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10.12.11

boom

by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb

2012 is exactly 19 days away. Are you prepared?

Okay, so, fine, the world is always "ending." And most of the time it just ends up being another day, no matter the build-up (Y2K anyone?) but in boom the world actually is ending, according to marine biologist Jules.
Nuah Ozryel and Molly Gray in boom

The play opens on Jules' lab/apartment where Jo, a journalism student, has joined Jules after answering his online ad for "intensely significant coupling." But things aren't quite what they seem..

Jules has stocked up on everything from bourbon to toilet paper, tampons to diapers, because this isn't just your average booty call via craigslist.. This is your "the world is ending and I need you to help me repopulate it" kind of booty call. I guess if he wrote that in the ad he might not get a response.

Naturally, Jo is a little skeptical. I mean, is this just the guy from those Rapture subway ads? (Why did they leave those up so long afterwards?) Jules explains that after studying the sleeping patterns of fish while on a desert island, he has come to the conclusion that the earth is going to be hit by a large meteorite. His lab, conveniently, was built to be a bomb shelter. Add some toiletries, food, a smokin hot chick, some little fish and voila - survival of mankind forevermore.

There's just the little problem of Jules being a homosexual.

Jo: You're a fag.
Jules: You shouldn't make assumptions based on that.
Jo: I'm assuming that you fuck men.
Jules: That doesn't mean I wouldn't be able to with a woman.
Jo: Have you ever?
Jules: No.


What follows is a pressure-cooker of desperation, fear, vulnerability, lust, and fish.


boom is a hilarious and thought-provoking glimpse into a potential not-so-distant future when man's only hope relies on two people who met via the internet.


Heather Meagher, Molly Gray, and Nuah Ozryel in boom
Sound like a play you might enjoy? You're in luck! boom is currently being produced by Blowout Theatre Company!



Performances are Dec 15-17 at 7:30pm. 

Buy tickets now http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/214108 or pay at the door.

Starring:
Nuah Ozryel
Molly Gray
Heather Meagher 

Direction: Kerry Kastin
Set Design: Chesapeake Westveer
Light Design: Liz Blessing
Costume Design: Katelin Lee
Sound Design: Peter André

Tomorrow's Play: Cymbeline by William Shakespeare




3.10.11

The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - Ties That Bind

by Robert Schenkkan

From one land squabble to another. Less Princes in this story, though.

The year is 1819. Michael Rowen's son Patrick is now 43, with two sons of his own. On this particular day Patrick is paid a visit by the Circuit Court, who has come to collect his debts. Poor Patrick is bankrupt. I guess you can kill your father and inherit his land but you better watch out for that sneaky bugger - karma! He tries to explain to the Judge why he can't pay off his debts:
I tried! But them bastards changed the rules on me! Look here, I bought that land with paper money, Bank of Kentucky money - good as gold, they told me. Then two years later they won't take their own money! Told me to chink the logs in my house with it, light ceegars, or wipe my ass - all they wanted now was hard coin.
Basically, his money has been devalued and now he can't pay his debts. SO, this guy, Jeremiah BOUGHT his debt from the bank and now Patrick owes everything (literally) to him. Naturally, Patrick is frustrated:
When we was fightin' I was doin' fine - it's peace that's killin' me! Hell, I thought we won the war! Look to me like I'da been better off if we'da lost the damn thing! 
He has done a lot to keep this land. Most of it illegal, but nevertheless he has worked it hard and, in his mind, increased its value. Jeremiah isn't a man "of the land" and, noticing this, Patrick strikes a deal that he and his sons will work the land for him to pay off the remainder of what he owes. It's the one thing about which he is truly passionate:
IT AIN'T JUST DIRT! It's land. It's a live thing. It's got moods and tricks and secrets like me or you or any other living thing. Man who farms and don't know that, he gonna bust out quick, 'cause the land, it don't tolerate no fools. 
As I was reading this play, I decided that my dream casting of Patrick would be Terry O'Quinn..
On my land, don't nobody tell me what I can and cannot do! YOU HEAR ME! NOBODY! 
Need I say more? Le sigh. I love me some John Locke. And strangely enough, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch from LOST to TKC.  Revival, anyone?

Tomorrow's Play: boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb

26.9.11

King John

by William Shakespeare

Okay, I have to take a break from The Kentucky Cycle to write about another play I've read recently, and actually saw live tonight -- Shakespeare's rarely done King John. I'm inspired to blog about this play because a wonderful young company that I worked with last year the New York Shakespeare Exchange is doing a fantastic production of the play RIGHT NOW and you should all rush over to see it!

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Lauren, maybe there's a reason that King John isn't done often. I'm gonna need you to convince me a little more." To which I say, Fair enough, dear reader, I will attempt to do just that.

King John may not have a fancy impediment like Richard or a habit of murdering exes like Henry, but he ain't no saint. Most of the conflict of the play revolves around the question of succession -- John is King, but Arthur, son of the late King Geoffrey has a rightful claim to the throne and his mother Constance is PISsed about the turn of events.

The first dispute of the play comes between two brothers over land (what else?) -- here we meet the Bastard, who is to become a loyal servant of King John. The Bastard, curious to know the identity of his real father asks his mother (staged refreshingly by NYSX as a phone conversation, thus eliminating the tiny role of Lady Falc.) The Bastard learns that Richard the Lionhearted was his true father, and he couldn't be happier. He consoles his mother, assuring her that her infidelity was understandable:

He that perforce robs lions of their hearts
May easily win a woman's.


The politics of King John may take place in the 13th century but, it seems, some things never change. John, in a beautiful yet disturbing image, warns a group of citizens:


And now instead of bullets wrapp'd in fire
They shoot but calm words folded up in smoke.


Words are sometimes the deadlier (and stealthier) weapon.

The Bastard provides much of the comic relief throughout the play (although, in general, I laughed a lot in seeing it live -- much more than I expected to) In a moment of direct address he reveals to us a logic that, today, seems to echo the unfortunate issue of polarity among the classes:


Well, whiles I am a beggar I will rail,
And say there is no sin but to be rich;
And being rich, my virtue then shall be
To say there is no vice but beggary.


So, by this time, King John's not doing so well. He's got issues with the French (momentarily patched up by a hasty marriage) and then he rails on the Pope, causing his legate to lay down the law thus:


Thou shalt stand cursed and excommunicate,
And blessed shall he be that doth revolt
From his allegiance to an heretic,
And meritorious shall that hand be called,
Canonised and worshipped as a saint,
That takes away by any secret course
Thy hateful life.


Wow, thanks a lot Cardinal. You sound real holy declaring that whoever kills a King, no matter how shady the deed, will be dubbed a Saint. Guess they're just giving those things away -- 'hey you! murderer! wanna be a saint? have I got a gig for you...'

Speaking of shady deeds, King John gets a little antsy having Arthur around, since he's a threat to the crown. So, in one of the best examples of a shared line ever, John enlists the help of Arthur's keeper to get rid of him:


King John     Death.
Hubert                     My lord.
King John                             A grave.
Hubert                                                He shall not live.
King John                                                                     Enough.  


Of course, not many things go right for John, and Hubert is won over by Arthur's innocence. He lies to the King, saying he got rid of the boy. Later, John regrets giving the order and realizes:

There is no sure foundation set on blood,
No certain life achieved by others' death.


