Friday, December 21, 2007

Hauptmann's The Weavers

I didn't have a chance to see Hauptmann's The Weavers, being produced by Boston University with a cast of 29. The play has a certain status in the canon, but is not really produced that often... well, actually almost never.

Both Thomas Garvey and Bill Marx struggle with the complications the play presents to staging and whether or not the play can find purchase with us today.

Bill Marx:

Of course, to be fair, The Weavers calls for a prohibitively large cast — there are over 40 speaking part companies — so theaters are scared off by the cost and logistics of a production. But the play’s reputation as a dated rabble-rouser (a Teutonic anticipation of Clifford Odets) starring the courageous poor rising up
against corrupt fat cat factory owners, the air thick with speeches about the rottenness of the rich, also works against revivals. And there is some of that fist-waving rhetoric in the script, though most of the harrowing details about the hideous existence of the workers – children dying from eating glue, famished families living off recently buried animals, the workers embrace of a song accusing the upper crust of torture — are taken from newspaper accounts of the
riots. Moreover, what happened to the real life weavers undercuts any facile leftist inspiration — after storming some textile factories the rampaging workers, about 1500 strong, were cut to pieces by the army. There is no sense in the play that things are going to turn out differently.


Thomas Garvey:

Which brings me to the political point of the production. The Weavers is one of the few depictions of capitalism at its unfettered extreme - its middle managers are literally starving their direct reports. Yet this isn't quite what Americans are experiencing from capitalism today (its current exploitations are far more sophisticated and disguised), so even the play's intellectual case seems naive.



As a side note: Carl Rossi, writing about the Weavers on Larry Stark's site muses the following at the end of his review:

Out of these twenty-nine students, how many shall remain in the Boston area? How many shall switch Beans for Apples or Oranges? Either way, the future is theirs if not Boston’s, as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How Dialogue Becomes Memorable

"Don't, Don't!" Gets you forgotten.

"Don't tase me!" Gets you in the news.

"Don't tase me, Bro!" Gets you in the Yale Book of Quotations!


Fred Shapiro, the editor of the volume, explains:



"It's not Shakespeare, but there is a kind of folk eloquence in that. It
wouldn't be a quote if he didn't say 'bro,'" Shapiro said. "That had just the right rhythm to make it memorable."


The quote is in company with the utterances of Miss South Carolina, (her repeated use of "such as" made here verbal flailings so darned memorable,) and the President of Iran, ("In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country.")






As an aside: In your next play, if you want to have a character, an innocent foreigner travelling to the US, pulled aside at the airport, interrogated, then swept away to prison, put in chains and kept up for hours without explanation, what would your description of that character be?



Bet it wouldn't be an Icelandic babe. (hat tip Andrew Sullivan.)

Boston Arts Groups - Merry Christmas And a Happy New Year?

Geoff Edgers in The Boston Globe brings the news that the Boston Foundation is killing the holiday buzz.

"Things are not getting better," said Ann McQueen, the senior program officer at the Boston Foundation who cochaired the study. "Things are trending in the wrong direction."

The report surveyed financial and attendance information for more
than 600 groups in the area, from organizations with budgets of less than $1 million to the city's largest, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Ballet, and Boston Symphony Orchestra. It found that while the number of arts groups grew 17 percent between 1999 and 2004, from 534 to 624, the average revenue of those groups fell by 16 percent. Among museums, total attendance across the city dropped 18 percent in that period, from roughly 1.6 million people to 1.3
million.


"Proliferation isn't necessarily a positive for everybody," said
Mark Volpe, the BSO's managing director. "If the pie isn't growing, it gets more competitive." Smaller organizations generally struggled more than larger ones to keep expenses in check as revenue fell, according to the report. That led the Boston Foundation to suggest that some arts groups should consider "exit strategies."


The Sugan Theatre Company already has.

Carmel O'Reilly, the Sugan's artistic director, said yesterday that
the company, founded in 1992, has not staged a production since April 2006. She said there is a chance Sugan could return, though she said it is also likely it will never stage another production. At its peak, Sugan produced three plays a year and had a budget of a little more than $100,000. But even then, O'Reilly, who did not pay herself for the company's first eight years, earned no more than $15,000 a year.


"For us to develop, we would have needed to have a development
officer and a marketing officer, and to do that you need money," O'Reilly said. "It's the chicken chasing the egg."

Boston Theatre - Getting the Butts in the Seats


From a pre-show piece for the Reindeer Monologues in the Weekly Dig:



So how to market a show with no established name and next to no budget? Take a cue from the Mooninites: guerilla marketing (sans city-wide panic). "If you're a theater company that nobody knows, you need to create a ruckus," Barth explains. "We needed to get butts in seats, and nobody knew who we were."

