Category Archives: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royalties (professional): $100 per performance

Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission

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

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

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

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

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

Suitable for: community theatre, summer stock, regional theatre

Awards

Nominations

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

Mia Dillon, Mary Beth Hurt

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

Recent production reviews:

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

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

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

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

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“..by Nancy…”

A Series of Analyses for Production of Plays Written by American Playwrights who Happen to Be Women

The Count, Marsha Norman’s meta-analysis of data from American regional theatre productions in the three years preceding November 2015, found that only 22% of those productions were written by women. A six-show season helmed by our most recent artistic director, a classically trained actor and outspoken feminist woman, sought to challenge our audiences with a season of diverse actors, gender ratio reversal, and non-traditional casting (andours is a Midwestern summer stock company in a town of 7500). Sadly yet, only 1 of our 6 mainstage productions was written by a woman,16%. The theme and purpose of the season was equality, not equity, but even the very female-centered works Five Women Wearing the Same Dress and Disenchanted were written by men. Stop Kiss by Diana Son and directed by Tim Seib, was a thing of beauty. Honestly, had we strived for gender equity that simultaneously promoted vigorous ticket sales leveraged by recognizable titles, we may well have been hard pressed to develop a season. Even though we have a group of alumni, referred to as the artistic ensemble, providing the artistic director and the board with inspiration tempered with patron familiarity, equity may well be one ball to many to juggle.

Nonetheless, I have dedicated the next several months to reading and sharing my analysis of the merit and viability of producing select theatre works written by American women. If you are familiar with my other analyses and commentaries, you are aware of my inflexibilities. For those of you who are not: I want to read and promote American works, preferably from 1930 to the present, with smaller casts (10 and under). Despite being born in New York and a former resident of Manhattan, I have grown very tired of shows set in the Northeast, especially NYC. Franchise shows like The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns are often money makers, but are almost entirely predigested pablum. Seeing one in a seasons any theatre makes me lash out irrationally.

Women have much to complain about. I empathize, even though I can never sympathize. I admit that I am a white middle class male in his 50s, but my curriculum vitae includes: years of living in large cities on a meager income with routine job instability, several years as a primary caregiver for children (my own and other families’), a masters degree in social work with routine professional development in disadvantaged populations, 13 years as a school social worker (a nearly exclusively women’s profession) working with victimized adults and children in rural poverty, and my clinical licensure. I am also married to a strong woman who makes more than I do and with whom I have raised two daughters who does not share my last name after nearly 24 years. I still ask this: Women playwrights and playwrights who write about women, I ask you to write works that demonstrate humans with a problem to solve who just so happen to be women. Feel free to leave your hot-flashing crotchety aunt, and your tribe of victims who get together on a Friday night and bear their souls on your hard drives and off the shelves and our stages.

I have compiled a list of titles and begun some reading. My next analysis will be Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley. That will soon be followed by A Shayna Maidel by Babara Lebow. I will admit that despite my industrious reading and an undergraduate degree in theatre I am woefully ignorant of a sufficient number of excellent, non-pandering plays written by women, especially comedies. I welcome (beg?) your suggestions. Remember, I am still pushing an envelope in community with substantially more creamy filling than chocolate cookie. On the other hand, the trope of a character constantly spewing a litany of four-letter words, talking about sex acts, or making her victimhood more central than her capabilities, makes that character more tiresome than liberated. Give me fresh, provoking and especially hilarious perspectives from attorneys, police officers, entrepreneurs, parents and custodians pounded out on the keyboard of someone named Nancy or Shonda or Esperanza or Hareem or Ichika or Chengguang. I want it. Get to it. PDFs and works that are available on interlibrary loan are appreciated. I wake waves when I write, not money. GO!

 

 

The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

The Show-Off: A Transcript of Life in Three Acts by George Kelly, Copyright 1924.
In recent theater history, we have seen countless single set drawing room comedies. In 1924, however, George Kelly was seen as a pioneer Continue reading The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

A Distance From Calcutta by P.J. Barry: An Analysis for Production

Buddy: You’re waiting for a prince to come along and carry you off on his white horse. (Pause) I’m no prince. I’m more like a frog,” (p 100)

On a page of canned quotes, I found:
Everyone deserves to laugh, to be happy, and to be loved…but not everyone gets what they deserve.”

How true. Our cultures and our courts have been crammed with controversy concerning the right to marry since at least 1888 (Maynard v. Hill, USA). I have known same gender, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural/religion married couples. Before the twentieth century, in the United States and beyond, marrying (and re-marrying) outside one’s race, reflective gender, culture, religion, and even social-economic class was considered taboo, forbidden, even illegal. What if you loved someone, but due to “what is proper” you couldn’t give yourself to them completely and publicly?

Originally produced in 1993, and set 70 years before that, A Distance from Calcutta by P.J. Barry dramatizes this century-old conflict but sets it far away from the modern court and melee of marriage rights. The play never intended to be included in the debate. Here the action rises gently, almost reluctantly, but sweetly, and reaches its sad and complex climax in a barely middle class Irish Catholic home in the village of Jericho, Rhode Island. Our equally-Caucasian star-crossed lovers are a “spinster” and a handyman with a “learning handicap.” Viewed through a contemporary lens, the rejection and prohibition seem almost petty. The plot is complicated with several conundrums. Maggie, the maiden sister’s brother has married a woman considered outside his social class (a teacher no less!). Buddy, the handyman, is not only very mechanically inclined and resourceful, but also a veteran who is emotionally perceptive with a keen memory for facts and conversations. He’s just popularly and locally known, by his own admission, as “not smart.”

There were then, and still are, no laws prohibiting their lives together. Still yet, there softly speaks the question, “Would YOU want/allow YOUR sister/daughter/self to marry a man so particularly “special?” What would people think?

Cast: 3 women, 2 men
Set: Single interior: 1923 middle class home: living/dining and visible 2nd floor bedroom
Costumes: Approximately 3 changes for each. Some “Sunday clothing.” Pregnant belly.
Royalties: Minimum Fee: $75 per performance
Running Time: unable 1 hours, 59 minutes

Pros: Small cast with 2 good, 1 excellent part for women 35- 58 and an excellent starring role for a non-traditional male lead. One set; fits in most small theatres. It is an excellent starting point for conversations after the theatre and about equality. NOT SET IN NYC!

Cons: There is little action and the play depends much on dialogue and understated characters. The play has had no recent regional productions to spur interest.

Censorial concerns: Implied sexual intercourse.

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

Playwright:
http://pjbarry.net/Biography.html

Reviews:
Fair: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/25/theater/review-theater-the-ties-that-bind-and-bind-too-tightly.html

Harsh: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-02-27/entertainment/ca-40655_1_newport-theatre-arts-center

Recommendation: The more I write about it, the more I like it. It would be best as part of a series of plays about issues of equality and/or disability. Being that it was proposed to be part of series of pieces set in Jericho, RI ( After the Dancing in Jericho, And Fat Freddy’s Blues), perhaps it might be part of a series of “visits” by a theatre company over one season or multiple seasons, not unlike The Talley Trilogy by Lanford Wilson.

Highly recommended reading: Theatre Alberta’s guide will assist you in finding plays tackling issues related to physical or mental disabilities.

Purchase:
http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1250/distance-from-calcutta-a

Available for lending from Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University

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

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