Saturday, May 6, 2017

Artists' Rehabilitation Coalition

Source: WEWS
Last night Chennelle and I attended a one-hour adaptation of Macbeth performed by women in the Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC) and staged by Artists’ Rehabilitation Coalition (ARC).

Like the ARC’s organizing force, Lara Mielcarek, I was first made aware of the concept of producing Shakespeare performed by inmates of a correctional facility by listening to Jack Hitt fascinating and moving episode of This American Life, “Act V” in which men from the Eastern Missouri Correctional Facility had been presenting Hamlet, one act at a time.

Lara posted a Go Fund Me appeal for funds last year, and my meager contribution reaped an incidental reward I did not expect, an invitation to the performance.

Ten women performed “The Scottish Play” in a common room in the facility, using the most basic of costume pieces (capes, plastic crowns) and as you might expect, nothing like actual weapons. Even the daggers used to murder the king were small, flat-ended, wooden crosses.

The entire performance was conveyed through the remarkable passion, drama and humor of the performers. Yes, they were all volunteers to this program, but even so I found these performers eloquence, and their ability to convey to towering emotions of this classic work, remarkable. Few if any had previous experience in the performing arts. All of them, however, know how to tell a good story.

Following the show there was time for a brief Q&A. Their Malcolm acknowledged her previous need to keep to herself, and that she was always generally a solitary person. At the end of the performance, she was delivering a powerful speech, and loudly hailed as King of Scotland.

After last night, I may never listen to the characters of the Gentlewoman and the Doctor, who witness Lady Macbeth as she sleepwalks, the same way again.
DOCTOR
Go to, go to. You have known what you should not.
GENTLEWOMAN
She has spoke what she should not.
LADY MACBETH
Here’s the smell of the blood still.
GENTLEWOMAN
Mn-hmn.
A few of the performers were still on book, but only for a few pages. Lara informed the audience (and it was a surprisingly large audience) that they had a choice, to perform in May before they were ready, or work until June, when they would lose at least one of their actors who were due for release.

During the Q&A someone asked who was leaving the company. Macduff said she had thirteen days “and one wake-up.”

Today that’s twelve days and one wake-up. "The time is free."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

International Children's Theater Festival (2017)

"I won't hurt you ... I think I'm Canadian."
(Morgan's Journey)
One of my very favorite times of year is when the annual International Children’s Theatre Festival produced by Playhouse Square comes to town. Now in its eighth year, the festival brings together theater companies from around the globe for performances in and around the theater district, in the many spaces in Playhouse Square and even spilling out onto the street during the weekend (weather permitting.)

The availability of this rich and varied banquet of theater for young audiences has been so valuable to me in my work, one of the countless reasons I am grateful to work downtown. We play it very safe with our children in the United States, wishing to shelter them from uncomfortable subjects, choosing the keep the vocabulary we use with them simple.

Experiencing productions from other nations you can see much more challenging work. Yesterday I got to see an adaptation of the book The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, performed by Puppet State Theatre (Scotland). The tale itself is simply told, with several homely puppets and also actual scents of lavender and mint. The child audience was delighted to be water and misted like plants.

The real treat, however, was the downright hilarious banter between narrator Richard Medrington and a dog puppet operated by Rick Conte which was threaded through the performance. I am led to believe that a great deal of it was off-the-cuff, which is remarkable as their comic timing together is laid back and impeccable, the humor at once witty sophisticated and also festooned with groan-worthy dog jokes.

Dog in "The Man Who Planted Trees."
Earlier I had seen Grug and the Rainbow, from Windmill Theatre (Australia) and adapted from the book by Ted Prior. The many characters are represented by a variety of puppets, the title character himself in a variety of sizes to add a forced perspective to the proceedings. Bonus points for incorporating a vinyl record player into the mix.

Teachers with student groups can be heavy on the shushing during student matinees, which may be appropriate with high school students attending Shakespeare. (In certain cases like that, I wish a few of them did a bit more shushing.) The best children’s shows, like this one, encourage an audible reaction from the kids. Grug was learning to play a drum and the children couldn’t help but stop their feet and I thought some of their minders were going to go off on them when the performers insisted the students stand and dance to the music!