With that in mind, Harrison set about writing and filming a trailer for Reindeer Monologues, one that would reach the YouTube crowd and -- interweb gods willing -- go viral. The seven-minute "prequel" uses well known Boston locales, area theater folks and the actors to generate buzz about the show. Last I checked, Harrison's vid has already gotten 819 views on YouTube -- that's a wider market than most local fringe troupes could dream of reaching.

The night before I dropped in, the X-Mas Project crew had taken
their guerilla marketing ways to karaoke night at the Charles Playhouse. "I think I marketed a little too hard last night," Barth mutters, rubbing her forehead.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quote of the Day

One of the most boring experiences on Earth is a trash movie without the courage of its lack of convictions.

- Roger Ebert

From his review of Re-Animator

Humana Festival Playwright Lineup

MFA University of Iowa
MFA Brown
MFA UC San Diego
Morehouse College
Dartmouth/Currently at Julliard
MFA Brown
MFA Yale
MFA Yale
MFA Brown
NYU
Washington University
MFA UC San Diego

But seriously, Garret has the lineup here.

UPDATE: A few sharp readers noticed that I had one too many Brown MFA's in the list. Right they are. Carly Mensch is currently at Julliard and Graduated from Dartmouth. The Correction is made above.

By the way, somebody also e-mailed me that the Ten Minute Play winners (which I didn't really notice,) include another U of Iowa MFA Grad - Naomi Wallace, as well as a graduate of Yale College.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The State of the Art?

Leonard Jacobs and Rob Kendt are talking about Charles McNulty's piece in the LA Times.

McNulty makes the rallying call to Broadway and playwrights. And Leonard and Rob give their thoughts.

This from McNulty:

Conventional wisdom tells us that American dramatists haven't been as keen to tackle economic issues as their British counterparts. George Bernard Shaw, the grand theatrical observer of the way money makes the world go round, returned to Broadway this
fall in the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of "Pygmalion" with Claire Danes and Jefferson Mays. The play that gave rise to "My Fair Lady" might be hazily remembered as a loquaciously witty entertainment, but it's actually a
critique of capitalism artfully disguised as a Cinderella romance, sans the usual happy ending.


Yet the great subject of our national literature has been the American dream, and no novelist or poet has revealed the corrosive effect of a family's empty-handed pursuit of its promise better than Arthur Miller in his masterpiece, "Death of a Salesman." There is a pipeline, in other words, of serious social drama that runs from Elmer Rice, Clifford Odets and Miller to David Rabe, August Wilson and Kushner, straight to Rebecca Gilman and Christopher Shinn -- and boy, do we need the spigot to be open right now.

Comedy has historically been more adept at reflecting contemporary crises, and America's tradition here is just rich. Whatever you may have thought of Wendy Wasserstein's final play, "Third," seen at the Geffen Playhouse this fall, it was heartening to encounter a protagonist ambling about her darkly humorous plot as nonstop TV coverage of the Iraq war sharply impinges on her daily consciousness.

Rob Kendt:

I for one am not particularly stirred by McNulty's preoccupations or prescriptions--I actually don't hanker much for topical plays that critique late capitalism at yet another of its inevitable crossroads, or for topical plays at all; for me, "topical" plays are too often just that, skin-deep. The problems, and our hopes, run deeper than Blackwater, the Fed, and Jan. 2009.

Followed by Leonard:

McNulty's problem with Broadway is really one of expectations: Because the nation has branded Broadway as representing the finest theatre Americans can create, we naturally expect that it will serve our highest goals and ideals. But fundamentally, Broadway is a business, not a social-service platform, and the result is that those goals and ideals are not prioritized as we might like them to be.

Let's also acknowledge that everything depends on the definition of
"trenchant social vision." One might cite Angels in America from the early 1990s, but I'm not sure one could name five other Broadway plays from that period that unquestionably match Kushner's "trenchant social vision." August Wilson's plays might constitute such a vision, but what other plays on Broadway were contemporaneously as fervent and poetic, as -- indeed -- trenchant.

Boston Theatre - Spontaneous Theater's At It Again

Critic Beverly Creasey, writing on Larry Stark's site, praises another site specific performance by the young Spontaneous crew.

This time they threw up David Ive's Sure Thing this past weekend:

Boy, are you lucky if you live in Allston-Brighton. You go out to one of the chic (and there are oodles to choose from) coffee houses in the area for a latte or a little work on your laptop, and surprise, surprise, you get a play!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Somerville Arts Council - Doin' It Right!


This from the Somerville Arts Council Webpage regarding incentives for Union Square businesses:


Announcing a new cultural economic development initiative. The ArtsUnion ArtSpace Improvement Program (AAIP) provides financial reimbursement to businesses or property owners who desire to improve their physical space for expanded artistic and cultural activity within Union Square.

