Saturday, February 28, 2015

That All of Us Should Be Fed

Play # 39 (Make-up #8) - That All of Us Should Be Fed by Eliza Anderson

Another ten-minute play about Martha and Sally - two women in 1920. Sally (who is married) has come by Martha's (who is single) in response to a note Martha had left. Sally brings some meat, and assumes that there must be trouble if her rather reclusive neighbor went to the trouble of bringing a note to the house, but it turns out Martha just wants to have tea. Sally isn't sure what to do with this, but she stays, since her husband is going to be coming by to pick her up in an hour anyway. As they drink tea and chat, Sally can't help but tell Martha why the people in town don't like her - as she hasn't lived the life they do, and she doesn't interact with them the way they might wish. Martha confides about a one-night stand she had with a German soldier four years ago. It's a strange little moment of intimacy between these two women who are practically strangers. Nothing much really happens, but there is some good potential for simple, specific connection. The subtext is rich in this little exchange.

Quiet Torrential Sound

Play #38 - Quiet Torrential Sound by Joan Ackerman

This is a little ten minute play that doesn't have a great flow, but could be kind of fun to perform. Monica and Claire are two sisters on a vacation in the Berkshires. They wander into a cafe after a Beethoven concert in the park, and it is clear almost immediately who is in charge here. Monica - the elder - rhapsodizes about the concert, criticizes her sister, and terrorizes the waiter at every turn. She almost never stops talking or judging for the first half of the play, until Claire takes focus when she decides to confide in her sister that she has begun exploring her own body and has had the excellent experience of multiple orgasms - something Monica really ought to try one of these days. Monica barely listens, continuing to complain about her coffee (was it REALLY decaf?), and planning the rest of their day. The sisters barely manage to connect as they leave to head to the Rockwell museum. It's sort of difficult to follow the flow of the conversation - why Claire decides to bring up what she does when she does isn't particularly clear, but it is sort of fun to see Monica's running commentary on how marvelous and cultured she is interrupted by her sister relating this intimate personal discovery. I can't say that there ends up being a real change or a real trajectory through the course of the short exchange, but there is potential for amusement. And sometimes, that's enough.

Friday, February 27, 2015


Play #37 - Scarcity by Lucy Thurber

Well, it's been a depressing couple of days in Play a Day land. Scarcity is the story of a blue collar family with a hard-working mother (Martha), a drunk, layabout father (Herb), and two very intelligent children (Billy and Rachel). Billy is 16 and has made it into the gifted and talented program at his school. He's in there among all the rich kids, really learning and seeing possibilities for growth. His teacher, Ellen, sees great promise in him, and is trying to help him apply to boarding school. Rachel is 11, and has high hopes of following in Billy's footsteps and far beyond. The whole family seems to agree that she is the smartest one. She is certainly the most ambitious. She keeps asking Billy to talk her up to Ellen so that she'll have support when the times comes. The family is barely scraping by, mostly with the help of Martha's cousin Louie, who is also in love with Martha, despite being married to Gloria. Ellen does help Billy get into school with a scholarship, and he leaves his sister feeling trapped in her circumstances - if he gets out... will he ever come back for her?

Poor Rachel is sort of the only character with redeeming qualities in the entire play, and she ends up being left to stagnate all on her own. Billy and Ellen develop a physical relationship (though they say they haven't slept together, so I guess that's something). Martha barely even notices her daughter, and never holds her husband accountable for his terrible behavior. Herb is a lousy drunk and a jerk to pretty much everyone pretty much all the time... and he may or may not have abused Rachel... and Martha may or may not have covered that up - it's unclear. Louie is totally selfish and disregards his wife because she has the audacity not to be Martha. Gloria is sort of an afterthought in the world of the play, but she seems to hold her own pretty well when all is said and done. It's a play about a slice of life that is hard and ugly and frustrating. It's a picture of an economic cycle that threatens to trap even the most hopeful, capable or extraordinary people, keeping them from living up to their potential. It's a play about a family that hardly seems like one at all except in the biological sense. Once again, I find myself recognizing that the writing is good, but I still can't say I enjoy the play. Tomorrow I'm going to have to find something a little more upbeat. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gidion's Knot

Play #36 - Gidion's Knot by Johnna Adams

This was a tough play to read - particularly the end, because I get overly emotional about cats.


Let me explain.

Heather Clark is a fifth grade teacher, sitting in her classroom grading papers at the end of the day and clearly waiting for a phone call. She is not expecting Corryn Fell, the mother of one of her students, to arrive. Apparently they had had a parent/teacher conference scheduled, but Heather assumed it would be canceled because Corryn's son, Gidion, had recently killed himself. But Corryn came anyway, demanding to know why her son had been suspended. Heather attempts to postpone the meeting, wanting to hold off the discussion until the principal and a counselor can be there, but Corryn is persistent, pushing and pushing to know what had led to the suspension and, she believed, probably caused her son's suicide. They dance around the topic for a while until Heather finally reveals a story that Gidion had written. Corryn insists that Heather read the story aloud, and after much resistance, Heather finally agrees. The story details a revolt of the students in which they are systematically murdering raping, and eviscerating the teachers of the school, and enslaving some of the younger students. Heather assumes that its graphic nature will make Corryn understand the situation, but Corryn - a literature professor - exclaims that the story is beautiful, that Gidion was a writer, and that he could have and should have told her about this, so that she could have told him that he was beautiful and that the teachers who suspended him were wrong. Heather tries to explain that the story is inappropriate, and that their responsibility is to protect all the students, but Corryn, disagrees. In the end, it comes out that Heather is waiting on news from the vet about her aging cat, and Corryn notes what a lousy freakin' day it is for them all, that she does blame Heather for her son's death, and that she's sorry, and then she leaves.

The questions about self-expression that are raised by this play are interesting, but I feel like the slope that Adams goes down with her arguments gets a little bit out of whack. Corryn objects to the censoring of the students, going on about civil rights and claiming that slapping a dead child's face on an issue is a sure-fire way to eliminate any given right. (I would advise her to look at the staggering inaction in terms of gun control... but that's not really the point of the play or this post, so I won't digress too far). The story talks about the tragic death of a sensitive, artistic child, one who didn't understand the boundaries that he was bumping up against, but I can't say that the teacher was wrong for her concern over a story that featured, among others, her own brutal rape and murder. There is a grotesque beauty to what was written, and it seems likely that the communication between parent and teacher should have been much, much clearer, but I had a hard time sympathizing with Corryn beyond the obvious sympathy for a parent who has lost a young child. I cannot agree with a college professor arguing that what her eleven-year-old son wrote was appropriate and should have been appreciated by the elementary school teachers as Marquis-de-Sade-esque brilliance. I teach college, and I'd think twice about a student who wrote that kind of story for one of my classes. Of course it's admirable for a parent to support their child, but I can't seem to get on board with this particular manifestation. The writing is good, the emotions are true, the ideas are lofty, but I can't say I liked it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dearest Eugenia Haggis

Play #35 - Dearest Eugenia Haggis by Ann Marie Healy

This is an odd little play that takes place in the home of Mister Blind Johnny Knoll. At the beginning, he has a young woman as a boarder named Miss Pauline Khenghis. She is an aspiring writer, and she is working on chronicling Mister Knoll's life as her first novel. It's hard to tell how long it's been just the two of them here. But now, as winter settles in, they are joined by Miss Eugenia Haggis. She is a no-nonsense type of woman who blows in and insists that she will be taking care of the house this winter. Pauline seems troubled by her presence almost immediately. Miss Haggis, on the other hand, seems most troubled with the Sanagret boys who ride their noisy toboggans too close to the house for her taste. One night, these unseen (but often heard and mentioned) Sanagret boys deliver a letter for Miss Haggis through the window to Pauline. Pauline, of course, reads the letter before passing it along. It is a mysterious sort of love letter. From this point on, when Miss Haggis responds, Pauline intercepts the letter and responds to it herself. It's hard to tell exactly why this is happening; is she just trying to get rid of Miss Haggis? Is she trying to write herself a great, tragic love story? Eventually, Pauline steals Mr. Knoll's saved cash and slips it in with a letter proposing elopement, so Miss Haggis does end up leaving, much to Mr. Knoll's disappointment. But Pauline and Mr. Knoll are left as they were at the beginning of the play, and yet somehow more alone.

