Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shakespeare On Stage

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets
with Magdalyn Donnelly & Anne McEvoy
Great Lakes Theater
I am tired of Shakespeare.

Not tired of his work, that I am still quite fond of. I am tired of William Shakespeare, the man. A man about whom we know less than we know about any other individual about whom we have decided it is important to know things.

We know where he was born (not exactly when, though) when he died, a little bit about his family, and that he wrote thirty-eight plays. Respectable scholars are even still debating about that last bit.

For someone about whom we know nothing, there is an ever-expanding industry in making shit up about him. Each biography gets fatter than the last, containing greater amounts of conjecture, and the slightest potential new discovery turns out to be inconsequential or downright fantasy.

Someone found a painting in Canada twenty years ago of a young man, the artifact carbon-dated to the late 16th century. Bares a slight resemblance to Shakespeare, must be him.

More recently, however, is the cottage industry in stage plays, films or TV shows in which Shakespeare the man is a character. It began, more or less, with George Bernard Shaw, who wrote not one but two plays featuring the Bard in a lead role.

Oh, look. Shaw is lecturing.
Shakes vs. Shav (1949) is a ten-minute script which was written to be performed by marionette puppets in which the two famous playwrights argue over who is the better writer.

The Frogs, adapted from Aristophanes by Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove in 1974, stole the "Shakespeare-against-Shaw" debate conceit entirely, drawing it out and making it much less amusing. But I digress.

Decades earlier Shaw wrote The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1910) which was created expressly to promote the idea of England creating a federally-funded theater, which they eventually did with the National Theatre, though Shaw never lived to see it.

Dark Lady runs about a half-hour, and presents a blocked Shakespeare creeping around the streets of London after hours, searching for his mistress (about whom he writes in the Sonnets) and stealing inspiring snatches of dialogue from passersby for use in his future works. He eventually runs into not only his “dark lady” but also a sleepwalking Queen Elizabeth I, whom he first mistakes for his love. Comedy ensues.

The last third of this short play concerns Will’s efforts to persuade the Queen to establish what he calls a “national theater.” Most of the wit, however, involves the phrases uttered by the night watchman, the “dark lady” and the Queen herself -- familiar from Shakespeare’s canon-- which the frustrated playwrights jots down in a notebook for inclusion in his plays later. So the comedy depends upon these lines being familiar to the audience.

Mr. Shakespeare
Are you familiar with the phrase, “Frailty, thy name is woman”?

Perhaps you are.

“All the perfumes of Arabia”?

Yes, no? What is it from?

How about, “a snapper up of unconsidered trifles”?

No, of course you aren’t. Even I had to look that up.

Great Lakes produced Dark Lady for the outreach tour in 2006, and I played the role of Shakespeare. This was not a stretch, I had been playing the role of “Mr. Shakespeare” as a promotional gimmick for the company for two years by that point, making public appearances at art festival and rib cook-offs. I was their “unofficial mascot” for seven years. The costume shop created for me a beautiful, velvet doublet in the company’s signature purple.

The thing I learned performing Dark Lady … it isn’t funny. I mean, it would be, if the audience were composed entirely of those well-versed in the canon. Ever see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)? It’s not funny because of references to Shakespeare. It’s funny because there’s a stoner in a dress and they rap Othello.

Actually, Complete Works isn’t funny, either. But I digress.

But therein lies the problem with plays about Shakespeare. We know nothing about him, we feign familiarity with him through his work, and inevitably we lean on the work itself to carry the narrative the pathos, and the humor.

Yeah, I saw Something Rotten. It’s funny, if it’s funny, because of the song about musicals. But "Will Power" is really painful to sit through. I know the idea of Shakespeare as a rock star is the joke, but is it? There’s this pretentious notion, flouted by complete nerds, that the man from Stratford was some kind of celebrity in his own time. Listening to Adam Pascal (who played him at the Palace) growl through “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” like some kind of Jim Morrison or something isn’t funny, it’s embarrassing.

It’s like that SNL sketch where Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a substitute teacher at a high school, determined to turn the kids onto how cool Shakespeare is, and they’ve heard it all before.


That’s actually part of a play I wrote once for an educational outreach tour, comparing verse to rap music. It was very awful and I will never mention it again.

Which brings us to the most produced American play of the 2017-18 season (as determined by American Theater) Shakespeare In Love, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.



As in the film, this is a purely fictionalized tale of a young William Shakespeare, like so many of us in the mid-90s (in his case, the 1590s) slacking and suffering writer’s block. He’s trying to write a new play titled Romeo & Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. A great deal of the charm and interest hangs on seeing Shakespeare as fallible, flawed, with the same passions and potential for falling short as the rest of us. Kind of the way he’s represented in The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

He has to work at writing, it doesn’t come easy. The best stuff is taken whole cloth from someone else (kind of like in Dark Lady) in this case usually Kit Marlowe.

Rhys Ifan as Edward de Vere
Anonymous (2011)
And just as with Dark Lady, over one hundred years earlier, much humor is dependent upon the audience being well-versed in Shakespeare. When I was in an audience for the Cleveland Play House production they definitely enjoyed the dog, while somewhat familiar Shakespearean allusions  bounced awkwardly off their heads in silence.

When Will is asked for new pages of the script and he promises them “tomorrow and tomorrow” and his producer adds, “... and tomorrow?” there was a general is somewhat delayed chuckle of recognition and the woman behind me tittered, mumbling, “heh heh, ‘creeps in this petty pace…’”

I turned around and said, “oh, you got that one?”

Now, I enjoyed the film of Shakespeare In Love, too. But I also enjoyed Anonymous, which tells an alternative history based on a popular conspiracy theory that the works of Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, a nobleman about whom there is a deep and rich biography available. A man who was actually once captured by pirates.

HE WAS CAPTURED BY PIRATES.

My colleagues who abhor such theories dismiss that film out of hand, because it’s utter nonsense. One critic even pointed out that a flashback from the mid-1500s featuring the young de Vere performing a scene from “his” A Midsummer Night’s Dream was preposterous because there is no possible way Dream could have been written before the early 1590s.

Yeah, well? Shakespeare In Love is how the man from Stratford created the story to Romeo & Juliet, based on his own personal romantic experiences, when Arthur Brooke’s poem "Romeus and Juliet" had been in heavy circulation since 1562, and even that is not the original tale.

But Shakespeare In Love is a comedy, Anonymous is meant to be taken seriously.