Similar to a traditional storefront improvement project, but uniquely different, this initiative seeks to further develop and strengthen the physical and cultural infrastructure for arts and culture within Union Square. For example, a restaurant owner may seek funding for a sprinkler system, to adhere to state safety codes, thereby enabling the business to offer live music to patrons. Another example could be a business owner who owns garages within the Square and desires to upgrade them to create and lease artist studios. The projects must specifically relate to physical improvements that expand cultural activity.

Friday Fun

If you don't know The Flight of the Conchords yet...

enjoy:

Arts Council in Britain Disses Text and Narrative?

David Edgar, in a column in the Guardian questions the Council's recent dropping of "New Writing" from its list of priorities:

For almost all of its history, theatre has been made from texts telling
stories. So why does the Arts Council want to prioritise non-text-based theatre doing something else? There is (as yet) no statistical evidence that non-narrative, performance-based devised work is increasing in the repertoire (or proving a particular box-office success). The evidence for an upsurge is largely anecdotal and on the supply side: lots of young people are coming out of university drama departments wanting to do it.


By contrast, the evidence for the power and purchase of the
individually written, narrative-based theatre text is overwelming. There have been periods when television drama or the novel has had its finger more determinedly on the zeitgeist than the theatre. But, despite the inevitable peaks and troughs, new theatre writing has created a mosaic portrait of the past half-century of British life that has not been bettered in any other medium, from the Royal Court dramatists of the late 50s (such as Osborne and Wesker), via state-of-England writers like David Hare and Howard Brenton in the 70s and the remarkable upsurge of women playwrights (including Caryl Churchill and Timberlake Wertenbaker) that followed, to the "in-yer-face" dramatists of the past decade.
.

Theatre Education - Dime Museum Policy Change

New Huntington AD Links

Peter Dubois, the new Huntington AD wrote an article for Theatre called, Towards Revitalization.

And American Theatre did a story on him during his tenure at Perseverance Theatre in Alaska.

The articles are both archived and cost money. Maybe some Mirror readers with more resources can take a peek and see what they say?

Mike Daisey Takes on A Huge Topic


Mike Daisey's new monologue has an ambitious title:


How Theater Failed America


One description, from the Seattle Performs website:



I wonder if this monologue will incorporate the incident at the ART last year?


The show is also going to play at the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival.


Boston Theatre-Friday Roundup Snowbound Edition


I was one of the lucky ones yesterday. My normal 30 minute commute was about four hours. My sister called me and my wife periodically throughout the evening as she spent about twelve hours on the roads.


The public, along with Secretary of State Bill Galvin are furious with how things were handled during yesterday's storm.
I don't know how it could have been any better. The commuting traffic in and around Boston is just about gridlocked at any time after 3 PM on a weekday. The only thing that could have helped was a direct intervention by the Governor, declaring a State of Emergency earlier on. But still that would have dumped cars onto the roads right at the storm's beginning.


About two years ago we had a similar snowfall that hit right in the same time of day, with almost identical results. Strike One and Strike Two. What the Mass Highway department and the Governor's office have to do is figure out how to handle this particular type of situation, fast. I'm a patient guy, but three strikes and you are out!


Looks like we are having a white Christmas this year and there is no shortage of Christmas shows to go around the chestnut fire. Majestic, nostalgic, schmaltzy, irreverent or mind-numbing. Take your pick.


A Christmas Carol is playing at any number of venues. I have heard good things about the New Rep version, but if you like a little music in your Carol than you may want to head up to North Shore Music for their flying Marley Show.


For an alternate version, please join Scrooge on the Salem Trolley for a A Salem Trolley Christmas Carol. I play Fezziwig and Old Joe most performances and Mrs. Mirror plays the Ghost of Christmas Past on a few nights. This year there were 83 performances scheduled, more than we have ever done. Most all were sold out, but I believe there are a few seats left.


(By the way, if any of the local press are reading this, please contact Erik Rodenhiser at the Griffen Theater in Salem for a great story. The guy has been playing Ebeneezer Scrooge professionally for 20 years or so. He started this hit show when he was about seventeen years old.)


The Boston Ballet's Nutcracker is at the Opera House to make way for White Christmas at the Wang. I loved Jose Mateo's Nutcracker when I have seen it in years past and this year it is out in Waltham this weekend and in Duxbury next weekend.


I have not seen Black Nativity in a long time, but if you haven't ever experienced it you should go. The Boston show, at the Tremont Temple, is the longest running production of Langston Hugh's creation in the country.