There are strange little hints throughout the play about the characters' pasts - Mr. Knoll's lost love, Miss Haggis's past disappointments, Pauline's troubled childhood - but they never play out. Had this been an Ibsen play, all of those little tidbits would have come to some dramatic head, connecting them all, or erupting in some revelation. But in this world, no one seems to take the time to know each other or themselves terribly well. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Spinal Alignment

Play #34 - Spinal Alignment by Deborah Yarchun

In Spinal Alignment, Donovan and Sheila come back to Donovan's apartment after an OKCupid-initiated 2am McDonald's meet-up. This not-a-date turns into a sort of game of chicken. Who can say the weirdest thing? Who can ruin the date quicker? Who can be off-putting? Who can be depressing? Who can be the person who is doomed to be alone? It's actually sort of a bummer of a play... watching these lonely people grasp at and repel each other because they sort of don't know what else to do. The title comes from the central idea of how many terrible things we put into our bodies or minds or lives, and how even the smallest thing can throw everything out of whack. The internet dating world is full of people with those little things out of whack, just looking for some connection... maybe to set things right (a cosmic chiropractor?), or maybe just to dull the pain for a moment or two.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Glutton for Punishment

Play #33 (Make-up #7) - Glutton for Punishment by Catherine Noah

I feel like meetings with Satan or one of his representatives are pretty common conceits. Everyone loves to put their own spin on this particular meeting. In Catherine Noah's offering Wendy objects to being sent to Satan because, as a Hindu, she does not believe in Heaven and Hell. Satan assures her that it doesn't matter, because regardless of whatever yoga she may have done during her life, she's still subject to the same rules as everyone else. The rules are that, if you've committed one of the seven deadly sins, you get 30-40 years in purgatory... a second infraction... and it's Hellsville. And, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to slip up. Wendy is appalled by the technicalities to which she is subject, but eventually, she just tears up the contract and proclaims that that's enlightenment! It's a cute, sort of silly, 10-minute meditation on right, wrong, and the afterlife. 

The Flick

Play #32 - The Flick by Annie Baker

The Flick is the name of a single screen movie house in Massachusetts - one of the few that still boasts an actual film projector instead of a digital one. Avery (20 years old) is an idealistic movie buff who has just started working there - he's being trained by Sam (35). From time to time, they chat with the projectionist, Rose (24). Not much really happens per se. There's a sense of routine, a sense of stagnation, a sense of the collision between people who still dream, and people who have settled for a more practical world view. Or is it just that they have figured out how to dream in achievable ways? There is joking and flirting and confiding and frustration and arguing. And by the end, when their lousy boss sells the theatre to a businessman who replaces the old projector with a digital one, Avery moves on with renewed momentum but a numb cynicism, leaving Sam and Rose to soldier on as they have been, but perhaps more honestly and happily than they had been.

Sometimes I'm not sure what to think about Pulitzer Prize winners. I'm fairly certain that my expectations are not the same as the committee's. I tend to want my Pulitzer plays to do something dramaturgically exciting, so when a highly touted play is too straightforward, I question it. Then I think about the fact that Pulitzer winning plays are supposed to reflect some key idea about this particular moment in American life. So with both of these criteria in mind, I can't say I am certain why The Flick was chosen. I'm not saying it's a bad play - to the contrary, there's a lot of charm to the script. I would absolutely suggest it to undergraduates looking for scenes or monologues. And I would be very interested to see a production - partly to see how the theatre itself is able to become a character. It's a well crafted, lovely sort of play, one that I think would be very entertaining, if not particularly revolutionary. But who's to say that that's not enough?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

U.S. Drag

Play #31 - U.S. Drag by Gina Gionfriddo

Ms. Gionfriddo is getting a lot of play in my play a day project so far. I think this is the third one I've read so far. Weird. Anyway, U.S. Drag is much more interesting than the other pieces I've read by her. I admit to having a predisposition to plays with an off-kilter sense of reality, and that is definitely happening in U.S. Drag. It starts out as the tale of two 20-somethings in Manhattan, trying to find their slice of an extraordinary life. Angela and Allison go out partying, they live on a futon mattress in someone else's apartment (Ned - he's allowing them to live there in hopes that they will throw parties so he can meet people - so far, they haven't held up their end of the bargain), they refuse to take jobs that are below their station (magna and summa cum laude, for goodness sake!) In the first scene, they have gone home with a man named James in the hopes of some free drinks, but what they get instead is a lecture on crime. He is an advocate attempting to get a woman off of death row who he feels was put there under very dubious circumstances. He also warns them about "Ed," a mysterious serial assailant who has been trolling the streets of New York asking people for help, and then attacking them when they agree. The girls are far more interested in the $100,000 reward than in the assailant himself. So, in search of information, they show up at a meeting of a group called SAFE: Stay Away From Ed. The leader Evan has assembled survivors of Ed's attacks as well as general advocates with the mission of just staying away from Ed - ignore people who ask for help, avoid anyone you don't know - stay away. This isn't quite what the girls were looking for, but they keep going - it's something to do. Angela gets a job at a bookstore and is sent to look after a writer - Christopher - who has some fairly prominent emotional issues which he plays out in his "creative non-fiction" about his "abusive" parents. Ed's attacks continue, the group becomes more and more tangled up together, and eventually even Angela is attacked, which sets Christopher, Angela, and Allison off onto their paths toward fame. Angela writes a book about her attack and Allison is her publicist - selling the spectacle of the whole experience. Christopher, on the other hand, writes a book claiming that "Ed" was never real, that he was merely a name put onto a string of self-inflicted attention-seeking actions perpetrated by lonely people. Angela is about to get very famous, Christopher is about to get very shunned... and the play ends as he meets someone new at a book signing... and "lights [go] out on impending romance or something else..."

Time and space are very fluid in this play. There are no scene breaks, no instructions for scene changes, just instructions that we are now somewhere else. The events blend into each other - as do the neuroses of the lonely souls that flock together around a shared or possible trauma. Everyone is looking for the "it" that makes their life extraordinary - love or fame or money or spectacularizing horrific events for personal gain... the statement in this play is more interesting and less bluntly expressed in this play than in the other pieces I've read by Gionfriddo, and the theatricality of the style of this piece really appeals to me. Plus, the characters are all in their 20s and 30s, which makes it a much more accessible piece for undergraduate actors - who are all on the verge of looking for their little bit of extraordinary too. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rapture, Blister, Burn

Play #30 - Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo

Let's be honest: there is just a little too much Phyllis Schlafly in this play for me to feel too comfortable with it. But I will say that this is probably the play of Gionfriddo's that I have enjoyed the most so far. The plot follows Gwen and Don Harper who have invited their old friend Catherine (Gwen's old roommate and Don's old girlfriend) to dinner. The three of them knew each other in graduate school - an endeavor that Don and Catherine finished, but Gwen did not. Catherine is now a successful author, scholar, and speaker, but has decided to come teach at the university where Don is the dean because it is near her mother's home, and her mother has just had a heart attack. To keep her mind busy, Catherine decides to offer a class over the summer, but the only students in it are Gwen and her babysitter Avery. The three women meet in Catherine's mother's house each week to discuss all sorts of feminist issues...and her mother Alice usually joins in with martinis and some quaint, old-fashioned notions about gender relations. In the course of these meetings, Gwen overshares about her marriage problems, and as frustrations about roads not taken snowball, Don and Catherine begin having an affair. Gwen confronts them about this, but rather than a bunch of apologies or retribution, the group comes up with a plan: if Gwen and Catherine are really this jealous of each other's lives, they should switch. Gwen will stay here with Don and the youngest child, and Gwen will go live in Catherine's New York apartment with their teenage son who wants to be an actor...maybe she'll even go back to school. At first, things seem to be working out pretty well for Don and Catherine. They move Don and his son into the house with Catherine and Alice, they have lots of sex, and they hang out all night watching movies and drinking. The cracks begin to show, however, when Catherine attempts to encourage Don to take more initiative in his career. Of course, he and Gwen end up going back to each other - content with each other's comfortable mediocrity. And Catherine and Avery decide to move to New York to live exciting, modern lives... much to Alice's delight.

