Tag Archives: satire

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)

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.



  • 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/


  • 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.


Available for lending from University Library at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL