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29.6.10

As You Like It

by William Shakespeare

In prep for my AYLI callback tomorrow I re-read the play and it brought back so many memories from when I did the show a few years ago (click link above for a photo!). I think this play is hilarious (and the people who were sitting next to me on the subway today know that I feel this way also).

I think why I like the play so much is because there are moments in the play that border on the farcical and yet it is so full of heart. The women in the play really take charge of their own destinies and create such a positive energy that you can't help but fall in love with them. Celia says to Rosalind as they are leaving for the forest:
Now go we in content/ To liberty, and not to banishment. 
For the two of them, the forest of Arden represents a new life, where they are free to be anyone they desire. No longer are they tied down to the will of the men in their lives, their respective fathers. They bring along a man - Touchstone - who serves as entertainment and possible protection, for as Rosalind says, "Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold," but he is certainly not a figure of authority. He spends most of the time either complaining or off pursuing a love of his own. In his own words:
We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all in mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.
No one feels the irony of this more than Rosalind, as she spends her time as her alter-ego Ganymede and woos her own lover through this disguise, whether he knows it or not. The comedy of these scenes can be dialed up or down, depending on the production, but anytime you've got cross-dressing and false identities mixing with raging hormones and lovesick romeos you're bound to get some laughs.

My absolute favorite line in the show comes from the "melancholy Jacques"... he says as he exits:
I'll go sleep if I can; if I cannot, I'll rail against all the first-born of Egypt.
Amazing.

Something struck me for the first time as I was reading this today.. in the scene when Rosalind is lamenting the fact that Orlando is late (which scene you ask? she does that an awful lot! touche.) she complains to Celia that:
His very hair is of the dissembling color.
The note reads: "dissembling color: ie, reddish, the traditional color of Judas' hair." How interesting! A, that Judas was thought to be a redhead, since I think I've always thought of him/seen him with dark hair.. and B, that red hair was thought to be deceptive. I don't think this is a stereotype that is still true today.. deceptive/untrustworthy people are often portrayed with very dark hair, since dark colors are more shady/badass. Anyway, it's a small thing, but it stuck out to me.

I leave you with a wise saw from our friend Touchstone:
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
Wednesday Play-a-day: The Wall of Water by Sherry Kramer

28.6.10

The Underpants

by Carl Sternheim
Adapted by Steve Martin

I LOVE this play. I want to do it. Now. I felt it was lovely and simple, very funny and political at the same time.. Steve Martin has done it again!

It's pure comic fun. And sometimes that's exactly what you need.

Tuesday Play-a-day: As You Like It by William Shakespeare

The Shape of Things

by Neil LaBute

So, I'm working on a scene from this play (between Adam & Jenny on the bench) for my scene study class and since I needed to re-read the play anyway, it conveniently became my play for today!

What struck me as I read it this time was the desire in artists to take risks. Evelyn says at the dinner party:
well, like i said, i think it's great. it's really amazing. it is, to find anybody willing to take a risk today. to look a little silly or different or anything. bravo!
Perhaps because the arts have historically been on the fringe of society, people with artistic tendencies are more inclined to be risk-takers.. perhaps because we are risking so much by just stepping on a stage or writing a novel or creating a self-portrait, we want to encourage those around us to find a way to do the same. I echo her sentiment and often encourage myself to try new things if I feel myself slipping into a routine.. mix it up a little, keep it fresh.

A lot of what this play becomes is - what is art? Can it be defined? Can it be limited? Evelyn makes the argument that most artists would agree with, that it is all subjective and therefore there can be more than one experience and more than one right answer. Adam, however, says to her at the end:
anybody can be provocative, or shocking. stand up in class, or at the mall, wherever, and take a piss, paint yourself blue and run naked through a church screaming out the names of people you've slept with. is that art, or did you just forget to take your ritalin? there's gotta be a line. for art to exist, there has to be a line out there somewhere. a line between really saying something and just ... needing attention. 
This is always the struggle. If you limit art, if you define what is and isn't considered art, you deny someone's artistic expression, no matter how ludicrous. What kind of a precedent does that set? Where then do you draw the line? This reminds me of a monologue I do from Sophistry where she says "Who is qualified to judge? And who is qualified to judge who is qualified to judge? Who picks the judges?" I don't want anyone telling me that my art form isn't acceptable. I wouldn't dare try to limit someone else.

