Friday, September 29, 2006
I hit the road last night to take in a show at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. (Courtesy of a comp ticket from them.)
Seeing a show there has always been one of the things I have been meaning to do...for about the last 10 years. Really.
It was actually quite easy; I spent about 3 hours on the road down to New Haven. However, I was blessed with very little traffic on the Mass Turnpike and in the Hartford environs.
I have lived for many years in the Harvard Square area, but Yale has always struck me as the college town. The concentration of those stone, cathedralesque buildings, archways and spires is formidable, but in a strange way meditative and peaceful. That is, of course, if that is your taste. (I'm a graduate of Boston College, so I may have been experiencing a little nostalgia for Gasson, Devlin, Fulton and Lyons.)
I was able to find street parking on a meter very quickly, and headed over to the theatre. I had enough time for an enjoyable fall walk through the quads and finally arriving at the Yale Rep, which, (for all its history,) is in a surprisingly unassuming little church building tucked onto a corner.
Probably the best introduction to the history of the Yale Rep and the Drama School would be Robert Brustein's chronicle of his years at the helm. Making Scenes is out of print, but if you can find it in the library, or if you can pick up a cheap copy via the internet, it is well worth the read. (Henry Winkler playing Shakespeare. Meryl Streep terrified to pull out of a production of The Father starring an obsessed and overly methodized Rip Torn, for fear of upsetting him.)
Agree with Brustein's crititicisms or not, what makes Scenes an invigorating read is that he is so damn passionate. In his battle to establish this legendary artistic insitution, he makes mistakes, regroups, attacks again, makes compromises for larger goals, and tries to hold to aesthetic standards during a very turbulent time. There is no doubt that there is a bit of score settling on the table, but... omelets and broken eggs as the saying goes.
With all the recent talk in the blogoshpere of New York Centrism, it was interesting to visit what some would consider a strong satellite. Yale Rep and the School of Drama are probably as close as one can get to monolithic in the realm of Regional Theatre and Theatre Education.
I was there to see Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice, which I will write a little bit more about later.
(Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Thursday, September 28, 2006
at Speakeasy Stage
As they say, everything old is new again. During the first act of the Scott Edmiston's production of The Women, Mary Haines, a wealthy New York socialite, has a conversation with her young daughter about being a woman.
"Women can be lawyers and doctors and pilots," Mary explains to her tomboyish daughter. But, she softly and earnestly explains, she chooses to stay at home and raise her children. Mary begins to explain how other people may not look at it as important, but it is her choice to take care of the domestic duties.
At this point, what I am describing may sound like a vignette from one of those late 1950's black and white instructional videos: "Be Yourself, but Be Your Best Self!" Thankfully, Clare Booth Luce, the playwright, has exceptional wit and observational acumen up her sleeve and is able to turn the scene with a punch line that resonates through 70 years and lands right into 2006.
You see, after Mary Haines has finished telling her daughter about the importance of some mothers staying home and taking care of the housework, her daughter observes smartly, "but, Mom, you don't do any of those things." As the audience begins laughing, the scene suddenly races from the 1930's right into today's political maelstrom of illegal immigration, political correctness and family values.
This week's New Republic has an extended book review of several manifestoes from the front line of "The Mommy Wars," which is the moniker that has been chosen for the latest journalistic and activist battles over the woman's place in society. The reviewer writes:
"This mutual pact of pity and condescension is crosscut with envy. The Working Mother may envy the Stay-at-Home Mother for not having to work, for being fortunate enough to have married a major earner who foots the bills while she has to put up with a dreary commute to a job that cuts her off from her children. Such a mother labors not because she prefers to, but because she has to--she doesn't have the cushy option of sitting around watching Dr. Phil or hosting afternoon playdates. Meanwhile, the Stay-at-Home Mom may envy the Working Mom for her freedom and mobility to associate with fellow adults instead of being stuck indoors staring at the crayon artwork posted on the refrigerator door and listening to infantile prattle until she is about to go out of her mind."
