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30.7.10

Private Eyes

by Steven Dietz

A few years ago I worked on another of Dietz's plays - God's Country and I am amazed that this is the same playwright. The two plays could not be more different in style, tone, subject matter - everything! Both plays are wonderful and I so enjoyed reading Private Eyes. It reminds me a lot of Stoppard's The Real Thing. It faces similar issues - infidelity, the theatre, what is reality?, art, etc. in a very imaginative way.

I would say this is Matthew's story. It focuses on the affair between his wife Lisa and their director Adrian.  We don't quite realize what reality is until a few scenes in because Matthew and Lisa are cast in a play directed by Adrian and some of the scenes are scenes in the play and some are real life. Then we discover that everything is being told to Frank, Matthew's therapist and that sometimes Matthew exaggerates the truth. So, in fact, what we're shown might not be the whole truth (or nothing but the truth). Frank is full of 'wise saws and modern instances' such as his response to the supposed affair:
Odd. How brutal things begin so sweetly. How our greatest regrets take root, at first, as hope.
Frank, in fact, has both Matthew and Lisa as clients, which may be a conflict of interest, but one gets the sense that he actually knows better than anyone (including us, the audience) what is going on in this love triangle. Frank speaks a good amount of dialogue to the audience, as narration:
A delicious part of living in the world is the number of lives we brush past but never enter.
I'm not sure Frank does much to help Matthew or Lisa. In fact, the only person who seems to make the characters speak truth is Adrian's wife, Cory. She has followed her husband across the ocean to catch his infidelity and when she meets Matthew she says:
It's odd. We think our lives will be changed in front of us - that we'll be present when it happens. But, we never are. Our lives are changed in distant rooms. Without our knowledge or consent.
She eventually confronts the three lovers and manages to have an unfortunate conversation in a rather adult manner. Until she pulls a gun on Adrian. That's where things get crazy.

To sum up this play in one line, I have to pass the hat to Frank. As Lisa is contemplating the right time to tell Matthew about Adrian, Frank responds:
The perfect time to hurt someone never comes.
And that's the truth. I leave you with a quote from Mr. Dietz, himself.
A play about lies must be a comedy, because only laughter can make us recognize truths we're not fond of. Only laughter is generous enough to hear us out, to listen to our foibles and our familiar debacles ... and let us think that next time, next time, it will be different.                                                                                                                                 -Steven Dietz 
Monday Play-a-day: An Error of the Moon by Luigi Creatore

The Drunkard or, The Fallen Saved

by WM. H. Smith

I finally made it through this play! I've been trying to read it for like four days. A wonderful woman/actress/mentor/friend that I worked with in Alabama, Greta Lambert, mentioned to me about how this was the first show she worked on and how they had the audience engaged by cheering for the hero(s) and booing the villain! This seems like a brilliant way to stage this piece because there are some lines that are such mustache-twirling moments, it's seems almost ridiculous. Almost all of the characters have asides to the audience, and while the characters take their situations very seriously, to us, the events are very funny. So even though what the front of the play says ("A moral domestric drama in five acts") may have been true in 1844 when this was first performed, these days the dramatic action reads almost as a farce!

The moral issue at hand here is, of course, drunkenness. Our "hero" who is the fallen saved, Edward, is set up by the villain Cribbs (he even has a villainous name!) to become addicted to brandy, which sends him into a downward spiral and into ruin. Edward sees the evil that is inside of him and reasons:
Why, surely I have eyes to see, hands to work with, feet to walk, and brain to think, yet the best gifts of Heaven I abuse, lay aside her bounties, and with my own hand, willingly put out the light of reason. 
He does not want to continue on the path of drunken bar fights and spending every last dime on liquor but he is so addicted that he experiences extreme withdrawal when he does not drink for a short period of time. His brother William is his savior. He figures out what Cribbs has been doing and magically appears in the right place at the right time anytime anyone is in trouble. He's also full of good advice:
Keep your feet warm, and your head cool; your mouth shut and your heart open, and you'll soon have good health, good conscience, and stand well on your pins, marm.
He ALSO gets the best insults of the play! After he realizes that Cribbs has been setting up his brother for his own financial gain, William says to Cribbs:
I don't know much of criminology, but I've a great notion of playing Yankee doodle on your organ of rascality.
I mean come on. If someone said that to me I'd have to shake their hand. I'm going to try to use that in conversation - organ of rascality - brilliant. Not two lines later William insults Cribbs' very manhood:
You a man? Nature made a blunder. She had a piece of refuse garbage, she intended to form into a hog, made a mistake, gave it your shape, and sent it into the world to be miscalled man. 
BAM! Game, set, match. Better think twice before you wrong a man whose name means "protector of the realm."

Sunday Play-a-day: Private Eyes by Steven Dietz

29.7.10

Speed-the-Plow

by David Mamet

Here's the thing about Mamet. I respect his talent. I acknowledge his gifts. I occasionally enjoy his plays. I just don't him very much. And by him, I mean his P.O.V., his voice. I don't know the man personally. I know all this sounds sacrilegious coming from an actor, but from a woman? Not so much.