Really. Is it?

Shakespeare In Love
Charlie Thurston as Will Shakespeare
Cleveland Play House
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
But what about the children, they cry. Someone might see Anonymous and think that it’s true. Yes, and I am sure there are those who believe Shakespeare In Love is true -- not in it’s every particular, but in the larger sense that the playwright and poet William Shakespeare was charming, passionate, and had lots of friends. Only he didn't.

The real reason people want to believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays is because he is the kind of exciting character we want William Shakespeare to be. Only he wasn't.

Couldn't we at least, then, present the unfaithful horn dog in Shakespeare In Love, a man who spends far more time partying and having sex than actually writing, as the opportunistic, litigious, status-obsessed striver with the weak chin, beady-eyes and receding hairline that the available historical record makes evident?

Instead we get another fictional yet admittedly extremely handsome, roguish-yet-self-effacing charmer, like the one who played him in the CPH production, pictured here, resplendent in his beautiful, velvet doublet.

Wait. Where did you get that doublet?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hurricane (song)

Let us now sing the praises of the lighting designer.

The most mercurial of theatrical craftspersons, the light designer, put simply, illuminates the space. This was an element of stagecraft of which I was entirely ignorant as I entered college. I had literally never considered what if any thought went into the lighting of a stage -- and I had even directed plays in high school. Someone else took care of it for me, and I remained uneducated.

I thought you just, well. Turned on the lights.

Light design was a course I took my freshman year and I began to understand color and shape and their countless variation. I learned what a gel was, could tell the difference between a Leko and a Fresnel (and how to pronounce them.) I developed a fetish for gobos. But my appreciation for light has been slow. It is always the very last thing I think of.

Touring I Hate This the very first thing I did was get rid of the bed special, a rectangular light which would appear when my character was in the hospital, and disappear when he wasn’t. It was impractical for such a basic tour. Video I needed, and sound. But just turn the lights on, a general wash, that will be fine. Light design is a luxury.

When Double Heart went from touring to the New York Fringe, someone reminded me that the tour never employs a light designer (general wash, please) and that we would need one for the Connelly. Couldn’t we just use some other show’s plot? Seriously, I wanted to get away with that. Lucky for me I’d met Cris a few years earlier, a professional designer living in New York and he was able and amenable not only to do the work, but made us all look so much lovelier in the production.

Double Heart tech rehearsal
Light design by Cris Dopher
Watching Hamilton at the Richard Rogers last summer was a bit of a blur, not least of which because we were seated high in the galleries, but the light made me see and appreciate a trope which got by me when first listening to the score, that of the eye.

The set for the production is deceptive in its simplicity, it is a big, open room. Tables and chairs are brought in, sometimes the mere suggestions of tables - a board held by company members - and so the light has a lot to do to set mood, to isolate areas of the stage, and people. And there are those two turntables which sweep people and set pieces around the stage, sometimes quite fast. The action swirls, and light swirls with it.

In the first act, when Washington first sings history has its eyes on me, the turntable is ringed with blue, but the unlit (black) center shrinks, and you realize you are seeing a great eye, the pupil constricting.

In the second act, this effect is mirrored when Hamilton sings “Hurricane.”

This used to be my least favorite song on the recording. There’s always that song in the second act, the low-point song (and yes, I know the show goes lower) which is slow, reflective, and usually, somnabulant. Lin-Manuel Miranda has a fine voice, but speaking honestly I feel he wrote this one for someone else to sing.

Lucky for us, someone else did sing it the night we were there, the incomparable Javier Muñoz, and it was downright operatic. But if the singing raised my estimation of the song and its place in the production, the choreography - and the light - gave the words the emotional weight which was intended.

As Hamilton is struggling with his choices as he confronts a potentially career-ending scandal, he recalls his childhood in St. Croix, and the hurricane which nearly destroyed the city. “In the eye of a hurricane,” he sings, “there is quiet - for just a moment. A yellow sky.”

The eye returns, a sickly yellow, dilating, slowly rotating circle. As he describes the chaos and destruction of the disaster, a tragedy whose record he created as a young teenager, and which record created the conditions for his education in colonial America, company members hoist and hold props and furniture - tables, quills, chairs, books, paper - and people, slowly and unnaturally held in the air and swept around the circle, caught in the maelstrom. Helpless.

The hurricanes come, and we prepare for them as best we can. What follows after is the definition of how successful and competent we are as a civilization. The current administration was swift to respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck Texas and Florida, respectively. But Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the American territory of Puerto Rico has been shamefully slow.

When President Trump chose to rage-tweet at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for criticizing these efforts, Miranda - the son of native Puerto Ricans - jumped into the fray.


This was surprising, because the artist is notably polite, positive, and generous on Twitter. After the curtain speech for Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, Miranda kept his cool, telling Terry Gross:
“I don’t get engage in a tweet battle with anybody. Twitter is optional, y'all!” 
It is a fine show of character not to respond to personal insults directed at one’s self. But the president’s drawing politics into this humanitarian crisis was apparently a step too far, and Miranda’s response has made headlines.

You, too, can assist, Miranda has been promoting the Hispanic Federation, which has two funds that are going directly to on-the-ground relief in both Puerto Rico, and also in response to Mexico’s recent devastating earthquake. Donate today.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

How I Spent My Summer (2017)

Raising Cairn
Celeste Roberge, 2000
Portland Museum of Art
As summers go, this past was not as historic, nor as creatively productive. We won no basketball championships, directed no productions of Shakespeare, attended no theater festivals, nor were we present for the nomination of a tyrant.

I wrote no new plays.

But summers are important, they always have been and for different reasons. I still work, to be sure, but this is when vacations are had, and my wife and I do strive to make the most of those brief moments as we can. Once it was because our children needed attention and occupation, and now it is becoming increasingly apparent our summers with them as children are running out.

And she wonders why I am depressed this week.

Humming
Jaume Plensa, 2011
deCordova Scultpure Garden
The first major journey was to attend, and in my case, to officiate, a wedding for my wife’s cousin and his beautiful bride. Perhaps you didn’t know I am an ordained minister, but seriously, who isn’t these days? I needed to register with the state to conduct ceremonies in Ohio, in Illinois they don’t ask. Are you in good standing with your church? Well, you better be, that’s the only thing they have to say about it.