All of these are undercurrents racing through the subtext of Luce's play about the backstabbing social and married lives of New York socialites during the depression era, including the observations by our contemporary pundits that some of the most vociferous defenders of the Stay-At-Home ranks are women who have au pairs and maids.
In this classic American Comedy, Mary Haines, a rock solid member of the in-crowd and played winsomely by Anne Gottlieb, is surrounded/besieged by her circle/cell of friends as she goes through the pain of a family crisis. Her problem is that her marital breakdown, rather than being seen by others as an opportunity to lend support, is instead seen as a blank canvas on which they can scheme, pontificate and project their own agendas and ideas. With a cast of 20 playing about forty characters, all women, we hear just about every side of the story, and the ending is, well, actually a little surprising.
In many places Luce's play still creaks like an East Indiaman cargo ship, but fortunately the play has been constructed well enough comedically to have survived the height of the radical feminist era with most of its punchlines intact. And Scott Edmiston has assembled a wonderful perfect cast to land the punches, (literally in some places.)
Speakeasy's production is paced comedically by the talents of Maureen Keiller as the devilish Sylvia, Kerry Dowling as the matronly Edith, and Mary Klug as the scene stealing Countess de Lage. The bitter is provided by the cynical Nancy Carroll as the author Nancy, (whom one could imagine penning one of the more radical books in the Mommy Wars.) In a nice update of the staging, Edmiston has Nancy sits at a typewriter reciting Booth's clever stage directions and tosses barbs generously into the proceedings.
This would all be fine entertainment on its own, but Luce is aiming higher and expands the universe to include servants, secretaries, hairdressers, notaries, lingerie models, cooks, and chorus girls. A few years ago Phyllis Rose wrote a book called Parallel Lives in which she examined several horrible, high-profile marriages of the Victorian Age. In her introduction she observed that marriage and divorce are not private, but rather public and even political acts. Claire Booth Luce is on to this as she shows the anxiety of not only Mrs. Haines and her immediate family, but also seemingly just about everybody else from New York to Reno.
All of the women in the ensemble, some playing multiple roles, are actresses who have had more than their share of lead roles around Boston and New York. But the credit also goes to Edmiston who has gathered and casted them all to their strengths and allowed us to experience a production which such richness around the edges.
Full Disclosure: My wife is part of this wonderful ensemble of Boston Actresses.
Photo: Sylvia (Maureen Keiller, left) confronts Crystal (Georgia Lyman, right in tub) Photo Credit: Mike Lovett
Friday, September 22, 2006
It is the very error of the moon;
She comes more near the earth than she was wont,
And makes men mad.
Othello, The Moor of Venice, V.ii 133-135
There is a small blip of blogging activity around the Post by Buffalo Theatre Professor on the New York Centrism of Theatre Practice:
As an educator and also as a theatre artist, I have fought for years against this NewYorkCentrism, the notion that all good things in theatre happen only in New York, and therefore one must go to New York City to become successful and do theatre well. I have tried to convince my students and some fellow artists that practicing their art in other cities might be a viable alternative. But so often I get that blank stare back, as if someone is questioning in their minds whether or not I am serious.
Tangentially, he also talks about the New York Centrism of the blogosphere. I suspect that if his observations were posted back in the doldrums of the summer we would have a much more spirited discussion brewing. But here we are, in the thick of the fall theatre season. Those of us in the blogosphere, (New York or not,) who aren't consumed with make last minute changes to scripts, (Me, George, James, etc.) are either preoccupied with concepts for staging them,(Isaac, Matt, Don, etc.) diligently trying to memorize them, (Dorothy,) studiously trying to light them, (Lucas,) or tenaciously trying to mold young actors to be in them in the future, (Scott Walters.)