Neil Casey, one of my absolute favorite actors in Boston, is playing the whole gamut of characters in a one man adaptation of a Frank Capra classic. This Wonderful Life is at the Lyric Stage.


John Kuntz is in rehearsals for Copenhagen at the ART this year. (He is blogging about the experience on the ART blog.) So The Santaland Diaries has a different performer. It plays downstage at the New Repertory Theater.


But on to the irreverent, and what better place to start than a production of The Eight: The Reindeer Monlogues starring probably some of the best young actors in Boston's fringe theatre scene. (Full discolosure, I know many of them, but I still stand by that statement.) If you want a little preview, check out the trailer here.


The list would not be complete without Ryan Landry's Silent Night of the Lambs. I missed it last year, but was able to catch it last week. The show is a hoot , and you can get a polaroid taken with you on Cannibal Santa's lap after the show!


And for another alternative, check out No Child by solo performer Nijala Sun at the American Repertory Theater.
(Photo Boston Globe.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

MBTA Charlie Says It's Allll Good!


There was a Green Line collision at the Boylston street T stop this morning and nine passengers were injured.
It sounded like a terrible experience, but look closely at the photo from the Globe this morning.

Charlie, the mascot of our MBTA, is right there with his reassuring smile and his thumbs up!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Heilpern Provides the Wet Blanket

New York seems to be going bananas over Tracy Letts' new play August:Osage County.

Mr John Heilpern provides the following observations:

When it comes to theater, I’m an unapologetic elitist. Before I’m hissed in the streets, I ought to clarify that I believe theater should be completely and democratically open—but popularity isn’t everything.

The only good move that would make theater honestly accessible isn’t to lower artistic standards, but rather the ludicrously high ticket prices. Don’t mess with the art. A theater of excellence is one that takes us up along with it; a dumbed-down theater inevitably takes us down. But we don’t call that theater. We call that television.

(...)

Mr. (Peter) Brook’s plea for the uniqueness of theater has never seemed more urgent: How can we sustain a theater of consequence whose raison d’être is that it exists in opposition to the pabulum of TV when the difference between the two is becoming more and more dangerously blurred?


I disagree with Charles Isherwood’s exuberant declaration in The New York Times that Tracy Letts’ saga of dysfunctional family life, August: Osage County, is “flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years.” Whether or not he’s right about the gifted Mr. Letts’ ambitious new play, look at the references he uses to authenticate its “turbo-charged” three acts and “blissful” three and a half hours:


“The play has the zip and zingy humor of classic television situation comedy and the absorbing narrative propulsion of a juicy soap opera, too. In other words, this isn’t theater that’s good-for-you theater. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote an immortal line from a beloved sitcom.) It’s theater that continually keeps you hooked with shocks, surprises and delights, although it has a moving, heart-sore core. Watching it is like sitting at home on a rainy night, greedily devouring two, three, four episodes of your favorite series in a row on DVR or DVD.”

No higher compliment from The Times, and death to some of us. Mr.
Isherwood’s most exciting American play in years must surely be a cut above reruns of Sex and the City or The Sopranos. It’s the favorable association with comforting TV sitcoms and juicy soaps that’s meant to bestow The Times’ seal of approval.

Is it any wonder our theater culture is fucked?

Boston Theatre - New AD at The Huntington

WBUR has some reactions from several people, including Dubois himself:

ANDREA SHEA: After DuBois ties up loose ends in New York he'll take over the Huntington in July...and says while he's thrilled...he does anticipate challenges in doing theater in Boston.

PETER DUBOIS: There is a need in Boston and I see it nationally for a theater that's really bringing in the best work from around the country and working with the most exciting artists from around the country and at the same time creating a home for Boston artists so it's really working at it from both ends.

ANDREA SHEA: DuBois says he plans to capitalize on the company's new Calderwood Pavilion in the South End. He also wants to expand the theater's partnership with Boston University.

PETER DUBOIS: I've developed relationships at the Public and living in Europe and even in Alaska that are relationships that I plan to be bringing to the Huntington Theatre and I think the programming is going to represent a really diverse range of what theater means.

Do the Right Thing?

Spike Lee's film Do the Right Thing famously used a recurring image system juxtaposing Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.


At Lawrence High School a mural painted by student Thuan Tran was recently painted over by janitors.

Here is the mural:



The Boston Globe reports:

They were under orders from the school's superintendent, Wilfredo T. Laboy, who said yesterday that the mural looked like "ghetto art."


Laboy said yesterday that he was trying to protect taxpayers' investment in the $110 million 4-month-old school and said the new principal of the school's Humanities and Leadership Development Academy had made a mistake in granting Tran permission to paint the mural.


"There was a fundamental breakdown in communication," he said. "The adults didn't communicate."