What always surprises me is how much surprises them -- big gasps of surprise, coos of appreciation and delight, and all the laughter. This morning I saw Robert Morgan in Morgan’s Journey (Canada) an astonishingly moving solo clown show about what it means to be human, to be alive. That’s the journey, learning the meaning of sacrifice, to think outside of yourself, to love others.

Isn’t that what the best plays are all about, anyway?

The Eighth Annual International Children's Theatre Festival at Playhouse Square continues through May 7.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Play a Day: 1980 (Or Why I'm Voting For John Anderson)

Patricia Cotter
For Sunday the last day of April, I read 1980 (Or Why I'm Voting For John Anderson) by Patricia Cotter, and available from New Play Exchange.

"It would be nice to change ... the world."

After all that has happened -- during the last one hundred days, and after the past thirty days reading plays about race and gender, about relationships and politics, comedy and tragedy, sex and terrorism, despair and hope -- it was only fitting I conclude with a period parable reflecting upon that greatest of American traditions, believing in a loser.

I am just old enough to remember John Anderson running as a third-party candidate for President, not only enough to understand the implications. I started reading Doonesbury when I was twelve, just after Reagan was elected, so it wasn't until the book came of recent strips came out that I became familiar with a certain phrase I have used myself once too often. Mike is at a small phone bank in a dismal campaign office in New Hampshire, cold calling for this doomed Illinois congressman, and he responds to a disinterested voter by saying, "Well, he's never heard of you, either."

We did win on November 8. We got the most votes. Can you be so right and still lose everything?

The four characters in Cotter's play, three women, one man of color, they each believe in the underdog, each for their own reasons, and they work for him but without the fire that the zealot possesses. Anderson's campaign was reactionary, as most third-party candidacies are. He was representing an opposition to Reagan, but as his positions were more similar to Carter's he was really saying, I'll do what this guy tried to do only better this time. It's not a strong message.

And Reagan was Reagan.

So concludes Reading a Play a Day in April. Thank you for following, for retweeting, for liking and for commenting. I have met several wonderful people, which only goes to remind me that there are so many more incomparable writers out there, producing great work that deserves to be read and produced.

Tomorrow the time I have used for the reading with be occupied with the writing. A page a day in May! Probably more than a page each day, but maybe not much more. I started something earlier this month and I have no idea where it's taking me, which is unusual for me, and exciting. I like the people, and what they are up to, and I want to know what happens to them. I am looking forward to that.

Scripts by David Hansen available to read on New Play Exchange:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Play a Day: Slingshot

Kia Corthron
For Saturday I read Slingshot by Kia Corthron, and available at New Play Exchange.

The hero of this play is a well-intentioned, kindhearted lawyer. That's not a punchline.

The premise is an accident, on-the-job, a young man falls from a height and is seriously injured. His father, who must care for him alone, solicits the services of a high-powered corporate lawyer who, for personal reasons, will work pro bono for certain cases.

I respect lawyers. I have friends who are lawyers. I do not make lawyer jokes. I understand that in the United States, the general degradation of the term "lawyer" among the middle-class has been employed for the benefit of the corporate class.

You know the coffee story? The MacDonald's coffee story? Of course you do. Frivolous lawsuit. Adam Ruins Everything did a piece on that lawsuit recently, you should see it. But I already knew the real facts of the case, because I hate urban legends which perpetuate stereotype and ignorance, and when I hear tales where a corporation is the victim, I am naturally suspicious.

Politicians write laws. Lawyers interpret and defend the laws. We need our lawmakers and law interpreters to be educated, experienced, and competent in writing and interpreting laws. Above all, they need to have ethics and integrity. As a nation, we no longer understand nor appreciate that.

Corthron's play is taut and tense, with colorful and flawed characters, all essentially decent, their intentions clear and understood. It's a legal thriller without any of your cigar-twiddling villains. What's at stake is very real and urgent, and the conclusion uncertain up to the final moment.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Play a Day: To the Orchard

Les Hunter
Twenty-eight plays in twenty-eight days! Four weeks of new work. And April is almost complete.

