Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Writer in the Window (2019)

Four years running, I have participated in the "Writers In the Window" event at Appletree Books.

The very first time was in 2016, just before the election. It was hot, the door to the store was propped open, and the Indians were still up in the Series, 3 games to 2. Things looked good.

I sat in the window three times that November, writing a good deal of Red Onion, White Garlic. Last year it was About a Ghoul. I write plays every November, on display in the window of Appletree Books, in full view of Cedar Road rush hour traffic.

Usually I have a laptop, this evening I brought a wooden writer's desk and wrote by hand for two hours, and I daresay I accomplished more in this manner, penning three scenes for The Witches, which I will get to hear read next week

I am lost as to what happens next. But that was also true two hours ago.

Appletree Books is located at 12419 Cedar Rd. in the Cedar-Fairmount District of Cleveland Heights.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Name of the Game (song)

The Name of the Game was released in October, 1977. The first single from the ABBA album ABBA: The Album, it reached number 12 in the United States, and (I was unaware of this until I read the Wikipedia entry) the distinctive bass line was inspired by Stevie Wonder’s I Wish.

I was nine years old in late 1977. What I find amazing is that even at that young age, I knew exactly what the song was about: A young, self-conscious woman (we will say she, the lyrics are sung by self-identifying women) making an appeal to an apparently worldly, probably older man (we will call this person he) a man with whom she has made an emotional connection, to please be honest about what is happening between them.

However, the real impact of this song cannot be understood in the shorter, 3:58 version which was the American radio edit, which omits the entire second verse. I had the album, it was the first pop record I ever bought, so I was aware of the difference.

I have already described what it was like growing up, consuming the pop culture of the late 1970s. I had created for myself a somewhat dark image of adult interpersonal relationships. My parents might be square, but my own adulthood would apparently be one of mistrust, and fleeting, furtive coupling.

This song, especially, in its complete 4:51 album version, affirmed and confirmed this theory. The first verse marks her as insecure, and describes her disbelief that anyone would pay her any attention at all.
I was an impossible case
No-one ever could reach me
But I think I can see in your face
There's a lot you can teach me
In its brief, radio-ready incarnation, the song just rises and rises and rises to the chorus, begging the question, what’s the name of the game?

The second verse, however, makes her sound almost pathetic, as though she thinks of herself as some kind of social outcast.
I have no friends, no-one to see
And I am never invited
Now I am here, talking to you
No wonder I get excited
Because there is a second verse, the heights of the chorus is abruptly brought back down to Stevie Wonder’s pilfered, down-beat bass line. The lyrics then dive so much deeper into the narrator’s personal insecurities, which become even more pronounced, and her surprise that this beautiful mentor has focused his attention on this neophyte, out of an entire crowd.

You might even say he is grooming her.

Her complete shock at this development leads her to ask, “would you laugh at me, if I said I care for you?” That’s a special kind of fear, and now instead of asking for the ground rules of the game, she now sounds afraid it’s just a game. Is he using her? Can he be serious?

This second verse raises the stakes tremendously.

Again, at the age of nine, I got this. I understood it. And even then I was worried I might one day be treated the way she is.

As a child it never occurred to me that I could be the one who treats someone else that way.

Which is all to say, I am entirely unhappy with the manner in which this song is employed in the musical Mamma Mia! Altering the lyrics somewhat, it becomes a somewhat creepy plea from a young woman asking an older man if he is not, in fact, her biological father. So glad they didn't use it in the movie.

I have said too much.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Balm In Gilead (1989)

"Balm In Gilead" by Lanford Wilson, directed by Dennis L. Dalen
(Ohio University School of Theatre, 1989)
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?

- Jeremiah 8:22

“‘Disintegration’ is the best album ever!”
- Kyle Broflovski, South Park
Nineteen Eighty-Nine was the greatest year in musical history. This is a point of some debate, but I know it to be true. Psychologists have explained that each individual believes the music released in one’s twenty-first year will generally be regarded as superior to all others.

But come on, Paul’s Boutique, Three Feet High and Rising, Deep, Pretty Hate Machine, I could go on. Disintegration is indeed the best album ever, and well describes my own psyche at the end of my third year in college, when it was released.

I had gone from second-year golden boy to third-year pariah, and started my fourth-year in perhaps the most mentally correct place I have ever found myself. I learned that I need to get my professional shit together and was ready to just bear down and work until graduation.*

The undergraduate production that fall was Balm In Gilead by Lanford Wilson, a production which opened thirty years ago tonight. An ideal play if you want to cast as many people as possible, Wilson’s work is a hipster fantasia taking place in and around a twenty-hour diner frequented by the addicted, sex workers, and also thieves, hustlers, and criminals.

Joe (Peter Voinovich) and Darlene (Susan Hobrath)
All my best friends, my contemporaries, were in this production (except Jules, who was across the alley, performing in Hurlyburly) and we all underwent a deep, focused investigation of the world of heroine users, expending the kind of time on research that was so plentiful at school, even if we were unaware of it.

We had scheduled a meeting with a therapist at the campus addiction recovery center. I knew absolutely nothing about heroin, save for having watched Sid & Nancy. What I learned became quite valuable, as I will soon point out.

We did not need to study the time period, because director Denny Dalen did not set it in any specific time period, or to be more accurate, we were each from different eras, as though we were walking through some kind of purgatory.

Larry was a 70s street hustler, with picked out Afro, Pete a Miami Vice styled wannabe kingpin in a blazer and T-shirt. Ricky in all-white disco attire, Susan a 60s flower-child, Lisa a hard-boiled 1950s waitress with small apron and snood.

Me, I was the narrator, an addict named Dopey in a mid-80s Deep Purple T-shirt and a high school varsity jacket. My long hair ratted out and my first real beard, I have deeply warm feelings about this costume. Much love to designer Tavia DeFelice.

The script is very challenging to read, as several conversations can be happening at once. You had to say your line in the order it appears on the page, but you might be responding to something someone said three lines back. But the more we did it, the more we heard it, and the more it became like a kind of word jazz.

I remember the week leading up to opening was particularly tough. Denny had something for everyone, and more for some than others. The underclassmen were a pain, as they debated every observation Denny had for them, responding with some explanation for how the way they were doing it made sense.

There's a saying. "Take the note." Don't argue with me. Do it.

One night, before we started in with notes, someone speculated on how long notes were going to go, and how wearying it all was.

Self as Dopey
“Not for David,” said one of the second-years. giving me the side-eye. “He never gets any notes.”

I was a little too quick to respond. “No, I don't. But if I did I’d be sure to pitch a fit about them.”

It got better. Denny was not happy with the penultimate dress, and everyone knew it.

He said, “David is the only person on this stage who knows where he’s coming from and where he’s going to,” or words to that effect.

