Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Play a Day: Sapience

Diana Burbano
For Tuesday I read Sapience by Diana Burbano and available at New Play Exchange.

sapience n.
sa·​pi·​ence / ˈsā-pē-ən(t)s
wisdom, knowledge, from sapient (adj) having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment.

The latin term for a human being is homo sapiens, or "man with wisdom." Coined in the late 18th century, we did seem to be the smart ones. But what is the nature of wisdom, of intelligence? In the past two hundred years we have discovered that humans are not exclusively intelligent. We are also not necessarily wise.

The action of Burbano's script resides in a laboratory, one ostensibly for the study of great apes, specifically one orangutan named Wookie. But we the audience witness a larger experiment in human interaction, between hyper-intelligent folks on the spectrum. between races, human sexuality and illness, the effect of singing Echo & the Bunnymen in a controlled environment.

How do our minds work? How much do we yet not know? How much time do we have left to figure it out? How can we be aware of death and not go insane? Have we already gone mad and we just don't realize it yet?

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 22, 2019

Play a Day: Before Lesbians

Elana Gartner
For Monday I read Before Lesbians by Elana Gartner and available at New Play Exchange.

Today at lunch a co-worker, relatively new to the company, they asked if I have a background in history, I tell such great stories. I said no, I'm just an insufferable know-it-all.

My father had a great interest in history, that rubbed off on me. I much prefer reading non-fiction, or perhaps historical fiction. I have even written a couple plays of historical fiction, and I truly love seeing and reading plays inspired by actual history, especially American history.

A couple years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to see Good Men Wanted by Kevin Armento, based on the true stories of the over 400 women (that we know of) who passed as men to fight in the Civil War. It was like a Ken Burns special of unknown history, exciting, compelling narratives of women who fought on either side, their reasons, their passions, their great victories and even more devastating losses.

I was reminded of that Civil War play when reading Before Lesbians, the story of two women who meet the day each of their intendeds have rushed to wed them before heading off the fight for the Union. As fate has brought them together, so too does it work for them to find in each other their one true love.

The play might have been titled Inventing Lesbians, as our protagonists discover in themselves something they had never had reason to believe has ever existed before, and create without guidance a language for a desire, a passion, and a lasting devotion. It's a beautiful and heartbreaking love story.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Play a Day: The Subtle, Sublime Transformation of Benny V.

Steven G. Martin
Twenty-one new plays in twenty-one days!

For Sunday I read The Subtle, Sublime Transformation of Benny V. by Steven G. Martin and available at New Play Exchange.

Recently someone asked why I do this, why read a play a day for a month.

The first answer is that I like to. Reading these new plays, often unproduced plays, most written by playwrights I am unfamiliar with, it makes me feel part of the community. Not just the personal community, of getting to know the writers themselves, but the community of what is being written today, and how it is being written.

The follow-up response addresses this particular exercise, why a play a day? Why this one month? The month is tradition, I was compelled to do this two years ago, and it was almost April. So that’s why April, it also just happens to be a perfect month for this, the right time of year. The weather is changing, my responsibilities are lower. I have time for this.

But why a play a day? Why not read a new play whenever, when I have time. Because I am compulsive. Because I am a procrastinator. Because on any given day I could read a play, or do laundry. Read a play or take a run. Read a play or do absolutely anything else.

By setting a goal, though, I must compulsively meet it. And so I read thirty plays in one month when I otherwise might read a dozen. Or fewer. And by logging them here I hold myself accountable.

Which brings me to today’s play, The Subtle, Sublime Transformation of Benny V. by Steven G. Martin, an entirely appropriate script to read on a morning of rebirth and renewal and liberation. What starts as a workplace comedy expands into a warm, open-hearted exploration of the human experience, and one man’s adventures attempt to experience life and everything it has to offer.

It also has a lot to say about cynicism and doubt, those trolls who surround us and live within us, who work tirelessly to tear down even our most modest ambitious. Senior year in high school I took Psychology and learned that self-actualized people are insufferable to those who are not. Ah, well.

