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26.8.10

Ridiculous Fraud

by Beth Henley

In college I played Babe in Crimes of the Heart and it was the most wonderful experience - rehearsals and performances were so rewarding and the ensemble was near and dear to my heart. So, naturally, I was super excited to read Henley's Ridiculous Fraud, which is similar in a few ways to Crimes except that this go-around we have three brothers who are getting themselves into trouble.

I wasn't nearly as moved by this play as I was with Crimes and more than a few times I was confused. For the Times review (which actually agrees with me.. or I .. with it.. ), click the title link above. BUT, for the most part, it is a very entertaining play. The brothers are so very different - Andrew, the oldest, is a small-time politician who envisions himself as a king. Kap is in the middle and is somewhat lost in the world. He's happiest when he's duck hunting. Lafcad, the youngest who changed his name from Laurence in order to honor a somewhat macabre 19-century journalist, calls off his own wedding at the beginning of the play and hides for the better part of the first scene.

Andrew is clearly the organized one. He says at the beginning:
I have a new theory. Everyone should sleep less. I go to bed fifteen minutes later and set my clock fifteen minutes earlier. You cannot imagine what can be done with three and a half extra hours in the week. That's fourteen hours a month. A whole day's worth of work on "things you don't have time for."
Yes, but then you're tired. I love sleep. I try not to love it as much as I do, but I just happen to need a lot of sleep. I always have, so I see your point character-in-play-but-also-voice-of-author, but I am gonna hit my snooze button and you can't make me stop!

Perhaps my favorite line, comes from the boys' uncle. He seems like a lost little man, one who bought a diamond ring for a street performer twenty+ years his junior. To his nephew he says:
I can't bear to talk to a sales person. They only want to sell you things and it's so upsetting. This buzzing comes into my ears and I pay whatever they want. Whatever they require I let them have it. 
Okay. I can relate to this. I'm gonna tell a story. So, my freshman year at NYU, being new to the city, I fell for this marketing trick where a guy or gal comes up to you and says, "Where do you get your hair done?" and he or she is dressed nicely and coiffed and you think, oh this person isn't homeless or asking me for money, they want to make me look good. WRONG. They DO want your money. And while it's not a scam, you basically buy an appointment at a salon and they throw in a free makeup session or a manicure, it still feels dirty because you're giving this stranger your credit card number on the street (or sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park after the salesman asks if he can take you to dinner). SO fast-forward six years! and what happens to me the other day? That's right, this guy says, "Hey yoga-girl, where do you get your hair done?" and basically cuts me off from crossing the street. And I said, "Oh, no thanks, I fell for this before." and I should have just kept walking but I said that and he JUMPED on it like all good salesmen and said, "Oh, well how was your experience? Who was it with? etc etc." and ten minutes later I've bought another one of these gd things with no desire to attend his salon! What is wrong with me?! Bottom line - he was one smooth talker and I better have a fierce haircut in the very near future.

Wednesday Play-a-day: Becky's New Car by Steven Dietz

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

by Alan Ball

Ah, the dreaded bridesmaid dress. Not being a bride myself, I can only assume that all brides strive to pick something classy that everyone will like, but when you have women of varying tastes it's very nearly impossible. By placing his five main characters in the same dress, Ball allows us to see the differences among these women. Their individual personalities are even more pronounced.

All five women, for different reasons, are avoiding the reception. They take refuge in one room where they discuss life, love, jealousy, past, future.. all those good, juicy things.

Surprisingly, I didn't find myself really relating to one character. I laughed at some of them, I agreed with some of them, but I didn't think, oh that one's me. I did like one of Mindy's speeches - she is the most sheltered of the women and is shy at first, but once she does speak up she is quick to share her opinions about the world. She says to the other women:
These women who are willing to have their lips poofed up and their tits inflated and their ribs removed? I mean, come on. That sounds like a Nazi war experiment. Those ribs are there for a reason. And that fat sucking thing? I'm sorry. There is something desperately wrong with a culture which encourages people to go to such extremes. We think we are so civilized. But we're just as barbaric as those Aztec guys who played soccer with human heads.
Ooh, topical, topical. I loved that in this play we never met the bride. We hear about her but we never actually meet her character. I think that's great. Because for once, it's all about the bridesmaids.

Tuesday Play-a-day: Ridiculous Fraud by Beth Henley

19.8.10

Quills

by Doug Wright

This seems to me to be the perfect play to perform for Halloween.

Is it a bad sign that many, many quotes from this play spoke to me?

Quills is about the Marquis de Sade - the foulest man in France. It takes place mostly in the prison (asylum) where the Marquis resides. It is the story of the slow destruction of a man, or more specifically a man's art. The people in charge of the asylum disapprove of the nature of the Marquis' stories and attempt to silence him in many ways. The Marquis' wife, who is shunned by society, yet still hopelessly in love with her husband visits the doctor to discuss her husband's care. She is informed that they feel that if he writes his stories down then he will be cured of his evil nature, purging his thoughts on to paper. She is surprised by this method:
I had no idea that art offered salvation from madness. I was of the opinion that most artists are, themselves, quite deranged.
Har. Har. Alas, how wrong the doctors were. The Marquis' prose does not become more and more reserved, as his jailers had hoped. Instead, they become bawdier. He writes tales of religious men turned depraved, saying:
What evils a man can commit when reason demurs to lust!
The only ounce of purity in his devilish life comes in the form of his seamstress, Madeleine. He loves her, not with brute force as he has no doubt in the past, but from the heart. She tells him:
Some things belong on paper, others in life. It's a blessed fool who can't tell the difference.
That being said, she and her mother heartily enjoy his tales of debauchery. Even taking it upon themselves to act them out in their free time. Eventually the Abbe of the asylum has had enough. He comes to confiscate the Marquis' paper and books, realizing that what he thought would cure this man has only made things worse. The Marquis is outraged and makes a convincing argument:
Must we record only those phenomena that ennoble us as creatures? What unites us, my precious? Common language? A universal God? Shared codes of law and conduct? No. These vary from one population to the next. Fads and habits, nothing more! Did you know, heavenly man, that in France a husband with six wives would be executed, while in darkest Borneo that same man would be crowned king? ... Primal desire - that's unchanging!
The Abbe is not swayed from his mission, however. He instructs the Marquis to read to pass the time, jibing:
A writer who produces more than he reads - the sure mark of an amateur. 
The Marquis, being without paper, pen or ink, resorts to writing on the bed linens in wine. Outraged, the Abbe and head doctor decide that more drastic measures must be taken to silence his wit. The Abbe, being a religious man, is hesitant to use violence but ultimately accepts:
And so he learns to fear punishment, rather than to pursue virtue for its own reward.
You'd think that they would realize that the Marquis is exactly the kind of guy who'd totally dig his own torture. I mean, sure it hurts, but to him it hurts so good. His motto:
In conditions of adversity, the artist thrives.
They strip his room of all linens and curtains, cut him off of wine, and de-bone his meat so that he will have nothing to fashion into a writing utensil. This doesn't stop the Marquis! He pricks his fingers and writes his stories on his clothes in his own blood. Madeleine, who does the laundry, discovers the chapters and when questioned by the Abbe about them, says:
Some men aren't mad at all. We only think them so, because their genius so far exceeds our own.
The Abbe then strips the Marquis of all his clothing, angered more and more at his continual failure to prevent the Marquis from writing. The Marquis is delighted at how effective his writing is. He thrills at the rise that it provokes in the Abbe. When the Abbe thunders at him that he will no longer write even his own name he responds:
Tsk, tsk, tsk. Are your convictions so fragile that mine cannot stand in opposition to them? is your God so illusory that the presence of my Devil reveals His insufficiency? Oh, for shame!
Now, with truly nothing left with to write, the Marquis resort to whispering his stories through the cells from one lunatic to another in the hopes that Madeleine will hear them and put them down on paper. His idea has catastrophic results when one madman, inspired by the Marquis' tale, kills Madeleine. This hits the Marquis deeply and it is the one vulnerable moment in the show.