Re-reading Speed-the-Plow, I found myself wanting so much to feel moved by these men. I wanted to root for them, I wanted to side with them. But.. I just can't. I felt slightly sympathetic towards the plight of Gould - being a high-powered executive and feeling that everyone wants something from you.. not knowing who your friends truly are, that's tough. But when you're such an asshole and a corporate whore, aren't you kinda getting what's coming to you? At the same time, I couldn't root for Karen either. Hers is a more subtle and seductive manipulation, but for once can Mamet not write a woman who is either a puppet or a bitch? Look at me, just writing about Mamet makes me curse. It's rubbing off. Anyway, I wasn't moved by her either.

Mostly what bothers me about this play is its essential message. At the beginning we see two jaded Hollywood execs rejoicing over their next conquest and it's business-as-usual. Temp-worker Karen changes things by convincing Gould to make a movie that is about more than the bottom line. It is about the heart of humanity and what we feel and our fears. Sure, it sounds ridiculous the way Mamet writes it - all that gibberish about the radiation and visions of infinity, but this is a basic good v. evil situation. And evil wins out. They decide to make the same crap movies that they always make. There is a brief glimmer of hope when Gould says to Fox:
I don't think that we have to mock the possibility that someone could find something that meant something to them.
But Fox convinces Gould that Karen is just playing him for a fool and that he's blinded by lust and making this "Eastern philosophy" movie will, essentially, get him fired. Way to dash our dreams Mamet. Now, wait a minute Lauren, you may be saying.. perhaps Mamet has written this whole play just so that we can see Hollywood for what it really is, and can therefore change it! And loyal reader, I sure hope you're right, and I invite you to argue with me, but deep down inside I believe that Mamet feels like Gould when he says:
I wanted to do Good... But I became foolish. 
Perhaps we all need to look a little foolish in order to do some good in this world. Take the risk. It may be worth it. So thanks Mamet for getting me fired up, if there's one thing you do, you incite passion!

Saturday Play-a-day: The Drunkard or, The Fallen Saved by WM. H. Smith

27.7.10

The Clean House

by Sarah Ruhl

A voice teacher/mentor recommended this play to me and mentioned how he enjoyed Ruhl's work because she employs a magical element. After reading The Clean House, I have to agree. This play left me with a feeling similar to when I participated in a reading of John Walch's In the Book Of - the feeling of being transported to a heightened level of reality. A truly theatrical experience.

Apparently people like to write plays about a spouse who leaves his or her significant other for another lover. Quite a popular event. So what makes this play a little different? Well, the main character Lane's husband Charles has left her for another woman, Ana. He brings Ana to meet Lane, wanting everyone to "know each other." Charles claims that he is innocent because, "in Jewish law you are legally obligated to break off relations with your wife or husband if you find what is called your bashert." Bashert is Yiddish for "destiny" or, your soulmate. Ana goes on to explain:
There is a midrash (Hebrew for "study") that says when a baby is forty days old, inside the mother's stomach, God picks out its soul mate, and people have to spend the rest of their lives running around to find each other.
This reminds me of the idea in the Twilight series (I can hear the groans, but stay with me) where the werewolves "imprint" on someone. Basically they fall in love at first sight, but it goes deeper, and they are connected to this person at their very soul. Upon hearing Charles' argument Lane is understandably angry. It is hard to argue with the concept of the bashert, however, if you can give over to the idea that it might be possible.. it's very romantic, even fairy-tale-like.. and who doesn't love a good fairy tale ending? Of course, those endings can be cliche. Ruhl gives us a much more interesting end to the story. Ana gets sick and Lane ends up caring for her husband's new lover until her death. Ana apologizes to Lane, saying, "You must hate me." Lane argues:
If you were really sorry, you wouldn't have done it. We do as we please, and then we say we're sorry. But we're not sorry. We're just - uncomfortable - watching other people in pain. 
Eventually they come to some sort of peace, and as Ana passes away we see the compassion in Lane that was lacking at the beginning of the play. Both women are loving in their way, and both are strong female roles. I get excited when I find characters that I hope to play when I'm older. I think Sarah Ruhl has written some dynamic older women and it gives me hope!

Friday Play-a-day: Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet

The Little Dog Laughed

by Douglas Carter Beane


"They had the truth, but they were looking for something else."  .. so reads the quote just before the play begins. Keeping with the Hollywood trend (see Moonlight & Magnolias post, below), this play is a more modern portrayal of the city of angels.. comedic yet with the kind of humor that is biting, The Little Dog Laughed does not go easy on us while showing us the "truths" of show business. We have the sharp as nails agent, the good looking leading actor, his male "friend" prostitute, and the "friend's" girlfriend. Quoi? That's right folks, our strong leading man is of questionable sexual nature. This brings me to what is perhaps my favorite thing about this play. The three young characters - Mitchell(movie star), Alex(prostitute), and Ellen(party girl) - are in a love triangle of sorts, but their sexuality is not easily defined. Both Mitchell and Alex are straight, or so they claim, but they happen to love being with each other. To outside eyes it would be easy to label them as gay, since they are sleeping with each other and are both male, but Alex sleeps with men only for money and also enjoys sleeping with women and while Mitchell enjoys sleeping with men, he's never really had a relationship with one. What begins as just another trick melts into something much more intimate. There are gray areas in sexuality that are too often pushed one way or another and Beane manages to create relationships that illuminate this. 

