Fool for Love by Sam Shepard (1983): an analysis for production

Eddie: “She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other. It was like we knew each other from somewhere but we couldn’t place where. But the second we saw each other, that very second, we knew we never stop being in love1.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? The love of Eddie and May, the central characters, does have its share of romance but the words dangerous, doomed, volatile, and visceral may more adequately describe the oscillating storm of their connection. As when the orbits of two planets intersect, attraction yields devastation.

“She's just standing there, staring at me, and I'm staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.
“She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.”

Fool2:

1:            a person lacking in judgment or prudence

2:            a :  a retainer formerly kept in great households to provide casual entertainment and commonly dressed in motley with cap, bells, and bauble

b :  one who is victimized or made to appear foolish :  a dupe

3:            a :  a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding

b :  one with a marked propensity or fondness for something <a dancing fool> <a fool for candy>

4:            a cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream or custard

Whereas I think the fourth definition is HILARIOUS, it seems that Eddie, May, the Old Man and most any of my readers would agree that they, and we, are often if not chronically “fools” for love. We enter into love with a “marked propensity or fondness for something (or someone),” and become a “harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding.” When things break bad, and we feel as if we are “dupes, victimized or made to appear foolish.” Often despite the humiliation or even danger, to Love we become the motley fool “kept in (its) great household to provide (its) casual entertainment.”

Perhaps this is best left to the theatre professors, but Shepard has a knack for creating a new mythology. As in Tooth of the Crime, Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class, Shepard expands archetypes into extraordinary icons. Just as the sins of the father become an ever-present overlord in our fated struggle, the ghostly Old Man (father to both Eddie and May) literally holds court as his fools “provide casual entertainment.” He serves as a fusion of post-realist and Greek theatrical traditions in the dual role of cautionary chorus and omniscient but ambivalent god. Eddie and May are both familiar and tragic heroes headed for cyclical fates. Martin, May’s naïve first-date gentleman caller, is simply a foil, catalyst, and innocent traveler trapped in the tempest of a natural disaster.

On the surface this play is straightforward with simplistic production requirements:

Cast: 3 men (30s-70s) / 1 women (30s)

Set: “Stark, low-rent motel (room) on the edge of the Mojave Desert”

Costumes: Contemporary, western

Royalties: $100/performance, plus suggested use of 2 Merle Haggard tunes

On further reading, the production becomes even more demanding. Fool for Love requires two strong leads in 30’s that must develop the depth of a 15-20 year complicated relationship. The set includes two doors that are “amplified with microphones and the bass drum head in the frame so that each time after (an actor) slams it, the door blooms loud and long.” It might be replaced by a sound effect, but this could easily violate Shepard’s intention to communicate the power of Eddie and May’s relationship in terms that are literally tangible to the audience, and directly and immediately connected to characters’ behaviors. Attempting to accomplish this play without physically trained actors and an experienced stage combat choreographer is foolish as it would guarantee injuries and unpredictable destruction of properties and set pieces. No organization can afford either.

Censorial concerns: 24 instances of language and phrases considered profane including “fuckin’(1),”; “twat(1),” “pussy (2)”, “goddamn (3),” “shit(5),” and crude references to sexual intercourse (2). Strong domestic violence; no sexual abuse.

Provenance:

Sam Shepard3:

  • Renowned as a canonical American author
  • Cannes Palme d’Or
  • Pulitzer Prize
  • OBIEs for “Melodrama Play” (1968), “Cowboys #2” (1968), “The Tooth of the Crime” (1972).
  • Received grants from the Rockefeller and the Guggenheim Foundations
  • Drama Desk Award and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play: “A Lie of the Mind” (1986)

Play:

  • Adapted into a 1985 motion picture starring Sam Shepard, Kim Basinger, Harry Dean Stanton, and Randy Quaid4
  • Original production starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker1
  • New York, London
  • Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, MA on July 24, 20145

Recommendation: STRONG with caveats. Sam Shepard is quite possibly our greatest living American playwright. The setting is rural (not NYC!). The theme of destructive and unavoidable power of attraction is timeless. The central acting parts are epic. You may be lucky enough to have a certified combat choreographer in your ensemble, the budget to hire one, or even have the fortune to have her/him direct or star in your production.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1214

