Tag Archives: community theater

A Distance From Calcutta by P.J. Barry: An Analysis for Production

Buddy: You’re waiting for a prince to come along and carry you off on his white horse. (Pause) I’m no prince. I’m more like a frog,” (p 100)

On a page of canned quotes, I found:
Everyone deserves to laugh, to be happy, and to be loved…but not everyone gets what they deserve.”

How true. Our cultures and our courts have been crammed with controversy concerning the right to marry since at least 1888 (Maynard v. Hill, USA). I have known same gender, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural/religion married couples. Before the twentieth century, in the United States and beyond, marrying (and re-marrying) outside one’s race, reflective gender, culture, religion, and even social-economic class was considered taboo, forbidden, even illegal. What if you loved someone, but due to “what is proper” you couldn’t give yourself to them completely and publicly?

Originally produced in 1993, and set 70 years before that, A Distance from Calcutta by P.J. Barry dramatizes this century-old conflict but sets it far away from the modern court and melee of marriage rights. The play never intended to be included in the debate. Here the action rises gently, almost reluctantly, but sweetly, and reaches its sad and complex climax in a barely middle class Irish Catholic home in the village of Jericho, Rhode Island. Our equally-Caucasian star-crossed lovers are a “spinster” and a handyman with a “learning handicap.” Viewed through a contemporary lens, the rejection and prohibition seem almost petty. The plot is complicated with several conundrums. Maggie, the maiden sister’s brother has married a woman considered outside his social class (a teacher no less!). Buddy, the handyman, is not only very mechanically inclined and resourceful, but also a veteran who is emotionally perceptive with a keen memory for facts and conversations. He’s just popularly and locally known, by his own admission, as “not smart.”

There were then, and still are, no laws prohibiting their lives together. Still yet, there softly speaks the question, “Would YOU want/allow YOUR sister/daughter/self to marry a man so particularly “special?” What would people think?

Cast: 3 women, 2 men
Set: Single interior: 1923 middle class home: living/dining and visible 2nd floor bedroom
Costumes: Approximately 3 changes for each. Some “Sunday clothing.” Pregnant belly.
Royalties: Minimum Fee: $75 per performance
Running Time: unable 1 hours, 59 minutes

Pros: Small cast with 2 good, 1 excellent part for women 35- 58 and an excellent starring role for a non-traditional male lead. One set; fits in most small theatres. It is an excellent starting point for conversations after the theatre and about equality. NOT SET IN NYC!

Cons: There is little action and the play depends much on dialogue and understated characters. The play has had no recent regional productions to spur interest.

Censorial concerns: Implied sexual intercourse.

Provenance:
Produced at least twice in NYC, once in Newport Beach California.

Playwright:
http://pjbarry.net/Biography.html

Reviews:
Fair: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/25/theater/review-theater-the-ties-that-bind-and-bind-too-tightly.html

Harsh: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-02-27/entertainment/ca-40655_1_newport-theatre-arts-center

Recommendation: The more I write about it, the more I like it. It would be best as part of a series of plays about issues of equality and/or disability. Being that it was proposed to be part of series of pieces set in Jericho, RI ( After the Dancing in Jericho, And Fat Freddy’s Blues), perhaps it might be part of a series of “visits” by a theatre company over one season or multiple seasons, not unlike The Talley Trilogy by Lanford Wilson.

Highly recommended reading: Theatre Alberta’s guide will assist you in finding plays tackling issues related to physical or mental disabilities.

Purchase:
http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1250/distance-from-calcutta-a

Available for lending from Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University

Around the World in 80 Days by Mark Brown: An Analysis for Production

ACTOR 1: That’s a bit risky. If Passepartout is in cahoots with Fogg, one word from him can ruin everything.

FIX: True. I shall employ that plan only if everything else is failed.

ACTOR 1: Everything else has failed.

FIX: Yes, I know. And who’s this woman Fogg’s traveling with? Obviously they met somewhere between Bombay and Calcutta. But where? And how? And why? And what?… No… Not what. Just who, where and why. Just those three. Possibly how.

ACTOR 1: Perhaps you should just concentrate on Mr. Fogg. There is not much time left.

FIX: Yes I know. I don’t know what to do.

ACTOR 1: Looks like you’ll have to follow him to America.

FIX: Would you please leave me alone?

ACTOR 1: Because if you don’t, he’ll get away and everything everyone will think you’re a big failure.

FIX: Would you get…! Yes I know! I have to follow him to America! Just get out of here!

PASSEPARTOUT: Well Monsieur Detecumahfix (sic), have you decided to go with us to America?

FIX: Yes.

Thus goes the rapid-fire dialogue spoken by three of five actors who portray up to 35 separate roles collectively in Mark Brown’s fairly comprehensive and surprisingly respectful retelling of Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in 80 Days). There is no deeper meaning to the text or high art in the language. The “art” is in the direction, mastery of movement and dialect, and creativity of costumers and props masters. Well-played, audiences will be entertained, hopefully stunned, and definitely exhausted by the virtuosity of the company. This play calls for a heavy-hitter creative ensemble. All scenes must be played not only with timing, but most especially integrity. Without these, the work will deteriorate into incomprehensiveness. That distinction accomplished will be the difference between a company that “is having a good time” and one that awes its audience.

Cast: 5 men / 1 woman (flexible to 35 actors, but not as fun or challenging). Age is irrelevant.

Set: Several very versatile props

Costumes: Quick change Victorian costumes (33?)

Royalties: $75/performance (educational rights. Professional rights, negotiated)

Pros: no set/ basic props become all places; a recognizable title; fits in any space; small/flexible cast; boffo physical comedy

Cons: Some mixed reviews for occasions of possibly plodding narration; several quick change Victorian costumes (33? Expensive rental?)

Censorial concerns: Caucasians actors portraying potentially stereotypical Southeast Asian characters, and three very quick, silly instances of substituting the word “piss” for “peace.”

Provenance:

Mark Brown, playwright

  • Outstanding Musical of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival (China – The Whole Enchilada )
  • Received his acting training at the American Conservatory Theatre

Play:

  • Premiered at Utah Shakespeare Festival
  • Produced around the world: from Off-Broadway twice, all across the US, Canada, England, South Africa, Turkey, India, Bangladesh and has been translated into Turkish. It has even been produced in the Himalayas

Recommendation: STRONG with light caveats (costume costs, potential for slap-dash execution, caution for Caucasians portraying Southeast Asian characters). Strong name recognition. The setting is not NYC (but just about everywhere else). A great production will entertain and WOW your audience.

Reviews:

LA:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-review-around-the-world-in-80-days-at-actors-coop-20150512-story.html

NY:

http://variety.com/2008/legit/reviews/around-the-world-in-80-days-3-1200508242/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/theater/reviews/around-the-world-in-80-days-at-new-theater-at-45th-street.html

To be fair:

http://www.broadwayworld.com/seattle/article/BWW-Reviews-Villages-AROUND-THE-WORLD-IN-80-DAYS-Fails-to-Thrill-20150126

DC:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/12/AR2010051202533.html

Seattle:

http://www.seattletimes.com/news/around-the-world-in-80-days-a-delightful-jaunt/

Search YouTube for “Around the World in 80 Days by Mark Brown” and you will see several concepts.

Purchase: http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/p1781/Around-the-World-in-80-Days/product_info.html

Available for lending from Columbia College Library, Chicago, IL

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

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

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