We turned this delightful event, held in Aurora, into an extended stay in the Chicagoland. Funny, I set one of my recent works in suburban Chicago, though I’d never really spent any time there. Just research. Passing through and investigating those sites I thought appropriate, I was not disappointed. I tried to imagine my characters there. They must have been happy once.

The weather in Chicago was perfect, we did the architecture tour, saw the Neo-Futurists, spent a whole day at the Museum of Science and Industry. I had my own memories of that place from when I was a kid, I was probably there more for myself them for them.

A Sunday Afternoon On
the Island of La Grande Jette

Georges Seurat, 1886
Chicago Institute of Art
In July, I bought a new car.

Our schedule fell out so that we needed to be in town by August 1 for my daughter to begin soccer practice, so we barely got Boy Camp in before it was time to leave for the east coast, this year spending several days in Salem, MA before continuing on to Friendship.

Between the Art Institute back in Chicago and the deCordova and Peabody Essex in Massachusetts, we spent much leisurely time at art museums, both indoor and out. Our time in Maine, however, was brief. Before long we were heading back, a stop in Concord to meet friends and check out the grave sites of famous authors before making our way back home.

Throughout the summer there were macaroni and cheese topped burgers at the Speedtrap Diner, deep dish at Navy Pier, drop-dead ramen at Kokeshi, and our favorite waiter at Congress Bar & Grill. Also, I developed a strange obsession with Oh Hello, On Broadway on Netflix, which I watched at least three times.

Real Estate Goldmine
Joshua Starcher, 2017
Rooms To Let
After Maine, we still had all of August, which ended up being something of a blur, driving back and forth across the state. The truth is, a cloud has been hanging over us since the very beginning of the season, on what may have been the first unofficial day of this summer. It was a Saturday in late May, the kids were on a year-end, school-related Cedar Point trip, the wife and I had the day to ourselves and witnessed Rooms to Let in Slavic Village, the first of our many art-related summer explorations. It was while waiting for the kids to return on the bus that we received the call.

It’s personal. It’s family-related. I don’t want to go into it right now. It is enough for now to say I have been looking at things more closely at things this summer, and finding them horribly beautiful.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Salem Witch Dungeon Museum

Salem Witch Museum (2017)
Twenty-one years ago, my then-girlfriend and I were concluding her first week in Friendship, ME when my cousin asked if we had ever been to Salem. She’s just past through and was delighted by the honky-tonk; the wax museums and so-called “museums” which commemorate one of the most-shameful (perhaps only one of the first most-shameful?) moments in American history, the Salem Witch Trials.

In particular, she told us we must check out the Salem Witch Museum or the Salem Witch Dungeon -- we assumed there was only one institution called the “Witch Museum.” Not two, or as is the case today, three. Or four.

My girlfriend found a wonderful B&B and when we arrived our host was only to happy to recommend the Peabody Essex Museum, and some fine restaurants by the waterfront. When we asked about the Witch Museum her face fell with something like disgust or disappointment.

“Oh, you’re here about the witches,” she said under her breath before politely directing us toward that part of town.

In fact, it seemed back in 1996 that Salem had not truly embraced its designation as “Witch City” at least not the manner that it does today. The TV Land statue of the character Samantha from the TV program “Bewitched” was not unveiled in 2005.

But then, even the Peabody Essex, founded at the very end of the eighteenth century was much homelier than it is today, receiving a massive renovation in the early 21st century. Like a lot of cities, including ours, Salem seems to be enjoying a tourism boom.

"Bewitched" (2013)
The Salem Witch Museum is the more stately of the two tourist traps we visited two decades ago. Located right off Salem Common, the exterior is extremely visible and striking, formerly an actual church. It also has the benefit of having a large statue of the city’s founder, Roger Conant, standing high in the middle of a three-way intersection. He is dressed appropriately in the puritan fashion of his time, but his great cloak and tall hat do make him look like a witch himself.

However, the attraction itself is not particularly interesting, though it looks sharp. Crowds are ushered into the center of a large room, where a booming recorded voice complete with sound effects describes the events of 1692 while life-size, stationary panoramas depict the terrifying history. Then you exit through the largest gift shop in Salem -- and that’s saying something.

No, the big fun is to be had at the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum, which is distinctive in that it features an actual historic artifact, a single beam of wood from the actual building where members of the accused were actually imprisoned during the witch scare of 1692.

Down the less-traveled Lynde Street, the Dungeon Museum is also a former religious space, a chapel built in the late 1800s. It was to this site I imagined one day taking my children, to share with them mine and my wife’s love of bizarre roadside attractions, though the prospect did not leave me without a little hesitation.

We have passed through Salem a few times in the past several years, visiting our friend Kim, having lunch at Gulu-Gulu, and sharing with them the more respectable sites of the Peabody Essex and, this summer, the House of Seven Gables. But they’re still young and each of them have expressed a disinterest in anything approaching scary.

At least, that was until last year when the girl asked if we could go on the Spook-A-Rama at Coney Island, which she claimed to have hated having decided to do immediately upon exiting, though comments she has made during the year since have suggested otherwise.

You see, when my wife and I went to the Witch Dungeon Museum in 1996, we had a slightly different experience than what is offered today. After paying admission, we entered the chapel, where there was a theater curtain hiding the chancel. Without any fanfare, the curtain opened and the half dozen or so in attendance with us watched as two women performed a scene adapted from original court transcripts in which young Mary Warren accuses the elderly Elizabeth Procter of witchcraft.

Salem Witch Dungeon Museum (1996)
"More weight."
The first thing we really noticed was how the judge, bailiff and court spectators on stage were all ancient mannequins, posed rigid and awkwardly in their seats. They did not move nor comment throughout the proceeding.

Following the performance, the younger of the two actors stepped forward, and led us into the basement, which resembled a prison. We were informed about the historic importance of the wooden beam, and our attention was directed to various cells where we could see even more mannequins being horribly mistreated.

Then she instructed us to head down a short hallway, to take our time, and she would meet us at the other end. She then disappeared through a doorway and we were left on our own. I volunteered to go first down the hallway, peering into cell doors and windows and sure enough, at the far end of the hall, one of the mannequins wasn’t a mannequin at all, but our tour guide who suddenly put out her hands and yelled BLEAGGHH!!!

Not exactly Spook-A-Rama, but high cheese. I did wonder whether or not the girl would get a kick out of it.