Available for lending from Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL

References:

  1. Fool for Love and The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.
  2. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fool (8/14/2015 3:39 PM)
  3. http://www.sam-shepard.com/aboutsam.html (8/14/2015 4:55 PM)
  4. http://www.sam-shepard.com/writer.html
  5. http://www.sam-shepard.com/writer.html

American Hero by Bess Wohl (2013): an analysis for production

“What happens to a dream deferred? … Does it stink like rotten meat? … Or does it explode?” from Harlem by Langston Hughes

This is NOT “A Raisin in the Sun.” The American Hero of the title is a sandwich. This Hero appears but once in a dream. Otherwise our characters, symbols of the American dream deferred, all find this Hero equally ironic and elusive. It is a brilliant and convenient choice that a black comedy (no pun on Langston Hughes) about the current American economic condition unifies its action in a thinly veiled “toasty sub” sandwich franchise, with three “sandwich artists” abandoned by both their owner and corporate. The literal meat in American Hero never rots; it just runs out leaving the characters adrift and improvising. A farce by definition is “a light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/farce, 3/23/2015 5:58 PM).” Bess Wohl’s dialogue is honest, economical and prosaic. American Hero is, on many levels, an anti-farce: an acutely satirical comedy, with three ordinary people (no mayors, cops, or opera singers) in a probable situation, who reveal heavy truths.

Sherry: But I just want to like, do my job here and not get fired with the least amount of energy possible so I can have energy left over for the taco place, which is where my real passion lies.

Ted: But what about school or—

Sherry: I’m 18 and anyway, I am not, you know—

Ted: What?

Sheri: Smart.

Equally depressing (recessing?), the “Ted” in previous dialogue is a corporate casualty with an MBA. Jamie, the third protagonist is a wise-cracking vixen with her own sad secret who abuses what she thinks is her only power, sexuality. The antagonists of Hero turn out to be the unseen peddlers of “The American Dream,” who feign to reward ingenuity and industry but instead sacrifice “heroes” in the pursuit of profit.

Jamie:   No, seriously, this is kind of like a dream come true. Ever since I was a little girl I just love sliced meats.

Ted:       Right, well, good for you.

Jamie:   Plus like a month ago, I got fucking fired from Supercuts. You know the one of the Fairview Mall?

Ted:       Sure, yeah, I’ve been there.

Jamie:   Did they give you that haircut?

Ted:       Oh. Actually, yeah, I think so.

Jamie:   Fucking Darlene. Anyway, they said I was stealing mousse. Allegedly.

Ted:       The hair product?

Jamie:   The animal. So yeah, they were pissed, but for like six weeks, my hair had incredible volume and lift.

Provenance:

Bess Wohl:

  • Winner of the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival.
  • Developed television pilots for both networks and cable.
  • BA: English: Harvard University, Magna Cum Laude,
  • MFA: Acting: Yale School of Drama.
  • Rona Jaffe Writing Prize
  • Macdowell Fellowship
  • Plays written include: Cats Talk Back, In, Touched, Barcelona, American Hero

(imdb.com, playpenn.org/our-playwrights)

Play:

Williamstown, NYC, Boston

Production requirements: Reasonable, but may be economically challenging for small theatrical companies. The cast is 4 or 7 (2 or 5m, 2F) with characters aged 18-40. One male actor, who should pass as North African or Southeast Asian, played all supporting parts in listed productions. The setting is a new, very realistic fast-food sandwich franchise. This must be complete with real food, a working soda machine, prep station/counter, new matching tables and chairs, and large highly stylized possibly photographic poster/advertisements. It must look like a brand new Quizno’s™ or Subway™. Action is divided into 12 scenes with no assigned act break. Running time for the New York production was 1 hour and 30 minutes (The New York Times, 2014). Most costumes are contemporary and simple (street clothes, suit with breakaway tear, uniforms…and an anthropomorphic sandwich). Royalties: $100 per performance.

Censorial concerns: “Fuck”: Several instances. “Shit”: occasionally (3?). A sexual liaison replete with commensurate vocalizations begins onstage as lights fade and the scene changes (no nudity).

