Category Archives: Commentary

“..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!

 

 

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

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

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 (http://www.amazon.com/Piece-My-Heart-Stories-American/dp/089141617X), 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 http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/478/piece-of-my-heart-a ): 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
Provenance:

Play:

c.1992

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

Playwright:

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.
Reviews:

http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/04/theater/review-theater-a-piece-of-my-heart-women-in-vietnam.html

A Piece of My Heart

http://peoriapublicradio.org/post/piece-my-heart-provides-cathartic-look-war-review#stream/0
http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20100721/ARTICLES/100729942

Purchase:
http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/478/piece-of-my-heart-a
Available for lending from Elmhurst College, Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Illinois State University libraries.

Beautiful Bodies by Laura Cunningham: an analysis for production

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: http://www.broadwayplaypub.com/, 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 http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsC/cunningham-laura-shaine.html: 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.

Reviews

Houston, TX

http://www.austinchronicle.com/arts/1999-12-17/75059/

Madison, WI

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/reviews/baby-booties-revive-old-conflicts-in-strollers-big-hearted-beautiful/article_f034b0e2-817e-11e1-ad54-0019bb2963f4.html

NY Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/16/books/six-in-the-city.html

Purchase:

http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/17151/beautiful-bodies

http://www.broadwayplaypub.com/the-plays/beautiful-bodies/

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

F…k!

I just read that another local company is mounting a production of David Auburn’s Proof. I wish them amazing success. While many surrounding theatres have been staging retreads of R&H princess stories, “direct to community theatre” derivative farces, and 1950s dramas on life support, this brave theatre has launched Hairspray, Legally Blonde the Musical, and Bonnie and Clyde. With any luck, Proof may yet help them overcome an addiction to Ken Ludwig.

Back in 2005, because I so powerfully longed to bring Proof to my local audience, I made Faustian bargain: The board agreed to greenlight the show, but only if I agreed to replace or remove the offending language. At the time and still now, in this latitude and longitude, “offending language” meant the word “fuck.” “Bullshit” made the cut. Over a month or more, this writer who had never written more than a 15-minute scene barely passable for the 5th season of “Raising Hope” and some naughty songs I would sing to myself while riding my bike in junior high school, set out to rewrite a PULITZER PRIZE WINNING PLAY. I thought myself quite shrewd as I decided which “fucks” to delete and which to replace. Needless to say, I’m sure that I never matched the beautiful alliteration and precise emotional expression of Claire suffering a horrendous hangover and therefore vitriolically profaning “those fucking physicists.”

The show was beautiful. I was graced to assemble the most talented and appropriate cast that anyone might wish for in a rural Mid-western crossroads. The set that I had roughly drawn on a scrap of paper was fully realized as the rear patio of a two-story turn of the century home with weathered siding, a neglected potting table, a cleverly disguised rear projection screen, and a suggested interior and surrounding neighborhood that disintegrated into chalk drawings. I found a composer who offered his prerecorded violin score specifically written for the show at an entirely reasonable price. Most importantly, I found an audience, who were so invested that they immediately and quite audibly gasped when the Act One blackout fell EVERY NIGHT. For our efforts, I received the greatest and saddest compliment of my directing career, “This show shouldn’t be here.”

Shall I be the first to let the cat out of the bag? Here goes: Guess what Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service, Tams-Witmark, and Music Theatre International? My literary transgression has been perpetrated time and time again by theatre companies trying to shoe-horn good theatre with regionally uncomfortable content into the realm of acceptable for their audiences. My f-bomb shell-game is child’s play compared to the rewriting, song switches, and gender and racial recasting, done to make shows possible for production in the conservative, Caucasian, and x-chromosome dominant demographic of most community (and high school) theatres. I’m guessing that most of us are doing it without the blessing of expressed written permission. If you say, “No,” we’ve got a season to reconstruct, a budget to re-write, and marketing to re-think. Some of us march ahead holding noses and wearing waders. Others jump in to the sullied waters head first. After all, which theatrical licensing agency is going to pay to send an auditor to see a $2000 production of Pippin in Funkley, Minnesota?

Without new work, what can we produce? There is always the cadre of aforementioned retreads and low quality, second-rate, royalty free fare. It is with some sadness, but an understanding of necessity, that one local theatre dropped its 20 year restriction of shows previously produced. “New work” is a relative term. Often a show less than 40 years old has ethnicities we cannot responsibly cast, moral challenges for which we fear backlash, and a dearth of the familiarity that sells tickets.

Let’s face it. The people who write the checks that keep the roof over our heads and ticket prices under $100 dollars truly fear that if the blasphemy of “fuck” occurs within the confines of this sacred house of feathers and glitter, the Lord himself may well move up the scheduled date of Armageddon. A word that falls easily from the lips of many 11 year-old boys and has been gymnastically adapted to five of the nine parts of speech has a visceral impact on the faces and bodies of the bedrock demographic of our subscriber base. I don’t blame them. It is good that language has its rules and place. When I bang my thumb with a hammer, I need a word that expresses my dismay with more zeal than “applesauce!” or “durn!” With my religious beliefs however, I am personally more uncomfortable with exclaiming “Jesus Christ” for comic effect. Personally, I’m shocked that our patrons seem to care less about defaming deities than they do about that naughty F-word, even when an actor might exclaim that they don’t give one. Don’t get me wrong, my 16-year old daughter deserves a detention and my stern reprimand when she uses it in the hallways of our local high school. Every American (even playwrights and librettists) should strive to develop a vocabulary that increasingly includes the incredibly descriptive but rarely used words of our beautifully rich English language, and decreasingly make use of yet another mutation of “the fuck,” “fucking,” and “fuck me.”