What I did not expect was the very pleasant surprise that the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum has during the past generation in fact stepped up its game! There were not two, but three performers on hand, the third what you might actually consider a docent. Also dressed in period costume, she provided narration and context prior to the performance (it was the exact same amateur performance) and led us all the way through the basement “dungeon” giving an entirely respectable historical overview of the events and the persons involved.

The prison cells are still occupied by the exact same dummies we had seen in the 90s, I believe the lights have been lowered to hide the aged plaster and papier-mâché. But we received a proper if brief education in mass-hysteria, and no poor college intern popped out from anywhere to say BOO!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Discovery (album)

Summer, 2001. We had rocked unsteadily through those first few months after the loss of our child, we had journeyed to England and back. And then there was time and plenty of it. I had to prepare for my work at Great Lakes, memorizing lines, but rehearsals wouldn’t begin until the first Tuesday in September.

My wife had written a play that was going to the New York International Fringe Festival. Angst:84 is a high school satire with an acting company of fourteen, many of whom in this cast were actual teenagers. Several were going into college that fall, others returning to high school. The summer was booked with rehearsals, dance party fundraisers and group mailings promoting same.

My job was to run sound at the festival. That’s it. Coming off my sadness and grief it was delightful to be surrounded by young people and doing youthful, fun things. In this, my wife and I were not exactly in the same place. She was game, she was not having “fun.”

At one of the mailings, the director was playing the new Daft Punk album, Discovery. No idea what hooked me so fast and so strong, I mean, I like EDM but this felt like something special. It was a feeling.

Angst:84 rehearsal (Photo: Plain Dealer)
That summer I had also downloaded many ROMs from the cabinet video games I had grown up with, and this album seemed the perfect soundtrack to playing those games. It was as though this album actually existed in 1980. I tried to pinpoint exactly what song I was thinking of, which songs they had sampled, but I was never able to figure it out. The closest I could get were tracks like “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire (1978) or “Valerie” by Steve Winwood (1982).

Last month, as our summer began and we were listening to satellite radio, I tuned into the 80s station, because you know me. The song “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles (aka Trevor Horn) came on and of course I had to point out that actually that song is from 1979 and suddenly it struck me, right around the refrain where the woman is singing “You are … a radio star” from somewhere in the background, that this was the song.

Like, the entire album Discovery are numerous reworkings of that one song, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Especially the vocals in “One More Time” and “Digital Love.” Thematically, “Video Killed the Radio Star” is melancholy tune chronicling the end of an era while “Digital Love” is about a dream of a wonderful happy time which have been in the past or never have happened at all. They are both sad in their own way, recalling a memory of joy.

To me, of course, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was released as my childhood was concluding and moving into troubling adolescence. I read online that Daft Punk was trying with Discovery to create a tribute to the first ten years of your life, whenever that may have been in time. There are also specific samples which were used as the baseline for certain songs, but this one is never mentioned, because it’s not actually sampled. But it’s all over the record.

Put the blame on VTR.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Testament of Mary @ Mamaí Theatre

Anne McEvoy in "The Testament of Mary"
Some twenty years ago my partner and I went to see Annie Sprinkle give a lecture at Cleveland Public Theater. Once a sex worker and performer in pornography, Sprinkle had by this time earned a doctorate in human sexuality and had moved into education and sex-positive advocacy.

It was a full house that night, and as we streamed into the theater there was this one woman standing outside, entirely on her own, protesting the event. She had a sign and she was expressing her disapproval. I cannot recall what was written on the sign, nor exactly what her point of view was.

There are several arguments against pornography. The puritanical is perhaps the first that comes to mind, that performing sex acts on film or video for the enjoyment of others is wrong, improper, it is degenerate.

There are also more relevant arguments against pornography and more specifically the porn industry, which preys upon women, especially very young women, and can even participate in human trafficking.

If I remember correctly, this protester was against that evening’s event because sex work is generally anti-woman, that it defines women, the entire gender, as simply something to be fucked. A sound, feminist, anti-porn argument.

As the audience entered, we just kind of ignored her. But her presence impressed me. Whether I agreed with her or not, she was taking a stand for what she believed, all by herself. She wasn’t grandstanding, she wasn’t aggressively attempting to shame anyone. She was obviously outnumbered by the crowd and she had no support. She was just making her point, outside, in the cold.

We don’t protest theater in Cleveland. Not much. Too polite, perhaps. Or maybe it’s because no one cares or worse, that the vast majority of people in greater Cleveland who might be offended are entirely unaware of what happens in the theater scene.

Photo: Steve Wagner
Last spring, Talespinner produced my play Red Onion, White Garlic, and when it was announced that this Indonesian folktale would be performed by women in hijab (87% of the people in Indonesia today identify as Muslim) I was thrilled, and also concerned. We are a polarized country. Our president has expressed a general contempt for Islam. Would someone make trouble?

No one made trouble. Please. How would the racist dingbats of Northeast Ohio even know this were happening?

But recent events have made live theater an occasional lightning rod for controversy. Following a performance of Hamilton, attended by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, the cast gave a curtain call speech as the man exited the hall. The outrage that followed in the media was scattershot; is it appropriate to lecture a captive audience following a play, shouldn’t they show more respect to the Vice President-Elect, must everything be about politics?

This was at Hamilton. You get it.

This summer the Public Theatre made headlines again -- this time with Shakespeare if you can believe that -- by presenting a modern dress production of Julius Caesar as one of their two, free productions at the Delacorte in Central Park.

Shortly after the election, The Public's Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis, decided to cast Caesar in the form of Donald J. Trump. This textually justifiable interpretation of Shakespeare’s version of Caesar as a proud, preening, feckless, needy, physically weak, power-hungry windbag would be on full display in the form of the actual sitting president, and in the president’s own city.

It would also mean depicting him murdered in the Senate, every single night.

Photo: Inside Edition
Even the discussion of the assassination of a sitting president is repellent to me. I don’t even joke about it, and I’ll joke about anything. First, I am an avowed pacifist. Then, the violent overthrow of a democratically elected figure is the diametric opposite of democracy. One individual or small number of people conspiring to violently undo the decision of the vast majority, it is anathema to the values upon which this nation was based.

This is, in fact, a dominant theme of the play Julius Caesar. Brutus is torn between his belief in the ideals of a democratic Republic against his deep love of his comrade Caesar. But the people want to make Caesar their emperor, their king, it’s what the people of Rome, for good or ill, have decided they want.

