Thursday, April 26, 2018

Play a Day: Provenance

Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder
For Thursday I read Provenance by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, and available at New Play Exchange.

Earlier this year I attended an audition and the performer chose as her contemporary piece a monologue I hadn't heard before. When I asked about it, she said it was from The Bone Orchard by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. She'd found it at New Play Exchange. I will read that someday, today I read this instead.
prov·e·nance (ˈprävənəns) n.
the place of origin or earliest known history of something.
"an orange rug of Iranian provenance"
synonyms: origin, source, place of origin; More
- the beginning of something's existence; something's origin.
"they try to understand the whole universe, its provenance and fate" - a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.
"the manuscript has a distinguished provenance"
It is also the name of the restaurant in the Cleveland Museum of Art. My wife and I love to dine in museums. We also love books, though it would be difficult for me to suggest I love books more than she. She has worked in several bookstores, in New York and Cleveland. I visited her in early 1995 when she was working for Shakespeare & Company, the one on West 81st Street, now demolished.

During her shift I sat in Cafe Lalo and wrote my first full-length play, The Vampyres.

She often laments never having become a librarian. But she is an English teacher at an all-girls school, and while that's not the same thing it feels to me like a related thing. Because though there remains great gender disparity in who gets published, the care and maintenance of books, like the care and maintenance of most things, falls to women.

The best bookstores in Cleveland, Appletree, Loganberry, and Mac's Backs, are all owned and operated by women.

Books are bizarre artifacts; finite, as memory goes, but expansive. Pages have writing on both sides, and collapse into a neat package that can hold thousands of words or stories. Paper is impermanent, easily damaged by water or heat. Even so, some last thousands of years. I have books from my childhood, from my parents' childhood. This CD of priceless personal photographs I burned ten years ago is already damaged and worthless.

Wilder's play is not entirely about books, though that is its entry point. Two women with cross-purposes meet in a library, and the reluctant search for a rare book is on. Her crackling dialogue is positively Beckettian, expressing frustration and futility with knowing wit and absurdity. It is a magical tale about the things we keep, the tasks left undone, and the fear of making connection with those best-suited to take the journey with us.

This month I have taken the opportunity to read so many outstanding plays, so many stories, from such a diverse selection of talented and enchanting writers. In Provenance, one of Wilder's character observes that, "stories are meant to be shared." Isn't it so?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Play a Day: The Fear Out There

Dr. Jodi Van Der Horn-Gibson
For Wednesday I read The Fear Out There by Jodi Van Der Horn-Gibson, and available at New Play Exchange.

Our month of #NewDayNewPlay is almost through! After today, I have only five more plays to read before the end of April. However, the first day of May also marks the beginning of the International Children's Theatre Festival, which has been rebranded as Family Theatre Day at Playhouse Square.

During the week leading up the Family Theater Day (Saturday, May 5) there will be matinees for school groups, and often I have the opportunity to see some of those.

The first year I experienced the festival came at just the perfect time, as I was only just beginning my work writing plays for children. I saw several plays from around the globe and had my eyes opened to just how expansive and the palette of shows for young people could be.

Van Der Horn-Gibson's play put me in mind of those works, as the playwright delves into complicated issues which trouble children and which they may not entirely understand, issues of bullying, illness and the death of a parent.

Two children from a blended family, almost ten years difference in age, come into emotional conflict as their needs are at odds with each other. At the same time, each are coping with the unspoken fears that come with being left on their own due to a family crisis, and the fear that dwells beneath the surface. Children do not understand what is and what is not their fault, or under their own control.

Van Der Horn-Gibson tells this story, however, with playfulness, with color and humor, seeing the world through six year-old Jodi's eyes as she explores her backyard with a troupe of unique and diverse imaginary animal friends.

The best children's plays are those which are smart and open-hearted, appealing to an audience of all ages, and this is one of those.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Play a Day: The Return of the Shrew

John Poole
For Tuesday I read The Return of the Shrew by John Poole, and available at New Play Exchange.

In honor of Shakespeare's birthday, this sequel to his The Taming of the Shrew! And don't tell me yesterday was the anniversary of the Bard's birth, they just like to say that because he was christened on April 26, and he died fifty-four years later on April 23, which lends a nice symmetry but isn't a thing that ever actually happens, dying on your birthday (unless you're Cassius, yes, okay) but it could have been yesterday, it could be tomorrow, let's just say it's today.

So! In honor of Shakespeare's birthday, this sequel to his The Taming of the Shrew!

Wait, first, I want to remind everyone I wrote a one-hour prequel to Much Ado About Nothing which is currently available at YouthPLAYS, Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick), which Time Out New York said has, "beautiful turns of language and a touch of weirdness." A perfect one-hour play for your university, high school, or community theater.

However, though Much Ado is largely prose and Double Heart entirely in verse, Taming of the Shrew is largely verse and Return of the Shrew is largely prose! It is not matter because Poole manages to be faithful to the original and explode its conventions at the same time, and this is welcome news to anyone who finds the original a little hard to take.

Poole has crafted a light and frisky vaudeville, exploring the unseen aftereffects of Katherina's notorious closing speech Utilizing slapstick, groan-worthy puns and absurdly authentic plot devices, he conveys a much more realistic and satisfying approach to love and relationships than is found in Shakespeare's original. A swift and silly sequel -- Huzzah!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Play a Day: Undead Anonymous

Gina Femia
For Monday I read Undead Anonymous by Gina Femia, and available at New Play Exchange.

