Category Archives: comedy

“..by Nancy…”

A Series of Analyses for Production of Plays Written by American Playwrights who Happen to Be Women

The Count, Marsha Norman’s meta-analysis of data from American regional theatre productions in the three years preceding November 2015, found that only 22% of those productions were written by women. A six-show season helmed by our most recent artistic director, a classically trained actor and outspoken feminist woman, sought to challenge our audiences with a season of diverse actors, gender ratio reversal, and non-traditional casting (andours is a Midwestern summer stock company in a town of 7500). Sadly yet, only 1 of our 6 mainstage productions was written by a woman,16%. The theme and purpose of the season was equality, not equity, but even the very female-centered works Five Women Wearing the Same Dress and Disenchanted were written by menGive me fresh, provoking and especially hilarious perspectives from attorneys, police officers, entrepreneurs, parents and custodians pounded out on the keyboard of someone named Nancy or Shonda or Esperanza or Hareem or Ichika or Chengguang. Stop Kiss by Diana Son any directed by Tim Seib, was a thing of beauty. Honestly, had we strived for gender equity that simultaneously promoted vigorous ticket sales leveraged by recognizable titles, we may well have been hard pressed to develop a season. Even though we have a group of alumni, referred to as the artistic ensemble, providing the artistic director and the board with inspiration tempered with patron familiarity, equity may well be one ball to many to juggle.

Nonetheless, I have dedicated the next several months to reading and sharing my analysis of the merit and viability of producing select theatre works written by American women. If you are familiar with my other analyses and commentaries, you are aware of my inflexibilities. For those of you who are not: I want to read and promote American works, preferably from 1930 to the present, with smaller casts (10 and under). Despite being born in New York and a former resident of Manhattan, I have grown very tired of shows set in the Northeast, especially NYC. Franchise shows like The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns are often money makers, but are almost entirely predigested pablum. Seeing one in a seasons any theatre makes me lash out irrationally.

Women have much to complain about. I empathize, even though I can never sympathize. I admit that I am a white middle class male in his 50s, but my curriculum vitae includes: years of living in large cities on a meager income with routine job instability, several years as a primary caregiver for children (my own and other families’), a masters degree in social work with routine professional development in disadvantaged populations, 13 years as a school social worker (a nearly exclusively women’s profession) working with victimized adults and children in rural poverty, and my clinical licensure. I am also married to a strong woman who makes more than I do and with whom I have raised two daughters who does not share my last name after nearly 24 years. I still ask this: Women playwrights and playwrights who write about women, I ask you to write works that demonstrate humans with a problem to solve who just so happen to be women. Feel free to leave your hot-flashing crotchety aunt, and your tribe of victims who get together on a Friday night and bear their souls on your hard drives and off the shelves and our stages.

I have compiled a list of titles and begun some reading. My next analysis will be Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley. That will soon be followed by A Shayna Maidel by Babara Lebow. I will admit that despite my industrious reading and an undergraduate degree in theatre I am woefully ignorant of a sufficient number of excellent, non-pandering plays written by women, especially comedies. I welcome (beg?) your suggestions. Remember, I am still pushing an envelope in community with substantially more creamy filling than chocolate cookie. On the other hand, the trope of a character constantly spewing a litany of four-letter words, talking about sex acts, or making her victimhood more central than her capabilities, makes that character more tiresome than liberated. Give me fresh, provoking and especially hilarious perspectives from attorneys, police officers, entrepreneurs, parents and custodians pounded out on the keyboard of someone named Nancy or Shonda or Esperanza or Hareem or Ichika or Chengguang. I want it. Get to it. PDFs and works that are available on interlibrary loan are appreciated. I wake waves when I write, not money. GO!