This line could probably be dropped into any of Shakespeare's plays. If all of his tragic heroes realized this, there would have been a lot more comedies in the canon.

John, accuses Hubert, saying:

                            Hadst not thou been by,
A fellow by the hand of nature marked,
Quoted, and signed to do a deed of shame,
This murder had not come into my mind.


Ah, royalty, so fickle.

I won't ruin the ending for you.... even though the title of the play pretty much does that on its own. But, I will highly recommend you check out the production, playing at the Access Theatre through October 2nd! For more info, go here: http://www.shakespeareexchange.org/

Tomorrow's Play: The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - Ties That Bind by Robert Schenkkan

18.9.11

The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - The Homecoming

by Robert Schenkkan

So, a few nights ago on the subway I finished the entire Kentucky Cycle. In the back there is this amazing Author's Note where Schenkkan talks about the process of writing the play. He says he didn't intend for the play to be quite so extensive but as he was doing research he just felt that so much of the story relied on past history and so he kept going back a little farther. What he created was an epic piece that spans multiple generations of three families and how they help and hurt each other. He says:
Without the past, what is there to connect us to the present?
He also quotes Einstein:
A human being is part of the whole, called by us, "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
A good argument for a vegetarian lifestyle as well, I think. :)

As I embark on the process of writing a play (shh, it's a secret), I am in awe of the talent and dedication Schenkkan brought to The Kentucky Cycle. SO, let's get back to it! Now, to focus on the third in the cycle -- The Homecoming:
NOT to be confused with Pinter's play of the same name.. although it is equally as dark.

It is sixteen years later, and husband-of-the-year Michael Rowen got that son he wanted so badly. His name is Patrick and he is sixteen years old. Receiving the best qualities of both his parents, he is one with the land and a natural hunter. He's also in love with the pretty thing next door, who, upon the opening of the play has snuck up behind him on the hill where he is looking out. We get a sense of Patrick's connection to the earth when he tells his lady love:
When I hunt, I don't "pretend" I'm a deer or nothin'. I just am. I'm out here in the woods and things just get real ... still ... or somethin' ... It ain't magic or nothin'. It's just ... When I reach that place, when I just am, there, with the forest, then it's like I can call the deer or something'. I call'em and they come. Like I was still waters and green pastures, 'stead of hunger and lead.
I was instantly drawn in by Patrick - here is a character that is kind, defensive of his mother, loving, strong.. someone you can root for! But, ah, how much can change in the course of a few pages. By the end of The Homecoming, Patrick basically becomes his father.

Michael returns from a business trip with a slave whom he intends to breed himself to produce sons who will work the land. Star and Patrick are horrified by this but play along because they know it is the safer option. Patrick wants to get married and asks his father for his blessing and a piece of the land. He so strongly believes that the land is his, and when denied by his father (he says he'd rather give his land to his slaves that to his son) Patrick ends up killing him. Oops. This murder is accidentally witnessed by Patrick's girlfriend and her father Joe.. BIG oops. Turns out Joe is secretly in love with Star (Michael's wife) and they were planning to run away together.. ooh the drama is getting juicy. Joe offers to help Star get a good lawyer for Patrick. She refuses, saying that the town will hang her son for sure because he's part Cherokee. Joe tries to tell her:
The law be full-time and you cain't be pickin' and choosin' with it.
For all his noble words, he ends up dead too. Patrick kills him and then shoves his sobbing girlfriend inside the house, claiming that they would get married tonight. Gee, like father, like son? Kill some men, get land, force a woman into marriage. The American dream?

Tomorrow's Play: The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - Ties That Bind by Robert Schenkkan

13.9.11

The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - The Courtship of Morning Star

by Robert Schenkkan

The second play in this series of nine one-acts recycles only one character from the first - Michael Rowen, the ruthless Irishman. The play opens on a violent struggle between him and a young Cherokee girl called Knox Sanale, meaning 'Morning Star.' The girl he has chosen to become his wife.

Quite literally chosen, as he has physically dragged her from her home and tied her wrist to his with a piece of rawhide. Needless to say, she didn't have much of a say in this decision. Nothing will stop Rowen from getting what he wants. When she tries to escape, he chases her down and cuts the tendon in her ankle, assuring that she'll never be able to run away again.. because she'll never be able to run.
I cut the tendon cleanly. You'll always limp, but you'll walk soon enough just fine. no pain. But you'll never be able to run. Not fast enough. not far enough. (Beat. He raises his glass.) Here's to our firstborn. A son! (Beat.) Gimme a daughter, and I'll leave it on the mountain for the crows. 
I recently read this eye-opening article about the practice of sex-specific abortion in countries like India and China. It spoke about the pressures of having a son and how women will abort girl after girl until they get their precious son, causing there to be an imbalance in the ratio of men to women in society, leading to higher levels of aggression in the population. This practice of aborting only female babies was so sad to me and I was reminded of it in reading this play. I understand the importance of having a son to carry on the name, and to work the land, etc, but to so easily throw away human life simply because it is female - as if there is no possible benefit from having a daughter, seems so barbaric. It seems like something from another time, and yet, it still happens. Back in Michael's day they had to wait til the child was born to know if it was male or female but now modern technology has made it so easy to do away with life -  quicker and easier. As much as the human race learns and grows, it's not always for the better.

It's hard to feel anything for a man as merciless as Michael Rowen - who will steal and take whatever he needs to survive. And yet in a world where only the strong survive, he's doing what he has to do. In recalling the first man he ever killed, he says:
But there was no sport innit. See, I learned early, blood's just the coin of the realm, and it's important to keep strict accounts and pay your debts. That's all.
 I wouldn't want to be on his bad side..
Cherokee alphabet
Tomorrow's Play: The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - The Homecoming by Robert Schenkkan

1.9.11

The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - Masters of the Trade

by Robert Schenkkan

Welcome back readers! Here we begin a new school-year (well, not everyone, not even me, but I always liked school so let's pretend shall we?) Fall is in the air and Irene is behind us.. time to get back to reading plays! Though, I am currently devouring the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy - I will finish tonight! I digress...

Workshop location: The Old Stone House in Park Slope
In mid-August I participated in a workshop with the Artful Conspirators of a new play called The Journeyman of Breuckelen by playwright David A. Miller. The story, set in Dutch Breuckelen (Brooklyn) during the 1600's, follows a storyteller who comes to town and the influence he has on the village. During the workshop we got to talking about The Kentucky Cycle.. I think because of the tension between the settlers and the natives.. I can't remember exactly why, but our conversation piqued my interest. This epic play had been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, staring me down with its intimidating length, but I will read you yet Kentucky Cycle! You will not best me!

I should get more sleep.

SO. The cycle is broken into two parts with a total of nine plays. What a marathon for the cast and crew. And audience!

Part One

Masters of the Trade


Schenkkan opens the play by placing us right in the center of the conflict - a stand-off between two white men. Strangers. Tension is high because Indians recently slaughtered an entire village of men, women, and children, using guns that were provided for them. The two men we meet are an Irishman and a Scot - the earlier bent on revenging his village, the latter mysteriously waiting in the woods for someone to meet him. This sounds like it could be a scene from the Hunger Games. I digress.. After initial grandstanding, the two men begin to converse civilly.

