Category Archives: play

The Beard of Avon by Amy Freed, an analysis for production

Part of the series, “…by Nancy”

TPT Commentary: This work succeeds in demonstrating an artist at the height of a playwright’s skills. The Beard of Avon tells a story, presents several messages, and challenge actors, audiences and creative teams. This all occurs while everyone has fun, forgetting that we might have suffered a little preaching along the way. Furthermore, Ms. Freed succeeds in giving her audiences a work that that is by “A” playwright, regardless of gender. I am sure that I will read several more such works as I continue my hopefully endless journey into playwrights who happen to be women. This work, however, succeeds admirably in presenting that with the restriction from the theatre and continuing to the hopefully expanding yet still reduced prominence of women we have been deprived of an important voice. That voice is unique to the chief cook, bottle washer, child-rearer, van driver, motivation coach, craftsperson, executive and artist that is the modern woman. Ms. Freed succeeds in giving us both truly complicated male characters that are central to the work and period, and thankfully two women, Queen Elizabeth and Anne Hathaway who represent the “glass ceiling” from opposing perspectives. Anne is both brilliant, passionate, beautiful, and talented…and trapped and illiterate. Elizabeth literally rules the world …but can’t get a play staged under her own name. If you’ve got the money, the creative team and cast, and an audience and board of directors who accept actors saying shit and prick several times in 2 hours, we have a winner. 

Recommendation: Strong, but only for College and Professional productions: Speedy and effortless scene changes suggesting multiple locations, well-choreographed physical comedy, constant use of verse and the necessary mastery of same, and a dozen or more of Elizabethan costumes. 

Summary: A fast-moving bawdy comedy wherein the playwright “William Shakespeare” is made manifest from a patchwork of fortunate accidents, aristocratic wit, restrictive cultural mores, and one man’s innate gift to polish, refine, focus and ornament the “almost perfect” work of a mélange of strange bedfellows.  

Themes: Talent is innate regardless of education or circumstances. Social culture creates restrictions that prohibit expression and self-realization. Theatre is a collaborative art. Which is most important to art, intellectual property, renown, or public access? 

Cast: Minimum: 7/8m, 2f with significant doubling; Maximum 11+ (speaking roles and ensemble); 2 excellent roles for women 

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes https://www.goodmantheatre.org/season/0203/The-Beard-of-Avon/ 

Royalties (professional): by written request

Sets: Single set capable of morphing quickly and seamlessly into several English Renaissance locations: barn, backstage, simple home, theatre, lavish bed chamber, tavern, etc. 

Costumes: (12-20) Elizabethan Renaissance, from commoners to royalty (Queen, Earl), several built for quick changes, “stage costumes” from the era including a 3 for a man as a beautiful young woman 

PropsHighly Important: period pieces that quickly indicate a change in locale as stated above 

Provenance:  

Playwright: https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/players/amy-freed/ 

Nominated for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, Drama 

Joseph Kesselring Prize 

Charles MacArthur Award 

Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award (several times) 

South Coast Repertory 2009 Steinberg Commission 

Arena Stage, American Voices New Play Institute 

Play: Outstanding New Play, 2002 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle 

Purchase

Reviews: 

New York 2003:

https://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/19/theater/theater-review-cutting-shakespeare-down-to-size-at-his-own-game.html 

http://variety.com/2001/legit/reviews/thttps://culturevulture.net/theater/the-beard-of-avon-amy-freed/he-beard-of-avon-1200468899/ 

https://www.upi.com/Review-Avon-has-fun-with-Shakespeare/89891074299261/ 

Austin, 2006

San Francisco, 2002

DC, 2005

Chicago, 2002

Seattle, 2001

Drinking: Possible and appropriate in several scenes (artistic discretion) 

Smoking: None noted (artistic discretion) 

