Tag Archives: review

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

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Tigers be Still by Kim Rosenstock: an analysis for production

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

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

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

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

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

Provenance:

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

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

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

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

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

Available for lending from Illinois State University

The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan: an analysis for production

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

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

PUSH THE ENVELOPE!

MyWebTimes: June 24, 2004:

‘SubUrbia’ to be staged at IVCC

“OGLESBY — Students of Performing Arts and Music Organization (SPAMO) and Vs. Productions will present the Eric Bogosian comedy-drama “SubUrbia,” 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday (June 25& 26, 2004) at the Illinois Valley Community College Cultural Centre.

According to information submitted by IVCC, “SubUrbia” zeroes in on today’s youth, depicting the rudderless yearnings and amorphous rage of a lost generation. It is the story of high school friends, lingering in the northwestern industrial town of Burnfield long after graduation, who find themselves lost amid the shuffle of suburban life.

Directed by Dave Roden, the play contains strong adult language and themes. Tickets can be purchased at a discount by IVCC students who show their student identification cards.”

Ten and a half years ago, a group of young actors asked that I direct a student production at a local community college. They had considered a more conservative piece, but elected instead to take a chance and expand their own and their community’s horizons. Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia, a vulgarity ridden, adrenaline infused modern Three Sisters gave birth to my improvisational directing style and filled a LIVE THEATRE with hundreds of paying customers under the age of 25. It took 10 more years for Rent (Stage 212, directed by DJ Haun and starring my production’s Jeff as Roger) to hit local stages and SELL OUT a 4 show weekend run. It can be done.

The core patrons of community theatre are traditionalists. If yours are anything like ours, the typical consumer is female, 60, church-going, politically conservative and blue-collar. Their exposure to theatre is the theatre that your organization presents. Once or twice a year, many may venture (via bus tour) to a larger city to see the one-night-only tour of a recently popular musical. I’m not insulting them; I’m honest. That said, I would never imply that these people are one-dimensional. Our community is filled with veterans of horrible wars, countless financial depressions and recessions, industry boom and bust, corporate poisoning of their environment and their bodies, as well as the joys of (European) cultural diversity, and family and community life. They deserve to be honored for their complexity.

There are also the underserved markets. I have no doubt that many ticket holders for Rent, were the same as the ticket holders for SubUrbia. They were older, but now have jobs, homes and entertainment dollars to spend. Our future audience and our core audience deserve the opportunity to be challenged by rich, fresh content. If we don’t give it to them, they will spend their dollars elsewhere. I’m sure that my 80 year old mother can order Twelve Years a Slave and send it directly to her living room. She will understand it, empathizes with its actors, and be moved by its story. Imagine if we gave her the opportunity to literally share those moments with live actors from her own community in real time in This Is Our Youth, The Open House, or Collected Stories.

Community theatres PUSH THE ENVELOPE! Great theatre was written after 1975. Fad farces and 1950’s musicals are a fun dessert, but let’s not forget the entrée. I call upon all theatres to have one work in their season which was written in the last 10 years, and for it to be performed UNEDITED with a full budget! It need not have a 3-week run or even be part of the season ticket package. It must needs BE THERE. Without innovation we starve as artists and neglect our patrons. Get crackin’!