Monday Play-a-day: The Underpants by Carl Sternheim, adapted by Steve Martin

27.6.10

Women of Manhattan

by John Patrick Shanley

Man, Shanley just writes some beautiful, beautiful text. It's almost poetic. It's a tribute to him that it also never feels out of place with the characters he's created. This play is about women, love, sex, marriage, relationships, it's "Sex & the City" before "Sex & the City" existed. .. with less coining of phrases and more honest straight-talk. These women are open with each other and have enough faith in their friendship that they feel they can tell each other hard truths without losing each other. They express their wants,
I want your sympathy for an ache in me that knows no name.
their fears,
Whatever you're doing that's good, inside it is the little appetite mouse with his big big teeth hollowing it out. Making whatever dreams you've managed to happen seems silly and empty and nothing. That's the big problem, I think. That appetite that's under just everything. Ruining it. 
their suggestions for improvement,
To be humiliated is like being detoxed. Humiliation is the road you've got to travel to become humble. If it's your pride that's crippling you, humiliation is how you get rid of pride.  
and they're not afraid to add a little humor too,
You need the romance. It's like a local anesthetic the heart supplies during the painful beginnings of knowing a man. The trick it to let it wear off in its natural time, and go on and let that open tender place be touched. Don't shrink back every time you feel a little pain. If you do, you'll end up with nothing. 
The line that struck me the most was actually spoken between Judy and Duke on their blind date. She says to him:
And maybe if we talked long enough, we could stop being afraid and we could talk about just anything at all. Would that be love then? 
It made me think about the act of courtship. Everyone, to varying degrees, puts on an "act" when dating.. at least in the initial stages. We want the other person to see our best qualities and ignore our flaws. The process of falling in love is the slow uncovering of these imperfections, allowing for a deeper vulnerable connection. People always say "be yourself" when you're first getting to know someone.. but what I've come to realize is that I'm slightly different versions of my "self" depending on who I'm with - there's family Lauren and professional Lauren and sarcastic Lauren and so on and so on.. so what's the right mix of "self" for a first date? It's like a scene - you work off of the energy you're given by the other person -- that shared energy will define who you are "together" and will determine if you have romantic chemistry or brotherly love. It's not simple. But then, if it were, it wouldn't be very much fun, would it? :)

Sunday Play-a-day: The Shape of Things by Neil Labute

**Also, I'd love to take suggestions and/or recommendations! If there's a play you want me to read, let me know! Leave a comment, or email me at: laurensowa@gmail.com

26.6.10

Ludlow Fair

by Lanford Wilson

A short little one-act about a pair of roommates who have been swindled by one of their boyfriends. Two things I took from this - 1) the very funny opening monologue where Rachel tries to be her own therapist.. and 2) the reference to this beautiful poem by A.E. Housman:

Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.                
-"A Shropshire Lad." by A.E. Housman

Saturday Play-a-day: Women of Manhattan by John Patrick Shanley
 

The Seagull

by Anton Chekhov, translated by Tom Stoppard

Chekhov has always scared me a bit. Maybe it's all those names, or maybe it's the depth of emotion or maybe it's because the moments are not easily defined. For all these reasons I felt scared and excited as I re-read The Seagull, this time filtered through Tom Stoppard's brilliant mind. For a play that is so much about writing and about theatre I can't help but wonder what went through Stoppard's mind when he was working on this section:
When you write something, you must have a clearly defined thought. You have to know why you're writing. Otherwise - if you set off along that enchanted path without a definite goal in mind - you'll lose your way, and your talent will turn on itself and destroy you.
Inevitably this thought has some tinge of Stoppard's own feelings, since he is, after all, translating Chekhov's original intent .. but Stoppard chose these specific words for a reason. What a morbidly beautiful image to have your talent turn on itself and destroy you. As I read the play this time, I was most captivated by Trigorin and his big monologue about his "marvellous life." He says, about writing:
I'm never left in peace, and it's as if I'm devouring my own life - to make the honey for the readers out there, I'm gathering up the pollen from my best flowers, breaking off the flowers themselves, trampling on their roots.
Is it our nature as artists (or as humans?) that we are never quite satisfied? He has certainly reached some level of success, and yet he is unable to appreciate it. He is constantly consumed by images and words and stories he should write and stories he IS writing.. it's the never-ending battle of a tortured soul. I connected with him through this speech. I don't claim to be as tortured as he, however, I feel at times that I go through life experiencing things so that I can re-experience them on stage.. attempting to remember things as they happen so I can make a mental note to infuse part of the feeling into a scene or character.. wondering if some great upset will create a darkness in me that can be useful down the road. Then I often feel guilty and try to just be in the moment of whatever I'm experiencing.