I don't usually remember compliments, but I remember that. A couple years ago, when posting about Greg Vovos' play, How To Be a Respectable Junkie, I recounted my experience in preparing for this play, and how close study of the text and an understanding of the effects of heroin made it possible for me to pick apart the threads of conversation and develop a clear map of  (as the man said) where I was coming from. Where I was headed to.

Check out the post, the playwright makes it all crystal clear.

So yeah, I was proud of myself, for being the professional, for embodying a whole character and being confident about it. It has been a very long time since I have had the opportunity to dive so deeply into a character.

But the whole production was like that, it was practically immersive. Balm was staged in the Form, a deeply thrust stage. The set (Daniel N. Denhart, designer) inspired by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, the non-present walls of the diner clearly defined by light (James A. Gage, designer) all organey warm inside, and bluishly cold out.

The script is a symphony of despair, one that repeats night after night, as we lounged about the set, crouching in corners, shivering, when we weren’t on. Smoking live cigarettes. Spitting.
DOPEY: (turns to face the audience) Are you getting any of this?
And who knows. Maybe I could have been an actor.

"Balm In Gilead" by Lanford Wilson and directed by Dennis L. Dalen, at the Forum Theater at Ohio University, November 3 - 11, 1989.

*Side Note: Fall Quarter 1989 I had roles in three productions, the mainstage and two fourth year studio plays, whereas all other fourth years were in only two. In addition to Dopey I also played the Fire Chief in Ionesco's "The Bald Soprano" and in Tennessee Williams' "The Gnädiges Fräulein," the Cockalooney Bird.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


"About a Ghoul"
(Talespinner Children's Theatre, 2019)
Where did twenty years go? How did we sail blithely from marriage and plans for a productive and beautiful future to find ourselves gray and so very, very troubled?

Certainly, I blame the children. The child we lost, and those we have, those bright, living children who engage and surprise us every day.

This weekend we’re seeing Damn Yankees at the high school, and both kids are in the pit orchestra, that’s a first. I performed that show at my own high school, thirty-four years ago. The show was dated then, but today the D.C.team is actually in the World Series. How odd.

The past year has had its professional achievements,  including the “world premiere” of The Way I Danced With You, a West Coast production of Rosalynde & The Falcon that was a delightful success, as was the opening of About a Ghoul at Talespinner Children's Theatre, and the publication of Red Onion White Garlic.

Looking to the New Year, however, there are great and challenging plans “afoot” (as the man says) including the new children’s touring play Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street, to be directed by Lisa Ortenzi for Great Lakes Theater, and for which we now have a cast, a tremendous company of artists.

Also, my new play The Witches will have a workshop production in April, part of the Test Flight series at Cleveland Public Theatre. The text is still in pieces-parts, but we’re having a private reading in November and I am very excited to hear what we have aloud.

Finally, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but announcing something can make it true, I have applied for graduate school, which I have forestalled for over twenty years.

The truth is, though I have always assumed I would eventually seek a Masters degree, it never fit into whatever lifestyle I was pursuing at the time, but that of producer, director, actor, playwright, and also actor-teacher, education arts administrator, father of two.

And it won’t fit now. It will never fit. Because nothing fits. You just keep shoving more pieces in there.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Cloud 9 (2000)

"(It'll Be Fine When You Reach) Cloud Nine"
From left: Diane Mull, Tracey Field, Nick Koesters, Alison Garrigan, self

“I hear you are considering Cloud 9.”

This was James Mango, Artistic Director of Charenton Theater Company. The other new theater start-up, creating professional work in funky urban spaces.

We were at an event at Fadó, an Irish-themed bistro in the Flats. It was late Spring, 2000. Standing out on the boardwalk, on the banks of the Cuyahoga. The weather was perfect, the city was on the rise. The Millennium had begun (don’t argue with me about numerology) and everything was possible.

James told me Charenton was also considering that title, and proposed a co-production. I was suspicious. Not skeptical, I was suspicious.

He told me that with their management and promotional skills, the show could be a blockbuster. I asked him, what does Bad Epitaph have to offer?

He said, “The best talent in Cleveland.”

Diane Mull as Edward
Photo by Anthony Gray
Well played. He flattered me, he came to me and made a generous suggestion. I told him I’d think about it, and immediately went into overdrive, figuring out how soon we could announce the Bad Epitaph 2000-01 Season, and to secure the rights to produce Cloud 9. On our own.

Why? Arrogance, I imagine. I was thirty-two. My company was a hot property. I didn’t want to dilute it. Co-productions were not yet a thing, but they would be and very soon. James was thinking outside the box. I was being territorial. That was my first mistake.

Most of our core company was involved in the production of Cloud 9, and I will say it was the best in Cleveland. Roger Truesdell was tapped to direct. He had helmed Sin the previous fall, presented at Inside Gallery (now the site of the Bourbon Street Barrel Room) a temporary forty-seat space which sold out every performance.

Most of the spaces we had already engaged were either unavailable or defunct for that fall. I can’t tell you how many interesting spaces we had considered for Lysistrata, including the Paris Art Theatre on West 25th Street, an abandoned pornographic film house.

We could have had the Studio Theatre at Cleveland Play House, an intimate thrust space. Just a few years later Dobama would often use the space before they found their present location in Cleveland Heights.

But I got it into my head we must have a proscenium, and we found one. A sweetheart deal with the folks at Tri-C East, in Highland Heights. They had a new, state of the art facility and wanted to draw attention to it. It was a six hundred seat auditorium.

"Come Gather Sons of England"
Company from "Cloud 9"
(Bad Epitaph Theater Company, 2000)
Well, that’s very big,isn't it. But I had high hopes for attendance. All of our productions caught fire and attracted large audiences -- Hamlet, Sin, Santaland, Lysistrata, they were all selling out shortly after opening.

Also, we were generating great press! Our new was nominated for a Northern Ohio Live “Award of Achievement” for Lysistrata, and in the awards issue was a feature written by Christopher Johnston, about the company, and me in particular. Surely, Bad Epitaph was ascendant. This production would attract even greater audiences.

From the beginning, however, my best instincts told me that all of our productions should be produced within the city of Cleveland. The original mission clearly stated we would be presenting classics and important contemporary drama in an urban setting. Now, we were moving into a cavernous space, way out at the intersection of Interstates 271 and 480. That was my second mistake.

The acting company included regulars Nick Koesters, Tom Cullinan, Alison Garrigan, Chris Bohan, myself, were joined by actors new to Bad Epitaph, Diane Mull and Tracey Field. A raked set was designed by Don McBride, spectacular light effects were created by Greg Owen-Houk, and our house composer, Dennis Yurich, created original music.