We get the sense that maybe they haven't been settled here for long. Michael, the Irishman describes Kentucky:
It's a grand land of opportunity, it is, with plenty of scratch to be made for those with an itch! All that, and enough room for a man to stretch out and lose himself entirely. Become somethin' new. Somethin' different. A new man. That's what we're makin' here in Kentucky, Mr. Tod. New men.
Early map of Kentucky

Tod, the Scot, is revealed to be the man providing the Cherokee with their guns. A young man, Sam, who has accompanied Michael and was hidden in the trees shoots Tod dead upon learning he's the one responsible for the loss of their village.

Guess Schenkkan isn't shy about killing off characters. It's only page 8.

The gun shot attracts the Cherokee, who aren't happy about the fact that their friend and supplier is dead. Quick thinking by Michael allows him to set himself up as their new supplier. The Cherokee demand "an eye for an eye," essentially, for Tod's death. Without hesitation, Michael stabs Sam in the gut, killing him to settle the debt. Page 14. Body count: 2. Also sounds like the Hunger Games...

Michael sets up a meeting with the Cherokee and demands a piece of land for his trouble. He gives them some powder and blankets as a good will gesture, and they go on their way. Michael laughs, sharing:
Them blankets, Sam - they're poxed. Salvaged them from that Cutter family in Zion - them whose baby girl died of the pox three weeks ago. (Beat.) Indians has thin blood. Pox'll cut through them like a hot knife through butter. (Beat.) So you see, Sam, you can rest easy now. Zion's been revenged after all. (Beat.) Sam? (Beat.) Sun's comin' up, lad. (Beat.) New day for a new land. (Beat.)
I'll admit that I know next to nothing about the history of Kentucky. But if this first play is any indication, we're in for a wild ride..

Tomorrow's Play: The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - The Courtship of Morning Star by Robert Schenkkan

28.8.11

The start of a new school year...

A Play a Day has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

I am blessed with loyal readers and endless support for what started out as a simple way to push myself to read more plays. As this project continues, I have decided to operate it on a school-year basis -- posting M-F from Sept-May. This will allow me time to read other things (I read novels this summer! Amazing!) as well as take a little time on the weekends for my brain to calm.

So, thank you to all who have been with me thus far, and to all the new readers - welcome! Feel free to comment, repost, follow, tweet, etc. Let's spread the joy of the written word!

With humble thanks,
Lauren

31.5.11

Inana

by Michele Lowe

How fateful that today, as I'm about to embark on a trip to London with Old Vic New Voices' TS Eliot US/UK Exchange, I would read a play set in a hotel room in London. I just picked a play at random and Lowe's beautiful and suspenseful Inana was what the gods had in store!

Inana is a love story of sorts between Yasin, a successful Iraqi museum curator and Shali, the daughter of an art forger. Set in 2003, just before the US invasion of Baghdad, the pressure is on Yasin to safeguard his country's most precious cultural items from the threat of war. Of most concern to him is the valuable statue of Inana, the goddess of love and fertility. In order to keep her safe, however, he must place her in the hands of others. And that's just the problem. He doesn't trust anyone to give her back after things have calmed down. He ends up striking a deal with the British Museum to guard her, but can he trust them?

He whisks his new bride, Shali, away to London for what she thinks is a wedding trip. The two of them spend the play in a hotel room sharing secrets and vulnerabilities, all while waiting for an important phone call from the British Museum. Most of the play's reveals occur in flashback, with the scenes melting into one another.

We meet Yasin's friend Abdel-Hakim Taliq, an Iraqui bookseller who is attempting to smuggle his book collection to Tehran before the invasion.

We also meet Emad Al-Bayit, Shali's father, known for his works of forgery (what he calls "interpretations") Initially, Yasin goes to meet Emad with less than noble intentions. He wants Emad to create a replica of Inana that would fool even the curators at the museum. Emad is resistant at first - he's not a fan of museums. He says to Yasin:
200px-Ishtar_vase_Louvre_AO17000-detail.jpg
Sumerian goddess of sexual love,
fertility, and warfare

 You put their history behind glass and then you ask them to pay to see it.
Eventually Emad agrees, on the condition that Yasin will marry his daughter, who is "too smart for her own good" and is a threat to his family due to her desire to teach women to read. Yasin reluctantly agrees.


The relationship between Yasin and Shali is of interest to me. When I think of "arranged marriages" I think of generations past. We forget that this is still a common occurrence in certain parts of the world. Shali is sensitive and afraid to be left alone, but she tells Yasin:
I have opinions and ideas though no one's heard them. The tiger may be in a cage, but if you ask him if he's independent, he'll tell you yes. 

I won't reveal what happens to Inana but let's just say that this one-armed goddess holds more meaning than she appears to and that Yasin does find a place for her. He hopes that he can keep her safe:

Yasin.    Let the living find her there in calmer generations.
Shali.     There will never be calmer generations. But she will be found again. 
The play has an undertone of hope - not just for the love between two people, but hope for the legacy of culture that a nation leaves behind through its artwork.


1.5.11

Orange Flower Water

by Craig Wright

It's been a while since a play made me cry.

This play isn't particularly sad. Unless you consider the destruction of two marriages sad. What I mean, I guess, is that the tone of the piece isn't sad.

Let's backtrack.

Orange Flower Water tells the tale of an affair between Cathy's husband David, and Brad's wife Beth. This affair begins as sneaking around, escalates, causing two divorces, and culminates in the birthing of a beautiful child, Lily. The play gets its name from a story that Beth tells David, one night (pre-divorce) when they're together.
Last night, I was thinking.. you and I and Lily.. That's her name, in my head. Lily. She was, like, four years old, with long dark hair and really serious eyes and smart? And we went to the store at Christmastime to get stuff to make cookies - and on the way home, she was in her car seat and she reached in the bag and pulled out a little plastic bottle of orange flower water? Which I've read about in Gourmet, you know, but never seen? And she ended up spilling this orange flower water stuff all over the back seat. And you and I had to roll down the windows, the scent was so strong... And the scent of the orangey air and the coolness rushing into the car and you and me happy and Lily in the back... giggling... we were so happy. We were so happy.
Ultimately, this play is about a child that results from adultery. It is about dreams that come true, but come with a price. It is about happiness that causes pain. It is about love.

It's a beautiful story that left me thinking - at what price? Do we have the right to true love if it means hurting others? Does a certain amount of fault get cancelled out? And what about the child's shame? When she asks the story of her parents' love - will she feel guilty? Basically, at what price love?

Tomorrow's Play: Inana by Michele Lowe

28.4.11

Elemeno Pea

by Molly Smith Metzler

I really enjoyed this play.

I won't say too much about it, because the version I read is not the final draft, but Molly Smith Metzler is a playwright to watch out for. Elemeno Pea debuted at this season's Humana Festival and I so wish I could have seen it!

Basic story: Two sisters - one is working as a live-in exec. asst. to a rich lady who has marital problems, the other sister comes to visit - history comes up that causes drama in the present.

Metzler's voice feels fresh - she creates very modern characters who feel things deeply, and while this piece has incredibly dramatic scenes, the overall feel is comedic.

I am gonna go hunt for more of her plays now.

Here's a great interview with Metzler: Playwrights' Perspective
More info on the Humana Festival: Louisville

Tomorrow's Play: Orange Flower Water by Craig Wright

17.4.11

Laughter on the 23rd Floor

by Neil Simon

Time for a comedy. Seriously.

Though, I gotta say. Not my favorite Neil Simon. I mean, it's funny... well, more appropriately, it's PUN-ny. And I'm not big on puns. The Great Divide dressing room knows that by now.