There is a point in the play where the three young lovers are faced with a choice - Mitchell's agent does not want the public to know he is seeing Alex so in a nutshell she tells them they can compromise and hide who they really are or they can go their own ways, having lost love but being true to themselves. For Mitchell and Ellen, who choose to hide, the end of the play is also the end of their individual happiness. Ellen has married a man who does not love her and Mitchell has chosen his career over a deep connection with Alex. But for Alex, who gives up Mitchell and Ellen in exchange for freedom, this marks the beginning of a new path for him. He is heartbroken, yes, but he recognizes that, "My life is beginning." For now he knows who he is, finally, and may go on to find someone who will love him and not be ashamed of it. The love that he and Mitchell shared has changed him. To quote James Baldwin: "Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." 

Thursday Play-a-day: The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl

Moonlight and Magnolias

by Ron Hutchinson

Guess what just went to the top of my Netflix queue? That's right, the epic Gone with the Wind. It's been years since I saw the film and this play put me in the mood for a little melodrama! What a witty, fun, funNY, play Mr. Hutchinson has written! What happens when you lock one desperate producer, one passionate director, and one talented but hasn't-read-the-book-he-has-to-turn-into-a-screenplay writer in a room for five days with only bananas and peanuts for nourishment? You get one of the greatest movies of all time. You also get one helluva funny play about said movie.

Why only bananas and peanuts, you ask? Well apparently:
The digestive juices get mixed up with the creative ones. It's a scientific fact.
Now I know why I can never eat before shows.

This isn't just a superficial door slamming farce, however.. there are moments that go beyond the comic and reach into your heart and give that heart a little massage. Ben, the writer, who strives to "make America look its ugly mug in the face," says to Selznick: 
You remember Plato's cave? Plato says we're like men staring at the wall, seeing flickering shadows from the fire behind us, trying to figure what they mean. What's that but a movie theater? Forget these goddamn melodramas and make something about real people for a change, living real lives. 
The two of them make convincing arguments about the power of the cinema and Vic Fleming illuminates the many difficulties of being a director. To Ben:
Are you going to sit up to midnight because your actors refuse to come to work because they don't like the color of their shower curtains? Are you going to hold their hands, let them put their heads on your shoulders, listen to their life stories when all you really want to do is punch them in the nose and tell them, it's acting, just turn up and say the line, damn it?
Bet some Company Managers feel Fleming's pain! All in all, this play takes us on a zany yet heartfelt journey into the process of creating talking pictures. And America sure loves her movies. After all -- "It's only in the movies where the dead can walk. You have any other way to live forever?"

Wednesday Play-a-day: The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane

24.7.10

The Real Thing

by Tom Stoppard

At the request of more than a few friends, I re-read Stoppard's The Real Thing for this blog! I remembered it being great but I was confused when I picked up the play and the front said "The Real Thing -  a comedy in two acts" -- I didn't remember it being a comedy. I remembered it being a bit darker than that.. but as I was re-reading I uncovered the humor that is layered in with all the changing relationships and building tensions.

What I love most about this play is how Stoppard has captured the difficult and somewhat dramatic issue of the "showmance".. by that, I mean a romance that occurs between two actors during the rehearsal period and run of a show. Certainly not all actors fall prey to this fate but it is quite common, especially among those unattached. All those emotions flying around the space.. some of them are bound to feel real. But are they? In The Real Thing the showmances occur among both the unattached and the attached. The married, to be more specific. As we watch the couples changing over the course of the play - first Max and Annie, and Charlotte and Henry.. then Annie and Henry.. then Annie and Billy.. and whatever's going on between Annie and Brodie... we are led on a path of love and lust all occuring in or caused by the theatre. Will Annie ever find the real thing? Or does she already have it with Henry?

Besides the relationship aspects of the play, Stoppard also grapples with the idea of the writer. When Annie asks Henry, her playwright lover-turned-husband, to read a play written by the not-so-talented prisoner Brodie, he can't get through it. She says:
You're jealous of the idea of the writer. You want to keep it sacred, special, not something anybody can do. Some of us have it, some of us don't. We write, you get written about.
 I think in Henry's case this is true. He does feel that writing is somewhat of a higher calling. That is shouldn't just be dribble slapped on a page. He describes words as:
They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead. 
Much in the way that the work of writers lives on after their deaths, actors often aspire to leave some artistic mark on the world. Whether that be through film or word of mouth of legendary stage performances or creating an ensemble of like-minded people, I think it is a desire that all artists (if not, all people!) experience. To feel that our art has meaning. That it is not just words left ringing in the air. That it effects some change. That is, perhaps, the real thing that we are all seeking.

Tuesday Play-a-day: Moonlight and Magnolias by Ron Hutchinson

20.7.10

Peter Pan - the Musical

based on the play by J.M. Barrie
Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh
Music by Mark Charlap

What a wonderful musical! Of course I've seen the Disney movie, but that was ages ago. I love this story and it translates so well to the stage - the magical qualities of the play become moments of pure theatre magic. The music is beautiful (I enjoyed reading the script and playing the soundtrack as I went along:)) and of course, everyone loves the flying bit! And there's a dog! It has all the crowd pleasers!