The production was set in both 1880 and 1980, nice round numbers. What had originally been a contemporary second act was now itself a period piece, which began with a news report on a London pop station (Sarah Morton as the DJ) and a brief snatch of the title song as though interpreted by XTC.

Our version of the complete song, sung by the company, was much more wistful. It begins with Gerry (Nick) singing the first verse solo, before being joined by Lin (Alison), then myself and Diane -- the Edwards -- and the song builds and builds until everyone is on stage, singing. During the climax we are all dancing, but we are each dancing by ourselves.

Roger created a beautiful picture postcard, exactly what I hoped the production would be. It closed with a signature Truesdell moment, with glitter and confetti showering onto Betty 1980 (Tracey) and Betty 1880 (Nick) as she has finally found herself.

And the reviews were positive, pointing up the strengths of our production, and also its failings. Tony Brown for the Plain Dealer commented that the “too-large theater ... dilutes the intimacy.” Imagine if we staged this at the Studio, or in another welcoming art gallery. Brown also called our production “a perverse sort of children’s theater for adults.” I’m not sure he meant that as a compliment, but I will take it as one.

The critics agreed that this script had come into focus into the intervening twenty years. Free Times critic James Damico claimed Churchill’s text, “never convincingly coheres or evolves dramatically … held together solely by the consistency of its anti-establishment criticisms." But he also said that time and our “resourceful and energetic production” had considerably “considerably depoliticize[d] and clarif[ied] the play’s properties.”

Which is another way of saying we took the rough edges off. The headline for the PD review was “Strong message is sugared in 'Cloud Nine'.” Indeed.

Now, and I can’t remember why I thought this was a good idea … we had a pre-opening night preview. That is not unique. However, there was no admission, In fact it was promoted as FREE. A free performance, the night before we opened!

Tracey Field, Nick Koesters
This is all well and good if you are only telling friends and family. But we promoted it. Because I felt we needed strong word-of-mouth, and what better way than to paper the preview? And people came! Our free preview was a big hit, all our friends and family came! It was the largest house we had for the entire run.

What the fuck? What was I thinking? Am I some kind of Communist? We had an entire weekend of previews for Lysistrata (I was terrified it would suck and I wanted time to make massive changes, which it turns out I did not have to do) but still we charged admission for them.

There were over fifty people there for the preview, their number dwarfed by a sea of seats. We didn’t even ask for a donation on the way out. This was my third and final mistake.

I loved this play, I wanted to return to a text that had so inspired me as I began my journey as a theater artist. And we did it just right. And audience size varied widely ... between ten and fifteen people.

One night, after another inspiring and poorly-attended performance, I drove to Cleveland Heights to catch the last half of Angst:84, a new play by my wife, Toni K. Thayer, at my old haunt, Dobama’s Night Kitchen.

I snuck into a seat in the back row on the far left side of the house, which was nearly sold out. An audience composed largely of teenagers and young adults, exactly the demographic for which I had created this project five years earlier. But I’d never produced such a popular show for the Night Kitchen.

I was happy for her. I was jealous. I was sad. I missed this. I was an adult, soon to be a father (or so I thought) and I had moved onto adult projects. But I still wanted to be back here, in the basement, in a great neighborhood, making exciting art for a young audience.

And yet, and you will have to take my word on this, over the years several have told me they did see our production of Cloud 9, and how much it meant to them. I get those comments about this show more than anything else Bad Epitaph produced.

Strong Message is sugared in 'Cloud Nine' by Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer, 10/23/2000
Clearing the Clouds; Bad Epitaph works wonders with 'Cloud 9' by James Damico, The Free Times, 11/1-7/2000

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Cloud 9 (1986)

"Cloud 9" by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Deborah Nitzberg
Set Design by Fred Duer
(Ohio University School of Theater, 1986)
Recently, my wife noticed that I sometimes do not include my role as Artistic Director of Bad Epitaph Theater Company in my biography. Bad Epitaph operated (more or less) from 1999 until 2004. We had many great artistic triumphs, and a few failures. I feel my work as titular head of the company to be its Achilles' heel, and am therefore loathe to cite that responsibility as a credit.

Take for example our production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 in the year 2000. A fine production, from an artistic standpoint; the direction, performers, all elements of design including original music and sound. Exactly the attention to detail we had been striving for in the eighteen months we had been working together as a team.

And audiences stayed away and we lost all the profits we had raked in from our acclaimed production Lysistrata. What happened?

To answer that question, I need to go back to my first semester at college.

For every theater artist there’s that show you saw that changed everything, that made you realize the full potential of what theater could be, and why it is an art form unique from all others. For me, that was Cloud 9.

First produced at the Royal Court in 1979, with a Broadway run in 1981 at the Theatre de Lys, (now the Lucille Lortel) Churchill’s work was part of the 1986-87 Season at the Ohio University School of Theatre. It was produced in repertory with Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.

Now get this: I was a freshman. I had decided to pursue a degree in acting. As a child my parents had taken me to plays and to musicals, which each seemed very different to me. I liked musicals and found a lot of plays to be boring. Not necessarily unenjoyable, just not exiting. And yet I wanted to perform in them.

Today I love watching plays, and do not find performing in them to be enjoyable. We change.

Of course, my knowledge of what a play is was quite limited. So many of the works I had seen at local theaters or performed in at high school were not new. You Can’t Take It With You. Blithe Spirit. The Importance of Being Earnest. The works of Shakespeare. To my mind, that was the majority of work an actor would do, the canon.

From left: Matthew Glave, Kevin McCarty, Alana Beth Lipp
Costume Design by William Anderson
All incoming freshman were required to take Introduction to Theatre Criticism, led at that time by the legendary Al Kaufman. A very important course, especially for a callow youth like myself, we learned the language of artistic evaluation. You like it (or you don’t) but can you articulate why?

We were told to read Cat On a Hot Tin Roof before attending the performance, but not to read Cloud 9. How does reading a play beforehand color your reception of the work? How does coming to the work without expectations?

Like a lot of my classmates, we were disheartened by this production of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. It wasn’t very good. Some performances were downright awful. Was that all right? Could we say that? Al assured us that we could.

I became concernedabout the next four years. Is that what this school has to offer?

Then I saw Cloud 9. And my head burst open.

In brief, this play is a satire on British colonialism and mores and how the past is never past. Churchill plays with form, setting the first act in 1880s in Africa, and the second act in 1979 in London … but to the characters, members of one British family and those in their community, it has only been twenty-five years.

This gap in time is not explained. It just is, and no one questions it.

It begins as some kind of British farce, the gender reversals (mother played by a man, the young son played by a woman) easily dismissed as a kind of funny panto. That is, until the highly-anticipated arrival of a famous explorer breaks the thin veneer of gentility. He attempts to seduce the mother, then the son, and finally gains his satisfaction with the African servant Joshua.

