Sunday, April 30, 2017

Play a Day: 1980 (Or Why I'm Voting For John Anderson)

Patricia Cotter
For Sunday the last day of April, I read 1980 (Or Why I'm Voting For John Anderson) by Patricia Cotter, and available from New Play Exchange.

"It would be nice to change ... the world."

After all that has happened -- during the last one hundred days, and after the past thirty days reading plays about race and gender, about relationships and politics, comedy and tragedy, sex and terrorism, despair and hope -- it was only fitting I conclude with a period parable reflecting upon that greatest of American traditions, believing in a loser.

I am just old enough to remember John Anderson running as a third-party candidate for President, but not old enough to understand the implications. I started reading Doonesbury when I was twelve, just after Reagan was elected, so it wasn't until the book of recent strips came out that I became familiar with a certain phrase I have used myself once too often ... Mike is at a small phone bank in a dismal campaign office in New Hampshire, cold-calling for this doomed Illinois congressman, and he responds to a disinterested voter by saying, "Well, he's never heard of you, either."

We did win on November 8. We got the most votes. Can you be so right and still lose everything?

The four characters in Cotter's play, three women, one man of color, they each believe in the underdog, each for their own reasons, and they work for him but without the fire that the zealot possesses. Anderson's campaign was reactionary, as most third-party candidacies are. He was representing an opposition to Reagan, but as his positions were more similar to Carter's he was really saying, I'll do what this guy tried to do only better this time. It's not a strong message.

And Reagan was Reagan.

So concludes Reading a Play a Day in April. Thank you for following, for retweeting, for liking and for commenting. I have met several wonderful people, which only goes to remind me that there are so many more incomparable writers out there, producing great work that deserves to be read and produced.

Tomorrow the time I have used for the reading with be occupied with the writing. A page a day in May! Probably more than a page each day, but maybe not much more. I started something earlier this month and I have no idea where it's taking me, which is unusual for me, and exciting. I like the people, and what they are up to, and I want to know what happens to them. I am looking forward to that.

Scripts by David Hansen available to read on New Play Exchange:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Play a Day: Slingshot

Kia Corthron
For Saturday I read Slingshot by Kia Corthron, and available at New Play Exchange.

The hero of this play is a well-intentioned, kindhearted lawyer. That's not a punchline.

The premise is an accident, on-the-job, a young man falls from a height and is seriously injured. His father, who must care for him alone, solicits the services of a high-powered corporate lawyer who, for personal reasons, will work pro bono for certain cases.

I respect lawyers. I have friends who are lawyers. I do not make lawyer jokes. I understand that in the United States, the general degradation of the term "lawyer" among the middle-class has been employed for the benefit of the corporate class.

You know the coffee story? The MacDonald's coffee story? Of course you do. Frivolous lawsuit. Adam Ruins Everything did a piece on that lawsuit recently, you should see it. But I already knew the real facts of the case, because I hate urban legends which perpetuate stereotype and ignorance, and when I hear tales where a corporation is the victim, I am naturally suspicious.

Politicians write laws. Lawyers interpret and defend the laws. We need our lawmakers and law interpreters to be educated, experienced, and competent in writing and interpreting laws. Above all, they need to have ethics and integrity. As a nation, we no longer understand nor appreciate that.

Corthron's play is taut and tense, with colorful and flawed characters, all essentially decent, their intentions clear and understood. It's a legal thriller without any of your cigar-twiddling villains. What's at stake is very real and urgent, and the conclusion uncertain up to the final moment.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Play a Day: To the Orchard

Les Hunter
Twenty-eight plays in twenty-eight days! Four weeks of new work. And April is almost complete.

For Friday morning, I read To the Orchard by Les Hunter, and available at New Play Exchange. Dr. Hunter is a professor at Baldwin Wallace, one of our great Cleveland playwrights, and a total boss.

To the Orchard premiered at Playwrights Local last fall, and received the Foundation for Jewish Culture New Play Award. Like Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, from which the play's title is derived, this piece focuses on the relationship between parents and adult children, and the ghosts of things unspoken. Or not yet spoken.

You know that thing they told us recently, about how if the spiders worked together they could devour humanity with hours? The same could be said of trees. Those things are everywhere. The pervasive realty of trees. They play a major role here, the Tree of Knowledge and/or Life. Trees that might reach out and grab you and pull you into the earth (or as was the case in Poltergeist, eat you.)

I am charmed by this story because it touches on elements of my life which I feel are absent, so they interest me greatly. The intense relationship between parents and children, the importance of mentors and lovers, and lovers who are mentors. I never stayed in touch with my mentors, to my continual disappointment. My wife is my mentor, and perhaps that is why I will never leave her.

In spite of my somewhat casual relationship with my parents, at least I am confident that my father knew I loved him, and there is a spiritual comfort in that.

Two more plays in two more days. Then what is the plan? The reading has effectively put the writing on hold. Why? Because I write in the morning, that is when I can think clearly, so that is when it happens. Can I return to a regular process of writing every morning at five.

Mornings at Five. If I give it a name, will that make it real?

Selections from Weimar, a new play by Les Hunter, will be read at Dobama Theatre on Monday, May 1 at 7:00 PM.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Play a Day: Trust

Sarah Schulman
When my wife and I visited London in the late 90s, she found Silver Moon, a feminist book store in Charing Cross. She bought a sweatshirt that listed in alphabetical order many famous women writers, e.g., Wharton, Wollstonecraft, Woolf.

