Monday, July 23, 2018

Eat and You Belong to Us

Play #136

Eat and You Belong to Us by MJ Kaufman

I honestly can't quite say what I thought of this play. I tried to explain it to my husband, and found that any sort of summary was woefully inadequate. The play centers around the family of wives Karen and Sally. Their teenage child Jamie is genderqueer and prefers that they alternate her pronouns between she and xe, as an expression of how much "she" Jamie actually is. The "she" part of Jamie's identity, xe insists, is part of xer connection to Joan of Arc, who xe suspects xe may have have some relation to. The final element of the family is Grands - Karen's parent (formerly her mother) - who, in xer 80s, has decided to undergo "gender affirmative" surgery (a term I have never heard, but one that I think is deeply important). Karen is having a hard time following all of these changes - calling her mother "Grands" or her parent instead of "Mom," and learning her daughter's preferred pronouns - but Sally is pushing Karen to try to find her way into accepting her family members as they ask to be. After a particularly frustrating argument, Jamie runs out to the field outside the family home where she is surrounded by a handful of Joan of Arcs who whisk her away to a battlefield in 15th Century France. There, like these other Joans before her, Jamie must take on the role of Joan - leading the army, facing up to patriarchal forces that surround her, and eventually even being burned at the stake. What starts out as a great adventure eventually gives way to the painful realities of the battlefield when a frightened young soldier she had comforted ends up being killed in battle. While Jamie is back in France, Karen and Sally fret for days about their missing daughter, while also starting to get to know the gay male couple from next door, Ted and Joe. Eventually, Grands and Jamie share their Joan of Arc moment and are able to return home.

The play deals with a lot of layers of identity, which is interesting and even a little confusing on the page, but I think that it would become a great deal clearer in performance. It asks a lot of complicated questions, and has a lot of fun with how we deal with expectations and ideals when they don't quite live up to what we had hoped. An interesting play that I probably need to read a few more times before I really have a strong grasp of it, but I would venture to say that it's probably worth the additional reads.

Hey Brother

Play #135

Hey Brother by Bekah Brunstetter

I was kind of bummed out by this play, because I generally like the playwright's work a lot, but I did not enjoy this play. At the center of the play we have brothers Ben and Isaac who are living together in Ben's oceanside home in North Carolina. Isaac is a grad student who, it seems, is benefiting from his brother's wealth and stability, but that isn't really all there is to it. Ben goes out drinking... a lot... and Isaac is often left to pick up after him. It seems that Ben is not dealing well with the recent end of a long term relationship. As we go along, we also meet Kris, who is a young, Asian-American woman working on becoming a playwright. Her attempts at a historical drama often feel stilted as we encounter readings of it in her class (as performed by the same actors who play the main brothers). But when she meets Isaac online, her relationship with both brothers begins to influence her play as well as her personal behavior. The conflict between the two brothers is stirred up over time as Kris becomes infatuated with both of them, and eventually Ben throws himself in the sea in a gesture that may or may not have been some sort of poetic suicide attempt.

I didn't really feel any emotional connection to these characters; I found them cold and selfish in a lot of ways, and wasn't really particularly interested in them. So I couldn't quite figure out why they were all so swept up in each other, because I wasn't. There might actually be some decent scene material in here, but in general, it was not a play that leaped up off the page and begged to be seen, in my opinion.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Love/Sick

Play #134

Love/Sick by John Cariani

From the playwright who created the magical, charming, loopy little world of Almost, Maine, Love/Sick is another collection of short, related-but-unrelated vignettes about - you guessed it - love. This collection is less magical and uplifting than his previous piece, but I still found it really thoughtful and charming. All the scenes ostensibly happen on the same night, at the same time, in the same town, but they are all about different people. And we meet these different people at different stages within a relationship - from first attraction to first heartbreak to wedding day to just another day in a long marriage to exes meeting up long after their end... and other endings as well. There is still a degree of the weirdness that makes Almost, Maine so much fun, but this piece feels less optimistic. There is an inevitability to disappointment in this play, so that even as we chuckle at the "Obsessive Impulsive" characters or the wife digging around in the garage for a child's toy... and for "me," the chuckles cannot detach themselves from the melancholy present in each scene. I think that, on the surface, I don't enjoy this play as much as Almost,Maine, but there is something really wonderful and perhaps more mature about Love/Sick that I found really compelling. The scenes are clever, concise, and intelligent. And there is always a minus with a plus, a down with an up, a sick with a love. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Photograph 51

Play #133

Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler

This is a play about scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose work in crystallography helped to unlock the structure of DNA. Unfortunately, due to a combination of being a woman, not making it to publication first, and dying quite young of ovarian cancer (which was likely a byproduct of the equipment she used in imaging the genome), her name has largely been forgotten. This play feels like a cousin to Lauren Gunderson's play Silent Sky, but with one major difference: Rosalind's story is told almost entirely from the point of view of the men who surrounded her.

There is her unwilling partner, Maurice Wilkins; her assistant, Ray Gosling; a competing scientist duo of James Watson and Francis Crick; and a graduate student/love interest, Don Caspar. Science was (and still is) dominated by men, and there is even reference to the fact that, were she in America, she likely wouldn't even have access to the buildings where work like this was being done, let alone find herself leading it. But the play is structured as a memory play, and since Rosalind dies so young, all that seems to be left of her is the impressions that she made on the men around her. Franklin is a fascinating woman whose story is absolutely deserving of a play, but I never really felt much life to this particular telling. Perhaps I'm jaded by the beauty of Gunderson's play that I read so recently. There's nothing inherently wrong with this script, but there's nothing that really stands out about it either. And though Ziegler does manage to create some complexity for the woman whose memory these men regale us with, I think I would have found the play much more interesting if I felt I were seeing it from her point of view rather than from theirs. 