“Shall we go into the barn and fuck?” asks the explorer, and they bound off, hand-in-hand. It was hilarious, and shocking, and a release. And my idea of what theater could be changed forever.

I was stunned by the play’s frank use of language, and how it addresses issues of homosexuality, feminism, domestic abuse, drag, pedophilia, incest. But the play also created in me a deep sense of longing, desire, and disappointment. If the first act was arch comedy, the second act was more troubling, as the now-adult children, freed from Victorian restrictions, struggle to understand who they are.

What did it all mean? I did not have the words, the experience to express the feelings this production aroused in me. It was 1986. I was just eighteen years old.

From left: Kevin McCarty, Cynthia Collins
Alana Beth Lipp, Joseph Hulser
In the middle of the second act, the company breaks the fourth wall to sing to the audience, a song called "Cloud 9." In this production, the lyrics were in a capella harmony, like a street corner, doo-wop melody.
The wife lover’s children
And my lover’s wife
Cooking in my kitchen
Confusing my life
And it’s upside down when you reach Cloud Nine.
It was a sexy-sassy rendition, and I was jealous. I wanted to be them. The actors, I mean, I wanted to be performing in a show like that.

More troubling to me now are the many difficult turns my personal life was about to take and I wonder if I missed the lesson of the story, that liberation does not necessarily make us happy.

In the New York Times, Frank Rich called Cloud 9 “sentimental agitprop,” and while he didn’t mean that kindly, I wish I had had those words to include in my essay for Dr. Kaufman. As a playwright, I have become a champion of sentimental agitprop. It's what I do.

Moving ahead twelve years, I developed a desire to direct a production of Hamlet with all those artists I had met and grown close to during the previous several years. And maybe someday I will write about that production.

In brief, it was a success. We decided to produce a new play, Sin by Wendy MacLeod, and also the first Cleveland production of The Santaland Diaries, both successes. Finally, in spring 2000 we produced Lysistrata, which was a huge success.

I was happy to skip from production to production under the banner of Bad Epitaph, after Hamlet’s warning not to offend actors; “After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.” It was a moniker which invited abuse and I was all for it.

From left: Raeleen McMillion, Cynthia Collins
Kevin McCarty, Alana Beth Lipp
We were compelled to create a season. I say “we” because I am almost sure I would rather not have done so, better to just produce a play when there’s a play you want to produce. It had worked so far. But suddenly we were in competition -- or perceived that we were -- by another upstart company, Charenton Theater Company, a name even more pretentious than our own.

Charenton’s first few offerings were mid-to-mid-late twentieth century classics like Waiting for Godot and American Buffalo. Works that say, “I haven’t read a play since college.”

And what did I do? I chose to kick off Bad Epitaph’s first full season with the most memorable play I had seen in college, Cloud 9.

To be continued.

Photos courtesy of Alana Byington

Source: Sexual Confusion On ‘Cloud 9’ by Frank Rich, The New York Times, 5/20/1981

Monday, October 7, 2019

Tyrant, Shakespeare On Politics (book)

Angela Merkel, on vacation, reading "Tyrant."
Stephen Greenblatt, American author of the acclaimed Will In the World, was apparently so entirely disturbed by the election of Donald J, Trump that he swiftly produced a brief examination of Shakespeare’s villains (189 pages) and how they each compare to the current occupant of the White House.

Tyrant, Shakespeare on Politics, was released on May 8, 2018, and even at that point it was easy to see what kind of President Trump was going to be, as if that were not previously evident. Though he never names the President, his thesis is clear, with every chapter and every would-be emperor described, accurately for the most part, with precisely the same language many have used to describe Trump.

He calls Jack Cade, leader of a populist uprising in Henry VI Part 2, a “loud-mouthed demagogue” possessing an “indifference to the truth, shamelessness, and hyperinflated self-confidence.”

Shakespeare's Richard III “divides the world into winners and losers” and “is not merely indifferent to the law; he hates it … because it gets in his way.”

Macbeth has “a compulsive need to prove his manhood, dread of impotence … a fear of failure.” These psychological cues explain his “penchant for bullying, the vicious misogyny” and “explosive violence.”

Surprisingly, Greenblatt spends few words on the character of Julius Caesar, who, of all of Shakespeare’s monarchs, has been the one most often directly compared to Trump, for all of each man's vanity, poor health, and weakness for flattery at the same time ferociously protesting their own god-like inability to be manipulated.

Instead, this author focuses, as the play does, on the character of Brutus, and his desire to preempt disaster and assassinate Caesar before he attains absolute rule. Shakespeare’s lesson, it is clear, is that violent overthrow, no matter how pure the intent, is never pure, and impossible by design; an oxymoron in action.

“Real-world actions grounded on noble ideals,” Greenblatt suggests, “may have unforeseen and ironic consequences.”

Carole Healey as Julius Caesar
Photo: Roger Mastroianni
(Great Lakes Theater, 2019)
Published almost a year before the release of the Mueller Report, Greenblatt also provides a warning; that, though investigation and the possibility of impeachment is not a violent act, subverting the will of the electorate will always be suspect, and probably futile, even if you believe it would be the poorer choice to do nothing at all.
“The attempt to avert a possible Constitutional crisis, were Caesar to decide to assume tyrannical powers, precipitates the collapse of the state. The very act that was meant to save the republic turns out to destroy it. Caesar is dead, but by the end of the play Caesarism is triumphant.”
As it happened, the Mueller investigation came to a close without touching Trump nearer, finding that while a foreign power certainly offered Citizen Trump political assistance during the 2016 election, there was not definitive proof that he accepted it.

It should surprise no one who has been paying attention that we are now mired in a nearly identical circumstance, with definitive proof that President Trump himself has solicited political assistance from (at least) one foreign power for the 2020 election.

Impeachment now increasingly likely, looking into the works of Shakespeare may be a direful predictor of future events.

Great Lakes Theater presents "Julius Caesar" directed by Sara Bruner at the Hanna Theatre through November 3, 2019

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"I'm Alive You Bastards And I Always Will Be" produced by Nightbloom Theatre Company

Photo: Steve Wagner
Tonight I am going to see the premiere production of a new Cleveland theater company, I’m Alive You Bastards And I Always Will Be, written by Roxie Perkins and presented by Nightbloom Theatre Company. And I’m scared. And I’m thrilled.

The company promises risk-taking work but doesn’t everyone promise risk-taking work? However, this production promises adult themes, strong language, violence, and references to sexual violence.

Most stage violence I have experienced of late is either cartoon gore (your B-movie musicals, for example) or a couple of dickheads punching each other stupid in this month’s toxically masculine, “kick ass” play. None of them inspire anything close to actual fear. Neither, for that matter, does Sleep No More.

