Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Producing Theater Online

Clockwise from top left: self, Brian Pedaci, Chennelle Bryant-Harris, Carrie Williams
"The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth"
(Brave Spirits Theatre, 2020)

Now let us speak in defense of "Zoom Theatre."

I have not witnessed as many plays online as perhaps I should have by now. There are plentiful professional recordings of plays from before the quarantine that were shot before an audience using several cameras. Like movies, they are.

Hamilton will be released on July 3, and it will appear as one of those. Even more bizarre, filmed iin the summer of 2016 by a company and for an audience who have no idea that Donald J. Trump is about to be elected President of the United States.

We have been paying to stream independent film, but I really should be accessing productions from behind a paywall to support theaters. The critics on Three On the Aisle have promoted several events which, unlike their former offerings in New York City and elsewhere, I can actually view from the safety of my own home.

However, in spite of my desire to support my fellow artists, I have avoided diving too deeply into the world of “Zoom Readings.” There have been plentiful opportunities to hear actors read new scripts or even the works of Shakespeare, but when you spend your working day staring at a screen, returning to it for entertainment is a particular investment.

Speaking of which, anyone else's butt hurt? I mean, from sitting? Just me? I digress.

There have been some impressive attempts to elevate the medium, and the time that goes into them makes the experience much more rewarding.

Earlier this week I was a participant in the Brave Spirits Theatre reading of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, a forerunner to and by all accounts the inspiration for not only Shakespeare’s own Henry V play, but also the Henry IV plays.



Running at only ninety minutes, this work, entirely in prose and whose author is lost to history, the work his none of the grand poetic turns of Shakespeare’s work (nothing to match “Muse of Fire” nor “Band of Brothers”, no “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world” to be found here) it’s full of humor, drama and above all jingoistic bravado, this is by all records the play that created the English appetite for historical drama.

Bedroom Studio
Directed by Kelly Elliott (she also directed Shakespeare’s Henry V for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival last summer) we had a couple rehearsals before performing once, live streaming on YouTube.

The thing about Zoom performances is that it is incumbent upon the actors to provide their own costume, to create their own set, and must work together to create props which, if shared, need to be identical. We had great fun putting it all together, and it was helpful and rewarding that BST provided dramaturgical commentary before and after the work. Any technical issues could be addressed in real time in the comments section, which was also a bonus. Some of us were even following along “backstage.” It was kinetic, lively, and loud.

There is a certain forgiveness audiences will provide a free performance, generously offered by a company trying to connect with their audience during this quarantine, and even it has to be said, to remain relevant.

Last weekend my wife and I paid admission (they had asked for a minimum one dollar donation) to watch Cleveland Public Theatre present a live “virtual reading” of Excerpts from Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation by India Nicole Burton.


Also a history play, about the women of the Black Panther Party, presented in prose, verse and dance, it was a highly choreographed piece, had a fluidity by featuring few performers (four, the screen was complete the entire performance) and it was brief, only forty minutes.

CPT is also creates a sense of live theater by giving audience members the chance to communicate before and after the performance (not during) and these online offerings not archived. They’re live, like theater should be, and not recorded. Subtle differences in performance, or outright mistakes, are for that audience only.

That one way, that one time, just for us. Just like live theater.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Short Play Project: Parenthood Series

Since we started having living children time has collapsed. Just last night (it was a very hot night, I could not sleep) I was thinking of the rooms in our house, and the different uses they have had.

My wife and I each had our own office, which were sacrificed; one room for the children, one for a playroom. Then two rooms for the children. Layers of paint, the acquisition and letting go of various furnitures. The music, the craft, the arguments, the injuries. And finally, coming to terms with the reality of their one day moving on.

Several writing prompts inspired reflection upon the condition of parenthood, lovingly interpreted by these performers.


"Mail"
Performed by Emmy Cohen & Moira Cohen


"Hero"
Performed by Tim Collingwood


"Deck"
Performed by Derek Koger & Evelyn Koger

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Short Play Project: Quarantine Series

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says 'John J. Caswell, Jr. @johnjcaswelljr No offense but I'm not going to go see a play reliving any of this. 10:49 AM 3/24/20 Twitter for iPhone'Yes, I have written a few short plays about sheltering-in-place. I mean, I'd rather not. I posted a tweet from theater artist John J. Caswell, Jr. that read, "No offense but I'm not going to go see a play reliving any of this."

He posted that two months ago.

But sometimes inspiration strikes and sometimes the results are enjoyable. Almost a month into quarantine I wrote Quarantine, which has been delightfully rendered by my long-time friends Ben and Pam, detailing the busy life of stay-at-home Gen Xers.

I've been catching up a lot with old high school friends on Zoom recently, and was made terribly aware of how the lion's share of my good high school memories are from the last several months of senior year. Having teenagers at home myself, I much more aware of what they are missing than what I currently am, in the form of cancelled concerts, parties, and ceremonies. A month ago I wrote Prom, to lend some perspective, perhaps, to the turns that life can take.

Finally, I have included here Giovanni, which started as a in-joke at work, but actually provides some sympathy to the much-maligned character of Friar John from Romeo and Juliet.


"Quarantine"
Performed by Ben Dooley & Pam Turlow

"Prom"
Performed by Maria Guardino Schreiner


"Giovanni"
Performed by Tim Keo

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Short Play Project: Philosophical Series

The short plays are always written in the morning, before I have had too much time to think, or censor myself. Sometimes the writing is merely a conversation I have with myself, debating an issue, or a thought.

I am not religious. I have considered Buddhism, though I would hardly call myself a practitioner. Even if I were, I am not prepared to consider that a belief, but a philosophy. These works reflect my recent feelings about finding peace, and making sense of a complicated planet.


