Saturday, July 6, 2024

A Number

A Number

by Caryl Churchill

It's really sort of difficult to describe this play. A two-hander originated by Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig, A Number follows an elder scientist named Salter and his relationship with his son... and his son... and his son. Salter, it seems, has experimented with cloning, and after a problem with his original son, he started attempting to make a better version. However, as the original and the clones learn about each other, conflict arises beyond anything that Salter could have expected.

I read this play in hopes that it would fit into my Science on Stage class, but there wasn't really any discussion of the science of cloning. Of course, that's just fine. Churchill wanted to talk about something else - the emotional weight of fathers and sons. We may fail each other, we may let each other and ourselves down, but does that give us permission to toss those failures to the curb and start anew? Can we accept each other for who we are and what we have done? Can we erase those failures and still be who we are? Can we love each other because of rather than in spite of our faults?

And perhaps most importantly - is there a video anywhere of that original performance?!!? What I wouldn't give to get to see those two men perform this play! 

The Hatmaker's Wife

The Hatmaker's Wife

by Lauren Yee

A young woman referred to in the script only as "Voice" is moving in with her boyfriend Gabe. It should be immediate bliss, but the walls hold a story and they begin to share it. Voice hears the tale of the old hatmaker Hetchman and his wife who disappeared - he had refused to make her a perfect hat, instead expecting her to wait on him hand and foot. The story becomes increasingly mystical as he summons a Golem, and Voice gets increasingly wrapped up in the story, complicating her relationship with Gabe. The story twists and turns and intersects in interesting and charming ways, inviting the audience to think about the roles they and their partners may play in their own relationships.

I read this play not long after I read Julia Cho's The Language Archive, and while I wouldn't say that the plays are really all that similar, there was a common spirit that I sensed between the two plays. There is an epic sense of the scope of old relationships in both plays that serves as a mode for the younger characters in the play to encounter and interrogate their newer romances. It also made me think of Sheila Callaghan's Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), as the walls of the home hold onto the emotional histories that unfolded within them, and become their own strange characters. I really enjoyed the theatricality and mysticism of this play, and I think it would be a lot of fun to explore a world like this!

Space Girl

Space Girl 

by Mora V. Harris

Arugula and her father Nancy are on a mission from their planet to gather information about Earth and its inhabitants, ostensibly to see how the planet might be improved - or possibly whether or not it deserves assistance at all. Arugula attempts to balance her burgeoning teen sexuality and her tendencies toward violence by taking up roller derby, but being a human teenager may be more than she or her father are prepared for.

I have to admit that I didn't love this play, but I did find some real charm to it. The general device of the fish-out-of-water teenager works pretty well, and I really did like the information we got about the home planet's (Zlagdor) inherent violence, and how that clashed with Arugula's attempts to find her place. The sacrifices that she ultimately had to make were a little heavy-handed, but ultimately it's a sweet story, and one that I suspect many of my students would find engaging and fun.



By Jen Silverman

Elizabeth is an outcast in her historical English town, having been dubbed a witch. So when Scratch comes to town in search of souls, hers should be the easiest to collect, but things are not quite that simple.  In town, Sir Arthur is grappling with his disappointing son Cuddy, who is grappling with his father's obvious preference (as well as his own unexplained desire) for the confident and rakish Frank. As passions and ambitions flare, a variety of truths ooze out into the light.

This play is, not to mince words, badass. I read it and immediately wanted to perform it. Someone direct me as Elizabeth... PLEASE! It is sexy and emotional and human and supernatural in all of these really interesting ways. I think the thing that would chase some people away from it is the possible scope of production values - the props for the post-banquet scene alone could be quite a heavy lift (literally and figuratively). But the story and the characters and the relationships are so vivid and vicious, it absolutely leaps off the page.

Monday, October 24, 2022

For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday

For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday 

By Sarah Ruhl

This play has been on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time, and I'm so glad one of my students finally gave me the nudge I needed to finish reading it.

