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

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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

STOP KISS- Rolling Die Productions/Players Ring

The Player’s Ring Theater in Portsmouth, NH is a black-box theater that produces original work from local playwrights. Whereas the community is 3 times larger than my city, decisively more liberal and affluent many aspects of the community reflect my own MidWest experience. I have placed this play on my reading list.

Caught In The Act

STOP KISS

presented by The Players Ring/Rolling Die Productions

directed by Todd Hunter


In 1998, when playwright Diana Son’s STOP KISS first debuted at the Public Theater In New York, the idea of equal rights for the LGBT community was little more than a blip on the social radar.

In 2004, when STOP KISS was first produced at The Players Ring, things were a little better. But not by much.

Due in part to the efforts of artists like Son, it’s evident that while ideas may have changed, there remains a troublesome gap in how both the law and society extends rights and protections to those who identify as not being part of that fabulous fiction we’ve come to regard as “the mainstream”.

In STOP KISS, Son provides a provocative treatise on how sexual and gender roles are regarded, and how much work is left to do to ensure that…

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The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin by Steven Levenson: an analysis for production

Remember when greed was good? Me neither.

Sometimes our personal world disintegrates because of matters outside our control. Then there are those soul-wrenching times when our mantra should convert to “I am Vishnu.” Unfortunately, Tom the title character of Steven Levenson’s The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, never meditates on this reality. The result is a selfish scorched earth campaign that, if it were not for his son’s postscript of reconciliation and redemption, nearly burns the closing curtain.

After reading my second Levenson play in a week, I would not currently recommend a festival dedicated to his work. The scars of the recession are too fresh. For my own sake, my next read must be comedy. Core Values was rife with comic moments and there moments of lightness in …Disappearance…. but alas our Tom destroys those too. Tom has recently left prison after his sentence for a Ponzi scheme that sunk his firm, his friends and his family. He shows up unannounced to seek shelter in another piece of wreckage of own making, his son’s desolate one-bedroom house purchased in the aftermath of divorce. At first, we pity Tom as he tries unsuccessfully to rebuild the life he once knew, first by asking. Then he demands. Then he extorts. The world has moved on without him. We grow to see that Tom was once benign, but has become malignant. The cancer must be excised.

James: Maybe the future was unwritten and anything that came after this came of its own volition and its own accord. Nothing was fated. Nothing was preordained. I’d like to believe that. I’d like to think that was true (p 64).

As in Core Values, the dialogue is realistic, ironic, (sometimes) understated, and powerful. The pace is lively, with the same short scenes and overlapping dialogue cadence. Strong language is used more often than in Core Values with increasing desperation and vitriol as the play and Tom careen toward ruin. All language should be considered in context. Most strong language does not occur until the latter third of the play when stakes are higher. Tom is the mouthpiece for 95 percent of it. If you change his language, your audience might forgive him:

“I could kick your ass (1):” I’m in better physical shape than you are.

“Goddamn (1):” expletive for emphasis

“Oh my God (2):” I’m surprised and angry

“Fucking life (1):” expletive for emphasis

“Fucking around (1):” speaking flippantly or casually

“Fucked up (2):” made a mess of things

“You haven’t done shit (1):” you haven’t done anything

“Fuck you (2):” I don’t need your money/ I’m insulted

“I don’t need this/your shit (2):” I don’t need/want to hear about problems

“Everybody’s shit (1):” everybody else’s problems

Some production requirements for…Disappearance…. may be daunting. The cast is 5: 3 male, 2 female. No characters are race-specific, but Tom’s immediate family would be more convincing if they were racially homogenous. There are no dialects. There are 5 locations requiring much creativity and very specific set dressing: 2 residential interiors (1 sparse, 1 elegant), a classroom interior, a college exterior, and the inside of a luxury SUV. The play is divided into 18 scenes without a suggested act break. My audiences need the break. My theatres need to sell cheesecake. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes (NYTimes). Costumes are contemporary; characters need to convincingly represent varying economic classes from lower to upper middle class. Fee: $100 per performance.