For Friday morning, I read To the Orchard by Les Hunter, and available at New Play Exchange. Dr. Hunter is a professor at Baldwin Wallace, one of our great Cleveland playwrights, and a total boss.

To the Orchard premiered at Playwrights Local last fall, and received the Foundation for Jewish Culture New Play Award. Like Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, from which the play's title is derived, this piece focuses on the relationship between parents and adult children, and the ghosts of things unspoken. Or not yet spoken.

You know that thing they told us recently, about how if the spiders worked together they could devour humanity with hours? The same could be said of trees. Those things are everywhere. The pervasive realty of trees. They play a major role here, the Tree of Knowledge and/or Life. Trees that might reach out and grab you and pull you into the earth (or as was the case in Poltergeist, eat you.)

I am charmed by this story because it touches on elements of my life which I feel are absent, so they interest me greatly. The intense relationship between parents and children, the importance of mentors and lovers, and lovers who are mentors. I never stayed in touch with my mentors, to my continual disappointment. My wife is my mentor, and perhaps that is why I will never leave her.

In spite of my somewhat casual relationship with my parents, at least I am confident that my father knew I loved him, and there is a spiritual comfort in that.

Two more plays in two more days. Then what is the plan? The reading has effectively put the writing on hold. Why? Because I write in the morning, that is when I can think clearly, so that is when it happens. Can I return to a regular process of writing every morning at five.

Mornings at Five. If I give it a name, will that make it real?

Selections from Weimar, a new play by Les Hunter, will be read at Dobama Theatre on Monday, May 1 at 7:00 PM.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Play a Day: Trust

Sarah Schulman
When my wife and I visited London in the late 90s, she found Silver Moon, a feminist book store in Charing Cross. She bought a sweatshirt that listed in alphabetical order many famous women writers, e.g., Wharton, Wollstonecraft, Woolf.

I was not familiar with the name Sarah Schulman, and in fact did not notice her name there, between Dorothy L. Sayers and Anne Sexton, until after my wife has completed her MFA at Goddard College, where Schulman was one of her favorite professors.

For Thursday I read Trust by Sarah Schulman, and available from New Play Exchange.

Like one of those caper films in which an ordinary, white seemingly blameless white guy gets sucked down into the dark seedy underworld, only to emerge by the final reel safe and sound, a bit wiser but confident in his place of privilege, Trust is a seriously dark comedy in which our protagonist (Steve, the whitest name) is hardly blameless, and his passage through the underworld unearned and undeserved. You know how we all know the drug war unfairly punishes people of color? This is a damning, hilarious and fast-paced illustration of that.

This morning, before dawn, it was in the mid-sixties. I sat out on the deck and read in the dark.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Play a Day: The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin

Jessica Huang
Reading a play a day for a month has been exciting, exhilarating, inspiring, all the good things. It also means getting up early most days, even weekends, to read the play, ruminate and then blog about it. It's kind of messing with my sleep schedule. Also, exercise.

Now that I have gotten in the good habit of reading so many plays by so many different people, I hope to continue, maybe on a weekly basis, if not more often. We are in the homestretch now, after today there only four more days/plays in April.

For Wednesday I read The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin by Jessica Huang, and available for download from New Play Exchange.

The only child of a Chinese immigrant father and American mother struggles to cope with his needs following her mother's death. The plot gets more involved than that, mysterious and magical, and yes, there is a mystery to be solved. But the premise, coping with the ghosts (literal, imagined) of the country left behind, are universal, and have a particular resonance in this country.

Once we speculated if it would be more challenging had mother passed before father. My brothers and I never discussed it, until that time when he had passed and we agreed that would have been much more challenging. The men need the women, it does not go the other way.

Which reminds me, I need to call my mom.

Harry Chin would prefer to leave his past behind, his daughter Sheila insists upon knowing her heritage. Only recently I learned a little about my own father's past. He was adopted, but chose never to search for his birth mother. He claimed he did not want to know. But I wanted to know. I did not even know his ethnicity. Caucasian, sure. But from where?

Luxembourg. Huh. Really? That's weird.

The parent wants to abandon their culture, the younger to embrace that which has been abandoned. Who get to choose?