Search This Blog

31.1.11

Two Precious Maidens Ridiculed

by Molière

One of my very best friends, the hilarious and talented Amanda Smith, told me she used to do a monologue from this play. I knew it must be funny if she was drawn to it, so I went to my second home, the Strand, and picked up a copy.

It's very funny - in that way only french comedies are.. The title suggests it all - it is the story of two women who think more highly of themselves than their positions warrant. After snubbing two suitors who didn't measure up to their standards ("A fine sense of chivalry they have - to begin a relationship by treating us like wives!" mourns Magdelon, one of the girls), their father/uncle expresses his disappointment:
I tell you that marriage is a simple and holy thing, and if you're honest, you'll talk about it right from the beginning.
This is not what Magdelon wanted to hear:
Good Gothic, if everybody thought that, a novel would end as soon as it started.
I will now use 'Good gothic' as much as possible in normal conversation.

What we have here is a classic case of girls-who-read-too-many-books-and-consequently-romanticize-love-to-the-point-of-unrealistic-expectation. I have been accused of this. I cannot imagine why.

The suitors are pissed and decide to enact revenge on the two girls. They send their lackeys into the drawing room to pose as society men. The lackeys play their parts well and the girls think the cream of society is coming to their doorstep. One of the servants goes so far as to recite an "impromptu" for the ladies, claiming that their beauty and charm is so overwhelming that he is driven to recite:

Oh, oh, I could not have been on guard,
For when I innocently stared at you too hard, 
Your sly little eye stole my heart. O grief!
Stop thief, stop thief, stop thief, stop thief!


Now, this should have tipped the ladies off. But, because they are not really so great themselves, and probably don't have very much education in the forms of poetry, they are none the wiser. .. OR they are just so blinded by potential popularity they IGNORE the poor excuse for a verse. Regardless, it's very funny to watch the men parade around the room and make fools of the women.

Mascarille, one of the lackeys, pretends that he has written a play, and when asked which company he will give it to, he responds:
What a question! Naturally, to the Bourgogne Players. They are the only ones who know how to play for effect. The others are ignorant fellows who talk like people. They don't know how to snort out their lines or pause at a strategic point. And how can we recognize a fine line if the actor doesn't pause to warn us that it is time to show our appreciation?
The Bourgogne Players were Molière's rivals, so not only does he get a dig in at them, but he has the opportunity to create a bit of a "Hamlet's advice to the players" moment.

As the title suggests, the women are punished for their folly. I really loved imagining this play in my mind and it's a quick and easy read if you're looking for something to put a smile on your face!

Tomorrow's Play: 3x3, or 9 after 9 by Shane Breaux and Kevin Brewer

Essential Self-Defense

by Adam Rapp

This play is weird. I mean, it's funny, but it's about very strange people. It reminded me of something Christopher Moore might write (he was on my brain, as I was recommending A Dirty Job and Fool to friends at Forum Tuesday night). Anyway, who says plays should only be written about princes and counties? There are weird people out there and they deserve to have plays about them, too.

The story centers on an unlikely couple who meet in self-defense class: Sadie, a student, and Yul, the guy she beats up week after week.

Yul's weird sense of humor gave me the most pleasure while reading this play. When Sadie comes to visit him at his place, she notices that he has a lot of eggs lying around. He's a little strange about them, telling her:
They're more like color-coded containers. But that subject needs to end forever.
Clearly, he has evil intentions for those innocent-looking eggs. The story has just the right amount of ambiguity, which allows you to draw your own conclusions as to what type of guy Yul really is. Is he just a misunderstood loner or is he, well, a terrorist?

You'll have to read to find out... ;)

For all his eccentricities, Yul is a very smart guy. While at a super awkward dinner party, he cautions the group:
I think books are more dangerous than anything. Because they get at your thoughts in the most personal way. The author's voice is like a whisper that finds you at midnight.
Love that image.

All in all, not my favorite of Rapp's work, but an entertaining read and good for a chuckle. Also, a good piece to look at for off-beat, quirky character work and monologues.