I was not familiar with the name Sarah Schulman, and in fact did not notice her name there, between Dorothy L. Sayers and Anne Sexton, until after my wife has completed her MFA at Goddard College, where Schulman was one of her favorite professors.

For Thursday I read Trust by Sarah Schulman, and available from New Play Exchange.

Like one of those caper films in which an ordinary, white seemingly blameless white guy gets sucked down into the dark seedy underworld, only to emerge by the final reel safe and sound, a bit wiser but confident in his place of privilege, Trust is a seriously dark comedy in which our protagonist (Steve, the whitest name) is hardly blameless, and his passage through the underworld unearned and undeserved. You know how we all know the drug war unfairly punishes people of color? This is a damning, hilarious and fast-paced illustration of that.

This morning, before dawn, it was in the mid-sixties. I sat out on the deck and read in the dark.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Play a Day: The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin

Jessica Huang
Reading a play a day for a month has been exciting, exhilarating, inspiring, all the good things. It also means getting up early most days, even weekends, to read the play, ruminate and then blog about it. It's kind of messing with my sleep schedule. Also, exercise.

Now that I have gotten in the good habit of reading so many plays by so many different people, I hope to continue, maybe on a weekly basis, if not more often. We are in the homestretch now, after today there only four more days/plays in April.

For Wednesday I read The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin by Jessica Huang, and available for download from New Play Exchange.

The only child of a Chinese immigrant father and American mother struggles to cope with his needs following her mother's death. The plot gets more involved than that, mysterious and magical, and yes, there is a mystery to be solved. But the premise, coping with the ghosts (literal, imagined) of the country left behind, are universal, and have a particular resonance in this country.

Once we speculated if it would be more challenging had mother passed before father. My brothers and I never discussed it, until that time when he had passed and we agreed that would have been much more challenging. The men need the women, it does not go the other way.

Which reminds me, I need to call my mom.

Harry Chin would prefer to leave his past behind, his daughter Sheila insists upon knowing her heritage. Only recently I learned a little about my own father's past. He was adopted, but chose never to search for his birth mother. He claimed he did not want to know. But I wanted to know. I did not even know his ethnicity. Caucasian, sure. But from where?

Luxembourg. Huh. Really? That's weird.

The parent wants to abandon their culture, the younger to embrace that which has been abandoned. Who get to choose?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Play a Day: Swimming While Drowning

Emilio Rodriguez
For Tuesday I read Swimming While Drowning by Emilio Rodriguez, a playwright whose work is available at New Play Exchange.

Yesterday I was casting about for what to read today, and my friend Mimi suggested this play. Swimming was also profiled yesterday in HowlRound. The play received its world premiere last February at Milagro in Portland, OR.

This play is a lovely, lyric dance of dialogue between two teens in a shelter for LGBT youth. Angelo seeks connection, and Mila's every response is a wall that Angelo must climb over, dig under or break through, but the very fact that Mila responds invites that struggle. Otherwise, he wouldn't respond at all.

Mimi interviewed Rodriguez for HowlRound when Swimming was in development, and his comments about receiving audience and company feedback in shaping the work are insightful. Sometimes hearers tell you what is strong about a scene, which by omission can clue you into what may be weak, or unnecessary. It is not always the easiest thing to intuit if you are merely searching for validation.

Rodriquez says, "playwriting feels like the perfect blend of theatre, poetry, and creating art with a purpose." His belief in the power and importance of playwriting is evident in Swimming, which employs performance poetry to move the story forward, not merely as commentary on the action, but to take emotional leaps forward in the relationship between these two young men.

Good morning.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Play a Day: Rain and Zoe Save the World

Crystal Skillman
For Monday, I read Rain and Zoe Save the World by Crystal Skillman and available for download from New Play Exchange.

Yes! We begin the week with an Ultimate Millennial Road Trip Play! -- or as Zoe puts it, "a life changing journey of awesome." Awesome has been my go-to descriptor for all things that are awesome since the early 1980s and am thrilled it is still in use by those who are awesome.

There is much that is contemporary and urgent in this work, reflecting our modern anxiety and the urge, perhaps for the first time in our lives, to take action against everything that has gone wrong that allowed Donald J. Trump to become President of the United States, and all that that means.

This past weekend the boy and I participated in the March for Science, my wife and the girl attended the Women's March in January. When I was a younger man I thought like the character Rain, who believes that those who choose public protest "thinks they can change things by getting together and yelling."

But maybe they can. Depends on how many people are yelling and what they are yelling. The night the Iraq War started, two months after my now fourteen year-old daughter was born, I joined a protest at the Coventry Peace Park out of a sense of duty, my wife stayed home with the girl but I was there to represent. There were maybe a dozen of us. It was raining. I didn't hang around long.

Organizers believe around 10,000 attended the march in Cleveland alone last Saturday.

There is a moment in Skillman's play where our protagonists face off against those in the opposition, no doubt Trump voters, who choose fiercely to believe lies the that have been told them that uphold a worldview that no longer exists, never in fact truly existed.

But in spite of the fact that those who have fed and perpetuated these lies currently occupy all three branches of government, the facts clearly state that they have lost. They cannot win. Their way of life is unsustainable. But they cannot accept this. Who could? And so they live in complete and utter denial.

The Millennials are dismissed, as all people in the twenties are summarily dismissed, but I do believe that Rains and Zoes are going to save the world. We have to believe that, actually, I don't see that we have much choice.