The Abbe realizes that the time has come to do what he dreads. He cuts out the Marquis' tongue. Then he cuts off his fingers and toes. The doctor is concerned that the one thing they haven't cut off is his brain activity. The Marquis can still create, even if he has no way to express it, and therefore is not cured. The Abbe says:
I dare say, Doctor, we can't control his thoughts. We can only mute their expression.
Then he catches on that the doctor wants to kill the Marquis. The Abbe refuses, saying:
Violence in pursuit of pleasure is one thing. In pursuit of Justice it's another. 
But ultimately he succumbs and cuts off the Marquis' head. And to his own terror he discovers that he felt pleasure when committing these acts of violence. With the death of the Marquis, the men feel they are safe, and society is safe. But not even death can stop the devilish writer. His fingers, toes, and head, all in separate boxes, wriggle to life in the final image of the play, and we hear the Marquis' voice as he constructs his next tale.

It is a wonderfully horrific tale of murder, depravity, and love, which borders on the absurd. I saw the movie a few years ago and remember loving it, but I think I like the stage version even better. There are some moments that are just more powerful when seen in live performance. Those almost magical elements that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Then there are the moments where you think, how the hell are they gonna stage that?

Monday Play-a-day: Five Women Wearing the Same Dress by Alan Ball

18.8.10

Tape

by Stephen Belber

At the urgent request of my friend Tobin (read: angry text messages/twitter urgings) I decided to read Tape. This is another play that I have read before but had remembered little of the details (perhaps because they are not memorable? Just kidding Mr. Moss.)

I choose my plays mostly at random, depending on what's speaking to me that day, but I somehow end up reading them in themes... this week I've stumbled upon plays that speak to old friends coming back into your life after an extended amount of time away... for better or worse. In The Country Club you could argue that things end well (if compromising is ending well) but in Tape things aren't quite so happy.

The story centers on two guys, meeting up at a film festival ten years after graduating high school, during which they both dated the same girl - Amy. Through some tough pressuring, Vince coerces a confession out of his friend Jon that he actually raped Amy at the end of senior year. He records the conversation and threatens to give the tape to Amy, now an assistant district attorney, in SURPRISE! the same town as the film festival. Jon panics but before he can get the tape back, Amy arrives at the hotel to take Vince to dinner. She sees the place is a mess and that Vince has clearly been drinking. He tells her to shove off but she says:
It's only because I care about you. You were my first boyfriend. It's inevitable. You could turn into a dirty old man and I'd still care.
Why is that so true? I think the first person you feel love for becomes such an important part of who you are.

As the play goes on we learn that Amy doesn't believe she was raped. Though Jon firmly believes he raped her and feels remorse for his actions (but only now, ten years later). How interesting/frightening to think that one intimate act could be interpreted so differently. And yet, we have to wonder if Amy is telling the truth. It's quite ambiguous in the play and could ultimately be left up to the actress and director - it could be played that she's lying through her teeth and her true feelings are revealed in her outburst to Jon or it could be played that she truly feels it was consensual sex and when she digs into Jon it's only to prove some point to Vince.

Even more interesting to me is the optional prologue and epilogue. They are both organized at the end of the main play and in the note from the author he encourages us to use both or neither when performing the play. I'm not crazy about the prologue - which basically dramatizes the party at which the "rape" took place. The epilogue, however, is interesting to me, because we see some growth in the characters. Vince is somewhat redeemed from the drinking, brute of a guy we first see him as. His deep love for Amy still haunts him fifteen years after high school and he says via voicemail to Jon:
I've been in love with her for seventeen years, Jon. I have. And just because it started in high school, does that make it wrong? If a person strips away everything about them that's stupid... down to where only the fundamental feelings are left... and those feelings are the same as they were when they first met, then aren't they legitimate?
Ultimately I would argue that this is Vince's play. Even though the sexual act occurred between Jon and Amy, what is most interesting is the vulnerability this causes in Vince. He carries it with him for more than a decade and attempts to get revenge. As in most revenge plays (uh, anyone see Hamlet?) things don't really end well. Especially if you leave off the epilogue. At least no one dies in this one!