Playwright bio: https://www.playscripts.com/playwrights/bios/1152

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin (had) its world premiere Off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company in June 2014.

Reviews:

“…smartly engrossing…unfolding the profound disorientation of people ruined by his decisions.”—Newsday.

“…the electricity in the room is palpable…Levenson’s dialogue is lean, dynamic and flows naturally.” —Time Out NY.

” …lays out a frank picture of an ordinary American family dealing with some clotted yet unhealed wounds of its own.” —TheaterMania.

“Harrowing…riveting theater.” —Bloomberg.com.

My considerations are mixed. The playwright is an American. The story ripped from recent headlines yet accessible to all who had a troubled family member (divorce, financial ruin, drugs, etc.) The dialogue and story are honest and raw (maybe too raw: see language above). It is implied that 2 characters routinely engage in extramarital relations. The setting is a smaller city large enough for Home Depot, Borders, Starbucks and a community college and close enough to a city that would house a financial firm large enough to make national news (but isn’t Portland, OR). It will need a crackerjack production team to execute the scene changes realistically, effectively and smoothly. Like many plays I review, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin and Levenson despite his provenance are unrecognizable to my core audience.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4808

Available for lending from Millikin University, Decatur, IL

Core Values by Steven Levenson: an analysis for production

Several years ago, I played Charlie Cowell in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (set in 1912). I recall introducing myself to Marian Paroo: “Charlie Cowell (dropping sales case accompanied by the strike of a steel pipe from the pit)….ANVIL salesman.” In my character work, it struck me (a thought, not the anvil) that here was a man proud of his profession who sold something that would not need replacement in the span of his lifetime. Charlie Cowell would never see a repeat customer. I’m sure that there are less than 100 anvil dealers in the US today. I’m fairly certain that there are no more traveling anvil salesman. I can’t say I currently know anyone who owns an anvil. No matter how quaint, Pleasantville may yet have a cobbler, but there are no blacksmiths.

Most all industries have a ebb and flow. Many die a slow death. In Core Values by Steven Levenson corporate travel booking is the allegory for the American Dream denied. 4 characters are forced together in a dingy, windowless conference room to go through the motions of a no-budget corporate retreat with the expressed goal of mapping out a future that everyone, audience and characters, knows will be bleak at best.

Nancy: When I started here, we used to have the retreat in Miami. So.

Eliot: Like the city?

Nancy: Yep.

Eliot: What happened?

Nancy: The travel industry imploded.

Eliot: Oh. Cool.

Nancy: Not really.

Eliot: Oh. Right. Not cool. At all. I don’t know why I said that. (Beat) I like your ring. By the way.

The dialogue is realistic, funny, gloomy, ironic, understated, and powerful. Despite the specter of ruin the pace is lively, with several short scenes and overlapping dialogue written in the pace of Mamet or LaBute. Strong language is used only fleetingly: shit as in “oops” (4), fuck a stronger version of “oops” (1), and rape (1) used in the description of a technique to avoid sexual assault. None of these words are used to denigrate another person. On the cover page a note directs “Though the play is divided into two sections, it should be performed without an intermission.” I characteristically follow any scripted direction that I believe to be the playwright’s intent. However, since the play is divided into two days and my audience expects a traditional intermission (and doesn’t know what do with themselves with two of them), I would be inclined to add the intermission despite the textual note.

Steven Levenson’s work has been seen and developed by Roundabout, Lincoln Center Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Atlantic Theater Company, MCC Theater, Ars Nova, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His plays are published by Playscripts, Inc. and Dramatists Play Service. A graduate of Brown University and the 2010 Artist in Residence at Ars Nova, Mr. Levenson is currently working on new play commissions for Roundabout, Lincoln Center, and Ars Nova. He is a member of the MCC Playwrights’ Coalition. https://www.playscripts.com/playwrights/bios/1152, 2/12/2015 6:38:11 AM. His play The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin will (had) its world premiere Off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company in June (2014) http://www.playbill.com/news/article/steven-levensons-core-values-starring-reed-birney-begins-off-broadway-run-a-204562, 2/12/2015 6:45:38 AM. See that analysis on this blog soon. He is also a writer of several episodes of the TV series Masters of Sex and Vegas http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4697007/, 2/12/2015 4:41:13 PM.