He added that he had a "fundamental problem" with the mural depicting Malcolm X, "because he promoted violence."


"If that went up there, what kind of uproar would there have been?" he said. "In my humble opinion, it looked like urban art, ghetto art . . . I did what I had to do."

Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Boston Theatre - Huntington Has a New Artistic Director

The search is over and the Huntington has its new AD, Peter Dubois, who will be starting in July.

Dubois, 36, comes by way of the Public in New York

At the Huntington, which is Boston's professional theatre company in residence at Boston University, DuBois said he hoped to inventively reimagine the classics, to break ground in musical theater, and to nurture a generation of emerging artists, while at the same time focus on the needs of Boston's institutions and local community.


"I have a strong desire to get as many as people to the table as possible, " he said.

"We are definitely in an era where an artistic leader is not only about one's artistic prowess, but it also means your ability to create an entire vision for the whole organization."



Welcome, Mr. Dubois.

National Theatre

Leonard Jacobs at The Clyde Fitch Report raises the question of a National Theatre.

Here is a little of what the great actress Sarah Bernhardt had to say about an American National Theatre in 1905:

Shakespeare and the Goethe, the Garricks, the Talmas and the Salvinis are not dependent upon a national theatre for recognition. Genius needs not adventitious aids. It makes its own opportunity. But between genius and and talent there is a great gap. Talent, when it is mere talent, must have its opportunity made by the far sighted or made by chance. And it is therefore talent, not genius, which a
national theatre will foster.


Leonard Jacobs throws out the idea that the Regional Theatres have become our National Theatre. This is probably true.

You can join the discussion at Leonard's site.

By the way, if you follow the link for the Bernhardt quote you will get a really fun PDF page from the New York Times 1905, including a little item on the stir Clyde Fitch created by putting the word fudge into one of his plays.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Page 69 - The Money Page

Via Andrew Sullivan a whole blog devoted to Marshall Mcluhan's advice for buying books:

Turn to page 69 of any book and read it. If you like that page, buy the book.

Boston Theatre Streamers





I saw David Rabe's Streamers at the Huntington last week.

I have always found Rabe's play, at least on the page, to be one of the better dramatic depictionss of army life. The story takes place in that strange purgatory between training and the mission. Anybody who has served in the armed forces can relate to the rythyms Rabe documents during the course of two days at an Army detatchment in Virginia sometime in 1965. (Fort Lee, VA barracks in photo above.)




The rythyms of a replacement detachment are counted out in mind-numbing routines that fill most of the waking hours . There is always the underlying apprehension about the coming assignment or duty station, especially if it is overseas, but there isn't any outlet for stress aside from normal training.

The duties you are assigned during this period, sometimes called ("being on casual,") are random and sometimes pointless. While on casual duty at Fort Huachuca we moved desks and office furniture from one abandoned building to another almost identical abandoned building in 102 degree heat. During casual detail at a different fort, several soldiers and I dug up and replaced a basketball pole because the contractor who had installed it had in set the rim at about 10 feet 2 inches. (His reasoning was that it had to have a little room to settle over time to the regulation 10 feet.) The batallion commander demanded it be at exactly 10 feet, and we corrected it. Mowing lawns was a common task and KP duty was occasional, but even back then kitchen duties were being taken over by civilian contractors.

In the abundant spare time you could read, you could work out, but, most of all, you could bulls**t. About everything.

The military is intense activity for very brief periods of time, punctuated by an almost endless stream of tall tales, embellishments, metaphysical conversations, debates about military regulations, stories of sexual conquests, (real and imagined,) and infinite lists of gripes. And there are fights. These are usually between people of different MOS's or units who are thrown together in small replacement detachment.

During my enlistment years if you were assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, you had to pass through the infamous Camp Casey Replacement Detatchment. It was a small sliver of property made up of small wooden buildings and quonset huts that may have been there since the Korean War. It was affectionately called "The Turtle Farm."

The process was simple enough. We were driven from Seoul up to Camp Casey in a bus piloted by a Korean driver who seemed to pay absolutely no attention to the basic concepts of western principles of driving an automobile. (While studying at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey California, one of our instructors, an octagenarian ex-professor from Seoul University, joked that "The Korean people look upon traffic regulations as something that one should aspire to obey.")


We arrived at Camp Casey in the north, went through the Indian Head gate and then we were driven into the fenced off Replacement Detachment. We were billeted in tripled and quadrupled wooden bunks liked merchandise in the backroom of a General Store. In between medical exams and physical training tests, we were to spend our time awaiting a unit to claim us.


I am not kidding. We would go to formation every day and Hummers or Duece and a Half trucks would pull up from various units and grab soldiers who fit the MOS's they needed. Aside from this daily occurence I would do physical training, eat at the mess hall, get my hair cut, and....shoot the s**t.