How do you art? Do you write? Do you paint? Do you cook? What is most valuable, the product or the doing? The destination or the journey? I myself have had a tenuous relationship with visual art (more on that here) but it brings me joy and I would very much like to return to that place. Reading this play was a reminder of why, and also how.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Play a Day: And Then You Die (BONUS)

Portrait by Amy Arbus (2010)
Ten years ago, my monodrama And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years) workshopped at Cleveland Public Theatre before receiving its world premiere at the Robert Moss Theatre in New York City as part of the New York Fringe Festival.

Training for my first marathon in 2006 was a life-changing experience, the culmination of a quarter century of trying and failing to be a consistent runner. As with my previous solo performance, I Hate This (a play without the baby) I relied heavily on the journaling I did tell the story of the preparing for the race itself, adding stories from my adolescence and early adulthood which described my struggles with health and exercise.

Response was positive in New York, getting laughs where expected and eliciting a strong response at the conclusion. I paid special attention to the critics, however, who were generous but also offered some helpful reflection.
“David Hansen’s autobiographical one-man show, about his lifelong obsession with long-distance running, is a simple and tragic yet reaffirming tale, told earnestly and with minimal poetics ... how refreshing to be touched by something real.” - Michael Freidson, Time Out New York

“We meet a lot of people that have crossed or influenced Hansen's life, but you will have a hard time understanding why they are important ...His father who used to run when he was just a child, his first inspiration, was he around to see him run the Marathon? … We needed more of these pivotal influences.” - Antoni Minino, Fab Marquee

"Segments about how he trained for the race, especially his final preparatory run, from his own home on one side of greater Cleveland, to his parents house across town, are similarly fascinating … What I wanted was to understand why running is so fundamentally important ... But this show never really gets us to that place.” - Martin Denton, nytheatre.com
Also, this comment left on my blog from audience member (now my friend) Cris Dopher:
“I was impressed with your clarity, organization of thought, and bold maneuvers on stage … If there was anything I was confused about, it was the family timeline and your relationship with your daughter ... you concentrate on your boy(s) so much throughout the show, and then at the end - it's all about your little girl. I wasn't sure why the switch.”
And Then You Die
(How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years)
Good question.

When I had the chance to remount the show at CPT in 2011, paired with I Hate This as a single evening, I was took the opportunity to cut the show down to an hour (previously it ran about 75 minutes) which was a welcome change for everyone involved, but this piece suffered in comparison to the very weighty first act.

Writing for the Plain Dealer, Christine Howey said I Hate This “borders on brilliant,” but that ”the second play just can't measure up to the first. However transformative the process of completing a 26-mile run might be, it pales to insignificance after the cataclysmic event so tellingly presented earlier.”

So, I’ve left this piece alone for a while. But it’s one I have lately been coming back to. I want to respond the criticism, to rewrite the entire thing. Because there is a story there, one I enjoy telling, about running, about why we run, and about maturity, and having a goal and trying to reach it. About becoming a whole person, one who is happy with themselves. Or at the very least, has a capacity for happiness.

This is my goal for the rest of the spring, to rewrite And Then You Die, aiming for a performance some time in early fall. The decision to tackle this now isn’t arbitrary, either. This fall I will be running the Chicago Marathon, raising funds for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

Please check out my Team Challenge campaign page, read why raising funds for this organization is important to me, and make a contribution. Any amount with be greatly appreciated.

And, anyone who donates will receive an invitation to see the new revision of And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years). Contribute today!

Play a Day: Paper or Plastic

For Saturday I read Paper Or Plastic, book by Miss Hazel Jade & Jeff Brown and available at New Play Exchange.

A musical! An honest-to-God musical! This past week members of my Facebook cohort have been sharing this list of musical favorites and hatreds. I don't generally like to use the word "hate" if I can help it, but for this I made an exception.