In murdering Caesar, Brutus utterly failed to teach the citizens of Rome that it was necessary to slay a potential tyrant. (Ironically, J.W. Booth also failed in this regard, and as an interpreter of Shakespeare he really should have known better.) Brutus's name was disgraced and eventually he threw himself on his own sword rather than surrender to a man  -- Octavius, later called Augustus Caesar -- who would soon become to first true emperor of Rome, regardless of Brutus’ sacrifice.

But your average Trump-supporting troglodyte wouldn’t know that. They couldn’t be bothered to watch this production, any production of Julius Caesar, let alone read it. They just saw the stabbing murder of a version of Caesar dressed like Donald Trump on a continuous loop on Fox News and on Breitbart. No other part of the play, just that one moment.

None of these people would have even cared about the production if they hadn’t been told to care about it by the people who tell him to think things on TV and on the internet. The production had been playing for weeks before the uproar began, and it was only through the final weekend of performances that protests took place in the form of Trump sympathizers interrupting the performance and storming the stage (death threats to Eustis and his family at his home came later) which created a heightened sense of expectation, wonder, and worry at those final shows.

After all, in Shakespeare’s day, when Caesar, and later Brutus then Marc Antony, make their speeches to the actual audience, certain members of  the audience called lines back to the stage, rehearsed lines. There we undoubtably audience plants at the Globe, and so it was this summer at the Public. How was an audience member to know if the person getting riled up next to them was an actor, a protester, or perhaps a domestic terrorist?

Last weekend I brought my mom to see The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín, directed by Bernadette Clemens and produced by Mamaí Theatre at the Helen Theatre in Playhouse Square. Tóibín created a stir when he wrote the novel, a brief exploration of Mary, mother of Jesus, as a troubled, conflicted single parent to a religious zealot in a dangerous time. Adapted for the stage in a ninety-minute solo performance, she tells the audience directly of experiences at once familiar but seen from a fresh perspective; from a person who sees only disaster in what is to come, and from an intensely personal point of view.

Photo: America Needs Fatima
On Friday, July 8 a peaceful protest was staged on Euclid Avenue, sponsored by the Media Research Center, an arch-conservative lobbying organization whose founder, L. Brent Bozell once referred to President Obama as a “skinny ghetto crackhead.” They provided flyers decrying the depiction of “Holy Mary” for her “bubbling with contempt for her Son’s demented followers,” that she “threatens the writers of the Gospels with a knife,” and that for a time she “lives as a bandit, stealing to survive.”

These allegations are true, as are all the others cherry-picked and presented out of context from this compelling narrative. Anne McEvoy, one of our most talented performers and a good friend, imbues her character with pathos, and also the deep, painful wisdom of a mother and woman who has lived so long and seen so much. It is a passionate and moving performance.

Sitting in the house, however -- with my own mother sitting next to me -- I was keenly aware of the others in the audience around me. That one protest had taken place the week before. This Friday evening there were few people downtown anyway, a sleepy summer evening in Cleveland. There were no security offers checking bags or purses. I wondered how many attended as a direct result of the protests. I have to admit, it motivated me to get a ticket.

But what if one of those in attendance had ill-intent? To interrupt the performance, or worse? These things happen today.

I am not a person of faith, and am accustomed to seeing things from a variety of points of view. I guess that’s relativism. If a person of faith cannot glean insight from a reinterpretation of their beliefs without flying into a rage, they need to breathe, to begin again, and to reconsider the foundation of their faith.

Mamaí Theatre presents "The Testament of Mary" at the Helen in Playhouse Square through July 23, 2017

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Boy Camp 2017

For the eighth year running, the boy and I have been left on our own for a weekend in July, a weekend we refer to as Boy Camp. The truth is, we have plenty of father-son time during the course of any given year. In January my wife and daughter headed to the Women’s March in DC and the boy and I - and Sarah - saw theater, ate poutine and attended the Science Fiction Marathon at Case.

But Boy Camp has become a strong tradition, something we both really look forward to. The weekend has not disappointed. True, we did not go bowling, but we have made a date for the near future. But other stereotypically testosterone-inspired events have transpired.

For example, yes. We began with a trip to Home Depot. Seriously. His call. He has wanted for some time to make his own practice swords, like those we employ in the residency program, and that required ½’ PVC pipe, foam and duct tape. He also bought a dangerous looking utility knife and almost immediately nicked himself with it. Lesson learned, I hope.

We also headed to Game Stop to remit a gift card he’s had, like, two years. His computer and phone have kept him away from that Xbox he bought at the police auction a year or so back, but he only had one controlled. Now he has two and we stayed up late Saturday night playing WWF Smackdown ‘13.

After shopping we headed to Ensemble Theatre, where The Whiskey Hallow was giving a free concert. It should have been out in Pekar Park, but was rescheduled for indoors under threat of heavy storms which never materialized. The bands includes on of the boy’s teachers from School of Rock and a former student, they’re pretty amazing and it was a great show. Wish it could have been outdoors, though.

However, it did afford us the opportunity to check out the ARTFUL artists studios on the second floor of the former Coventry Elementary space. Only two years ago we were rehearsing scenes for Timon of Athens up there, and there was nothing but open, wanting space. Now there are studios and classes, and real work going on.

Unfortunately, the school district plans to sell the building, which puts this new endeavor, Ensemble Theatre, Lake Erie Ink and another important local arts organizations out on the street. I should write a letter.

That evening he made a sword (cut his finger) and we watched three episodes of The West Wing before bed.

Saturday morning he indulged his father, joining me for a theater-related meeting and bearing through it pretty well. I had promised fried chicken and waffles, which is where we headed directly after - to Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles. Folks in the office have been telling me about this place, and we had a fantastic lunch there. However, I think he learned that real pieces of chicken fry better than the boneless kind.

Then to Shaker Square Cinema for Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was the best of the Spider-Man movies. I never liked any of the previous Spider-Man movies.

Before dinner, some exercise. I ran, he biked, some three or so miles through town. We talk about anything on these runs, I am grateful for them. When he comes along on the bike I get water, and take a few breaks. The running has been very challenging the past several months.

Before dinner we had to get bananas, and of course some ridiculous-flavored ice cream. I planned to make fried banana and sunbutter sandwiches, but he persuaded me to slap a piece of cheese on them. He was correct.