The last time I read this play was a number of years ago and I felt that I could appreciate it more now that some time has passed. I was serious about those names though.. if someone could explain the significance of why each character seems to have three or so names, I'd be forever grateful.
I mean, I have some money, but I'm an artist! - my outfits alone have simply ruined me. 
Friday Play-a-day: Ludlow Fair by Lanford Wilson

24.6.10

The Play About the Baby

by Edward Albee

I'm just gonna come right out and say it. This play was weird.

It is labeled as an absurdist black comedy, so I suppose I should have expected it, but it still surprised me. What I took from it was not so much a story about a baby but a story of emotional manipulation. The Boy and Girl begin the play so in love and so sure of themselves, blissful with their beautiful child. By the end, they are left barren, questioning everything they knew to be true.

The manipulation is dealt by a mysterious Man and Woman for apparently no other reason than:
If you have no wounds, how can you know if you're alive? If you have no scar, how do you know who you are? Have been?
So.......... they think they are helping this young couple by stealing their baby, thereby inflicting pain, and then ultimately convincing them that their baby never existed? There is an innocence about the couple at the beginning that is shattered by these "gypsies," if that is what they are. The young couple seem somewhat unaware of the world and certainly lay themselves open to be toyed with.
Girl: Does that make me happy?    Boy: It should.    Girl: Oh, well, then, it probably does. 
I think plays like this are interesting because they leave so many choices open to us as artists. I feel like I could see six completely different versions of this show that would all have something interesting to say. It's certainly not a play that is "safe." It's gonna make a statement. A bold one!

Thursday Play-a-day: The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, translated by Tom Stoppard

23.6.10

Loose Ends

by Michael Weller

I originally thought this was a farce.
I was wrong.

This play felt very "real" to me. By that, I mean that it seemed to me to represent a modern relationship that is not easily defined and by no means simple, and yet is based in happiness. So often I feel that we're presented with very unhappy marriages in the media. People rarely write about happy people these days. That being said, this couple isn't entirely happy. I think they suffer from a common problem of communication (or lack thereof). A mutual friend of the couple comments:
All I think is I'm always in the middle with you two. Paul talks to me. You talk to me. Don't you ever talk to each other? I don't know what you should do. It's not my life. I mean I have enough of my own stuff to figure out and I don't go around asking people what I should do because they're my problems and they're not very interesting unless you're me. In which case, they're mostly just a pain in the ass.
There are people who keep everything to themselves and there are people who have to talk it out with others. It's so true that sometimes it's easier to talk to another person that to talk to your loved one. The stakes aren't as high. It's "safer." Yet, it doesn't solve the problem. It might help you to get your own thoughts straightened out but it won't improve your relationship. Who knew this blog would turn into - What I've Learned About Relationships By Reading Plays. I swear that was not my intention! But what are most plays about? Love. All kinds of love. So it gets your head thinking.

In the very last scene (they are now divorced) Susan says to Paul:
Today, being with you again, I just started remembering how nice it was. Sometimes. When it was nice. We should've married other people and had a long affair.
!!!!!
This makes me sad. She's essentially saying they would have had a better relationship and therefore happier if they never got married and were cheating on their partners. What kind of twisted logic is that? It harkens back to what Inge was saying in Bus Stop about how love has become too complex for the modern (hu)man to handle.

It's hard to watch this couple fall apart because it seems that they are so good together. They overcome a lot of obstacles over the course of the play and we are rooting for them until the end. And at the end, it's clear that there's still love between them, despite the destruction of the relationship. I guess love just isn't always enough.

I leave you with a funny quote by Lawrence, Susan's boss/interior decorator:
Isn't it funny how everyone's wearing turquoise nowadays? I never used to like it, but now everyone's wearing it and I'm beginning to see what they mean. There's nothing like a trend to change the way you feel about things.
Wednesday Play-a-day: The Play About the Baby by Edward Albee

Bus Stop

by William Inge

Even though the events of this play are caused by a terrible snow storm, the bus depot is really more of a pressure-cooker for this ensemble of misfits. There's a wonderful innocence about this play. Even though one of the cowboys practically kidnapped the nightclub singer and is trying to force her to marry him, and even though the "doctor" has actually been run out of town for carrying on with young girls, and even though the bus driver and the counter girl go upstairs for a quickie, you still get the sense that all of these characters mean well and are maybe just slightly misunderstood.

