Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Love In Pieces (play)


Love In Pieces is a short play, written by Sarah Morton. When Cleveland Public Theatre had a new plays festival, it won the top prize, the Chilcote Award, in 1997. With this honor came a full production the following season, and premiered at Cleveland Public Theatre in February, 1998. I was an actor in the company.

This 40-minute work consists of four scenes, depicting famous couples from mythology and literature: Antony & Cleopatra, Laertes & Ophelia, Orpheus & Eurydice and Cupid & Psyche. Each scene departs from its traditional narrative to paint original portraits of love in crisis.

The playwright makes clear in her stage directions that these are not four separate plays. For example, the set should remain simple, each scene resembling the other, to create what she calls a "dreamlike fluidity". Also, though she concedes the play could be performed by eight actors, or "two very versatile ones", she believes the play works best with four actors playing each of the younger and older roles.

So it was in 1998, where I and Triste Crawford played the first and third scenes, and Doug Rossi and Michelle Pristash the second and fourth scenes. Cleveland Public Theatre promoted the work as an (odd) choice with which to celebrate Valentine's Day. Our costumes and Oliver Sohngen's set were largely white, with red accents, the set like a wedding cake, or more like a bisected cheese wheel.

Critical response to Sarah's work was strong, the Free Times calling the show "both post-modern and old fashioned" and "smart and sweet". The Plain Dealer praised her for having "a gift for using both the visual and verbal elements of theater to create complex, striking work."

Scene Magazine spared little restraint and with this work sincerely called Sarah Morton, "a nascent playwriting genius."

Each performer received uniformly positive notices ... with one interesting exception. Plain Dealer critic Marianne Evett noted that "David Hansen does not have enough presence and command as the old warrior Antony." Cleveland Public Theater made the mistake in 1995, when I was not yet twenty-seven, to cast me (in a different production) as a fifty year-old former Marine. Only twenty-nine, I agree that I made a young and scrawny Antony. More on that later.

Suffice it to say, the show was successfully produced, and I was very happy to be part of that.

As for Love In Pieces, it was produced one more time, produced by a third party for the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival. The best that can be said about this version is that nytheatre.com recognized strength in Morton's writing, but that there were serious issues with the director who cast herself in all four female roles, acting against a single male partner. These actors had apparently little chemistry and the performance included breathtakingly long scene breaks.

Shooting bull in the rehearsal hall last fall (continuing yesterday's post) I remembered this play. Four scenes, two set in bedrooms, one in a bathroom, the fourth one the road out of the Underworld. The CPT production was presented in the cavernous former ballroom that is the Levin Theatre. True, it was in the round, which was exciting, but hardly intimate.

Each scene a two-hander, three couples and one set of siblings. Impotence, abuse, disappointment, doubt. You can make these feelings span the distance between character and witness, but what if you closed that gap, made the audience need to lean in, to listen carefully, or make them truly feel they are walking in on something they shouldn't be seeing.

These are the personal moments we all feel in every relationship, that we desperately work to keep secret. Set them in their natural habitat, what would that be like?

Except for the road out of Hell. That would take some imagination.

Anyway, that was my proposal. I offered it to the company. You want to put on a show, this is the show I am offering, because then I would believe in it. And they all jumped on board.

Tomorrow: Love In Pieces (execution)

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