We dined watching Most of Buckaroo Banzai. He really wanted to play Xbox but I suggested we watch something while our hands were occupied with the sandwiches, watermelon, Fritos, and Twinkies ice cream. He agreed, and we made it most of the way through the movie before his desire to lay the smacketh down became too overwhelming.

Now, I had made a promise the night before which I seriously did not feel like keeping this morning, which is this: he wanted to fish. I, having been ill for the past ten days, was delighted to not only sleep through the night, but to sleep late. By nine I had no intention to find somewhere to drop a line during the hottest part of the day.

Fortunately, before he woke some friends called asking if he didn’t want to go with them and their son for the day. And so, Boy Camp drew to a close - for me - a bit early, as I sent him to hang out with his best friend in the beautifully resurrected Edgewater Park.

There’s so much more summer in store. I am sure we will get out into it together soon.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Infinite Wrench @ The Neo-Futurarium

This week the family is enjoying a few days in Chicago, following a weekend wedding in Aurora, Illinois. The kids haven’t been here since before they can remember and we have a full slate of touristy things planned for them, city walks and museums and so on.

My son is already familiar with the Neo-Futurists. He has listened to the CD recording they produced in the late 1990s of sketches from Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (an attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes). He became a fan of the work and wistfully remarked he would like to see the show some day, but only if they sell out because he wanted the pizza.

When they sell out, they “order out.” Get it? One large pizza, divided more or less equally among two hundred audience members.

Following the election, I was surprised to read that Neo-Futurists founder Greg Allen had announced he was pulling the rights to Too Much Light (TML) with plans to create a new version designed specifically to "combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression." I posted something on Facebook about the announcement, ignorant of the larger story at play.


I assumed he was disbanding the current troupe of Neo-Futurists, unaware that he left the company several years ago. He doesn’t own the rights to the name Neo-Futurists, in fact there are permanent companies in New York and San Francisco, he only owns the rights to the name “Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind” and licenses the concept to these companies and any others who wish to create their own version of the show. He had pulled the rights to perform TML from the Chicago branch only.

Long story short and without getting into any more details, the NY and SF troupes dropped TML in solidarity with the Chicago troupe and worked to create a new framing concept which is called The Infinite Wrench. That is the name of the show we saw last night.

And it’s virtually the same as TML in all the ways that matter.

Twenty-five years ago my colleagues and I contacted the Neo-Futurists to speak with them about their work and to let them know we were hard at work on our own late night program of very short plays performed in a random order, inspired by TML. There were a few brief questions.

Q: Do you call the play Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind?
A: No.

Q: Do you call yourselves Neo-Futurists?
A: No.

Q: Are you performing any written work previously written by Neo-Futurists and performed in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind?
A: No.

And that was about it. Our format was reverse engineered from theirs, presented in the style of a TV game show, but how can you copyright the idea of performing short plays, even when presented in a randomly decided order?

So it goes with The Infinite Wrench. They were stripped of the iconic title but otherwise the show functions much as it always has.

I cannot recall the last time I saw them perform, but it was certainly before the children were born. The baton has passed entirely from those members of Generation X who made the core company when I first saw them in 1991 – many who have made their mark far beyond the Neo-Futurists, like Ayun Halliday, Greg Kotis, Spencer Kayden, Lusia Strus – to these Millennials.

The differences are subtle, where they are even apparent. Most striking were the emotional, thematic, substantive similarities. There is a philosophy behind writing for this show, for being a member of this company.

Improv comedy troupes like to promote the idea that improvisation means every show is different, when the exact opposite is true. Just because you have no script does not mean every iteration of Party Quirks doesn’t feel like every other performance of Party Quirks.

Yet there is an inherent spontaneity to the writing of the Neo-Futurists, the fast-paced rolling out of the sketches throws an audience member's expectations off-kilter. Many works I experienced last night have the some loopy vibe as those I saw a quarter-century ago, though much of the issues and events addressed are intimately tied to those today.

And this filled me with an intense personal melancholy, as I realized something I thought I understood before but was finally brought into sharp relief. We tried to bring the spirit of TML into our work in Cleveland, but we had no philosophy. We had rules about content, which is not the same thing.

One of the main tenets of The Neo-Futurists is that they do not imitate life, they present it. They never do impressions, they always perform themselves. This is not strictly accurate, one performer last night was a dog, for example – but this was in the service of telling someone else’s story.

When I was twenty-four and twenty-five years old I wrote some great short plays for our show. Those two years spent writing and writing and writing, thinking about writing when I wasn’t actually writing, I learned and grew in my practice every day, laying the groundwork for my future work. But I was entirely immature and unprepared to tap into the kind of emotional honesty present in any single play I saw in just this one performance of The Infinite Wrench.

Last night’s show was a special show, however. Yesterday was the Chicago Pride Parade, and this was the annual "30 Queer Plays In 60 Straight Minutes" performance. The company does not necessarily discourage parents from bringing younger audience members but also could not promise the content to be “appropriate” for them. Our definition of appropriate is different from most people's and I am much more concerned with all the violence my son perpetrates through his video games than watching a series of silent, brief vignettes which describe one intimate evening in a lesbian relationship.

It might also be pointed out that my children are not unaware of LGBT issues. In fact, issues of inclusion and equality are very important to them. It was all cool.

The Neo-Futurists continue, as relevant and fascinating and fresh as when I first experienced their work. It was an inspiration and a reminder.

Best of all, my son got that pizza.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A personal reflection for June 25, 2017.

So we returned from Great Britain. I developed a severe migraine headache, as I always do when traveling east to west, across the sea or land. It happened last year when I flew to Alaska. And the very next day I began work in a summer arts camp with no opportunity to relax and contemplate what had just happened.

I did perform I Hate This again, for Cleveland Public Theatre in 2011, and once again a year ago. Two other gentlemen have performed the show, in Manchester and at Hartwick College.

But the tour brought to an end a five-year journey, first developing the show, fringing it, and then sending it around as an educational tool for hospitals and bereavement organizations.

What I decided not to do was to further pursue the piece professionally. I am sure I could have marketed and sold I Hate This, gathering the proper technical equipment, an educational guide written by experts, producing promotional materials, flying around the world to tell this story.

After five years, however, that was not my direction. In fact, ten years ago was when I began my work as a playwright in earnest. That fall I presented a new work at Cleveland Public Theatre’s “Little Box” and by the next year was at work on “the running play” which I took to New York in 2009.

I joined the Cleveland Play House Playwrights’ Unit, received a Creative Workforce Fellowship, and began writing outreach tours for Great Lakes Theater, and later the newly founded Talespinner Children’s Theatre.

I’ve been a director and an actor, but I always wanted to write, and finally I found my voice as a writer and was creating the work. Revisiting these blog entries from ten years ago has been a personal reminder of how much I have had the opportunity to accomplish since then.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Seventeen: London to Cleveland

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

I don't like summing up. Summing up is for the book, the article or the play. A blog is life in motion, and trying to draw any grand conclusions at the end of a long journey is as pointless as trying to draw one at the end of any given day.

Often I do exactly this when composing a blog entry, and I generally find myself simply dropping the last paragraph before publishing.

"Publishing." That's funny. Getting paid is nice, but what the hell, we'll call it publishing.

Non-stop from London to Cleveland. That's my idea of luxury. Once we arrive at Hopkins, My wife will turn around and board a plane for Vermont. It is year two of her work at Goddard College and she has a week on campus in Plainfield, that leaves me alone with the kids until next Monday. Well, alone with my stage manager/childcare specialist, my parents, and anyone else who will help.

Yesterday was a frazzled attempt to bring things to an enjoyable close. I had floated the idea of getting half-price tix to take the girl to see Mary Poppins. While my brother drove most everyone and our bags back to Battersea, My wife, stage manager, and I took a way around Leicester Square - which in the middle of a Saturday afternoon was an insane crush of tourists and opportunists. The lowest ticket price was £32. We called home and said the show was sold out before lingering around some bookstores.

My brother made curry, and we had an amazing relaxed evening around the vicarage, drinking, talking, watching Monsters Inc. (the girl just loves that movie.)

Yesterday morning I took a six o'clock run around Plymouth. Today I rose in London. Tomorrow I get up at dawn in Cleveland Heights, take the kids to school, and embark on an arts camp for city of Cleveland middle school students.

I could really have used a weekend before starting in on that.

Original blog post: June 24, 2007

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Sixteen: Plymouth to London

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Mayflower Steps
Today I took a two-mile run around Plymouth. I actually ran up the Mayflower Steps, into the Old World. Maybe that's where I belong.

Actually, I ran up the steps next to the "Mayflower Steps," those were steps that led up from the car park in the marina. And those aren't even the real Mayflower Steps, the atucal stone steps Francis Drake descended on his journey to the New World are reportedly in the women's loo in the pub across the street.

I followed the water around the Barbican, up through the city, and back down the West Hoe (yes) making a full circle. It was a fantasy of mine that I would finish by the lighthouse, run down the steps to the ocean, and take an insane, frigid plunge into the Atlantic.

But the tide was out. That would have been an uncomfortable, long wade. I would have looked not like a man triumphant, but rather someone determined to drown himself.

It was a good, brisk run. Two runs in Britain. Worth bringing the shoes.

Original blog post: June 23, 2007

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Fifteen: Plymouth

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Friday, 22 June 2007 


Salvation Army Hall
The schizophrenic weather of Plymouth kept us on our toes all day. The folks took a lovely boat ride in the harbor, while it intermittently pissed rain and shone bright, warm sun. Meanwhile, My stage manager and I met our contact at the hall for tech.

It's a big room, the Salvation Army meeting hall, and our contact had high expectations. There were twenty seats purchased in advance, there were notices in local papers and he did an interview which was played several times, yesterday and today, on the radio station, Plymouth Sound.

I asked him what the pitch was. He is quite familiar with I Hate This, having seen it last October, and listening to the radio drama several times. Describing it over lunch he made it sound like a gripping, exciting drama, one that anyone could get into. So that sounded great.

They'd set up chairs for maybe two hundred on the main floor, with overflow capacity in the balcony for another fifty. I know he was being cheeky when he suggested we might need all those seats, but I also know he was holding out hope for a large turnout.

You can see where I am going with this. In fact, if you have any previous knowledge about the history of this production, the fact that the house was small shouldn't surprise you. It didn't surprise me, and I was not disappointed by it, It was odd that almost half the people who had made paid reservations did not show up, though there were a few walk-ups.

That included one very tall man who had made a reservation for the Exeter performance, and called the day-of to ask for directions, and was surprised to find only that way that the event had been cancelled. He said he drove like mad to get here tonight.

It was challenging balancing the small crowd (I am thankful they were asked to move to the front of the house) and the large space. There were points where I stepped down off the stage and stood right in front of them.

Following tea and cake, our Q&A was almost like a group session, we treated it as one. My wife and I weren't up on the stage, we were down with everyone, talking about our stories.

That reminds me of an interesting thing ... yesterday, after we'd split into two groups, Our contact and my stage manager and I were wandering through Drake's Circus. She went off to the loo, and he and I were just standing there in the middle of this busy mall.

I just blurted out, "So ... what's your story?"

He blinked, inhaled, and told me. And that was good.

Smeaton's Tower
You know, over the course of the past two weeks, My wife and I took a little time to grow into our role as child loss ambassadors, or whatever you might want to call us. In Carlisle we were a bit too scattered to be as personable, or sensitive as we might have liked. I'm not saying we were impolite, but my interactions with our contact there were very business-like -- I need this, I need that, do you think these things can be taken care of by tomorrow -- and we spent most of the intervening time relaxing, making sure the kids were adjusting, and so on.

We'd even showed up late that first afternoon, because we were enjoying ourselves in Glasgow, and didn't bother to call her to let her know.

It wasn't until after the performance that I had a chance to chat with her husband about their little boy, and then say something to her some time shortly before we departed for the evening. I can make excuses about being wobbly, nervous and uncertain, but I still wish I'd started off better.

And yet, "What's your story?" I don't think I'd ever asked anyone about their child so bluntly in my life. It didn't hurt that our Plymouth contact seems like a guy who you can talk to like that. I also wondered after the fact if it's because I don't usually ask guys about their children, I usually start with the women and the approach is much softer.

The discussion was very warm and everyone was very kind. There were an awful lot of men in that small crowd, and it was good to see them, sitting so stoically in their seats. But when the time came I heard what I am always glad to hear, that this story is like theirs, there is so much in common in my story to theirs.