The most popular example of shock theatre is the Grand Guignol. Before the advent of splatter films (also, World War II) middle class French audiences got a kick out Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Paris, where on any given evening they could expect to see half a dozen short plays utilizing grotesque and realistic stage effects to portray short dramas of torture, crime, and madness -- there were comedies, too, primarily on the subject of cuckolding.

It has been a long time since I have experienced anything truly creepy, weird or startling. I witnessed Die Hanswurst Klown present Prick Us And We'll Burst in Chicago almost twenty-five years ago, an evil clown show developed by a troupe of improvisers. The program was designed in such a way as to make you believe this was a real troupe of East German clowns, only the very last sentence of the performer bios suggested who the actor actually was.

From my journal, July 9, 1995:
Unbelievable. Helmut Voelker, with the big forehead, unwavering, glassy-eyed stare and gaped mouth, piercing high laugh, he couldn’t break eggs except on his head, he was so frightening and pitiful, REMEMBER HIM … like a wild animal. He frightened me. And when his hand was hit by a mallet or his penis was cut off, or his gift of a rose was refused, he howled and cried so pitifully, it made me feel terrible ...
Die Hanswurst Klown
Yeah, one of the other clowns severed Helmut’s penis ... while he was having sexual relations with a pumpkin. Blood spurted into the air.
Standing on a ladder, he made a solo, mournful, articulate soliloquy to the moon. This one expression of love was the only time he spoke during the entire show.

And it was in German.
Late during the history of Guerrilla, I had proposed reconfiguring the entire concept. In spite of our “game show” structure of introducing short plays, the whole endeavor still felt (to me) like a Too Much Light knock-off. What if we made an actual set, evoking a demented cabaret, with each of us developing alter-egos which we would maintain week after week, and that it would be these performers presenting the short plays?

From my proposal, June 1993:
“Maison de Foux” ... I picture a dinner theater trying to stay open after the city has been carpet bombed. Charred doorways, curtains askew, a big sign of lights proclaiming the name of the show, with a few bulbs missing or burned out … walls adorned with water damaged posters of rock stars, politicians and movies ...

While the audience is still meant to feel as though they are an integral part of what goes on, they are no longer encouraged to believe they own the place.
Nothing came of that idea, at least not at Guerrilla. The concept was revived in a somewhat different form for Night Kitchen.

Backstage with "The Gaslight Guignol"
Erin Meyers, Mike Schmidt, self
Jenna Weiss, Toni K. Thayer
This Vicious Cabaret was my attempt at an evil clown show, a post-apocalyptic comic nightmare in which a band of roving performers acted danced and sang for their supper (we literally accepted non-perishable food items in lieu of payment). Global warming had led to massive water shortages and the collapse of civilization as we know it.

The evening culminated with an audience member being chosen to join the company, but also having to choose which member of the original company would have to be killed to maintain balance. My character, Serious George, the most horrible of our quintet, was prepared with a knife to slit the throat of whoever was chosen. In case it was me, Mister Alfred (Mike Schmidt) would sneak up behind, grab my knife hand and do the deed.

I had palmed a blood packet, so the knife wound was particularly ghastly, a fine conclusion to a dark evening. Sometimes the packet would “pop” and blood would shoot across the stage.

Tonight, Nightbloom Theatre Co. has promised such effects as extreme, prolonged stage violence, punching, kicking, head trauma, eye gouging and gouts of blood. The play I’m Alive You Bastards is a feminist warning or threat: What will happen when the lid finally blows off of women’s collective efforts to suppress rage and anger? What happens when women transform into their monsters they have held inside?

The wake of the #meToo Movement has brought to the fore a new genre of unapologetically and aggressively feminist plays, like Mathile Dratwa’s A Play about David Mamet Writing a Play about Harvey Weinstein and Sharai Bohannon’s Punching Neil LaBute project. These are exciting creative developments.

So when I say I am scared to attend this show, it’s not really the stage violence I am afraid of. We know that’s fake. A surprise is titillating, that’s why we go to haunted houses. It’s the ideas, and the expression of those ideas which fill me with anticipatory dread.

Nightbloom Theatre Co. presents "I'm Alive You Bastards And I Always Will Be" at Maelstrom Collective Arts through Sunday, October 6, 2019

Happy birthday, Alice Bluegown. We remember.

Source: Crash Course Theatre #35: The Horrors of the Grand Guignol

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Drew Goes to the Browns' Game (1999)

There was a time I wanted to be an actor. During the 1990s I was even attached to a talent agency in town, and did all the requisite things you do when you are represented by an agency. I had a composite photo, I had a voice reel. I spent a lot of money in an effort to promote myself, largely in vain.

There were a couple industrials, and by that I mean two. There was the greeting card shoot, a couple radio spots, and dozens and dozens of auditions.

The auditions were ridiculous, they would call lots of us in to pad out a reel to meet some quota the producer requested. Once I read for the pilot for a sit-com on a network. The part I was asked to read was obviously meant to be Asian American (it was the 90s, you could tell) but the agency had few people of color on their roster, it was a national call, and they needed to pad that reel.

One of the managers told me quite frankly that I probably wouldn’t get any work until my thirties, and by that he meant I was losing my hair. I was very glad, later, to have lost my hair, hair never worked for me, anyway. But the losing of it was troublesome.

In 1995, The Drew Carey Show premiered on ABC. Drew was a stand-up comic from the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland, something he was and is always proud to mention. We met a couple times in the early 90s, after he broke big on The Tonight Show in 1991. My college roommate’s sister was friends with him, and brought him to see Guerrilla once. After the show he sat me down and gave me a critique of the performance which I did not appreciate at the time.

His sit-com was about working class Cleveland, but though the exteriors were Cleveland locations (the department store, the bar, his house) the whole thing was shot in L.A. There were two occasions when Drew brought the production to town; the opening credits sequence they filmed all over the city in 1997, and the episode about the gang sneaking into the season opener at the brand new Cleveland Browns Stadium in 1999.

News of the impending shoot spread through the community as press releases announced that there would be a massive call for extras to fill sections of Browns Stadium for the show and to be part of a long line for tickets at the box office outside the stadium. There were also calls for featured, non-speaking extras held through my agency.

Frankly, I was not interested. I had been an extra for a couple motion pictures shot in and around the Cleveland area (My Summer Story, House Arrest) and I did not feel that making seventy-five bucks a day to appear in the background of a crowd scene was a valuable use of my time.

However, I did receive a phone call from a different talent agency, a new talent agency, one that had just started business. They had gotten my name from someone at Playhouse Square. Apparently my agency was only sending reels and resumes of “print talent” (see: beautiful people) and the show was looking for ordinary-looking Clevelanders. Would I be available to audition for them, for this new agency? Sure. It’s always flattering to be asked.