We were not allowed to leave the Turtle Farm and this rule was of particular annoyance to one sergeant who kept loudly proclaiming how he could hear the ladies "downrange" calling out to him! "So near and yet so far!" he would bark with his ear cocked towards the city outside the gates of Camp Casey. "I'm coming soon ladies!"

This lothario was not in our company for long though, he was picked up by a lone Hummvee at one the first formations. "He's lucky," a bespectacled private, drawled slowly to me. "That's the pathfinder guys. You have to have your shit wired to go there."



"Yeah?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm gonna get my wings and air assault. Once I get to my unit, I am getting my ass into the schools. Got to be on the training NCO's ass, so you get the schools...."



Perhaps only those who have actually been in the army might comprehend how long this monologue about schools and air assault and airborne could possibly last. The answer is: For all time. It is going on as we speak.



It is the same type of discussions one hears on the set of a big Hollywood movie as a day extra: SAG Waivers, regulations for getting a credit, etc. But imagine you don't get to go home, the shooting doesn't end after a couple of days, and you have to sleep, work, and brush your teeth next to these discussions for the next few years.



I was at the Farm with another MI Linguist from my training and we hung out together. People were very interested in our MOS, mostly because we could speak the language, (a pride of which we were soon humbled when we would meet many tankers, infantry men, etc, who could speak Korean far more fluently just from their adverturous forays out "on the economy," or their courtships and marriages to Korean women.)


In our barracks was an airborne jumpmaster, a good natured guy from Fort Bragg, who would loudly pontificate on current events while we waited around indoors to escape the unbelievably frigid weather. (In Rabe's play the character Billy speaks about the cold of Korea, and it brought shivers to my spine just remembering the shock of those first December days as a Turtle.) The only problem with this NCO's ranting was that he rarely had any of the facts straight. But we all laughed and listened, while flipping through our personnel files or magazines, or polishing our boots.


One day the jumpmaster's subject for our lecture was Michael Jackson's recent troubles with small boys. An opportunity to incorporate many different topics presented itself, and so he started speaking about the Jackson case and all the world events tangential. Not a single fact got in the way of his discussion. Suddenly, my M.I. comrade lying on the next bunk muttered, "Jeez, why don't you read a newspaper sometime."


The barracks went silent and the jumpmaster barked out, "Who said that!??"


I looked over at my friend. His face was getting a little white as he realized that this was not going to be a pleasant experience.


"WHO SAID THAT?!!"


My friend was only a PFC at the time and he hopped to and went to parade rest, facing the hulking jumpmaster who was an E-5. The Sergeant, eyes bulging, asked, "Who are you?"


"Sergeant! PFC Tom Williams! Sergeant!"



"Williams, huh? Williams, you must be one of them KOH-rean linguists, right?



"Sergeant, yes, Sergeant!"


"Williams, you know how I know that you are a KOH-rean linguist?"


"No, sergeant."



"You must be one of those M.I. KOH-rean Linguists cause you're talking S**T!"


Here we had an African-American high school graduate from inner city D.C. face to face with an upper middle class Oregonian with a couple of years of college. The rest of us sat silent, watching and relying, I guess, on the structure of the army and its hierarchy to prevent what could, at any second, become a fight. (In basic training I witnessed a horrible, bloody fistfight in the showers between a country boy and city boy.)


But the sergeant's last quip was so outrageously funny that it had the effect of diffusing the entire situation. People laughed, half out of tension and half out of the comedy. The jumpmaster was a such a skilled military man he knew instinctively that he shouldn't ruin the best line of the day with a beating or a continued disciplinary action.


He let my friend go with a warning to "not believe everything you read in the newspapers."


When I came back from getting a haircut later I heard a couple of guys, several bunks over, talking about the incident and how the MI guys were probably "faggots." They then went into a little improvised skit, the ending of which involved, or course, a simulated sex act. I left quickly out of the barracks undetected.


That night, in the darkness of our billets, there were a few whispered jokes about wanting the MI guys to come over and "service them." Neither of us were gay, but in that in that barracks of probably over 100 soldiers, there must have been, at the very least, one or two gay men. How must they have felt hearing these comments?


I was a resident of the Turtle Farm for only a couple of days, but there were some who were there for weeks, months and, in certain cases, a year. As people move out, others move in to take their place. My rapid progression through the farm was a combination of a desperate shortage of my skillset (Military Intelligence Linguists,) and the fact that I had arrived a couple of days before Christmas and it seemed they wanted to get us processed fast.




I ended up hopping into a Hummvee and taking off to the 102nd Military Intelligence Battalion in a remote corner of Camp Casey called Camp Hovey. As we drove down the road, we looked up to see a brightly lit tree mountain high above the post . "That's the Signal Battalion, they do that every year at this time!"