The wife observed a few days ago that she sometimes feels it is odd, sitting up on a stage, talking about our loss, and having so many people ask us about it, as though our loss is more significant than theirs. I don't see it that way. Maybe I am the guy who stands up publicly to tell his story not because my story is more poignant, it isn't, but it's a story, and I tell it and people can point to it and say, that's my story. Like, it makes their story more poignant, because of the great similarities of emotion and circumstance, and they can share it with friends and say, see, that's what I am going through. That story is my story.

Original blog post: June 22, 2007

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Fourteen: Exeter to Plymouth

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Salvation Army Hall
Our contact met us at the train station in Plymouth. He took our stage manager and I to the Salvation Army Hall, where we will be performing tomorrow night, our final performance ... and for all I know, my final performance of I Hate This. After this, I got nothin'. It is a great space. I'm really looking forward to this.

Plymouth has a mall named after Sir Francis Drake, Drake Circus. I find that entirely bizarre.

As our contact showed our stage manager and I around the town center (we would meet with the others for lunch) it began to piss down rain, which would continue for the rest of the afternoon. Welcome to the coast.

We hit a Virgin Megastore and an HMV where I picked up Calvin Harris' I Created Disco and the soundtrack to Life On Mars, the DVD of which is unfortunately Region 2.

Lunch was had in Dingle's department store.

As promised, the kids were looked after by everyone else, and my wife and I toured the quay, had a few pints, enjoyed fresher than fresh seafood for dinner (where I forgot where I was and hideously overtipped the waiter) and finished up in the hotel bar where my wife confessed her newfound appreciation for Phil Collins.

Original blog pot: June 21, 2007

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Thirteen: Lurgan to Exeter

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007 


Nap time at the Pegasus Guest House in Whipton, outside Exeter, and plenty of time on our hands. I had been apprehensive about this day, the only one that involved travel and a performance on the same day in the entire journey. What if something went wrong? What if we were missing something, something were wrong with the tech, I left something behind ... there would be no time to care of of unseen mishaps.

Well. My wife and I went to the Lurgan Public Library to check email, and received an urgent notice from our contact in London that the Exeter show has been cancelled, due to lack of interest. They had only had confirmed reservations for five.

Disappointed? Sure. Maybe more than I expected. We're here, in Exeter (well, Whipton) with nothing to do.

There was a reason we scheduled travel and performance on the same date; we wanted an extra day in Northern Ireland. It was well spent. Our hosts picked us up around 10:30 AM and we took the scenic route along the coast (the Torr Head route) to Giant's Causeway.

Giant's Causeway is this bizarre, unique rock formation along this one, relatively small area of the northern coast. Where the stones have been worn down, it looks like carefully arranged hexagonal boulders have been neatly fit together. Where they are taller they are like great columns. Each stone section is maybe eighteen inches wide.

At different short levels they make for little thrones to sit in. In one area in particular, where there is this section of great, tall pillars all clustered together by the seaside, they contribute to the legend of Finn MacCool, the giant. There was a great bridge, or causeway, across the sea to Scotland. Finn MacCool set across to defeat a giant on the other side - but when he got there, he found the Scottish giant to be much larger than he, so he ran back across, in fear, to tell his wife.

MacCool's wife told him to calm down, dressed him up in a bonnet and gave him a binky and put him in the baby crib. When the Scottish giant came over to fight MacCool, the giantess said, "He's out right now, but don't wake the baby!"

The Scottish giant took one look at the great, hideous baby in the crib, and thought - if that's the baby, how big is the father! In a panic, he ran back across the causeway, tearing up the stones as he went so the monstrous giant, Finn MacCool, could not get at him.

After almost two weeks of urban living, dining and recreating, this day was a blessed departure. And the weather was perfect - we were warned to bring rain jackets and be prepared for great wind and waves, but the sea was calm, the skies were sunny and clear, and it was quite warm. But not too warm, there was a lot of walking.

On the drive into town my wife and I compared notes on the last two cities we'd been to. Birmingham is a lot like Cleveland. It's not a city with the ancient history a lot of the rest of England does, it's an industry town, only the industry dried up decades ago. A lot of people, including some in N.I. spoke disparagingly about Birmingham, but what I saw is a modern city that is trying very hard to become a center of arts and activity, with a number of new shopping centers and entertainment venues.

According to our host, it's only been five years since things have settled down to what you might call normal in Northern Ireland, especially in and around where we were staying, so close to Belfast. The time we spent there wasn't nearly enough to really take in what effect those decades of war have had on the people's psyche, but it can't have been good for business. Driving on the roads (as opposed to say, taking trains, which we have been doing so much of) watching all the farms, the livestock, the people, the wife was reminded of her home in Appalachia.

Our lives being how they are, it is hard to imagine the circumstances where we would be able to return to N.I. Perhaps we will need to make some up.

Original blog post: June 20, 2007

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Twelve: Lurgan

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Lurgan Town Hall
We had a very fine performance at Lurgan Town Hall yesterday. It was the first old-fashioned "stage" I have performed on here; instead of looking up at the audience, or straight out, I actually had to look down at them.

There were some seventy people in attendance. I have grown used to audiences not laughing, at all, at anything, during the performances this week. Maybe it is because of the language barrier. Maybe it is because of my delivery, who knows.

Last night, however, they were laughers. Not huge, belly-laughers, no one does that, it's not that kind of show. But they did laugh appreciatively. I might make some kind of sweeping observation about the Irish knowing something about dark humor, but, well, I guess I just did.

There was this one woman in the front row, she had these great glasses, seated right in front of the phone. She was cracking up at all the muzak. When "Lonely Boy" came on she was my anchor, she thought that was hysterical and I just smiled at her for several seconds before saying, "I love this song."

PLAY
One of the most interesting questions we received was, "What did you hope to get out of doing this?" One thing that was great was that it was a question we could pass onto our contact, who joined us on stage. He had the chance to share the idea SANDS had for bringing me here, to raise awareness of the issue, and of their organization.

The wife also got to speak about the kind of fact-finding work we have been able to do, hearing other people's stories and making observations about the state of health care in different parts of the country -- ours and theirs.

And for my part, I took it back to the beginning - what did I hope to get out of doing this, meaning writing it. Which was nothing but my own need to tell this story, as a theater artist.

At first, I had no idea that this play would take me to such places. I didn't envision it being used as an educational tool, for nurse and doctors, certainly not to be a touch-point for the parents of other dead children. I wanted to see if I could make my personal story into a good play.

Original blog post: June 19, 2007