We are busy, that makes us happy. How hard it is to keep focused on larger things. But then again...is that really important for us? Subjects like an independent theatre movement and breaking down walls seem extremely important when we are not in the midst of the work, but then, suddenly, seem so metaphysical and distant, almost quaint.
A number of years ago, I remember making the very concious decision about not moving to New York. I returned to Boston from the Army, inspired greatly by the Seattle theatre scene I experienced while stationed at Fort Lewis. I was on fire with enthusiasm and created a theatre company with a number of talented and ambitious people. Our first official show we did was not in Boston, but at the Seattle Fringe Festival.
After traveling with shows, we finally started doing work here in town at the small spaces like the Leland Center at the Boston Center for the Arts. We have always kept with our guideline of "original works created by members of the company." Actors direct. Writers act. Directors act. Writers direct.
(I will say that we probably would not have had near as much success if I did not lock in with extremely ambitious and talented tech people in the beginning and over the years.)
It has been a blast so far, and I wouldn't change it for the world. But working here in Boston the gravitational pull of New York works like the moon: It affects your tides... even as you sleep. It pulls at the fabric of matter around you, and can make you hold your breath in instances where an actor you have cast and rehearsed with lets you know sheepishly that she might have to go down to New York for an audition on the day your play is opening.
Every year our mainstream critics file retrospectives on the season and hit Boston theatres over the head for not being like New York. For not doing the plays that were hits off-broadway during that season. (Or worse... they go on a London Theatre junket.)
I never blame New York, and rarely get frustrated at New York. My wife, a graduate of the Actors Studio, is a New York transplant has a great affinity for the city and we visit her friends there quite a bit.
We are stabilizing though. We are slowly equalizing the forces. Though the ART goes on to get booed in Edinburg, the Actors Shakespeare Project picked up accolades in New York for their King Lear.
Over the last decade there is one thing that has steadily improved: the Imported New York Lead. Boston actors have continuously shown their skills to be perfectly in line with Lort B standards, and have impressively made the Fly-By-Lead the exception rather than the rule.
You always hear of an actor who is trying to do work in both cities, but said actor seems to basically get work here.
Boston Playwrights have garnered success beyond our city. Melinda Lopez and Ronan Noone have been produced as far away as Los Angeles. There are many small, new companies here in Boston, shuttling about like hermit crabs to the few affordable spaces still available, but even more important, they are doing new plays.
Things will change, but it will be a while. Maybe we need to think 50 years down the line, not next month.
When I think of the new companies, (Whistler in the Dark, Company One, 11:11, and AYTB,) when I think of young people like that, who decide to move here and start a theatre company, suddenly, the pull doesn't seem so strong.
If I can state a personal observation about people going on to other places: Friends and actors who have gone on to Chicago and DC seem to have had far more success than those who have decamped to New York. This is recent, and I think perhaps instructive if not indicative.
These are positive developments, but more and more I am trying to keep focused on the fact that we are long way from home.
John Clancy has an oft-quoted wall analogy:
Most generations divide into two camps. One camp recognizes the wall, measures it, and begins to climb it. Some may actually get over to the other side, who knows? Most of the first camp, however, settle on finding a position somewhere on the wall and begin to jealously guard it.
The other camp, standing at the wall, not climbing, divides as well. Half spend their lives standing at the foot of the wall, shaking their fists and shouting. The other half grows bored and walks away.
That's what most generations do, upon finding themselves at the wall.
The exceptional generations, the historical generations, tear down the fucking wall.
This analogy, I have always felt, leaves out one important camp:
Those who don't believe there is a wall.
I think that at some point, we have all found ourselves in that camp.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Local Playwright Melinda Lopez's Sonia Flew, which got its start here in Boston with a Premiere at the Huntington Theatre, is performing in Los Angeles right now. Here is a review from the LA Times.
The play also goes up at Steppenwolf later in the season.
Congrats to Melinda.
I remember talking to a good friend of mine several years ago. He is somebody I consider to be on the cutting edge of technology and business.