Annyway.. Laughter was fun to read because it takes you inside the writer's room (based on Simon's own experiences in such rooms) and inside the heads of scribes whose very worth depends on their ability to pen a funny line.

What makes the play enjoyable are the over-the-top quirks of the individual characters. The group is so ridiculous that you just have to love them. I've been in many a writer's meeting, having done sketch comedy since college, and let's just say.. things can get pretty crazy.

Something that struck me: Carol, the only female writer in this "man's world" of comedy, is asked for her female point of view on something. She tells her boss, "I don't want to be considered a woman. I want to be considered a writer." I think even today, women have to work much harder to be perceived as funny, and even then they face the dilemma of, 'should I go sexy-funny' (a la The House Bunny) or 'witty-funny' (a la Liz Lemon) (not that they are always mutually-exclusive. just, usually) .. I mean, it's rough for women in the comedy world. There's a great article in last week's New Yorker with Anna Faris on this very topic.

Carol continues:
After five years in here, Max, you think I know what a woman's point of view is? I come home at night smelling from cigar smoke, I have to put my dress in a humidor... I never said a crude word in my life before I came here. But now I go home to my fucking house and talk to my fucking husband like a fucking sailor. It's okay. I don't mind. If you lived in France for five years, you'd speak French. But I'm not in France. I'm here so I speak fuck... I don't want to be called a woman writer. I want to be called a good writer, and if it means being one of the guys then I'll be one of the guys. I can handle it.
A perfectly valid pov, Carol, but what I think the female comedians of today are doing is attempting to bring the gap between "male-comedy" and "rom-com" just a liiitle closer together, to prove that life is funny and therefore, we're all funny, regardless of what parts we have.

Tomorrow's Play: Elemeno Pea by Molly Smith Metzler

Racing Demon


Usually, when I read a play for the second time, I like it more. That didn't happen with Racing Demon. I first read this play during a wonderful course on British Drama at NYU. I adored it. It felt risky, and dangerous, pushing boundaries about what could be said (and shown) about religion onstage. As an ex-Catholic (ask me for the story over a drink), I can appreciate the ritualistic comfort that church provides. I can also understand, however, why the men of Racing Demon struggle to fulfill their mission.

The play is about a group of clergymen, struggling to do God's work. They are in a town that needs them but doesn't exactly turn out in droves on Sunday mornings. The men are a hodgepodge - ranging from committed to doubting. Lionel, arguably the conscience of the play, leans more towards the doubting end of the scale. He believes in the importance of their work, but he wants to talk straight to the people - show them that he has fears and doubts, too. Unfortunately, the townsfolk don't want their priest to be 'like everyone else' - they want him to be unshakable. Naturally, they complain. Lionel's superior, the Bishop of Southwark puts him in his place, telling him:
As a priest you have only one duty. That's to put on a show.
Lionel gets the point. He'll try harder to be what people want him to be. Meanwhile, a new, young recruit joins Lionel's group - his name is Tony. He's a radical. He believes that the clergy should be more active in recruiting people to find God. He believes Lionel is being complacent. Lionel tries to explain that while he may see things differently than Tony, they believe in the same thing, essentially:
In God everlasting. As I understand it. And in his Son, who came so that people might know God was close. And in the Holy Spirit. Who of the three always seems to me much the most mysterious. Much the shadiest, as you might say. 
What Tony doesn't understand, being new to the parish, is that "bums on seats" on Sundays isn't the only way to judge a town's spirituality.

Re-reading the play this time, it felt less dangerous. Not as shocking. Does this mean I am just harder to shock? Perhaps. Granted, at this point, the play is over twenty years old. It was written in 1990 and first performed at the National in London. What has not changed since the first read is my belief that David Hare is an amazing writer. I have read many of his other plays - I highly recommend Stuff Happens and The Blue Room.

So, despite the fact, that I wasn't as blown away this go-around, I remain enamored of the characters that Hare has created.

There is a beautiful love story between Rev. Harry and his Scottish lover Ewan, an actor who never feels satisfied with Harry. He asks him:
Why don't you fight? Why don't you fight for me? That's all I want. To be loved enough so that someone will fight for me. So that I can start to exist.
Still a controversial topic today, a homosexual love affair in the British religious community within the world of the play was not easily accepted. Harry and Ewan keep their love a secret, even when a snooping reporter comes around, trying to get a rise out of the men. Ewan tells him off in a heartfelt monologue:
You'll never get me, you know? You won't get anyone. I'll tell you why. Because what people still have ... which is theirs... which belongs to them... which is precious... is what happens in private. That's right. And that's why you want it. That's why you want to slime all over it. Because it is private. And in private, there's still some decency. 
Zing. Take that, media!

One of my favorite devices that Hare uses throughout the play is having the men speak their prayers out loud - in essence, through soliloquy. Each prayer ends with a question that will then become a point of dramatic action. For example, Lionel asks:
Why do the good always fight among themselves?
This comes about the time that we see the priests turning on each other. Politics exist in all organizations, no matter how pure the intention. Deep in prayer, Rev. Donald, aka Streaky, asks another question:
The whole thing's so clear. You're there. In people's happiness. Tonight, in the taste of that drink. Or the love of my friends. The whole thing's so simple. Infinitely loving. Why do people find it so hard? 
If only it were that easy.

I would be interested to see this play and Doubt in rep.. that would spark some interesting conversations. Thoughts?

Tomorrow's Play: Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon

14.4.11

Beyond the Horizon

by Eugene O'Neill

Though written more than ten years later, Beyond the Horizon is often compared to The Great Divide. Strikingly different, yet with interesting similarities, O'Neill's first important full-length play shows influences of Moody and the tradition of melodrama from the late 19th century. 

There have been few revivals of this play since about 1920, which surprises me because I absolutely loved it. Perhaps I am just a little enamored of early American plays as the moment. When Beyond the Horizon first came out, not everyone felt as I did. Apparently, O'Neill's own father asked him, upon seeing the play, if his intent was to drive everyone in the audience to suicide. I will grant that there are moments that are depressing, sure, but what I gathered from the play was the power of love.

Federal Theatre Project poster
The story centers on a love triangle of two brothers - Andrew, the elder brother, husky and suited well to the physical labor of farm-work, and Robert, younger, more intellectual, and not quite as strong - and Ruth, the girl-next-door they grew up with. Both brothers love Ruth, but Ruth's affections belong to Robert. She is won over by his penchant for spouting poetry and telling her of his dreams.

The brothers couldn't be more different. All Andrew wants to do is to stay at home and make a life for himself by running his father's farm, as he has done for as long as he was physically capable. All Robert wants to do is get away and see the undiscovered countries that inhabit his daydreams. At the top of the play, the boys' mother has enlisted Captain Dick Scott, her brother, to take Robert on a sea voyage with him. Finally, Robert has the opportunity to get what he's been looking for - a chance to escape the routine.

Everything changes when Ruth confesses her feelings to Robert. He is at once shocked and overjoyed, and immediately decides that he will stay home to be with her. Captain Scott is angry, since he was looking forward to having some company on the voyage. James, the boys' father tries to pacify Captain Scott, telling him:
You can't order the tides on the seas to suit you, and I ain't pretendin' I can reg'late love for young folks.
Andrew (heartbroken, having just realized his own feelings for Ruth) decides to take Robert's place and go on the journey.

