Saturday, April 17, 2021

Play a Day: Bill Clinton Hercules

Rachel Mariner
For Saturday, I read Bill Clinton Hercules by Rachel Mariner and posted at New Play Exchange.

It was not my intention to read a play about Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton this go-round, but these things happen. What I found surprising about the work is that it was written before the 2016 election. It is a monologue of the 42nd President giving a speech to a public audience. These are not meant to be private thoughts, these are the thoughts that he is choosing to share.

And overshare. Clinton was one for oversharing, at least as far as Presidents go.

Three years ago, the Slate podcast Slow Burn revisited the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal. It was revelatory, it was eye-opening. It was shame inducing. Shame because yes, we defended him. Yes, we said his personal life was none of our business. Yes, because it was a Republican staged sham and entirely unfair.

Because this play is told from his perspective, he cleverly acknowledges the scandal, and more than cleverly he dismisses it. He has always missed his momma. And Monica was a flirt. And he was the most powerful man on earth.

"Bill Clinton"
Pristina, Kosovo
That is the true narrative of this piece, which is beautifully and believably written. The comparison between himself and Hercules, the demigod who returns to earth to instruct and lament man’s inability to abandon hate and mistrust for peace. Here the master orator, code-switching as necessary, between Bubba and William Jefferson Clinton, espousing his love of Arkansas watermelon at one moment, and Nelson Mandela the next.

Did you know there is a statue of Bill Clinton in Pristina, Kosovo? Now you do and so do I.

This Bill Clinton comes to lament the decisions he’s made, but only insofar as it relates to a greater peace, and domestic surveillance. He says nothing of damaging the social safety net, encouraging the prison-industrial complex, or again, what he refers to as “his love life.”

His love for his wife appears genuine, and he truly believes she will be elected in November 2016. But then, we all did.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 16, 2021

Play a Day: Father/Daughter

Kait Kerrigan
For Friday, I read Father/Daughter by Kait Kerrigan and posted at New Play Exchange.

I love this, because it is about a Gen X/Millennial father/daughter relationship told in two different time periods when each is roughly thirty years old, watching each first navigate a romantic relationship from its inception, and then their relationship as parent and child.

Because it manages love and disappointment and hope and the desire to be desired. And because it delves into what is ugly and awkward and so so deeply upsetting without flinching. Because it’s brutal in its honesty. Because I feel like I could be any of these people. I feel like I am all of them.

Also, seriously; two actors play these two couples, and the older couple is SO late-90s Gen X and the other is SO right-now Millennial, it kills me. I would love the opportunity to see two actors play these four characters.

I am a father who has a daughter and I think this is a beautiful description of that uniquely indescribable relationship.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Play a Day: Johanna: Facing Forward

Tlaloc Riveras
For Thursday, I read Johanna: Facing Forward by Tlaloc Rivas and posted at New Play Exchange.

This play is a work of nonfiction, adapted from personal writing by Johanna Orozco and also the journalism of Rachel Dissell. The play premiered at Cleveland Public Theatre/Teatro Público de Cleveland in 2015, and is the true story of a young woman who was shot in the face by her boyfriend and how she survived.

It’s not just about that. It’s about domestic abuse, and about the failure of our protective services. It is also about the fourth estate, and how journalism has been compromised by the corporations who have acquired our media outlets and have compromised them to serve profit.

Cleveland Public Theatre, 2015
And it’s about women. How they are hurt, and once hurt how our systems are more successful at protecting the men who have harmed them.

The subject matter is compelling enough, but it is well-served by the playwright. Rivas structured a fact-based script which is gripping, moving, poetic and frank.

As a personal note; I don't know any of the players involved in this tragedy. But I do know the high school. Located on Cleveland's near west side, Lincoln-West is a city school, and before COVID we would bring the residency program there once or twice a year, to teach Shakespeare, and The Crucible. It's a great school, and I engaged with brilliant, young students there, taught by strong, dedicated teachers. Devastating events like these can truly happen anywhere.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Source (warning, graphic images): A look back at Johanna Orozco: Facing Forward, by Rachel Dissell, The Plain Dealer (5/19/2015)

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

I Hate This: Twenty Years On

James Alexander Rankin
Every five years from the death of our first child, there is occurs a unique occasion to revisit the play I Hate This (a play without the baby)

In 2006 came a rebroadcast of the Ideastream radio adaptation. Five years after that, in 2011, Cleveland Public Theatre produced an evening featuring both solo performances I Hate This and And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years), back-to-back.

In 2016, Chennelle directed me in the show at the Reinberger Auditorium, a one-night-only performance. It was a revelation, coming back to do it then, with the eyes a new director.