Sunday Play-a-day: Quills by Doug Wright

The Country Club

by Douglas Carter Beane

I grew up in Pennsylvania and since college, I've been back once a year at Christmas (sometimes only for a day).. It's not that I didn't like PA, it was a great place a grow up, it's just that I've moved on and my life isn't there anymore. I understand how Soos, the main character, feels about returning "home." It's a strange feeling to go back after being gone for so long and fitting in with those friends who have missed whole chapters of your life. Soos goes back to PA after a failed relationship to take a break, but ends up staying much longer than she intended. Her friends give her a hard time about it and tease her that she's never going to leave. She says:
I've been here just long enough that the outside world seems frightening again.
She falls back into comfortable patterns, including a rekindled relationship with Zip, a guy she dated in high school. He eventually leaves her to have an affair with his best friend's new wife, Chloe. Even that turns sour, as Chloe claims "I don't want to go to hell." Zip responds:
There is no hell. Only people in love. That's the only hell.
The world of the play is a very upper-crust country club and includes the prejudices and attitudes that go along with that territory. Pooker puts it in the best terms:
Chloe is sleeping with Zip, Barb is in love with Mitch Williams, Mitch Williams is gay, P.J. keeps attempting suicide over Prescott, I have a boyfriend that isn't cute whom I love, Sketchy is bankrupt, Icky has cancer, Froggy is filled with terror, Hutch is a drunk, Bri has an ulcer, Ginny has a mixed marriage that's on the rocks, Bags is frequenting prostitutes, and you're never leaving Wyomissing, no matter how much you say you are. We all have our little stories. And no one brings them up. that's what's known as community spirit. 
The characters are eccentric and the story is based on a series of parties, during which lives are toyed with, demolished, and restored. I feel like I know these people. The play reminds me of my favorite quote from The Great Gatsby:
"I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."
All of these characters know each other and each other's business so well that there truly is no privacy. That's part of the reason I was happy to come to New York - much more privacy amongst all the flurry of activity.

Saturday Play-a-day: Tape by Stephen Belber

17.8.10

Private Lives

by Noel Coward

What better to read after Moon Over Buffalo than the very play that is so destroyed by drunken George! What a lovely little comedy.. it feels very modern to me, even though it was written in the early 20th century. Amanda spouts out the premise early on:
I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives. It all depends on a combination of circumstances. If all the various cosmic thingummies fuse at the same moment, and the right spark is struck, there's no knowing what one mightn't do.
Reminds me of Midsummer - a little magic and anything is possible.

Easily my favorite line:
Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.
You know how you'll hear a song and it's got the worst, most repetitive lyrics, but you just can't help but dance? And then it's stuck in your head forever? So potent.

This play made me think about relationships that are full of passion, including the highs and lows, versus those that are tame but reliable. Amanda and Elyot have a tumultuous relationship full of intense love and violent fights. This seems unhealthy, but I can't help but feel that I would prefer it to something predictable and boring. The two of them were married but they divorced and then each married someone else. On their honeymoons (which happen to be in the same hotel) they rekindle their love and leave their new spouses. Guilt starts to get to the couple and Elli says:
Infinitely worse than any cruelty in the world, pretending to love them, and loving each other, so desperately. 
Real life is messy. Not every relationship is the American Dream and not everyone gets it right the first time. That doesn't mean they love each other less just because they had to leave each other to realize how right they were together.
 Things that ought to matter dreadfully, don't matter at all when one's happy, do they?
Here's to love - in all its forms - messy and terrifying and wonderful. It's love "as you like it."

Friday Play-a-day: The Country Club by Douglas Carter Beane

15.8.10

Moon Over Buffalo

by Ken Ludwig

Everybody loves a good farce. This reminded me a lot of Noises Off with the crazy backstage antics that occur when producing shows (especially in rep!). Carol Burnett played the leading lady in the original production and I can only imagine how wonderful she must have been. The story centers on a group of theatre artists who are performing Cyrano and Private Lives in rep in Buffalo, NY. The two stars are older actors who never quite made it and are somewhat bitter about it. They get word that a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and through a series of miscommunications and unfortunate events all hell breaks loose! This play is sure to be a crowd pleaser, much like Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor.