Sex: Implication that characters have recently been in and are routinely involved in heterosexual and homosexual coital relations, implication of and comedic representation of extramarital coital relations (artistic discretion), implication of prostitution, bawdy talk (that’s not a sausage it’s my…), short song/limerick with the punchline “I took my liberty and she said nothing,” implied sadomasochism for comic effect, “Do it again. She likes it! (in the middle of a man hitting a woman in fight choreography),” other implications from classic literature and mythology if one might be informed enough to interpret them as intended 

Language: “It’s my prick, thou wilt kiss it,” shithead, “popping whatnots” (breasts),  “shit beat out of you,” frequent use of “prick,” “stupid-ass, shit-heel, retarded tinker,” “the beautiful and effeminate Third Earl of Southampton” (several times), “sodomies and buggeries, and rapes and divers pederastic flings,” “raping, murdering, polygamous father,” more “shit,” “bulges there under your Moorish cloak,” “whorehouse,” “pussy,” asses are everywhere (referring to buttocks and persons),” “hell,” “sluttish fashion,” “slut,” “hot bitch,” “whore,” “whoreson” 

Violence: Comic fight choreography where a man hits a woman several times 

Other possibly controversial subject matter: Possible theater marquees with suggestive titles (artistic discretion)  

Rating: If this were a movie, it would be rated PG. Some subject matter, however may only be appropriate for those 14 years of age and older. 

Format inspired by the sadly suspended operations of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre (then enhanced by TPT)  

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Color-Blind?

I have been open about my personal and regional demographics. I’m an “old white guy” living in dark red dot in a blue state. I can’t see crops or livestock from my windows, but both are less than a half-mile from my front door.  I routinely have deer, and even a fox or two in my yard. Yet even though I’ve lived in Miami, Manhattan and Chicago, in my life right now, I am more surprised on any given day while on my way to work to see a person of color than a wild turkey. My county is 94.6% White, non-Hispanic,  9% Latino, less than 1% Black and 1% Asian. Our town is magically more colorful in the summer when 20 or so theater professionals join us for a theatre festival. All but ONE of my current friends who are Black are those very same theatre professionals. The sum of my “friends,” Facebook plus reality, that are people of color (including Latinos, who have been in our area since the railroads were built) reflects the community in which I live. Racial statistics are almost identical for the county in which our areas most successful community theatre resides. There, the Black population increases to almost 3%. I  just don’t live in a racially diverse community.

I recently attended a production of Mary Stuart at Chicago Shakespeare TheaterThe title role was expertly performed by a talented actress of Asian descent. At least 2 Black actors joined a cast of 13. 10 White actors to 2 Blacks and one Asian. Chicago’s Cook County has 8 times the population concentration of Blacks overall ( 24%) and 2.5 times more Latinos (25%), It must be shamefully be noted that in a city so full of trained actors there were several Canadians in the cast, and a credit for “New York Casting.” Shakespeare shows have a longer-standing practice of non-traditional casting (gender, race, etc.). Plays set in fantasy locales need not care about about the gender or skin color of a fairy or an island-dwelling  monster. Polonius’ monologue to his son Laertes may just as well be spoken by a loving mother named “Polonia” sending her son off to school. Only in Othello does skin color become a casting essential.

As I continue my quest for “relevant theatre for remote venues,” I desperately want to have our local theatres reflect the complexity of the wider world. When I was one of the producer/directors of a regional comedy improv company, I credit that it was my influence that kept us from being a complete sausage party. Don’t canonize me yet; we had 3 women to 7 men in our 3-year run.  When we opened, we even had a Black performer on the team. He was also in my cast of Mister Roberts. Within our run we added an another actor of Mexican descent (one of our producer/directors was also Mexican). I routinely have an assistant director who is a woman.  Please don’t knit a pussy hat for me just yet. This is mostly because I have only met 2 humans who could stand my improvisational (re: spastic?) direction style. Even my redheaded blue-eyed wife will never do it again.

Local theaters usually have no shortage of women chasing available roles, but non-white casting may be a Sisyphean effort. When a local theater did Rent in in 2014, Collins, Mimi, and Angel were white. There are no racial specifications for the characters, but if any show flips a finger at racially-specific casting, it would be Rent. OK, Mimi’s last name is Marquez! One would hope that any non-specific racial casting would be filled with persons of color. Please note, the local production of To Kill a Mockingbird almost didn’t happen because Black actors simply didn’t attend the auditions. I fear that the director was nearly reduced to walking down the street with a script in one hand, and running up to unsuspecting people with the greeting, “Hey, you’re Black, would you mind reading this?”

The local professional summer stock closed last year’s season with a slightly genderbent and culturally-colorful Seussical, a nearly entirely gender-flipped Comedy of Errors, a cross-dressing dancer in Sweet Charity, and a beautiful production about two women finding love in Stop/Kiss.  Alas, the feminist genius behind that vision moved on and away after artistic differences. Add to this the perspective that it is a professional theatre, and so is cast from colleges, conferences, and cattle calls from across the country. This year’s fare is more commercial, but still challenging. Non-traditional casting, if implemented, will have to be very intentional.

I return to my own quest. We have a growing sector of non-white populations in rural America. They are part of our story. Women keep theatre alive out here. They are not only our patrons, but our teachers, actors, directors, board members, administrators, costume chiefs and tailors, stage managers, conductors and pit musicians, prop masters, set painters, and housekeeping staff. With all this participation, it is harder to sell ticket to a show where women, and actors of color are the heros.  As I have said before, even if we want to, we have not yet, in the category of non-whites, been able to fill the costumes. Women have, in several facets of your naughty and enlightened understandings, been able to fill out their costumes…and admirably.

How do I continue my quest for equanimity? First, I read lots and lots of plays written by women. As I may have opened Pandora’s box, I predict that I’ll be doing this almost exclusively for several years. Next, I will continue to fill my production teams with women. This fosters new directors and enlightens my creativity.  I am also raising two very theatre savvy and issue-conscious women (one’s bedroom wall).  In the world of non-white casting, I am open to non-white casting in roles where it is not distracting. I’m sorry, if one of the brothers in Seven Brides… is Southeast Asian, it stands out rather emphatically and begs some saucy questions. I did have a very enthusiastic Asian male attend my auditions for Proof (2005). I could not cast him because alas there is no role in Proof for a 5 foot tall 16-year-old male. I’m sorry that I never saw him again. Hell, I have wanted to do Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for years, so badly, that I work it into a conversation with any poised Black man or woman who crosses the county line and is unlucky enough to be with me in a grocery store cashier line:. “Have you ever done any theater?” Yes, it’s creepy. Of course this conversation still begs the question, “Why don’t YOU, Mr. Pleasantville Thespian step aside?” Right now, the current method of getting a show on the region’s non-professional stages is a submission from a director. Only recently, have play selection committees been proactive about seasonal offerings (and have members under 50). I will not apologize for my gender, or my ethnicity.

I cannot do it alone. I’m still one of those old white guys. I was told by a play selection committee how brave its theatre was for doing Cabaret and Chorus Line. I shot back that their audience members had been their 20s when the original productions had hit Broadway. Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and First Nation peoples please come into the theaters, read for parts and volunteer for production roles. Women, you are leaders. Form your own teams, read your sister’s plays, and submit your own concepts. And…For God’s Sake..do not make me ever have to see another production of The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns. I’m waiting.

St. Scarlet by Julia Jordan: an analysis for production

Rose: Nobody goes to confession anymore. What do you have to confess? Idiocy is not a sin.

I was drawn to St. Scarlet after reading and not finishing Julia Jordan’s Smoking Lesson. The latter didn’t grab me soon enough. Moreover, the interaction of naive female minors and an adult male of questionable character gave this father of teens too much discomfort. I put the play down and read some reviews to see if I should finish. One reviewer referred to St. Scarlet as “Ms. Jordan’s more commercial work.” I read another blurb which revealed that it was set in Minnesota (AND NOT THE NORTHEAST!) and decided I must give it a read. I’m f-ing glad I did!