Let the Wild Rumpus start.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Play a Day: Bars and Measures

Idris Goodwin
For Sunday I read Bars and Measures by Idris Goodwin, and available for download from New Play Exchange.

Goodwin's play touches on the cultural divide of our age, from the vantage point of two brothers, one a convert to Islam, both talented, professional musicians. The plot (did-he-or-didn't-he) is very compelling. But I particularly was drawn to the older/younger sibling dynamics.

My wife doesn't believe in it, but I do. The insecurities of the younger sibling is real. I have also watched this play out with our own two children, the older driven, determined, and potentially judgmental. Like the younger brother in Bars, a talented classical musician in his own right, he is sensitive with the suggestion that his recent interest in jazz, which is his elder brother's purview.

The larger story addresses the misunderstandings which have and will continue to plague our nation, and our world. Americans define themselves by their enemies. When I was young, it was the Communists. the Soviet Union wasn't dead for a year before the initiation of the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) and our pivot towards the Islamic world.

Interesting, yesterday I read a complete farce about terrorism, today something much more grounded and real. I love theater.

If there is one point of view present in this work with which I am certain I agree, it is that terrorists are made, and not born.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Play a Day: Blindfolded Into the Dark

Wilfredo Ramos
For Saturday morning I read Blindfolded Into the Dark by Wilfredo Ramos, and available for download from New Play Exchange.

So, three improvisers are captured by the Islamic State ...

What truly impressed me about this work was its combination of unapologetic tastelessness and heart.

It has been a long while since I have enjoyed (endured?) the outrageous storefront theater that marked the late 80s and early 90s, shows like Cannibal Cheerleaders On Crack, about which I remember virtually nothing except a representation of every single bodily fluid was eventually projected onto the audience and one guy tries to fuck a cheeseburger.

After 9/11 and greater and daily awareness of the horrors of terrorism, certain subjects or storylines didn't seem off-limits so much as simply not funny. However, from the outset Blindfolded lunges fearlessly into the abyss, presenting Pythonesque debates between captor and captive on the nature or reality and wrangling the inevitable, absurd bureaucracy inherent in any organization.

Yes and there is an ISIL captor whose name brings to mind Bohemian Rhapsody. Yes and there is a terrorist commander with a LUSH fetish. Yes and the three American theater artist captives represent a neat cross-section of your stereotypical improv comedy troupe; one Jewish, one gay, and the woman.

(My own play, This Is The Times, which takes place during the Red Scare, features an improv trio which includes one Jewish, one black, and the woman. So it goes.)

Mel Brooks told us we need to laugh at Hitler to render him powerless. In this play Ramos presents the barbaric hideousness of modern warfare, but through ridiculous and very funny dialogue promises that hope for the future rests within each of us.

Now let's get out of here.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Play a Day: Red Onion, White Garlic

Photo: Steve Wagner
Two weeks ago I shared some background on my previous work for Talespinner Children's Theatre, Rosalynde & The Falcon. That was the same day my new work, Red Onion, White Garlic opened at TCT, and folks in the Cleveland area still have two weeks to catching it. In fact, tonight (Friday, April 21) is a pay-what-you-can performance, so bring the entire family. Bring grandma.

This play is a collection of Indonesian folktales, strung together into one continuous narrative. These tales include The Golden Snail and The King of the Parakeets among others, including that from which the play derives its title.

The original version of Red Onion, White Garlic (Bawang Putih Bawang Merah in Malay, literally "shallots and garlic") follows a familiar narrative of a young girl oppressed by her "evil" stepmother and stepsister.

The young girl, Bawang Putih (White Garlic) must do all the housework while her stepmother dotes on her own child, Bawang Merah (Red Onion). Virtue is eventually rewarded when Bawang Putih is awarded a pumpkin full of jewels for doing a good turn for the local sorceress. When Bawang Merah is sent by her mother to get another one, she behaves with entitlement and is rewarded with a pumpkin full of snakes and scorpions.

This tale did not compel me, however, and anyway, Rosalynde & The Falcon is already a story about an oppressed stepchild. And is it not time to be done with the "wicked stepmother" narrative all together? How many of us are or know people who are members of blended families?

So the challenge I set for myself was to tell a new version of the tale, one in which these sisters love each other and take care of each other, and I looked to those closest to me for example. In doing so, I noticed the marked age difference that can often exist between step-siblings, and how family economics can affect the way each person was raised as children.

Then there's the whole Gen X vs. Millennial dynamic, make of that what you will.

Finally, I noted how our central tale centers entirely on characters who are women; mother, daughters, female witches. As my tale expanded, I realized that all of the characters were going to be women. The opportunity for a male character never presented itself.

The Talespinner production is downright gorgeous, each of the five actors in beautiful kebaya and hijab, and performing wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry.

"Red Onion, White Garlic" is available from YouthPLAYS.

Play a Day: The Princess of Caspia

Ricardo Soltero-Brown
Twenty-one plays in twenty-one days. Three weeks of new work!

For Friday morning I read The Princess of Caspia by Ricardo Soltero-Brown, and which is available for download from New Play Exchange.

Bourgeois love is a complication of its own creation. It is only appropriate that the loopy love triangle present in this work are self-obsessed and selfish, and I approve of the message that ridiculous situations will eventually play themselves out ridiculously.

Getting letter-shamed by a world-famous political prisoner is a particularly inspired touch.

Yesterday and today I am attending a national arts-in-education conference downtown. The theme is "digital transformation" but I have a phobia about crossing the intersection of arts and technology.