My favorite storyline is the love affair between Cherie and Bo. They are so childlike in their emotions and yet it's not the typical innocent girl/experienced guy story.. he's the one who hasn't been with a girl and she's had "many boyfriends." They both struggle with the idea of love. Cherie says early on:
Who'm I to keep insistin' I should fall in love? You hear all about love when yor a kid and jest take it for granted that such a thing really exists. Maybe ya have to find out fer yorself it don't. Maybe everyone's afraid to tell ya.
I think to some extent that's true. We're told through every medium we experience that love IS. It is defined for us. And yet, "love" is unique to each person and therefore to each couple. I don't believe that love is the same for everyone.. it can't be. Sure, some things will be similar, but each person feels emotions differently and when two people are feeling emotions simultaneously there are an infinite number of ways those feelings can combine. The professor has a more negative outlook on the topic:
Maybe we have lost the ability. Maybe Man has passed the stage in his evolution wherein love is possible. Maybe life will continue to become so terrifyingly complex that man's anxiety about his mere survival will render him too miserly to give of himself in any true relation. 
I think often about how back when there were no cars or nice roads, people had very few options about who they might marry. They knew there was someone (hopefully not a relative) in their age range in their village or the next town over and that would be their lover. I cannot fathom that now. How strange it must have been.. to know your whole life who you would end up with. And yet, maybe it was easier that way. There was no endless quest for the perfect love - you made due with what you got and lived your life. Would we be happier if this were still the case? Match.com will tell you NO! But who knows?

Tuesday Play-a-day: Loose Ends by Michael Weller

20.6.10

Savage in Limbo

by John Patrick Shanley

A few of my friends are working on a scene from this in our Meisner Alum scene-work class and I remember vaguely seeing a production of it in college but I wanted to refresh my memory. It actually left me somewhat depressed. I mean the title tells you everything - it's about a girl Denise Savage and a few other locals who spend the night in a bar talking about the changes they want to make to their lives. Everyone makes a change by the end except for Savage. She remains alone and thus in limbo. She says towards the beginning:
I'm scared of everything. I see what could go wrong with everything so I don't do nothin. I got this one thing in me that I hate. I'm a coward.
She has Hamlet's problem - over-thinking that prolongs inaction. She seems to make connections with a few other girls in the bar and we think that maybe they will make a positive change until the town hunk comes into the bar and sets the girls into a cat fight for his affection. He seems to be a tortured soul as well, despite his good looks and he offers the room some good advice:
You gotta be brave for yourself cause nobody else can be brave for you and nobody else cares.
Every man for himself, eh? It's appropriate that this play takes place in a bar, since that's where depressed people go to spout their troubles. I think Shanley has written some gritty characters that occasionally say beautiful, universal truths.
You can't change. You can't do it. It's like puttin your hands on your own waist an tryin to pick yourself off the ground.
 Don't nobody listen to nobody except listenin for the trigger that sets them off on their thing.
You say yes to one thing, you say no to a lotta the others causa the yes. 
Savage's final words are "I. AM. ALONE." And yet, I felt no sympathy for her. She's alone because it's safer, and while she made some effort to change that during the course of the play, I got the feeling that the play ends because she's given up trying to change. If she tried again or had a breakthrough then it would continue.. or there'd be a title change. Savage was in Limbo. Savage post-Limbo. Savage in a bar that is no longer Limbo. You get the point.

This leaves me with the thought of - the challenge of playing a character that seems to end where she begins. Now, of course, she's been on a journey. Her journey just ends full circle in a similar circumstance from the top of the show. She's an A-B-A character as opposed to an A-B-C.

Monday Play-a-day: Bus Stop by William Inge

19.6.10

In the Book Of

by John Walch

I cannot rave enough about John's work. He was the playwright-in-residence at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival when I was down there and this piece was workshopped as part of the Southern Writer's Project. It is the story of a female soldier who, discharged from the army, brings home her Afghan translator to her home in Mississippi. Based on the book of Ruth, we see how this "stranger" affects the people around her and ultimately comes to find love and peace. We are doing a reading of it at New Dramatists this week and so I just read the most recent draft and it is so beautiful. It has a magical quality to it that I love. I think John writes in a very theatrical way that occasionally reaches a more heightened reality. I'm so pleased to know him and I highly recommend you, loyal reader, check out his work!

Sunday Play-a-day: Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley

Dinner with Friends

by Donald Margulies

I had the pleasure of watching a run-through of this play last summer when I was working at the Barnstormers Theatre.. it's a thoughtful, funny, sad play and I was happy to read it after so much time has passed. I admire the honesty of the relationships - I think Gabe and Karen have an enviable marriage. They obviously adore each other and while they are not without their problems, they work through them together. As they watch their best friends' marriage fall apart they are left questioning their own but rather than tear them apart it presses them to open up. Our last image is of them holding each other, Karen having just asked "How do we not get lost?" and it is questions like that - honest, vulnerable, scary questions that will allow them to be there for one another and remain happy.