I mentioned how Netflix seemed to be gaining in popularity, and that I had read that Blockbuster was now going to start offering a Netflix-like service. I mused that it looked like it would be a battle between the two companies.
My friend laughed and said, "Are you kidding me? The war is over." He turned out to be right, at least for the forseeable future. The war of Netflix and Blockbuster was over before it really even started.
I am in the employment business, and though I wasn't really there at the time, many veterans who were tell me similar stories about the emergence of companies like Monster.com. They talk about how, in the mid to late nineties, managers and owners of staffing firms laughed derisively at on-line job boards. "I have been in the business for twenty years, and I am telling you that nobody is going to want to post their resume on-line for the whole world to read. People just don't operate that way.".....Who's laughing now?
So, now we have this article in the LA Times, (hat tip Playgoer,) about playwrights writing for television. The list is long and notable, with some of our best playwrights now writing for Law and Order or CSI. They are not ashamed, nor should they be. But what I have taken away from the article is this: The War May Be Over. Maybe playwriting is not in any way shape or form an advisable direction for the talented writer who wants to operate as a professional.
I know that Paula Vogel will disagree; she championed the talented Sarah Ruhl, who was just awarded a Macarthur Genius Grant. ($500,000.00 over five years!) That's not small change at all. I want to be optimistic, but sometimes it is hard.
The cream is supposed to rise, but the LA Times article lists many of the playwrights we at a least call "professionals." If theatre's professionals can't make a living in their home something is wrong.
Update: There is an interesting discussion going on in the comments section of the Playgoer post about these issues.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Yesterday I went to see a screening of Opening Night Jitters and another Playomatic Production at the Boston Film Fest in Arlington.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a trailer for the documentary about Larry Stark, the theatre reviewer who founded Larry Stark's Theatermirror online many years ago.
Reddragonfly Films is producing the documentary and it looks great so far. Larry was in attendance at the screening.
My favorite quote from the trailer: "When the newspaper told me I could only review one show a week...I quit."
Let my heart be a cicada
over heavenly fields.
Let it die singing slow,
by the blue sky wounded.
And as it fades
let this woman I forsee
scatter it through the dust
with her hands.
And let my blood on the field
make sweet and rosy mud
where weary peasants
sink their hoes.
Oh happy cicada!
Frederico Garcia Lorca (Translated by Catherine Brown.)
Friday, September 15, 2006
So, WBUR, dumps Bill Marx as arts editor and theatre reviewer. Ed Seigel leaves the Globe as a theatre critic on an early buyout.
WBUR's Arts Pages have tumbleweeds blowing through them for the past few months.
Now, Ed Seigel is reviewing plays on WBUR. His Radio Golf review is here.
I'm off for the rest of the weekend, so I'll leave it to all of you to figure out.
Though it may make those of us on the fringe cringe, there is a new voice in town that is straight from the hip and pulls absolutely no punches.
Jenna Sherer, writing for the Weekly Dig, reminds me of Brendan Kiley of The Stranger in Seattle. Love them or hate them, at least they take the fringe theatre companies up on their offers and promises.
Sherer goes to see the fringey productions with great hope, often to have it dashed right in front of our reading eyes.
She is horrible, but, in a sick way, surprisingly supportive. Anybody familiar with Kiley's quips about some of the Seattle productions he has seen, will immediately recognize the attitude. Here is Sherer reviewing a show this past summer:
Queer Soup’s production is symptomatic of a larger disease afflicting theatre today: mediocrity. It’s the reason no one under the age of 45 (save a few acting students and Broadway geeks) goes to the theatre anymore. Alas, My Yolanda Love, announced as an unorthodox new play by a ceiling-smashing up-and-comer, turns out to be just as shitty as the shit that was shitty a decade ago.
