Category Archives: Commentary

Quake, by Melanie Marnich: an analysis for production

Guy: Just a sec.  (He pulls a tube out of his shirt and blows, inflating his belly and love handles. He pulls tufts of hair out of his head and plugs them into his ears.)

Lucy: What are you doing?!

Guy: Letting myself go. Ahhh… Life’s short, Lucy.*

This cycle happens several times per year. I request plays from other libraries, receive them at the circulation desk, walk to a table 10 feet away, scan the play, find daunting production challenges (huge casts, multiple characters of color, graphic sexual content, cultural context too alien to my market, technical specs which exceed a small theatre budget, etc.) and then promptly return the play or plays to the same desk from which I received them. Please don’t think that I underestimate my market.  I simply believe that if I’m going to take my time reading and considering the merits of a play for production, the main purpose for my reading in the last 3 years, I prefer not to waste time. I’ve seen brilliant Broadway productions of Fences and Two Trains Running, but until my community has fostered generations of theatrically curious African American men, I don’t have the bodies to fill the costumes.

I was attracted to Quake after reading some buzz about the Melanie Marnich play.  I have already been familiar with Marnich’s These Shining Lives, a play and musical which chronicles the tragic story of women in my local communities whose lives were destroyed by corporate negligence .  I was quickly enchanted by Marnich’s ability to parody the “expressionist theatre” genre into scenes stuffed with a sardonic and outright hilarious dialogue which expose the stereotypes, traps, and tropes of modern femininity. We follow Lucy, the play’s protagonist, from the regular Guy who lets himself go, to the bright Brian who cheats, to the Jock with whom she pretends to have similar interests, to harnessing the intoxicating  power of beauty, to the shrink who confounds her, to nice guy who bores her, to the flirtation turned fantasy wedding, and finally to the nice guy in the park, all the while haunted by a mysterious woman killer on the lamb. However, after encountering the above stage directions* by page 4, the play keeps providing confounding production gems:

At this, Lucy collapses in the snow and tries to crawl out of the storm against the wind. It’s tough. Lucy looks back for a second. Hell with it. And keeps going. She crawls out of the blizzard of death and into the very cool urban coffee shop/café.


She stands in a line with all the other contestants – all mannequins who are dressed like her. She is being judged by Cooper Trooper, a rich southern guy. He sits at a table with all the other other judges – all mannequins are dressed like him.


Lucy starts a power drill and hesitatingly, wincingly drills a hole in her head. But wait! It doesn’t hurt! She drills another hole. And another. Feels kind of good, actually.

Not to mention this dialogue gem (graphic content warning):

Man: I’ll bounce you off the side of a pick up truck, and you’ll know I love you. I’ll fuck you up the ass till you spit out your teeth and you’ll know I’m crazy for you.

Sorry, I warned you.

I look forward to reading more Marnich, as she is obviously a talented playwright. Perhaps the next read will not be a surrealist work anticipating an an unlimited budget, with dialogue that will literally cause opening night strokes, and prompt angry city council meetings replete with pitchforks. I’d have an easier time producing Our Town in the nude.

Recommendation: Major cities only 


Cast: 3w/3m in original production: (5-17 possible) all but Lucy play several roles, of non-specific age, approximately 30s

Running time:  80-90 minutes with no intermission

Royalties (professional): $80 per performance

Sets: Minimal

Costumes: 17, contemporary, many quick changes, see above for special effects

Props: conventional, contemporary, several quick set changes, stationary bikes, a bed that someone can disappear into.

Controversial topics: sexual assault (language only), infidelity, strong language, same-sex attraction


Standard Edition ISBN: 978-1-62384-225-3

Original Production: Quake premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in February 2001, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville


Quake and Tallgrass Gothic premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Marnich has been a resident playwright at New Dramatists in New York City since 2005.

Marnich received the Carbonell Award (South Florida Theatre) for Best New Work of the Year play in 2007 for her play, Cradle of Man.

Complete Biography:






featured image: Lisa Lee Schmidt in Quake, directed by Katherine Owens, Undermain Theatre, 2000.