I can't wait to read more of Margulies' work. I own a bunch of his plays but I've never gotten around to reading them. His artistic voice is in line with my own aesthetic and I look forward to understanding him more fully.

Saturday Play-a-day: In the Book Of  by John Walch

18.6.10

Prelude to a Kiss

by Craig Lucas

What a great acting challenge! Switching bodies with an old man.. and both characters taking on traits of the other in order to maintain believability. So cool. Such an air of the fairy tale to this piece. I really loved it.

What I took away from this play is the question "how well can you really know another person?" At the start of the relationship I think Peter believes that it's impossible to ever really truly know another human being. He says to "Rita" (who is actually the Old Man, but Peter is not totally aware of this yet),
Do you ever think how we're each a whole, separate being beside one another. Each with a heart pumping inside and a soul and all our memories. How I can never, no matter how close we ever become, share your past, be with you as a nine-year-old, as a baby.
and yet, by the end of their honeymoon he is convinced that she is not herself. He knows. Even though it sounds crazy, to think that two people could switch bodies, he knows that Rita is not Rita. That's a very strong argument for just how well you can know a person, regardless of the walls they put up, or all the thoughts they have that you'll never understand. We're human. There's something innate about the connection we have with others. Out of that need to connect came language, came dancing, came cell phones, came Facebook. All of these things are simply a prelude to a kiss.

Friday Play-a-day: dinner with friends by Donald Margulies

H for Hamlet

by Eric Bentley

The first link that came up when I Google'd H for Hamlet was a website for the Hamlet Law Firm -- click the title above to go there. It's quite humorous. He's pretty hardcore. It says: Aggressive Representation, showing a picture of a SWAT Team.. he may be overcompensating a bit, trying to fight off the melancholy Dane image. He's quick to prove that he's a man of action! ANYway. The play.

A fun little play. Basically about an actor who took a bad fall and believed for twenty years that he was Hamlet. His visitors adopt Elizabethan dress and take on a character from the play in order to not break his illusion of reality. The parallels to Hamlet are enjoyable - there is a doctor character (who takes on the persona of Polonius) who attempts to cure the "Hamlet" via shock therapy (paralleling Polonius' scheme of setting Ophelia on Hamlet in order to prove his madness is just love-sickness)... throughout the play we wonder if this "Hamlet" is really crazy or just pretending to be (sound familiar?) .. he then confesses that he's been sane for the last 8 years (out of 20).

All in all, I liked it. I think any Shakespeare nerd would enjoy it. It would be entertaining to work on and to see produced.. the part of Hamlet in this play is wonderful. He has some beautiful speeches that border on insanity and yet are full of questioning and meaning. "Aren't words wonderful," he says, "so light and yet so heavy?" And this Hamlet has his own share of heavy words, albeit not the famous ones.

The most "giving" woman in the world is still that remotest thing in the universe - another person. The place her eyes look out from is a prison, walled, moated, locked, barred, hermetically sealed. She is alone. You are alone. So what is love?
What a lonely thing to speak out loud. And yet it speaks to our own secret fears. That we'll never be understood, that "love" as we imagine it is a fantasy.. an illusion. This Hamlet voices the thoughts and desires and fears of Shakespeare's Hamlet, but there is no use of soliloquy. He says what's he's thinking/feeling/dreading/needing right to the other characters - provoking them in a very immediate way - forcing them, and in turn US, to deal with it.

Thursday Play-a-day: Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas

16.6.10

You Can't Take it With You

by Kaufman & Hart

My whole life I thought this was a musical. I think it was the two names that threw me off. I loved this play - so funny and quirky and just asking to be done at every regional theatre (if it hasn't already).. the age-old themes of acceptance and overcoming snap judgements are on full display here. I mean, yes the Sycamore family is crazy, but that's why we love them - they are our own families to the extreme, they are US to the extreme. Give me fireworks and snakes and "toe-dancing" any day!

Nothing too profound to say here, just that it was thoroughly enjoyable and I would love to work on it!