Yikes. It certainly lives up to some of Kiley's best quips:
"After pointing out the emergency exits and reminding us about cell phones, the dutiful curtain speaker always says, "If you liked the show, please tell your friends. Word of mouth is the best advertising." It is, at least, the most accurate. And a little more honesty in the marketing strategies ("A lackluster comedy—for friends of the cast only!") might improve the art form, restore some integrity, and woo back the confidence of an already wary public."
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Playgoer links to Michael Billington's column in the Guardian about witnessing outright audience hostility to a production of the Three Sisters in Edinburg.
When you read the article in full, you find that the story actually has local roots that have not been picked up by our hometown press as far as I can see.
You see, the production in question, the one which solicited such savage spectator outspokeness, is not the work of some hack little company throwing up a fringe show. No, the production is one that has already graced our fair city here. We, The Athens of America, the Hub of the Universe, got this infamous production first!
Yes, the ART's Three Sisters, directed by Krystian Lupa is the production in question. I didn't get a chanc to see the production when it was running last November. It seemed, from the coverage, like it was a test of audience patience. The reviews from almost all quarters here at the time, while very postive, seemed to indicate just that.
But nothing like the following was reported as far as I know:
But it was during Chekhov's wonderful last act that disaster struck. Almost every line became a potential minefield. Masha only had to say "Isn't it awful?" or "I'm going out of my mind" for a torrent of jeering, derisive, mocking laughter to issue from the stalls.
There is really no excuse for this type of behaviour, I agree with Mr. Billington. It is the equivalent of verbally harassing the kid in the booth at the local Hess gas station because you don't like the geopolitics and pricing strategies of the oil industry.
However, Billington eschews a couple of points in the following quote:
The argument against that is simple. The actors are simply carrying out a concept determined by the director. To jeer at the performers themselves strikes me as rude and cruel; which is why I always dislike the courtly mockery of coarse actors at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour's Lost. As one of the victims says in the latter play, "This is not gentle, this is not humble." And the sound I heard in Edinburgh on Tuesday night was similarly that of contemptuous arrogance.
First point is that the director himself is present during these productions, the second point is actually a question I would ask to Mr. Billington: How is an audience to respond if a work of theatre takes on the sound of "contemptuous arrogance" towards the spectators?
It seems Mr. Lupa is font of wisdom at his 62 years of age, and lest you think it is only the unskilled American audience member he wants to educate, remember that he condescends to even the critics of our fair city of Boston. Here is the London Telegraph writing a promo interview with Lupa for Three Sisters before its fateful arrival at Edinberg:
We talk about his Edinburgh-bound Three Sisters, which originally opened in Massachusetts in November 2005 - and, when I point out that American critics attacked the show for being slow (at almost four hours), he roars with
"The critics made me laugh," he says. "Their amazement was so naive. They were like children who had never seen a cow, and, when they do, they shout: 'Look! There's a cow!' And then they wonder what cows are for! The reviews looked only at the most superficial aspects of the show."
Mr. Lupa seems to be a charming and engaging This is disingenous as most of the reviews received here pointed out the method and the value they perceived in it, just as Lupa is describing.
Here is the Globe:
Even at that, Lupa still completely justifies the ART's faith in his
vision. The intelligence and rigor that he brings to every scene slow things down. But without ever being showy, each scene leaves the audience with a 'Three Sisters to be savored.For all the problems in the second half, I'd rush back to see anything Lupa directs.
Carolyn Clay in the Phoenix was equally laudatory. She mentioned, in all but a half sentence, the "slackening pace," but put it in its proper context.
Indeed, most all of the reviews dealt with the substance of the Chekov update, so I really don't see Lupa's point. (And everybody knows I am hard on critics here in Boston.)
So what are we to make then of a man who sneers at fans of his work as "naive." Is theatre now some type of masochistic enterprise for the audience? Of course I hope that Mr. Lupa was consistent and was roaring with delight as the audience hurled derisions at his production and his actors.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
I second George Hunka on his observation of the increasing velocity of time suck during this time of year.