For Peter Pan is a three act play that follows five grown siblings as they hold vigil in their dying father's hospital room (in the first act, anyway). He finally does pass at the end of the first act, and the second act takes us back to the family home where the siblings snack and reminisce and argue about politics, all while the ghost of their father putters about, mostly unnoticed by his children. Finally, in the third act, in true Ruhl-ian fashion, the characters transform into Peter Pan and his Neverland crew, where "I won't grow up" crashes head long into the inevitability of age.

I probably should have known better than to read a play that Ruhl wrote as a gift to her mother in a public space, but read it in an airport I did. And there is nothing quite like openly weeping in front of a bunch of strangers. There is so much to love in this gorgeous, loving meditation on family and aging and youth and memory. As I myself age, I read a lot more plays that I am now too old for than I do plays I look forward to growing into, so this was a nice treat as an actor. But in invoking Peter Pan, one of the few truly magical characters of our canon, it is also a love letter to the possibility of theatre to keep us all a little younger and a little more full of wonder.

Monday, June 20, 2022

On the Exhale

I have completely lost any semblance of counting the plays that I am reading. I read SO MANY PLAYS this semester.


Play #?

On the Exhale by Martín Zimmerman

Content Notification: Elementary school shooting, self harm

I ordered this play after the shooting in Uvalde, when I was looking for plays that have dealt with shootings. Feeling that sort of powerless thing so many artists feel in the aftermath of yet another horrific and entirely avoidable tragedy. I'm a person who believes that art can change things. So I wanted to see what other people who believe that have done.

The unnamed protagonist of this one woman play begins by explaining an uncomfortably familiar anxiety in education these days - the fear that any one of us might be next. Specifically she is in higher education, which brings it close to home for me. For this character, however, her 1st grade son and his classmates turn out to be next. A single mother of a now deceased child, she struggles with how to find any tangible connection to her son and what happened - since all the witnesses are also fatal casualties of the attack. She is surprised to discover that she finds connection in an impulse purchase and subsequent firing of the exact same type of automatic rifle that killed her son. The character wrestles with the ugliness of the act and the strange allure of the instrument of death. But when she testifies in front of a bored congress, she finds herself unsatisfied with shooting ranges and teeters dangerously on the edge of another kind of catharsis.

This is an interesting play, and for about the first two thirds, I think it does what it is doing very well. The plot that unfolds once she zeros in on a heartless and disinterested senator near the end feels a bit too contrived for my taste, especially in a play that feels so grounded and truthful until that point. I would be curious to see how this plays out on stage. I'm attracted to its horrifying relevance, but am not convinced that it ends up earning its place. It's hard to say.

One interesting tidbit worth noting is that the playwright specifies that the gun itself should not appear onstage; rather the actor must "use her body to suggest the weapon." Remembering back to the Tony Awards performance by the cast of Hamilton the weekend of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, I remember the power of their absent weapons that night. We all know what a gun looks like. I think the playwright is right that the trauma of staring at an automatic rifle onstage in front of us might just be too much. We can fill in the blanks, and the horror is still all too real.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Am I Blue?

I read plays 1 & 2 for 2022 as part of my participation in the Hedgepig Ensemble's Expand the Canon project, so I can't post anything about them. So that leads me to...

Play #3

Am I Blue? - Beth Henley 

A student of mine is interested in directing this one-act as part of her senior seminar, so I needed to give it a read. It's classically Beth Henley - dark and sweet and strange. John Polk is drinking himself drunk enough to indulge in the birthday gift he received from his frat brothers - a night with a sex worker - when Ashbe rushes over to his table, having just stolen ash trays from a bar down the street. Both of them are too young to be in this bar, so they both get kicked out and end up back at Ashbe's apartment where they talk about jealousy and anger and coming of age and sex and affection. And eventually, they simply dance the night away. 

It's a dated piece, set in 1968, but there is also a timelessness to the youth of the two characters. Henley is always so good at constructing melancholy and the glimmer of hope that lies just beyond the edges. And those edges, in this play at least, are not as far away as the characters might hope. There are a few little persnickety things from the time period that contemporary audiences might balk at - mentions of "the Orient" and referring to the sex workers as "whores." But the core of the piece is smart and sweet and oh so human. There's a lot of charm in these few pages.