Wednesday Play-a-day: H for Hamlet by Eric Bentley

15.6.10

Lips Together, Teeth Apart

by Terrence McNally

I was unaware of this play until it caused drama for Roundabout this past season (click title above for article), but I happily picked it up off the $1.00 rack at the Strand a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the read, though wondered why I wasn't more moved. There are quite a few moments towards the beginning (and continued throughout) that approach soliloquy - we learn many of the characters' secrets this way. I found this to be an interesting device and yet I thought wouldn't it be more fun if the characters spoke their lines to each other, or to themselves, and the other characters chose not to hear it or did not hear because they were focused on themselves or other things? Would that not make a comment of how we communicate - and how you can know someone so well and yet not know them at all.. Perhaps this was the intent with speaking to the audience. Regardless, it would have made for an interesting revival, I'm sorry we won't get to see it.

Tuesday Play-a-day: You Can't Take it With You by Kaufman & Hart

13.6.10

Blue Window

by Craig Lucas

Right below the title on the front of the play it says : A Comedy. And yet, it didn't really strike me as one. First, I will say, it was very hard for me to read. I mean, it's the kind of play that would be better appreciated by watching it (as are most plays).. there is a lot of overlapping dialogue and three different conversations happening in three different spaces, so trying to keep that all straight in my mind was somewhat difficult. That being said, it seemed to all build to the point of Libby's final monologue - where we learn her story and why she's hosting the dinner party. That was the most intriguing section of the play for me.. I found her struggle very moving. The rest of the dialogue didn't impress me so much as the style of the piece - I think Lucas has written a very interesting movement.. it seems musical - all the overlapping dialogues, ebbs and flows of people's voices.. even just looking at the words on the page resembles looking at a page of sheet music - so specific, so rhythmic. I'd love to see this staged somewhere.

If you click the link of the title you'll find a review from the '96 revival at MTC... I agree with most of that review, though he is a bit harsh.

Monday Play-a-day: Lips Together, Teeth Apart by Terrence McNally

Man of La Mancha

by Dale Wasserman
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Music by Mitch Leigh

"When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams - this may be madness."

These words, spoken by Cervantes as he transforms into his character of Don Quixote, for me, illuminate the heart of this musical. What actor cannot relate? What artist cannot relate? As I read, I played the soundtrack and I really felt transported into this world - the impending threat of judgement (and potentially death) from the Inquisition gives a dark background to an otherwise light play and keeps it from getting "cheesy." I loved the idea of an artist defending himself in the way he knows best - by presenting his story via 'charade.' There's something so sad, yet beautiful about Cervantes' journey throughout the play.. and how Don Quixote mirrors him, even in death. As Lettice says of her mother in Peter Shaeffer's play Lettice & Lovage, "she went as she always wished - in harness." Don Quixote dies just as his illusions of knighthood are re-inspired .. and we can only assume that if Cervantes is found guilty, he will pass having just relived his greatest creation.

What a fun, creative piece for a group of actors to imagine - it has the feel of an old trunk show -- a group of people throwing on a hat and becoming someone, then adding a shawl and becoming someone else. Very bare bones.. I love pieces like that because they invite the audience to give over and be imaginative as well.. everyone works together to create the reality.

Sunday Play-a-day: Blue Window by Craig Lucas

12.6.10

August: Osage County

by Tracy Letts

I am currently on the Bolt Bus on my way to Boston for the weekend and the a/c is broken. It's raining outside so our driver is blasting his heat in order to see out the window. Needless to say, it's not pleasant. And yet, somehow the perfect environment to finish Letts' pressure-cooker of a play. The Weston house is really just a large Bolt Bus, overheated and cramped.

Before I went to Alabama, I landed free tix to see Mr. Letts' Superior Donuts, which I enjoyed very much. I am consistently amazed at his versatility as a playwright. August struck me as a universal story of american experience - granted, our families may not all be so extreme in their issues, but I bet everyone can relate to some part of this story. There were more than a few times where I laughed ironically in recognition of some sentiment or lack thereof.

Something that struck me was the idea of "family secrets." All families keep things from each other. And most, I suspect, do so because they think they are protecting each other from something or someone. Barbara has a line, "Thank God we can't tell the future. We'd never get out of bed." Perhaps if we all knew the truth, it would save a lot of future heartbreak.

On an unrelated note, I have to applaud Mr. Letts for writing such amazing roles for women in this piece, and older women at that! What an amazing challenge that I can look forward to someday tackling, if I'm lucky!

Saturday Play-a-day: Man of La Mancha .. that's right, it's musical time people.

10.6.10

Stop Kiss

by Diana Son

As promised :)

Love this. Love that there's no intermission. Love that it jumps around in time. Love that it's a story about WOMEN but above all, about love. I love that the relationships are complex and not so easily defined. Too often I think we categorize things.. easily placing people and things into little boxes so we can more readily understand. As if we can possibly understand the depth of a person's soul by checking off little boxes - female, white, tall.