The thing that I got the most enjoyment from was, surprisingly, reading the stage directions. My guess is that these are carried over from Barrie's original script because they are very enlightening and made me laugh as much, if not more, than the lines. For example in an early scene, Mr. Darling says goodnight to his children and then leaves their nursery with Nana, the dog. Wendy says, "He's chaining Nana up." The stage direction that follows reads:
This unfortunately is what he is doing, though we cannot see him. Let us hope that he then retires to his study, looks up the word "temper" in his Thesaurus, and under the influence of those benign pages becomes a better man. 
Even better than that might be the stage direction that precedes Hook's first entrance. It reads:
Cruelest jewel in that dark setting is Hook himself, cadaverous and blackavised, his hair dressed in long curls which look like black candles about to melt, his eyes blue as the forget-me-not and of a profound insensibility save when he claws, at which time a red spot appears in them. He has an iron double hook instead of a right hand, and it is with this he claws. He is never more sinister than when he is most polite, and the elegance of his diction, the distinction of his demeanor, show him one of a different class from his crew, a solitary among uncultured companions. This courtliness impresses even his victims on the high seas, who note that he always says "Sorry" when prodding them along the plank. A man of indomitable courage, the only thing at which he flinches is the sight of his own blood, which is thick and of an unusual color. In dress he apes the dandiacal associated with Charles II, having heard it said in an earlier period of his career that he bore a strange resemblance to the ill-fated Stuarts. Those, however, who have seen him in the flesh, which is an inadequate term for his earthly tenement, agree that the grimmest part of him is his iron claw.
Now if that isn't the character description of all character descriptions! Well done, Barrie.

Monday Play-a-day: The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard

19.7.10

Torch Song Trilogy: Widows and Children First!

by Harvey Fierstein

Ah, now we get to the grit and grime.. the really deep-rooted emotions that only family reunions can bring to the surface. The third play of the trilogy is, in my opinion, the most dramatic. The first two are more serio-comedic, leaning towards the comedic, with moments of real truth and power. But this third play hits you BAM! in the stomach with all its might and leaves you gasping for breath most of the way through.

I loved the addition of David to the family - his wit and one-liners were very charming and a welcome change in tone from the negativity of the mother character. I'm sure she means well, but Arnold's mother storms in, all judgement and little understanding. The fights between Arnold and his mother are so horrible that you wonder how any two people who share the same blood could come back from something like that. It's clear that Arnold idolizes his mother, even imitates her in his caring for David, and yet his mother just can't seem to accept the fact that Arnold is gay. We are left with a glimmer of hope as she seems to encourage him how time will heal the wound of Alan's death, but the last image is of Arnold looking towards the door that his mother has just snuck through and it left me thinking that this was just one in a long string of battles the two of them will share.

I think Mr. Fierstein has written an amazing trilogy of plays that complement each other and yet each stand on their own. I hope that my friend Johnnie will one day have the chance to play Arnold, he's perfect for the part and this is a story that needs to be told again and again until every man and woman feels accepted and loved for who they are, no matter their sexual orientation.

Sunday Play-a-day: Peter Pan musical based on the play by James M. Barrie, Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Music by Mark Charlap

18.7.10

Torch Song Trilogy: Fugue in a Nursery

by Harvey Fierstein

You know how they say a good play will stand the test of time? It's amazing to me that this was written thirty years ago. Now certainly, in those thirty years there has been lots of movement forward as far as public acceptance of homosexuality goes, but at the same time.. two steps forward, one step back (ahem, prop8). I believe this play could be staged now and still be as moving and truthful as it was back in '79 when it was first staged at La MaMa.

What I love about the second play in the trilogy is the giant bed. What a smart concept -- for those who haven't read it, the entire action of the play takes place in an 8' x 9' raked bed. Even though the characters are in a kitchen, a barn, two different bedrooms, and a multitude of other places, all of the action occurs on this one bed. With careful lighting and strategic use of props, this bed becomes more than just a bed. It becomes a symbol for what is lurking underneath the surface of all the action -- the sense that it's all really about sex. And love. And vulnerability.

Our two heros have returned, with lovers to boot. The love square (that is anything but square) of Ed-Laurel-Arnold-Alan spend a turbulent weekend in the country and lead us on an adventure full of jealousy, seduction, confessions, and suspicion. It has the makings of a farce and more drama than an episode of your favorite daytime drama, but what wins out in the end are honesty and heart. We become attached to the characters and we all know someone who has been in one of their shoes. For as Arnold says, "I guess getting hurt is one thing we all have in common."

Saturday Play-a-day: Torch Song Trilogy: Widows and Children First! by Harvey Fierstein

17.7.10

Torch Song Trilogy: The International Stud

by Harvey Fierstein

My good friend Johnnie requested that I read this series of plays, so this goes out to him! :)

As the first of the trio, this play is an introduction to the beginning (and end?) of a love affair that will no doubt be the subject of the next two chapters. The characters of Arnold and Ed are lovable and behind all that wit and sarcasm, their hearts shine through. Arnold says in his opening monologue:
The person who thinks they's mature enough to handle an affair that's hopeless from the beginning is the very same person who keeps the publishers of Gothic Romances up to their tragic endings in mink.
Not one scene later, he meets Ed and his path toward love and heartbreak is taken. He foreshadows his own unhappiness in that first speech. And yet, in the blush of love who listens to the warning signs? Ed tells Arnold when they first meet that he also dates women.. a red flag that Arnold conveniently ignores, and one that comes back to bite him in the ass. I can't wait to see what happens next in the story of these two men. The first play certainly ends on a cliff-hanger.. I can hear the old serial radio voice now.. Stay tuned next week to see what happens to our heros! Will Ed leave Laurel and return to Arnold? Will Arnold actually kick the shit out of Ed? Will that mysterious jazz singer find another piano to stand on? Guess I'll find out tomorrow.