It's no secret that I enjoy some good discussions of feminist theory, and there are some interesting conversations from time to time, but ultimately, I have a sort of hard time taking the play seriously. Relationships all seem to come down to manipulation and settling. There is a brief discussion about the question of how a relationship between two equals would really work - a question that is much more interesting to me than the ones that Gionfriddo chose to spend time on. The outlook for modern relationships seems pretty bleak in this setting. Avery and Catherine decide to "outsource" friendship and support to a female friend, assuming that such elements can't be found or sustained in a romantic relationship. And though they are going off to go live the Sex and the City dream, it feels more like everyone is just sort of giving up on equality within a relationship, or possibly equality in general. Perhaps I'm being too hard on these characters, perhaps I'm not giving Gionfriddo enough credit for a level of irony. I'm not sure. But I do leave the script with interest - I would like to see how these issues come to life on the stage - if they are able to be teased out with more nuance and sensitivity than I found on a first read.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Goodbye Avis

Play #29 - Goodbye Avis by Celeste Koehler

I have to admit, I kind of have a soft spot for plays about feisty old ladies, so this was a fun little read for me. In Goodbye Avis, Emma and Miriam show up to the viewing for their dear friend Avis, lamenting that her good-for-nothing son Leonard has finally shown up now that she's dead, when he couldn't be bothered to visit while she was alive. And how dare he bury his poor sweet mother next to her awful ex-husband, who had made her life so miserable. But, when they walk up to the coffin, they are shocked to discover that the woman inside is not their friend - it is the body of a crazy woman from down the hall in their nursing home...and her burial had been the day before. This leaves them with something of a dilemma. Do they tell people about the mistake? By telling, will they embarrass Leonard? Or do they just open him up to sue the funeral home, profiting from his mother's death. If they tell, do they doom their friend to an eternity lying next to a terrible man? But is it really fair to make this poor woman spend eternity beside him? And wouldn't it be embarrassing to Avis's memory to know that her son couldn't identify her? They argue back and forth about the point for a while until Leonard invites them to ride with him in the limo... and they agree. We never know what they decided to do, but they are definitely looking for some way to help their friend and somehow also stick it to her lousy son. It's quick, it's cute, an old lady talks about burying her foot in someone's ass... it has something for everyone!

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Play #28 - Inky by Rinne Groff

This is sort of a very twisted little Mary Poppins story... if Mary Poppins were an ambiguously Slavic wanna-be boxer. In this case, Barbara and Greg have a 9-year-old daughter (Allison) and a baby son, so they have decided to hire a nanny - Inky. They had intended to be in a larger home by the time she arrived, but when Inky shows up at their door at the beginning of the play, they are still in their 30th floor apartment. Inky takes to the baby quickly, if not to the niceties of American living or English language. Greg is not bringing in money at the rate Barbara would like, the baby and Allison are not responding to Barbara the way she would like. Greg has to use money to get Barbara aroused enough to sleep with him... a trick he later uses with Inky. It's definitely not an ideal family situation, but Inky throws herself into it. As the play progresses, she brings home first a few coins here and there, followed by more and more money. It turns out that she and Allison have worked out quite the racket - first with Girl Scout cookies, then with mugging Allison's classmates. It seems that, after Allison was mugged while selling cookies, Inky taught her to fight. And she saves up the money in the hopes that she can provide for Barbara, Allison, and the baby in ways that Greg is apparently unable to do - as he has been embezzling and investing... and not terribly well. Scenes are framed by the sound of a boxing bell... which sort of begs the question of who is winning at any given moment. And we don't actually see Allison until the very end of the play... when she has finally conquered her fear of swimming and she - like Inky before her - triumphantly recites Muhammad Ali's intimidating patter as Inky fades into the background. Perhaps this magical nanny has finally finished her job here? Hmm...

Honestly, I'm not sure what I think of this play. I can't say that I enjoyed it - it was a little difficult to get through. Perhaps no one seemed quite redeeming enough. I tend to want to have someone to root for, and the best I could do here was a 20-year-old woman who beat up kids for money. Barbara seems to want to figure out how to be the right kind of mother, but she doubts herself constantly. She worries that her children don't like her. It's not until after she gets Inky to beat her up that she finally is able to really hear her baby breathing as he sleeps - to feel in tune with him. It is also this fight that inspires her to stand up to her husband, and to revel in her daughter's swimming triumph. I suppose, though the title is Inky's, the play is probably Barbara's. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

16 Spells to Charm the Beast

Play #27 - 16 Spells to Charm the Beast by Lisa D'Amour

The setup for this odd, non-linear, imaginative play is pretty wonderful in its melancholy: the 16 scenes are the thoughts that go through Lillian's head as she writes her will. There is a dazed, out of time feeling to a lot of the action, with very little punctuation in some very long passages. As the play goes along, we see conflicts with her husband Ned - a man she seems uncertain how to communicate with anymore. We see conflicts with her often married, divorced, and/or impregnated daughter Norma. We see her beautiful view of the city obscured by new construction. We see her neighbor yammer on endlessly about her daughter. We see the stray tabby cat who keeps Lillian company. But most often, we see The Beast, who Lillian has felt watching her for some indeterminate amount of time. He watches her through a telescope until the new building obscures his view. He makes her a beautiful dress by hand, but finds that his advances are unwelcome. However, in the end, Lillian is finally happy to see him and they walk off together. For me, the beast seemed to be a representation of her mortality - something that is lurking, always there, always watching her, but not welcome until she has made peace. But The Beast isn't just that - he really does seem to care about her. He puts a great deal of effort into watching her, into making the dress for her, into scaling her building to be with her. He is a romantic part of her imagination, but one that scares her in its inability to be contained.

Each scene includes a poem or a prayer or a story or a spell of some kind - I think the key to this play would be finding the reverence and the magic in this world. This is a bit of a tough play to follow, but I think with the right set of visuals and a clear vision, it could be a really fun and moving evening of theatre! And, with some serious specificity, there are probably some usable monologues in here as well.

Update: Best line: "Ma'am, you have the face of an Australian lemur, of course I believe you."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Demon Baby

Play #26 - Demon Baby by Erin Courtney

Here's a strange little play about an American couple named Art and Wren who have just moved to London for Art's job. While there, Wren is also supposed to be working on writing a children's book - though it's less of a children's book and more of a pamphlet to be handed out to expat children to help them adapt to their new surroundings. As they settle into their new home, Art seems to be doing very well - enjoying his job, etc. Wren, on the other hand, is lethargic and unproductive and almost never even leaves the flat. In her time at home, she starts to have visions of what she refers to as a Demon Baby. The Demon Baby looks like a garden gnome, and likes to sit on her chest, pinning her down so that she cannot move. Her relationship with the Demon Baby grows over time, however, so that they start to converse, and she even lets him tell her what to say when they have a dinner party. In the end, her friend Cat who had been singing the praises of living in London decides to leave her husband, take their children and go home - this is not what she had wanted for herself. Wren convinces her to stay at the party and take out some of her frustration on their pinata...but oops... she falls off the roof. In the final scene, Art is stuck on the floor underneath his own Demon Baby, discussing how much he hates his job and hates where they live, but the Demon Baby assures him that he will get over it and just fit in. Art and Wren never get to a point where they can really communicate about their frustrations - they pretty much always have their respective Demon Baby on their chest, holding them down, keeping them stuck in place.

When I first started, I assumed that the Demon Baby was going to be some sort of parenthood metaphor, and Art does ask if Wren is pregnant when she first tells him about the visitation, but I don't think it really ended up having much to do with it. The Demon Baby is that thing that keeps us stuck, the personal doubts and hangups and excuses that keep us from being happy. Even in the final moments, when Art tries to tell Wren that they should go home, The Demon Baby keeps him from being heard - both by Wren and by himself. The Demon Baby will keep him in his good job that he hates. There is no real solution posed in this play to conquering the Demon Baby, so it ends up feeling pretty unsettling. But perhaps that's the point? Perhaps we have to watch other people being crushed by their Demon Babies before we can confront our own? I dunno... I may be reading way too much into this. <shrug>

PS - I just noticed that she's another student of Mac Wellman's. That sort of gives me some context for the off-kilterness of the piece. And just to be clear - I actually like this about the piece. It just makes a lot more sense knowing where some of her roots are.

Monday, February 16, 2015

God's Ear

Play #25 - God's Ear by Jenny Schwartz

This is one of those plays that I have started to read numerous times, but have had a hard time getting through. The language is beautiful, but it's a complex read. Sometimes it feels a bit like reading an extended Meisner exercise - with all the repetition and revision that occurs. Very little happens, it's more the dramatization of a state of being than of a plot per se. It's really gorgeous and, as a director, terrifying. What do I do? How do I find my way into this dance? It sort of feels like a really intense game of Double Dutch... and I'm trying to jump in, but I can't quite get the rhythm. This is a play I feel like I need to read about twelve more times... at least. But to give a basic idea of the play: Mel and Ted had two children: Sam and Lanie. Unfortunately, Sam drowned. The play is their reaction to this tragedy. Sam goes perpetually on the road and has an affair, while Mel stays at home with Lanie, dealing with the questions of childhood - questions she probably answered for Lanie's older brother, and that now seem burdensome. The Tooth Fairy and eventually GI Joe join Mel as she deals with the little girl who is going to live the full life that Sam never will. Actually, as I type this, it occurs to me that I might describe this play as sort of a lyrical, absurdist version of Rabbit Hole. The repeated bits of conversation cycle through over and over - sort of like a stuck record. And really, these people are stuck. They don't know how to move forward from the loss of a child, so they fall into a lonely and destructive pattern from which they have no idea how to escape. But in the last few moments... there is hope. Ted finally does come home, and there is the suggestion that the cycle is not going to be forever. It's just a necessary part of their lives. Suffering and grief are personal and important emotions that everyone will experience, but that needn't overcome the living forever.