"Smiling"
Performed by James Alexander Rankin


"Bodhisattva"
Graphic blandishments by Nancy Shimonek Brooks


"Karma"
Performed by JR Simons

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Short Play Project: Action Figure Series

Many among us are sheltering-at-home alone ... or with people who do not make willing acting partners. Several actors have requested monologues, but I haven't written many monologues so those went fast. Most of my short plays require two characters. A small number, even three.

These short plays have been executed with the use of action figures, Funko dolls and pretty ponies, and they have been particularly popular.


"Welcome"
Performed by Assad Khaishgi


"Troll"
Performed by Michele Kosboth


"War"
Performed by Carrie Williams

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Spaceship Earth (film)

Florian Schneider Lives
DID YOU KNOW ..? You can watch first-run art house films, streaming courtesy of your friends at Cleveland Cinemas. (This is not a paid advertisement, support your local businesses.)

Last night we watched Spaceship Earth, a new documentary directed by Matt Wolf, about Biosphere 2, its origins, what went wrong, and what didn’t.

For those too young to remember, or are only aware of the Pauly Shore flick, Biosphere 2 is a minor footnote in 90s history, like the Hale-Bopp comet, or Pauly Shore. It was an enclosed environment in the Arizona desert, and eight individuals sealed themselves inside for two years to see how well they could survive.

My wife and I were trying to remember the details. Didn’t they abort the mission? Didn’t they “cheat” somehow? We remembered them going in (it was in September 1991) but didn’t remember them coming out.

A great deal of the film is dedicated to the foundations of the project which go back to the 1960s. A band of surprisingly capable and intelligent back-to-the-earth people, led by a charismatic if somewhat odd leader, practice avante garde theatre, and teach themselves how to live sustainably, on the earth, and then on the sea. It is a remarkable American story.

By the 1990s, the world had changed and with media attention their greatest experiment, and the personalities of those involved, were picked apart and exposed as less-than-science. This is why people like us, who were only casually paying attention, were left with the impression that it was a failure. Biosphere 2 is a punchline, like Pauly Shore.

But the film’s sincere portrayal of the the founders of the experiment, and what happened to them is what I found most relevant. We have been fighting the same battles since the 1960s; those who are exploring new belief systems and new ways of doing things, against those who just hate those people, and seek dominance, control, profit, and adherence to the dominant paradigm.

This fucking guy.
In this case, ageing hippies built a very sophisticated terrarium, and when their work was complete, Steve Bannon stepped in, kicked everyone to the curb and seold the science to the highest bidder.

Yes, that Steve Bannon. It’s a real what-the-fuck moment. Just watch the movie. What’s amazing to me is that it is impossible to watch, listen to, or read anything today without seeing just how everything that has ever happened has led to this current moment. Baby Boomers have been waging an inter-generational civil war for almost sixty years, the idealistic innovators vs. the aggrieved demagogues, and have destroyed the nation in the process.

“Spaceship Earth” was released May 8, 2020.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Short Play Project: Humiliation Series

Writing these short works has provided me the opportunity to work out some of the more embarrassing moments in my life. I have been every one of these characters.


"Alone"
Performed by Tracey Gilbert & Robert Buckwalter


"T-shirt"
Performed by Michelle Ho & Kylie Nolan


"Butthole"
Performed by Samantha Cocco, Hannah Storch & Carrie Williams
 
You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Short Play Project: COVID-19 Series

There are those who speculate on all the coronavirus plays that will be debuting next season. Then there are those who state clearly they would never again wish to relive this period through drama or any other art form. Then there are those who direly suggest even a 2021-22 theater season is wishful thinking.

Several of my plays have become quarantine plays, as a direct result of how they have been interpreted on video for this project. Then there are those I have written specifically about COVID-19. These three are in the chronological order; written just before the lockdown, then shortly after the commencement of same (I was shocked by the phrase "it's only been a week" when I watched the video for Sick) and finally a reflection on the future.

They're a little depressing. It's okay if you don't want to watch.


"Packing"
Performed by Ellen Morales & Katie Rotuno


"Sick"
Performed by Taylor Steigmeyer & Trevor Pletcher
Produced by Sandbox Student Productions


"Busking"
Performed by Monica Cross

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Short Play Project: Monologue Series

Monologues are a conundrum. I am not a big monologue guy. There are few monologues in my plays, unless you count my monodramas, which are technically one big monologue.

As a director and arts education administrator, I have to watch a lot of monologues. Today should have been our annual audition for actor-teachers for the residency program. Instead it is the deadline for people to provide video auditions for same.

Video auditions are almost uniquely terrible, the worst possible way for an actor to make a first impression. But then, so are monologues in general. Actors have to be themselves and greet you, then "take a moment" and suddenly be someone else. That person is usually angry, or upset, or deadly earnest. Out of nowhere.

It's not fair, it's a terrible way to determine someone's talent, but we got a lot of people to see here and very little time. So there you are.

There are lots of books of monologues, pieces not taken from plays but written to be stand-alone monologues. Those might make for good performance pieces but they aren't very good for auditions. You can pretty much tell them for what they are. They usually feature very loopy or silly character, or if written for teens, way too emotional. They aren't fully developed, because they aren't part of a larger thought-out story.

Too many monologues chosen by women to perform at auditions are about being obsessed with a man. Too many monologues chosen by men to perform at auditions are about their junk.

I hadn't intended any of the three monologues featured here to be monologues, they just happened to feature one individual talking. Two of them are from the point of view of animals. "Cactus" might be very different interpreted by a male-identified actor.

And, hey. Feel free to use any of them at your next audition.


"Stray"
Performed by Joe Milan


"Cactus"
Performed by Nina McCollum


"Peace"
Performed by Rich Stimac

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Short Play Project: Mourning Series

I began writing these short plays in late September. That might seem a long time ago for most people, given our current situation. To me, that was the last moment before my mother began her sudden and inexorable decline.