Beautiful Bodies by Laura Cunningham: an analysis for production

republished for the “By Nancy” series

Martha: We’re still young but we’ve been young for so long. (p 255, Plays for Actresses, ed. Lane, et al)

Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward. However, as in all fights for freedom, the sexual revolution has incurred casualties. Abandoning the apron and sitting in the big chair has not eliminated, and perhaps complicated, the desire for companionship and the social pressure to “date, mate and procreate.” The play begs the question “Is THIS what we’re made for?” while still delighting in the complications and joys of long-standing female friendship.

Cast: 6 women, all approximately 35.

Set: single interior: Industrial NoHo (NYC location) loft

Costumes: Single costumes for all. Contemporary. At least one very fashionable. Pregnant belly in athletic clothes. Bike helmet with mirror. One blouse gets stained with red wine.

Royalties: Rights available through:, no price listed before application

Running Time: 2 hrs

Pros: all-female cast with intelligent banter, very funny/ attractive title/one set; fits in any space; small

Cons: Don’t expect Hedda Gabler. Predictable conceit: old friends (all stereotypes) have a party and then the gloves come off (but much better writing)

Censorial concerns: Sex talk: schlong, clitoris, thingy, doo-hickey, herpes; marijuana smoking, pregnant woman drinking

Provenance: Play:

According to Beautiful Bodies is currently the most popular comedy for women in Eastern Europe with multiple productions in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria. The play leads a dual life as a bestselling novel in English, Dutch, Russian, French (“Six Filles Dans le Vent”), German and Japanese.

Recommendation: STRONG with a light caveat (sexual, but not strongly, vulgar language). NOT WIDELY PRODUCED ON PROFESSIONAL STAGES.


Houston, TX

Madison, WI

NY Times


Available for lending from Princeton Public Library, IL in the collection Plays for Actresses, editors, Lane and Shengold

A Piece of my Heart by Shirley Lauro: an analysis for production

republished for the “By Nancy” series

Whitney (as VA spokesman): There is no such animal as Agent Orange disease. Here at the Veterans’ Administration we’re doing exploratory studies only. And obviously there is no medical treatment I can offer you, madam, as the disease simply doesn’t exist!

It took America too long to recognize, embrace, celebrate and support our Vietnam veterans. Many women who experienced firsthand the horror and neglect that was Vietnam have yet to have their stories broadly recognized. Based on A Piece of My Heart: The Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam, an oral history by Keith Walker (, the play dramatizes the book with actors playing multiples roles and singing songs indicative of the places and times. The stories travel from innocence and ignorance, through the wartime realities, and emerge in a world where they seek and often to fail to find a fit.

Cast: 6 women, 1 man

Set: single multiple use abstract space: levels, benches (props: bottle that breaks safely)

Costumes: Single costumes for all loosely representing the respective fields of service. Small pieces are needed to quickly distinguish multiple characters.

Royalties: Rights available through Samuel French, minimum $100/performance

Running Time: 2 hrs

Pros: CASTING ATTRIBUTES (via ): Ensemble cast, Expandable casting, Flexible casting, Multicultural casting, Room for Extras, Strong Role for Leading Man (Star Vehicle), Strong Role for Leading Woman (Star Vehicle). This writer: The popular period music and theme will resonate with the 60-80 year old ticket buyer. The physical needs of the show are inexpensive and conform to any space, especially smaller venues.

Cons: VERY HEAVY HANDED: In a play with much dire realistic content, there is very little comic relief. Predictable conceit: Whereas we haven’t seen this side of the conflict (sans some China Beach on TV), the stories are not overwhelmingly unique to women, therefore (IMHO) it doesn’t have much new to say.

Censorial concerns: some strong language (shit, fuck, cocktease, etc,) and talk of sex and implied rape; marijuana smoking, drinking, descriptions of violence toward children



2,000 productions around the world

Named by Vietnam Vets of America, Inc.: “The most enduring play in the nation on Vietnam”

Finalist: Susan Blackburn prize

Winner: Susan Deming Prize for Women Playwrights

Winter: Kettridge Foundation Award


Major Fellowships: The Guggenheim, 3 NEA grants, NY Foundation for the Arts. Major Affiliations: a director of The Dramatists Guild Fund; Playwrights/​Directors Unit, The Actors Studio; League of Professional Theatre Women/​NY; Ensemble Studio Theatre; PEN; Writer’s Guild East; Author’s Guild.