Stop Kiss had its premiere in 1998.. How much can change in just over a decade! If this play was written now I wonder how different it would be. Would it be different? It certainly seems that our collective unconscious has become more and more accepting of homosexual relationships in the last twelve years, and yet I could imagine the events of this play still taking place today in some parts of our country. And with that, I am reminded that change is slow. Just as the emotions blossomed slowly between Callie and Sara, so too is our country slow to expand its mind and heart. And at the core of this play is a matter of the heart. We all want to be loved. To find love and throw caution to the wind and thank our lucky stars we found it. Son brilliantly weaves the threat of the violence throughout the play but the final image is not one of aggression - it is of two women sharing a moment of purity and honesty.


On a final note, I encourage any and all to share your thoughts about these plays as well! Let's open up a dialogue! From now on at the end of each post I'll announce the play for the next day, hopefully allowing you to read along with me if you want to! Feel free to leave a comment!

Friday Play-a-day: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

9.6.10

Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods

by Tammy Ryan

Okay, I know, I'm a big liar. I said I was going to read Stop Kiss today but things changed. I have a callback tomorrow for this play - Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods so, since I was reading it anyway, I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone by having it be my play-a-day. Stop Kiss tomorrow, I promise.

Apologies finished, I'd like to repeat what I said earlier this week about how refreshing it is to read new work. I am all about the classics, don't get me wrong, but I'm also really excited by what playwrights are saying NOW. This play is based on real events involving the "Lost Boys" of Sudan (info: here) and their impact on a community in Pennsylvania. It deals with the idea of the "stranger" - how he affects us, changes us, betters us, allows us to see ourselves through his eyes.. The play takes a relatively normal middle class suburban family-story and infuses it with themes of acceptance, charity, and love. For me it raised the question of to what extent do we (or should we) allow fear to affect our actions? We are taught by society to put up walls for our own "safety" but sometimes it's safest to take down those walls and to experience another.

Reading this play reminded me of a reading I participated in down at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival as part of the Southern Writer's Project Festival of New Plays.. called In the Book Of by John Walch. It's also the story of how a foreigner can change a fearful community for the better and in this case, how love triumphs over all. Beautiful story by an amazing playwright - we're doing another reading of it at the end of the month. Details to follow for anyone who is interested.

8.6.10

Arms and the Man

by George Bernard Shaw


"What a man, what a man, what a man
What a mighty good man."

Yes, I did just quote Salt-n-Pepa, as this was the song I sang to myself as I finished Arms and the Man. First of all - SO funny. Gotta hand it to that Shaw guy, he knew what he was doing. Seemingly superficial and yet he hits right at the heart of humanity... this idea of the "manner" one adopts around one's lover.. being what you think the other person wants you to be, or idolizing them to the point of putting them on a pedestal (from which they can only fall).. is a trap we still fall into and this play was written well over a hundred years ago! Ah, how we change and yet we stay the same. 

So many fun, vibrant characters -- I would love to play Raina.. she's delightfully dramatic and yet vulnerable. Seems to me this play is just begging to made into a musical .. as I said that, I Googled it and lo and behold:

A musical adaptation of Arms and the Man (1894)—The Chocolate Soldier by Oscar Straus (1908)—was also very popular, but Shaw detested it and, for the rest of his life, forbade musicalization of his work. 

AMAZING. The Chocolate Soldier! It includes a song called: "Ach, du kleiner Praliné-Soldat" ("Oh, you little praline-soldier") Wow.. this is comedic GOLD. 

Time Stands Still

by Donald Margulies

As I was reading this play I couldn't help but imagine the recent casting in my mind. In some ways that can be helpful but in others I think it hinders my own interpretation of the piece. Regardless, I wish I had seen this when it was still playing. That's one of the hard things about travelling to perform, you miss all the good new theatre! Alas. I love Donald Margulies and I found this play to be topical without being preachy. I think my favorite scene was when they were all talking about the recent play they'd been to see and how tragedy is turned into clean, neat "entertainment" for the masses.. especially considering the issues tackled in this play I think that opens up an important dialogue for the role of theatre - the role of the artist (be it actor, director, or photographer) .. all of us are telling stories that are not our own - what rights do we have? what responsibilities?  ...