Within minutes, a strange visitor from New York bursts into the blizzard-engulfed, lower-middle-class, 4th generation, shanty Irish, Minnesota home of The Cummins family. Mom’s corpse is just beginning to stiffen upstairs, the older brother is is demanding heirlooms and trying to run the show, our antagonistic protagonist Rose is hurling epithets at everyone within earshot, and the unsophisticated Ruby is fashioning a wake from the pages of Abbey Press and the Oriental Trading Company. Then… the secrets start coming out. By the end of the roller-coaster ride, everybody (except Mom) gets a laugh line, a soliloquy, and the chance to say “fuck.” St. Scarlet is all at once, absurd, touching, and relatable. This is an excellent modern farce for a young ensemble. 

Recommendation: Strong ( regional theatre, adventurous* community theatre, adventurous* summer stock) *=fuck

Cast: 3w (1 a corpse)/2m: Late teens to late 20s, except Mom, she’s 50+, and dead

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes with 1 intermission

Royalties (professional): $80 per performance

Sets: one interior, contemporary home, kitchen/living/dining

Costumes: Contemporary

Props: conventional, contemporary, copious mounds of cheap Irish-inspired crap, globe covered with shattered mirror pieces

Controversial topics: Roman Catholicism (shots at schools, fornication, nuns, confession), partially undressed man, overuse of alcohol, language: “fuck” liberally sprinkled throughout

Playwright:

Lucille Lortel Fellow, Julliard Fellow, Manhattan Theater Club Fellow, Kleban Award Winner, Jonathan Larson Award winner. Member of New Dramatists and the Dramatist Guild Council

Full Bio

Other works: Musicals: Murder Ballad (book and lyrics); Sarah, Plain and Tall (book); The Mice (book, 1 act of Hal Prince’s 3hree). Plays: Boy, Tatjana in Color, Smoking Lesson, Dark Yellow, Astrological Quit Claim Deeds, Jones

Purchase

Standard Edition ISBN: 0-8222-2031-8

Reviews:

NYC, 2003:

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/30/theater/theater-review-siblings-at-odds-a-stranger-uninvited.html

http://www.curtainup.com/stscarlet.html

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/reviews/06-2003/st-scarlet_3673.html

https://www.backstage.com/review/st-scarlet_2/

http://www.offoffoff.com/theater/2003/stscarlet.php

Chicago, 2006:

https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/st-scarlet/Content?oid=921437

http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Theater-St-Scarlet/10965.html

Featured image: Dana Weddle, JJ Arends and Chad Alan Baker in the Carpenter Square Theatre production directed by Doobie Potter (Oklahoma City, 2007)

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.

and

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.

and

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

Purchase

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

Accolades:

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: http://newdramatists.org/melanie-marnich

NYC:

http://www.offoffoff.com/theater/2002/quake.php

http://www.curtainup.com/quake.html

ww.nytimes.com/2002/02/27/theater/theater-review-in-a-chick-flick-moving-state-to-state-and-man-to-man.html

Austin:

Chicago:

Cleveland:

Hollywood:

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: 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

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 (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
http://dctheatrescene.com/2009/09/18/a-piece-of-my-heart-2/
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.

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. http://www.nytimes.com/1982/04/04/theater/mystery-deepens-at-louisville-new-plays-festival.html

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?).

Challenges:

                   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 http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/895

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

Purchase:http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2932/anton-in-show-business

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

Awards

     Play:

  • Winner: 2001 American Theatre Critics Steinberg New Play Award

     Playwright:

  • 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)

Reviews:

2000, Original production, Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY): http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/895

Recent production reviews:

2007, Austin, TX: https://www.austinchronicle.com/arts/2007-04-27/469103/

2013, Tortonto (not favorable): http://slotkinletter.com/2013/08/review-anton-in-show-business

2002, Milwaukee: http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/897

2012, Atlanta: http://artsatl.com/review-smart-sharp-%E2%80%9Canton-show-business%E2%80%9D-offers-laughs-season/

2017, Silver Spring, MD: https://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2017/02/25/review-anton-show-business-silver-spring-stage/

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