Category Archives: comedy

Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley: An Analysis for Production

Chick Boyle: So Rebecca, what are you going to tell Mr. Lloyd about shooting Zachery, uh, what are your reasons gonna be?

Rebeca ‘Babe’: That I didn’t like his looks. That I didn’t like his stinkin’ looks! I don’t like yours either Chickie stick. So leave me alone and I mean it. Just leave me alone!

“At the end of 1980, Crimes of the Heart was produced off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club for a limited, sold-out, engagement of thirty-two performances. By the time the play transferred to Broadway in November, 1981, Crimes of the Heart had received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Henley was the first woman to win the Pulitzer for Drama in twenty-three years, and her play was the first ever to win before opening on Broadway. Crimes of the Heart went on to garner the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New American Play, a Guggenheim Award, and a Tony nomination. The tremendously successful Broadway production ran for 535 performances, spawning regional productions in London, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Houston. The success of the play—and especially the prestige of the Pulitzer award—assured Henley’s place among the elite of the American theatre for years to come. As Henley herself put it, with typically wry humor, “winning the Pulitzer Prize means I’ll never have to work in a dog-food factory again” (Haller 44).” http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/crimes-heart#A

This dark comedy set in the still small town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi (pop. reported in 2016 as 3,883), may well be the archetype by which all plays in this series will earn my recommendation. Crimes of the Heart is well-written, hilarious, character-driven within realistic circumstances, and portrays women as combatants in the war of life, not victims. It happens to have been written by a woman. Especially, for those of you who have read my peculiarities  IT’S NOT SET IN NYC!

It is no surprise that Crimes of the Heart remains a staple in the seasons of many theatres, even though I haven’t ever seen it here in Pleasantville. I checked the production history of our longest running community theatre and despite it being a community theatre’s wet dream (comedy, strong central roles for women, 1 interior set, inexpensive props and costumes), it has never been produced in the 50-year history of the theatre. Perhaps, early on, there were some moral concerns (murder, interracial affair with a teenager, ridiculously failed attempts at suicide)  but most all tawdriness is offstage and the story is done with so much humor, I cannot see how nearly anyone, outside of a Puritan complete with stovepipe hat, would have been, or would ever be offended. This should be produced in every season until the end of time replacing any considered future production of the The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns.

Recommendation: STRONG: YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

Cast: 4w/2m, regional accents, all characters 19-32, Doc walks with a slight limp. Casting notice: https://www.backstage.com/casting/crimes-of-the-heart-4555/

Royalties (professional): $100 per performance

Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission

Costumes: approximately 13 including conservative practical dresses circa 1974 or earlier. 2 men’s costumes: 1 casual, 2 costumes for an attorney (season: fall Mississippi)

Set: single interior: 1974, kitchen of Gothic home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi with table and 4 chairs, practical sink, period oven range (1950s)

Props: saxophone case, weathered luggage circa mid-1960s, bag of pecans (some practical in shell), nylon stockings in point-of-sale packaging (1974) for each night, practical cake, antique phone, twine

Controversial topics: Suicide, infidelity, sexual relations with a minor, attempted murder, dark humor (coma).

Purchase: http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1271

Suitable for: community theatre, summer stock, regional theatre

Awards

Nominations

  • 1982 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1982 Tony Award, Best Featured Actress in a Play

Mia Dillon, Mary Beth Hurt

  • 1982 Tony Award, Best Direction of a Play (Melvin Bernhardt)
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play (Mary Beth Hurt)
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play
  • 2002 Lucille Lortel Award, Outstanding Revival

Recent production reviews:

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/theater/reviews/15crim.html

DC Metro Theatre Arts: http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2016/02/28/189881/

Backstage: https://www.backstage.com/review/crimes-of-the-heart/

Twin Cities Pioneer Press: http://www.twincities.com/2014/05/11/crimes-of-the-heart-review-guthrie-theater-does-right-by-play/

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“..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 men. Stop Kiss by Diana Son and 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