by Lizzie from his first entrance and does everything he can to convince her that she is worthy of love.
Don't let Noah be your lookin' glass! It's gotta be inside you! And then one day the lookin' glass will be the man who loves you! It'll be his eyes maybe! And you'll look in that mirror and you'll be more than pretty! - you'll be beautiful!
He and Lizzie share a moment of true connection and Lizzie is happier than she's ever been in her life.
You look up at the sky and you cry for a star! You know you'll never get it! And then one night you look down - and there it is - shining in your hand! 
But word has gotten out that a con man is in town and File and the Sheriff come looking for Starbuck. I won't reveal the ending, but I'll just say that it should not come as a surprise that this play was turned into 110 in the Shade. The magical elements and heightened emotions lend themselves very well to musical theatre.

The list of plays I want to do NOW is getting longer and longer.... ;)

Tomorrow's Play: Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel


Notes on Directing

by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich

Okay, this is not a play. It is, however, a very good read and a useful tool as an actor.

I received this book as a gift from a very thoughtful friend and devoured the whole thing in a few hours. It is a quick read, full of funny and smart lessons. Below, some of my favorites.

79. Reverse the material.
Stanislavski says somewhere, "If you are playing a good man, look for the bad in him; if you are playing a bad man, look for the good in him." Obvious, but easy to forget.
An actor floating along on the surface of a character is cozy and boring.

88. Humor falls mostly into one of two categories.
British actor Edward Petherbridge aptly described the first category of humor when he said, "No one ever got a laugh out of something that wasn't someone else's tragedy."
But audiences also laugh at statements or actions they recognize as implicitly true. "When a thing is funny," wrote George Bernard Shaw, "search it for a hidden truth."
Part of your job as a director is to help the audience make connections that delight the mind. When an audience thinks, Ah! That suggests this, the accompanying reaction will often be simple laughter, a sure sign that their synapses are firing and that you, the playwright, and the actors have done something right.

97. Love triangles.
Two actors on stage establish a single visual relationship. Add just one more actor and you have up to seven relationships: one relationship between any two of the individuals (that's three relationships), one for each of the possible pairings of two individuals in opposition to the third (that's three more), plus the unique relationship that exists between all three.
Look for threes. When you have a triangular situation - and therefore rich dramatic possibilities - make clear choices as to who is in opposition to whom and how alliances and allegiances shift moment by moment.

104. An audience's interest in the action is only as high as the actors' interest in it.
Keep an eye out for disinterested responses such as yawning or an actor's gazing upon anything other than what the audience should be looking at.
Watch extras in large groups, especially. They frequently steal vital focus by being negative listeners, hating everything they hear.
Here's the rule: Listener reactions that are positive and interested focus audience attention on the speaker. Listener reactions that are negative and disinterested steal attention away from the speaker and toward the listener.

114. Beware the naked truth.
Yes, nudity might bring in a crowd, but at what cost? Earnest nudity imposed by sincere directors is rarely the reliable conveyer of inner emotional nakedness and vulnerability they suppose it is.
More typically, when the skin makes its appearance, the audience is ripped from the world of the play along with the clothing. The audience is deposited in a prurient inner world far from the plot. Their eyes no longer watch the eyes, mouths, and hands of the performers, but are diverted, no, riveted to other body parts. The audience and the story often become lost to each other.

These are just some of the wise words from these two accomplished men. I laughed, I recognized truths, I learned. If you have any interest in directing, or in getting inside a director's head - check this book out. You won't regret it.

Tomorrow's play: The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash


by David Hare

Plenty was rather confusing to me. In reading some reviews of the piece I gather that it was very moving upon watching, however solely in reading it I think something was lost. The play jumps around in time quite a bit and can be rather mysterious as to what's going on. Part of that is due to the fact that our main character, Susan is employed secretly by the French Resistance behind German lines during the war, so the nature of her work was clandestine.

I wasn't crazy about this play but I do love David Hare. The first play of his that I read was Racing Demon, in college, and I loved it. I would highly recommend it. His writing, as always, is beautiful and there were some lines that grabbed me.
Did you know... did you know sound waves never die? So every noise we make goes into the sky. And there is a place somewhere in the corner of the universe where all the babble of the world is kept.
I love the thought that somewhere are stored all the stolen moments and secret gossip and heartfelt fights. A reminder that words are powerful and you should choose them carefully and stand by them if in fact you were forced to hear them again.

