Sunday, March 17, 2013

On Prequels

"I hate you ... forever."
- an actual line of dialogue written by either Mitchell Kapner or David Lindsay-Abaire

 So, we saw Oz the Great and Powerful. (There may be spoilers.) It is not my desire to critique this movie, at least not very much, it's not worth it. If you want a full-on hatefest, by all means read this review from NYC alt-theater gadfly Trav S.D.; The New Oz Movie Is a Piece of Crap. Comparing the MGM classic musical to this Disney "prequel" is in some respects simply not fair.

Look at it this way ... The Wizard of Oz was written in a different time, when there were different ideas of what a film could be, or should be and it exceeded all of those. It is a classic of its genre, a fact which is not in dispute, by anyone. Attempting to create a story which takes place before the memorable events of that film, to tell a story which evokes moments from that film while at the same time to create a new, surprising narrative, including new, memorable characters who speak in such a way as to not only evoke that earlier time, but also resonate with a modern, young audience? That is a pretty tall order. Who could successfully achieve such a thing?

Oh, that's right. Me. I did.

From the beginning of the tour there were a few in the audience, of a certain age, who were not even familiar with the word prequel, and were impressed by it. I'm not, I dislike that word, and have done since it came into general use in the early 1980s. But oh, well, not one asked me about the word "blog" either and I have come to accept that one, too.

There were a handful of audience participants who were unhappy with the decisions characters they admire in Much Ado About Nothing made in Double Heart. I am not talking about those who were affected by the plot of Double Heart, that found it troubling, I mean people who said it's just wrong, it doesn't fit, Beatrice would not initiate premarital fucking ... some seemed to take it personally, either in our post-show discussion or in written evaluations.

However, by and large, that was not the reaction, and audiences were generally pleased with the language, that it felt "Shakespearean" and also very accessible. But Oz the G&P has a big problem and it is not, for me, the dialogue (although the dialogue is just like that to be found in any other mass-produced film today) but the plot, the flat out ordinariness of the plot. And the reason I am even taking time on a Sunday afternoon to make the comparison is that what happens in this new Oz flick is the very first thing people put go to when they want to explain what makes a bitter and angry woman -- jealousy.

Seriously. The Wicked Witch of the West. One of the greatest villains in film history, power-hungry, the master of an army of inhuman soldiers, freaking FIERCE, my friend. We were, my entire generation, all those who waited until that one day a year when a network would broadcast the movie (that number includes Denzel Washington, apparently) -- we were scared out of our shit by that lady.

And it all started because she gave her love to a guy who doesn't even act like he likes her very much? I mean, it's not even very interesting as jiltings go. I love you, you don't love me, surrender Dorothy? Anyway, I guess the point is, the next time someone objects to the plot of Double Heart, I can use this movie as an example of what I made sure I did not do, to provide the expected.

Meanwhile, hey! I'm being produced for the first time on the West Coast! Chataqua Playhouse in Carmichael, CA will be producing The Mysterious Affair at Styles this summer. Awesome!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Times: Beginnings

Three workshop performances of These Are The Times this weekend closed out this season's eight-week BIG BOX series at Cleveland Public Theatre. Perhaps the most important thing I discovered is that yes, in spite of all my worst fears, this play is compelling, interesting, people were fascinated by it, it intrigued them, it was a mystery, a puzzle, a surprise, and that all the loose ends, more or less, come together in a satisfying way.

Having said that, I have been fielding comments from everyone willing to provide them about what works, what does not, what they saw, what remains unclear, what remains unanswered, what is redundant or simply uncompelling.

The fact is, each act runs about an hour-ten. If each were one hour, that would be ideal. That may be possible. I was surprised the second act (The Times) was that long, but then I had not taken into account all the laughter. The improv comedy bits are supposed to be funny, and holla! They are. But so is a lot of the rest of the piece. Until then end, when it gets serious. Because, you know, that happens in my plays.

Attendance was good. We did not have any sell-outs, though Friday night was close. While all three audiences responded generously (certain revelations in the second act received an audible "Oh!" from more than one audience member each night) that Friday night audience was meshuggeneh. I never told the company this, but Hamlet by Jack Kerouac is an old piece, I wrote it for Guerrilla Theater Company in 1992. But The Times performed it better than we ever did and Friday night it fucking brought the house down.

The person closest to the work, the one who is most familiar with it and has lived with it (and me) longest, would be my wife. However, even she has never seen it, not like this. And she believes that each act serves the other as one complete play, which was one of the things I was most curious about.

This workshop has been a long time in coming, and now that it is behind us, the real work begins. My only dream is that the work continues to be supported by all of the incredible and generous artists who got it to where it was this weekend.