I should write a play about that.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Play a Day: Underground

Lisa. B. Thompson
For Thursday morning I read Underground by Lisa B. Thompson, and available on New Play Exchange.

Two men, activists together in college, now in their middle years, have an intense and uncomfortable reunion. Issues of race, class and modern conflict are heartily debated, and exactly what is at stake is not revealed until the final moments.

This work has been in development since 2014, though the subject matter deals with current events in a manner which must demand constant revision from its author. The version I read, which was recently produced at The Vortex in Austin, was uploaded just this morning.

Though they never mention him by name, the men discuss the fate of Tamir Rice. When one rattles off a list of those American cities which have experienced real life uprising and protest in the past few years, however, in "Ferguson, in Baltimore, Oakland, New York," where thousands marched and demanded that Black Lives Matter, Cleveland is conspicuous in its absence.

Because it didn't happen here, not in those numbers. Not with the same impact. Frustration over our community's apparent inability to rise up in protest was a major theme in the recent production of Objectively/Reasonable.

That frustration, the refusal to engage, to participate, especially from those in positions of authority and respect, makes for powerful drama in this play, too.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Play a Day: Once a Spy

Rachel Bublitz
For Wednesday, I read Once a Spy by Rachel Bublitz, and available on New Play Exchange, an account of a real life World War II member of the French Resistance, Nancy Wake.

The Nazis called her the "White Mouse." They also called her "Witch."

The piece is swift, and exciting, told in brief episodes which take our heroine and her colleagues across France and England. Her adventures get her into many dangerous situations, which she handles with confidence and determination.

She never uses her gender as a weapon, at least not the way this story is told. Wake is not a James Bond hero who has sex with her opponent before assassinating them, there's no monkey business. But she is aware of mans' weakness in assuming what a woman is or is not capable of thinking or doing, and is skillful in taking advantage of that.

The most remarkable scene is one, the one in which she seems most angered and disappointed, is one in which she is confronted with two women, captured by the Resistance. Wake is told they are being held as spies, but in reality they are being used as sex slaves for the soldiers. Wake swiftly determines one is not a spy and orders her released, and the other is a spy, and she Wake dispatches the way she would any male enemy.

The play has many characters, but Bublitz has written it so that it can be performed by as few as six performers. I imagine it would make a great high school drama, for those looking for something thrilling with strong historical context. The feminist angle is important, too.

Nancy Wake died in 2011, at the age of 98.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Play a Day: Elephant

Ivan Faute
For Tuesday I read Elephant: A Comedy by Ivan Faute, and available on New Play Exchange. This is another script that was workshopped at Last Frontier last summer, another that I missed. I first had the opportunity to chat with Ivan on the puddle jumper from Valdez to Anchorage on our way out of town, which is often how these things happen.

Elephant is an outrageous condemnation of moneyed East Coast liberals, depicting a world in which it is difficult to discern exactly who is complicit in the destruction of the planet, until you realize it's pretty much everyone, including the (literal) elephant in the room.

White people are insane and they are ruining everything. Not sure there is any argument against that at the moment.

When Elephant was read, I was in the next room over, enjoying a delightful, period piece for children. Uproarious laughter could be clearly heard through the thin, conference center walls, and I had that familiar feeling I have at parties where I am having an intense one-on-one conversation with a good friend who is telling me a personal story that is extremely important to them, and over in the corner the cool kids are laughing their asses off about something and I try really hard to concentrate on my friend but I can't help but wish I were over there with the cool kids.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Play a Day: Girl Becomes Bone

Callan Stout
Monday morning I read Girl Becomes Bone by Callan Stout, and available on New Play Exchange.

Science fiction! My first play this month featuring science fiction. Yesterday, docudrama, today science fiction. Or speculative fiction. The wife will set me straight later.

The play originates on the planet Threa, which in an anagram of earth, also a near-homonym with "three" or third from the sun. The name reflects the degree to which its human inhabitants have been unable to emotionally and psychologically leave their abandoned planet behind.

A religion evolves on this new planet, one inspired by the mystical poems of Rainer Maria Rilke. Its tenets and rituals are, depending on interpretation, fixated on an eventual return or the acceptance of no return. At least that is how it appeared to me.

Like Christianity, there lies at the very edge of consciousness the anxiety and terror of having been utterly abandoned by God, which is a kind of perpetual mourning. The insatiable need to comprehend and cope leads to ritual, which, when you are watching someone else do it, appears nothing more than obsessive compulsive disorder.

“Should not our ancient suffering have been more fruitful by now?” Indeed.

Last night I dreamed I walked into a Theaterplex. It was a like one of your suburban "big box" movie centers with popcorn and video games, except inside every theater there was a play going on.

Callan Stout's new work, you do not look, will be presented later this week as part of Columbia Stages New Play Festival.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Play a Day: Más

Milta Ortiz
For Sunday I read Más by Milta Ortiz, which is available for download from New Play Exchange.

From my very basic Spanish I know "más" means more, but the acronym in this case (also) stands for Mexican American Studies, a course in the Tuscon United School District which taught the history of colonization and its effect on today's society.

Just as the members of today's Executive Branch believe the wealth and status into which they were born prove their rightful place in the hierarchy, so, too, do those born poor and disenfranchised tend to believe the social order has a reason which justifies their low standing. MAS was intended to explain the origins of class and racial disparity, and the results were striking. Test scores among Latinx students increased, their graduation rates increased.