She was in the hospital the first weekend of October, and again two months later. A month after that, she was dead. Writing these plays was one way of trying to make sense of losing her. I mean, it never did make sense. But at least in writing these I remember what it was like just before we lost her.

I am particularly grateful for the performers who took on these scripts, and created these lovely short films from them.


"Magic"
Performed by Liza Grossman & Phil Gould


"Café"
Performed by Emily Mathews & Tom Wolan


"Call"
Performed by Josh D. Brown

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Short Play Project: Romantic Series

My last day in the office was Monday, March 16. That, for us, was the beginning of quarantine.

The night before I posted the first video in the Short Play Project. I had put out a request for interested parties who would like to create art through (or in spite of) social distance.

Since then folks in Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York City and elsewhere have created over forty-five short films from my brief play scripts.

What is remarklable to me is how many, written before the onset of COVID-19, have taken on additional significance, recorded as they are over conferencing platforms, cellphones, or even in makeshift tents.

Here are three romantic short plays.


"Hands"
Performed by Adam Graber & Vince Williams


"First Kiss"
Performed by Bobby Coyne & Valerie C. Kilmer


"Worlds"
Performed by Laura Burnett & Joe Tanjai

You can watch the entire Short Play Project here.

Friday, May 1, 2020

What Happened (a play without the baby)

A couple weeks ago, I polled my friends on Facebook for an alternate title for my mondrama, I Hate This (a play without the baby). All of the responses I received were thoughtful and generous, poetic and appropriate. Really, every single one of them.

Titles suggestions included:
  • Fallen Leaf
  • A Whole In the Heart
  • Duet
  • Still
  • Forever Still
  • So Still
  • Pack Up the Moon
  • Eternal Lullaby
  • Zawadi
  • Still Love, Still Grief
  • Still My Child, Still Their Father
  • Still a Father
  • Acts of Despair
  • Bereft
  • Beyond Measure
  • Remembering Him
  • The Play Without the Baby
  • Talk About the Baby
  • Baby Shoes, Never Used
  • Still, Born
  • It Seems So Wrong
  • Firstborn Son
  • Three
  • Calvin
  • Still, My Son
  • Still, Father
  • A Father Stil
  • I Am a Father
  • Am I Still a Father?
  • He and I
  • Return to Sender
  • This Is How It Doesn’t Go
  • Untitled (On Purpose)
  • The Lost Homecoming Parade
  • The Sparrow
And, of course, Fuck You, Gerber.

There is a company in Chennai, India who have made plans to produce my play once the theaters re-open. And they very politely and sincerely requested they promote the production with a different title.

The title has been controversial, since the beginning. The play has been controversial. I had at least one producer tell me it was unwise to begin at the moment we were informed that the baby was dead, providing the audience no warning whatsoever.

My thinking was, and is, the title is the warning. But then, surely it has prevented any from attending. Hate is a very strong word, it is a word I choose not to use in daily life, if I can help it. I do not hate.

But we said, time and again, I hate this. We both did. Again and again. “I hate this”. I say it only once during the play, in passing, You might even miss it.

And it was this expression, a statement of feeling, that blankets the entire year chronicled in the script. And that is what I was seeking, another, less fraught expression, from the play, which best describes what this play is. Not something poetic. Not thoughtful, not soft nor sweet, not even descriptive of the situation. Not about me, not about her, not about him.

The first thing I said when I heard the news, the very first thing, was a question. “What happened?”

And this play is an urgent document of what happened. Not a question, a fact.

So, for now, we will call this play What Happened.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Play a Day: Don Quixote at Tiananmen Square

Daniel Ho
Since April 1, 2017, I have read 120 full-length plays as part of my "Play a Day" series. This year has been stranger than most, for obvious reasons, and went by, if not with speed, but without much distinction from one day to the next. But the plays stand out.

A large number of them had to do with injustice, in particular injustice against women. But they were each unique and stylish and most of them very, very good.

It is an inspiration to read these works, and I am glad to take one month a year to just binge on them.

For Thursday, the last day of April, I read Don Quixote at Tiananmen Square by Daniel Ho and posted at New Play Exchange.

The fictional knight of Cervantes appears in Bejing during the spring of 1989 to inspire a young man who sees himself as a harsh realist during a season of hope and idealism. Cervantes' Quixote was mad, and madness led him from a life of unhappiness to one of wonder and magic. Do we need to be insane to hope for freedom? To have the passion to fight against incredible odds?

When I say "we" I don't mean Americans. We don't know what form oppression takes, as fools stage protests because they cannot golf, or get haircuts. Today they, we protest on behalf of the system. I wonder how this play would appear with an all-white cast (with perhaps a Chinese-American Quixote) to illuminate what true oppression looks like. If those who would hold signs reading "Sacrifice the Weak" were to hear the words of these young Chinese students frm the mouths of those who appear like them, they might understand.

Or not. The world went mad a long time ago.

Thirty plays, thirty days. We will write, we will read. Stay well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Play a Day: Bender and Brian

Trish Harnetiaux
For Wednesday, I read Bender and Brian by Trish Harnetiaux and posted at New Play Exchange.

Earlier this month, when everyone was posting their high school senior year photos (in solidarity with the Class of 2020, I guess?) I posted the "Man of the Year" picture of the character Carl Reed, a photo which is seen very briefly at the beginning of The Breakfast Club.