Susan's friend, Alice is a bohemian spirit, unafraid of new things. She explains her lifestyle to Susan:
The writer must experience everything, every kind of degradation. Nothing is closed to him. It's really the degradation that attracted me to the job. 
A little wink from Hare to other writers?

Lastly, I appreciated this little jab from another character in the play:
Say no more. We have eaten. We did not wait. In Burma we say if you cannot be on time do not come at all. 
Well said, sir. Well said.

Tomorrow's "Play": Notes on Directing by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich

All My Sons

by Arthur Miller

This was a welcome entertainment after the depression brought on by Death of a Salesman. That's not to say that this is a simple, happy play. By no means, friend. It is dramatic and the stakes are very high throughout.. there are moments of lightness, however, and characters filled with joy.

Even though it was written in the '40s, history repeats itself and the themes are relevant again. There are men and women all over the world who are waiting for their lover to return from the war, just as Ann did. There are parents who are in denial of their child's disappearance. There are people who will profit from our current wars and there are those who will suffer. These people are as real today as they were during Miller's time.

The Keller family bears many burdens, not the least of which is the criminal decision that Joe made to send off defective airplane parts to the soldiers fighting for their country. He managed to place blame elsewhere and avoid jail but his reputation was sorely damaged, as the whole town knows he's guilty. Perhaps only Chris, his son, believes him to be innocent. My heart goes out to Chris - an optimistic man, left in the shadow of his missing brother, Larry. Chris is in love with "Larry's girl" Ann but feels he cannot act on it:
I don't know why it is, but every time I reach out for something I want, I have to pull back because other people will suffer.
Chris is a good man, but he wants to be happy and he invites Ann to his home to propose to her. His mother is completely against the idea - she believes that Larry is still alive. Ann is overjoyed and seems to have been waiting for Chris to ask her for a long while. Do we get a happy ending? *SPOILER ALERT* Well.... yes and no. Chris' world is shattered when he realizes that his father is guilty. He is destroyed and doesn't know what to do:
What? Do I raise the dead when I put him behind bars? Then what'll I do it for? We used to shoot a man who acted like a dog, but honor was real there, you were protecting something. But here? This is the land of the great big dogs, you don't love a man here, you eat him! That's the principle; the only one we live by - it just happened to kill a few people this time, that's all. The world's that way, how can I take it out on him? What sense does that make? This is a zoo, a zoo!
The most heartbreaking line was when Chris confronts his father:
I know you're no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father.
The moment when a child sees his parent as a person is a true loss of innocence. In a way it is a bridge we must all cross into adulthood but it can be difficult. Chris wants to believe the best in people and he tells his mother:
You can be better! Once and for all you can know there's a universe of people outside and you're responsible to it. 
I take this line away with me as something we should all remember. Whatever you believe in, our world will only be as good as we make it - the energy you put in will be the energy you get out. I choose to live today with love and a positive spirit.

Tomorrow's Play: Plenty by David Hare


The 39 Steps

adapted by Patrick Barlow

My only experience with The 39 Steps prior to reading it was watching the PBS version starring my British crush Rupert Penry-Jones ---->

Some of the scenes from the film stuck with me as I was reading, but mostly the play created a whole new world in my mind.

I loved how inventive the piece was - making huge spectacles with very little. I just saw Brief Encounter at Roundabout the other night and the elements are very similar. (Highly recommended, btw, if you have a free night definitely check it out.)

Like all good farces, there are moments that rise above the comedy and speak to you at a deeper level. Hannay, in a moment of desperation, is forced to give a public address. He's not sure of what or who he is supposed to be but he delivers a rousing speech:
Let's all just set ourselves resolutely to make this world a happier place! A decent world! A good world! A world where no nation plots against nation! Where no neighbour plots against neighbour, where there's no persecution or hunting down, where everybody gets a square deal and a sporting chance and where people try to help and not to hinder! A world where suspicion and cruelty and fear have been forever banished! That's the sort of world I want! Is that the sort of world you want?
Here here!

Tomorrow's Play: All My Sons by Arthur Miller


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