Self-determination among the non-white population, however, is not exactly popular among the more conservative elements of our modern American society, or so you may have noticed. The program was branded "racist" and HB 2281 was passed to eliminate such "ethnic studies" programs in the Tuscon city schools.

"This narrative of the oppressed versus the oppressor doesn't promote critical thinking," they said.  This is America, after all, and we no longer oppress based on race or ethnicity, so why talk about it.

Ortiz's play is based on extensive interviews and documentation from those at the heart of the struggle. It includes song, dance and poetry, with mythical allusion and cultural depth. I wish I could see it, the pageantry might leaven the heartbreak of reading it. In spite of the loss it is a story of hope, but every day leaves me increasingly discouraged.

Tú eres mi otro yo.

You are my other me, indeed.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

This Is How You Got Me Naked (revisited)

Graphic: Tim Peters
When I chose to read Catherine Weingarten's play This Is How You Got Me Naked last Sunday morning, I was unaware that this script was her MFA thesis at Ohio University, nor did I know the annual Seabury Quinn Jr. Playwrights' Festival was this weekend and that this play was one of the featured productions, but I did know I was heading to Athens for the holiday weekend and that meant there was a good chance I could actually see one of the new plays I have read as part of my month of play reading performed on stage!

This is so totally why I am doing this.

However, walking through Uptown Athens at night, on a beautiful spring night, when class is in session, by myself, is a very weird thing for me to be doing. Each corner is crammed with memories, but they are ancient memories and I am very aware that I am a very middle-aged man, with a very white beard.

Don't make eye contact with the coeds ... don't make eye contact with the coeds ...

I had a fast pint at Jackie O's before the performance, sitting at the bar, not making eye contact, free-writing into my notebook. I came up with a brief dialogue about how I used to get hit on my older men when I would bring a small sketchbook to a bar and draw cartoons. It's like, I have this so I don't have to talk to people, and yet it makes people want to talk to me.

No one tried to hit on me at Jackie O's.

Balm In Gilead (1989)
It was exciting to return to the Forum Theatre. Most of my undergraduate work took place on that stage. The playwright held a seat for me right in front of the vom, and I could picture myself slouching in there during Balm In Gilead, smoking actual cigarettes.

The performance of Naked was just hysterical, it's one thing to read funny and another to play funny. Bonus, the characters are played by actors the correct age, you have to wonder with future productions how often the actors will be a tad too old, like the nearly-thirty teenagers in all those 80s sex comedies.

Bonus, too: There was a post-show discussion featuring O.U. sociology professor Dr. Thomas Vander Ven, whose works include The Morning After: The Definition and Management of Post-Intoxication Illness in a University Student Sample and Getting Drunk and Hooking Up: An Exploratory Study of the Relationship Between Alcohol Intoxication and Casual Coupling in a University Sample.

His comments were illuminating, he spent years skulking college parties, doing anthropological footwork, and much like myself he was hyper-aware of being the old guy with a notepad. But he came away with fascinating insights on the positive, social benefits of the collegiate hookup.

We know the bad things, and they are bad (when did blacking out become a badge of honor?) but for many young adults, the party is where many have their first opportunity to display basic adult competence, what he calls "drunk support."

Remarkably, put into a large social context, Catherine's play took on greater significance, especially the character of Jackie (played here by Kristin Yates and totally endearing) who navigates the annual "Dress To Get Laid" party with skill, bravery, resourcefulness, and after all, success.

Play a Day: Love's Labors

Sheila Cowley
For Saturday I read Love's Labors by Sheila Cowley, and available for download from New Play Exchange.

Between last night's experience (more on that soon) and this morning's read and a strange dream I had last night, my mind is overwhelmed with thoughts of fulfillment.

Love's Labors centers around a middle-aged man coming to terms with his sexual identity. It's not a coincidence that this revelation comes as his son is getting married - and his wife proposes they renew their vows.

When I was in my first dating relationship - very young - my girlfriend started having these marriage fantasies and would talk to me about them. I was thirteen years old, and she was putting into my head thoughts of a life together.

Perhaps we would have broken up soon regardless, but if she wanted our time together to last until high school, her encouraging me to imagine the future was not the wisest decision. In much this way, "renewing our vows" puts the protagonist into a consideration of his life choices.

I am not dissing people renewing their vows. But if the unexamined life is not worth living, you have to be prepared for what your examination may reveal.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Play a Day: Glass

Azure Osborne-Lee
Fourteen plays in fourteen days! Two weeks of new work.

For Friday I read Glass by Azure Osborne-Lee and available from New Play Exchange, which put me in mind of Yoruba folk tales and the works of Sam Shepard, filled with animal characters in human form slouching in an existential, American tableau.

Ancient magic abounds as Life and Death engage in a barroom brawl with Anansi playing bartender.

So what have we accomplished, reading new, unpublished plays for two weeks? Has this been motivational, you might ask. I have written bits and pieces here and there, and thought that emerging myself into the works of others might be an inspiration, and I am glad to say that it has.

It also takes up a great deal of time, that time I normally reserve for the writing itself. But as long as I am not writing, why not engage in something different?

Having said that, last night I was sitting in XYZ, waiting to see The Tongue That Tells Me So next door, and I started sketching a game plan for a story I'd like to tell, and how I might like to tell it. Not much, a few notes, but there were more ideas there than before. Reading diverse work from others reminds me of how much freedom I have, to do anything, but also to be myself.