So many plays and performances I would like to see, but acting classes have started up this week and I have to get to work on several plays I am writing/finishing/outlining. Plus this is a big time of year for my day job.
I see most performances by either taking of advantage of freebies, working it off as an usher , or paying for tickets when I have the disposable income. So planning theatregoing gets a little tricky.
At least I am not producing/directing a show this fall.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Gloucester Stage unveiled its update of Cyrano DeBergerac, Edmond Ronstadt's play about the Master Swordsman of the Gascons who has the soul of a poet and the nose of anteater.
Calvin Berger, a new musical, relocates the story to a modern high school.
Terry Byrne of the Herald enjoyed the hip udate:
Wyner has filled the show with bright, catchy songs that are delightfully hip, with references to Dr. Phil and Scooby-Doo and everyone in between. When Bret tries to give Rosanna confidence by suggesting she think of herself as a white Oprah, we know Wyner’s got his finger on the funnybone. A song devoted to Mr. Potato Head might be considered extraneous if it weren’t so funny as Calvin emotes in front of a mirror and the classic toy.
The Globe's Sandy McDonald filed a checklist of the play's structural and musical weaknesses and, in typical Globe fashion, listed a bunch of shows that are done better. It is hard to really tell from reading, but basically it seems as if she enjoyed the show pretty much as Ms. Byrne did.
The Globe definitely allows for more space, Byrne's review seems very brief, perhaps more a sign of the shrinking of theatre reviews.
And on that note: Can you hear the wind whistling through the empty corridors of the WBUR Arts Pages since Bill Marx's departure?
And where is Mr. Marx? His blog has no more updates.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
The Academy of American Poets has announced their Wallace Stevens Award Winner and it is Michael Palmer.
Now get this, Mr. Palmer receives an award of...
Yes, that's right. 100 large. Not bad for a modern day versifier.
Makes the heart feel good to know that those who try to cultivate excellence in an aesthetic craft that is increasingly marginalized can be rewarded.
Congratulations to Mr. Palmer.
I posted the following on a Playwrighting Message Group yesterday. It is just some of my feelings about playwrighting groups, readings and development.
I guess I would preface it all by saying that I am never quite sure of the value of writing groups, but I think that support is always necessary. The greatest writers in history, (indeed the greatest artists in general,) usually belonged to a group of fellow artists, or had the support of sponsors.
Read the letters of famous writers and you will find them floating their story ideas, stressing over a certain passage, or seeking plain, honest, emotional support.
There is of course the anecdote about David Mamet and Harold Pinter. Mamet, seeking some professional feedback, sent Pinter a copy of a play he had written. After reading the play, Pinter sent Mamet a note that read, "The only thing it is lacking is production." That play was Glengarry Glen Ross. (I have no idea about the veracity of that story, but I have heard it so often that it is now officially a Does-it-really-matter-if-it-is-truism.)
The discussion on the playwrights message board evolved from discussing the Hedy Weiss affair to talking about the general process of development and feedback. Here is part of my response (slightly altered):
I have attended play reading feedback gatherings in the past. I found the process enormously helpful for my own work, and for some of the other playwrights who were receiving feedback.
This type of developmental process is extremely helpful, but I find it usually falls short in one area...Major Structural Problems. There is just not enough time to do complete readings of full length plays of all the members. What IS read is sometimes the first act, or a couple of scenes, or as one manager of a play developement group has said, a bunch of ten minute plays.
When full-lengths ARE read there is either a tentativeness in feedback, or gushing praise, or a blunt dismissal form somebody, ("I just didn't like it!") which seems to shock the audience. This atmosphere, (which I find prevents truly useful developmental feedback,) usually derives from the necessary respect given to the writer for having spent all that time to bring a full length play to the table.