Recommendation: STRONG. The playwright is female and American. The setting is any medium city to suburb large enough to have several of the same chain sandwich shop and is NOT (necessarily) NEW YORK!!!! The timely themes of corporate greed, brand inanity, underemployment, and economic desperation resonate as good, or better, than many of the works recently reviewed on this blog. The biting comedy will entertain, motivate and enlighten audiences. The acting parts are rewarding: round, layered, and take strong character and relationship work. If your theatre can get their hands on some of the restaurant supplies from a recently closed establishment, and your board can cover their ears for the F-bomb, it’s worth the gamble.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5057

Available for lending from Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois

Tigers be Still by Kim Rosenstock: an analysis for production

There is a tiger roaming loose keeping everyone indoors. At least it’s a good excuse. Through the journeys of 5 souls trapped by individual tragedies of varying scope with absurd consequences we come to learn that both the actual and metaphorical tigers have been just been waiting for someone to end the misery:

Zack: “I stare into the tiger’s big yellow eyes and I swear it’s like he wants me to shoot him. He’s tired. And alone. And lost. And I think: Yeah, sure this tiger’s dangerous—- but if you really think about it, who isn’t?

In the course of Kim Rosenstock’s poignant, disarming and hilarious dialogue we meet our protagonist:

Sherry: “This is the story of how I stopped being a total disaster and got my life on track and did not let overwhelming feelings of anxiousness and loneliness and uselessness just, like, totally eat my brain.”

Sherry is a recent art therapy graduate who hasn’t been aggressive enough to land the job that takes her out of her mother’s home. Unseen Mom communicates with Sherry by calling the downstairs house phone from her self-imposed upstairs prison. When Dad disappeared, Mom grew sadder, and fatter. Sherry accepts a job offered by her mother’s high school boyfriend, now a graying widower, to work with his son, an angry young man who wants to believe he is satisfied working at CVS, then Walgreen’s, if only he could stop stealing candy. Her sister is trapped on the couch watching and endless loop of Top Gun, surrounded by possessions stolen from her former fiancée’s apartment (his Chihuahua’s are locked in the basement).

Provenance:

Kim Rosenstock is well known for her work on the Fox show “New Girl” and conceived and co-wrote the musical Fly By Night. She has worked on commissions for Dallas Theater Center, Roundabout Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Ars Nova, where she was the 2011 Playwright-in-Residence. She is a graduate of Amherst College and holds an MFA in playwriting from Yale School of Drama.  http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/fly-night-new-musical/playwright, 3/7/2015 7:15:40 PM.

Tigers Be Still’s original Roundabout Underground production was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. Successful productions have been mounted in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.

Production requirements are all feasible, but challenging for small theatrical companies. The cast is 4 (2m, 2F) with characters aged 18, 24, 29, and 50. There are no ethnic limitations, but there are two biological families (sisters, and father and son). The absurd nature of the play’s conceits will allow leeway for simple or abstract representations of the multiple settings: living room with functional staircase to 2nd floor, dining room, principal’s office, outdoors at night, a large shoe closet. The play is divided in to 22 scenes without an assigned act break. The New York production running time was 1 hour 35 minutes (The New York Times, 2010). All props (numerous) and costumes are contemporary. There is sporadic vulgarity as conflicts arise (including several uses of “fuck” and 1 “cocksucker”). Royalties are $100 per performance with additional fees for the use of specific popular music.

My recommendations are strong. The playwright female and American. The setting is any smaller city large enough to have a zoo (Peoria? Brookfield? Birmingham? Phoenix?) and NOT NEW YORK!!!! The central stories of young people trapped in the nest resonate across the country regardless of locale. The broad humor is sure to entertain, and all the journeys’ ends surprise and satisfy. Push hard get your board to take a pill on the language and you will have a winner on your hands.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4312

Available for lending from Illinois State University

The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan: an analysis for production