I am discovering, though, that what is in myself is more expansive and interesting than I previously allowed myself to imagine.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Play a Day: The Tongue That Tells Me So (BONUS)

Tonight I saw the premiere workshop performance of The Tongue That Tell Me So, written by Mariah Sage and Bruce Seymour, part of Cleveland Public Theatre's new Test Flight series of new works.

The Test Flight stage of their new works program is like the former "Big Box" program (2003-2016) in which a company receives a modest budget, a free hand, and the keys to the Levin Theatre for four technical rehearsal days and three performance nights.

It is an intense piece, and brief. Mariah also performs, in the character of Anne, a woman who is motivated and driven by her "mentor" - my word - another woman named Simone (Linda Manning). The story takes several significant shifts and my perception of what their relationship truly is changed and changed again. Even after the final curtain, it changed again.

Mariah and I worked together as actor-teachers for the Great Lakes Theater school residency program, my partnership with her in that program was a model for what I believe our work there is supposed to be. She left Cleveland after our year together, and though we have stayed in touch fifteen years is a long time, and I am glad we had time today to have lunch and I am so proud of her in this work. Go see it!

Cleveland Public Theatre presents The Tongue That Tells Me So through Saturday, April 15.

Play a Day: Salvage

George Brant
This morning I read Salvage by George Brant, whose work is available on New Play Exchange.

A full-length play but a swift read, an artful three-hander for women. There is an ethical dilemma involved, as writers all we see and hear and experience form the basis for our work, but how much of what defines us doesn't belong to us alone?

Or at what point do we say, you know what? Fuck it, I'm a writer. I'm writing this.

Anyway, there are consequences to absolutely everything, aren't there. So, you know. Fuck it.

Salvage will be produced at None Too Fragile in Akron next month and so I asked George if I could read the script. The piece was originally commissioned by Theater 4 in New Haven, a company co-founded by my friend Mariah Sage, and she and her husband Bruce Seymour have co-penned a new work, The Tongue That Tells Me So, which receives a workshop production this weekend at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Tonight I will be attending The Tongue That Tells Me So. Perhaps I will run into George there.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Play a Day: Encanta

Shawn C. Harris
For Wednesday I read Encanta by Shawn C. Harris, available at New Play Exchange.

This is an absurd tropical adventure with amorous pirates, heartbroken witches, and murderous church ladies. Our heroes literally dance on the edge of a volcano.

They dance on the edge of a volcano.

The stage directions make the audience complicit in the action of the play. We are beachcombers, members of a costume party, a mob of kidnappers. I want to see the production where these things actually happen.

The piece wears its inspirations proudly, though I am curious as the whether the pirate Penzima and the sorceress Katrina are an intentional nod to Petruchio and Katherine, because they certainly could be.

This morning I woke from a particularly vivid dream; we were in a small club where Bryan Ferry was performing, He was seriously old and unshaven, and writhing on the floor. He found a fat potato chip and crushed it in his fingers as a metaphor about love.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Play a Day: Seeds

Donna Hoke
"Yesterday, we didn’t know anything about him, and today, I don’t know anything else."  I could have written that once, but I did not. That is from Seeds by Donna Hoke which I read today and is available for download at New Play Exchange.

In the past three days I have read plays about sex, death, and childbearing, each unique and original works, all of them touching on aspects of the human experience I can entirely relate to.

I think this is why I am doing this.

At that point in my life, when we were breeding, and we were surrounded by a cohort of likewise single-minded colleagues, getting on with our lives with also focused and engaged in the act of procreation, gestation, ideally successfully birth and the rearing and care of entirely helpless infant humans.

Except for those who did not, could not, or could not yet conceive or bring to term a child. There have been plays on this subject. This one succeeds in that it is not about that one thing, but how it affects all things, past, present and future combined, and that the more control you believe you have over the creation and development of life, the greater the chance for disillusionment, heartbreak and loss. Who, after all, do you think you are? God?

AIDAN: I have a son.
ALICE: Always.

Thank you for this.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Play a Day: Death and Cockroaches

Eric Reyes Loo
For Monday morning I read Death and Cockroaches by Eric Reyes Loo, available for download from New Play Exchange.

Eric tells a semi-fictionalized version of the death of his father with humor, honesty, and a surprising number of dicks.

I have a homoerotic dream last night and wake up to read a play that includes a wall of dicks. That part was odd, but not unsatisfying.

People keep telling me how lucky I was my father suddenly dropped dead one morning. It's not actually the kind of thing I like to hear, because I am still in the I'd rather he were not dead at all yet stage.

However, these sentiments are offered up from those whose own fathers lingered in dementia, Alzheimer's, or in the case of Loo's father, a poor heart that took its time to stop.

In the immediate aftermath of my own father's death, my mother second guessed her own decisions in the minutes, the days, the months before he died. Part of my job was in telling her there was no right decision, what has happened, happened.

I felt a great deal of sympathy for the Eric in this play, it's his story and he presents himself as a deeply flawed person. But he's the one who is there, in the same city as his parents, who are presented here as having very challenging personalities, and he has to cope with them, and the hospital, the health care providers, the hospice staff, his brother - the responsible one who lives in another city.

I can sympathize. I can also breathe a shameful sigh of relief that I didn't have to deal with any of that.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Play a Day: This Is How You Got Me Naked

Catherine Weingarten
This morning I read This Is How You Got Me Naked (a sexxxy comedy) by Catherine Weingarten, which is available on New Play Exchange.

