Sunday, November 17, 2019

Top Best Blog Posts of the 2010s

Self (2010)
I do not recall celebrating the end of the first decade of this century, we just kept calm and carried on. Today, however, there are all kinds of folks asking, "How did you spend the past ten years?"

Ye, gods. I shudder to think. That would be called my 40s, and they flew by. What on earth did I do with them? I don’t feel like I’m any different, anywhere different than I was in 2009.

But the end of that year was when I was awarded a Creative Workforce Fellowship, which was an important step in my journey as a professional playwright
My primary goal in having received the fellowship was to write a play inspired by the events of 1936, and to that end I began this blog, Cleveland Centennial. Most of 2010 was spent chronicling my research, then this blog became a general repository for my thoughts and experiences regarding playwriting and theater.

Reviewing over one thousand unique entries, and in chronological order, here are my Ten Best Blog Posts of the 2010s.

My Last Harvey Pekar Story (7/12/2010)
The day my five year-old son taught me how to mourn.

The Hobbit (12/11/2011)
Researching the events of World War One led to reconsideration of a book I thought I knew.

On the Scary (10/4/2012)
A winding discourse on what scares us, and how the worst monsters are real.

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset (9/18/2013)
Experiencing the first two installments of Linklater’s trilogy inspired a new work.

Guardians of the Galaxy (8/10/2014)
Our doomed desire to pass deeply felt emotions onto others through our favorite tunes.

Brian Chandler Cook performs "I Hate This" (9/9/2015)
Witnessing the transference of your story to another.

Theater of War (1/9/2016)
My job, in a nutshell, and the last book I ever loaned my father.

Objectively/Reasonable (3/7/2017)
The Cold Civil War begins, and everyone is forced to choose a side.

Single White Fringe Geek (10/8/2018)
The single most helpful review I ever received was negative.

My Own Private Dramaturge (6/8/2019)
How we carry the wisdom of our fathers, sometimes literally.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Writer in the Window (2019)

Four years running, I have participated in the "Writers In the Window" event at Appletree Books.

The very first time was in 2016, just before the election. It was hot, the door to the store was propped open, and the Indians were still up in the Series, 3 games to 2. Things looked good.

I sat in the window three times that November, writing a good deal of Red Onion, White Garlic. Last year it was About a Ghoul. I write plays every November, on display in the window of Appletree Books, in full view of Cedar Road rush hour traffic.

Usually I have a laptop, this evening I brought a wooden writer's desk and wrote by hand for two hours, and I daresay I accomplished more in this manner, penning three scenes for The Witches, which I will get to hear read next week

I am lost as to what happens next. But that was also true two hours ago.

Appletree Books is located at 12419 Cedar Rd. in the Cedar-Fairmount District of Cleveland Heights.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Name of the Game (song)

The Name of the Game was released in October, 1977. The first single from the ABBA album ABBA: The Album, it reached number 12 in the United States, and (I was unaware of this until I read the Wikipedia entry) the distinctive bass line was inspired by Stevie Wonder’s I Wish.

I was nine years old in late 1977. What I find amazing is that even at that young age, I knew exactly what the song was about: A young, self-conscious woman (we will say she, the lyrics are sung by self-identifying women) making an appeal to an apparently worldly, probably older man (we will call this person he) a man with whom she has made an emotional connection, to please be honest about what is happening between them.

However, the real impact of this song cannot be understood in the shorter, 3:58 version which was the American radio edit, which omits the entire second verse. I had the album, it was the first pop record I ever bought, so I was aware of the difference.

I have already described what it was like growing up, consuming the pop culture of the late 1970s. I had created for myself a somewhat dark image of adult interpersonal relationships. My parents might be square, but my own adulthood would apparently be one of mistrust, and fleeting, furtive coupling.

This song, especially, in its complete 4:51 album version, affirmed and confirmed this theory. The first verse marks her as insecure, and describes her disbelief that anyone would pay her any attention at all.
I was an impossible case
No-one ever could reach me
But I think I can see in your face
There's a lot you can teach me
In its brief, radio-ready incarnation, the song just rises and rises and rises to the chorus, begging the question, what’s the name of the game?

The second verse, however, makes her sound almost pathetic, as though she thinks of herself as some kind of social outcast.
I have no friends, no-one to see
And I am never invited
Now I am here, talking to you
No wonder I get excited
Because there is a second verse, the heights of the chorus is abruptly brought back down to Stevie Wonder’s pilfered, down-beat bass line. The lyrics then dive so much deeper into the narrator’s personal insecurities, which become even more pronounced, and her surprise that this beautiful mentor has focused his attention on this neophyte, out of an entire crowd.

You might even say he is grooming her.

Her complete shock at this development leads her to ask, “would you laugh at me, if I said I care for you?” That’s a special kind of fear, and now instead of asking for the ground rules of the game, she now sounds afraid it’s just a game. Is he using her? Can he be serious?

This second verse raises the stakes tremendously.

Again, at the age of nine, I got this. I understood it. And even then I was worried I might one day be treated the way she is.

As a child it never occurred to me that I could be the one who treats someone else that way.