I've been reading a lot of folk tales from Morocco. Like tales from everywhere, when you read several you begin to pick up themes, storylines and characters which are repeated and reflected across the earth. We're all human, and we tell a lot of the same stories.

However, there are also the regional differences, many of which are the result of religion or landscape. The Moroccan tales have a lot of holes, holes in the earth. People are punished by being thrown down deep holes.

Also, there are the ghouls. We have an idea of what that means in the West, though perhaps not a clear idea because (unless you're from Cleveland) no one really knows what a ghoul is because we've never had a series of books, films or programs about ghouls. So we do not know the rules for ghouls.

My play On the Dark Side of Twilight is all about the rules, the rules for vampires which have evolved over the course of the past two hundred years. The rules are literal; can't walk by day, must drink blood, they sparkle (wait, what?) They are also metaphoric, the vampire symbolizing the fears we have; fear of immigrants, fear of sexuality, fear of addiction.

Femia's play is very funny, and a tremendous performance challenge; a monodrama through which one actor performs all of those attending a support group for "the undead." Through their monologues, memoirs and confessions, they share their fears, disappointments and anger at having been separated from humanity. These lost and lonely people (for monsters are people, too) eloquently describe their situation with wit and passion, each a unique example for the denial and acceptance of illness, addiction, difference in its many forms.

We all strive for acceptance, from each other and from ourselves, and some come by best through solidarity. Undead Anonymous is a lovely elegy of hope.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Play a Day: Inappropriate Relationship

Marcy Lovitch
For Sunday I read Inappropriate Relationship by Marcy Lovitch, and available at New Play Exchange.

The Police single "Don't Stand So Close To Me" was released in 1980. At the time it was a bit risqué, an affair between a teacher and a student. It's not graphic, it's suggestive, much like the novel that gets pretensionally named-checked by Sting ... a former high school teacher.

The scene of the crime is a car. So it is in Lovitch's play, a teenage girl waiting outside the school in the cold after dark, and "his car is warm and dry."

Interesting, the rule at the high school in question is that a teacher cannot give a student a ride without express permission from the parent. We work with students, and our code of conduct expressly forbids providing transportation for any student under any circumstance. There are also all of the new regulations involving social media. The best policy is just "no." No friending, no following, no contact outside the classroom under any circumstance.

The high school in Inappropriate Relationship, Seaview High continues to struggle with these rules, certainly the teachers are. There's an old saw, that even an animal doesn't shit where it eats. The men who teach at Seaview need to learn a thing or two about gossip in the break room (and believe me, I have heard these conversations) but they are not alone, it seems every character from the administration on down has an opportunity to make a bad situation worse. The playwright has created a gripping test-case in how not to handle an allegation.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Play a Day: My Uncle Javy

Carlos E. Rojas
Twenty-one plays in twenty-one days!

For Saturday I read My Uncle Javy by Carlos E. Rojas, and available at New Play Exchange.

"Do you think it's possible for people to change, if they want to?" asks a thirteen year-old girl in this play. She regrets saying it, in that self-conscious way people do when they suddenly think what they've said sounds "stupid," because the answer should be obvious.

You want to change? Change! But it's not that simple.

Rojas has composed a troubling family drama about the cycle of quiet abuse that happens when we abandon our dreams and reach for what is closest to us, and create a shameful, furtive reality.

I remember, just before we split, my ex-wife proposed running off the New Orleans for New Year's Eve. It seemed preposterous, we hadn't been civil for weeks, I was deep into a new relationship, but she made a suggestion so grand, I'm sure it was meant to be exciting, wild, liberating. But it also seemed silly, and pointless.

There are lines you cross and you can never go back. Sometimes that is good. In the case of the title character of this play it is not, and it nearly destroys the life of a teenage girl. The playwright creates a absorbing, uncomfortable scenario, posing difficult questions. In the end those who transgress are not punished, but we are left with the hope that Rosie, the girl, will be able to control her own destiny when everyone responsible for her has failed.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Play a Day: Much Ado About Nothing (BONUS)

Lara Mielcarek (right) and company (2016)
Photo: Fresh Water Cleveland
Last year my colleague Chennelle and I had the unique opportunity to witness a production of Macbeth staged in the Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC), produced by the Artists' Rehabilitation Coalition (ARC), and directed by Lara Mielcarek.

More recently, Lara directed performances of my play The Way I Danced With You at Blank Canvas Theatre. She did such incredible work on my script, we've been running into each other giving each other sad face, it was such a brief process but such a beautiful experience.

Tonight Chennelle and I experienced a staged reading of Much Ado About Nothing at the NERC. This is Lara's third event with ARC, a company she founded in 2016 when the performed a stripped down King Lear. This is their first time working with a comedy.

We were treated to a brisk cutting, a forty-minute abridgment read by six inmates, Lara and two of her associates. They stood at music stands with a variety of costume pieces to suggest change in character. It was very funny, it's always so exciting to see folks who never thought of themselves as actors stepping out of their comfort zones, to risk looking foolish in the service of a good story.

Some actually are actors, or should I say they could be. The women playing Beatrice and Benedick were particularly strong with great comic timing. We'd seen "Benedick" last year in Macbeth, she's been in all three performances, and I would be glad to see her pursue theater out here. The strength to stand before your peers and strangers and speak challenging dialogue with confidence is always inspiring.

After there were doughnuts and had a few moments to chat. It's a beautiful program and we were grateful for the invite.