George, the male lead got his young co-star pregnant - a fact that his wife, Charlotte is unaware of. Paul, the renaissance man of the group, tries to formulate a plan to keep George out of trouble:
Alright, all right. Let me think... Okay. Now listen. ... Eileen could have the baby... in the country. With a relative, like an aunt or something. And we won't tell Charlotte, ever! And... you could take trips every few months and ... and visit them in the country, and have picnics! And then, when the baby is like... ten years old, you could cast her as the Page in Much Ado About Nothing, and you could put on shows together!
Before this BRILLIANT plan can be put into effect, Charlotte finds out about the baby and storms out of the theatre, driving George to drink. Their daughter, Rosalind justifies his actions:
He only drinks when he's under great stress. The night I went out on my first date, he drank an entire bottle of vermouth. Then he followed me around disguised as an Irishman. It was like being stalked by Eugene O'Neill.
The cast rallies together and pull off the most ridiculous matinee perform of Private Lives ever to be seen on the stage. George is drunk and wearing his Cyrano costume and eventually falls into the pit. The rest of the cast are covering for him left and right - the show falls to pieces but the audience finds it hilarious! Post-show, the actors are relieved to find that the movie director got held up at the airport and will be seeing the evening show, giving George time to sober up. Charlotte threatens to leave for good and give up the theatre. George tells her:
You're an actress, Charlotte. It's in your veins. If you were caught in the spotlight of a runaway train, you'd break into a time step. There are people out there in the darkness that are living through you. Dreaming of what they can be through your voice.
I can't decide if it's romantic or sad that we go to the theatre or the movies to escape into another life. Regardless, each show is a journey - both for the actors and for the audience, and Moon Over Buffalo is the kind of play that allows you a glimpse of a life behind the curtain.. and for all its extremity, stranger things have happened backstage!

Thursday Play-a-day: Private Lives by Noel Coward

13.8.10

Desdemona: a play about a handkerchief

by Paula Vogel

Is it a surprise that I like this play?

Vogel has given us an entirely new vision of these three immortal women, much like Stoppard does in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead ... outside of the world of Shakespeare's play, they have a whole different life - the main plot points of Othello are all still there, but we get a "behind-the-scenes" feel of what the women might be discussing behind closed doors. And boy do we get a bawdy Desdemona. In Vogel's play she is every bit the harlot that Othello suspects, though she has slept with nearly everyone but the one guy he thinks - Cassio. At the top, she feels no shame for her adultery and has every confidence in her marriage. She says to Emilia:
I'm the sort that will die in bed.
Wink.

A difference between this play and R&G is that we hear much of the other characters but we never see them onstage. They play a vital role, albeit in the wings. I love Desdemona's description of Iago and Emilia to Bianca. She says:
You know the one then - the greasy little man. He's been spilling his vinegar into her for fourteen years of marriage until he's corroded her womb from the inside out - and every day she becomes more and more hallowed out, just - just a vessel of vinegar herself.
Ouch. Great imagery, but terrible too.

What I love about this play is that it breathes new life into these characters - and while I, personally, don't think this Desdemona would necessarily work in Shakespeare's world (though that would certainly be an interesting production), I was thoroughly entertained by Vogel's creation.

Wednesday Play-a-day: Moon Over Buffalo by Ken Ludwig

Come Back, Little Sheba

by William Inge

All of these Inge plays are starting to run together in my mind! This was actually the first time where I had to scan my posts to see if I'd already written about it because as I began reading I realized that I had read it not too long ago. I have not yet chronicled my reaction, however, and so now I shall! There is a lot of antithesis in this play - most obviously with the character of Doc. His shifts from sober to alcoholic and back again are incredibly dynamic. This is not my favorite Inge play, though I did find it interesting having just read The Dark at the Top of the Stairs yesterday, I found myself thinking of the characters of Marie and Bruce as the younger versions of Cora and Rubin from Dark.. Not much else to say about the play. It didn't leave too lasting of an impression on me, obviously, since I thought I hadn't read it! I interpreted the title differently this time - Sheba is Lola's dog who went missing but I think what Lola is really longing for every time she calls out for Sheba is her own long lost youth, that can never be regained. Ooh, deep, Lauren. All in all, the play is worth a look - though tomorrow I need to read something where the women have a little more backbone!

Don't forget to click the link of the Title for a surprise relating to the play!

Tuesday Play-a-day: Desdemona, a play about a handkerchief  by Paula Vogel

11.8.10

The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

by William Inge

I can't imagine this play is done very often. It's very "of its time" and doesn't shed too much light on things that are relevant today. Also some things are just offensive. That being said, I did like reading it. I have a fondness for period pieces. Something about the language seems romanticized in a way.. not that it is all roses and cream but that you can learn so much from the way a person speaks and in a play like this, it's just old enough that we don't talk that way anymore.