Lonergan is best known for his first theatrical success This is Our Youth (1996). Instead of the fitful travails of ill-prepared young souls making their way into the world, The Waverly Gallery showcases, Gladys Green, lawyer, activist, gallery owner and victim of dementia, who is involuntarily on her way out. Daniel Green, a speechwriter for the Environmental Protection Agency (a job once held by Lonergan) is the playwright’s stand-in and a far more sympathetic Tom Wingfield, to a far more noble Amanda:
“Long monologues that used to be part of her regular repertoire dropped out of her conversation for good. I stopped going out to dinner with her because it got to be too much or an ordeal. She rang my doorbell so much I stopped answering it all the time.”
Make no mistake; this play is regularly very funny. The first twenty times we are introduced to Gladys’ deafness, incorrigibility, and forgetfulness we find them benign and hilarious. It is the last ten times that we see how those same traits exact sadness, worry, fear and grief on her family. The tipping point is an ill-fated gallery opening for an artist of dubious talent with plates of cheese and crackers for patrons who never arrive. Then decline becomes swift and inevitable. Lonergan pulls no punches. Daniel’s closing monologue is truthful, not nostalgic:
“But I never want to forget what happened to her. I want to remember every detail, because it really happened to her, and it seems like somebody should remember it. It’s not true that if you try hard enough you’ll prevail in the end. Because so many people try so hard, and they don’t prevail.”
The playwright has unquestionable provenance. Besides This is Our Youth and Waverly Gallery, Lonergan is known for his screenplays Analyze This (1999) and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000). He also contributed to the screenplay for Gangs of New York (2002). The Waverly Gallery has had well-reviewed productions in Williamstown, New York, LA, and Newton, Massachusetts.
Production requirements are all feasible for most theatrical companies. The cast is 5 (3m, 2F) with characters in their 20s, 30s ,50s and of course 80s. The tour-de-force role of Gladys needs an octogenarian of considerable talent and energy. The timing of multiple simultaneous conversations will take precise rehearsal and attention to execute. Gladys’ family (3) are New York Jews. There is no impediment (or necessity) to use other ethnicities in the additional roles. I have difficulty seeing how the multiple settings (the gallery and at least 2 apartments) are executed without detracting from the realistic simplicity of the play. Please hire a director and designer with more foresight than I currently possess. Waverly Gallery is traditionally divided into two acts. All props and costumes are contemporary. There is some vulgarity as frustration rises. Royalties are $75 per performance.
My recommendations are mixed. The playwright is an American. The setting is AGAIN regrettably New York. With America’s growing older population and the resulting crisis of care, the story will resonate with many audiences despite the locale. I can’t help but think that the inherent New York Jewish intellectual experience in which the play takes place is foreign to my audiences, and that there must be a work of similar subject and merit wherein my audiences might more readily see themselves.
http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/4859/waverly-gallery-the
Available for lending from The Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL

Stop Kiss by Diana Son: an analysis for production

I first discovered this work while skimming other small theatre blogs. Imagine my pleasure that while skimming the “812.5s” at my local library, I discovered the play within our collection! I presume there was visionary librarian in Pleasantville in February 2000, when this gem of a play is indicated to have found a home here.

Stop Kiss is a light girl-meets-girl comedy that trips and falls hard into the not-quite-ready cruel world. Sara and Callie never planned on meeting, and may have never considered an affair, had their meeting never happened. The result is the true awkwardness of two people surprised by love captured within the beautiful yet ungraceful speech patterns of 20th century. Unfortunately that blossoming beauty is interrupted by a senseless act of violence that forces public definition upon two people who have yet to define what they have. Friends and family are mystified and well-meaning. Callie herself is at once exhilarated, surprised and confused.

The action is presented out of sequence, much in the style of Proof (Auburn). The juxtaposition of the non-linear scenes however aides to focus the viewer on both the beauty and the tragedy at once. We fear for the characters, knowing their fate before they do, on so many levels. The final scene ends with Sara and Callie’s awkward first kiss. We, the audience already know that this tenderness is fated to be followed by brutality. It is that brutality that forces definition. Perhaps definition of love is the most subtle and insidious brutality.