It's one of those you-get-it-the-second-time joke, if you are even paying attention, because that's Carl the Janitor, played by John Kapelos (he who also played the "oily bohunk" in Sixteen Candles) who exists both as a cautionary tale to the priviledged young detentionees, and also as a sounding board for Vice Principal Vernon.
Vernon: Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me.
Carl: I wouldn't count on it.
Carl Reed
Shermer High School
Class of 1969
Did you know ..? Rick Moranis was originally cast as Carl the Janitor. That's right! He would have had the biggest name in the credits. Only Moranis wanted to play him with a Russian accent and have a gold tooth, like a total character. He insisted upon it.

I mean, that would been have awful right? Thrown off the balance of the entire film (so would have the shower scene, but that's another story.) And they got Kapelos, and the rest is history.

And then John Kapelos tagged himself on my Facebook photo and now we're Facebook friends, and life is totally random in that way.

Harnetiaux's Bender and Brian is a Gen X relationship fever dream, inspired by the (fictional) recasting of the actors who were originally to play those characters. We follow them over the course of over forty years as Brian and Bender (their actual names) develop and maintain a deep, life-long friendship.

The playwright's dialogue is incredible, I kept laughing out loud. Like a modern Godot, these two just keep bouncing off each other, they would be lost without each other's company. It is a loving and hilarious rumination on the nature of relationships, and at the same time exploring regret for the road not taken, a hallmark of our generation.

Tomorrow is the last day of April. Who should I read?



Source: Why Rick Moranis Was Fired From The Breakfast Club, Cinema Blend (3/15/2015)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Play a Day: Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Seven
For Tuesday, I read Twenty-Seven by David Hilder and posted at New Play Exchange.

"Ok, everybody under the age of forty, OUT."

That's, like, my favorite line of dialogue I've read all month.

Twenty-Seven is a touching memoir about growing up. Just kidding, this is a riotous sex comedy about fucked up trust fund children and the inescapable damage caused being raised wealthy and shallow.

And it is also, in is special way, about growing up. About finding true happiness and supports the unglamorous truth about really great middle-age sex. Hilder has great talent with brisk and witty dialogue and sympathetic if somewhat shameful characters.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Play a Day: Wonder of Our Stage

Monica Cross
For Monday, I read Wonder of Our Stage by Monica Cross and posted at New Play Exchange.

I am currently reading The Mirror and The Light, Hilary Mantel's third book in her trilogy of the life and work of Thomas Cromwell. If the first two novels taught us anything, it was dangerous the marry Henry VIII. This third book, which I am only partway through, teaches us how dangerous it became to marry anyone even related to Henry VIII.

Last spring I first read Wonder of Our Stage during the run of King Lear at Beck Center. Cross has since created a final revision, and so I wanted to read it again.

Mantel, in her latest work, echoes the premise of Cross's play, which is how fraught it was to be a female heir to the throne or monarch herself when it comes to matrimony. To marry a male foreigner of any rank is to be subordinate to an entire nation, to marry an Englishman is to be subordinate to a subject. Because women are subordinate, and even the Queen of England couldn't change that.

Wonder of Our Stage takes the world of Harold Bloom quite literally, that Shakespearpeare "invented the human," and this play is a deeply pleasurable contemplation on the nature of what it is to be human. The playwright here also playfully tweaks the myths surrounding Shakespeare and the suggestion that did not write his own work.

In the past I have made comment on fictional plays about Shakespeare, scripts in which he is present and those in which he is not. In any of these cases the cardinal sin is that a member of the audience must have brushed up their Shakespeare in order to appreciate the many inside jokes. This is not the case with Cross's work, which is enjoyable entriely on its own. 

Elements of many of the Bard’s work, entwined with homages to Frankenstein, Pinocchio, and all stories of a child or creation in conflict with their parent or creator. Elegiac and inspiring, this script is a must-read.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Play a Day: Crying On Television

R. Eric Thomas
For Sunday, I read Crying On Television by R. Eric Thomas and posted at New Play Exchange.

Some write plays that really want to be TV shows. Too many locations, to wacky, too much self-awareness. You can tell the playwright is writing for the stage with an eye to adaption into screenplays.

With Crying On Television, Thomas has created a stage play which has agreat deal to do with our collection obsession with television programs, but it is definitely meant for the stage.

It's a heart-warming story of a cadre of folks who (may or may not) live in the same New York City apartment, but rub each other the wrong way in a genuine attempt for connection in the place where they live.

How do adults make friends in the big city? Is it as easy as it is on a sit-com? Or can we find true love on a reality show? Each character is searching for their version of Prince Charming, who could be love but may also be a real friend.

The script is also very witty, the dialgoue had me laughing out loud, and, at one terribly awkward party, even farce-adjacent. And it's sweet.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Play a Day: Slaying Holofernes

Emily McClain
For Saturday, I read Slaying Holofernes by Emily McClain and listed at New Play Exchange.

Sometimes an evocative title can create in the imagination its own narrative, and then you read a thing and find out you were entirely in another universe, or if not entirely, at least that you were wrong.

I thought "Slaying Holofernes" might be the story of taking down wistful, entrenched, and useless academics, the Holofernes of the title a reference to he who is found in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. But I was mistaken.

Judith Slaying Holofernes
(Artemisia Gentileschi, 1613)
In this case, we are referring to the biblical Holofernes, a marauding general who was beguiled by the Hebrew widow Judith, who got him drunk and cut off his head. The tale was immortalized by the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who is a subject of McClain's play.

McClain's work is an intense courtroom/boardroom drama, moving back and forth in time to detail the unfair treatment of two women in the workplace, a seventeenth century painter and a modern numbers cruncher.

The two tales compliment each other, as we are treated to compelling debates, with echoes of the Kavanaugh hearings, which was itself a repetition on a historic theme, in which women are asked the same contradictory questions in order to exonerate the man; Why did you wait to speak? Why did you not behave differently at the time? Why don't you just shut up?