Friday Play-a-day: Torch Song Trilogy: Fugue in a Nursery by Harvey Fierstein

Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana

by Croft Vaughn

In preparation for an audition, I read this play and was utterly charmed by the story and characters. Essentially, it is the story of three children coping with their father and grandfather's deaths. Army brats, the three siblings are "always the new kids." They adopt the storytelling tradition of their grandfather to lead the audience on a very interactive journey through their highly developed imaginations. Complete with multimedia, imaginary friends, and cookies, this play will warm your heart and tickle your funny bone.

Thursday Play-a-day: Torch Song Trilogy: The International Stud by Harvey Fierstein

16.7.10

The Lion in Winter

by James Goldman

I love me a good costume drama. Especially when that drama is more on the comedic side.. don't get me wrong.. there's plenty of betrayal, plotting, unfulfilled promises and harsh words to make even Shakespeare blush but the brilliance of Goldman's play is that it's all done with an air of wit that leaves us smiling through the pain.

Each relationship in the play is heartbreaking - each son has his own mommy and/or daddy-issue that has made him the way he is .. Mommy and Daddy have plenty of issues with each other and poor Alais is a pawn in everyone's game. Eleanor wants Richard for King but Henry wants John for King and no one wants Geoffrey for anything, despite his clever brain. Richard and Eleanor no longer get along since she was locked up away from the family and when she asks him what's wrong, he tells her 'nothing.' She responds:
It's a heavy thing, your nothing. When I write or send for you or speak or reach, your nothings come. Like stones.
For a woman who spends all her time plotting revenge on the men in her life and seems to need no affection, she reveals her true nature in moments like these. I see a woman who desperately needs the love and approval of her sons, and even more so Henry, but who has worn the mask of a cold-one for so long that no one would believe her even if she told the truth. She's hard on the outside, but it's from years of building up a defense. She even comes right out and asks them to love her - they just don't hear it.
We're the origins of war. Not history's forces nor the times nor justice nor the lack of it nor causes nor religions nor ideas nor kinds of government nor any other thing. We are the killers; we breed war. We carry it, like syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little? That's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for; we have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.
Peace with three legitimate sons all with a claim to the throne? ... not bloody likely.

Wednesday Play-a-day: Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana by Croft Vaughn

15.7.10

Uncommon Women And Others

by Wendy Wasserstein

While I enjoyed this play, I found it a bit dated. Written in 1977, I imagine it was somewhat of a "Sex & the City" of its time.. I mean, these women have some pretty open, even racy discussions. And while not revolutionary now, thirty-three years ago this was some sexy stuff on that stage.


More revolutionary that just sex talk, in my opinion, is the frank criticism of marriage from the women. They were raised to believe that it was important to be educated and to work but the image of a husband, two kids, and a house in the suburbs is still ingrained in their minds. These moments of debate, which are so common in dorm rooms around the country, created dramatic moments that were memorable and moving. Girls are having similar conversations around the country at this very moment that more than likely resemble the scenes of this play... just a little updated.
The heart is the capital of the mind,  
The mind is a single state.
  heart and mind together make
A single continent.
One is the population
Numerous enough.
This ecstatic nation
Seek -- it is yourself.                -Emily Dickinson

Tuesday Play-a-day: The Lion in Winter by James Goldman

14.7.10

The Last Night of Ballyhoo

by Alfred Uhry

Funny and poignant, this play represents a quirky group of Jewish individuals living in America during the "calm before the storm" of 1939. There are a few foreboding mentions of Hitler throughout, but most of the story focuses on the personal rather than the political. I enjoyed this portrait of a southern family - especially Peachy's sarcasm and Reba's oddball sense of humor. The family relationships were powerful, none of them simple, and the southern setting brought a quaintness to the events of the play. Reminder to self to read Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy.

Monday Play-a-day: Uncommon Women and Others by Wendy Wasserstein

Miss Lilly Gets Boned

by Bekah Brunstetter

I really like this play. It is comedic and yet deals with very deep, even terrifying ideas. There are elements of fantasy and heightened reality (like an elephant as a character, who has lines).. but the difficulties that present themselves in this play are exactly what draw me to it. I would love to see the magical qualities play out - how someone would bring to life Harold the elephant.. perhaps in puppet form a la the horses in Equus or even if a man could realistically capture the essence of the elephant and allow us to suspend our disbelief.

I think Brunstetter has done a fantastic job with the character of Jordan, a young boy whose mother was brutally killed by an elephant.. the way he deals with his grief in the play is heartbreaking. In a few years I would love to play Miss Lilly - she is a wonderfully innocent character who you can't help but feel for.
Her sister Lara, who believes that "conversations aren't conversations, conversations are foreplay" makes for a perfect balance to Lilly's naivete. Plus, the love interest has a South African accent.. and that's just sexy.