Reviews:

“Anyone who has done time in a corporate environment will recognize the soul-killing atmosphere conjured all too precisely in CORE VALUES.” —NY Times. ”

“…an entertaining piece, with many genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments.” —TheaterMania.com. ”

Steven Levenson’s astute new play is a comedy, though a dark one…a well-observed study of a dysfunctional workplace, with hilarious one-liners and sight gags…But it becomes progressively bleaker in its depiction of the characters’ inability to connect.” —NY Post.

Production requirements are reasonable. The cast is 4: 2 male, 2 female. No characters are race-specific. Northeast dialects are nice, but as anyone who has lived in Manhattan knows: Everyone in Manhattan is from somewhere else. There is a single setting, the worn conference room. Costumes are contemporary business casual. Most hand props (and furnishings) can be purchased from a Staples catalog, although some wear is preferable.

My considerations are mixed. The playwright is an American as are the customs of office retreats, brainstorming, trust falls…and bankruptcy. The story reflects the dilemma of many US industries that are desperately reaching for relevance. The humor is broad but not often physical or overt. Strike one: The show is AGAIN set in Manhattan (addresses and companies mentioned in the text can move it nowhere else). The conceit of an office retreat is not new, but the relationships have higher stakes than the last time you saw this routine on “The Office.”Like many plays I review, Core Values and Levenson despite his provenance are unrecognizable to my core audience.

http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4774

Available for lending from Illinois State University, Normal, IL

“No Fry for You!” an analysis for production of The Lady’s not for Burning by Fry/Anouilh

ladies04

Originally published in FaceBook Notes March 2, 2014 at 2:54pm

The Lady’s Not for Burning the 1949 comedy by Christopher Fry and Jean Anouilh (8m, 3f) is a rambunctious and challenging read unleashing some wicked wordplay and thoughtful discourse on the value of living despite its often recurring inanity.  A recommended read from a good friend it fulfilled much of my wish-list: Single set, limited cast, non-Northeast setting (I suppose a small market town in Middle Ages England qualifies), pithy dialogue and cerebral theme.

There are several reasons why I’d love to see this play. First and foremost is its dark humor, so tightly written you would swear that it is a Shakespearean pastoral comedy in the vein of As You Like it:

“Alizon: Pride is one of the deadly sins.

Thomas: And it’s better to go for the lively ones.”

or

“Jennet: I hear a gay modulating anguish, rather like music.

Nicholas: It’s the chaplain extorting lightness of heart/From the guts of his viol…”

even

“Skipps:  Peace on Earth and good tall women!”.

Furthermore, the somber subject matter of a dialogue between a soldier who longs to die and a woman accused of witchcraft who would much rather go on living, gives rise to the aforementioned ribaldry while simultaneously invoking genuine existential debate:

“Jennet: I seem to wish to have some importance in the play of time. If not, then sad was my mother’s pain, sad my breath,/ Sad the articulation of my bones,/Sad, sad my alacritous web or nerves,/ Woefully, woefully sad my wondering brain,/ To be shaped and sharpened into such tendrils/ Of anticipation, to feed the swamp of space.”

Moreover, because our audience has been primed by such successful period pieces as A Lion in Winter and even A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I think they would gleefully welcome actors festooned in tunics and tights. The friend who brought the piece to my attention would probably welcome the opportunity to pull the pieces from his closets! Several friends have long suggested that the local theatre attempt a classical work.

However, all possibilities stop here. The language is blank verse throughout. Even the best classically trained actor must be at his/her best to successfully accomplish the text. I lament that Pirates of Penzance was once proposed but failed to make the final cut.  Better yet that we should attempt a piece with which the audience may have more familiarity such as “The Taming of the Shrew” or even “Tartuffe.” Of course the nail in “The Lady’s…” coffin was driven home when I called it up in the Samuel French catalog to find “Licensing available for professional groups only.” Oh well!

http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/6574/ladys-not-for-burning-the

real theatre for remote venues