The Radiant : New York off-Broadway premiere in winter, 2013.

All Through the Night: Chicago, Jeff Nomination, as “Best New Play of the Year,” with many subsequent productions

Clarence Darrow’s Last Trial: Miami, Carbonnell nomination, NEA Enhancement Grant, New American Play Prize honoree.

Open Admissions: Broadway, Tony nomination, two Drama Desk nominations, Theatre World Award, Dramatists Guild’s Hull-Warriner Award for Jewish Culture
Recommendation: PASSING. The playwright seems to have great talent and a very consistent feminist voice. Read her other works.

Available for lending from Elmhurst College, Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Illinois State University libraries.

Stop Kiss by Diana Son: an analysis for production

republished for the “By Nancy” series

I first discovered this work while skimming other small theatre blogs. Imagine my pleasure that while skimming the “812.5s” at my local library, I discovered the play within our collection! I presume there was visionary librarian in Pleasantville in February 2000, when this gem of a play is indicated to have found a home here.

Stop Kiss is a light girl-meets-girl comedy that trips and falls hard into the not-quite-ready cruel world. Sara and Callie never planned on meeting, and may have never considered an affair, had their meeting never happened. The result is the true awkwardness of two people surprised by love captured within the beautiful yet ungraceful speech patterns of 20th century. Unfortunately that blossoming beauty is interrupted by a senseless act of violence that forces public definition upon two people who have yet to define what they have. Friends and family are mystified and well-meaning. Callie herself is at once exhilarated, surprised and confused.

The action is presented out of sequence, much in the style of Proof (Auburn). The juxtaposition of the non-linear scenes however aides to focus the viewer on both the beauty and the tragedy at once. We fear for the characters, knowing their fate before they do, on so many levels. The final scene ends with Sara and Callie’s awkward first kiss. We, the audience already know that this tenderness is fated to be followed by brutality. It is that brutality that forces definition. Perhaps definition of love is the most subtle and insidious brutality.

Production requirements are all feasible for most theatrical companies. It is best suited to a small stage. The cast is 6/7 (3m, 3/4f) with an age range from late 20’s to mid 40s. There are no ethnic restrictions. Several settings must be done simply as the scenes flow quickly: apartment, hospital examination, hospital room, police station house, hospital waiting room, street scene. The action is designed to be performed without intermission. Any props or costumes are contemporary: one nurse, one police detective. A series of vulgar epithets are repeated as Sara must repeatedly recount the attacker’s slurs. Editing for vulgarity would be ridiculous. Royalties are $80 per performance.

My recommendations are strong. The playwright is an American and a woman of color. The setting is again regrettably New York. However, the city of acceptance and opportunity seems in short supply of both. The irony makes the play more relatable to a broad audience. My community theatre isn’t brave enough…yet. I hope that yours is right now.


Diana Son is a producer and writer, known for Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001), Blue Bloods (2010) and Love Is a Four-Letter Word (2015) . She is the recipient of an NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Grant with the Mark Taper Forum, and a Brooks Atkinson Fellowship at the Royal National Theatre in London, and a member of the Playwrights Unit in Residence at the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

Son’s full length debut Stop Kiss was critically acclaimed. The play was produced Off-Broadway in 1998 at The Public Theater in New York City. It was extended three times. The play has been produced by hundreds of theaters since its initial run. In 2014, Stop Kiss was produced at the Pasadena Playhouse where it made the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2014” list1.

Available for lending from The Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL

  1. McNulty, Charles (19 December 2014). “Charles McNulty’s best stage shows of 2014”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 January 2015.

Anton in Show Business by “Jane Martin”: An Analysis for Production

T-Anne: The American Theatre’s in a shitload of trouble. That’s why the stage is bare, and it’s a cast of six…Like a lot of plays you’ve seen at the end of the twentieth century, we all have to play a lot of parts to make the whole thing economically viable.