What follows is many years of hardship - by switching places, the brothers have upset the natural order of things, and Robert is not suited to life on the farm. Things fall into ruin, both on the farm, and in their marriage. Ruth tells Robert that she made a mistake in marrying him. It's all very hurtful. And, I mean, hurtful.

I won't give away the ending, but what I enjoyed so much about this play was finding the similarities between O'Neill and Moody as writers. The language is so beautiful and important. That is not always the case these days where characters are always minimizing moments and saying one thing but meaning another. There's something refreshing about hearing someone bare their soul and mean it.

At one point, Robert says to Ruth:
All our suffering has been a test through which we had to pass to prove ourselves worthy of a finer realization.
Their's may not have been a perfect marriage, but there was real love there. Between all three of them, in fact. Hard-won love, but love just the same. Love that will change your course in life; Make you cross the globe; Allow you to better yourself. Love that may break you down, but will help you get up again.

Tomorrow's Play: Racing Demon by David Hare

7.4.11

Our Town


Now that The Great Divide has closed, I can finally get around to blogging about the rising stack of plays that I have read recently. During the run, I was on a kick of classic American plays (hence, Crucible, Our Town, a little O'Neill for good measure) but I also had the chance to read some new works, and that was exciting. More on that, later.

When I was 12, I played Rebecca in a production of Our Town at the Fulton Opera House, starring James Waterston. Truly, I don't think I've read the play since then.. It's funny how I can remember so distinctly the way some lines were delivered and where I sat in the kitchen.. but for most of the meat of the play I was in the green room downstairs playing cards with some older, wiser actors.

Reading the play now, I was moved by how Wilder infused into the play his belief that the theatre is the most immediate way "in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it means to be human." I think Wilder and I would have been chums. 

His radical use of the Stage Manager as a character in the play defied convention, taking all of the grandiosity out of the piece and focusing on the necessary - the heart; the connection between human beings. In his description at the beginning of the play, the Stage Manager says:
Paul Newman as the Stage Manager
There's some scenery for those who think they have to have scenery.
Brilliant.

I can see why Our Town has endured, when so many other plays have faded into obscurity. Though, critics at the time preferred the first two acts, and not the third - saying, "A good playwright when he deals with living people, [Wilder] is only a bad philosopher when he deals with the dead ones." Naturally, as any young female with a desire to play Emily, I enjoyed the third act, above all! How could you find fault with these beautiful lines?
I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. ... Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute?
When I think about the way I live my life - rushing from work, to class, to auditions.. I think, how often do I take the time to really look at someone? Or share a moment of genuine connection? Am I letting my life rush by me in a blur of checks on my to-do list? Will I look back on my life, as Emily did, and feel that I didn't realize what I had when I had it? In honor of spring, let's all try to stop and smell the roses, as they say; appreciating the little moments in our day that remind us of the beauty of being alive.

Tomorrow's Play: Beyond the Horizon by Eugene O'Neill

22.3.11

The Crucible

by Arthur Miller

Oh. Man. I forgot how good this play is. I actually had to go out and buy a copy, which means either my bookcase has begun eating plays or I never took high school English.

I am enchanted by the poetry in the text (shocker, I know.) The subject matter is far from beautiful but Miller just has a way with words.

Everyone knows the story of The Crucible, but for those of you who actually never did take high school English, here's what the back of the Dramatists copy says (best if read in "movie trailer voice" ie: In a world where..):

"This exciting drama about the Puritan purge of witchcraft in old Salem is both a gripping historical play and a timely parable of our contemporary society. The story focuses upon a young farmer, his wife, and a young servant-girl who maliciously causes the wife's arrest for witchcraft. The farmer bring the girl to court to admit the lie - and it is here that the monstrous course of bigotry and deceit is terrifyingly depicted. The farmer, instead of saving his wife, finds himself also accused of witchcraft and ultimately condemned with a host of others."

I find it interesting that John Proctor's name is not mentioned once in that blurb..
In truth, I never think of him as a farmer. His profession is almost irrelevant to the story. When I think of Proctor, I think of his amazing line,
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul, leave me my name!
I mean, come on! I want to play Proctor just so I can say that line! Now, he is not a perfect man. He has made mistakes, but he owns up to those mistakes, repents them, and attempts to live a better life having learned from them. His "downfall," if you see it that way, is his pride. To save his life, and see the birth of his child, all he must do is confess to witchcraft. Reverend Hale knows it is a lie, but in his mind it is a lie done for good. The life is more important. But Proctor cannot confess.

But whoa, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was inspired to re-read The Crucible by my mom. And by my mom, I mean Wendy Merritt, who plays my mother in The Great Divide. She is directing a production of The Crucible this summer for Sink or Swim Rep, so naturally we've been talking about the play a lot in the dressing room. In fact, I've probably said "Because it is my name!" a good five or six times in different conversations. Sink or Swim is producing the play in its "Truth" season, along with Romeo & Juliet.

Truth in The Crucible is an ever-changing creature. Not only do we question 'what is the truth?' but we are left wondering does it even matter?

Things that struck me:

1. Corruption within the church/court. We find out at the beginning of the play that some of the local girls have been caught dancing in the woods, and as a result a few have taken to their beds with illness. Betty Parris, daughter to the local Reverend, is bedridden and thought to be possessed. Her father has sent for Reverend Hale to examine her, much to the chagrin of the townsfolk, who are afraid that Hale will suspect witchcraft. Parris is distraught over Betty, but comforted by Rebecca Nurse:
A child's spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and for love it will soon itself come back.
He is even more afeared because he is a man of God. When Hale arrives to check Betty, Parris asks why his daughter should be taken, when she is so good. Hale responds:
What victory would the Devil have, to win a soul already had? It is the best the Devil wants, and who is better than the minister?
The heart of the play lies undoubtedly in Hale. His journey throughout is the most interesting to me - steadfast and strong in his beliefs at the top, he falls a long way before finding the strength to compromise for what he believes to be the greater good.

As good of a man as Hale is, his opposite is reflected in Judge Hathorne. I was shocked at how maniacal he seemed in his pursuit of the "truth." Bending things to fit your will is not justice. Proctor drives the point home when he asks, "Is the accuser always holy now?" Hathorne is happy to believe everything that Abigail and the girls confess, never questioning their motives or sincerity.

Replica voodoo doll. (KLAUS AARSLEFF/FORTEAN PICTURE LIBRARY)
2. Personal vendettas being acted out on a public stage. The entire trial starts because of one girl's lie. This lie gets away from her and snowballs into an outpouring of falsity - aimed at anyone who has ever upset the young girls of the town. What is Abigail's motive? Is it out of love for John that she acts? Perhaps that is her belief by the end, but at the beginning it seems to be vengeance that drives her. She has been rejected by the man she loves and sees an opportunity to hurt him. She takes it. And many people suffer for it. Could this have been avoided?

There is a scene in the play that is sometimes left out (unfortunately, in my opinion) where Proctor visits Abigail and asks her to stop the accusations against his wife. This brings me to my next two thoughts:

3. The thin line between fantasy and reality.

4. The madness of love.

My argument for the necessity of the scene is that we never see them alone together otherwise. The way that the two of them respond to each other when other people are around is very different than when they are alone. Public vs. Private. Up until this point, we have heard about the affair, we have seen the rift it caused between John and Elizabeth, but we haven't seen the energy between John and Abigail. The intimacy of that scene reveals much more than just their sexual connection. At this point in the play, Abigail has been lying for so long, that I think she is no longer aware of what is true and what is make-believe. She has worked herself into such a state that the lines have blurred. Her love for John is mixed with her jealousy, the high she gets when she accuses someone, the power of her position, and all the attention lavished on her - making one dangerous cocktail that has her teetering on the edge of madness.