The play includes a number of songs, for which the melodies are in the back of the script. I hoped that playing through them would give me a clearer picture of the world of the play, and I supposed they did in a way. Their structures are sort of strange and disjointed... not the catchy tune that's going to get stuck in your head. They feel just a little off-kilter. Which makes a lot of sense for a play about people whose rhythms are so completely thrown off by their shared loss. I would be so scared to direct this play, which probably means that I should direct this play. I am so taken with the poetry of the language, it would be pretty exciting to find the visual poetry tucked inside of it.


Play #24 (Make-up #6) - Origin by Elizabeth Irwin

Here's another very short play, but with a completely different tone than the last. In this play, Michael comes home from work to find his wife clearly agitated. He tries to cheer her up until the news comes out: she is pregnant. And why does this news produce so much bile between them? It seems that the pregnancy is the result of her recent rape by a colleague that she chose not to report. She wants to keep the baby, which sets off a pretty ugly argument that touches on trust, race, rape,'s very short, but it definitely packs a wallop.

Dinner for Who

Play #23 (Make-up #5) - Dinner for Who by Gabrielle Sinclair

I took a nap in the middle of the day, and now I can't sleep. So I figured I would knock out a few short make-up plays, starting with Dinner for Who. Annabelle has agreed to meet Jason at a pizza parlor after having found him cheating with her friend Karen. Jason has come prepared with a handy analogy (or is it a metaphor?) about being a parfait that he clearly thought would win her back. But Annabelle has a few metaphors (or are they analogies?) of her own. It's a fun, clever, snappy exchange with lots of room for prop gags. I could see it being a decent showcase scene, and one could probably piece together a decent monologue from it too.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Jacksonian

Play #22 (Make-up #4) - The Jacksonian by Beth Henley

When I think of Beth Henley, I think of The Miss Firecracker Contest and Crimes of the Heart - Southern quirkiness with a touch of dark underbelly. But The Jacksonian is pretty much all underbelly. The plot concerns the Perch family - Bill and Susan are in the midst of a trial separation as of May 1964, and their 16-year-old daughter Rosy is feeling caught in the middle and frustrated by the whole experience. During their separation, Bill is staying at the Jacksonian Hotel, where he and the family get to know bartender Fred and waitress Eva perhaps a little too well. The timeline of the play jumps around from various times between May and December of 1964, but primarily we keep returning to the night of December 17, 1964 - which we are told is "the night of the murder." The non-linear narrative fills in blanks bit by bit, painting pictures of past and future crimes that we only come to understand slowly as Rosy - our occasional narrator of sorts - seems to be floating through her memory, sifting out the relevant moments and trying to string them together to make some sort of sense. There is no one I would call particularly likable in this play - all the characters are carrying so much deception and hurt and anger around with themselves, that they can hardly find anything redeeming in themselves - so how can we. It is really just Rosy who is dashed about by all of the events of these few months, and whose fate does not feel like her own.

I really don't want to say much about the actual plot, because the way in which Henley has woven all the little revelations together is really pretty delicious, and I would hate to spoil that for any potential readers or viewers. I love seeing this side of Henley's writing - the structure is unsettling in all the right ways, and as the events unfold, the hurt we experience alongside her characters is profound and all too truthful. There is also a great monologue by Eva for someone of my particular age - though it's so full of old school intolerance, it might be tough to take on. But for the right audition... it could be exactly what's needed.

Our Lady of Kibeho

Play #21 - Our Lady of Kibeho by Katori Hall

Katori Hall is one of those playwrights who I have meant to read for a long time, but for whatever reason, I haven't gotten around to it until today. And I am definitely looking forward to reading more. Our Lady of Kibeho is a poetic account of the true story of three girls in Rwanda who had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1981 - visions that ultimately foretold of the coming genocide. In this play, the visions start with an orphan outsider, Alphonsine. The other girls find it easy to dismiss until a second girl - Anathalie - also begins to have visions. Father Tuyishime - the head of the school - believes them, but Sister Evangelique does not, and gives the head "mean girl," Marie-Claire, full latitude to pinch and burn the girls in order to prove that they are lying. Still, the visions keep coming, until a climactic moment at the end of the first act when Alphonsine and Anathalie are finally joined by Marie Claire in their visions - their beds fly up into the air and break in half. The second act begins a few months later as a representative from the Vatican (Father Flavia) has arrived to confirm or debunk the girls' claims. He begins by asking the girls questions about catechism, which does trip up Alphonsine, but generally they do fine. Then, when the girls begin having a vision, Father Flavia begins piercing them with a large needle - if their claims were true, they wouldn't feel the pain. And in the moment, they do not. But as we see them covered in bandages in later scenes, the aftermath of the tests is quite painful. Father Flavia remains highly skeptical of the girls' claims, and Father Tuyishime is furious with Flavia's methods, but Bishop Gahamanyi insists that they go along with Flavia, hoping that a verified miracle could turn Kibeho into another Fatima - a hub for pilgrimages. One night, in the dorms, the girls begin to argue, until Anathalie begins to have another vision, and flowers and vines begin to grow up and down the walls. When Father Flavia arrives, Anathalie speaks to him in Italian as the Virgin Mary, and his skepticism is deeply shaken. With the approaching feast of the Assumption, the girls have told the surrounding villages that Mary will appear with an important message, so a huge celebration is planned with people coming from miles around. When Mary arrives, however, the vision is of Mary weeping - she tells them of the impending genocide. In the aftermath, Flavia confirms that the girls' visions are real - even though they are unspeakably dark. Finally, Father Tuyishime tells Alphonsine that he must leave them - as a Tutsi, it is safer for him to flee to Uganda.

The idea that this play is based on a true story is sort of amazing to me. Having been raised Catholic, I am still drawn to fantastic stories like this. All those tales of miracles tend to seem so inaccessible in a church setting. Seeing the real people at the center is exciting and much more moving for me. The weight that these girls carried - and the weight that the country would carry in the coming years - are so vividly portrayed. And Hall's voice as a writer is so cool. I felt like I could hear the rhythm of the speech - even though the people talking would not have been speaking English. And in her stage directions, you get a pretty clear vision of her personal voice - so the difference between the poetry of the dialogue and her own idiosyncratic voice is clear and really fun. I love being told in parentheses that this stern, straight-laced nun is "Totes lying." The beauty and spectacle of the story makes me want to see it, but the tone of the stage directions makes me want to hang out with Katori Hall. 

4000 Miles

Coming in just a wee bit after midnight, but it still counts!

Play #20: 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog

This is another one that goes in the book for sweet and lovely. 4000 Miles starts out when 21-year-old Leo shows up at his grandmother Vera's New York apartment at 3am with no notice, having ridden across the country from Seattle on his bike. Apparently he hasn't even been in touch with his family, which makes the arrival even more shocking, but Vera agrees to let him stay the night. He ends up staying for a few weeks. He is dealing with the death of his best friend Micah - a death that occurred in the middle of their cross-country ride, which is something we don't see. He is also dealing with breaking up with his girlfriend Bec, which is something we do see. Over the weeks that they live together, Leo and Vera come to depend on each other. They get into a rhythm, they keep each other company, they even smoke a little pot together to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox. And then, like people do, they part ways when Leo decides to go home to face his family before heading to Colorado for a job. It's really sort of a heartwarming buddy/roommate story in some ways, but with about 60 years age difference between the two buddies. It's a very charming story of a brief window in these two peoples' lives when they needed each other and were able to be there for each other. Plus, there are some good scenes between Leo and Bec, as well as a scene between Leo and a girl named Amanda who he brought home from a bar, so I'll keep this in my undergrad acting class bag.

Still, I have to say, as much as this is a perfectly lovely play, I'm really having a lot more fun reading the more outlandish scripts as opposed to the sentimental ones. But that's just me... and that's just this week. Who knows what I'll be feeling with twenty or so more plays under my belt!