God, I needed this play this morning. Weingarten writes entirely absurd but plausible Millennial dialogue with absolutely no shame.  If I didn't know any better, I would think this piece was written specifically to piss off my Baby Boomer colleagues.

Every generation tells their story of longing and unrequited romance. Every subsequent generation has their opportunity to say, yeah. That's not it.

Several years ago I was lurking in a coffee shop on a college campus, trying to think of what to think, when a cohort of young people settled in nearby and just started talking. I wrote some of it down. It seemed so random, like randomness for its own sake.

If I'd been paying better attention I would have followed the narrative, and not been distracted by the intentional distractions. I want you or I think I want you and in any case I don't want you to think I want you at least not until I know you want me. There's a million plays right there.

When did we move from friends with benefits to hookup bros?

I'm old.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Play a Day: Running On Fire

Aurin Squire
For Saturday morning I read Running On Fire by Aurin Squire, which is available on New Play Exchange.

Plays about running are weird, because running is weird. A race is comprehensible, but "going for a run" can be entirely alien to someone who does not do that. It can appear the most trivial of athletic endeavors, and I say this as someone who desperately loves running.

But the act of running carries weight, because while running for sport is completely passive and innocuous (no contact, no competition, running for running's sake) most other examples of running are fraught. It is the result of fear or aggression. Running at something, running away from something.

I am a runner. I run every other day. I have run three marathons. I have kept a running blog since 2006. I am a white male and have never been jumped, catcalled, or been implicated in a crime while running. I have runner's privilege.

Squire's play presents a "town and gown" conflict, centering around an announced university-sponsored marathon which will monopolize a city park, a park which was recently the site of a sexual assault. One of the disheartening and unfortunately very real elements of the narrative is how far people of privilege will go to maintain normalcy in the midst of a crisis.

Numerous people of privilege have been made aware of social injustice as a result of the election. They ask each other, publicly, what action they should take. Too many follow the path that they had already set for themselves, and work to fit progressive action into their normative, daily existence. But there's no reason we should have to cancel the marathon!

And you know what? We always get to keep the marathon.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Play a Day: Rosalynde & The Falcon (BONUS)

Photo: Steve Wagner
I am not only a reader of plays on New Play Exchange, I am also a contributing playwright. Tomorrow night my new work, Red Onion, White Garlic opens at Talespinner Children's Theatre (TCT).

Since 2012, TCT has created professional productions designed for an audience of children and their families. They have a five-play season, four mainstage shows and a touring production, and each script is an original adaptation by a Cleveland-area playwright.

Red Onion, White Garlic is a collection of Indonesian folktales, woven together into a single narrative. Featuring a company of five women, the performance includes wayang kulit and sendrati (shadow puppetry and dance drama.)

Four years ago, TCT produced my play Adventures in Slumberland - adapted from the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland - and more recently, Rosalynde & The Falcon.

Inspired by Shakespeare's As You Like It, I also borrowed heavily from other tales like Snow White and Robin Hood to create a female protagonist who, instead of serving, cleaning up after or falling in love with any of the men she encounters in the forest, she becomes their leader, and eventually the ruler of the entire kingdom.

It's a short play, written in trochaic octameter, clocking in at around an hour. If you do read, please consider leaving a recommendation ... and thanks.

Read Rosalynde & The Falcon at New Play Exchange.

Play a Day: Use All Available Doors

Brittany Alyse Willis
One week, seven plays.

This morning I read Use All Available Doors by Brittany Alyse Willis and available on New Play Exchange.

The story takes place on a train, part of DC Metro. It is a conceit I envy, one setting that can accommodate countless stories and characters. I have dreams of taking advantage of our own public transit system, such as it is, but on a snowy April morning am resigned to two-person dialogue, me and the boy.

DAD: My new play opens tomorrow. I am nervous.
SON: As you should be.

Seriously, that's how my eleven year-old talks. Exactly like I do.

My wife remarked this morning that I seemed unhappy. She assumes I did not enjoy the play I just read. "No," I said, "that's not it. I liked the script, I like it a lot. There are unhappy conversations, and I am dwelling on those."

Hell is other passengers.

There are also moments of magic and grace and absurdity. Any time strangers begin dancing I am happy.

Real life intrudes. It is hard to concentrate when your President just pulled his first large scale airstrike with no clear explanation or strategy. This country is a fucking nightmare.

"Dad says stories were greater than facts."

Willis's play plumbs those points of transition, because its not where people believe they are, we believe we are where we were or where we are going, in transit is not a real place. It's like what my wife calls Airportland, the theory that all airports are really one airport, you don't actually exist in reality when you are inside Airportland. anything can happen, though usually nothing ever happens.

Stasis. The waiting.

Has anyone ever fallen in love on the subway?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Play a Day: Zamboni Godot

Ayun Halliday
This morning's read was Zamboni Godot by Ayun Halliday, and available on New Play Exchange. Last night we saw Jonathan Richman at the Grog Shop, so between that, my lucid dreaming and this play, my brain is pleasantly baked with absurdities.

I am a great fan of Ayun and her work, her books, (Peanut, The Big Rumpus) her zine, (East Village Inky) and her writing and performance as one of the original members of the Chicago and New York Neo-Futurists.

Members of the Neo-Futurists have employed a technique of deconstructing classic play texts to comment upon modern issues and anxieties. In this work, Halliday's protagonists are waiting everywhere, in the emergency room, at the amusement park, at the BMV. Beckett's original is only a template for Halliday's spare and insightful examination of every contemporary indignity, or perceived indignity.

Zamboni Godot is hilarious and "100% Bechdel Test Approved!"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Play a Day: Rare Birds

Adam Szymkowicz
Yesterday, my friend Tracey Gilbert posted a review for Rare Birds by Adam Szymkowicz which is currently being produced by Red Fern Theatre. I held onto the review and bookmarked the play at New Play Exchange for this morning's reading.

This is a story of cyberbullying, the narrative is familiar -- every generation has its movies about conflict in high school -- but the tools are modern. My own children are slouching toward high school and I am not unaware of the uneasy and permeable borders between them and the outside world.

When I was a teenager, most kids sitting lone in their room would be alone in their room, with only perhaps a old-fashioned telephone to make connection with any of their peers. When my children are alone in their room, they have the illusion of privacy, but their phones and screens mean they may as well be in the middle of the street, they can be everywhere at once.

Szymkowicz presents a world of cruelty, not without its motivation, but with the violence and abuse that seems random until you understand its origins. The tale could easily end tragically without a fortunate puella ex machina which is the fantasy of every straight, teenage boy.

Reminds me of the tagline from the Mortified podcast, We're freaks, we're fragile, and we all survived. Except we didn't. We didn't all survive. says Tracey is "magnificent" is the Red Fern production at the 14th Street Y in NYC, which does not surprise me because she totally always is.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Play a Day: The First Time

Tracey Conyer Lee
This morning I read The First Time by Tracey Conyer Lee. This is my first exposure to her work. Last night I was casting about on New Play Exchange and I found her solo performance Standing Up; Bathroom Talk & Other Stuff We Learn From Dad which she performed a few years ago at the New York Fringe.

I may come back to that, I guess I decided I wasn't in the mood for a solo piece? Reading all these plays is inspiring, which is the point, but I am also trying to get something down on paper myself and reading others' dialogue is helping with that mindset. What do we talk about when we talk?

One thing that struck me about this play, which focuses mainly on five individuals, it how each of them are incredibly forward, it was bracing. I remember first experiencing Death of a Salesman and while I know this is kind of the point, it was irritating, so irritating, that no one said anything they were actually thinking, or that no one was listening to each other. Each of these characters are unafraid to express what they are thinking, at that moment, and there is great energy in that.

There's a moment in this work, in a place at a time, which brought me right back to my own childhood. It made me question so much. That's where we are now. It occurred to me this morning that I knew everything when I was twenty, and how much less I know today. Soon I won't know anything at all. It is making me a better writer.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Play a Day: Greyout

Whitney Rowland
This morning I read Greyout, a one-act by Whitney Rowland. We met in Valdez last summer, and though she made time to attended and comment upon my play I was unable to attend her reading of this play because I was in rehearsal for another reading, which was disappointing. Reading this work feels like I have taken care of some unfinished business.

A twenty-page excerpt is available at New Play Exchange.

May I ask once and for all what the hell "one-act" means? The title page said one-act and I was relieved to see that, based on the number of pages this play is indeed one act long. But theater companies around the country insist on advertising one-act festivals that are, in fact, festivals of ten-minute plays. Ten minutes is not an act.

Deep breath. Okay.

What are the consequences of bad memory, of bad wisdom, and how best to present them on stage. Going into dark places for writing is very challenging for me, because I am not sure what I will find there. Maybe I am worried I will find myself.

Unbearable horror and sorrow, leavened with seriously dark humor, just this side of guignol. Would like to have heard the comments after her reading, I would like to ask her about that.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Play a Day: Click

Jacqueline Goldfinger
Today I read Click by Jacqueline Goldfinger, which was recommended on the New Play Exchange homepage.

Plays about future technology are fascinating. We as theater artists are utilizing the most primitive of art forms to present, communicate, discuss devices and systems which do not yet exist, engaging the human imagination to fill in the gaps. CGI in film must show exactly what that world will appear like, or it fails, in theater we have no such limits or criteria.

On your imaginary forces work ... if you follow me.

Because we are not (as is the case in this text) not concerned with the technology so much as the effect it has on the human condition. The subject of this play is very troubling, as I have two adolescent children moving into the world armed and/or hobbled by such modern devices.

Ideally, our dramatic works will assist in the creation of a set of ethics, mores, rules. It remains to be seen.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Play a Day: Daughters of the Moon

Reginald Edmund
There used to be an online motivational event called Script Frenzy, much like NaNoWriMo only for screenplays and play scripts. They closed up shop five years ago, which is a pity, but not before I used the event as an opportunity to write a complete, new work in the month of April, 2012. That play was Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick).

Now, for today. I have been terrible about reading these days. Not reading enough, certainly not reading plays. So, as we enter the month of April I have resolved to read one play each day, from the ever-expanding database available at New Play Exchange.

This morning I read Daughters of the Moon by Reginald Edmund. Reggie was in town in January as a panelist at Cleveland Public Theatre for Entry Point and we had the chance to finally meet face to face and talk for a little. He is the creative force behind the Black Lives, Black Words project, which has been produced in several cities, most recently at the Bush Theatre in London.

It is not my intent to critique each of these plays, only to read them. Having said, that, Daughters of the Moon is a thrilling survival adventure, historical and poetic, with strong themes on race, gender, and empowerment. From my own perspective, this script would be an excellent educational touring production for audiences middle school and older.

Also, after a disappointing and depressing fallow period, I have scribbled my way into the possibility of a narrative that I may be compelled to investigate. So, happy first of April all around.