After they have labored so much, oh how hard it is to tell somebody that the play needs to shave off 45 minutes. Or that the two and half-hour play only has enough content for twenty minutes. Or that the subplot or minor theme is infinitely more interesting than the major characters or ideas. Or that the they should just shave off the first 25 minutes, because the play only gets interesting when Joan and Joe find out that they are working on the same project. Or, (and this is the hardest one of all,) that the play ENDS where it should probably BEGIN!!
Even more insidious are the smaller structural problems that are allowed a free pass in this atmosphere as well, and this is a shame because they are usually things that seem to need only a minimal amount of work.
I have followed several productions in Boston, both large and small, through readings and right onto mainstage productions. In more cases than not, the structural problems that were there in the beginning, were also there at the premiere. And guess what? They were pointed out in the reviews of the play! Sometimes in several reviews the same problems were pointed out. Sometimes by the audience at intermission and while filing out of the theatre.
Now, sometimes these minor structural problems were mentioned in the actual feedback of the first readings, and sometimes they were muttered, under breaths as the audience waited in the lobby for the next reading.
And these are all just problems for traditional playwrighting development. In addition, it seems to me, we need an entirely new division to help more avante garde writers; those who are looking to emulate the directions of Howard Barker, Erik Ehn, and Sarah Kane. I think that most playwrighting forums and feedback groups I have attended seem to be very unwelcoming and unpatient with these types of works. (Though this is a reflection of how the audience would react also.)
13P is a collective of playwrights in New York City that has a motto: "We don't develop plays, we do them." I have produced my own work extensively as well, and yes, it is true, there is nothing like the lessons learned from putting a production up in front of an live audience, or from receiving negative critical reviews. I have learned much over the years from this method, but, (as I think somebody else pointed out,) this is an expensive and physiologically draining way to gather these lessons. The one clear advantage one comes away with is this: After these years of experience, I know how to mount a production. I know how to get my work up. I know how to market it. I know how to do a press release. I know the names of lighting and sound people. I know much money I need to rent a space. I know the application deadlines for the BCA and Fringe Festivals, and other spaces. I know many actors and playwrights. I am by no means an expert at production, but I know that if I write a play I think is worthy of production I know how to do it.
What I am most interested in now is how to gain valuable feedback, and how to pay forward my own experiences.
Here is my modest proposal: Why not, instead of reading ten minute plays, maybe have a session where 5 or 6 playwrights "pitch," their full length outlines. (Please don't get angry at me for using a Hollywood term. Anybody who knows me or my work knows that I am not a conventianal or commercial playwright.)
Basically, a playwright would stand in front of the group and "tell the play" to the group just as it would unfold before an audience: Scene by Scene, or event by event, etc. Perhaps there would be a little dialogue allowed, but mainly we just want to know what happens onstage. The playwright would spend no more than ten minutes doing this. No explanation of themes or what they are trying to do. Then, the group would ask questions or give feedback. (Having been involved in this type of process recently, I firmly believe that it helps to clarify structural problems, and saves time on full length readings.)
Now, here is the harsh part.The next step: the group would make a decision on which plays they would like to hear in a full reading. It may be all the plays, it may be some, it may be none. Bad feelings? Maybe. But not if people can explain why.
(A Caveat: I said before, the more avante garde the work gets, the more openminded the group HAS to be. )
Sorry for the long post, but these are my thoughts.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Garret Eisler at Playgoer, and George Hunka at Superfluities, tackle Isherwood's piece about political theatre in the New York Times.
I have not much to add to the discussion that hasn't been said, but with regards to politics and art, I would like to point out my relief at reading the following in Stanley Kaufmann's review of World Trade Center, Oliver Stone's new movie.
There is no trace of the previous virtuosic Stone dazzle. In fact, several commentators have congratulated him on his restraint.
These congratulations are worrisome. Certainly Stone showed restraint in World Trade Center: who would have had it otherwise? But I hope he hasn't learned his lesson, as these comments imply, and from now on will choose only subjects that preclude his virtuosity.
