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)

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Play a Day: Her Own Devices

Lindsay Adams
Seven plays in seven days! Life swims past you when you never leave your house. For Tuesday, I read Her Own Devices by Lindsay Adams and available at New Play Exchange.

An appropriate read for these peculiar times. A pre-adolescent girl has been captive her entire life, held as a test subject ostensibly for her own safety. She has an autoimmune disorder, and absoluely any pathogens will kill her.

Or at least, that is the premise. That is what we are told. That is what any of us are told. What if COVID-19 is a myth and everything we have been told is a lie for some other purpose. Everyone staying indoors, no longer working, forbidden - by the state - from meeting in groups.

It's a good thing we have faith in our government instutitions. But I digress. Or do I?

The protagonist, the girl Madeline, would be inscrutible except we are let into her thoughts by way of her imaginary friend, and Adams has created a mind at once expanded and crippled by a lifetime of isolation and increasing mistrust by her doctors/captors.

This is a search for what is true and what is not, and also questions whether our inherent free-will is something we should really be happy about.

Who should I read tomorrow?


Monday, April 6, 2020

Play a Day: My Father Left Us and All I Got Was This Rembrandt

Ryan Bultrowicz
For Monday, I read My Father Left Us and All I Got Was This Rembrandt by Ryan Bultrowicz and available at New Play Exchange.

Been thinking a lot about casual sex lately. Not the sex part, the casual part. The agreement part, the apartment part. The negotiation, the passion (or lack thereof) and the conversation. Before, during after. Mostly before. What was that like? I mean, what was I saying, way back then? I shudder to think.

Bultrowicz here crafts a compact case of coitus interruptus, a potential hook-up which is uncoupled by the roommate, a savant of unfixed gender (they are referred to as sometimes he, then she, but never they) whose interest in jigsaw puzzles becomes a puzzle to piece togther a masterpiece.

It's a witty Millennial moment about relationships, as the invited guest gets to know these two who bicker like affectionate siblings, exchanging sharp, intelligent yet blasé banter. Nothing good happens past 2 AM.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Play a Day: Junk Bonds

Lucy Wang
For Sunday, I read Junk Bonds by Lucy Wang whose work is posted at New Play Exchange.

Here's a story. Twenty-five years, I had burned my prospects to the ground. My ex-wife was gone, my theater company had broken up, I was waiting tables, living alone, and needed a hernia operation.

So naturally, I auditioned for a play.

In 1994 Junk Bonds received the Chilcote Award for Best Play at the Cleveland Public Theatre 13th Annual New Plays Festival, and received a full production there in May 1995.

I believed I was perfect for the role of Connor, a hyperkinetic trader in his early 30s and losing his hair, but instead was offered the role of Kent, an ex-Marine in his "early-to-mid 40s" which is to say someone entirely unlike me. I was sorely miscast and should have turned down the part outright, and that is a lesson I offer to my young protégés. You feel like you have to say yes to absolutely everything, even if it doesn't feel right. I tell them there is always another play.

The scene is a financial services firm, the plot regarding one trader sinking the company through incremental, overwhelming loss. A quarter century on, the script is as relevant as ever. But it is a time capsule from when the trading floor was dominated by men and the business was done almost entirely over the phone. Before the internet, before 9/11, before the housing meltdown of 2008, and yet it could happen again.

Wang's rapid-fire banter, chatter and verbal abuse is deliriously loopy, poetry in and of itself, where masculaine toxicity is a sport, one the protagonist Diana, a Chinese-American, the new girl, has to learn or lose.

I didn't understand half of what I was saying, way back then. That's okay, the director didn't either. What I should have caught was the use of the word "junk" as in heroin. Because this play is totally about addiction.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Play a Day: Riot and Dishonor

Luke Brett
For Saturday, I read Riot and Dishonor: A Tale of Teenage Falstaff by Luke Brett and available at New Play Exchange.

Everyone makes Shakespeare references. Just last week Bob Dylan released a fifteen minute song abou the Kennedy assassination called Murder Most Foul, a line from Hamlet and I should know, I said it.

Then there are the many plays divined from the works of Shakespeare, prequels and sequels and stories retold from the point of view of other characters, completely abusrd or deadly serious. Some of them are even okay.