Which is all to say, I am entirely unhappy with the manner in which this song is employed in the musical Mamma Mia! Altering the lyrics somewhat, it becomes a somewhat creepy plea from a young woman asking an older man if he is not, in fact, her biological father. So glad they didn't use it in the movie.

I have said too much.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Balm In Gilead (1989)

"Balm In Gilead" by Lanford Wilson, directed by Dennis L. Dalen
(Ohio University School of Theatre, 1989)
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?

- Jeremiah 8:22

“‘Disintegration’ is the best album ever!”
- Kyle Broflovski, South Park
Nineteen Eighty-Nine was the greatest year in musical history. This is a point of some debate, but I know it to be true. Psychologists have explained that each individual believes the music released in one’s twenty-first year will generally be regarded as superior to all others.

But come on, Paul’s Boutique, Three Feet High and Rising, Deep, Pretty Hate Machine, I could go on. Disintegration is indeed the best album ever, and well describes my own psyche at the end of my third year in college, when it was released.

I had gone from second-year golden boy to third-year pariah, and started my fourth-year in perhaps the most mentally correct place I have ever found myself. I learned that I need to get my professional shit together and was ready to just bear down and work until graduation.*

The undergraduate production that fall was Balm In Gilead by Lanford Wilson, a production which opened thirty years ago tonight. An ideal play if you want to cast as many people as possible, Wilson’s work is a hipster fantasia taking place in and around a twenty-hour diner frequented by the addicted, sex workers, and also thieves, hustlers, and criminals.

Joe (Peter Voinovich) and Darlene (Susan Hobrath)
All my best friends, my contemporaries, were in this production (except Jules, who was across the alley, performing in Hurlyburly) and we all underwent a deep, focused investigation of the world of heroine users, expending the kind of time on research that was so plentiful at school, even if we were unaware of it.

We had scheduled a meeting with a therapist at the campus addiction recovery center. I knew absolutely nothing about heroin, save for having watched Sid & Nancy. What I learned became quite valuable, as I will soon point out.

We did not need to study the time period, because director Denny Dalen did not set it in any specific time period, or to be more accurate, we were each from different eras, as though we were walking through some kind of purgatory.

Larry was a 70s street hustler, with picked out Afro, Pete a Miami Vice styled wannabe kingpin in a blazer and T-shirt. Ricky in all-white disco attire, Susan a 60s flower-child, Lisa a hard-boiled 1950s waitress with small apron and snood.

Me, I was the narrator, an addict named Dopey in a mid-80s Deep Purple T-shirt and a high school varsity jacket. My long hair ratted out and my first real beard, I have deeply warm feelings about this costume. Much love to designer Tavia DeFelice.

The script is very challenging to read, as several conversations can be happening at once. You had to say your line in the order it appears on the page, but you might be responding to something someone said three lines back. But the more we did it, the more we heard it, and the more it became like a kind of word jazz.

I remember the week leading up to opening was particularly tough. Denny had something for everyone, and more for some than others. The underclassmen were a pain, as they debated every observation Denny had for them, responding with some explanation for how the way they were doing it made sense.

There's a saying. "Take the note." Don't argue with me. Do it.

One night, before we started in with notes, someone speculated on how long notes were going to go, and how wearying it all was.

Self as Dopey
“Not for David,” said one of the second-years. giving me the side-eye. “He never gets any notes.”

I was a little too quick to respond. “No, I don't. But if I did I’d be sure to pitch a fit about them.”

It got better. Denny was not happy with the penultimate dress, and everyone knew it.

He said, “David is the only person on this stage who knows where he’s coming from and where he’s going to,” or words to that effect.

I don't usually remember compliments, but I remember that. A couple years ago, when posting about Greg Vovos' play, How To Be a Respectable Junkie, I recounted my experience in preparing for this play, and how close study of the text and an understanding of the effects of heroin made it possible for me to pick apart the threads of conversation and develop a clear map of  (as the man said) where I was coming from. Where I was headed to.

Check out the post, the playwright makes it all crystal clear.

So yeah, I was proud of myself, for being the professional, for embodying a whole character and being confident about it. It has been a very long time since I have had the opportunity to dive so deeply into a character.

But the whole production was like that, it was practically immersive. Balm was staged in the Form, a deeply thrust stage. The set (Daniel N. Denhart, designer) inspired by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, the non-present walls of the diner clearly defined by light (James A. Gage, designer) all organey warm inside, and bluishly cold out.

The script is a symphony of despair, one that repeats night after night, as we lounged about the set, crouching in corners, shivering, when we weren’t on. Smoking live cigarettes. Spitting.
DOPEY: (turns to face the audience) Are you getting any of this?
And who knows. Maybe I could have been an actor.

"Balm In Gilead" by Lanford Wilson and directed by Dennis L. Dalen, at the Forum Theater at Ohio University, November 3 - 11, 1989.

*Side Note: Fall Quarter 1989 I had roles in three productions, the mainstage and two fourth year studio plays, whereas all other fourth years were in only two. In addition to Dopey I also played the Fire Chief in Ionesco's "The Bald Soprano" and in Tennessee Williams' "The Gnädiges Fräulein," the Cockalooney Bird.