John is horrified that she has accused so many people, and asks her, "Then there is no one good?" To which, she responds:
Why, you taught me goodness, therefore you are good. It were a fire you walked me through, and all my ignorance was burned away. It were a fire, John, we lay in fire. And from that night no woman dare call me wicked any more but I knew my answer. I used to weep for my sins when the wind lifted up my skirts; and blushed for shame because some old Rebecca called me loose. And then you burned my ignorance away. As bare as some December tree I saw them all - walking like saints to church, running to feed the sick, and hypocrites in their hearts! And God gave me strength to call them liars, and God made men to listen to me, and by God I will scrub the world clean for the love of Him!
Folks, this is what we call 'religious fervor.' As one of the characters in David Hare's Racing Demon says, "You've got the bug. I've seen it before. All you want is to carry the Cross."


John threatens Abigail with exposure in the court, but Abigail is unfazed. When it comes time, however, John is true to his word and tells of their sordid past, therefore criminalizing himself. In one of the best lines of the play he tells the court:


You are pulling heaven down and raising up a whore.
Oh. Snap. 'Lot of good it did though, Proctor ends up in jail, and Elizabeth is in jail, pregnant. Hell, the whole population is in jail. Apparently, the town is going to be run by a bunch of 15-year old girls, as they're the only ones left.

Hale comes back! Lovely man that he is. He comes back a changed man - the effect of the court proceedings is harsh and it is apparent that he has been beaten down by the world. In a last desperate attempt to save John's life, he begs Elizabeth to help her husband:
Life, woman, life is God's most precious gift; no principle however glorious may justify the taking of it. I beg you, woman - prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie. Quail not before God's judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.
Ah yes, 5. Pride. The theme of the week for this week's plays.


When I read this line of Hale's, it made me cry. It struck a Ruth chord in me, and made me think of a moment in the first act of Great Divide where she chooses life over the alternative, saying "I love my life; I must live. In torment, in darkness - it doesn't matter. I want my life. I will have it!" For Ruth and Proctor, pride is a big issue. To come full circle in this post, ultimately John's pride will not allow him to sign his name to a lie. As much as he may want to save himself, he cannot do it. He's not an ordinary farmer, he is John Proctor, and if what he wants to save is his name, he has surely done it, for it has never been forgotten.


Tomorrow's Play: Our Town by Thornton Wilder

15.3.11

Edward II

by Christopher Marlowe

In my second reading of Marlowe's tale of how personal choices influence the political arena, what struck me was the pure gall of King Edward's subjects. From the very beginning it seems that the lords of the court are questioning their ruler's every action.
Edward II

Edward II is often explored for its homosexual undertones, with regards to the title character and his relationship with his 'favorite' of the moment, most especially Gaveston. The intimacy that they share is a threat to some of the other men at court. The King is asked, with regards to Gaveston:

Why should you love him whom the world hates so?


His majesty quickly responds:


Because he loves me more than all the world.


To the lords of the court, Gaveston's station in life is offensive. To be the favorite of the King and to be of base birth is unacceptable in their eyes. To Edward, it is the man that makes the man, not to whom he was born. This is seen as a weakness in the eyes of those who disapprove of the company he keeps and it is not long before his own nobility are telling him:


Look for rebellion, look to be deposed:


This blows my mind. This is their KING. Placed on earth by GOD. And these arrogant, petty, men decide to kill him.

As a tribute to Marlowe's writing, I did go back and forth throughout the play with regards to whose side I was on. The nobles do have some slightly convincing points when it comes to Edward's behavior, and at times Edward gets a little whiny and "poor me." On the whole, however, I was on the side of the lawful King. When Spencer Junior entreats King Edward not to bear these base insults and to "Strike off their heads, and let them preach on poles;" I found myself saying, "Hear, hear!" and then promptly learning that little monologue because I liked it so much.

Truly, Spencer Junior gets the best lines in the play. During one of the fights, Lancaster warns the King not to trust those around him:


For they'll betray thee traitors as they are.


Spencer Junior responds:


Traitor on thy face, rebellious Lancaster.


Now, this is how I imagine this line should be played: "Traitor on thy FACE, rebellious Lancaster!" with some appropriately physical intimidation to accompany said line.

The moral center of the play seemed to me to lie in the King's brother, Kent. Even though he is swayed from side to side, I believe he was trying to act in the best interest of the country and not out of personal greed or gain. Eventually, King Edward is imprisoned and the gravity of the situation weighs heavily on Kent:


O, miserable is that commonweal, where lords
Keep courts and kings are locked in prison!


Mob mentality is a dangerous thing.

The villain of the piece (well, one of them) is certainly Mortimer. [In case you weren't sure, just refer to the much longer original title: The troublesome reign and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England: with the tragical fall of proud Mortimer. Guess they didn't worry about spoiler alerts in those days.] Though I was generally unimpressed by Mortimer (I mean, how hard is it to woo a Queen, really), his method of disposing of the King was pretty brilliant. After hiring an assassin, he sends the man to the people holding the King with a letter that reads thus: "Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est." He purposefully leaves out punctuation because in the tricky language of Latin, depending on where you place the comma, this sentence can be interpreted two different ways. He explains:


'Edwardum occidere nolite timere, bonum est;
Fear not to kill the King, 'tis good he die.'
But read it thus, and that's another sense:
'Edwardum occidere nolite, timere bonum est;
Kill not the King, 'tis good to fear the worst.'


Thanks to the title, you already know that King Edward dies. Reading the play to see how it comes to pass is something I would highly recommend.

ATTENTION MARLOWE FANS!

Fairly soon, you will have the rare opportunity to see a production of this play. Details below:

Edward II

An all-female cast performs Christopher Marlowe's play with proceeds benefiting the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for queer homeless youth.

Written by Christopher Marlowe
Directed by Nicolette Dixon and Ben Prusiner

WOW Theatre Cafe
59-61 E 4th St. New York City, New York
April 21, 22, 23 at 8 pm
April 28, 29, 30 at 8 pm

Gay King and Conqueror's Son: how do sexuality and gender meet & what can we learn from the past?

WOW Cafe Theatre, a women and transperson's theatre collective, is proud to present an all- female production of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II with all proceeds to benefit the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for queer youth. A fictionalized account of real events, Edward II is a gay king who fails to live up to the prevailing ideas of masculinity and loses everything because of it. Through masks, movement, and heightened theatricality, Edward II takes the audience on a journey of power, privilege, and forbidden desires. Marlowe's play asks direct questions about sexuality and gender, the price of freedom in love, and the oppressive and destructive power of hatred. By combining the heightened language of classical theatre with an expressive experimental movement vocabulary, the production magnifies the story's emotional power and critical context.

Co-director Ben Prusiner says, "It's incredible how many of the issues that Marlowe was struggling with - sexuality, gender, class - are the same ones we are dealing with today. My goal is always to ask the open-ended question: what can we learn from another point of view?" Co-director Nicolette Dixon makes this statement about why she was drawn to the play, "Edward II is about sexuality and gay rights, and it powerfully situates that struggle within history. At the same time, this play is about the universal struggle to be accepted and loved for who we truly are, and we tell this story in honor of those whose voices have been stifled."