So basic plot - we've got a troubled marriage - passionate but violent, between Cora and Rubin.. their children, Sonny and Reenie are outcasts in a way.. Cora's sister Lottie is married to Morris but they don't have any passion in their marriage. Then there is the mysterious stranger Sammy who comes to take Reenie to the dance. It's set in the '20s .. there's a flapper. Hard times, blah blah.

So what is the dark at the top of the stairs? Well, my two cents.. each of the characters has a secret fear that is revealed in some way during the play. Sonny is plain scared of the dark. Cora realizes that her sister's marriage isn't as happy as she thought it was. Sammy kills himself. (oops Spoiler Alert) So, in that way, I feel that the fear that resides in the back of your mind, the thing you're too afraid to say out loud or tell your husband or teach your child.. that fear is the darkness and by saying that fear out loud each character takes ownership of his trouble and creates a change in his world. Be it for better or worse, who knows, since the play ends, but certainly for Cora and Rubin things end much better than they started. They confronted the darkness in themselves and it brought them back together.

Monday Play-a-day: Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge

The Metal Children

by Adam Rapp


Wow. I was captivated by this play. If I were a writer I would be scared to death to put anything out into the world. If "Inception" has taught us anything it's that the mere seed of an idea can take on a life of its own. The same is true of a novel, or a play, or a love letter. So many characters read so many things into novelist Tobin's work of fiction - The Metal Children. He says at one point that even he doesn't fully understand the book he's written, but everyone from the local religious leaders, to the free-thinking teenagers, to the spirited English teacher has come up with deep meanings for even the smallest of moments within the work of fiction. So much so, that the town begins to recreate the action of the book. It becomes a very violent world in this small midwestern town and everyone, especially Tobin is at risk. At one point, the most vocal of the book's supporters, 16-year old Vera says to a crowd of onlookers:
To remove art from a culture is to name that culture dead!
While I agree with her sentiment, the actions that are taking place in the name of "art" are heinous. Teens are getting pregnant to prove a point, a girl is murdered, the author himself is stabbed.. whether the characters are for or against the book there no longer seems to be a line of common decency. Ideas are not debated in a battle of wits, but shot down with the use of a Porky Pig mask and serrated knife. It is a vicious world that Rapp has created. He took a personal experience (with his own work for young adults The Buffalo Tree) and pushed it to the extreme to show us as a society just how powerful words are. In the age of technology and 3D images as large as your house, this play is a not-so-subtle reminder that sometimes the most powerful ideas come in the small form of the printed word. Vera says to Tobin:

Good fiction teaches a reader how to develop the instrument that becomes the voice in his or her head. The words are absorbed purely, without music or three-dimensional imagery. As a reader you construct the world of the book with the author. ... The novel gets at your thought ten times more powerfully than the stuff on TV.
The imagination is an incredibly strong instrument that, these days, unfortunately, is not often given the chance to fully flourish. All across America school programs in the arts are being cut or downsized in favor of stronger math/science programs. While I feel that these logic-based subjects are very important to the future of our country, how can we expect to form the next generation of great minds without allowing the OTHER SIDE OF THE BRAIN to be exercised? Great ideas come from creativity. Thinking OUTSIDE the box will solve the problems of the future, curing cancer and finding a solution for world peace. If we teach our children and young adults to think only one way then we will receive only one solution to our many complex dilemmas. While this play does not deal with arts education, I feel that it is a valid topic to throw into the mix with the banning of books. Limiting creative expression, whether it be in the form of reading a novel, or having the chance to take a dance class or perform in a play will ultimately limit us as Americans. And nobody wants that. Support America - Support the Arts!



Sunday Play-a-day: The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Inge

9.8.10

Jumpers

by Tom Stoppard

This play is smarter than I am.

I am not ashamed to admit it. Stoppard - you are a master, and I would need to do a lot of research to get all the jokes in this play. That being said, on a first read, I did very much enjoy it.

It is set in a bizarre sense of reality where the line between Church and State is a bit blurred. Also, most public officials seem to be acrobats as well. You will have to read it to begin to understand (when the back jacket is confusing to you, you know you're in for something complex).