Production requirements are all feasible for most theatrical companies. It is best suited to a small stage. The cast is 6/7 (3m, 3/4f) with an age range from late 20’s to mid 40s. There are no ethnic restrictions. Several settings must be done simply as the scenes flow quickly: apartment, hospital examination, hospital room, police station house, hospital waiting room, street scene. The action is designed to be performed without intermission. Any props or costumes are contemporary: one nurse, one police detective. A series of vulgar epithets are repeated as Sara must repeatedly recount the attacker’s slurs. Editing for vulgarity would be ridiculous. Royalties are $80 per performance.

My recommendations are strong. The playwright is an American and a woman of color. The setting is again regrettably New York. However, the city of acceptance and opportunity seems in short supply of both. The irony makes the play more relatable to a broad audience. My community theatre isn’t brave enough…yet. I hope that yours is right now.

Provenance:

Diana Son is a producer and writer, known for Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001), Blue Bloods (2010) and Love Is a Four-Letter Word (2015) http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1788547/ . She is the recipient of an NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Grant with the Mark Taper Forum, and a Brooks Atkinson Fellowship at the Royal National Theatre in London, and a member of the Playwrights Unit in Residence at the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

Son’s full length debut Stop Kiss was critically acclaimed. The play was produced Off-Broadway in 1998 at The Public Theater in New York City. It was extended three times. The play has been produced by hundreds of theaters since its initial run. In 2014, Stop Kiss was produced at the Pasadena Playhouse where it made the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2014” list1.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2871

Available for lending from The Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL

  1. McNulty, Charles (19 December 2014). “Charles McNulty’s best stage shows of 2014”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 January 2015.

One Slight Hitch by Lewis Black: an analysis for production

Yes, that Lewis Black: “What I find most disturbing about Valentine’s Day is, look, I get that you have to have a holiday of love, but in the height of flu season, it makes no sense.” Black has written a fast-paced, and often light and silly (if not unbalanced) farce that hardly makes a sideways glance at politics or even his characteristic constant affect of cynicism. He slightly breaks the mold of the classic farce in some ways successfully; in others, uncomfortably.

The result may be a funny evening of theatre that will leave the audience thinking, “It was really good, but why did they do THAT thing, or THAT OTHER thing?” There is much of the traditional door slamming and arrivals and departures in the knick of time to avoid calamity. To this, perhaps to lampoon the WASP veneer of the family at its center, Black steps up the vulgarity. This venture into the blue is only voiced by the younger characters but racks up points in all forms of George Carlin’s seven words, with “asshole” and “douchebag” added to the mix. A 14-year-old getting an abortion is mentioned in a comic light. The father is a corporate vice-president. There are 3 injections of fourth-wall-breaking flashback narration that are completely superfluous. Add to this a magical effect whenever the same character puts on her headphones and turns on her Walkman to tune out the world. Finally after a classic set up of the ex-boyfriend showing up on the day of the wedding, prerequisite shenanigans and innuendo, and a carbon copy Beau Jest (James Sherman) twist, the play is brought toward its neat conclusion with a page-long dramatic monologue from another genre.

The play has had a short but successful production history:

Jan 8-25, 2015: Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Roswell, GA

Jan 9-28, 2015: Florida Repertory Theatre / Ft. Myers FL

Jan 16-Feb 1, 2014: Racine Theatre / Racine, WI

Feb 6-14, 2015: John Elliott Theatre / Ontario, Canada
Production requirements are all feasible for most theatrical companies. The cast is 7 (3m, 4f) with an age range from 50s to 17. The play is most convincingly cast as all Caucasian. Five characters are from the same biological family. The only setting is the living room of an upper-class colonial revival in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1981. All action takes place in this one location (with a visible staircase to the second floor and at least 3 doors). Act 1 and 2 are each performed in continuous action. There is much suggested pop music from the period which will require appropriate permissions. Props include wrapped wedding presents and 2 anatomically correct Polynesian fertility statues (one with a breakaway penis).

My recommendations are mixed. The playwright is an American. The story is relatable to a broad audience. The setting is MID-WESTERN!!!!!!! The dialogue is witty but the language will push this play out of consideration for most theatres who might read this blog as guidance. I look forward to reading Mr. Black’s NEXT play.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4601

Available for lending from Northwestern University Library

new theatre for remote venues