Edward II is written by Christopher Marlowe and directed by Nicolette Dixon and Ben Prusiner.

WOW Cafe Theatre

WOW Café Theater is a women's theater collective in NYC's East Village, which promotes the empowerment of women through the performing arts.

Historically, WOW has been a majority lesbian woman's space. WOW welcomes the full participation of all women and transpeople in solidarity with women. WOW especially welcomes women and transpeople of color, and women and trans people who identify as lesbians, bisexual and queer.

What:
Christopher Marlowe's Edward II performed by an all-female cast with all proceeds benefiting the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for homeless LGBT youth.

When and Where:
WOW Cafe Theatre
59-61 E 4th St. New York City, New York

Thursday, April 21, 8pm
Friday, April 22, 8pm
Saturday, April 23, 8pm
Thursday, April 28, 8pm
Friday, April 29, 8pm
Saturday, April 30, 8pm

Tickets:
Tickets are $20 at the door, $15 pre-sale online at www.fabnyc.org, student and senior and discount available at the door.

For more information please visit: http://edward-ii.tumblr.com/


Tomorrow's Play: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

28.2.11

The Great Divide - Tech!

Well, tech has come and gone. We survived. I am thankful to this cast and crew of wonderful people for making a long day thoroughly enjoyable.

I have to say though, our cast is pun-ny. By that, I mean we make bad jokes. Often. And laugh at them. Perhaps it's due to the weightiness of the material that every time Ed calls, "10!" we end up giggling and rolling our eyes at each other. Whatever the reason, it makes for a welcome breath of lightness for me.

Having just read Moody's Faith Healer, I've been thinking about Ruth's faith. She carries her faith heavy on her back (and around her neck) for two acts, allowing it to hurt every time she feels a speck of happiness. When her mother tells her she should have died rather than marry Ghent it confirms a deeply-seeded fear in Ruth - the fact that she made the wrong choice. At least in society's eyes. I recently saw a production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and in the famous banquet scene Titus asks the emperor:

Was it well done of rash Virginius
To slay his daughter with his own right hand,
Because she was enforced, stained and deflowered?


The emperor responds without hesitation:

It was, Andronicus.
Because the girl should not survive her shame,
And by her presence still renew his sorrows.


Titus then kills his daughter Lavinia, who has been raped by two men. What is worse? To live with the shame, or to be killed for it? I know Ruth's answer.

At least Mrs. Jordan doesn't stab Ruth with that paper knife. Her words cut just as deeply, though.

Side note: I found this amazing map of Arizona from the year 1906.


I still have my fingers crossed for a cast field trip out West.. with four days until previews start, we totally have time.. right?


Tomorrow's Play: Edward II by Christopher Marlowe

The Faith Healer

by William Vaughn Moody

Oh, Moody, you just speak to my heart. I'm a little biased at the moment, since I have the joy of speaking his poetic text every night, but I loved this play. Granted, it's no Great Divide, but it's captivating all the same. 

Faith seems to be the theme of the month. It's an interesting topic for me to explore since I do not consider myself to be religious. Faith, however, is not strictly a religious concept. What struck me about Moody's Faith Healer (not to be confused with Brian Friel's three-hander) was the importance of faith in and between those we love.

Knowing Great Divide so intimately, it's easy to see archetypal characters that show up in both plays. The patriarch of Faith Healer, Beeler, is like an older, more-fleshed out Phil. Rhoda is a Ruth/Polly blend, and Dr. Littlefield is as if Dutch went to medical school. Seriously, Moody has something against doctors. Not only do they not get the girl (oops, *spoiler alert*) but they are either too finished and boring, or downright evil. A few of Littlefield's lines actually made me gasp.
Photo: Metropolitan Playhouse 2002

Metropolitan produced Faith Healer in 2002 to some pretty nice reviews. I think it's wonderful that they are now offering Moody's other, more famous play, The Great Divide. What a rare opportunity for audiences to step back in time to see what was hailed as, "The Great American Drama...[capturing] the indomitable spirit characteristic of the people of our great Western country." (Lafayette, LA Advertiser.) Shamless plug ;)

The Faith Healer tells the story of a faith healer, Ulrich Michaelis who has taken up board in the Beeler home. Word gets out that there is a healer in town and hundreds, if not thousands of people form lines outside the house waiting to be healed. Michaelis is anxious because he is not sure it is "his time" to perform miracles, but when the matriarch of the home, Mrs. Beeler, who has been confined to a wheelchair for five years, walks with his help, he begins to believe. His distraction comes in the form of the young and beautiful Rhoda, a "wicked woman" who doesn't believe she is worthy of love. Michaelis fears he has lost his ability to heal because all of his love and focus has been on Rhoda. He tells her:
Before creation, beyond time, God not yet risen from His sleep, you stand and call to me, and I listen in a dream that I dreamed before Eden.
A more "finished" Ghent. Le sigh, romantic.

Rhoda is scared to let him love her because when she was younger she was wooed by the evil moustache-twirling Dr. Littlefield who conveniently shows up the very day Michaelis comes to stay. Okay, he doesn't really have a moustache. At least not in the script. Rhoda believes that she must do penance for her sinful past but Michaelis believes:
What is pain but a kind of selfishness?
Rhoda finds redemption in Michaelis' love and all ends well as love saves the day. A good way to end a long day of Great Divide tech and a super awkward Oscars 2011.


Goodnight, moon. 


Tomorrow's Play: The Great Divide - Tech!

26.2.11

Sganerelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold

by Moliere

This was a quick, fun read. A verse comedy in rhyming couplets, it tells the tale of Sganerelle who mistakenly believes that his wife is cheating on him. The play comments on love and fidelity (or lack thereof). At the beginning of the play we encounter Sganerelle's neighbor and his daughter, Celie having an argument. Celie is engaged to Lelie (yes, really) but her father wants her to marry another man. "Alas!" she cries, to which her father responds:

Alas? What's that supposed to mean?
I hate alases. Don't you make a scene,
My girl, and rouse my blood, or very soon
You'll sing alas to quite a different tune.
No wonder you're obsessed by stupid fancies
When day and night you read these cheap romances,
Which fill your head with love, instead of higher
And holier matter - fling them in the fire
Before they wreck your morals.


Women throughout the history of literature are always losing themselves in novels. Maybe if guys took the hint and learned something about the men we are escaping to, women wouldn't have to dive into books to fulfill their dreams.

Through a series of misunderstandings that eventually turn out alright Sganerelle accuses his wife of adultery and then begs her forgiveness. He asks:


What man ever looked more of a cuckold than I did?
Yes, looked, for this example proves it's vain
To trust appearances, however plain.
When all the evidence as you receive it
Adds up to one conclusion: don't believe it.


Not everything is as it seems.

I would recommend this play for people who want a laugh and anyone looking for classical comedic monologues.

Tomorrow's Play: The Faith Healer by William Vaughn Moody

Dr. Faustus

by Christopher Marlowe

I recently participated in a workshop of this play with the Theater Reconstruction Ensemble, which consisted of a weekend of exploring the text, and basically, playing in a room with fun, talented people. Not a bad way to spend a weekend. This occurred smack dab in the middle of rehearsals for Great Divide so I was drawing parallels the whole time, since both plays deal so much with the threat of damnation. During the workshop, I had the ridiculous realization that I've never worked on Marlowe. I felt slightly guilty, cheating on my man Will Shakes, but I got over it when I remembered how awesome Kit is. ALSO, this play has one of the best stage directions I've ever read. More on that later.

