Category Archives: Uncategorized

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/

Advertisements

“..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 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.

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.

Rantoul and Die by Mark Roberts (2010): an analysis for production

Debbie:  Gary, you are a powerful, charismatic man. And I was seduced by you. We had a whirlwind affair, and we cared for each other. But…

Gary: What?

Debbie: You and me ain’t built for the long-haul. You and me are both volatile, selfish people.

Gary:    We are a good match.

Debbie: We are a lit match on dry leaves. And I’ve caused too many fires as it is.

The fated “romance” of Debbie and Gary is a catalyst, but not the central story of the play. However the above is one of the tamer examples of the hyperbolic dialogue in the white trash soap opera of Rantoul and Die. It is even more ironic when it is known that audiences hear this dialogue uttered between middle-aged factory workers and Dairy Queen employees with “heavy Midwestern accents.” The result is 2 hour, often shocking, vulgarity ridden, snort-inducing free-for-all that tells us everyone, regardless of demographic, has been damaged by the selfish delusions of what defines a life worth living.

For my wider audience: The setting, Rantoul, IL is a city in West Central Illinois that was anchored in, and prospered and grew, since the 1930’s by the presence of Chanute Air Force Base. The closing of the base in 1993, and the further indignities of the Great Recession have left the town, like many others in our nation a shell of their former glories. The title is a convergence the name of this town and the manufacturing process of “tool and die making” in which trained machinists create the basic components used in myriad manufacturing processes. This skilled and well-paid occupation provided a dignified life for the “makers” and their families for generations. In the play, 4 actors portray, satirize and lament the current state of affairs reflected in the oft-recurring tragic economic cycle. Now they are left to watch an endless stream of reality shows and soap operas that twist a knife in human vulnerability.

Snort-inducing: Comedy that forces a guttural noise from the nostrils despite the intellect telling you, “I shouldn’t laugh at this.” This play is full of it. It is therefore not surprising that the playwright is the writer and executive producer of TV’s Two and a Half Men. Please recall that in the midst of the sitcom’s tremendous success, one of the “two men” was fired and forced into rehab and the “half-man” found religion and publically distanced himself from the program and its content. Know then that the playwright and self-same purveyor of prurient interest here frees himself of the censors of primetime television. The gloves are off! The opening monologue segues from coitus to fellatio in 2 and a half minutes. I’m saddened to say that I can’t think of theatre within 80 miles that might feel safe putting this on their stage.

Production requirements:

Cast: 2 men / 2 women (late 30s-50s)

Set: Single interior: the living room of a “small run-down house in Rantoul, IL”

Costumes: Distressed contemporary with pieces of at least 1 Dairy Queen uniform

Royalties: $80/performance

Censorial concerns: Most everything line of dialogue.

Provenance:

Playwright:

  • Born in Urbana, IL about ten miles from Rantoul
  • Writer and executive producer of TV’s Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly
  • 4 plays, professionally produced in major cities
  • http://www.aoiagency.com/mark-roberts/

Play:

  • Los Angeles, 2009
    • “An original and devastatingly funny new play…blunt, raw and reckless.” —Hollywood Reporter
  • Chicago, 2011
    • Jeff Recommended
    • Chicago Magazine’s THE FIVE
    • Chicago Now’s  “must see”
    • CBS Chicago’s “Best things to do”
    • WBEZ’s Critics Pick
    • Four Stars from Chicago Theater Style
    • Highly recommended by Catey Sullivan (Examiner/Chicago Theater Blog)
  • New York (Off-Broadway), 2013
    • “The audaciously crude and equally entertaining dark comedy.” —New York Daily News

Recommendation: STRONG with sadness. Somebody do this play. I will travel to see it, pay full price for tickets, and promote its attendance on this blog and with other social media at my disposal.

www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4131

Available for lending from University Library at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL