Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Play a Day: Swimming While Drowning

Emilio Rodriguez
For Tuesday I read Swimming While Drowning by Emilio Rodriguez, a playwright whose work is available at New Play Exchange.

Yesterday I was casting about for what to read today, and my friend Mimi suggested this play. Swimming was also profiled yesterday in HowlRound. The play received its world premiere last February at Milagro in Portland, OR.

This play is a lovely, lyric dance of dialogue between two teens in a shelter for LGBT youth. Angelo seeks connection, and Mila's every response is a wall that Angelo must climb over, dig under or break through, but the very fact that Mila responds invites that struggle. Otherwise, he wouldn't respond at all.

Mimi interviewed Rodriguez for HowlRound when Swimming was in development, and his comments about receiving audience and company feedback in shaping the work are insightful. Sometimes hearers tell you what is strong about a scene, which by omission can clue you into what may be weak, or unnecessary. It is not always the easiest thing to intuit if you are merely searching for validation.

Rodriquez says, "playwriting feels like the perfect blend of theatre, poetry, and creating art with a purpose." His belief in the power and importance of playwriting is evident in Swimming, which employs performance poetry to move the story forward, not merely as commentary on the action, but to take emotional leaps forward in the relationship between these two young men.

Good morning.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Play a Day: Rain and Zoe Save the World

Crystal Skillman
For Monday, I read Rain and Zoe Save the World by Crystal Skillman and available for download from New Play Exchange.

Yes! We begin the week with an Ultimate Millennial Road Trip Play! -- or as Zoe puts it, "a life changing journey of awesome." Awesome has been my go-to descriptor for all things that are awesome since the early 1980s and am thrilled it is still in use by those who are awesome.

There is much that is contemporary and urgent in this work, reflecting our modern anxiety and the urge, perhaps for the first time in our lives, to take action against everything that has gone wrong that allowed Donald J. Trump to become President of the United States, and all that that means.

This past weekend the boy and I participated in the March for Science, my wife and the girl attended the Women's March in January. When I was a younger man I thought like the character Rain, who believes that those who choose public protest "thinks they can change things by getting together and yelling."

But maybe they can. Depends on how many people are yelling and what they are yelling. The night the Iraq War started, two months after my now fourteen year-old daughter was born, I joined a protest at the Coventry Peace Park out of a sense of duty, my wife stayed home with the girl but I was there to represent. There were maybe a dozen of us. It was raining. I didn't hang around long.

Organizers believe around 10,000 attended the march in Cleveland alone last Saturday.

There is a moment in Skillman's play where our protagonists face off against those in the opposition, no doubt Trump voters, who choose fiercely to believe lies the that have been told them that uphold a worldview that no longer exists, never in fact truly existed.

But in spite of the fact that those who have fed and perpetuated these lies currently occupy all three branches of government, the facts clearly state that they have lost. They cannot win. Their way of life is unsustainable. But they cannot accept this. Who could? And so they live in complete and utter denial.

The Millennials are dismissed, as all people in the twenties are summarily dismissed, but I do believe that Rains and Zoes are going to save the world. We have to believe that, actually, I don't see that we have much choice.

Let the Wild Rumpus start.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Play a Day: Bars and Measures

Idris Goodwin
For Sunday I read Bars and Measures by Idris Goodwin, and available for download from New Play Exchange.

Goodwin's play touches on the cultural divide of our age, from the vantage point of two brothers, one a convert to Islam, both talented, professional musicians. The plot (did-he-or-didn't-he) is very compelling. But I particularly was drawn to the older/younger sibling dynamics.

My wife doesn't believe in it, but I do. The insecurities of the younger sibling is real. I have also watched this play out with our own two children, the older driven, determined, and potentially judgmental. Like the younger brother in Bars, a talented classical musician in his own right, he is sensitive with the suggestion that his recent interest in jazz, which is his elder brother's purview.

The larger story addresses the misunderstandings which have and will continue to plague our nation, and our world. Americans define themselves by their enemies. When I was young, it was the Communists. the Soviet Union wasn't dead for a year before the initiation of the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) and our pivot towards the Islamic world.

Interesting, yesterday I read a complete farce about terrorism, today something much more grounded and real. I love theater.

If there is one point of view present in this work with which I am certain I agree, it is that terrorists are made, and not born.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Play a Day: Blindfolded Into the Dark

Wilfredo Ramos
For Saturday morning I read Blindfolded Into the Dark by Wilfredo Ramos, and available for download from New Play Exchange.

So, three improvisers are captured by the Islamic State ...

What truly impressed me about this work was its combination of unapologetic tastelessness and heart.

It has been a long while since I have enjoyed (endured?) the outrageous storefront theater that marked the late 80s and early 90s, shows like Cannibal Cheerleaders On Crack, about which I remember virtually nothing except a representation of every single bodily fluid was eventually projected onto the audience and one guy tries to fuck a cheeseburger.