Sunday Play-a-day: The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry

13.7.10

Arcadia

by Tom Stoppard

Besides Shakespeare, Stoppard may very well be my favorite playwright. I am constantly amazed by his brilliance. I feel like each play he has written is a little gift just waiting to be opened, and then cherished. Arcadia is a wonderful play, working on many different levels of meaning, as is customary with Stoppard. I love the use of one room as the setting for all of the action.. it really gives one a sense of the history of the house watching the two different sets of people play out their lives, despite being in two different generations.

I hate when I discover great parts that I'm too old to play. Feels like finding an old love letter that was never opened and is now too late to act upon. Thomasina is one of those parts. Granted, when Jennifer Dundas did it at Lincoln Center, she was 24, but still.. I'm not getting my hopes up. The play is full of many wonderful characters - my favorites being Bernard in all his biting wit, and the turtles. Who doesn't love a good turtle? They're so cute, eating that lettuce.

The two women in the play that I had the least emotional response to - Hannah, and Lady Croom ended up having my two favorite lines. Lady Croom says nothing of importance for most of the play and then spouts out this beauty:
It is a defect of God's humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them.
Hannah, a researcher, is tightly-wound and a bit stuffy. While discussing topics of study with Valentine, the oldest son of the household, she makes the observation:
It's all trivial - ... Comparing what we're looking for misses the point. It's wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we're going out the way we came in. 
I think this applies to all of the characters in Arcadia. They are all searching for something - knowledge, love, recognition, fame.. and most get some or all of what they want. Stoppard takes religion, science, mathematics, love, and throws them all in the mix here, while managing to make the play a comedy.  No mean feat.

Saturday Play-a-day: Miss Lilly Gets Boned by Bekah Brunstetter

12.7.10

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

Wow. I feel a little drained reading this play. It was beautiful and sad .. there was so much humanity that it scared me at times. No one wants to think that they'll end up a failure. It's not what we're raised to believe.. life doesn't get worse, it gets better.. just give it time. Willy couldn't accept his reality and it killed him.

Salesman also made me think about how much language has changed over the years.. this was written in 1948 and there were lines that felt so foreign to me. I found myself looking up the definition of a few words, like I do when reading Shakespeare. On that note, at what point does a play graduate into "classic" territory? How old does it have to be to be considered classic rather than contemporary or even modern classic (which is a contradiction in terms, yes)..?

All in all, I thought that the play was brilliant, albeit depressing. Willy Loman seems to be a tour-de-force role of Shakespearean epicness.. I can see why so many men want to play him. It's one of those plays that I'd always meant to read and never got around to it.. I'm glad that I did. Though, I think I'll read a comedy next....

Friday Play-a-day: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

10.7.10

Betrayal

by Harold Pinter

Ah, Pinter. What a brilliant playwright you are. The structure of this play is so amazing - by going back in time we see how many layers there are to these relationships. We know who has a secret and when. I worked on a Jerry/Emma scene from this play in a class at ASF and as an exercise we read the other scenes in order of year - starting with the last scene of the play and working forward and it was a great exercise because the play could be done that way but Pinter chose to show the story in reverse. If you go in order of the years then you have a story of two people who have an affair and we see it break down. We aren't sure if this is a comedy or a drama. But, if you go backwards then you begin with the destruction and we watch what brought these two people to the edge. We know what we're getting into right from the beginning.

There is a moment in Scene Eight where this couple could have taken a very different path. Emma says to Jerry:
Tell me . . . have you ever thought . . . of changing your life?
Jerry
         Changing? 
Emma
         Mmnn.
(pause)

Jerry
         It's impossible.

In this moment, this beautiful Pinter pause, there are so many words. There are the thousands of possibilities that are racing through both Emma and Jerry's heads. There are the scenarios in which they play house, the simplicity of a life without kids, the fear of giving up life as they know it, the complexity of ending their current relationships. If Jerry had given her one glimmer of hope, they might have had a very different life. Instead, he denies all those other options and all those doors close. And true to Pinter fashion, it's all said in a pause.

Thursday Play-a-day: Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

9.7.10

Lend Me a Tenor

by Ken Ludwig

I'll never forget when I saw this play at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center years ago.. it was practically 100 degrees in the middle of summer and at the time the theatre had no air conditioning.. the actors were sweating bullets, the audience was stripping and using their programs as fans, and it was STILL one of the funniest shows I've ever seen (which is a great tribute to the play itself and especially to those dedicated actors!)

A good farce is a favorite among theatre-goers and I have to report that besides playing Juliet, the most fun I ever had on stage was doing Neil Simon's Rumors so I understand the appeal. This play has it all, mistaken identity, phony accents, six doors... complete with opera singing! And to top it all off, it's the story of an underdog. Max, our "hero" is charged with taking care of the legendary opera singer Tito Merelli as he makes his debut at the Cleveland Opera Company. Unfortunately, things go awry, leaving Tito supposedly "dead" and Max wearing his costume and makeup prepared to go onstage for him. This might sound like a nightmare to any amateurs out there, but lucky for us Max happens to have a gorgeous opera voice and the whole evening go off without a hitch. So much so that Max's own girlfriend, Maggie, doesn't recognize him! In fact, she is so moved by "Tito's" performance that she comes to his hotel room and the two of them end up in a passionate affair. At this time Tito, aka Max, says to Maggie, in a terribly wonderful Italian accent:
There are some, few moments when we done look back, and we done look ahead. And for that a-one moment, we have a-music, we have a-happiness, we have a-hope. Eh? That's all.
It is a beautiful moment because even though Maggie thinks she is having a romantic affair with a star, we know that she is in fact sleeping with her own boyfriend, so all is well. Eventually, all is resolved, and everyone is happy!