MUSICAL I HATE: Bye Bye Birdie

MUSICAL I THINK IS OVERRATED: The Book of Mormon

MUSICAL I THINK IS UNDERRATED: Chess

MUSICAL I LOVE: Company

MUSICAL I CHERISH: Hedwig & the Angry Inch

MUSICAL I COULD LISTEN TO ON REPEAT: Hamilton

MUSICAL I STILL WANT TO DO: Urinetown

MUSICAL THAT MADE ME FALL IN LOVE WITH MUSICALS: A Chorus Line

MUSICAL THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Jesus Christ Superstar

GUILTY PLEASURE: Doonesbury

MUSICAL I SHOULD HAVE SEEN BY NOW BUT HAVEN'T: Spring Awakening

So now you know. I'm not really a musical guy, anyway. But it was a pleasure to read the book to this new musical -- even better, to listen to the demo recordings on Soundcloud, music and lyrics by Joe Stevens and Keaton Wooden.

Billed as a "new high school musical" Paper or Plastic chronicles the doubts and hopes of a very modern clique of high school seniors in "flyover country." These intertwining tales are a healthy reminder that any adult who tells you that high school is the best time of your life is a very unhappy person.

I have teenagers, and these worries and dreams are quite close to surface for me now, which Jade & Brown describe in realistic detail; the fear of missing out, fretting over applications and aspirations, the helplessness one feels acting as the adult for parents whose own marriages and lives are falling apart. Stevens & Wooden have created some lovely pop ballads for their characters, I'd love to hear them performed by actual teen performers.

These kids are trying to figure out the same things we all have, but today its different. Liberated from binary choices brings freedom, and danger, yes, but freedom has never been synonymous with ease.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 19, 2019

Play a Day: The Cabots of Broadway

Greg Hatfield
For Friday I read The Cabots of Broadway by Greg Hatfield and available at New Play Exchange.
Hi-diddle-dee-dee
An actor's life for me
- Leigh Harline / Ned Washington
I like historical fiction, on stage, in books or on film, for its sheer audacity. As writers we can pull the great men and women into our narrative which elevates our story to near mythic proportions.

Hatfield provides us a compact historical fiction, an American theater dynasty. The Cabots suffer triumph and tragedy that spans the 20th Century, offers of fame and wider audiences (European tours, the allure of Hollywood, and later TV) elusive and sometimes fraught.

Those of in “the life,” even on its fringes, live and breathe a theatrical vernacular which some may find pretentious, but no more so than those whose lives are immersed in sports or politics. The deeper you go the more easily you can connect with others who walk the same path.

One character reminisces, “I was doing Lady Macbeth and Desdemona in rep and switched the lines midway through the play. No one noticed.” This is a thing that happens and I know it because it’s happened to me.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Play a Day: The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret

Mariah MacCarthy
For Thursday I read The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret by Mariah MacCarthy and available at New Play Exchange.

Millennials got a thing about the 90s, which is totally cool and makes sense because, for those even old enough to remember, it was fun and silly and pointless and trivial. Also, they were children, and the 1990s was a sweet time to be a kid, unlike the 1970s and shut up I don't want to talk about that.

Saturday Night Live has undergone something of a renaissance lately, which has everything to do with the women and people of color, but during the 1990s it was pretty lame.

Remember It's Pat, featuring Julia Sweeney as a person of indeterminate gender? Yuks were inspired by people trying to figure out whether Pat was he or she. This wasn't a one-off either, Pat was a recurring character -- they made a feature film based on this routine.

The term "transgender" dates back over fifty years (and so do I) but it didn't come into the popular vernacular until the past decade or so, and comedy based on making fun of members of the trans community has thankfully moved into "grampa" territory.

MacCarthy's cabaret is a hilarious romp about gender fluidity, butch, douche, femme, fuckboi, a 90s retro dance party with an awful lot of real live making out. Humorous situations are mined not from folks trying to figure out who others are (although there is some of that) but who they themselves are. Some seek love, from others, from themselves. "It's complicated."

Who should I read tomorrow?