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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

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