Tomorrow's Play:
Two Precious Maidens Ridiculed by Moliere

27.1.11

The Pillowman

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
by Martin McDonagh

I got an email suggesting that I read some of McDonagh's work and I realized that for all his many brilliant plays, I hadn't blogged one. SO.. It's been a while since I picked up a McDonagh play. I was fortunate enough to see The Pillowman on Broadway, twice. It was amazing. It was the best play I'd seen on stage until I saw the most recent La Bete.



It was a joy to pick up The Pillowman after a few years away from it. The performances were still in my mind but not so fresh that I couldn't create new images as I read. One thing that definitely stuck with me was Jeff Goldblum's voice. His inflections are hard to forget.

I think McDonagh's work is hard to categorize. This is a drama. But it's hilarious. But the comedy is so dark you find yourself wondering, was it okay that I just laughed at that?

The Pillowman
is, appropriately, about the power of stories. The power of the written word. The purest form of entertainment, because it gets into your brain and grabs your imagination. The play begins in an interrogation room where the writer Katurian Katurian Katurian (his parents were cruel. no, really.) is being accused of a crime. Jeff Goldblum asks him to stand and read aloud one of his short stories. Katurian is confused by this, but agrees, stating, "This feels like school somehow." Jeff Goldblum responds:
Mm. Except at school they didn't execute you at the end. (Pause.) Unless you went to a really fucking tough school.
So, now Katurian is scared and confused. On top of this, his brother is being tortured in the room next door. All he can think is that perhaps he has angered someone with the tone of his stories, which range from gruesome to horrifying. Jeff Goldblum carries on the role of not necessarily 'good' cop but 'better of the two' cops with his sardonic humor. He tells Katurian:
We like executing writers. Dimwits we can execute any day. And we do. But, you execute a writer, it sends out a signal, y'know?
After some more scare tactics, Katurian learns that he's under investigation for the murder of a series of young children. He is the prime suspect because the murders were carried out in ways that mirror the action of a few of his short stories. He claims innocence but the cops are not convinced.

Fast forward to the top of act two: both brothers are now in one room and we have the opportunity to learn about their dark upbringing that turned Katurian into the writer he is now. Through the character of Katurian, McDonagh emphasizes the importance of the writer's work outlasting the life of the writer:
It isn't about being or not being dead. It's about what you leave behind. Right at this moment, I don't care if they kill me. I don't care. But they're not going to kill my stories. They're not going to kill my stories. They're all I've got.
*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven't read the play, you may want to skip the end of this post.

So, it turns out that Katurian's innocent-seeming, mentally-challenged brother decided to act out some of his big brother's stories, which, in turn, killed two children. Katurian is dumbfounded and asks him why he couldn't have acted out some of his nicer stories? Michael tells him he didn't write any.
Michal: So, what, I could've done ones that wouldn't've been so horrible? Like what? Like 'The Face Basement'? Slice off their face, keep it in a jar on top of a dummy, downstairs? Or 'The Shakespeare Room'? Old Shakespeare with the little black pygmy lady in the box, gives her a stab with a stick every time he wants a new play wrote?
Katurian: He didn't do all those plays himself.
Bahaha. The more plays I read, the more I realize that nearly every one has either a Shakespeare joke or reference of some sort. I cannot imagine having such a profound effect on society that your influence is still present EVERYWHERE after hundreds and hundreds of years. Amazing.

I respect McDonagh so much for his limitless imagination. Within The Pillowman, he has created multiple stories, most of them horrific, but so creative. His dark macabre sense of humor is a welcome change from the fluffy Moliere I was reading earlier this week (posts to come). 

Reading the cast list from the original British version led to an interesting exercise for me. Having only seen the Broadway production, I tried to read through this time with the British casting in mind. It's a very different play. For example, imagine Jeff Goldblum saying:
I'm just tired of everybody round here using their shitty childhoods to justify their own shitty behavious. My dad was a violent alcoholic. Am I a violent alcoholic? Yes I am, but that was my personal choice. I freely admit it.
Now, re-read the line with Jim Broadbent in mind.

Totally different, right?

Tomorrow's Play: Essential Self-Defense by Adam Rapp

20.1.11

Red Light Winter

by Adam Rapp

Okay, admit it, you clicked on this one for the picture.

Does it ever happen to you where you've read a play a few times and as you're re-reading you still forget what happens? That happened to me reading Red Light Winter. I've probably read this play three times, at least, and I could not remember what happened at the end (I mean, I remembered the big thing, but not how they got there.) It made for a very enjoyable reading experience, but caused some alarm with regard to my long term memory..

Oh well.

I love reading introductions. I feel like they are a glimpse of the day-to-day life of the playwright. The voice is different - oftentimes honest and straightforward, even humorous. Rapp's introduction to Red Light Winter was beautiful to read on its own. He mentions his inspiration for the play, and what drew him to write this complicated love triangle. He found himself interested in:
how we hold on to the tiniest details when we encounter someone we're bewitched by, and how the other person might not remember the most obvious things from that meeting; the cruelty and pain of being disremembered versus the alchemy of selective memory and how we twist and distort it to rationalize and justify what we want to believe about the object of our affection.
So sad. Even sadder that it happens every day. To wonderful people.

The first time I read this play I was shocked. In the best of ways. I enjoyed the dark humor and twists and turns. This time, I was less shocked, but more appreciative of the complexities within the characters. I recently read Rapp's Essential Self-Defense (post to come soon) and feel that I'm beginning to understand Rapp's sense of humor a little better.

There were some lines in this play that made me laugh out loud. For example, once Christine/a lets down her walls and starts to tell Matt some of her truths, it's revealed that she used to be an actress. Matt asks her, "What was the last play you did?" She responds:
Fucking Oklahoma. But it was pretty experimental. It was set in a small engine-repair shop and all the townspeople were part machine. 
I mean, come ON. That is brilliant. We kind of all have a story like that. Also, I would pay to see that version. Well, not a lot. But, like 5 bucks? Definitely.

This time around, Matt was the most interesting character for me. His artistic and personal struggles seem totally believable and my heart went out to him. He was dealt a rough hand by having Davis as a friend and a career that results in enormous pressure. Through Matt's voice, Rapp tells us what every playwright must feel at some point:
Yeah, with playwriting there's lots of false starts. Ill-fated first acts, etcetera. I blame it all on Shakespeare. He stole all my ideas like three hundred years before I was even born. He futuristically ruined my career.
That's why he's a badass.

Tomorrow's Play: The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh

13.1.11

Mary Stuart

by Friedrich Schiller, in a new version by Peter Oswald

Hurrah for two amazing female roles! This is a play ripe with intrigue, plotting, suspicion.. you know, politics. The most anticipated moment, however, is the meeting of Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth. When it arrives, it proves well worth waiting for.


Mary Stuart is a modern verse play. Yes, it is poetic, but the poetry enhances the world of the play and heightens the drama. We see the world through the eyes of the prisoner, Mary, and the ruler, Elizabeth. Surprisingly, they don't differ much. Both are full of fear, as was the norm of the time. Both women are Queens and testing the waters to see where loyalties lie. Unfortunately for them, the men surrounding them have shifting loyalties and their own advancement to think of. This leaves very shaky ground for our main characters to walk upon.

Much of the play is setting up the fateful meeting of the two crowns. Those on Mary's side encourage the encounter, sure that upon sight of her, Elizabeth will sympathize with Mary. Those on the side of Queen Elizabeth are less in favor. Elizabeth, knowing it will look badly for her if she puts Mary to death publicly, would rather something be done with the prisoner in quiet. She attempts to give unspoken signals to her servants and finds one responsive - Mortimer... or so she thinks. He tells her not to worry about how things look, to which she responds:

                                                 The world
Thinks through its eyes, do you not know that, knight?
Everyone judges by appearance, no one
Bothers to fathom the realities.


She departs their meeting believing that she finally found the man to take out Mary. Grateful, she instructs him:


                                                 Tell yourself
That silence is a sign of satisfaction,
And that the truest and the best connections
Are often those that must remain most hidden.


Little does she know, Mortimer has other plans. In fact, his dream is to free Mary, whom he loves. Mortimer's father, seeing the way the Queen spoke to him, fears for his son. He urges him:
Don't pay for anything with everything. Hold onto your conscience!
Such is the world at court - in a word, dangerous.