They put me on video for my audition, handing me a small blue page of dialogue. They asked me to read three lines, which I thought was a pretty labor intensive way to cast the hundreds of people they were looking for, but fine. It was perhaps the most disinterested read I’d ever given in my life.

I got a call a couple days later. The guy said, rather enthusiastically, that I may have the part, and to make sure my calendar was clear for shooting. I said, "maybe," which was not the response he was expecting. He said he’d get back to me soon.

The next day I was told I had the part! "Great," I said. I told them I planned to be there. They pressed me, I had to be there, and I said, "Sure." I have it on my calendar. Again, I was as surprised by their enthusiasm as they were surprised by my not having any.

Then they asked if I still had the blue sheet. I said sure, and they reminded me to have those three lines memorized.

Wait. I am going to be speaking these lines? On the show, these are my lines? I have lines? Lines of dialogue?

Ah. Now it all made sense. I had just blithely sleepwalked through the audition process for an under-five role (as they say) on a nationally broadcast network sit-com.

Day of shooting, I arrived early at my trailer. Yes, I had a trailer. I never spent any time in it, as it was located well out of sight behind Browns Stadium (they took advantage of the thousands of people who arrived to join a line that stretched around the stadium in the opening aerial shot) and those of us who were contracted got to spent breaks in the new, air conditioned ground floor bar and grill while everyone else had the stand around in the ninety degree heat.

However, it did provide me a place to store the five outfits I had brought for the costumer to consider. I can’t remember what those were, I was wearing brown Chuck Taylors, late 90s high-waisted jeans, and a T-shirt featuring a smiling boy saying, “Cleveland! It’s fun!”

The costumer said what I had on was great, so that’s what I have on in the show.

My job was to stand in line in front of Drew and his friends. Spoiler alert, I ask to buy one ticket, and he makes fun of me for going to the game alone. So I buy five, which happen to be the last available tickets. Cue “Cleveland Rocks.”

This meant I would be on-camera, next to Drew Carey, for the entire pre-credit sequence. And as we were shooting in sequence, and that it took several hours to get through two minutes of gags, I was able to pay close attention to how to act -- how to speak -- when being filmed for television. Because frankly, I could barely hear them. They were just talking so naturally.

I had a brief, personal, mental list of things I would not be doing. I would not attempt to be chummy with the gang; Drew, Ryan Stiles, Diedrich Bader, Christa Miller -- and Jenica Bergere, who, for the past several episodes, had been playing Drew’s girlfriend, Sharon. I would speak when spoken to, offer no suggestions, do what I was told.

Also, I would not fuck up. I had that little, blue sheet of paper in my pocket. I had my lines cold. There had been no rehearsal, I was obviously expected to just leap in, prepared, and that is what I would do.

In hindsight, maybe I should have been a little chummy. On the best of days I can appear imperious, aloof and distant, but that’s because I am terrified of saying something stupid, or worse, tedious. It would have been nice to introduce myself, but I was afraid of being rejected by the cool kids.

Early in the proceedings they asked a member of the line to get into a sleeping bag, one which we all stepped over. Boy, did I feel sorry for that guy. Not only did he spent the afternoon lying on the pavement in a down sleeping bag in the hot, hot sun, he was no longer able to tell his friends to watch for him. You can only see the top of his head and his arm.

When my turn came, they wired me with a mic (you can see the pack in the small of my back) and told me what marks to hit and when. And we just did it. Hit my mark, said my lines, didn’t fuck up.

While they set up for another take, I was just standing by the ticket window with Drew Carey. I wasn’t sure if small talk was in order. Throughout the day I had noticed how, though the episode had a director, Gerry Cohen, Drew was providing a great deal of the acting notes. After all, this was his show, It had his name on it. We’d just done one take, and no one said anything to me about how it went.

So I asked him, “Did you have any notes for me?”

“You?” he said, and did a little, dismissive headshake. “You’re fine.”

Then he leaned in and added, “Everyone who gets a walk-on role treats it like it’s the most important thing they’ve ever done. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

We did another take. This time I looked over from the box office to see the other stars, Stiles, Bader, Miller, clustered by a large cement column, just watching.

Bader looked at me intently and deadpanned, “That was really good.”

In the moment I couldn’t tell if this was one of those situations where you say, “Really?!” And they respond,” Naaah.” So I just kind of shrugged and smiled.

Three takes, and that was it. Last shot of the day. The next day they would shoot all the scenes inside the stadium. Eleven thousand unpaid extras, or so they say. I went back to my trailer (I had my own trailer) picked up my things and went home.

By the time the episode aired it was late September, and I was excited. That day the Plain Dealer ran an article about the "most prominent of the local extras" to be featured on this most-anticipated episode of The Drew Carey Show … but it wasn’t me.

There’s a big reveal at the conclusion of the episode, in which Drew (and the entire stadium) spy Drew’s girlfriend Sharon on the “jumbotron” making out with another guy. That guy, played by Eric Matuschek was represented by my now-former agency, which had the wherewithal to contact the media about their star client.

Most prominent. He didn’t even have lines. You couldn’t even really see his face.

Ah, well. Since then this episode has been rebroadcast countless times in syndication. Every now and then someone new contacts me to say, “Was that you ..?”

I have performed on stage since I was fourteen, in some fifty productions, where my work has been seen by thousands of people. But millions watched me speak those three lines just on that premiere broadcast night, twenty years ago. Two minutes on national TV is my lasting legacy.

"Thanks, pal!"

“Drew Goes to the Browns’ Game” premiered on ABC, Wednesday, September 29, 1999.

Source: "Carey Show At Stadium On Tonight" by Tom Feran & Mark Dawidziak, The Plain Dealer 9/29/1999

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

One-Page Plays

The theme for this month’s issue of The Dramatist (magazine) is “About the Craft.” Not casting spells, mind you. This is about writing plays.

There’s a Q&A with Adam Rapp. Here’s one:
Q: Do you have a routine? A regular time when you write? 

A: With plays, I don’t have a set routine. I feel like I’m stowing away from the rest of my life when I’m writing a play, so a lot of it is stolen time, early in the morning or late when my mind isn’t focused on other things. A lot of long sessions. Sometimes an entire day just dissolves away. It’s pretty reckless, but I love the feeling like the play is holding me hostage.
And I thought, an entire day? Must be nice. I do not like feeling churlish, but it took long enough to realize how much I desire to just write plays all day long, and at the same time had to accept that that is simply a thing that will never happen for me.

I write in the morning. I wake up at five o’clock so I can write a half hour. Sometimes it’s a play, often it’s like a journal, and I hate that because that’s not what I got up early to do, write about me, but I have to write something and so solipsism it is.