After 9/11 and greater and daily awareness of the horrors of terrorism, certain subjects or storylines didn't seem off-limits so much as simply not funny. However, from the outset Blindfolded lunges fearlessly into the abyss, presenting Pythonesque debates between captor and captive on the nature or reality and wrangling the inevitable, absurd bureaucracy inherent in any organization.

Yes and there is an ISIL captor whose name brings to mind Bohemian Rhapsody. Yes and there is a terrorist commander with a LUSH fetish. Yes and the three American theater artist captives represent a neat cross-section of your stereotypical improv comedy troupe; one Jewish, one gay, and the woman.

(My own play, This Is The Times, which takes place during the Red Scare, features an improv trio which includes one Jewish, one black, and the woman. So it goes.)

Mel Brooks told us we need to laugh at Hitler to render him powerless. In this play Ramos presents the barbaric hideousness of modern warfare, but through ridiculous and very funny dialogue promises that hope for the future rests within each of us.

Now let's get out of here.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Play a Day: Red Onion, White Garlic (BONUS)

Photo: Steve Wagner
Two weeks ago I shared some background on my previous work for Talespinner Children's Theatre, Rosalynde & The Falcon. That was the same day my new work, Red Onion, White Garlic opened at TCT, and folks in the Cleveland area still have two weeks to catching it. In fact, tonight (Friday, April 21) is a pay-what-you-can performance, so bring the entire family. Bring grandma.

This play is a collection of Indonesian folktales, strung together into one continuous narrative. These tales include The Golden Snail and The King of the Parakeets among others, including that from which the play derives its title.

The original version of Red Onion, White Garlic (Bawang Putih Bawang Merah in Malay, literally "shallots and garlic") follows a familiar narrative of a young girl oppressed by her "evil" stepmother and stepsister.

The young girl, Bawang Putih (White Garlic) must do all the housework while her stepmother dotes on her own child, Bawang Merah (Red Onion). Virtue is eventually rewarded when Bawang Putih is awarded a pumpkin full of jewels for doing a good turn for the local sorceress. When Bawang Merah is sent by her mother to get another one, she behaves with entitlement and is rewarded with a pumpkin full of snakes and scorpions.

This tale did not compel me, however, and anyway, Rosalynde & The Falcon is already a story about an oppressed stepchild. And is it not time to be done with the "wicked stepmother" narrative all together? How many of us are or know people who are members of blended families?

So the challenge I set for myself was to tell a new version of the tale, one in which these sisters love each other and take care of each other, and I looked to those closest to me for example. In doing so, I noticed the marked age difference that can often exist between step-siblings, and how family economics can affect the way each person was raised as children.

Then there's the whole Gen X vs. Millennial dynamic, make of that what you will.

Finally, I noted how our central tale centers entirely on characters who are women; mother, daughters, female witches. As my tale expanded, I realized that all of the characters were going to be women. The opportunity for a male character never presented itself.

The Talespinner production is downright gorgeous, each of the five actors in beautiful kebaya and hijab, and performing wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry.

Read a ten-page excerpt of Red Onion, White Garlic at New Play Exchange.

Red Onion, White Garlic at Talespinner Children's Theatre continues through April 30.

Play a Day: The Princess of Caspia

Ricardo Soltero-Brown
Twenty-one plays in twenty-one days. Three weeks of new work!

For Friday morning I read The Princess of Caspia by Ricardo Soltero-Brown, and which is available for download from New Play Exchange.

Bourgeois love is a complication of its own creation. It is only appropriate that the loopy love triangle present in this work are self-obsessed and selfish, and I approve of the message that ridiculous situations will eventually play themselves out ridiculously.

Getting letter-shamed by a world-famous political prisoner is a particularly inspired touch.

Yesterday and today I am attending a national arts-in-education conference downtown. The theme is "digital transformation" but I have a phobia about crossing the intersection of arts and technology.

I should write a play about that.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Play a Day: Underground

Lisa. B. Thompson
For Thursday morning I read Underground by Lisa B. Thompson, and available on New Play Exchange.

Two men, activists together in college, now in their middle years, have an intense and uncomfortable reunion. Issues of race, class and modern conflict are heartily debated, and exactly what is at stake is not revealed until the final moments.

This work has been in development since 2014, though the subject matter deals with current events in a manner which must demand constant revision from its author. The version I read, which was recently produced at The Vortex in Austin, was uploaded just this morning.

Though they never mention him by name, the men discuss the fate of Tamir Rice. When one rattles off a list of those American cities which have experienced real life uprising and protest in the past few years, however, in "Ferguson, in Baltimore, Oakland, New York," where thousands marched and demanded that Black Lives Matter, Cleveland is conspicuous in its absence.

Because it didn't happen here, not in those numbers. Not with the same impact. Frustration over our community's apparent inability to rise up in protest was a major theme in the recent production of Objectively/Reasonable.

That frustration, the refusal to engage, to participate, especially from those in positions of authority and respect, makes for powerful drama in this play, too.