Friday, February 13, 2015

F***ing Art

Play #19 (Make-up #3) - F***ing Art by Bekah Brunstetter

I don't know why I'm so gun shy about typing out the actual word here on the venerable interwebs. I certainly have no problem saying the word, but speech is so ephemeral. There's no record of it.

Anyway... no need to wax so philosophical about a short, simple, sweet play with a slightly scandalous title. FA is the story of Art, an 18-year-old boy dying of cancer, and Gal, the 18-year-old girl who has come to be "his first and his last." They knew each other when they were much younger, but never well. Still, apparently this pretty, popular girl has decided to offer herself to the dying son of two youth ministers. There is understandable awkwardness as they size each other up. Gal learns that she is not the only girl to have written Art about their possible missed connections. It's such a sad demonstration of the way people can try to make someone else's tragedy all about themselves. But as they talk, Gal is able to open up to Art little by little, expressing her fears and hopes with him in a way that, perhaps, she never could with someone who was likely to be alive a year from now. There is a sweet, sad honesty to this play that I really responded to. A lot of Brunstetters plays can be a little more harsh or even absurd in tone (a trait that I happen to love, by the way), so the straightforward nature of this one was a bit of a surprise, but it really is pretty lovely. They don't end up having sex, but what they do share is probably even more intimate. Another one I'll hang onto for acting classes.


Play #18 - Hir by Taylor Mac

Now, I know that I had said I was going to read plays by women for my "Play a Day" project, but I'm going to make an exception here. Taylor Mac is a genderqueer playwright (who prefers to use "judy" as a gender pronoun), and I feel totally comfortable including a non-binary viewpoint like Taylor's into my year o' plays. So, let's do this!

At the beginning of Hir, Isaac is coming home from three years in the Middle East where he served in Mortuary Services during the war. It was his job to collect body parts after people died so they could be sent home to their families. He is home because he was dishonorably discharged for some, shall we say, creative drug use. When he arrives home, he finds that the house has changed substantially from when last he saw it. First of all, the place is a mess - to the point that the front door is wedged shut because of the piles and piles of clothes and debris strewn about the house. His father (Arnold) has had a massive stroke and is now at the whim of his mother Paige, who dresses him in frilly nightgowns, feeds him estrogen, and squirts him with a water bottle when he misbehaves. Paige has stopped cleaning and has started a non-profit with which she intends to buy out and raze their neighborhood. And Isaac's little sister Maxine has begun taking testosterone, changed her name to Max, and prefers to be referred to as "ze" or "hir" rather than "he, she, him, her." Isaac's reaction to all this upheaval is predictably off-kilter, particularly in the face of his PTSD, which makes some everyday activities - like using a blender - extremely difficult. In general, his fits of PTSD involve a lot of vomiting. After being bombarded by all the changes that surround him, Isaac insists on staying home with Arnold while Paige and Max go off to the museum for their "Cultural Saturday" excursion. While they are gone, Isaac tries to talk to his father about the man he had been (the man he had been was apparently an abusive drunk who was unable to deal with his own failures, but he was a MAN who was IN CHARGE and Isaac seems to desperately want a return to that). Isaac also begins to clean the house - which Paige strictly forbade him to do. When they return home, Isaac gives Max jobs to continue cleaning the house, but Paige flies into a rage when she sees what Isaac has done. They argue, with Arnold and Max seemingly siding with Paige, until Paige calls them back to her to perform a shadow puppet play about the hairdresser with whom Arnold had had an affair for years. Tempers flare and Isaac explodes, shoving his mother and beating the air conditioner with a bat. Finally, Paige throws him out of the house, describing him as just another extra, cast away, dead body part that will just be picked up by someone. Isaac leaves, devastated, and Max is left with hir mother, though ze desperately wants to get away from it all. In the final moments, Arnold wets himself and, though Paige tells hir to leave it, Max defies Paige and goes to clean up hir father.

There are some fabulous comic moments in this play that are immensely effective at highlighting the darkness that lies at the foundations of this family's existence. Listening to Paige spout off all the modern gender rhetoric that Max has burned into her brain must be a bit like watching a trained animal - she really doesn't have any idea what she is saying, she's just so proud to be saying it. My favorite line: "MAAAAAAAAX COME IN HERE AND EXPLAIN YOUR AMBIGUITY TO YOUR BROTHER." Genius. Taylor Mac has elevated a complex set of identity politics - and not just when it comes to the transgender character. Arnold has lost all the things that he felt made him "a man" - except for his penis, which he fondles regularly throughout the show. Isaac attempted to find an identity and solutions in the army, but all he found was death and other broken people. Paige was defined for so long by the husband who terrorized her, and now she is bursting from the seams, attempting to define herself as pretty much anything that isn't connected to who she was before. Honestly, Max probably has the strongest sense of self of any of the characters, having made a conscious decision about how ze wants to be perceived in the world. Obviously, as a teen, there is still a lot to sort out, but the cisgender people who surround Max are all careening so wildly out of control, I found myself rooting for the day that Max gets to walk out that door and into the future. But ze doesn't just go - hir family is still there and still needs hir. It's really a very sad and self-sacrificing ending, and an insightful and well-told story!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

After Ashley

Play #17 - After Ashley by Gina Gionfriddo

After Ashley starts out in 1999 with 35-year-old Ashley and her 14-year-old son Justin watching a self-help guru on TV. Ashley seems agitated. She keeps trying to have conversations with Justin - she considers the sex talk, but he objects, and when it starts anyway, it all sort of devolves into her airing her own frustrations with his father (Alden). Justin entreats her to stop treating him like a girlfriend, to get out, and get a hobby or something. When Alden comes home, he and Ashley argue over his new decision to hire a mentally ill homeless man to do their yard work. Once they finish arguing, the action is overtaken by a voice over of a 911 call: it's Justin, crying out that his mother has been murdered and that he will not leave her side. The action then jumps three years later. Justin and his father are being interviewed for a true crime show hosted by a man named David, whose estranged 17-year-old daughter had been murdered ten years before. Alden has become something of a celebrity in the wake of Ashley's death, having written a book about the experience called After Ashley. Justin is combative and abrasive throughout the interview, clearly frustrated with the dramatic half-truths his father has perpetuated about his mother for his own benefit. After they finish taping, David pulls Alden aside and offers him a spot hosting a new version of the show: it would film in Florida, it would feature reenactments of sex crimes, and it would, of course, share the name After Ashley. Justin is appalled, but acquiesces to his father's desires, as long as he is provided with an allowance, a car, and his own apartment once they move to Florida. Once in Florida, Justin meets a girl named Julie at a bar. She approaches him because she recognizes him as "The 911 Kid," but they end up sleeping together anyway. The next morning, Alden and David come by to tell Justin that they will be opening a luxury battered women's shelter to be named "Ashley's House." Justin objects strenuously, but the money and fame hungry men ignore him. When they leave, Justin reveals to Julie his plans to shut down all of this Ashley business once and for all. He has his mother's journal, which details how she took Justin's advice to go out and get a hobby: she took part in orgies. And in the journal is the phone number of the name who led the orgies... and that man has video footage of them. Justin, it seems, would rather that people know something true and unpleasant about his mother, rather than all the lovely lies he feels they had been sold. Roderick arrives with the video tape, at which point he insists on video taping Justin and Julie having sex as payment. They agree, and get the tape, which they then switch out for the tribute tape at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Ashley's House. Everything is ruined: the show is postponed indefinitely, the home is renamed, etc. Finally, we see Justin and Julie sitting by the water. She chastises him for apparently getting plastered and embarrassing them both in front of her friends. They discuss whether or not they should stay together now that he has done what he set out to do. The ending is left deliberately ambiguous, as Ashley stands behind them, looking with them out at the water.

