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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.

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)

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/

 

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/

“..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 make waves when I write, not money. GO!