One comment which has stuck with me was Brian P.'s observation Friday night that this entire play, the entire two and one-half hour saga, is the story of my life.  I hadn't thought of that. But he's absolutely right.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Double Heart: Endings

Quirk Cultural Center

I am very, very poor at articulating happiness. What I mean, I guess, is that I am not very good at feeling it. One moment of joy is only going to lead to embarrassment or disappointment, eventually, probably soon, am I right? I do not wish to be churlish, or a braggart, or worse yet, a fool. I do not know how not to be an ass when I am grateful for goodness.

And then there is the sheer weight of personal responsibility I feel for my own situation, at any moment, at least when it is negative. The bad is something I have done or earned. The good is just an accident, and nothing I should get too excited about.

Having said that, yesterday was one of stupendous highs and lows, some aspects of which I am not at liberty to reveal at the moment. Suffice it to say, we closed the tour of Double Heart, and from start to finish it was the best GLT outreach tour I have ever participated in. No contest. There have been good tours, to be sure, even great ones, but this was without flaw or blemish. Just outstanding.

The script is very good. There, I have said enough about that. But the acting company was an absolute utter joy to work with, full of positive energy and excitement from the first day, before the first day when they all said "yes" they'd do it, and that never ran out. My writing was honored by these three, Annie, Emily and James, and they made me very happy with every single moment.

The designers, the facilitators, and all of our venues, which special emphasis on the venues ... I will admit, I was not looking forward to this last week. Not because of the facilities or their staff members, who have always worked to accommodate us and spread the word. But the last four public venues were those which traditionally, due to time of day perhaps, or particular location, have regularly had low turnout. Not so this year. Akron Main Library, Olde Towne Hall Theatre, Cleveland Sight Center, all broke tour attendance records, and even at Quirk Cultural Arts attendance was only second to last year's record-breaking Agatha Christie tour.

Our last performance was yesterday morning, at Lake Ridge Academy, where the students were remarkably responsive. Not as wild as those at other schools, a bit more knowing, but smart and engaged. Even the boys.

The company had lunch at City Diner before going our separate ways. Parting was bittersweet. We really had a great time. Heck, the show even got a review in Rave & Pan:
"You don’t have to know a thing about Much Ado to get a major buzz from Double Heart. The language is funny and at times quite elegant and wise about issues of the heart."
Thank you for that. Another bright spot for which I am grateful.

Last night These Are The Times debuted at CPT. We had about 50 people, not bad for a Thursday night. Tonight should be a much larger, and younger crowd. There will be beer.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Historical Characters in "These Are The Times"

Father Charles Edward Coughlin (1891-1979) was a Canadian-born Catholic priest who amassed an audience of millions of Americans through his radio broadcasts. A supporter of FDR 1932, his greatest foray into politics including promoting the National Union for Social Justice Party to defeat the President four years later.

Howard Da Silva (1909-1986) was born in Cleveland, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Originally a steelworker, he founded the Peoples’ Theatre, producing the Cleveland premiere of “Waiting for Lefty” in 1935. A successful Broadway performer (playing Jud in the premeier of “Oklahoma!”) he suffered under the blacklist.

Robert William Andrew "Bob" Feller (1918-2010) rookied with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 17, throwing 15 strike-outs in his first start. He played his entire career for Cleveland, except for four years in military service during WWII.

Hallie Flanagan (1890-1969) received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study theater in Europe. She was developing experimental theater at Vassar when was tapped to head the Federal Theater Project. She volunteered to testify before HUAC to defend the project, but failed to save it from being defunded in 1939.

Alan Freed (1921-1965) was a DJ at WJW and is credited with popularizing the term “rock and roll” and staging the first “rock concert” at the Cleveland Arena in 1952. He relocated to New York in 1954, before being convicted in 1959 for accepting bribes to promote hit records.

George Gund II (1888-1966) the son of a Cleveland brewer, he was first in his class at Harvard business school. He began a career in banking in Seattle before returning home to become a director and eventually chairman of the Cleveland Trust Company. He founded the George Gund Foundation in 1957.

K. Elmo Lowe (1899-1971) came to Cleveland in 1921, joining Cleveland Play House. His matinee idol looks made him a very popular actor. As director he fostered the careers of many (Dorothy Hamilton, Joel Grey) and became CPH managing director in 1958. Nobody knows what the “K.” stands for.

William F. McDermott (1891-1958) was Plain Dealer drama critic from 1921 until his death. In addition to criticism, McDermott was a worldly opinion page columnist, even taking time from a vacation in Austria in 1938 to wire a dispatch critical of Nazi policies towards the Jewish people.

Edna Staley Ness (1900-1988) grew up in Chicago where she met Eliot Ness. They married in 1929. She moved to Cleveland with Ness in late 1935, and divorced less than three years later. They had no children. She returned to Chicago and never remarried.