The playwright's use of classical paintings, and her stage directions regarding to use of light are particularly compelling. I am drawn to plays about painters, enticed by their description of color and theme and light. This is a powerful play, enhanced by Biblical, classical, and modern atmospheres.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Play a Day: Abigail, For Now

Jackie Martin
For Friday, I read Abigail, For Now by Jackie Martin and listed at New Play Exchange.

Last night I had a dream that I was in a public library, trying to produce my half-hour radio program for broadcast on the local station. And I was trying to sit at a crowded table, full of nerds. That's how I thought of them, in my dream.

There was one guy in particular who was railing against the system in a voice we once would have refered to as "adenoidal" and I had just had it and was trying to extract my bookbag from my chair which next to his chair, because he had an entire lack of spatial awareness and I wasn't able to sit at the table in the first place, regardless.

As I stalked away, with my bag, heading over to the recording equipment I thought to myself , "Ugh! Nerds!"

I mean, I was a nerd, myself, which in those days was different than it is today. I think. I played RPGs, had a passing interest in the occult, noodled with computers (back when only nerds would own one) and listened to Genesis. And yet, I didn't go all in, I tried to pass as straight, and yes, I would disown one of my colleagues if I there was social pressure to do so.

I was on the fringes of one circle of dorks, guys who perhaps I had spent one twenty-four hour period playing a single, unending game of "Risk" with. One of our members shot himself when we were juniors. I mourned in shame, because we were friends/not-friends. We had spent good times togther. I had mocked him behind his back.

My daughter was just making new friends as a freshman when one of them she sat with at lunch also died by suicide. As a parent, the terror, worrying that your child might be removing themselves from reality, losing hope for their own future, it's real. It is unspoken. Until it must be spoken.

Playwright Jackie Martin has crafted an unsettling fable of a teenage girl who has come to believe in a reality everyone knows to be false. Her parents are sympathetic, they are real. There are no simple answers, there is no ah-ha moment when some dark secret is made evident, we are left in the dark to wonder, as they do, what has happened to Abigail?

It is a metaphor for being adolescent, to literally evolve into a new beign, with the same thoughts and memories of the child whose form is being shed. And also for what it is like, as a parent, to feel helpless in the face of inevitable change.

The ending, too, is a metaphor. Or is it?

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Play a Day: Click. Dark.

Grant MacDermott
For Thursday, I read Click. Dark. by Grant MacDermott and listed at New Play Exchange.

MacDermott has created a psychological thriller which literally set my heart racing. There were places reading this story when I could no longer breathe well. It is a tense shocker about secrets, the internet and social media, generational conflict, student-teacher relationships, taboos, truth and self-loathing. A gripping small-cast drama and truly disturbing.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Play a Day: Millenials Suck!

Alisha Espinosa
For Wednesday, I read Millenials Suck! by Alisha Espinosa and listed at New Play Exchange.

When you grew up defines your generation. But being a young adult comes with the requisite baggage of feelings and fears and it is the manner in which the latter copes with the former that makes you Millennial, Gen X, Boomer, Silent, Greatest, and so on, back and back through American history.

I mean, don't get me started. When it comes to generational politics, I am the one who gets a conference call from the lunchroom at work if the subject comes up.

Just yesterday, a Millennial cohort lamented "Why do people hate us Millennials so much Lol," and I said who are you calling people? Only Boomers do that. Another threatened to search "Millennial" on my fb page and I told them to go ahead, because I knew I was a card-carrying ally and then I told her her to search "Boomer" on my fb page and she came back and told me I am a joy to behold.

I did a "Boomer" search on my page myself and was surprised at how much shade I throw at them. It's startling.

Millenials Suck! is a collection of vignettes on a common theme, and it is alive with music and movement, packed with tales of aching and anger in the Big City. Espinosa chronicles the desire for and fear of commitment common to young adults, but complicated by the present moment.

We, Gen X, were raised in a nation that told us we should be able to have anything, because it was America, and it was easy -- our only war lasted a month and it was a rout. So any problems we have must be our own. These young adults today have seen that society collapse like a house of cards and refuse to take the blame for it, which is only correct.

If the Post-Millennials in my own home are any indication they will be much more cynical than their parents, and far more militant. But I digress.

The playwright wrestles issues of race and class and gender and ideology, with humor and style, creating a cohort of charismatic characters, trip from one small NYC apartment to the next (and also a county fair) with a wise and open heart. I loved this. I don't miss being in my twenties.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Play a Day: Cul-De-Sac

Joanie Drago
For Tuesday, I read Cul-De-Sac by Joanie Drago and listed at New Play Exchange.

Absolutely everything comes back to quarantine. Today we will post the fortieth of my short plays which have been turned into brief videos since March 15. Most of them, written before the onset of COVID-19, have taken on contemporary resonance recorded as they under shelter-at-home regulations.

Likewise, I want to stage a live, three camera performance of Cul-De-Sac, like a 70s sit-com complete with canned laughter, but also the stage blood, full frontal nudity and armfuls of carrots the text requires.

It's the boredom of quarantine, and the potential for madness I would like to express, which in this case is played for laughs, while at the same time exhibiting a keen emulation of the social commentary of (spoiler alert) Ray Bradbury.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Play a Day: How Blood Go

Lisa Langford
Twenty plays in twenty days. Like most people, I feel the days are only melting into each other.

For Monday, I read How Blood Go by Lisa Langford and posted at New Play Exchange.

Lisa's work is poetic and comic and cutting and brilliantly outlandish.

Last fall I had the pleasure of seeing the premiere of Rastus & Hattie, which was inspired by the Westinghouse "Rastus Robot" from the 1930s. Did you know Westinghouse built a prototype robot for attending to housework ... and gave it African features?

That part is true. Langford took this concept to extradordinary lengths; I wouldn't call it Afrofuturism but rather Afrohistoricism, bending time and space to satirically comment upon the African American experience.