Lisa Ortenzi, Kelly Elliott,
Leah Smith, Tyler Collins
Reading at Nighttown (February 2018)
Writing in the voice of Shakspeare is a trick and challenge. You are, after all, setting yourself up for a harsh comparison. On the other hand, take it too lightly what have you done? Set your standards lower than you might otherwise? What self-respecting writer would choose to do that?

Well, Luke Brett would. Riot and Dishonor is an origin story for Sir John Falstaff. We meet young Jack as a kid, with his trusty sidekick Bardolph, and follow him as he becomes the cowardly, alcoholic rake Harold Bloom called "the greatest personality in all of Shakespeare."

Brett joyfully mangles English, creating absurd metaphor, and laugh out loud abusive language. This Pythonesque insanity set to imabic pentameter put me in mind of the works of Kirk Wood Bromley, whose delirious forays into verse were nearly psychedelic.

I had the pleasure to hear a reading of this play a few years ago, and it was a non-stop riot, indeed, from beginning to end.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Play a Day: Faire

Annette Storckman
For Friday, I read Faire by Annette Storckman and available at New Play Exchange.

True story, my very first Shakespearean performance was at a Renaissance Fair. For twenty-five years or so my hometown held a pretty popular one Labor Day weekend. The drama club at our high school whipped up a production of the "Pyramus & Thisbe" scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. I was one of the heckling lovers.

The "rude mechnicals" work, decimating this forerunner of the tragic Romeo and Juliet story should by all rights be drop-dead hilarious ... if it weren't for the heckling lovers. Bottom and his mechanicals are funny. Priviledged young people, smugly mocking these adorable, amateur performers, with their smug and horribly dated jokes, is not.

An ye harm none, do what thou wilt. - The Wiccan Rede

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. - Aleister Crowley

With her play Faire, Storckman takes us backstage for an exuberant and somewhat melancholy look a the complicated and intertwined lives of a company of Ren Fest performers.

Those who live this life of fantasy live apart from traditional American society, and often imagine themselves dwelling in a universe parallel to ours. It can be liberating, especially if one has felt constricted by social norms, to persue your bliss, whatever that may be.

In the case of the central couple of Brian and Nikki, married with a newborn, their engagement in polyamory appears to result, as it does with so many who engage in "open marriage" not as a source of freedom and joy, but as a way of coping with dissatisfaction in their relationship. Or maybe that's just me, speaking from experience.

As much as they try to escape the dominant paradigm, a patriarchal hierarchy reigns supreme, as women struggle to be the next queen.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Play a Day: Joker

Yilong liu
For Thursday, I read Joker by Yilong Liu and available at New Play Exchange.

The recent passing of Terrence McNally took me back to the mid 1990s. I am not proud to say this, but the only McNally play I have ever seen was A Perfect Ganesh at Dobama Theatre. Not one of his better-known works, it tells the story of two older women from Connecticut who travel to India as much for adventure as to escape from the reality of the deaths of their sons.

I learned about the trials of being homosexual and coping with the trauma that comes from living in a society which condemns homosexuality from such plays. Even then, people I knew who were and are gay were not out or were only then in the process of coming out.

And Dobama produced a variety of plays in that time, about that experience, including Ganesh, The Food Chain by Nicky Silver, My Night With Reg by Kevin Elyot, and of course, they were the first Cleveland theater to produced Angels in America. All in the course of just a couple years.

Non-hetero relationships have become mainstreamed in such a short period of time. Eleanor's bisexuality in The Good Place wasn't even a thing, and that was a hit network sit-com. We've come a long way from Ellen.

But not far enough. With Joker Liu chronicles a moment in the recent past, the breakthrough of marriage equality in the United States, in this case in the state of Hawaii, and also the continuing struggle for equal rights in the Philippines. As recently as last January the Philippine Supreme Court struck down another case for marriage equality this time "with finality." Or so they say.

An intimate family drama set against the backdrop of momentous events, Joker is a keen mystery, as we try to understand and sympathize with Joe, a closeted man whose efforts to do right by the man he loves is misinterpreted by all those around him. The playwright does a masterful job creating tension and an inscrutibly frustrating emotional puzzle which when unlocked reveals the many layers to a character who has kept so much pain hidden for so long.

Who should I read tomorrow?

"Philippines Supreme Court rules against marriage equality 'with finality'" by Juwan J. Holmes, LGBTQNation (1/7/2020)