Eliot Ness (1903-1957) was Cleveland Safety Director for six year and unsuccessfully ran for Mayor in 1947. He and his third wife adopted his only child in 1946. in Ineffective in business, he died penniless in Coudersport, PA but not before authoring “The Untouchables” which began his legend as a Prohibition-era crimefighter.

James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens (1913-1980) won four gold medals in 1936 Olympics: the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team. He attended East Technical High in Cleveland, and Ohio State University. A chronic smoker, he died from lung cancer.

Beverly Potts (1941-1951?) was last seen heading home on her own after a twilight summer concert in Halloran Park in Lakewood.

Bernard Schrader (1914-1981) is a fictional character.

Sam Sheppard (1923-1970) was an osteopath living in Bay Village. In the early morning of July 4, 1954 his wife was bludgeoned to death in their bed. Sheppard was first convicted, later acquited due to denial of due process, a result of the firestorm of publicity surrounding the case.

Writer Jerome Siegel (1914-1996) and artist Joseph Shuster (1914-1992) were friends who graduated from Glenville High School in 1932. Six years later they successully published their creation, the comic book hero Superman.

Paul Sills (1927-2008) was a director at the Playwright’s Theater Club, and utilizing techniques developed by his mother, Viola Spolin (1906-1994) worked with David Shepherd to found Compass Players, the first improvised theater in the United States.

Noble Sissle (1889-1975) was a WWI vet, leading the 369th Infantry Band, contributing the love of jazz not only to American soldiers, but also the citizens of France. He broke racial barriers, his band welcomed into previously white-only theaters and clubs.

Sam Wanamaker (1919-1993) was a Chicago-born actor who was driven to work in Great Britain due to the blacklist. He is singularly responsible for the construction of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and is father to noted British actress Zoë Wanamaker.

George Orson Welles (1915-1985) was an actor, director, writer and producer in radio, theater and film. He terrorized gullible Americans with his radio adaptation of War of the Worlds in 1938. At the age of 26, he wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, the greatest film ever made.

Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor (1894-1972) ascended the throne of England as King Edward VIII upon the death of his father, George V in January 1936. On December 11 of that year, he abdicated so that he could marry twice-divorced American citizen Wallis Simpson.

Dare Wright (1914-2001) attended Coventry Elementary School in Cleveland Heights, and later Laurel School. The daughter of Edith Stevenson Wright she was a successful fashion model and photographer, and is best known for authoring a series of children’s books starting with The Lonely Doll.

Edith Stevenson Wright (1883-1975) lived and worked in a studio penthouse apartment in the Hanna Building. Among her subjects were Winston Churchill, Calvin Coolidge, and Cleveland Play House company member Helen Watkins.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Times: Dress Rehearsal

Last night was the final dress rehearsal for These Are The Times without any kind of audience. Tonight there will be a small number of CPT staff members in attendance.

If you wish to be entirely surprised by the production, then don't look at these pictures. However, I would like to recommend you look at them, anyway. Thanks to Heather, Josh and David, who have made our already beautiful performers look incredible.

Act One: Centennial

Lena Horne

It Can't Happen Here

At the Alcazar

Orson Welles and Bernard Schrader

The Dromios

Jesse Owens' ticker-tape parade


Act Two: The Times

"The Man Who Sold His Wife For a Car"

At the Lemko Social Club

Beat poetry with Mister Bear

"Hamlet by Jack Kerouac"

Danny Michaels and Barney Silver

"One Summer's Evening at the Beach"

The Times

We open tomorrow night at 7 PM at Cleveland Public Theatre.
Please join us.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Double Heart: Olde Towne Hall Theatre


Last night it was Olde Towne Hall Theatre in North Ridgeville. We love this space, all of us, you can read previous accounts of experiences here, here and here. Last night, however, was one for the record books. Literally, we will consult the record books and find that we had the largest turnout ever last night at Olde Towne Hall, a charming venue that looks like a classic Midwestern opera house.

Deb Wentz went out of her way to really push the show this year, and as our visit fell neatly within a run of Kiss Me Kate she was able to educate their regular audience about the tour before every performance. There was also a class from Baldwin Wallace and also -- very special for us -- company members from Great Lakes Theater's upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing!
Post-show talkback

There was a giddy energy last night, excitement spreading from the crowd to us and back to the crowd. Emily's boyfriend Benjamin was on hand, and reflected what many who have seen the show earlier in the tour have said, that it has improved since the show has opened, and that is definitely true. There are many, many moments which were impossible to create in our dinky rehearsal hall, without an audience. We close in two days, and as they say, by then we should be ready to open.

Steven, Annie and Katelyn
Actor-teachers unite!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Times: Technical Rehearsal

Tonight our company took the space at Cleveland Public Theatre in preparation for this weekend's workshop performances of These Are The Times. Lights, slides, costumes, props, set pieces ... it all comes together with life, and in color.

