Category Archives: roles for older women

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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A Shayna Maidel by Barbara Lebow: An analysis for production

Luisa (reading Mama’s letter): If I could really be with you and put around you mine arms, it would be much better, but that is impossible. It cannot be. If I cannot hold you in mine arms, I hold you anyway in mine heart and this is true for every day in your life since you was born, if you was in Chernov, Poland or Brooklyn, New York, America.

A Shayna Maidel, set in 1946 Brooklyn, NY, (yes, NYC, so shoot me) explores the relationship between two sisters separated by the Holocaust. Rose Weiss, the epitome of the title which translates to “a pretty girl” from the Yiddish, emigrated as a child, and was spared the well-recorded daily horrors and decades of separation and loss suffered by her now-found older sister Luisa. After a surreal flashback to war-torn Poland, this 20-something assimilated liberated and gainfully employed young American woman with her own one bedroom, 3-room apartment and a closet full of pretty dresses answers a late night call (on Shabbas no less!) and reluctantly welcomes an unremembered sister with none of the above. The result is a study in identity and assimilation, privation and privilege with Barbara Lebow reminding us that good fortune is often not a matter of choice, but of chance.

At minimum, A Shayna Maidel allows its audience members to reflect on “those who went before us.” With the convenient metaphorical distance of period setting, the greater and more immediate context of refugees who are “white like us” emerges. According to the Global Rich List http://www.globalrichlist.com/, a website that brings awareness to worldwide income disparities, an income of $32,400 a year places one well within the top 1% of income worldwide. Currently with my income alone (not calculating for dependents and not including my wife’s income), The Global Rich List income calculator places me in the top 0.23% of the richest people in the world, the 13,754,109th richest person on earth! Most of those Americans reading this analysis have been blessed with opportunities; Many with multi-generational land ownership. All still yet with an education that, at minimum,  allows them to read. Most of my readers have never known poverty. Few have witnessed and feared genocide aimed at their own ethnicity. Yet there are those of us, perhaps within your family’s recent history, and definitely those with families abroad, who have not been as fortunate. We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18, www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html. Circumstance has been our benefactor. Are we ready to share out good fortune?

Recommendation: STRONG

Cast: 4w/2m (with doubling, 4 characters are portrayed in shadow and low light)

Regional dialects: NY Polish Jew, Yiddish written phonetically and translated in an appendix

Characters 20s-late 60s,

Running time:  approx 2:30 (https://dctheatrescene.com/2007/10/17/a-shayna-maidel/)

Royalties (professional): $80 per performance

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with an intermission

Sets: Single interior, attractive but modest pre-war one bedroom Brooklyn apartment with one scrimmed wall revealing a bedroom. Lighting changes are the only indication of a change in place to and from Poland years before

Costumes: Approximately 14; periods: 1946 NYC well-dressed businessman and young woman, peasant clothing earlier

Props: conventional, period, especially exposed kitchen, dining area and living room

Controversial topics: immigration, privilege, Holocaust

Purchase: ISBN 9780822210191:http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/12910/a-shayna-maidel (not in stock 1/20/2018), http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1091

Several buying options: https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B00GUGUCW4/ref=dp_olp_all_mbc?ie=UTF8&condition=all

Suitable for: community theatre, summer stock, regional theatre, small theatre

Awards

Lead Actress: Melissa Gilbert (Rose Weiss): 1988 Outer Critics Circle Award, Best Debut Performance, 1988 Theatre World Award

Original production (NYC) review:

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/10/30/theater/the-theater-a-shayna-maidel.html

Recent production reviews:

2011, Pittsburgh: https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/a-shayna-maidel/Content?oid=1459048

2007, Washington DC: https://dctheatrescene.com/2007/10/17/a-shayna-maidel/

2002, Chicago: https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/a-shayna-maidel/Content?oid=909887

2010: Long Beach: https://www.backstage.com/review/la-theater/a-shayna-maidel/

2012, Coral Springs, FL: https://www.backstage.com/review/la-theater/a-shayna-maidel/

 

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