 

 

The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

The Show-Off: A Transcript of Life in Three Acts by George Kelly, Copyright 1924.
In recent theater history, we have seen countless single set drawing room comedies. In 1924, however, George Kelly was seen as a pioneer Continue reading The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

A Distance From Calcutta by P.J. Barry: An Analysis for Production

Buddy: You’re waiting for a prince to come along and carry you off on his white horse. (Pause) I’m no prince. I’m more like a frog,” (p 100)

On a page of canned quotes, I found:
Everyone deserves to laugh, to be happy, and to be loved…but not everyone gets what they deserve.”

How true. Our cultures and our courts have been crammed with controversy concerning the right to marry since at least 1888 (Maynard v. Hill, USA). I have known same gender, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural/religion married couples. Before the twentieth century, in the United States and beyond, marrying (and re-marrying) outside one’s race, reflective gender, culture, religion, and even social-economic class was considered taboo, forbidden, even illegal. What if you loved someone, but due to “what is proper” you couldn’t give yourself to them completely and publicly?

Originally produced in 1993, and set 70 years before that, A Distance from Calcutta by P.J. Barry dramatizes this century-old conflict but sets it far away from the modern court and melee of marriage rights. The play never intended to be included in the debate. Here the action rises gently, almost reluctantly, but sweetly, and reaches its sad and complex climax in a barely middle class Irish Catholic home in the village of Jericho, Rhode Island. Our equally-Caucasian star-crossed lovers are a “spinster” and a handyman with a “learning handicap.” Viewed through a contemporary lens, the rejection and prohibition seem almost petty. The plot is complicated with several conundrums. Maggie, the maiden sister’s brother has married a woman considered outside his social class (a teacher no less!). Buddy, the handyman, is not only very mechanically inclined and resourceful, but also a veteran who is emotionally perceptive with a keen memory for facts and conversations. He’s just popularly and locally known, by his own admission, as “not smart.”

There were then, and still are, no laws prohibiting their lives together. Still yet, there softly speaks the question, “Would YOU want/allow YOUR sister/daughter/self to marry a man so particularly “special?” What would people think?

Cast: 3 women, 2 men
Set: Single interior: 1923 middle class home: living/dining and visible 2nd floor bedroom
Costumes: Approximately 3 changes for each. Some “Sunday clothing.” Pregnant belly.
Royalties: Minimum Fee: $75 per performance
Running Time: unable 1 hours, 59 minutes

Pros: Small cast with 2 good, 1 excellent part for women 35- 58 and an excellent starring role for a non-traditional male lead. One set; fits in most small theatres. It is an excellent starting point for conversations after the theatre and about equality. NOT SET IN NYC!

Cons: There is little action and the play depends much on dialogue and understated characters. The play has had no recent regional productions to spur interest.

Censorial concerns: Implied sexual intercourse.

Provenance:
Produced at least twice in NYC, once in Newport Beach California.

Playwright:
http://pjbarry.net/Biography.html

Reviews:
Fair: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/25/theater/review-theater-the-ties-that-bind-and-bind-too-tightly.html

Harsh: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-02-27/entertainment/ca-40655_1_newport-theatre-arts-center

Recommendation: The more I write about it, the more I like it. It would be best as part of a series of plays about issues of equality and/or disability. Being that it was proposed to be part of series of pieces set in Jericho, RI ( After the Dancing in Jericho, And Fat Freddy’s Blues), perhaps it might be part of a series of “visits” by a theatre company over one season or multiple seasons, not unlike The Talley Trilogy by Lanford Wilson.

Highly recommended reading: Theatre Alberta’s guide will assist you in finding plays tackling issues related to physical or mental disabilities.

Purchase:
http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1250/distance-from-calcutta-a

Available for lending from Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University

Around the World in 80 Days by Mark Brown: An Analysis for Production

ACTOR 1: That’s a bit risky. If Passepartout is in cahoots with Fogg, one word from him can ruin everything.

FIX: True. I shall employ that plan only if everything else is failed.

ACTOR 1: Everything else has failed.