This is another script that has some good material for college aged students. Julie and Justin have some really lively dialogue. And, I'll be honest, I could probably piece together a pretty great monologue from Ashley's lines in the first scene. The script itself is bit of a heavy-handed discussion of a culture that is so obsessed with spectacle that it is unwilling or unable to process any genuine emotions. Honestly, I'm not exactly sure why the Roderick-driven sex scene is necessary in the dramaturgy of this play, but I suppose it has something to do with genuine human connection being messy. It's sort of a mediocre play about damaged and selfish people, but then again... isn't everyone in at least one of those categories at least some of the time? 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Play #16: Mud by Maria Irene Fornes

Mud takes place in a sort of amorphous rural past, sometime on the verge of mass production, but still completely removed from it. 20-something Mae lives in a small, ramshackle house with 20-something Lloyd, who was taken in by her father when they were children. They are not siblings, and they are not lovers, but they are also both. Mae has been going to school to try to make herself feel like she is not a hollow waste - Lloyd sees no need for this ridiculous schooling. Mae and Lloyd argue a lot since they are poor, and Lloyd does not seem to have a job. Their only income is probably from Mae's laundry business. Also, Lloyd is very ill, but refuses to go to the doctor. Mae eventually describes his condition to a doctor, and brings him a pamphlet on Prostatitis, but she also has to bring 50-year-old Henry to read it for them, as the language is far too advanced for her. Mae confides to Henry that she loves him because he is intelligent and eloquent and makes her feel like she is worth something. She kisses him and invites him to live with her and Lloyd. Lloyd is, unsurprisingly, unhappy with this arrangement. He even gets kicked out of his bed and has to sleep on the floor. He does eventually go to the doctor and he steals money from Henry to pay for his prescription. In his anger over this theft, Henry falls on the street and injures himself severely, so when he returns to Mae and Lloyd, he is disfigured and possibly paralyzed. Mae is disgusted with him and with Lloyd and plans to leave, but Lloyd chases after her with a shotgun and returns to the house with her dying body in his arms.

This is an ugly play about a woman who has aspirations, but no knowledge or apparatus to make them come true. She is tethered to two men - one who has always dragged her down, and one who she had so badly hoped would elevate her. Instead, he becomes an even heavier weight around her neck. The tone of this play felt very much like Fen by Caryl Churchill - the episodic structure, the faded hopelessness of the world, the heroine who believed in something better, but was never able to experience it. In between each scene, Fornes directs the actors to freeze for eight seconds - like a photo of the final moment of the scene. It ends up feeling like the old photos of tenement life: pictures of desperation that make the viewers feel pity, but also a certain level of distance and relief that we are not the subjects of those photos. From time to time, Mae reads from her schoolbook - she reads about Starfish (yes, I know they're properly called Sea Stars... but I'm just quoting) and Hermit Crabs. These oceanic denizens are representative of the characters who cannot seem to breathe anywhere but where they are. As she lies dying in Lloyd's arms at the end of the play, Mae cries out that she is a Starfish, longing to see just the tiniest sliver of light. You see - it seems that Starfish cannot see, but they can tell the difference between light and dark. Poor Mae cannot accurately discern what lies beyond the darkness she's been living in, but she knows that there is light just out of her reach, and she would give anything to find it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ruby Sunrise

Play #15: The Ruby Sunrise by Rinne Groff

The Ruby Sunrise tells two stories. The first part is the story of an Indiana farm girl in 1927 named Ruby. Ruby has a vision: she wants to figure out a way to beam images into people's homes like they do with radio waves. She starts working on her prototype in the barn of her aunt's farm, as she has recently been orphaned. (It is later discovered that though her mother did die a long time ago, her drunken father is still very much alive and looking for her. She had run away after he destroyed her last lab.) Her aunt isn't all that happy to see her, but she eventually lets her stay. While there, Ruby meets her aunt Lois's boarder, a college boy named Henry, who becomes enamored of Lucy and does everything he can to help her in her endeavor to invent the television. Technology ends up moving too fast for her, however, and when she hears about the successes being made in the big city with this technology, she gets frantic and accidentally electrocutes herself - at which point we find out that she is pregnant with Henry's child.

In the second part of the play, we meet Lulu, a script girl working at a TV studio in 1952. Lulu meets the writer Tad Rose and starts to tell him the story of her mother - Ruby - and he ends up turning the story into a teleplay. However, as the studio executive (Martin) gets hold of it, more and more changes start to happen. Lulu finally snaps when the woman who should have been playing Ruby (Elizabeth - played by the same actress who played Ruby) is replaced by some busty chorus girl type because Elizabeth has been blacklisted. The story is spiraling out of control, and she feels that her mother is being lost to history all over again. She shouts at all the actors, Tad, and Martin, and gets herself fired. As the actors progress with their rehearsals (Paul and Ethel, the actors, are played by the same actors who played Lois and Henry), they find that the script is falling apart. Tad is getting frustrated and disillusioned. When he meets Elizabeth, the blacklisted actress, she talks wistfully about how much she regrets losing the role in this beautiful teleplay, and she also reprimands him when she finds out how far short the story has fallen from the ideals present in the first draft. The older actress Ethel convinces Lulu to come back to work, and Tad turns over the rewrites to her, telling her to tell the story the right way, to work with him, and to fight the good fight.

The play has a lot to do with idealism. Ruby wants to invent, Henry wants to get married and live a farm life. Lois had been in love with Ruby's father, but lost her dreams when he ran off with her sister. Lulu is the product of a woman who clung to her ideals, but was ultimately destroyed by them (she never did marry Henry, and she destroyed her lab - she ended up drinking herself to death). Tad sort of discovers his ideals as the play goes along. The characters are lovingly drawn, and the idea of holding making your ideals your priorities regardless of the cost - that's a pretty noble thought. I have to admit, I didn't get all worked up and excited about this play, but it is solid and sweet and has some very good scenes for acting students - it's definitely one I'm going to keep around. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Man's World

Play #14: A Man's World by Rachel Crothers

Okay, theatre history folks, Rachel Crothers is definitely one of those folks you should know, but probably don't. I first met her in my MA program when I read He and She. Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, Crothers was one of the most successful women playwrights of her day. She was regularly produced, she acted a little, she even directed many of her own productions and sometimes designed sets. And her plays have a tendency to deal explicitly with the unfair differences in circumstances between men and women. I think it's pretty obvious that a play with this title would do so, eh? A Man's World is the story of a woman named Frank Ware, who has gained great acclaim as a writer. In particular, she writes about the plight of women in the tenements of New York. She also runs a sort of halfway house in the area designed to help young women find their way out of poverty. The public assumes she must have a lover who does her writing for her - it's too good to be written by a man. She lives in an apartment with Kiddie, the boy she adopted. Of course, as a single woman raising a child on her own in 1909, there is plenty of gossip surrounding these circumstances. And, of course, she must be lying about the child's origins - he must be her illegitimate son. Most convinced in this is Leone, a singer who lives downstairs. She is convinced that Kiddie bears a striking resemblance to Malcolm Gaskell - a newspaper man who everyone thinks is in love with Frank. She assumes that they really knew each other back in Paris despite their story of only meeting here, that the child is theirs, and that they are hiding this knowledge from the world. Leone finally confronts Frank with this idea after she has finally admitted to Gaskell that she loves him - despite her convictions to remain a strong, single woman. It seems she has a hard time trusting men because she is so appalled by the actions of the man who impregnated and abandoned Kiddie's mother - a young woman who came to Frank in Paris looking for help, and eventually died during childbirth. But she has finally given in to love when Leone proposes her theory - and Frank realizes that she's not entirely wrong. Kiddie does look like Gaskell! She confronts him and he admits that he had known the girl, and together they confirm that he is Kiddie's father. This proves to be more than a little problematic for Frank, who has spent the last six years hating the nameless, faceless man who had destroyed that young woman. Gaskell argues that she ought to forget that old nonsense. Frank begs him to admit that what he did was wrong, but he says that, as a man, he is subject to different rules than women and refuses to admit any wrongdoing, so Frank ends up sending him away - choosing her ideals that men and women should be held to the same standards over love.

I found this play interesting, because in He and She, the woman ends up choosing her duties as a mother over her ambitions and talents as an artist, so to see her heroine choose her ideals over being a wife was kind of nice. I wonder how this play would come across today, because it really is pretty relevant when you think about how much scrutiny women celebrities are under as opposed to their male counterparts. This is really a very well-mannered critique of the slut-shaming rape culture that holds women solely responsible for an activity that really does require two people to do it. Hmm...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Juniper; Jubilee

Play #13 (Make-up #2): Juniper; Jubilee by Janine Nabers

This is a short play about the pain of coming of age. Juniper is a young teenage girl whose adopted parents - an Afrikaaner doctor (Carl) and his American wife (Deena) - have just moved them to America from their home in South Africa. Juniper is uncomfortable in the gray world of the American suburbs until she meets a neighbor boy - Matt. The two of them become friends and even begin to date, but her mother objects. Every time Juniper begins to feel something for Matt, she hears the sound of African drums and feels pain in her pelvis. As things progress between the two of them the pain gets worse until she is surrounded by a vision of three women in African garb who surround her and cut her. Juniper's mother explains that, before they adopted her, her birth mother performed the traditional rite of female genital mutilation on her child, which was why Juniper found herself feeling pain at the hint of arousal. Her adopted mother assures her that her birth mother loved her, and did only what she believed to be right, and she tells her that some day they will find a way to heal her body so that she can feel peace and warmth when she is touched by a man. The play ends with Deena cradling Juniper and singing her an old African song.