I have heard this script read numerous times ... staged readings, individuals scenes presented at special events, and of course in rehearsals for this production.Watching this piece come into vivid focus is something I have previously only had in my head ... and for a long time. But this is just what is it supposed to look like.

May Day!

William McDermott and Dare Wright at the Alcazar

Jesse Owens and the Olympic Boycott

 Passing a jay at Lemko Hall.

Tonight with Jack Paar.

 The end of The Times.

Many thanks to David Krupla (lights), Heather Brown (costumes), and Josh Brown (multimedia) and of course director Mark Cipra for such a smoothly run tech.

Double Heart: Akron Main Public Library

Another great Sunday afternoon performance, today at the main branch of the Akron-Summit Public Library. Attendance was very good for that space, over 90 people were in attendance, many children and teenagers, adults and seniors. Some "fans" of the tour, familiar faces we see every year. Post-show discussion was spirited, largely inquiring as to how we do all this. Daniel invited all the kids (and also several enthusiastic adults) to come up onto the stage to check out the props and costumes.

... and swords!

One guest of honor was Michael G., former GLT actor-teacher from the School Residency Program, as well as two previous outreach tours, The Brute (2009) and The Mysterious Affair at Styles (2012).

Of course, afterwards we put him to work tearing down the set. Thanks, Mike!

There are three more public shows. Sigh. Tomorrow night we travel to the always attractive and enchanting Olde Towne Hall Theatre in North Ridgeville. Curtain at 7:00 PM. Please join us.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Double Heart: Our Lady of the Elms

What, and give up show business?

We have only five more performances, the final on Thursday is not public, it is at a school. It is only Saturday and this is already depressing. The good news: I can stop shaving my entire face on Friday.

Since 2009 we have visited Our Lady of the Elms in Akron, and these girls have always made an incredible audience. In particular I remember how strongly they responded to Michael and Beth in The Brute. When it comes to romance -- especially actual, on-stage kissing -- they generally explode.

However, yesterday made me very nervous. I mean, I didn't start out nervous, but as the show went along, I became increasingly concerned about the sheer weight of scatalogical humor and sexual innuendo. I mean, you know, it's verse, it is implied, we never some out and use any of those common vulgarities or obscenities you hear, you know, everywhere ... but still. They didn't miss any of it, and we were holding for laughs longer than we have done before ... and that made me even more self-conscious!

Because, uh, I wrote that. I was waiting for some authority figure to leap up and stop the show, but that did not happen. Of course not.

I should have had more faith in the material. Yes, it goes there (as the kids say) but it also goes some many other places. Damn, what a ride. We even nailed the dance, it's all so giddy and youthful, but everyone grows up so fast. And I think that's what people see. I hope that's what they see.

One of the nuns came up to speak with James after the performance. She used to be on the Tri-C board, believes strongly in it's mission, and she was so happy and proud when he announced during the Q&A that he is currently a student at Tri-C.

Tomorrow we perform at the Akron Main Public Library at 2 PM. Please join us.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Double Heart: Akron Public Library - Nordonia Hills Branch

James is about to vomit. No, really.

Two outstanding audiences at Summit County public libraries the past two days. I was disappointed to learn that Akron city schools were closed on Wednesday -- traditionally we would get maybe a dozen seniors to join us for the afternoon performance at the Shatto Avenue library, and about 100 students who walk over from nearby Firestone High. We decided only to put out about 64 seats (8 rows of eight) so the expected audience would look too thin.

However, almost every seat was taken! We had a very strong turnout, not just from seniors, but also high school students who obviously could think of nothing better to do on a day-off than see a play, and also some families with younger children who happened to choose the library as the thing to do that day and heard there was a show going on.

James thinks he had food poisoning, and was on the verge of exonerating during the entire program. His performance was outstanding, and the fastest I have ever heard him go. He even sat through the talkback before excusing himself to meet his little porcelain helper.

I am ... butt hurt.

The Nordonia library in Northfield is one of our smaller venues -- you can't get more than sixty chairs into that room. It remains, however, my favorite stop on the tour. It's not just the cookies (thank you, Friends of the Nordonia Public Library) it is also the fact that we can back the truck right up to the performance space and load-in takes about five minutes. Finally, the audience is always very responsive, they laughed at the low humor, and got all the more sophisticated references.

There was a great mix of young and old -- one family had several small children who must be quite experienced at witnessing live theater and were engrossed in our show from beginning to end. Teenagers brought their parents to see this play, not the other way around. For the post-show discussion Daniel, who normally needs to warm everyone up, just got out of the way as hands shot into the air to ask about every aspect of performance, the writing, the acting, the costumes, the music, everything.

Then we had cookies.