FIX: Yes, I know. And who’s this woman Fogg’s traveling with? Obviously they met somewhere between Bombay and Calcutta. But where? And how? And why? And what?… No… Not what. Just who, where and why. Just those three. Possibly how.

ACTOR 1: Perhaps you should just concentrate on Mr. Fogg. There is not much time left.

FIX: Yes I know. I don’t know what to do.

ACTOR 1: Looks like you’ll have to follow him to America.

FIX: Would you please leave me alone?

ACTOR 1: Because if you don’t, he’ll get away and everything everyone will think you’re a big failure.

FIX: Would you get…! Yes I know! I have to follow him to America! Just get out of here!

PASSEPARTOUT: Well Monsieur Detecumahfix (sic), have you decided to go with us to America?

FIX: Yes.

Thus goes the rapid-fire dialogue spoken by three of five actors who portray up to 35 separate roles collectively in Mark Brown’s fairly comprehensive and surprisingly respectful retelling of Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in 80 Days). There is no deeper meaning to the text or high art in the language. The “art” is in the direction, mastery of movement and dialect, and creativity of costumers and props masters. Well-played, audiences will be entertained, hopefully stunned, and definitely exhausted by the virtuosity of the company. This play calls for a heavy-hitter creative ensemble. All scenes must be played not only with timing, but most especially integrity. Without these, the work will deteriorate into incomprehensiveness. That distinction accomplished will be the difference between a company that “is having a good time” and one that awes its audience.

Cast: 5 men / 1 woman (flexible to 35 actors, but not as fun or challenging). Age is irrelevant.

Set: Several very versatile props

Costumes: Quick change Victorian costumes (33?)

Royalties: $75/performance (educational rights. Professional rights, negotiated)

Pros: no set/ basic props become all places; a recognizable title; fits in any space; small/flexible cast; boffo physical comedy

Cons: Some mixed reviews for occasions of possibly plodding narration; several quick change Victorian costumes (33? Expensive rental?)

Censorial concerns: Caucasians actors portraying potentially stereotypical Southeast Asian characters, and three very quick, silly instances of substituting the word “piss” for “peace.”

Provenance:

Mark Brown, playwright

  • Outstanding Musical of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival (China – The Whole Enchilada )
  • Received his acting training at the American Conservatory Theatre

Play:

  • Premiered at Utah Shakespeare Festival
  • Produced around the world: from Off-Broadway twice, all across the US, Canada, England, South Africa, Turkey, India, Bangladesh and has been translated into Turkish. It has even been produced in the Himalayas

Recommendation: STRONG with light caveats (costume costs, potential for slap-dash execution, caution for Caucasians portraying Southeast Asian characters). Strong name recognition. The setting is not NYC (but just about everywhere else). A great production will entertain and WOW your audience.

Reviews:

LA:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-review-around-the-world-in-80-days-at-actors-coop-20150512-story.html

NY:

http://variety.com/2008/legit/reviews/around-the-world-in-80-days-3-1200508242/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/theater/reviews/around-the-world-in-80-days-at-new-theater-at-45th-street.html

To be fair:

http://www.broadwayworld.com/seattle/article/BWW-Reviews-Villages-AROUND-THE-WORLD-IN-80-DAYS-Fails-to-Thrill-20150126

DC:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/12/AR2010051202533.html

Seattle:

http://www.seattletimes.com/news/around-the-world-in-80-days-a-delightful-jaunt/

Search YouTube for “Around the World in 80 Days by Mark Brown” and you will see several concepts.

Purchase: http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/p1781/Around-the-World-in-80-Days/product_info.html

Available for lending from Columbia College Library, Chicago, IL

American Hero by Bess Wohl (2013): an analysis for production

“What happens to a dream deferred? … Does it stink like rotten meat? … Or does it explode?” from Harlem by Langston Hughes

This is NOT “A Raisin in the Sun.” The American Hero of the title is a sandwich. This Hero appears but once in a dream. Otherwise our characters, symbols of the American dream deferred, all find this Hero equally ironic and elusive. It is a brilliant and convenient choice that a black comedy (no pun on Langston Hughes) about the current American economic condition unifies its action in a thinly veiled “toasty sub” sandwich franchise, with three “sandwich artists” abandoned by both their owner and corporate. The literal meat in American Hero never rots; it just runs out leaving the characters adrift and improvising. A farce by definition is “a light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/farce, 3/23/2015 5:58 PM).” Bess Wohl’s dialogue is honest, economical and prosaic. American Hero is, on many levels, an anti-farce: an acutely satirical comedy, with three ordinary people (no mayors, cops, or opera singers) in a probable situation, who reveal heavy truths.

Sherry: But I just want to like, do my job here and not get fired with the least amount of energy possible so I can have energy left over for the taco place, which is where my real passion lies.

Ted: But what about school or—

Sherry: I’m 18 and anyway, I am not, you know—

Ted: What?

Sheri: Smart.

Equally depressing (recessing?), the “Ted” in previous dialogue is a corporate casualty with an MBA. Jamie, the third protagonist is a wise-cracking vixen with her own sad secret who abuses what she thinks is her only power, sexuality. The antagonists of Hero turn out to be the unseen peddlers of “The American Dream,” who feign to reward ingenuity and industry but instead sacrifice “heroes” in the pursuit of profit.

Jamie:   No, seriously, this is kind of like a dream come true. Ever since I was a little girl I just love sliced meats.

Ted:       Right, well, good for you.

Jamie:   Plus like a month ago, I got fucking fired from Supercuts. You know the one of the Fairview Mall?

Ted:       Sure, yeah, I’ve been there.

Jamie:   Did they give you that haircut?

Ted:       Oh. Actually, yeah, I think so.

Jamie:   Fucking Darlene. Anyway, they said I was stealing mousse. Allegedly.

Ted:       The hair product?

Jamie:   The animal. So yeah, they were pissed, but for like six weeks, my hair had incredible volume and lift.

Provenance:

Bess Wohl:

  • Winner of the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival.
  • Developed television pilots for both networks and cable.
  • BA: English: Harvard University, Magna Cum Laude,
  • MFA: Acting: Yale School of Drama.
  • Rona Jaffe Writing Prize
  • Macdowell Fellowship
  • Plays written include: Cats Talk Back, In, Touched, Barcelona, American Hero

(imdb.com, playpenn.org/our-playwrights)

Play:

Williamstown, NYC, Boston

Production requirements: Reasonable, but may be economically challenging for small theatrical companies. The cast is 4 or 7 (2 or 5m, 2F) with characters aged 18-40. One male actor, who should pass as North African or Southeast Asian, played all supporting parts in listed productions. The setting is a new, very realistic fast-food sandwich franchise. This must be complete with real food, a working soda machine, prep station/counter, new matching tables and chairs, and large highly stylized possibly photographic poster/advertisements. It must look like a brand new Quizno’s™ or Subway™. Action is divided into 12 scenes with no assigned act break. Running time for the New York production was 1 hour and 30 minutes (The New York Times, 2014). Most costumes are contemporary and simple (street clothes, suit with breakaway tear, uniforms…and an anthropomorphic sandwich). Royalties: $100 per performance.

Censorial concerns: “Fuck”: Several instances. “Shit”: occasionally (3?). A sexual liaison replete with commensurate vocalizations begins onstage as lights fade and the scene changes (no nudity).

Recommendation: STRONG. The playwright is female and American. The setting is any medium city to suburb large enough to have several of the same chain sandwich shop and is NOT (necessarily) NEW YORK!!!! The timely themes of corporate greed, brand inanity, underemployment, and economic desperation resonate as good, or better, than many of the works recently reviewed on this blog. The biting comedy will entertain, motivate and enlighten audiences. The acting parts are rewarding: round, layered, and take strong character and relationship work. If your theatre can get their hands on some of the restaurant supplies from a recently closed establishment, and your board can cover their ears for the F-bomb, it’s worth the gamble.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5057

Available for lending from Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois

Tigers be Still by Kim Rosenstock: an analysis for production

There is a tiger roaming loose keeping everyone indoors. At least it’s a good excuse. Through the journeys of 5 souls trapped by individual tragedies of varying scope with absurd consequences we come to learn that both the actual and metaphorical tigers have been just been waiting for someone to end the misery:

Zack: “I stare into the tiger’s big yellow eyes and I swear it’s like he wants me to shoot him. He’s tired. And alone. And lost. And I think: Yeah, sure this tiger’s dangerous—- but if you really think about it, who isn’t?

In the course of Kim Rosenstock’s poignant, disarming and hilarious dialogue we meet our protagonist:

Sherry: “This is the story of how I stopped being a total disaster and got my life on track and did not let overwhelming feelings of anxiousness and loneliness and uselessness just, like, totally eat my brain.”

Sherry is a recent art therapy graduate who hasn’t been aggressive enough to land the job that takes her out of her mother’s home. Unseen Mom communicates with Sherry by calling the downstairs house phone from her self-imposed upstairs prison. When Dad disappeared, Mom grew sadder, and fatter. Sherry accepts a job offered by her mother’s high school boyfriend, now a graying widower, to work with his son, an angry young man who wants to believe he is satisfied working at CVS, then Walgreen’s, if only he could stop stealing candy. Her sister is trapped on the couch watching and endless loop of Top Gun, surrounded by possessions stolen from her former fiancée’s apartment (his Chihuahua’s are locked in the basement).

Provenance:

Kim Rosenstock is well known for her work on the Fox show “New Girl” and conceived and co-wrote the musical Fly By Night. She has worked on commissions for Dallas Theater Center, Roundabout Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Ars Nova, where she was the 2011 Playwright-in-Residence. She is a graduate of Amherst College and holds an MFA in playwriting from Yale School of Drama.  http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/fly-night-new-musical/playwright, 3/7/2015 7:15:40 PM.

Tigers Be Still’s original Roundabout Underground production was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. Successful productions have been mounted in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.

Production requirements are all feasible, but challenging for small theatrical companies. The cast is 4 (2m, 2F) with characters aged 18, 24, 29, and 50. There are no ethnic limitations, but there are two biological families (sisters, and father and son). The absurd nature of the play’s conceits will allow leeway for simple or abstract representations of the multiple settings: living room with functional staircase to 2nd floor, dining room, principal’s office, outdoors at night, a large shoe closet. The play is divided in to 22 scenes without an assigned act break. The New York production running time was 1 hour 35 minutes (The New York Times, 2010). All props (numerous) and costumes are contemporary. There is sporadic vulgarity as conflicts arise (including several uses of “fuck” and 1 “cocksucker”). Royalties are $100 per performance with additional fees for the use of specific popular music.

My recommendations are strong. The playwright female and American. The setting is any smaller city large enough to have a zoo (Peoria? Brookfield? Birmingham? Phoenix?) and NOT NEW YORK!!!! The central stories of young people trapped in the nest resonate across the country regardless of locale. The broad humor is sure to entertain, and all the journeys’ ends surprise and satisfy. Push hard get your board to take a pill on the language and you will have a winner on your hands.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4312

Available for lending from Illinois State University

Core Values by Steven Levenson: an analysis for production

Several years ago, I played Charlie Cowell in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (set in 1912). I recall introducing myself to Marian Paroo: “Charlie Cowell (dropping sales case accompanied by the strike of a steel pipe from the pit)….ANVIL salesman.” In my character work, it struck me (a thought, not the anvil) that here was a man proud of his profession who sold something that would not need replacement in the span of his lifetime. Charlie Cowell would never see a repeat customer. I’m sure that there are less than 100 anvil dealers in the US today. I’m fairly certain that there are no more traveling anvil salesman. I can’t say I currently know anyone who owns an anvil. No matter how quaint, Pleasantville may yet have a cobbler, but there are no blacksmiths.