We all know the story of foolish Doctor Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power. Damn Yankees, anyone? Great musical. I digress. Faustus is a smart man, so smart that he's bored, and looking for something to challenge him. When we first meet him, he is alone in his study, debating the inevitability of sin.

[He reads.] "Stipendium peccati mors est." Ha!
Stipendium, etc. The reward of sin is death. That's hard.
...
If we say that we have no sin
We deceive ourselves, and there's no truth in us.
Why, then, belike we must sin and so consequently die.
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
Why doctrine call you this? Che sera, sera?
What will be, shall be? Divinity adieu!


Interesting to note here that Faustus takes into account only the first part of the Bible verse, "the wages of sin are death" and not the latter half "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Had he taken that into consideration he might not have been so easily swayed to the dark side. Of course, then we'd have no play. So, yeah.

After being visited by a good and bad angel, Faustus conjures the devil Mephistopheles, who ended up being my favorite character. In my opinion Mephistopheles, or Stoph as he was lovingly referred to in our workshop, has some of the most beautiful language in the play. When asked how it is possible that Stoph is out of hell, he responds:


Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?


Mephistopheles is a complex character. It made me wonder about the man before the devil. He warns Faustus about the danger of his actions. There is nothing he won't do to get Faustus' soul, but he also has moments of near vulnerability that show he is more than just an evil entity. Stoph's description of hell left me feeling pity for the creature - the somber note with which he recounts the vast emptiness of his eternity is somehow lovely. Faustus asks him, "Tell me, where is the place that men call hell?" Stoph answers:


Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortured and remain for ever.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves
And every creature shall be purified
All places shall be hell that is not heaven.


I imagine that Ruth has read Dr. Faustus. Or better yet, Polly follows her around the house while she's doing chores reading passages out loud. I have to run that by Polly, the beautiful and talented Elizabeth Inghram. Anyway, now, I leave you with the stage direction!
[MEPHISTOPHELES and FAUSTUS] beat the FRIARS and fling fire-works among them, and so exeunt.
I mean, it's no Exeunt, pursued by a bear. but it's pretty good. I'm sure it's not hard to stage at all.

Tomorrow's Play: Sganerelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold by Moliere

25.2.11

The Great Divide - Day 22

Forgive me if this entry begins to read like a history lesson.


I am just caught up in so many fascinating things about the time period and culture surrounding Ruth and her family in The Great Divide. And who knows, you may learn something!


The Great Divide was originally titled The Sabine Woman, referencing the historical rape of the Sabine Women. In my opinion, this places the emphasis on the event that occurs early in Act 1 that brings Ruth and Ghent together.. but it suggests that the focus of the play is Ruth and how she deals with that painful event. Changing the title to The Great Divide shifts the focus ever so slightly onto the relationship between the two lovers and their mutual struggle to find happiness despite their obstacles. So, bravo Moody! Good change!


In doing some research into the lifestyle of the early 1900's, I came across a wonderful encyclopedia full of useful information.

A ranch woman's life, or the life of a farmer's wife, differs from that of her city-slicker counterpart. But if asked to trade the country life for that of the town, most would answer that living an unconventional life in a day filled with conventionalities makes for a life that is never dull.       --Kristi A. YoungRonda Walker Weaver, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures: The Rocky Mountain Region
Ruth would absolutely choose ranch-life over stuffy New England society. Pre-Ghent, she is "just drunk with happiness the whole time," so much so that her brother, Phil is weirded out, "What's the matter with you tonight?" he asks her as she comments on the beauty of the desert. She is happy to be out west, working, and useful to her family. She embraces the difficulties and is hopeful about the future.

Americans have always been goal-oriented, but moving West was not a goal in the traditional manner, not one of working communally for the highest good but being independent, taking care of oneself, conquering the rock-hard ground of the West. Tackling an obstacle and conquering it—this lure was often called “end in view.” Those hoping to carve a place where the old way of life could be retained quickly learned that moving West also meant moving on. Old ways were soon transcended as a new land called for a new plan. Adapting the ways of the old world to fit the landscape and the livestock of the West kept many old traditions alive. In addition, adopting the ways of other immigrants and then melding them with traditions of one's own culture meant that westerners were always ready to be innovative.        --Kristi A. Young; Ronda Walker Weaver, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures: The Rocky Mountain Region
Ruth takes her independence to the extreme when she encourages Phil and Polly to go off and leave her alone at the ranch. "It only takes a moment," as the song says, and that moment is one she will regret until she comes to embrace her fate. 


Something I did not know very much about before beginning work on this play was the culture of the Navajo Indians in the early 1900s. They are very much present in the play, even though we never encounter them onstage. For Ruth especially, they are woven into her life, as she learns their rug-making and basket-weaving skills.

Navajo of New Mexico and Arizona


The Navajo, a nomadic people, came from Canada and migrated southward into the Southwest region between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. They remained nomadic hunter-gatherers until the mid-sixteenth century. The Navajo acquired sheep from the Spaniards, marking their transition from cultivating cotton for their textiles to using wool. They sheared the wool from their flocks, washed, carded, and spun it, and then dyed it using native plants such as wild walnut, lichen, and rabbitbrush. They traded chief's blankets to other Native Americans throughout the Southwest and Great Plains regions. But by the twentieth century, on the advice of their reservation trading post merchants, many Navajo switched to weaving rugs to sell to tourists. Although the Navajo adopted some agricultural practices learned from their neighbors, their economy primarily revolved around sheep.
The Navajo were slow to relinquish their warrior ways. The warriors ranged far and wide to resist Spanish, Mexican, and then Anglo-American domination. When the Anglo-Americans acquired Southwest lands from Mexico, violence broke out between the Navajo and the U.S. Army that had been sent into the frontier to protect settlers. Finally, in 1864, the Navajo were defeated and forcibly imprisoned at Fort Sumner (Bosque Redondo) in New Mexico. This left the Navajo decimated by disease and starvation, and in 1868 the U.S. government relented and returned them to their territorial lands on a reservation that straddles northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona, created for the Navajo. They reestablished their flocks of sheep and regenerated their economy by weaving wool blankets and learning to create silver jewelry from a former artisan of the Spanish mission system. Thus, art provided a means for the Navajo's economic survival.  --Jeremy Bonner, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures: The Southwest
Just as the Navajo Indians found a means of survival through their art, Ruth does the same. She earns her freedom (whether granted or no) through selling her handiwork to the "tourist mob." 
Many Native Americans saw the physical geography of the land where they lived as being animated with a life force that suffused everything. Therefore, any object made from natural materials of the earth was imbued with spiritual qualities. The process of creating such an object was viewed as part of religious ritual, like saying a prayer.                      --Jeremy Bonner, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures: The Southwest
I love this idea and believe that Ruth would absolutely think of each completed rug as a little prayer sent up to God. Penance for the wrongs she has committed. Though she has her own spiritual beliefs, learning the ways of the Navajo might influence her connection to the earth and the ritualistic nature of her handiwork.

Tickets are now on sale for The Great Divide! 
Purchase here

Tomorrow's Play: Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

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