Tag Archives: community

Quake, by Melanie Marnich: an analysis for production

Guy: Just a sec.  (He pulls a tube out of his shirt and blows, inflating his belly and love handles. He pulls tufts of hair out of his head and plugs them into his ears.)

Lucy: What are you doing?!

Guy: Letting myself go. Ahhh… Life’s short, Lucy.*

This cycle happens several times per year. I request plays from other libraries, receive them at the circulation desk, walk to a table 10 feet away, scan the play, find daunting production challenges (huge casts, multiple characters of color, graphic sexual content, cultural context too alien to my market, technical specs which exceed a small theatre budget, etc.) and then promptly return the play or plays to the same desk from which I received them. Please don’t think that I underestimate my market.  I simply believe that if I’m going to take my time reading and considering the merits of a play for production, the main purpose for my reading in the last 3 years, I prefer not to waste time. I’ve seen brilliant Broadway productions of Fences and Two Trains Running, but until my community has fostered generations of theatrically curious African American men, I don’t have the bodies to fill the costumes.

I was attracted to Quake after reading some buzz about the Melanie Marnich play.  I have already been familiar with Marnich’s These Shining Lives, a play and musical which chronicles the tragic story of women in my local communities whose lives were destroyed by corporate negligence .  I was quickly enchanted by Marnich’s ability to parody the “expressionist theatre” genre into scenes stuffed with a sardonic and outright hilarious dialogue which expose the stereotypes, traps, and tropes of modern femininity. We follow Lucy, the play’s protagonist, from the regular Guy who lets himself go, to the bright Brian who cheats, to the Jock with whom she pretends to have similar interests, to harnessing the intoxicating  power of beauty, to the shrink who confounds her, to nice guy who bores her, to the flirtation turned fantasy wedding, and finally to the nice guy in the park, all the while haunted by a mysterious woman killer on the lamb. However, after encountering the above stage directions* by page 4, the play keeps providing confounding production gems:

At this, Lucy collapses in the snow and tries to crawl out of the storm against the wind. It’s tough. Lucy looks back for a second. Hell with it. And keeps going. She crawls out of the blizzard of death and into the very cool urban coffee shop/café.


She stands in a line with all the other contestants – all mannequins who are dressed like her. She is being judged by Cooper Trooper, a rich southern guy. He sits at a table with all the other other judges – all mannequins are dressed like him.


Lucy starts a power drill and hesitatingly, wincingly drills a hole in her head. But wait! It doesn’t hurt! She drills another hole. And another. Feels kind of good, actually.

Not to mention this dialogue gem (graphic content warning):

Man: I’ll bounce you off the side of a pick up truck, and you’ll know I love you. I’ll fuck you up the ass till you spit out your teeth and you’ll know I’m crazy for you.

Sorry, I warned you.

I look forward to reading more Marnich, as she is obviously a talented playwright. Perhaps the next read will not be a surrealist work anticipating an an unlimited budget, with dialogue that will literally cause opening night strokes, and prompt angry city council meetings replete with pitchforks. I’d have an easier time producing Our Town in the nude.

Recommendation: Major cities only 


Cast: 3w/3m in original production: (5-17 possible) all but Lucy play several roles, of non-specific age, approximately 30s

Running time:  80-90 minutes with no intermission

Royalties (professional): $80 per performance

Sets: Minimal

Costumes: 17, contemporary, many quick changes, see above for special effects

Props: conventional, contemporary, several quick set changes, stationary bikes, a bed that someone can disappear into.

Controversial topics: sexual assault (language only), infidelity, strong language, same-sex attraction


Standard Edition ISBN: 978-1-62384-225-3

Original Production: Quake premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in February 2001, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville


Quake and Tallgrass Gothic premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Marnich has been a resident playwright at New Dramatists in New York City since 2005.

Marnich received the Carbonell Award (South Florida Theatre) for Best New Work of the Year play in 2007 for her play, Cradle of Man.

Complete Biography: http://newdramatists.org/melanie-marnich









featured image: Lisa Lee Schmidt in Quake, directed by Katherine Owens, Undermain Theatre, 2000.


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?).


                   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


Suitable for: Regional theatre, college theatre, very adventurous community theatre



  • Winner: 2001 American Theatre Critics Steinberg New Play Award


  • 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)


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


Lead Actress: Melissa Gilbert (Rose Weiss): 1988 Outer Critics Circle Award, Best Debut Performance, 1988 Theatre World Award

Original production (NYC) review:


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



  • 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/

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.

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


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.


Available for lending from Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University

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.


“…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.


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.


“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.


Available for lending from Illinois State University, Normal, IL