It was Christmas Eve, and I arrived at Charlie Company during a party at which just about everybody I was introduced to was hammered. The First Sergeant filled out my liberty pass paperwork and assigned me to my squad with a drunken smile.

A few days later we were off to the field for a week. Here it was, after all the training, the real army. During my time in that unit I was to serve with some of the finest people and soldiers I have ever met.

It was later, while serving at another unit, one of these soldiers I had respected, worked alongside and became friends with came out to me. And over the course of the next year, (his last in the army,) he came out to other soldiers he felt he could trust.


One day, while we were working in the motor pool, he told me he was going to go on a date with a gay soldier serving in another company, a different MOS. I asked him who it was. He told me that the circumstances of this soldier were much different than his. This soldier could not, for fear of both administrative and physical reprisals, be at all out.


My enlistment ended about eleven years ago, and I can't imagine that things have changed that much, except, as Thomas Garvey points out, the stretched- thin military has been forced to lighten up a little on their continued pursuit and purge of gay men in the armed services, (a process dramatically well-documented by Marc Wolfe's Another American Asking and Telling.)

The play Streamers has not lost one bit of its timeliness or relevance, the audience has. Many seem to believe the play is dated and its characters stereotyped. Please. I can't think of a recent character as complex and difficult as Billy or Sergeant Cokes. In fact, as a testament to the reality of the young men Rabe has written into his play, the actors in Scott Ellis's production sometimes have difficulty in portraying them. Quirkiness as a substitute for true complexity is not the currency with which Rabe traffics, and the cast works very hard to bleach tics from these portraits. But these roles are people to be inhabited not "played," and maybe the shortened rehearsal periods our regional theaters are having to deal with just can't serve this type of work.


There are other flaws in Ellis's staging, but the work perseveres. The set has too much of a stylized feel and the expansiveness between the bunks dulls some of the immediacy of the events. (I disagree completely with Louise Kennedy who found the set "realistic.") But while I am not sure these choices serve the work, they more than adequately prove its continued relevance. This distancing effect made me see the language is not as rooted in 1965 as I had previously thought, and the audience can listen through the decades and be just as engaged. However, the language also ain't Shakespeare, and so it seems to need a more realistic setting for a production to succeed.


Critics are really split on this one. Carolyn Clay, Thomas Garvey, Sandy Macdonald are on the positive, if not raving, side, whereas Louise Kennedy, Jenna Scherer, Jennifer Brubriski and Bill Marx were underwhelmed.



The sights of the naysayers seemed to be trained more on Rabe's drama than the production itself. Marx even talks about how audience members were leaving at intermission and how a few patrons sitting near him expressed that the play was boring. I will report that I saw people leaving at intermission as well, and I saw many people who seemed disappointed after the show.


However, I also heard a communal gasp when the plays bloody climax begins to unfold. I could feel the focus of attention when the dramatic threads tighten, and I heard some sobbing when Sergeant Cokes delivers his tortured coda, a prelude and epilogue all in one. The young soldiers have just witnessed something they can barely conceive and can barely talk about, and the Sergeant's dark reminiscence delivers the news that they will see more of the inconceivable. And, these visions will haunt them, if they survive, for the rest of their lives.



During war we need artists just as much as we need documentary. Rabe's Streamers, far from a creaky cousin of the well made play, is more experimental than most critics are giving credit. Bill Marx worries that cinema and television has permanently surpassed theatre in its technical and imaginative abilities to convey violence. But Rabe's play, rather than an example of this, may provide an answer.



Rabe doesn't set the violence on the battlefield, in fact, he rarely does. Even in his earlier play, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, the protaganist is killed while drinking at a local bar on the economy. His screenplay for DePalma's Casualties of War sets violence either between soldiers or enacted on innocent civilians. In the time for which Streamers is set, the war in Vietnam seems at its most remote. In fact, the gears of war are really just starting to grind, the Marines landed at DaNang and the the troop levels began to swell, and the first major battle of the war was fought in Ia Drang. In Rabe's play, the winds of war blow, but very lightly.


However, the charge that Rabe's plays really aren't about war is misleading. He is intensely interested in violence, and armies, as Colin Powell puts it so succinctly, are the instrument through which we apply state violence. (My drill sergeant was not quite so eloquent, but they are on the same page.) Rabe is constantly congnizant of this connection and he demonstrates an acute awareness that the application of state violence is executed by real human beings and refuses to sugar coat or mythologize these men. Even attempts at minor allusions are denied their completion. One of the veteran Sergeants sees remembers the mayhem of a firefight as an old silent movie. "He was Charlie Chaplin, and I was...I don't know who I was."


