Friday, July 12, 2019

"Everything is Okay (And Other Helpful Lies)" at the New York Musical Festival

For my daughter’s sixteenth birthday I promised her a weekend getaway to New York. We travel, our family travels a little, but she’s halfway through her high school years and I am not getting any younger. Taking a special trip, just the two of us, it seemed like something I would later regret not having done.

We have a freewheeling itinerary, which includes visiting schools, art museums and galleries up and down Manhattan, conditioning runs in Central Park (she for the soccer season, me for the Chicago Marathon) and who knows, maybe a show or two.

Saturday evening we’re going to Playwrights Horizons in Times Square to attend reading of Everything Is Okay (And Other Helpful Lies) by Melissa T. Crum and Caitlin Lewins, presented as part of the New York Musical Festival (NYMF).

This is particularly exciting to me, to get the opportunity to see this work. Missy and Caitlin are good friends and colleagues, Cleveland artists, and talented, rising playwrights. I have had the chance to watch this piece grow and grow at Cleveland Public Theatre, where they teamed up as Nord Family Playwright Fellows to first create this works as song cycle at Pandemonium and Entry Point, further develop it at Test Flight (I missed that one) and then receive a full production on the mainstage last fall.

Everything is Okay is a Millennial musical, chronicling two days (or nights?) in the lives of a cohort of twenty-somethings, slouching towards thirty, trying their damnedest to smile bravely through disillusionment, disappointment, and death, armed with wit, attitude, and a lot of alcohol.

What is truly impressive is how they’ve continued to shape and develop this musical. Everything is Okay has the potential for great things; it’s an urgent, contemporary work which speaks directly to the young adult generation with candor, understanding, and a great deal of humor. And the music is really good!

Having raised the necessary cash through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign and other individual donors and investors, they created a professional demo for the application to NYMF, and for their efforts received a space with nine other musicals to receive readings, directed, musical directed and performed by Equity members. For ten days, Caitlin and Missy have been present for rehearsals but also spending a great deal of time revising the work and providing daily updates to the company.

“It is crazy and beautiful and eye-opening just being writers,” Missy said. For each previous step of this journey, she and Caitlin had doubled as performers. Now they get to take it in.

I talked to them by phone Thursday morning, after they had each slept in for the first time since before Independence Day. Their first performance was Wednesday afternoon, and they unwound that night at Marie’s Crisis, a piano bar where musical theater fans gather and spend the night singing showtunes together.

“It’s like hanging out with your old high school friends,” said Missy, and I can dig it.

Just getting them on the line I had to make an appointment, as they have been rushing about, from rehearsal space to their Airbnb to various writing warrens and back again.

Caitlin, who has been to New York before and has acted as navigator and tour guide for Melissa, who hasn’t. Making their way to the rehearsal space in Times Square in ninety degree heat can dizzying and exhausting, but Caitlin has kept reminding Missy to look up. “Look! It’s Waitress!” she says.

They are intensely grateful for all of the support they have received, at home, from CPT, from all of the artists they are working with this week, especially Chloe Treat (director), Dan Garmon (musical director), Olivia Mancini (stage manager) and all the performers, with their “talented, amazing, incredible voices.” (That’s both of them saying all of that.)

One of the most significant things they have heard this week was from NYMF (pronounced “nymph”) Artistic Director, West Hyler. He remarked that Caitlin and Missy have made a musical that feels like a documentary. It’s a comment which struck them significantly, and which they carry with them. They’re in a unique position, having already had a full production, and getting to break it down and build it up again.

They have already received feedback from Wednesday’s performance, much of it supportive and helpful, though there remains this unfortunate generational divide over the content. They received such criticism in Cleveland. Christine Howey went on a tear in Scene Magazine, accusing the production of “taking navel-gazing to new heights,” wildly mixing metaphors as she bemoaned the kids these days and their focus on personal issues rather than more important things like school shootings and plastic waste in the sea.

This, from the generation who gave us The Big Chill. And plastic waste in the sea. They said the same things about we Gen Xers twenty years ago, and we’re still trying to figure it out.