Caveat: I read this beautiful, brilliant, feminist, and very funny play having been passingly familiar with the title, and naively assuming that it was authored by a woman. The gender and identity of “Jane Martin” are part of its mystique. Most speculations point to male authorship, in part or in entirety.

I checked out Leading Women: Plays for Actresses II, edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold (ISBN 037572667) hoping for a volume from which I could mine some gold for my series on plays written by women. The tome includes some worthy titles that I love and had already read: Marguiles’ (male) Collected Stories, and Son’s (female) Stop Kiss. Ball’s (male) Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a dated piece with which I’m very familiar, and of which I’m not enthused. I rejected two of the plays, for dubious producibility in my markets, before finishing them: Corthorn’s (female) Breath, Boom, Jordan’s (female) Smoking Lesson, and McLaughlin’s (female) Tongue of a Bird. The collection also includes one-acts and stand alone monologues which may be wonderful, but aren’t my “thing.”

Anton in Show Business skewers everything that is peculiar and maddening about American Theatre. It does so particularly in regards to being a woman in that milieu, and with such aplomb that one could see its cast of actors and some audience members rampaging other theatres after the curtain falls. Hopefully and perhaps, this battalion might leave nothing but salted fields for anyone short-sighted enough to propose another production of The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns. Unfortunately, some dialogue, no matter how on-point, poignant, perfect and passing may breach the toleration of censors and patrons in smaller, more conservative markets.

The fast-paced comedy follows three actresses from NY auditions (don’t worry they don’t stay long) for Chekov’s Three Sisters to a regional theatre in Texas where artistic hopes and dreams do battle with commercial realities and compromise.  All characters, regardless of gender,  (even the quick-change crew) are played by women. Each scene lampoons (lays bare?) American theatre’s idolatry of Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, the cult of celebrity, “artistic concepts,”  blind Anglophilia, and seemingly hundreds of other sacred cows and self-loathing preoccupations .

Recommendation: STRONG: with reservations

Pros: The casting will make use of so many of your wonderful actresses which are sadly disproportionate to number of roles you can usually offer them. The latter is another elephant pointed out in the action. The dialogue is hilarious, fast-paced and non-stop. All locations are implied by props on a practically bare stage (cost reduction?).


                   Language/Topics: One actor reveals, briefly, that she was sexually assaulted (“sort of halfway raped by a plumber”).  Another actor reveals her first orgasm (“I came.”) occurred while filming a pornographic movie. Both are sad/funny moments. The common vulgarities (shit, damn, fuck?, etc.) are true and passing, and as offensive as watching a 22-year old stubbing her toe. Women play men, and kiss other women passionately.

                   Props/Costumes: Women as men, an Afrocentric character, an airport waiting area with airline desk, one partially-built period costume, several quick changes

                   Dialects/Accents: Stereotypical African American, English, Polish/Eastern European, Texas/Southern

                   Casting: One actor should be African-American

Cast: At least 7 women, some regional accents, all characters 22-40. As many female stagehands as you can hire. See Challenges above.

Set: Open stage with many specific furniture pieces: airline seats

Royalties (professional): $100 per performance

Costumes: Dozens, including several quick changes, contemporary Costumes / street clothes, see Challenges above

Props: See Challenges above

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with an intermission

Controversial topics: sexual assault, promiscuity, pornography, infidelity, cosmetic surgery, sexual quid pro quo


Suitable for: Regional theatre, college theatre, very adventurous community theatre



  • Winner: 2001 American Theatre Critics Steinberg New Play Award


  • Best Foreign Play of the Year Award in Germany from Theatre Heute magazine (Germany)
  • Pulitzer Prize nominee; 1994 American Theatre Critics Association Best New Play Award (Keely and Du)
  • 1997 American Theatre Critics Association Best New Play Award (Jack and Jill)


2000, Original production, Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY):

Recent production reviews:

2007, Austin, TX:

2013, Tortonto (not favorable):

2002, Milwaukee:

2012, Atlanta:

2017, Silver Spring, MD:

Featured photo: Production photo from the 2006 BLKBOX Theater production (San Diego, CA)

“ 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 make waves when I write, not money. GO!

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.

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




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.


Available for lending from Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University