With How Blood Go she takes studies into how black patients are treated poorly as compared to white patients by the medical establishment, and weaves it into a broader historic context.

The character Quinntasia visits her friend Did in the hospital, and goes about making her comfortable in the absence of proper care by the medical staff. "We take care of everybody," Quinntasia laments. "Who take care of us?"

While my mother was dying, she was looked after by a team of compassionate caregivers. Mostly women, mostly African American women. If black women didn't show up, America would collapse entirely.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Play a Day: Paper Cranes

Kari Bentley-Quinn
For Sunday, I read Paper Cranes by Kari Bentley-Quinn and posted at New Play Exchange.

Okay, so. First things, first. I have been asked to consider a new title for my monodrama I Hate This (a play without the baby) for performance in another country. The request was sincere, and respectful, and included a good argument for making the change in this case.

Also, yesterday I spent the afternoon rooting about in my mother's attic, appraising personal effects, making notres of the things that she had stored for someone to eventually make a decision about (not her.)

Now I am reading a play about love and mourning and I am finding it all a bit too much to take. Still, good play.

"Everyone's always infecting someone with something."

This is such a warm and tender play, full of grief and longing. I was once told I wrte plays about "decent people" and I am still not sure if that was a compliment or a criticism. So many stories are people with awful, deceitful characters, people I don't want to spend two hours with, or five minutes.

Okay, sometimes. But not usually. And they don't touch me at all.

Bentley-Quinn has crafted a sextet of inter-twined relationships and in anothers' hands they would all meet in a big, explosive, shocking reveal but surprisingly, they do not. And that was the right choice because this story of grief and loss deserved to remain at the center of the plot and not become the subject of emotional porn.

Sorry, I hate describing what this play isn't when what I meant to say is how enamored I am of what it is. A testament to the paths of grief and and th inevitability of change, and the hope that we can understand and survive the needto move forward into an uncertain future.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Play a Day: Sour Mash

Benjamin Gonzales
For Saturday, I read Sour Mash by Benjamin Gonzales and posted at New Play Exchange.

My brother's first off-campus housing, he lived in the upstairs room of a professor of English who would answer the telephone by shouting, "WHO'S THAT?"

Gonzales's play is a classic drawing room comedy of manners with additional contemporary relevance. I laughed out loud many times, the wordplay in this farce about class, race, and whiskey is truly delightful.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 17, 2020

Play a Day: John Proctor is the Villain

Kimberly Belflower
To round out the week, I am enjoying a script that I have been looking forward to for months, yet purposefully avoided.

For Friday, I read John Proctor is the Villain by Kimberly Belflower and listed at New Play Exchange.

Last weekend my new play The Witches was to have received a workshop production at Cleveland Public Theatre. As I was trying to create a modern take on the historic events of the Salem Witch Panic fo 1692, I was worried that I might be influenced by this piece which has been getting a lot of attention.

I need not have worried. If anything, Belflower's play script has inspired me to return to my own text and push it further. Because her play is startlingly biting and beautiful and just what we need right now. I hope it gets produced all over the place.

And it is in reading such pieces that I feel challenged to create more and better work.

I love the title, that's first. And I was stunned and delighted that the holding company for Arthur Miller's written works granted permission for text from The Crucible to be quoted in this play. We could compare and contrast how those managing works by dead white men such as Samuel Beckett or Edward Albee have managed their estates, in this case I was gratified to know the keepers of Miller's work appreciate that criticism does not equal denigration.

Villain is a high school drama which excellently describes the familiar manner in which woman is still pitted against woman in American society, a society still haunted by its Puritanic roots, for the continued domination by men. The cracks are beginning to show, though the light shining through them remains dim. It's a hopeful story, but also realistic. There's so much work left to be done.

This script is tense, taut, humorous, dramatic, powerful, poetic, and devstating, and high schools everywhere should be producing this.

In the past two days, I have read plays about transgressive relationships between teacher and student, this one and Meet Me In The Bathroom. One of the iconic taboos, as it is not only a violation of our communal understanding that it is criminal for adults to engage in sexual activity with children, but also represents a violation in the bond of trust between student and mentor.

It is a power play; one uses their position of power to satisfy their own desires, with little or no regard for the damage that might cause the disempowered.

As a child, or pre-adolescent, I was exposed to the Kubrick film version of Lolita, and also the popular song which name checks the author of the novel from which it was adapted, "Don't Stand So Close to Me." At that time, in these cases, such titilating fare made an impression on me because I thought of mysef as the child, receiving forbidden knowledge, and not as the adult, and I was caught up in the romantic danger of it, instead of paying attention to the apparent damage it caused.

This was further complicated as I entered high school and as a freshman was complicit in turning a blind eye to an actual teacher-student relationship. "Tell my parents I'm with you," is a lie teenagers have been pressed into telling on their friend's behalf since the invention of the telephone.

Whether it be Nabokov or Sting, we used to learn about these stories from the predators point of view, one who positions himself (usualy himself) as the hero. Increasingly, as with these two scripts, we see it from the student's. And that is a powerful thing.

Who should I read tomorrow?



Read The Witches at New Play Exchange.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Play a Day: Meet Me In The Bathroom

Cassie M. Seinuk
So the other day I got shamed by an actual, platinum-certified rock star for mocking the name of his band on the morning announcements in 1985.

Seriously, he took me to task for being a dick thirty-five years ago. Not that I wasn't a dick, but that's how he remembers me.

The lesson here, maybe, is never to be a dick. Ever. Not now, and not in high school.

For Thursday, I read Meet Me In The Bathroom by Cassie M. Seinuk and available at New Play Exchange. It's a cutting teenage drama, one that literally takes place entirely in one high school bathroom.