Without revealing the end action, I will assure that the two women, strong-headed and passionate, fight for what they believe and don't back down easily. This play is brilliant and I hope you'll take the time to check it out. I trust it will be performed often now and in about five or so years when I can play the roles!

Tomorrow's Play: Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp

The Tragedy of Macbeth Part II: The Seed of Banquo

by Noah Lukeman

Okay. So about a week ago I wrote an excellent blog post about this play and then went to post it and BAM! Error message. Lost entire post. Curse of Macbeth perhaps? OOOOOOooooooOOOOooooo. It's taken me a while but let's try again.

I first saw this play on the shelves of the Drama Bookshop and, needless to say, I was skeptical. Someone tried to write a sequel to one of the greatest English tragedies ever? In blank verse nonetheless?!?! Bold. BUT recently, someone that I respect a great deal recommended it to me. So, for his sake, I gave it a read.


I loved it.

Is it the sequel that Shakespeare would have written? Probably not. But that's exactly why I liked it so much. I feel like Lukeman was able to take risks with characters and situations that the culture surrounding Shakespeare wouldn't have allowed. Granted, I did find some of the scenes to be bordering on the cheesy, but with the right actors and direction? No problem.

SO, It's been ten years since the Macbeths died and the land is at peace under Malcolm's rule. Malcolm, however, has had ten years to think about the prophecy that Banquo's issue, sooner or later, would be King. He fears Fleance, who has been gathering soldiers, and tells his men to watch the young threat, but not to strike, because:

                            Graver the danger that I
become the likeness of Macbeth than that
a boy-man dream of breaching Dunsinane.


Malcolm's men (who are almost all driven by their own desires) plant seeds of doubt in his head about not only Fleance, but also Donalbain, his own brother who fled to Ireland. Malcolm refuses to think poorly of his brother but Seyton warns him:

                                       The truest
villain does not reveal himself until
the moment meet for his desire - 


I don't want to reveal all of the awesome things that happen because I want you to read it for yourself. So I may be a little vague from here on.. Malcolm is frightened and the peace makes him uneasy so he goes to visit everyone's favorite villains, the witches. They prophesy a few things that confuse both Malcolm and us.. but are later revealed as they come true.

Later on, Malcolm falls in love with a girl, who is sort of a mix of Isabella and Imogen, with a dash of Caesar's Portia. This heroin is actually my favorite character in the piece. She has some beautiful speeches. When Malcolm confesses his feelings, she responds:


It is not requited. And if it were,
I would have no extravagant way
to frame the words, have no device to gild
my syllables, but only say, I love you.


While Malcolm is busy falling in love, Fleance (who, grown up, reminds me of Florizel) is far away planning for battle. We first see him trying to convince his lover, Fiona, to come away with him. This pastoral scene is a sharp contrast from the tension of Malcolm's court. Alas, Fiona is killed, forcing Fleance to a harsher state of mind. He vows:


I who gave my life to love shall learn
the ways of war; I who worshipped Venus
will turn my face to Mars.


Fleance is shown as a fair man. Upon meeting the son of the old Cawdor, all of his men are wary but Fleance says:


                                     I shall
trust you, for it takes equal courage
to trust as to live, and in these times
we must learn to live again.


A kingly sentiment, I think.

Lukeman is clearly very smart, and has let his imagination run wild with these already-famous characters. The Seed of Banquo is a treat. Whether you're familiar with Macbeth or not, I promise you'll be entertained!

Tomorrow's Play: Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, new version by Peter Oswald

6.1.11

Wonderful Time

by Jonathan Marc Sherman

Wonderful Time is a boy-meets-girl-and-immediately-takes-her-to-his-best-friend's-wedding kind of story. Not, you'd think, the best way to begin a relationship. But what's nice about Sherman's tale is that this is a gradual coming together of two slightly wounded people - it's not gimmicky or trite. It's simple. And real.

When I read a play I look for many things. Not the least of which is a universality - to be able to find something within the play that rises above the action. One of Sherman's characters sums it up nicely:
The point is there are important messages in unexpected places, and it's our duty to search for them.
I think it's in all humans to question. To be curious about people and the world around us. I'm always searching for the next thing - be it an answer, a path, a question, a person..  and artists of all mediums seek truth and love.