Has anyone seen the current Broadway revival? I'd love to hear your impressions of the show!

Wednesday Play-a-day: Betrayal by Harold Pinter

7.7.10

Reborning

by Zayd Dohrn

This play was sent to be by a friend when I was looking for good scenes between two women. It's a three-character play about a girl named Kelly who creates "reborn" dolls, meaning she paints dolls to look as humanly realistic as possible based on a photograph of her client's child. The story revolves around Kelly, her boyfriend Daizy ("hippie parents," he says) and Emily, a client of Kelly's. Most of the play focuses on Kelly's obsession with working on baby Eva, commissioned by Emily. She becomes OCD about making Eva more and more realistic and eventually convinces herself that Emily is actually her mother who abandoned her years ago and is using this doll as a way to make Kelly realize that she's come back for her. The play takes us to a dark side of grief and into a world of denial .. one of Kelly's clients goes so far as to push her "reborn baby" in a stroller at the mall.

When I Google'd the title of the play a list of links about the "reborning" process appeared - I was shocked at how realistic some of these dolls look. Apparently there is a lot of debate about how the dolls are used in the grieving process - whether they do more harm than good.. some people use the dolls to fill the void of a lost child and often they end up caring for the doll as if it were their child. For some these dolls help them to move on but some people never can move past it and the doll is a constant reminder of the child that is no longer around. That being said, some just collect the dolls as they would any other dolls. Reading this play, I learned about a niche market that I never knew existed. The characters are dynamic, the relationships are complicated, the subject matter is controversial. I dig it.

Tuesday Play-a-day: Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig

6.7.10

The Love List

by Norm Foster

My friend Jess suggested that I read this play and I'm so glad I did! Not only was it hilarious and a good bit of fun, but I also felt it commented on how men and women approach relationships, and expectations of our significant others. Basic premise - two men write out a "love list," a list of the top ten qualities desired in a mate.. lo and behold, that very night, our main character Bill's dream girl shows up and possesses all the things on the list. Not knowing anything about her, other than her seeming perfection, Bill basically allows her to move in. Then he starts noticing that if he changes qualities on the list, Justine (the gf) changes too. Obviously this weirds him out, but instead of getting rid of this crazy creature, he goes to the other extreme and tries to change all the qualities back to his perfect woman so that, ideally, he can leave the list alone and just enjoy his creation. Leon, his friend, accuses him of being like Dr. Frankenstein, but Bill doesn't seemed bothered by it, he's just happy to be in love. But Leon foresees the flaw in their relationship:
Think about it. We only wrote down the ten qualities you wanted in a woman. There was nothing negative on that list. You can't have a person who has no bad in them. Because it's not real. There is good and bad in everyone. That's what makes us human. That's what defines us. And keeping them properly balanced, that's our struggle. If we don't have that struggle, we have no purpose. Justine has no purpose. Her only reason for being here is to please you. You need some bumps, Bill. Those conundrums, those problems that you have to work out together. That's the give and take. That's the cement in the relationship. With Justine all you're going to be doing is taking.
And of course, he's right. What's beautiful about this play is Bill's journey. He thinks he's found this perfect woman and in a way she helps him by making him think about what he wants in a woman so that when she comes along (in the form of a colleague named Rachel) he mans up and asks her out, which is hopefully the beginning of a healthy and real relationship. Justine vanishes through the doorway with her perfect 10 co-worker Brian and they go off to imaginary cosmetic land while Bill and Leon take steps towards a happier future.

Monday Play-a-day: Reborning by Zayd Dohrn

5.7.10

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

by Steve Martin

This is a play that makes the audience feel smart. We know what happens to these men - Picasso, Einstein, Elvis - and therefore we are smarter than the characters. They are funny and don't even realize it. The play is more than a series of one-liners, however. There are some beautiful, almost poetical moments. Germaine seems to be a no-nonsense woman with a romantic side. She has my favorite line in the show:
His faults I can live with. And occasionally, occasionally, he says something so stunning I'm just glad to have been there.
The character of Sagot is mostly a selfish art dealer who is just looking to make a quick buck. But he has his moments of brilliance as well. He acquires a Matisse painting and explains to the bar crowd:
This is what makes it great. The boundaries. The edge. Otherwise, anything goes. You want to see a soccer game where the players can run up into the stands with the ball and order a beer? No. They've got to stay within the boundaries to make it interesting. In the right hands, this little space is as fertile as Eden.
An interesting comment on art in general, I think. There is freedom within the structure but the structure is there for a reason. It is necessary, if only for the opportunity to break away from that structure.. It's set in place and what you choose to do with it ..or without it, makes a statement.