Playwrights don’t write the words that people should speak. Modern playwrights write dialogue, with hopefully more elegant metaphor and coincidence, in the broken and profane reflection of how we do speak, and rightfully so. Shakespeare said it more eloquently than I ever could:

“.. the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.” (Hamlet, III, ii)

How can theater artists continue to speak to a modern audience, if we do not speak their language? True, we still do Shakespeare, but as any trained actor knows, even in King Lear, there’s always a dick joke. All art that continues to rely on patrons walks a delicate balance between the sacred and the profane. We attract with beauty and entertain by titillation. Language, even profane or vulgar, plays both parts.

Such is the balancing act. I truly think that I’ve recently heard someone being called a “dick” on network television. I remember when to say that something “sucked” didn’t mean it “sucked eggs” and deserved a trip to the principal’s office and a call home. What would happen if “fuck” became another word everyone accepts? It would no longer be funny when the little old man uttered it in the latest comedy.   It wouldn’t quite express the angst of the embittered teen in a cinematic tour de force. It would just be a passable utterance ignored like the so many “damns” and “hells” in a day at the office or on the line at the grocery store. But maybe, just maybe, I could hear Claire actually say “fucking physicists” out loud, in the dark, with 100 other people in folding chairs on a Saturday afternoon in Funkley, Minnesota.

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

Fool for Love by Sam Shepard (1983): an analysis for production

Eddie: “She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other. It was like we knew each other from somewhere but we couldn’t place where. But the second we saw each other, that very second, we knew we never stop being in love1.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? The love of Eddie and May, the central characters, does have its share of romance but the words dangerous, doomed, volatile, and visceral may more adequately describe the oscillating storm of their connection. As when the orbits of two planets intersect, attraction yields devastation.

“She's just standing there, staring at me, and I'm staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.
“She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.”

Fool2:

1:            a person lacking in judgment or prudence

2:            a :  a retainer formerly kept in great households to provide casual entertainment and commonly dressed in motley with cap, bells, and bauble

b :  one who is victimized or made to appear foolish :  a dupe

3:            a :  a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding

b :  one with a marked propensity or fondness for something <a dancing fool> <a fool for candy>

4:            a cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream or custard

Whereas I think the fourth definition is HILARIOUS, it seems that Eddie, May, the Old Man and most any of my readers would agree that they, and we, are often if not chronically “fools” for love. We enter into love with a “marked propensity or fondness for something (or someone),” and become a “harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding.” When things break bad, and we feel as if we are “dupes, victimized or made to appear foolish.” Often despite the humiliation or even danger, to Love we become the motley fool “kept in (its) great household to provide (its) casual entertainment.”

Perhaps this is best left to the theatre professors, but Shepard has a knack for creating a new mythology. As in Tooth of the Crime, Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class, Shepard expands archetypes into extraordinary icons. Just as the sins of the father become an ever-present overlord in our fated struggle, the ghostly Old Man (father to both Eddie and May) literally holds court as his fools “provide casual entertainment.” He serves as a fusion of post-realist and Greek theatrical traditions in the dual role of cautionary chorus and omniscient but ambivalent god. Eddie and May are both familiar and tragic heroes headed for cyclical fates. Martin, May’s naïve first-date gentleman caller, is simply a foil, catalyst, and innocent traveler trapped in the tempest of a natural disaster.

On the surface this play is straightforward with simplistic production requirements:

Cast: 3 men (30s-70s) / 1 women (30s)

Set: “Stark, low-rent motel (room) on the edge of the Mojave Desert”

Costumes: Contemporary, western

Royalties: $100/performance, plus suggested use of 2 Merle Haggard tunes

On further reading, the production becomes even more demanding. Fool for Love requires two strong leads in 30’s that must develop the depth of a 15-20 year complicated relationship. The set includes two doors that are “amplified with microphones and the bass drum head in the frame so that each time after (an actor) slams it, the door blooms loud and long.” It might be replaced by a sound effect, but this could easily violate Shepard’s intention to communicate the power of Eddie and May’s relationship in terms that are literally tangible to the audience, and directly and immediately connected to characters’ behaviors. Attempting to accomplish this play without physically trained actors and an experienced stage combat choreographer is foolish as it would guarantee injuries and unpredictable destruction of properties and set pieces. No organization can afford either.

Censorial concerns: 24 instances of language and phrases considered profane including “fuckin’(1),”; “twat(1),” “pussy (2)”, “goddamn (3),” “shit(5),” and crude references to sexual intercourse (2). Strong domestic violence; no sexual abuse.

Provenance:

Sam Shepard3:

  • Renowned as a canonical American author
  • Cannes Palme d’Or
  • Pulitzer Prize
  • OBIEs for “Melodrama Play” (1968), “Cowboys #2” (1968), “The Tooth of the Crime” (1972).
  • Received grants from the Rockefeller and the Guggenheim Foundations
  • Drama Desk Award and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play: “A Lie of the Mind” (1986)

Play:

  • Adapted into a 1985 motion picture starring Sam Shepard, Kim Basinger, Harry Dean Stanton, and Randy Quaid4
  • Original production starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker1
  • New York, London
  • Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, MA on July 24, 20145

Recommendation: STRONG with caveats. Sam Shepard is quite possibly our greatest living American playwright. The setting is rural (not NYC!). The theme of destructive and unavoidable power of attraction is timeless. The central acting parts are epic. You may be lucky enough to have a certified combat choreographer in your ensemble, the budget to hire one, or even have the fortune to have her/him direct or star in your production.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1214

Available for lending from Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL

References:

  1. Fool for Love and The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.
  2. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fool (8/14/2015 3:39 PM)
  3. http://www.sam-shepard.com/aboutsam.html (8/14/2015 4:55 PM)
  4. http://www.sam-shepard.com/writer.html
  5. http://www.sam-shepard.com/writer.html