As the 20th anniversary approached, his 20th birthday, during COVID, I had the idea to make a film. Just using the camera in my phone, recording scenes here and there, on the fly. Some guerrilla filmmaking, as it were. Shoot some monologues in a hospital room one week, at the museum the next. And for this project I would again engage Chennelle to direct -- and employ a new actor to play me, someone age-appropriate for the person I was in 2001.

Folks have requested a film since the beginning. Hospitals much further afield (I was once contacted from the UAE) or those not interested in a live performance but who would like to use the play as a teaching tool. It had never seemed practical before, but now I thought I'd just make one.

I had only just gotten in touch with Chennelle about this video project when I was contacted by Daniel Hahn at Playhouse Square. They have been offering online productions since the beginning of the pandemic, and were looking to create something original. Would I have any interest in their producing a video recording of I Hate This?

I do not believe that anything happens for a reason. But they do happen.

Chennelle Bryant-Harris
Last week we had a couple nights in the space, to rehearse. It was a blessing. Rehearsing in-person for the first time in thirteen months.

James Rankin will perform. Listening to him read it, I had forgotten how it builds. I lived inside of it for so long, I just haven't thought of the writing.

Chennelle had requested I redraft it as a screenplay, which was very helpful for everyone involved. In doing so, I changed a few words or phrases here or there, to adapt it for another voice to speak. But James has already acquainted himself with the script, and asked to change some back.

I have cut a variety of passages since the first performance, eighteen years ago. Some of them for the better, but I wonder. I am glad for the opportunity to wonder.  

Our cinematographer, Ananias Dixon, has already become something of a co-director, or perhaps a co-conspirator. It was a joy to watch him and Chennelle jump out of their seats to swirl around James, collaborating to negotiate how the camera is going to swim and move around James, to be his confidant in this story. It will not be a static recording of a stage play. There will be magic.

Playhouse Square plans to premiere "I Hate This (a play without the baby)" in Summer 2021. Details to come.

Play a Day: Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine's

Madhiru Shekar
This week, New Play Exchange posted a list of plays curated by Audrey Lang, "Scripts About Teenage Girls." Today's play has been selected from that list.

For Wednesday, I read Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine's by Madhuri Shekar and posted at New Play Exchange.

There are many reasons to set your play in the past. One of the most important reasons is that before today there weren’t cellphones. There are stories that can no longer be told, or told in the same way, with cellphones in the picture. There was a time when we could not access all human information in a moment, or to be able to reach someone, to know where they are.

Maybe today doesn’t suck as much as we imagine.

Do you know what it feels like to be a teenager, and having to lie on behalf of a friend because they were seeing someone they shouldn’t be? Someone older? Maybe a teacher? I know what that feels like. It happened. It has always happened. It will always happen, cellphones or no.

Shekar’s play, set in the not-too-distant past, centers on a production of Antigone at an all-girls’ school. The transformative power of theater is a popular trope, especially, you know, among theater people. In this tale we have a charming male drama coach, new to the school, one who inspires his young charges, and helps them to break through their personal issues to be more their true selves. He also fucks one of them.

Themes of pride, confidence, and the indefatigable power of women, all present in Antigone, are also reflected in this play, as the girls band together to protect one of their own.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Play a Day: The Crown Forum

Craig Ester
For Tuesday, I read The Crown Forum by Craig Ester and posted at New Play Exchange.

“Everybody’s so worried about being ashamed that they don’t get better.” Facts.

Ester pens a familiar yet fresh family drama, the young PK saddled with the weight of his father’s legacy and haunted by his own lack of faith. Often in these narratives, doing the right thing takes precedent over being true to yourself. In this case, however, Ester’s characters possess a true and honest affection, and a refreshing impatience with bullshit. The reconciliation provides satisfaction, and the world moves forward.

“You can’t tell somebody you love them and then disappear when that love requires action.”

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Play a Day: La Sirena

Eteya Trinidad
For Monday, I read La Sirena by Eteya Trinidad and posted at New Play Exchange.

I heard a joke recently. Three sirens sit together on a rock, singing. Some sailors sail past and say, “Hey, let’s have sex with them,” and jump in the ocean and die. The sirens don’t notice because, really. They’re just three women, minding their own business, singing together.

That’s it. That’s the joke. Get it?

Trinidad’s play revolves around the close friendship of Thelxi and Chim, and the diner where they work. The place is lorded over by two white men, the owner, Tanner, and the busboy/waiter Wyatt. It is also about art, and sexual assault, about workplace harrassment, and the uses of a sincere apology.

Who should I read tomorrow?