Category Archives: language

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.