Look at what Stone has done in his career. He has been one of the most adventurous, radical, and perceptive directors in American film history. As far back as Salvador (1986), he was upsetting popular acceptances. Platoon, which came in the same year, is the best film ever made about Vietnam. It is stained with some sentiment on the soundtrack that may have been added as a producer's emollient, but it is nonetheless stark, terrifyingly truthful, superbly directed. (Stone, as everyone now knows, is a decorated infantry veteran of Vietnam.) Wall Street (1987) is a testament of the drooling, greed-hyped "Americanism" of the Reagan years. Born on the Fourth of July (1989), also about Vietnam, presented Tom Cruise--Tom Cruise!--excellent in an impassioned role. The Doors (1991) had one of the sadly unappreciated fine performances of our time--Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. JFK (also 1991) was grubbed over by historical literalists who forgot the factual liberties taken by Schiller, Kleist, and Brecht, among others, and who ignored the social perception, the cinematic imagination, with which Stone rendered the core of the film--the end of our national confidence in heaven's blessing...
To recognize what Stone has accomplished in his best pictures is, I believe, to salute a major talent in film history, especially noteworthy because those pictures do not merely triumph over convention--they explode it. Has he really now become a conventional director? World Trade Center could not have been made in the style of those earlier pictures, but was it no more than a chance for Stone to be both excellent and orderly? He is almost sixty. I hope that, as with the mature Buñuel and Bergman and Kurosawa and Ford, more unrestrained films lie ahead of him.
Amen, Mr. Kauffmann.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Eric Bogosian, Massachusetts native, is revising the script of his 1994 play subUrbia for a new production at Second Stage this fall. His wife, Jo Bonney, who is also his collaborator and director, is helping in the revisions, including changing the play's setting slightly.
This is encouraging and disappointing all at the same time. Encouraging because so often in these times plays don't don't get worked on beyond their initial productions. Revisions are not made and a play simply goes to second and third productions and then to print with all of the flaws that were sometimes universally pointed out in its first presentation. Happily, it appears that Bogosian and Bonney are enthusiastically reworking the material.
It is disappointing because I always kind of liked the fact that the play was so linked to Woburn, MA, which is where Bogosian grew up. Not that the play didn't transcend to probably every other suburban community in the country, including mine which one town over from Woburn. In fact, I still drive by the 7-11 at Four Corners in Woburn often, and I used to pass it daily on my commute.
When I first heard of Bogosian's Suburbia, while stationed at Camp Hovey in Korea in 1994, I had a very nostalgic and rather innocent reaction to reading in the New York Times of a new play at Lincoln Center . To my delight it turned out that the script was about a bunch of kids hanging out by the 7-11 in Woburn! In 1994, being stationed in Korea really did feel like being on the other side of the world, which is very different from recentley being able to e-mail, in real time, with an army buddy who was stationed in Iraq.
The movie version relocated the setting to Texas, and, according to the New York Times, for this current revival:
"Ms. Bonney has contributed a subtle shift with the set, no longer a rundown 7-Eleven but 'one of those pristine, aluminum-gridded stores we see driving through New Jersey or Massachusetts,' she said. The bleak, dead-end mind-set of much of the teenage generation, she said, remains what it was in the 90’s — or the 70’s, when Mr. Bogosian hung at the Woburn strip mall that inspired the play — but the 'cookie-cutter' quality of the surroundings is more threatening and depressing."
I know Woburn is not central to understanding of the play and I am not sure if Woburn ever was mentioned in the text, except in Bogosian's touching introduction. But that 7-11 was always a catalyst for a certain visceral connection.
The article also mentions the internet as making the youth of the play even more angst ridden because it opens their world even larger. Maybe a change of backdrop to something less specific is more appropriate: We are everywhere and we are nowhere.
So, disaffected youth of my generation, raise a slurpee for the passing of a common ground!
These feelings are not artistic or aesthetic, just my mere personal opinion.