I’ve tried writing prompts, but many of the books my wife has lodged on her bookcase are about emotional free-writing and just lead to more journaling. SO in desperation, last week I just Googled “writing prompts” and found the most most basic, clickbaity site, 365 Creative Writing Prompts which is like, write about food! Write about animals!

Why not. If it’s good enough for David Byrne.

So I have been faithfully following its lead, free-writing on the subject, but also writing a very short script inspired the subject. Every morning.

Last year, I was interviewed by Tyler Whidden for his Don’t Talk To Strangers podcast, for which he expressed interest in Guerrilla Theater Company and the entire concept of one-page* plays. In their manifesto of 1915, Italian Futurists state, “It’s stupid to write one hundred pages where one would do,” that it is unnecessary to play out an entire story of character and plot if your aim is simply to make a point.

Writing for You Have the Right to Remain Silent, I not only had to be constantly creating scripts to feed the beast, but I became attuned to thinking about writing, all day. To coming up with ideas.

While I haven’t returned to that state, just putting down my thoughts as dialogue every morning has been a refreshing break and mentally satisfying. And I have begun to post these at New Play Exchange.*

Read the first of these short plays, Welcome or Friends at New Play Exchange.

*The plays I have been writing are one written page. In script form they take a few pages. Don't give me a hard time.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

On Program Pics

Tonight we saw a PLAY!
As Bertold Brecht might have asked, "What is social media for?"

We use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on) to share opinions, to make jokes, to seek reassurance or express anger, and quite often we use it to post photographs of our pets, our dinner, and cocktail and our children, special events and even our injuries and accidents.

And we post photos of the programs for plays we are about to see.

This last has, from time to time, aroused snarky criticism, as if we are still insecure high school students mocking the theater dork ("Ooh! Did you see a PLAY?!") even when it's a theater dork doing the mocking.

Some take issue with this flagrant display of money and privilege, though little direct confrontation arises when our friends share pics from destination amusement parks, exotic vacations or ballparks.

Unlike those examples, however, audience members at plays are specifically asked not to take photos of the show itself, and there are reasons for this which are both legal and aesthetic. So taking a picture of your program is the only acceptable way to say, "I am here," which is ultimately what so much of social media is for.

And after all, isn't it a lovely thing to let the world know you are seeing a play?

Cleveland Play House presents "Into the Breeches" by George Brant at the Allen Theatre through October 6, 2019.

Monday, September 2, 2019

"The Witches" at Cleveland Public Theatre's Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy

Bryce Evan Lewis & Adrionna Powell Lawrence
in rehearsal for a scene from "The Witches"
Some years I have offered ten-minute plays to the folks at Cleveland Public Theatre for their annual Pandemonium gala, others scenes from full-length plays in progress. Eight years ago it was a scene from These Are The Times, in 2012 a brief sketch of a scene which would eventually become Adventures In Slumberland.

Currently I am working on a full-length play titled The Witches, a comedy which ties together my love of roadside attractions, American history and the world of non-profit education.

In the back of my mind I have wanted to write a play about the Colonial Witch Panic of 1692, but it’s one thing to want to have written something and another to know what it is that you want to say. Recent events have inspired me, and characters have been populating my mind. The plot has been slowly unfolding and I look forward to where it will all end.

A few weeks ago a colleague messaged me in the middle of the day asking, “We are in Salem. Any tips?” It’s always flattering when someone looks to you for advice as where to go in a certain location, you feel like a world-renown traveler. I quickly rattled off a short list of places appropriate for a family with teenagers and young adult children, places cheesy, stately, and of course a place to eat that would make everyone happy.

For this new script, however, I wanted to create a fictional city. Citizens in villages surrounding Salem, like in Andover, Beverly and Topsfield were also charged. What if we created a small city whose claim to fame was only one accused of witchcraft? And what if a popular YouTuber was on a cross-country road trip and stopped in to fictional Bradbury, Massachusetts to check out the state’s 27th most-popular witch-themed attraction?

The scene we are presenting Saturday evening is a midnight visit to the Bradbury Memorial Cemetery on the first day of spring, directed by Kim Seabright Martin and featuring Bryce Evan Lewis, Adrionna Powell Lawrence, Maggie Stahl and Lisa L. Wiley.

Cleveland Public Theatre presents "Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy" this Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sherlock Holmes: First Reading

Friday night about a dozen folks gathered on our deck for a first reading of Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street. It was a beautiful late summer evening, Chennelle made buffalo chicken dip and chili, and I found a suitable Victorian era cocktail for those who partake.

Seems that on Charles Dickens’ historic tour of the United States (when he wasn’t becoming increasingly aware of and outraged by the fortune he was losing across the pond by dint of the widespread copyright violation of his written works) he became quite a fan of the mixed drinks he had been tippling. The one I chose the replicate was that one called simply “The Cock-Tail” (yaas) a concoction of rye, sugar, bitters, water and nutmeg.

Readers were present and former actor-teachers, in attendance members of the production company (notably, production director Lisa Ortenzi), playwrights, educators and friends. Perhaps more than any previous script I have written, there are so many elements I am trying to “get right” and for which comment and feedback has been sought and appreciated.

One element of this script which made a universal impression on those present were the “choose your own adventure” moments. These are points in the narrative when a character turns to a member of the audience with a clear choice of two, specific decisions (“should I a. or should I b.?”) which result in the company performing one of two alternate pages.

In each case, the choice leads right back into the main story -- this isn’t like Clue, there aren’t alternate endings. But these adults were excited by the idea of getting to manipulate what happens, and no doubt children will, too. And these short scenes portray how different choices can produce different outcomes.

Having originally chosen to include three of these moments in the play, deeper discussion (as well as their evident popularity) has inspired me to create two more of these moments. I know where they should go, even if I do not yet know what will occur.

Four Pounds Flour: Historic Gastronomy

There was a lot of discussion about our narrator, Vicky. Characters in mysteries can be ciphers, characters who serve a purpose to the plot but do not have much background. And in a short play for children, we can lean on personality and type to carry a character through. However, she is our representative in the story, and while we know a little about her, we do not know yet what inspires her, or what she wants. We know what she’s running from, but what is she running to?

I would say more about character, but I would hate to give up the mystery to anyone who wants to be surprised when they attend a public performance. Suffice to say there was also confusion about the motivation of some of the criminals in the tale, and I will be taking a careful look at those.

Our teachers in attendance were frank about the reaction their students have when presented with programs such as these. “Oh, great, another thing about bullying. Bullying is bad, I get it.” The word hardly has any meaning anymore. “Someone called me a name today, I was bullied.” Were you? Ironically, it is because administrators and teachers are seeking programming to address repeated abusive behavior among students that they seek out shows with the word “bully” in the title. And here we are.