George, a professor of philosophy, is married to Dorothy, a retired musical theatre star, who may or may not have shot someone last night. Her doctor (lover?) Archie, who dabbles in many trades, is at the house almost every day "treating" Dorothy's symptoms, much to her husband's dismay. There are multiple "jumpers" (acrobats) who backflip and flop around the place, and watch your feet or you might step on Thumper or Pat, a hare and tortoise, respectfully. At the top, George is dictating to his mute (<-- should have been a clue) secretary his upcoming speech on the existence of a higher being. A line that struck me:
In practice, people admit a Creator to give authority to moral values, and admit moral values to give point to the Creation.
Throughout his speeches, George brings up the problem of where things begin. The chicken or the egg? The circular nature of scientific and theological questions - with answers leading to more questions ad nauseam. In fact, George asks SO many questions throughout the play that it left my brain a little fuzzy. Something else he said struck me:
Even the most generalized truth begins to look like special pleading as soon as you trap it in language. 
I often feel that words are a trivial way to describe emotion, or an event - I find myself searching for the words to describe something and having to settle. Some feelings cannot be described appropriately. Except perhaps with backflips and cartwheels.

Saturday Play-a-day: The Metal Children by Adam Rapp

8.8.10

In the Next Room or, the vibrator play

by Sarah Ruhl

There is a wonderful innocence about this piece. I am discovering that I really love Sarah Ruhl.. She is fast becoming one of my new favorite playwrights! I loved this play - very funny and smart.. the business with the costumes alone, all that buttoning and unbuttoning is very humorous.

Continuing with the hysteria trend (see yesterday's post) Ruhl writes about the influence of electricity on modern medicine. Women diagnosed with hysteria, so almost ALL women in the Victorian age, were treated using a vibrating machine to release their "tensions," and thus their symptoms. The story focuses on a doctor who administers this treatment, his wife, and his patients. While there are many funny moments in the play, the ones that touched me the most were the moments of purity. Dr. Givings (a not-so-subtle name) has one male patient, by the name of Leo. After his date with electricity, Leo says to the doctor's wife:
Look at the snow, out the window. do you not think, Mrs. Givings, that snow is always kind? Because it has to fall slowly, to meet the ground slowly, or the eyelash slowly - And things that meet each other slowly are kind.
A moment that has little to do with the action of the play, but a beautiful one that allows us to see into the soul of his character. He is charming and a romantic and so, naturally, an artist. He says:
I have loved enough women to know how to paint. If I had loved fewer, I would be an illustrator; if I had loved more, I would be a poet. 
What attracts me to Ruhl's writing are those poetic moments. The moments that take a natural situation to the supernatural, that elevate it in some way. I look forward to reading more of her work!

Friday Play-a-day: Jumpers by Tom Stoppard

6.8.10

Hysteria

by Terry Johnson

I can always tell the mark of a good movie when I begin to relate it to everything around me. I recently saw "Inception" (along with the rest of the world) and loved it! I am also an avid "Mad Men" viewer and read an article about how "Inception" and "Mad Men" are telling the same story - read it here. An interesting thought, to say the least. Now, let's throw into the mix Johnson's Hysteria! Now what do all these things have in common, you ask? They all, in some form or another deal with the unconscious. In Johnson's brilliant dark comedy, Freud says:
In the unconscious there is no actual reality. Truth cannot be distinguished from emotional fiction.
Case in point - almost the entire action of "Inception." What I loved most about that film was how much I could relate to it. I have always been a big dreamer. My dreams more often than not are TERRifying. I have woken up crying; I have woken up and needed to wait 5 minutes before falling back to sleep so as not to slip back into the dream; I have woken up and thought that my dream was reality. When they're not scary, they are downright weird. Not unlike the end of Hysteria. The play slides into a surrealist nightmare as we realize that we are in Freud's own unconscious just before (or perhaps after?) his death. It's a beautiful, moving, FUNNY play about one of the most controversial, intelligent men of his time.

Freud's own Daddy-issues (ahemDonDraper) lead to his destruction in this play. They are the one thing too terrible to face, and even on his deathbed he cannot admit the darkness in his own family. Is this his own personal hell? To Jessica, a woman who has come to confront Freud, he says:
The young may speak what the old cannot bear to utter.
She is quick to respond:
Because I can articulate these things does not mean I am able to bear them.
Our dreams are a place where anything can happen. Quite often that is too much for our conscious mind. I always try to remember my dreams as much as possible in order to confront what I might be afraid of. Though, I wouldn't object to Leo spending some time in my unconscious.

