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30.10.10

Lascivious Something

by Sheila Callaghan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tee-hee.

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

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

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

26.10.10

Weekend Comedy

by Jeanne and Sam Bobrick

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

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

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

Tomorrow's Play: Lascivious Something by Sheila Callaghan

The Agony and the Agony

by Nicky Silver

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

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

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

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

God

by Woody Allen

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

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

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


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

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

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

How I Learned to Drive

by Paula Vogel

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

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


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


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

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

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

Tomorrow's Play: God by Woody Allen

18.10.10

House of Blue Leaves

by John Guare

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

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

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

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

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

13.10.10

Four Dogs and a Bone

by John Patrick Shanley

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

And now.......

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

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

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

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

12.10.10

Eurydice

by Sarah Ruhl

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

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

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

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

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

11.10.10

Mauritius

by Theresa Rebeck

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

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

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

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

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

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


WTE Theatre presents
Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tomorrow's Play: Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl

Dancing at Lughnasa

by Brian Friel

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow's Play: Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck

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

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