As I mentioned, this is a short play, but it's good enough that I found myself wishing there were more of the play. I cared about Juniper so quickly that I wished I could spend more time with her - particularly in her moments of being haunted by the chorus of African women - one of whom is her birth mother. The simultaneous longing and violation she feels toward her African home is sweet and sad and so very human. And, of course, aside from being a girl who is traumatized by such an extreme event, she is also just a teenage girl who is trying to grow up, and the relatability of that familiar journey is only compounded by her more extreme circumstances. And the magic images of the women from her home town in the Sudan lend themselves to some really beautiful moments of theatricality. 

The Long Christmas Ride Home

Play #12: The Long Christmas Ride Home by Paula Vogel

I love these plays that are so beautifully theatrical! I'm not saying that there aren't marvelous "realistic" plays out there - of course there are - but it's these plays that invest so heavily in magic that only belongs to theatre (as opposed to film), that inspire me and scare me and just plain make me happy. The Long Christmas Ride Home follows a family of a mother, father, two daughters and a son who head to church and then their grandparents' house on Christmas. However, the children are played for most of the performance by Bunraku puppets. If you're unfamiliar with this Japanese puppetry style, here's a picture:
From Britannica Kids
For the first part of the play, lines are only spoken by two narrators - a man and a woman. They are the parents, but they also provide all the narration and inner life of the children. The children fight and play and get carsick and whine... just like any kids. The father daydreams about the woman with whom he is having an affair. The mother daydreams about how she could regain her husband's interest - maybe another child? They sit through the Christmas service in which the Unitarian Universalist minister talks about Japanese art and philosophy as a way to understand their role in the world. Then the family heads to their maternal grandparents' house where they receive gifts, and the evening devolves into fighting until their grandfather kicks them out and they get back in the car to head home. On the way home, the father raises his hand to hit his wife... and the action splinters. The puppeteer behind the eldest daughter splits off and enacts the same night 25 years in the future when her boyfriend finds out she is pregnant with another man's child. She is left out on the street in the cold and almost decides to sleep on a snow drift - which would certainly have killed her at that temperature, but a wind blows and wakes her, and she runs to find her car. The action returns again to the slap, and then the youngest daughter splinters off to enact the same night 24 years in the future when she stands outside having followed her lover Naomi to the apartment of her new lover. She is about to shoot herself when a wind blows and she decides to live. Finally, the brother splinters off from the car to enact a night 20 years in the future when, after his boyfriend has kicked him out and taken up with a new, younger man, he goes to a club and hooks up with a stranger who gives him AIDS. He reflects on that moment, on his death, and on the ability that he has to return to earth on this night each year to check on his sisters. In the end, the puppet children are all back in the car as it skids to the edge of a pond in the moments after their father hit their mother. They join together in their fear - the children literally linking arms - and the father manages to get the car out of danger, and they head home.

Like Baltimore Waltz, there is a clear reference to Vogel's own beloved brother who died of AIDS in the character of Stephen, but so much more than a story of personal loss for her, it is a story of family connections that are so inextricably part of our lives. In both of the girls' future scenes, they mention the loss of Stephen - they feel his absence. But even in death he is there for them at their darkest moments, protecting them. The description of death in this play might be one of my favorites I have ever read - the idea that our loved ones return regularly to watch over us, that we subconsciously feel their presence. It's poetic and comforting and so beautifully realized in this piece. The use of all the puppets (from the children to the man in the bar with Stephen to the "two naked lesbian law student puppets," etc.) is extremely intimidating to me as a director - finding the ways to interact with the puppet world vs. the world of the humans, finding the rules of a world that works this way and then communicating those rules effectively to an audience that would be so unfamiliar with the mode. But what an exciting challenge it would be to have the opportunity to stage this! This is definitely one I'm going to have to put on my bucket list - partly because it scares me. But so far, some of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a director have been working on plays that I was afraid of. and I really do believe that theatre needs to cultivate its own theatricality more... and man, is Vogel just one of the absolute grand-dames of theatricality!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Matt & Ben

Play #11 - Matt & Ben by Mindy Kaling & Brenda Withers

This play is just plain fun... but also, I imagine, a little tough to separate from its creator. It sort of made me think of Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show in that way. Both plays are hilarious, and could certainly be hilarious with any number of skilled performers, but there is something about them that really belongs to the people who wrote and originally performed them.

At any rate, the idea behind Matt & Ben is that two women are playing Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who are two dudes from Boston in the middle of trying to write a screenplay adaptation of Catcher in the Rye. It's not going terribly well. Then, lo and behold, a parcel falls from the ceiling. In this parcel is the completed screenplay for Good Will Hunting - with these two guys' names on the cover sheet. For the rest of the play, then, they attempt to decide what to do. Can they pass this off as their own? It does say it's theirs, after all. Who would play the lead? Who has always overshadowed/been jealous of whom? They explore their current and past frustrations through a series of hilarious memory-type scenes in which they sometimes play other characters from their past. Finally, once they have reunited after their big fight, they discover that the pages are now blank, and the lights go down on them attempting to recreate the screenplay from their memory. It's a bizarre and delightful "what if" for the origin story of two dudes from Boston who managed to win an Oscar for a screenplay.

I will admit, I have been developing a bit of a crush on Mindy Kaling of late, having just started watching The Mindy Project. She has a really fun, dynamic, up-beat wit that just invites a very positive and pleasant kind of laughter. I get a sense of enjoyment from her work - and that definitely comes through in this send up of the buddy comedy/Cinderella story/origin story. However, reading this on the heels of the Super Bowl and her very funny ad for Nationwide (which I cannot, for some reason, find in its full version anywhere online... wtf, internets!), I can't help but wonder what's up with her and Matt Damon? Personally, I hope they're awesome friends.

This is the kind of play that I would like to perform with a really close and trusted friend - I think that's the kind of vibe that wrote it, and the vibe it's about - so it really seems to demand it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Aria da Capo

Play #10 - Aria da Capo by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Aria da Capo is a short little metatheatrical piece that seems to delight itself in its sending up of theatrical conventions. The book it's in actually lists the play as a morality play, but I think that's a drastic oversimplification. It starts out with a fairly simple commedia type scene between Pierrot and Columbine - two classic stock types of Commedia dell'arte. They flirt and make jokes and eat and drink for a while, until they are interrupted by a character named Cothurnus, who is wearing a tragedy mask. They argue for a moment that his play isn't to start until later, but he protests that he will play it now, so the comic actors leave. Cothurnus then summons the two tragic actors, Corydon and Thyrsis, who are both fairly put out by having been summoned to the stage so long before they were supposed to perform. But perform they eventually do. Their play is the morality play about two shepherds whose mutual jealousy leads them to escalating animosity that begins with building a wall down the middle of their field, and ends in them murdering each other. Once they are dead, Cothurnus shoves their bodies under the table that the comic actors used and just leaves. The comic actors return to play their scene and are concerned to find the dead bodies there. But when they complain, Cothurnus tells them to just cover them up - the audience will forget they are there. Pierrot and Columbine agree, and begin their initial scene again as the curtain falls.

Tragedy, it seems, can interrupt comedy with impunity in the theatre. Moralizing can be derailed by mechanics (unprepared as they are, the shepherds keep having to ask for their lines, for example). And the horrors of death and betrayal can be quickly swept under the rug (or tablecloth, as the case may be).