It is through this technique and discipline that we can feel such pity for the pain and alienation of Carlyle, a transient soldier overwhelmed by loneliness and terrified of what he sees as his inevitable fate. As my wife pointed out as we walked home, "While Carlyle may be thought of as mentally ill or crazy, he seems to be the only one who has come to grips the reality of their situation." Exactly.

Rooney and Cokes, the two veteran sergeants , dull the pain of their hellish experiences with booze. Carlyle, (in a dynamic performance by Ato Essandoah in the Huntington Production,) sees very clearly on the front end what Rooney and Cokes know from having come out the other side, so he too is swilling liquor all through the evening. Both the veterans and the seer offer the alchohol to the fresh faced young recruits.


Rather than a dose of wisdom, those who know offer ways of numbing the pain. And truth and enlightenment only seems to come after death. Pavlo Hummel dies and gets to watch his life again with the strange and enigmatic Sergeant Towers. In Streamers Cokes's imminent mortality allows him to at least reach towards some type of understanding, and Billy's admission that he made a mistake comes so absurdly late that it elicited laughter from the audience the night I attended. (An odd reaction, that I wished hadn't happened.)


A criticism of Rabe's war plays has always been that the protaganists are arrested by a brutal death before reaching any understanding, maturity, or wisdom. Rather than a flaw, it could be argued that this is the point.





"The potency of myth is that it allows us to make sense of mayhem and violent death. It gives a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity. It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept that we stumble down a darkly lit corridor of disasters. It hides from view our own impotence and the ordinariness of our own leaders. By turning history into myth we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained."


That is Chris Hedges in his book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. The military is internally full of mythology. You sign a contract with an implied understanding that the United States will not put you in harm's way except to defend this country. During basic training you are built up to believe that the better you are at the tasks the better chance you will have at surviving. That Don't Ask Don't Tell works.


This last one is probably the source of much of the shrugging by audiences. The idea that there is actually a place in this country that operates with the same general mentality as Larry Craig's brain must seem so pase to most modern audiences. In fact, many reviewers just couldn't get over the fact that a debate over whether somebody is gay or not could possibly be so grippingly dramatic. After all, aren't we giving same sex benefits to gay men and women these days?

Ask the family of PFC Winchell who was found in 1999 by a fellow soldier in his bunk in the following condition:



Back in the barracks, Winchell struggled to breathe, gurgling on his own blood. Both his eyes were blackened and swollen shut. Blood poured, and brains oozed, from the left side of his head. An Army investigator said it had been shattered "like an eggshell."



A gay soldier, Winchell had been beaten with a baseball bat by another soldier. His homosexuality had played a central role in the assault.

The play, while having obviously riveted theatregoers in its original incarnation, doesn't seem to be striking the solar-plexus as it once did. Maybe in a more intimate setting like the BCA plaza, Black Box, or even the Wimberly or Roberts, the play may be able relay some of its immediacy. For it is immediate and timely.

The Huntington Program has little page referencing the Basic Training experience that recruits go through. One of the pictures is that of a two young women being screamed at by a superior, and the caption indicates that the setting is the United States Air Force Academy. The Air Force Academy, one of the premiere insitutions in the country, recently had an enormous shakeup over sexual assault and harassment of females cadets. It was rampant to such an extent that commands were lost, and during the investigations victims and other women were intimidated.

The volunteer army has continued to insulate more and more Americans from the reality of having to point a loaded weapon at another human being in order to prevent them from pointing it and firing it at you. In basic training my Drill Sergeant said:

"Make no mistake, maggots, as to what your are here for. You are not here to make college tuition, you are not here to learn a skill, you are not here to 'be all that you can be.' You are here to KILL people. To Kill. Now, lateley a lot of Reservist motherf***ckers, were complaining when they have to go over to Kuwait and fight in Desert Storm. 'I signed up for the college money,' they were whining. 'I didn't know that I was gonna have to maybe shoot at another person.' Well, I would say to them the same thing I am gonna say to you, so that there is no misunderstanding. Maggots, there is a REASON that the targets we are practicing on are shaped like PEOPLE!"

But the volunteer army, (which has shrunk to such a point that many people don't even know anybody with relatives in the armed forces,) has also insulated people to the general atmosphere of serving at the will of the United States. While there are abuses and violations in every career and community, the army presents a unique circumstance for us freedom loving Americans: You can't just leave, you can't just quit, people can't come and get you or help you.
This is underscored by the darkly comic line delivered in the play by a soldier, incarcerated by the military police and being interrogated about a violent crime: "That's it, I quit the Army!"
The OIC is incredulous. And so are we.
After all, there is no way out.

***