Part of the challenge is in addressing what “bully” even means. Another of our teachers remarked, “bully is not a noun, it is a verb.” It’s about labeling, and what happens to a person when we call them by what they do. A child might thieve something, but does that make them a thief?

The discussion was vibrant, and animated. Some of the comments will make their way into our teacher resource guide. I have a list of edits and changes and new ideas. It was a wonderful, wonderful talkback.

After we made a bowl fire and had s'mores.

To be continued.

Four Pounds Flour: “What Dickens Drank” by Sarah Lohman, 10/29/2010 

Auditions for the Great Lakes Theater "Classics On Tour" production of "Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street" will be Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The first draft of "Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street" is available for download from New Play Exchange.

Many thanks to Adam, Allie, Chelsea, Chennelle, Chris, Eric, Lisa, Luke, Marcie, Sarah, Tim, Toni -- and Kim!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

How I Spent My Summer (2019)

Providence, RI

For the past several years I have taken a moment before the school year begins to reflect upon the fleeting days of summer. What does "summer vacation" mean to adults? Well, we do have school age children, and are each professionally tethered to the academic clock. We work, but we also play, and enable play.

The opportunities during warm weather months are great, and we endeavor to take advantage of them. This year my wife and I celebrated twenty years married, my daughter and I watched all of Stranger Things 3 over the course of two days, the boy and I went fishing. And there was so much more.

Beck Center for the Arts

Feels like a million years ago now, but the summer began with a five weekend run of King Lear at the Beck Center, directed by Eric Schmiedl. Performances were only three a week (Fri, Sat eve & Sun mat) and there was something about that schedule which made performance much less of a struggle than a traditional, non-professional four show a weekend schedule. Just that much more manageable.

And yet, the focus I needed to exhibit, the hyper self-awareness, to conduct myself as this stoic, wound-up character. At times it was maddening, walking out in the lead, having the first line for this three-hour ordeal. One night, I cannot even comprehend how this happened, my tongue lost control and I stuttered my first line, in its entirety. It was through a supreme effort of will not to lose all confidence right then and there. I do not know how I was able to remember the rest of my lines.

Contemporary Youth Orchestra

Working as an actor in a play (as opposed to writing or directing one) is that you are compelled to attend every performance. This is one of the reasons I don’t like acting, but only one of them.

As a result of this selfish commitment, I missed out on the opportunity to see my daughter perform with Jason Mraz. As a violin player with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, she had been working on his catalog all spring, taking three days of rehearsal with this incredibly charming pop star culminating in two sold out performances at Severance Hall.

I was welcomed to one of the rehearsals, which was a delightful consolation prize.

Great Lakes Theater

Teaching middle school students to improv can be very challenging, and for a very good reason. Young people can be emotionally abused for making themselves look silly.
A: Help me to milk this water buffalo!
B: Uh, no.
The basic tenet of improv is YES, AND which is to say, agree to what is being offered and then add something to it. This year during Camp Theater! we had a camper who was not only very good at this, he raised acceptance to a new level. Shaun and I noticed that whenever someone made him a suggestion, he would not only agree, he would say, “Excellent!”
A: I have created for you a new dress made entirely out of termites!
B: Excellent, they will go so well with my new maggot boots.
It was the introduction to an inspiring summer of discovery.

Culver City Public Theatre

While I have had a number of my published plays produced in other cities, this was a first -- one of the works I wrote for Talespinner Children’s Theatre was being revived, and on the west coast, too! Culver City Public Theatre produced Rosalynde & the Falcon. Not only that, but it was an outdoor performance, offered for free to area families! And you know I love free.


July was an odd month, in that I shared a bed with my wife for perhaps one out of every three days. This is no sign of marital tension or anything like that, we were simply not in each other’s presence. She spent a week on silent retreat in Kentucky, we traveled separately to and from Maine, and I took my daughter on an extended weekend to New York City.

We visited potential schools on that journey, something we also accomplished driving home together from our Maine vacation by way of Providence, RI. My son and I drove there the week before, enjoying authentic Buffalo, NY buffalo wings and spying fancy cars.

Come From Away

For three years we have been subscribers to the KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, and in all that time I was never so unprepared to be completely delighted and moved by a musical like Come From Away.

Come From Away is a magical illusion, with songs that still echo in my head, a small company, their everyday wear belying the speed and specificity with which they assume dozens of characters, to tell a story of tragedy without leaning into the tragedy (we all know the tragedy) instead focusing on what the best people do for each other no matter who the other people are.

One of our dates for the evening pointed out how refreshing it was to see a cast of characters who were entirely adults, and I have to admit I hadn’t noticed. Was that it? I polled my friends on Facebook, wondering if younger audiences preferred, for example, the teen-directed Dear Evan Hansen, but I received almost universal praise from all ages for this special Canadian musical … which did not win the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical, whereas that other play did.

Story Board

Just the other day, Missy asked me about my writing process, and I have had a number of different processes, which is only correct. I am a creature of habit, but breaking them is as significant as adhering to them.

To complete the new touring script, I spent just one working week away from the office. I gathered all the notes I had made, then went into the attic to find an old cork board so I had a place to post them. I used drawing paper to create a “story cloud,” connecting one plot point to the next and filling in all of the details in between, with lists of actors and characters and who would be available to do what when.

It was all mapped out before I had created a single word of dialogue. The entire thing was drafted in three days, completed just before heading out of town for two weeks.


Actually, I spent only seven days in Flood’s Cove this year. Sometimes that happens, but it felt even shorter as my wife and daughter (and mother-in-law) were flying in on a Monday, only to have their flight cancelled at LaGuardia. They did not arrive until Tuesday evening, and their travel drama troubled me for the better part of those two days.

There was an interesting collection of folks, so much coming and going, and the weather was hot. I missed cool weather, mornings by the fire, a slow pace, and perhaps most of all my father. His absence has been felt the past several years, this time he was just absent.

Hofbräuhaus Half Marathon

Last week I ate something which tried to kill me, or rather my body tried to kill me for something I ate. I’ve never had an allergic reaction, to anything. And yet, something in that sushi made my heart race, and my skin turn beet red.

I’m fine, but it was scary in a manner in which I am not used to being scared. The week that followed was one of dragging my ass from place to place as I coped with the side effects of medication meant to ensure that whatever was in my system had run its course.

That also meant not exercising for the better part of a week, so ironic following my time running the Hofbräuhaus Half Marathon just the day before my attack.


Which is where I am left today. Hotter days of summer are behind us, the days already noticeably shorter. I am currently training for the Chicago Marathon, October 13. Have been all summer, and raising money for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

Preparing for New York in 2006, and for the Twin Cities four years ago, August is when the training is supposed to be ramping up, pushing further across the city in preparation for the big day. Instead, I have had to take the better part of a week off, and it is discouraging.

But then, has it ever been easy? And isn't that the point.