Tag Archives: epic

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.


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.”


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


  • 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.







To be fair:






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

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.”


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.


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)


  • 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.


Available for lending from Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL


  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