Linus, the hero/underdog of the story loses his girlfriend at the top of the play, after he admits that he cheated. He is about to head to his best friend's wedding and doesn't want to go alone, so when he meets Betsy on the street, he invites her along. Would this happen in real life? Are people really that spontaneous? I'd like to think so. I probably wouldn't go, but that depends on the sort of day I was having, I suppose.

On the airplane, Betsy tries to explain why she decided to come with him. Her complaint is that people are too boring and that nobody does interesting things. She wanted to break that pattern.

In her, I see the playwright's desire to wake up his readers.. to encourage them to live life to the fullest. In this modern age of planning every thing down to the minute (something I'm pretty guilty of), watching two people fall in love through a whimsical journey across the country is refreshing.

Linus and Betsy begin as near strangers, and through witty banter and inherent chemistry come to find something special. Yet, the ending of the plays leaves us wondering if Linus is still searching for something more. This is not your typical happy ending. Earlier, to Betsy, he says:
You shouldn't have to say actions speak louder than words. You should act actions speak louder than words.
His words are saying one thing to her and his actions, something totally different. As he stares off into the ocean at the end, it left me thinking that our generation is crippled by endless choices. Our ability to see the future a million different ways makes it difficult to make decisions. The choice of who you spend your time with may just be the most important, and ultimately, the hardest. It's not like the old days when you knew the only single guy in town roughly your age would end up being your husband. Online dating and cosmopolitan cities have expanded the waters where the fish live..

Ideally, love is a simple thing. And when you kiss, you feel like a kid again. Butterflies, excitement, uncertainty.. a flood of emotion.. As Linus says:
No matter how many times I do that, I'll always feel like I'm twelve. Let's kiss for hours. Let's kiss till our lips hurt.
Tomorrow's Play: The Tragedy of Macbeth, Part II: The Seed of Banquo 

2.1.11

Iphigenia

by P. Seth Bauer

HAPPY 2011!

To start things off right, let's make a sacrifice in honor of Dionysus. May this year be filled with lots of love, creativity, and happiness! .. Alas, I have no daughter to give to the gods, so I will write about a man who does!

If you're usually turned off by Greek plays because the drama is so intense that it turns comical, then THIS play is for you. If you love all things Greek and appreciate a nice modern spin on a classic, then this play is for you! Basically I'm saying - this play is for you. And you.

Bauer has created a modern, funny, fast-paced, surprisingly refreshing version of the tragic sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Now, Agamemnon gets a bad rap for his decision to give up his daughter.. he's in an impossible situation. Something that struck me reading this play was the important difference between personal and political. Take this exchange:

          Menelaos: These are not the words of a general.
          Agamemnon: Just a father.
          Menelaos: But you are greater than that. Anyone can be a father. The 
          army's full of fathers. But who can inspire these men and lead them on to 
          victory? You.


Remember that season of West Wing when Jed's daughter got kidnapped and he invoked the 25th amendment because he didn't feel fit to serve? He was so focused on his personal life that he couldn't do the country justice. I feel like Agamemnon is in a similar situation - but instead of doing the humane thing, as wonderful-perfect-wishyouwerereal-Jed Bartlet does, Agamemnon gives up his daughter.

One could argue that Agamemnon is not the real bad guy of the story, however, Menelaos is. He is the one who is so laser-focused on war, but with the Greek mentality of the time, who can blame him?
We're Greeks. We don't ask ourselves why we go to war. We ask ourselves why not.
The hero of this story is Iphigenia herself. She is a fitting testament to her name, which mean"strong-born" or "born to strength," and, I think, an appropriate model to start off the year - a strong woman, secure in her beliefs, unafraid of what's to come. 


Here's to a fantastic 2011!

Tomorrow's Play: Wonderful Time by Jonathan Marc Sherman

Labels

' (1) absurdist (1) american (68) British (17) chekhov (1) classical (33) comedic (49) contemporary (108) dramatic (44) fairy-tale (1) farce (8) helen keller (1) impediment (2) Irish (1) musical (2) no role (3) nudity (1) one-act (9) pulitzer (4) role (117) serio-comedic (43) shakespeare (4) Shaw (2) thriller (1) tragedy (4) translation (3) war (2)