Most all industries have a ebb and flow. Many die a slow death. In Core Values by Steven Levenson corporate travel booking is the allegory for the American Dream denied. 4 characters are forced together in a dingy, windowless conference room to go through the motions of a no-budget corporate retreat with the expressed goal of mapping out a future that everyone, audience and characters, knows will be bleak at best.

Nancy: When I started here, we used to have the retreat in Miami. So.

Eliot: Like the city?

Nancy: Yep.

Eliot: What happened?

Nancy: The travel industry imploded.

Eliot: Oh. Cool.

Nancy: Not really.

Eliot: Oh. Right. Not cool. At all. I don’t know why I said that. (Beat) I like your ring. By the way.

The dialogue is realistic, funny, gloomy, ironic, understated, and powerful. Despite the specter of ruin the pace is lively, with several short scenes and overlapping dialogue written in the pace of Mamet or LaBute. Strong language is used only fleetingly: shit as in “oops” (4), fuck a stronger version of “oops” (1), and rape (1) used in the description of a technique to avoid sexual assault. None of these words are used to denigrate another person. On the cover page a note directs “Though the play is divided into two sections, it should be performed without an intermission.” I characteristically follow any scripted direction that I believe to be the playwright’s intent. However, since the play is divided into two days and my audience expects a traditional intermission (and doesn’t know what do with themselves with two of them), I would be inclined to add the intermission despite the textual note.

Steven Levenson’s work has been seen and developed by Roundabout, Lincoln Center Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Atlantic Theater Company, MCC Theater, Ars Nova, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His plays are published by Playscripts, Inc. and Dramatists Play Service. A graduate of Brown University and the 2010 Artist in Residence at Ars Nova, Mr. Levenson is currently working on new play commissions for Roundabout, Lincoln Center, and Ars Nova. He is a member of the MCC Playwrights’ Coalition. https://www.playscripts.com/playwrights/bios/1152, 2/12/2015 6:38:11 AM. His play The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin will (had) its world premiere Off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company in June (2014) http://www.playbill.com/news/article/steven-levensons-core-values-starring-reed-birney-begins-off-broadway-run-a-204562, 2/12/2015 6:45:38 AM. See that analysis on this blog soon. He is also a writer of several episodes of the TV series Masters of Sex and Vegas http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4697007/, 2/12/2015 4:41:13 PM.

Reviews:

“Anyone who has done time in a corporate environment will recognize the soul-killing atmosphere conjured all too precisely in CORE VALUES.” —NY Times. ”

“…an entertaining piece, with many genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments.” —TheaterMania.com. ”

Steven Levenson’s astute new play is a comedy, though a dark one…a well-observed study of a dysfunctional workplace, with hilarious one-liners and sight gags…But it becomes progressively bleaker in its depiction of the characters’ inability to connect.” —NY Post.

Production requirements are reasonable. The cast is 4: 2 male, 2 female. No characters are race-specific. Northeast dialects are nice, but as anyone who has lived in Manhattan knows: Everyone in Manhattan is from somewhere else. There is a single setting, the worn conference room. Costumes are contemporary business casual. Most hand props (and furnishings) can be purchased from a Staples catalog, although some wear is preferable.

My considerations are mixed. The playwright is an American as are the customs of office retreats, brainstorming, trust falls…and bankruptcy. The story reflects the dilemma of many US industries that are desperately reaching for relevance. The humor is broad but not often physical or overt. Strike one: The show is AGAIN set in Manhattan (addresses and companies mentioned in the text can move it nowhere else). The conceit of an office retreat is not new, but the relationships have higher stakes than the last time you saw this routine on “The Office.”Like many plays I review, Core Values and Levenson despite his provenance are unrecognizable to my core audience.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4774

Available for lending from Illinois State University, Normal, IL