Seinuk creates a modern Greek tragedy, complete with chorus of voices, debate and off-stage violence, and the Unities followed in spirit if not the letter.

The question, for several of these teen protagonists, is when does betrayal actually happen? When an act of tragsression is committed, when the act is proposed, suggested, or as yet unspoken, living on in the mind of the perpetrator?

An intense tale for the #metoo era, flashing with on-point modern lingua (it helps that I have teenagers in my house) old wrongs fuel present actions and the conclusion is tragic for everyone involved.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Play a Day: Bone Is For Dog; Meat Is For Man

Stacey A. Bryan
We are halfway through the month of April, which is amazing. Because what is happening? In today's play, life is decsribed as "messy and loud." At the moment it is very tidy and quiet.

Too quiet.

For Wednesday, I read Bone is for Dog; Meat is for Man by Stacey A. Bryan and available at New Play Exchange.

Reading a stack of plays every April is a journey around the world, or at least this hemisphere, something we all can use right now. Stacey A. Bryan is a playwright in St. Thomas and takes us there in this play.

So many people close to me are tormented by those voices in our heads that tell us we are wrong, what we are doing is wrong, the person that we are is wrong. Bryan's protagnist Layla has a literal person in the mirror who reminds her daily of how far short she has fallen.

It's a play with a strong message about body issues, but it's also a romantic comedy and a family drama, a poetic and earthy account about seeking perfection in yourself, and acceptance with what you eventually find.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Play a Day: Peter Cratchit, Esq.

Kerr Lockhart
For Tuesday, I read Peter Cratchit, Esq. by Kerr Lockhart and available at New Play Exchange.

A sequel to Dickens's classic, the son of Bob and Emily Cratchit is the director of the charitable organization left behind by Ebenezer Scrooge. Lockhart creates snappy, witty conversation, and peoples the story with characters original and familiar, a celebration of the world of non-profit and the pople in it.

This Christmas fable takes place in the middle of August, something I can entirely sympathize with as I, too, have to begin celebrating the holidays in my own way at that time of year, sending the guidelines to our holiday writing contest to Cleveland public schools in the middle of summer.

Who should I read tomorrow?

J. Todd Adams as Bob Cratchit
(Great Lakes Theater, 2014)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Play a Day: Drowning Ophelia

Rachel Luann Strayer
For Monday, I read Drowning Ophelia by Rachel Luann Strayer and available at New Play Exchange.

Water is a powerful agent. It is a lubricant. It is an adhesive. It can cleanse. It can kill you.

The use of actual water onstage can be as disorienting as nudity. Each, handled in appropriately, can take you out of the production.

Because water is an uncertain element. You can slip. You can fall. And then there's the whole just being wet part.

In Bloody Poetry, as John Polidori I had to enter wet. I had fallen out of a boat (offstage) and had to enter dripping. For Lysistratabuckets of water were dumped on people, so much so that one hot weekend an actual fog was generated onstage due to the water and the heat.

That last production was produced at Cleveland Public Theatre, where I have seen a great deal of water used on stage, in Melissa Crum's haunting production of The Drowning Girls, and in several of Rayond Bobgan's devised works. I recall Open Mind Firmament, which concludes with W.B. Yeats (Brett Keyser) sweeping torrents of water into the air, caught by the light, sweeping in fractured arcs.

Hamlet is an inscrutible play. Shakespeare is usually pretty straight-forward. If someone is sad, it is because we just saw what has made them sad or, failing that, they will just tell us why they are sad.

Hamlet, the man, in spite of all his talk, leaves things out. Or he doesn't make sense. We are missing bits. Unfortunately, trying to divine his motivation has made people question the motivation of everyone else in this play, in spite of their more traditional Shakespearean behavior.

Ophelia tells her father that Hamlet has courted her in "honorable fashion." We should believe her, but few do. His smutty talk at the play leaves many to assume they have had sex, but it's his smutty talk. Later, she sings bawdy songs which many take to believe as commenting on their carnal experience, even going so far as to suggest that she is pregnant. Shakespeare is usually more unfront about such things.

Why does Ophelia go mad? It is because her lover rejected her and then murdered her father. Her lover murdered her father, Occam's razor.

Strayer's Drowning Ophelia is a survivor's tale, of a woman's journey to rise above the brokenness and betrayal one feels when abused by a beloved family member, one whose departure makes confrontation impossible.

Ophelia never had the opportunity to confront her abuser, and so Hamlet gets to move forward feeling as though he got something wrong and feel bad about it. Strayer's protagonist also grapples to attain peace through action, fighting madness, and we are left to hope that she some day will.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Play a Day: The Great Porn Caper

Bryan Stubbles
For Easter Sunday, I read The Great Porn Caper by Bryan Stubbles and available at New Play Exchange.

Bryan is a prolific playwright from Utah, currently staying-at-home in Jakarta (or so he claims) and a social media gadfly who has often promoted my schtick at his blog, Unknown Playwrights, which you should visit and often.

I am a big fan of his research into theater posters from across time and space. Theater posters still promote interesting and evocative graphic design, as movie posters absolutely no longer do.

The Great Porn Caper is a playfully sordid road trip for disaffected Post-Millennials (can we stop saying "Gen Z" for God's sake) which roils with absurdity and loopy wordplay while also taking the piss out of Neo-Nazis, white trash, and Donald Trump, or did I just say the same thing three times.

I would love to see a production of this play, preferably in a storefront theater with like twenty folding chairs for seats, and not just because I want to see young people in swimwear although that is part of it.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Play a Day: Marginalia

Katherine Gwynn
Traditionally, I provide a bonus post on Saturdays in April. One post is for having read a new play, the second to reflect upon a play that is currently in production, that I have just seen, or maybe even a production of my own plays.