It's a poetic little piece that feels more like an inside joke than something truly intended for a larger audience, but, as someone who loves a good inside joke, I found it quite pleasant!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue

Play #9: Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue by Quiara Alegria Hudes

Well, I was right. I definitely wish I had read this one first. I got such a sense of the importance of Ginny to Elliot in this play, and since Ginny never actually appears in Water by the Spoonful, the connection was something I just had to sort of believe second hand rather than actually knowing about it. Elliot is the story of Elliot's return from his first tour in Iraq. He was wounded, but even so, he returns for a second tour. The construction of the play is less linear than Spoonful, built like a musical fugue. A fugue, according to the good ol' OED, is "a polyphonic composition constructed on one or more short subjects or themes, which are harmonized according to the laws of counterpoint, and introduced from time to time with various contrapuntal devices." This play behaves very much like this. Constructed out of the memories of Elliot, his father (Pop), his grandfather (Grandpop), and Ginny, as well as some local interviews Elliot participates in during his week on leave, the characters almost never actually speak to each other. They speak to the audience, they speak via letters written from the front lines of Vietnam and Korea. It is an intricate tapestry of three generations of a family of veterans, and the experiences they share - though they have never actually spoken about them. The trauma that each of them carries (Ginny was a wartime nurse in Vietnam, so she shares the experiences as well) weighs on them, but it also connects them, whether they know it or not. Like Spoonful, Hudes asks for nonrealistic staging elements, seeking the poetic and theatrical rather than the literal. The penultimate scene, when Ginny takes Elliot into the garden to help heal his wound soars as she wraps him in ivy (just like he was wrapped in barbed wire in Iraq), and helps him to find happiness and healing within. And this healing is compounded when she hands him his father's letters that he had written home from Vietnam. It related experiences that Elliot understood first hand, but had never been able to get his father to talk about. The final moment of the play sees each of the men as the young man he is/was when he goes/went off to war. This might be one of the more beautiful portrayals I've seen in recent years of the soldier experience. It's a hard and scary and unsettling life that involves injury and having to kill other human beings, but there is also camaraderie and love and music and honor.

I am going to have to get my hands on part three of this series... Hudes really is a lovely writer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Water by the Spoonful

Play #8: Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes

This one won a Pulitzer Prize, so I figured I should probably get it read. And now, I'm wishing I had thought to read the first in the trilogy... you know... first. I suppose I'll just hit up Elliot, A Solider's Fugue tomorrow. At any rate, this is a gorgeous play. The story centers follows Elliot, who returned from serving in Iraq a few years ago. His aunt Ginny who raised him is on the verge of dying of cancer, and his birth mother Odessa who abandoned him as a child is a recovering drug addict with six years of sobriety behind her. Elliot and his cousin Yazmin spend most of the play dealing with the implications of Ginny's death. Odessa, on the other hand, spends most of the play online, talking to other addicts in an online support group that she moderates. Elliot's anger with his birth mother grows and grows as we learn that they have more in common than we might have thought. And the participants in the online forum are very interesting - deep relationships with people who know their deepest, darkest secrets... but they don't even know their real names. They address each other as Orangutan or Chutes&Ladders or Fountainhead. But as time goes on for them, the online world isn't enough, and they require something more as well. It's a meditation on loss and family and support and weakness and personal failings and the knowledge that personal failings are simply the cost of being human.

The title comes from a horrifying story from Elliot's childhood when he and his two-year-old sister had the flu and were unable to keep anything down, so Odessa was instructed to feed them a spoonful of water every five minutes to keep them hydrated. Unfortunately, addict that she was, she was unable to keep up this arrangement to dire consequences. It was after this that Elliot was sent to his aunt Ginny, whom he refers to as his mother. It's a positively shattering metaphor for the tiny gestures and decisions that add up to a life. The tiny steps that can mean love and survival and success, or destruction and loss and failure.

Hudes gives an interesting set of directions in suggesting how to stage this play, calling for many different chairs to represent the "real" places, and open space to represent the online interactions. I would love to see this piece staged - I would love to see which of those worlds ends up feeling more real at which moments in the performance.

I really can't wait to read the other two pieces that frame this play in Hudes's trilogy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Do Not Do This Ever Again

Play #7: Do Not Do This Ever Again by Karinne Keithley

I have a collection of plays called Joyce Cho Plays. Joyce Cho, it turns out, is a cohort of experimental playwrights. The post I made the other day about Christmas 'Cracker... that was a Joyce Cho play. Today's play is another Joyce Cho play. And it makes the last one look like Arthur Miller.

Do Not Do This Ever Again feels more like a poem than a play. It's sort of difficult to locate all of Artistotle's elements of drama in this piece. And it is most definitely a play that I should probably read a dozen or so times before venturing to write anything about it, so this is going to be a bumpy ride. Divided into five parts, there are no characters per se, merely performers sharing memories or ideas or moments. In "Part One: More Important Than Mail," the four characters listed only as A, B, C, and D seem to float past each other - almost interacting, but not quite. There are stories about trains and giraffes and plants and Doritos... I can't really tell you quite what was happening. In "Part Two: In Which a Treatise On Ruins," another character named G delivers a long monologue about his experience as a sacrifice to the Beast in the city of the future. While he survived the sacrifice, his cohort Ed did not. And still, despite the sacrifice, the world he returned to is a dark, muted version of itself. "I expect the recurrence of hope will be actually devastating," he observes at the end of Part Two. "Part Three: An Operetta in (X) Scenes" features such characters as Marie Antoinette, Esme the cat, and three singing deer. The Operetta is followed by a short song listed as "Part: Inter-Part" that seems to be - if it's about anything - unknowability. Finally, the piece concludes with "Part Four: Dim 'O,'" in which A and C seem to narrate unpunctuated observations interspersed with B and G as Johnny Tradescant and His Pa catalog the deaths in their families in a strange background TV show.

As I said... this is a piece that is far too complex to be treated in a manner as cursory as the one I'm giving it. I would be fascinated to see this on stage, just to see the imagination that would have to go into bringing text like this to life. I will say that there is definitely a common idea about the future that flows through this piece - a dark, uncertain, uncontrollable future seems to tug at all of the characters - even the ones like Johnny and His Pa, who are so focused on the past. With a past like theirs - so full of death - how can they have any hope for the future? And is that the question that we ask throughout? Is the play really that bleak? Or is it urging us to look forward, no matter how dark the view may be? I don't have any answers... and I should probably read this play about twenty more times... and maybe I'll start to have some of the right questions.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Water's Edge

Play #6: The Water's Edge by Theresa Rebeck
3 Women, 2 Men

This one started out as a sort of standard dysfunctional family, then got a little darker, then a little more hopeful, then it turned positively Greek. Richard and Helen, it seems, were married, but have not seen each other in seventeen years. This also means that Richard has not seen either of his now grown children (Nate and Erica) in seventeen years. But today, he shows up at their house (which had apparently been his childhood home) with his girlfriend Lucy (who is the same age as his children) in tow. He wants to have a relationship with his children, and he wants to take the house back (which is strange, since he is quite wealthy and has at least four other houses). As the weekend progresses, more and more facts come out about the messy past of this family. First, it seems that Helen and Richard never bothered to make their divorce official... so they're technically still married. Also, the reason they separated was that their third child - Lea - drowned in the lake near this house, and Helen blames Richard for the death. As the damaged family tries to negotiate their reunion, Lucy becomes more and more the outsider - to the point that she is actually banished from a family dinner under the stars. There's a bit of a shift, however, the following morning, when Lucy returns from her night away from the homestead and Richard has apparently left without her. The end had a very clear Orestes and Electra vibe that I did not see coming. And I'm not sure I entirely buy it. The harshness of the final scene doesn't feel super connected to the rest of the play in some ways. I think it would be an interesting challenge to build a world in which the events that unfold would be believable, but without telegraphing them before we get there.

This is one of those plays that I feel probably doesn't get done all that often. Rebeck is a well known writer, and fairly prolific, but she has a number of plays that are much more audience-accessible than this one. It certainly wouldn't be much of an audience draw, but I think people might dig it if they gave it a chance. It might be useful for scene study work though, and there are definitely some useful monologues for women in their 20s and 40s or 50s, so that's good to hang onto as well.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Christmas 'Cracker

Play #5: Christmas 'Cracker by Kelly Copper*

I really seem to be landing on some strange plays so far in this little endeavor. This is a sort of weird, postmodern musical that takes place in a tenement building around Christmas. Central to the "plot" seems to be a young girl named Carla, her scientist father, and the three super-smart, plague-ridden lab rats (Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar... get it?) who escaped from his lab. Clara's mother is sleeping with the superintendent, and her father is never home, and it seems that she (and probably several other party guests) have just contracted the bubonic plague, so things are looking pretty bleak. But Clara is trying to find a way to save Christmas... a way that somehow involves the magical chicken heart that her father promised her for Christmas. Of course, Donald Trump makes a couple of appearances, dressed as one of the heavenly host. And even Arnold Schwartzenegger is having a hard time with the cold. This manic, strange Christmas story somehow retains a playful, even slightly joyful mood in the face of its rot and mold and apocalyptic tendencies. It paints a picture of a world that is full of discontent and sadness and crumbling magic, but it doesn't seem to forget about the beauty that still exists amongst the decay. I think this would be a very strange, but very fun Christmas offering for the right theatre!

*So far, all of the plays I have read have been by women. So I'm going to try to stick with that! Let's see if I can read 365 plays by women in one year! Sounds like fun to me!