7.6.10

Sophistry

by Jonathan Marc Sherman

I re-organized my plays today, which were spilling out of my bookshelf, so that they now take up two bookshelves and I stumbled upon this play. I read it a while ago but I'd forgotten if it was any good. Upon re-reading, I was pleasantly surprised. I feel like I know each of these characters - like I've met them. What I enjoyed most was the camaraderie between the three main guys - all college students. Their scenes are the funniest. The main thread of the sexual harassment case reminded me of Doubt. Here also I appreciated the ambiguity because it's not clear in the play who is telling the truth, so I felt that it really leaves it up to the director and actors to make whichever choice they find most potent. I was hoping to find a good scene for two women for my scene study class, but alas, no such luck.

Mr. Sherman put this quote at the beginning of the play and I just love it - "But it was an experience. I will not turn him into an anecdote. How do we fit what happened to us into life without turning it into an anecdote with no teeth and a punch line you'll mouth over and over for years to come ... How do we keep the experience?"  - John Guare, Six Degrees of Separation

6.6.10

Kiss Me On the Mouth

by Melanie Angelina Maras

Refreshing, to read a new play! There are some genuinely funny moments throughout.. though on the whole it felt more cinematic to me. Many of the scenes end abruptly and I was left with questions that went unanswered. That being said, I think the play's strong suit is the relationships between all four characters. Definitely some good scenes - with many for two women which is always nice to find! On the surface it seems simplistic but I think there are many deeply-rooted emotions buried in each of these characters. It's definitely a modern play - telling stories of our generation.

5.6.10

A View from the Bridge

by Arthur Miller

Remind me to read a comedy next.

Reading this play made me wish I had seen the recent revival - anyone who saw it I'd love to know your thoughts. I found the play captivating and sad.. more and more I'm thinking that everything is a power struggle - men and woman constantly sizing each other up and trying to come out on top. The relationships in the play are really complex - I think Beatrice gets the toughest lot - and yet she never seems to stop loving Eddie, even through her fear and jealousy and disappointment. I was left wanting more, wanting to know what these characters are like in ten years.. was Rodolpho gay? Is Catherine destroyed by Eddie's death?

Alfieri has a line at the end in reference to Eddie that struck me, "for he allowed himself to be wholly known." What is it, to be known wholly? Certainly in Eddie's case it was more for the worse than the better, but it seems to me a beautiful idea to be known so completely by someone. There's a kind of innocence in that, a kind of 'purity,' as Alfieri mentions.

3.6.10

Mrs. Warren's Profession

by George Bernard Shaw

Hmm. Well, certainly a comment on the society of the day, though some elements still ring true. Viv seems to me to be an old idea of a "modern woman," going against what is expected of typical Victorian women. She interests me because she is not simple, and in my opinion not what I would today consider a "modern woman." Yes, she holds true to her moral ideals and yes she is strong and independent and career-oriented, and yes she does not allow a man (or a woman, at that) to determine her future for her, but at the expense of love and forgiveness and sentiment of any kind? Exploring that woman's psyche, as influenced by the time and circumstance in which she grew up, would be a wonderful challenge.

I find it humorous that my copy of "Mrs. Warren's Profession" is preceded by an essay entitled "The Author's Apology" - Shaw's response to the critical reaction the play received, which was naturally quite strong as it caused quite a scandal in it's day due to the issue of prostitution and the role of women in the play. I find the play less about the actual profession and more about how that profession defines and determines the relationships in the play - mainly between mother and daughter.

Acting challenges: British accent (Surrey), period piece, emotional life contrasts my own. Who has the power in the scene at any given time?

The Miracle Worker

Playwright: William Gibson

I can't believe I've never read this play until now. I had an immediate empathetic response upon finishing it (image: me, in Starbucks, alone & crying). The characters are dynamic and the story is well-known and yet the purity of the moment when Helen understands what Annie is trying to teach her is so powerful.

Character that intrigues me now: Annie.
Acting challenges: All the physical business. So much handling of Helen - not to mention working with a younger actor. What is it like to have been blind? And now be able to see? How does that affect the relationship between Annie and Helen, or how Annie teaches/deals with Helen?

Time: The 1880's
Place: In and around the Keller home in Alabama; also, briefly, the Perkins Institution for the Blind, in Boston.

A Play A Day. Why?

I'm bad at keeping New Year's resolutions. I mean, bad. It's June. Anyway, this year my goal was to learn to play the piano (hasn't happened yet) and to read a play a day. I'm an actor, I read plays all the time.. but when I look at my bookshelf, at least half the plays I own I haven't read. SO this blog is to keep me disciplined about fulfilling my goal - to read a play every day and to blog about my reaction to it. I will also list important actor-y things that I can refer back to if I need to.

I'm Lauren. I live in New York. Let's read some plays.

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