Sunday Play-a-day: The Love List by Norm Foster

4.7.10

I Hate Hamlet

by Paul Rudnick

Having just finished working on a production of Hamlet, I was all giggles re-reading Rudnick's I Hate Hamlet. There are so many Shakespeare nerd jokes in here, as well as plenty for people who truly do hate Hamlet. I love the idea that "Every soul embarking upon Hamlet is permitted to summon an earlier player. From Burbage to Kean to Irving - " as Barrymore says to his young mentee Andrew. I like to think that this really does happen and that all the Hamlets of the world are just tight-lipped about it.. but behind closed doors there are old Hamlets fencing with new Hamlets in a boot-camp of Shakespearean tradition. Please don't ruin this idea for me with your "logic," okay world?

Barrymore is a deliciously over-the-top character and, I imagine, a joy to play. He says to Andrew later in the play:
in my prime - I faced the dragon. I accepted a role so insanely complex, so fantastic and impossible, that any attempt is only that - an attempt! And I stood in the light, before a crowd fully prepared to dismiss, to deride, and to depart. And I shook them, I wooed them, and I said, yes, you will stay, and yes, you will remember! And for one moment in my life, I used all that I knew, every shred of talent, every ounce of gall! I was John Barrymore! And for those sacred evenings, there was no shame. I played Hamlet!
Last year was the first time I had the desire to play Hamlet. Before that I'd always wanted to play Ophelia, I still do, but I felt the tug to play the prince himself when I was at an audition that asked me to prepare "O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt.." ...something happened as I worked on that speech -- I'd always appreciated Hamlet and felt for him and enjoyed watching other actors play him.. but in that audition room I felt connected to him. I understood why every actor wants to play him, and why every actor is afraid of him. His text, though heightened, is so relatable. So personal. ... I will most likely never be given the opportunity to play Hamlet, but that doesn't mean a girl can't dream. Ay, there's the rub :)

Saturday Play-a-day: Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin

2.7.10

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

by Edward Albee

In acting class the other day we were talking about the difference between two people who fight and two people who are in love who fight. How being in love changes the actions you play as you're fighting. This rang true for me as I read Albee's play.. the fact that this couple is so in love and so good together makes the last half of the play that much more heartbreaking and difficult to watch. Obviously the play tackles a few taboo ideas, but what struck me the most about the play was how Albee has managed to create characters who stay so true to themselves. Even though Martin knows that his having an affair with a goat is seen as "wrong" in the eyes of society, I got the impression that he believed at his core that he wasn't doing anything wrong. His hesitancy to tell his family about Sylvia is less due to shame and more due to the fact that he doesn't want to hurt this woman he loves so much. And certainly Stevie could have walked out very early on after finding out .. so I can only assume that her deep love is what keeps her rooted in that room, torturing herself by hearing the truth. Eventually she gets her revenge, in a shocking moment of Shakespearean visual brutality, and who can blame her?

I very much enjoyed reading this play.. despite it's difficult subject matter, I rooted for the characters and felt drawn in by their humanity.

Friday Play-a-day: I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick

The Wall of Water

by Sherry Kramer


Reading "The Wall of Water" was a bit like watching a romantic comedy. You know it'll end well but you have to get through all the zany antics of the main characters first. Luckily, Kramer's antics were quite entertaining. There are some great female roles in this piece - each with their own blend of "crazy." Naturally this made me think about the art of acting "crazy" .... how difficult it can be not to fall into the trap of playing AT something rather than crafting specific moments that might lend an outsider to think "That person is CRAzy." In a farce it can be especially hard, for there is little to no background information on, for example, why Wendi is emotionally disturbed - there is no information about why this character acts the way she does, instead we just see her acting insane and watch as she slowly comes back to reality. As an actor that is a great amount of freedom - you have the opportunity to create Wendi's entire life up until the start of the play - fill in all those little holes with things that affect YOU. Meg, however, is a little different - we KNOW why she goes crazy.. we watch her journey as she slips from sanity farther and farther into her confusion and frustration. Even the few male characters do not escape without their own zany moments. We've got Gig who literally turns into a God and starts floating up into the sky after eating the "food of the gods" cooked up by Wendi in one of her earlier looney moments. Before he goes immortal though, Gig "falls in love" with Denice, who is really pretending to be Judy. Denice isn't sure how to take this sudden outburst of love and doesn't know what to say. He responds:

WHO DOES!!! Everyone knows the words, but no one knows what to say. That is the paradox of language! All dressed up, and no place to go! That's why an approximate stab at knowing what to say is the best any of us can make.

This makes me think of Chekov and how so often the characters are feeling one thing but saying another, and how true that is of life. How difficult it can be to say what you really feel in the very moment that you really feel it. So many times I come up with the perfect thing to say, later that day or the next day, and how frustrating that is!! So, sometimes it's nice to be told what to say via a script. Although, even then, you have to ask, is that what I'm really feeling? What's underneath this line?

John, Wendi's nurse, has (in my opinion) the best line in the play. As he's consoling Jack, Meg's distraught boyfriend, he says:

Oh, isn't that the way it always is? You can't figure out why in hell everyone is acting like an asshole, and then it dawns on you - YOU'RE THE ASSHOLE! They're acting just fine.

This just made me laugh :)

Thursday Play-a-day: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? by Edward Albee

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