Thursday Play-a-day: In the Next Room or, the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl

5.8.10

Collected Stories

by Donald Margulies

Reading Collected Stories reminded me of just how similar the different art mediums really are.. Many of the lines in the play that struck me, did so because they resonated with me as an actor. Even though the characters are talking about writing, if you substitute a few words you could easily have a play about singing, or dancing, or performance art. This reminds me that we are all striving for the same thing - truth, and meaning.

The basic plot is that Ruth, an established well-respected writer, is coaching a young grad student, Lisa, on her latest piece. They are in Ruth's home and Lisa is overwhelmed with nerves and excitement and insecurity. Ruth tries to instill in her the idea that no one can give you the answer - you have to find it for yourself. She says:
You're going to have to decide for yourself what is useful criticism and what is not. I'm not a doctor, you know, I don't dispense prescriptions: If you do such-and-such and such-and-such, your story will be perfect. It doesn't work that way.
This is true of all art. There is no "right" answer.. there is work that moves you, spiritually, emotionally, physically, what have you.. and work that does not. You have to be your own judge. Or as my lovely acting teacher says, "You are your own bullshit meter." Meaning only you know when you're bullshitting and when you're being truthful.

Ruth continues:
The good ones ask the right questions; that's the key. 
While there may not be right answers, there are questions that provoke us as actors, writers, fill-in-the-blank, to push us in a direction that inspires. A good teacher/mentor/director will know what questions to ask, or will be inspired by our work and questions will arise. On that same note, ideally questions arise for us, the artist, as well. Something will linger in the back of our minds until it infuses itself in the work.

In answering a question about what she's working on next, Lisa begins to tell the basic story she's writing. Ruth interrupts her:
Don't tell me about it, write it, I don't want to hear it. Telling takes away the need to write it. It relieves the pressure. And once that tension dissipates, so does the need to relieve it. First write it, then we'll talk about it.
This makes me think of the work of the actor. Since we as humans are constantly evolving, the things that move us or upset us or anger us are also changing. Therefore, something that provokes me to sorrow one day may not be as potent the next. The pressure may have been relieved. It's no longer working. So, I have to adapt my meanings within the work so that they elicit the response that is desired every time.

I can't help but think that as Margulies was writing this play he was winking at the audience in much the way Shakespeare does in Hamlet's "Speak the speech.." .. is this not a clue to actors and other playwrights:
We must never be arbitrary. There is so much goddamn arbitrariness in the world, we mustn't let it seep into our stories. We mustn't devalue our stories with flippancy. That would be the death of us all.
Subtle, right? I love it. :) I leave you with my favorite line in the play, as food for thought.
But the fact remains you still have to do the work and you still have to put up with assholes. Only now doing the work will be harder, and the assholes you'll have to put up with'll be of a slightly higher-echelon of assholes. And, that, as far as I can tell, is the definition of success.
Wednesday Play-a-day: Hysteria by Terry Johnson

3.8.10

An Error of the Moon

by Luigi Creatore

Another play I had the pleasure of reading before an audition, this is the story of the brothers Booth - both actors, one famous for his art and one infamous for his crime. It's a love triangle of sorts - Edwin is married to Mary, whom he suspects is having an affair with his brother John. The play spans the time from just before Edwin marries to Mary to just before John kills President Lincoln. It's an interesting experience, since we all know what happens at the end, to see how these brothers relate to each other and what a charming, funny guy John was before he became a criminal. It reminds us of the "crime of passion" - one done out of a strong belief that leads the committer to an extreme action.

John is passionate about the cause in the South and wants to fight for the Confederate Army. His plan is to capture President Lincoln and to hold him as a prisoner. Edwin warns him about the dangers of war and tries to encourage him to stay at home and work his craft. He says:
A corpse doesn't take bows, Johnny.
John is not easily dissuaded and goes off to fight. Meanwhile, Mary becomes ill and Edwin is driven further into alcoholism. It's a dramatic tale of love and passion, of all sorts. To see how it ends, I encourage you all to go check it out! It will be playing off-Broadway very soon! For more info visit: http://www.anerrorofthemoon.com/

Tuesday Play-a-day: Collected Stories by Donald Margulies

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