Not so this April. I have seen plays, recorded to be broadcast on screens. My wife and I watched Lauren Gunderson's I and You at the Hampstead Theatre, we saw that on Instagram last week.

My daughter and I watched the "Great Performances" broadcast of Ken Logan's Red, starring Alfred Molina. My daughter is a visual artist, I thought she might be interested, and I am glad to say I was right.

Those are the plays we have seen in April, 2020.

For Saturday, I read Marginalia by Katherine Gwynn and available at New Play Exchange.

Gwynn celebrates marginalia, those notes found in the marins of printed works, as well as the illustraions created for illustrated manuscripts, as well as those who dwell on the margins, the powerful women, the knowledge-seeking women, the men who would live in sbsurvience to women, those who would seek non-heteronormative relationships, and the transgendered who seek to be seen for who they truly are.

Today, and with plays such as these, those historically in the margins move onto the page itself. In the 14th century abbey which is the setting for Gywnn's drama, this journey is only beginning.

The playwright also celebrates passion; passion for books, passion for reading, passion for writing, and passion for passion. It is a lively little abbey, peopled with charming characters, each seeking their own garden of earthly delights. If only the world were more like this Benedictine cloister.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 10, 2020

Play a Day: Inherited Traits

Nick Malakhow
For Friday, I read Inherited Traits by Nick Malakhow and available at New Play Exchange.

When I was a senior in high school I took Psychology. Learned a lot of things that were not helpful. You are warned not to self-diagnose, but hey. Seventeen year-olds, what are you gonna do?

We had to write a term paper. I asked, as a joke, if I could write about parapsychology. Probably heard the term first in Ghostbusters. The teacher was a gadfly, he said sure.

So I asked for a suggestion, because I didn't really want to write about ghosts or anything like that. He told me to write a paper on astral projection, so I did. He even recommended others teachers I could speak to as subhects. That was crazy.

What I most learned through my brief study was that I can respect those who have experiences that defy modern scientific understanding. I also came to understand and appreciate that I am firmly grounded in this reality and that I will never be able to open my mind to have such experiences.

Or maybe that's not true. There was a period in college where I was separated from my physical self and at that time, perhaps. I was leaning into the Dreamworld and finding I could spend some time there.

If this all sounds silly to you, congratulations. You are firmly grounded in this reality.

Malakhow spins a tale of ghosts and relations, for it is the ghosts of relations who haunt us the most.

These past few nights I have been thinking of mom before sleep, and feeling quite melancholy. It comes at me with surprise, and quite hard. Only at bedtime, though. There's too much to think about during the day.

Isaac in the play Inherited Traits is also haunted by his mother, who she was or is. And by her literal astral self, who can only see so far herself, even in this state.

I always wonder, does Hamlet's father know everything once he's dead? Does he understand the past? Or is he still limited by his own experience being murdered, and the seeing his brother and wife together in the aftermath of his death? If we do have life after death, what is the extent of our consciousness?

The narrative in this play has tension and humor, an ingithful view into generations of shame but also care, and a lot of open wounds begin to heal.

Who shoud I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Play a Day: Aliquippa

Lydia Valentine
For Thursday, I read Aliquippa by Lydia Valentine and available at New Play Exchange.

Lately I have been made aware of the use of board games to illustrate to young people (and not young people) the concept of instutitional racism.

One example, in brief: Four people play Monolpoly. Actually, two play, and two watch. The two people playing move around the board, accumulting property and wealth.

After maybe a half hour to forty-five minutes, the other two are invited to join the game. Two people have all of the wealth and property, and the other two have nothing but are free to move about the board, scraping together cash and paying rent for everything. Got it? That's America.

With her play Aliquippa, Valentine has composed a painful and joyful family drama of tragedy and hope. Four generations of Lockwoods aspire to difficult dreams in a nation where the rules remain set against African Americans. The playwright neatly weaves issues of economics, chemical dependence, and raising non-heteronormative children, providing each of her characters the opportunity to have a voice, doing so with a great deal of warmth and familial humor.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sources: 
Using Monopoly to Introduce Concepts of Race and Ethnic Relations by Warren Warren, The Journal of Effective Teaching (2011)
The Disturbing History of the Suburbs, Adam Ruins Everything (2017)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Play a Day: Be a Mensch

Daniel Takacs
For Wednesday, I read Be a Mensch by Daniel Takacs and available at New Play Exchange.

Four years ago, which may as well be a lifetime ago, we were talking about four hundred dollars. As in, what percentage of Americans are four hundred dollars from crisis. That that is the line between moving forward, and total disaster.

Asking for charity has less stigma than it used to. It still has a stigma, no question. But how many people do you know have been assisted by a Go Fund Me page - maybe set up by someone on someone else's behalf - to get them through a difficult economic time?

Socialism remains a dirty word, state-sponsored socialism. But we practice private socialism every day. Targeted assistance. I give my money to help the people I know. But it's not much. It's never enough. Imagine if we all gave to help everyone. But Americans don't want to help everyone, because we hate those other people.

Now, to family. Whether we're teaching Salesman or Glass Menagerie, we ask the question, what do we owe family? Do we owe them anything? What do they owe us?

Takacs has created a modern sit-com with Be a Mensch, a Jewish Glass Menagerie (complete with fragile unicorn) in which the eldest son is also faced to choose between his family and self-determination, dominated by a larger-than-life absent father figure. Only in this case Abram is not dreamily self-involved as Tom Wingfield is, but harshly realistic.

It's a coming of age story, one with a much more satisfying, if troubling, conclusion than Tennessee Williams's memory play.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sources: Could You Come Up With $400 If Disaster Struck? Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR (4/23/2016)
The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans by Neal Gablet, The Altantic (5/2016)