Terminating

Play #132 - Terminating, or Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence by Tony Kushner

Terminating is a short play (with a long title) from the collection Love's Fire, in which a number of badass playwrights were assigned a Shakespearean sonnet as inspiration. Kushner's is based on Sonnet #75.

The play begins in a psychiatrist's office where Hendryk is begging his former therapist Esther to take him back, though she is firm that they have terminated their doctor patient relationship. Hendryk is a fairly neurotic man who continually asks Esther to sleep with him - despite their both being gay. In fact, both of their partners are present in the room as well (Esther's partner Dymphna and Hendryk's, Billygoat), though it's a little unclear how corporeally they are present. Are they really there? Are they simply the specters of outside relationships hovering over the pair as they dance around their troubled relationship and troubled senses of self? The epic nature of the lovers' names adds to their mystical quality within the narrative, in which they hover around the edges.

Not much really happens in this play, but as it is by Tony Kushner, the language and ideas are complex and beautiful as Hendryk wanders through his insecurities, bouncing off of Esther's stoic exterior - her ambivalence, it may seem, but I am not so sure. Though it's not action packed, there is a lot happening for and between these people and their partners as they navigate the waters of love and self love.

On a practical note, there are a couple of short scenes and monologues that could be useful, though I usually steer clear from things this raw for my acting one classes.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Black Super Hero Magic Mama

Play #131 - Black Super Hero Magic Mama by Inda Craig-Galván

This was the first of the plays off this year's Kilroys list that I happened to get my hands on, and it was (no surprise) a compelling script. The main character Sabrina Jackson is a single black mother who must deal with the death of her 14-year-old son Tramarion at the hands of a white police officer. Overcome with grief, she retreats inward into the world of the comic book hero The Maasai Angel - a character that had been created by her son and his best friend. Of course, family and news media and pretty much everyone have opinions about how she SHOULD be reacting to her loss - what she owes to the people, the movement, etc. And all these outside influences float in and out of her comic book fantasy, where she is actually able to vanquish them in their exaggerated, villainous personas. But all of her epic triumphs lead her closer to The Entity - the big bad that she must face, whether she is ready or not. BSHMM jumps back and forth between past and present, reality and fantasy, and concrete and abstract as it paints a portrait of a mother's suffering and strength in the face of the unthinkable, yet all too common.

It's a clever and heartfelt script that reminds me a bit of Qui Nguyen's She Kills Monsters, but with a much more pointed and mournful core - one that gives voice not only to loss, but to the swirling expectations that rise up after these kinds of tragedies (and yes, the fact that these occurrences are staggeringly plural is all too clear in this play), demanding that the people who have lost the most live up to some strange social responsibility. Without giving any spoilers, at first I thought that I wanted a little bit more from the ending - more resolution, perhaps? - but as I mulled over the vivid trajectory of the play, and the battles that Sabrina/Maasai Angel wages and wins, I think that the simplicity of the ending might be the point. In the aftermath of a shooting like the one in BSHMM, there is no magic battle that solves all problems and sets things right. Eventually there is just the day to day, the going on, the heroism of living. And Craig-Galván's play leads us on this deeply personal journey with action and heart.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Taming

Play #130 - The Taming by Lauren Gunderson

While I was administering my final today for History of Drama and Theatre, I took the opportunity to finally read this play, and it was exactly the delightful revolutionary lozenge my disillusioned mind needed on yet another day when the news was giving me heart palpitations.

The Taming is written for a cast of three women - Katherine, the current Miss Georgia with some pretty wacky ideas about governance; Bianca, the liberal activist blogger; and Pat, the ambitious chief of staff to a conservative Republican senator. The names and a few syntactical nods are really all of Taming of the Shrew that we get in this play, and that's just fine with me. On the eve of the Miss America Pageant, Bianca and Pat wake up in a hotel room unable to find their phones (or pants, in Pat's case), leave the room, or even remember how they got there. These two natural enemies argue about their situation and their rabid dislike for each other, doing a great job of playing up the absurdity of extremity, rather than absurdity of any one side of the partisan divide. This exchange is made all the more delightful by what is one of my favorite stage directions since "Exit, pursued by bear": (Tense Sexy Partisan Pause). Then, enter the beauty queen to explain her plans for fixing what is broken in the great American experiment. The other two women are, of course, hesitant to engage, and after an energetic discussion and even a good ol' farcical chase, we are transported back in time (sort of) to 1787 where James Madison (played by Pat) sweats over the Constitution, which is expected in front of the Convention for a vote any day now. George Washington (played by Katherine) and Charles Pinckney (played by Bianca) offer encouragement and antagonism, respectively. And the brief cameos by Martha Washington and Dolly Madison (both played by Katherine) are a hoot. Finally, after the Founding Fathers reach an "agreement" on what is, by all admissions, a deeply imperfect, if well-intentioned, document, we are back in the present day in our same hotel room as the three women have to decide what direction they will take.

I will admit to being a particular head space right now that predisposed me to love this play, but I really did love this play. It is energetic and silly, while still offering insight and ass-kicking where they are warranted. I look forward to using monologues and scenes from this in acting classes, and I would really love to do this show... pretty much now. Though it premiered back in 2013 before our present political maelstrom had emerged, it does such a great job of speaking to the problems of entrenched partisanship, and honoring the roots of the American experiment in such a positive, sassy way.