“Superficial,” came one piece of written feedback from the other night. “That’s me!” said another.

Musicals with heart and empathy like Everything is Okay help us all feel less alone. And that, my friends, is the opposite of selfish.

The New York Musical Festival presents "Everything is Okay (and Other Helpful Lies)" at Playwrights Horizons in NYC through Saturday, July 13, 2019.

(Photos courtesy of Caitlin & Missy.)

Friday, July 5, 2019

"Rosalynde & The Falcon" at Culver City Public Theatre

Thieves enjoy some tasty soup.
(Photo: Nic Henry)
For the few months I spent squatting with some friends in Venice Beach, all those long years ago, I never imagined I would one day have a play I had written performed in a park, a mere twenty minute drive away.

Culver City is a bucolic oasis of calm in the midst of the Los Angeles megalopolis, the former home to MGM headquarters the city is tied to the history of American film. Hughes Aircraft was based here, today you will find Sony Pictures, NPR West, and Amazon.

This small city, incorporated independent from the city of L.A. (which surrounds it) is also the site of the Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park. It’s one of those one block, city parks, serving a modest residential neighborhood, the park surrounded by one-story homes, many dating back to the 1940s.

For over twenty years, Culver City Public Theatre has presented shows for child and family audiences in Carlson Park, free of charge. This summer that production is my play, Rosalynde & The Falcon.

Rosalynde & The Falcon is a mash-up of several folk tales, notably those that focus on a damsel or princess driven out of the kingdom in fear for her life and finding her way through unfamiliar surroundings. This is the basis for Snow White, but also Shakespeare’s As You Like It. There are also elements of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Little Red Riding Hood ... and a wide variety of other sources.

Originally commissioned and produced by Talespinner Children’s Theatre, this is only the second production Rosalynde has received, and my first children’s play to be remounted anywhere. And because it is such a fanciful tale, I was intensely curious about how it’s all coming together.

Rose Leisner (Rosalynde) & Ryan Hardge (Roland) rehearse.
I had a delightful conversation with director Marina Tidwell yesterday, who was not only able to share with me some of the design concepts, but also to give me a nice sense of what it’s like to attend one of CCPT’s outdoor productions.

With an uncomplicated set, meant for use in the out-of-doors for an audience of children seated on the ground and close, costumes are a significant part of communicating the story. Rosalynde is a goofy satire (in verse) and the folks at CCPT are leaning into the classic animated Disney character of Snow White; the princess Rosalynde (Rose Leisner) dressed in blue and yellow -- with a red hair bow -- when she first identifies as female, and then maintaining those signature colors when she becomes the male-presenting “Falcon.”

The script was written to accommodate a company of no fewer than six players, though so few performers requires double-casting several roles. Tidwell brought on two powerful singers to perform the several songs and to assume supernumerary roles.

When I wrote the play I included song lyrics, leaving the music up to the individual companies to create. In addition to playing the role of Rusty, Susan Stangl is the music director and has composed original tunes inspired by classic Disney songsmith Leigh Harline (“When You Wish Upon a Star”) and even an homage to Claude-Michael Schönberg (“Les Misérables”).

You know I love creating theater for the community, offered free of charge, presented out of doors on a beautiful summer’s day, and I’m just tickled to think of all the kids -- and parents -- who are going to hear my words on a warm summer afternoon in Culver City. It’s my West Coast premiere!

Culver City Public Theatre presents “Rosalynde and the Falcon” in Carlson Park, July 13 - August 4, 2019

Monday, July 1, 2019

This Band of Brothers

"What is this castle call'd?"
The transformation of Public Square has been remarkable. For four summers (the redesign officially opened in time for the 2016 Republican National Convention) folks have been playing in the fountain, dining in the shadow of the Terminal Tower, and attending performances -- and protests -- on the lawn. It’s a far cry from when the square was largely pavement and planters and nowhere to really hang out.

My friend Jeff (he who recently played The Fool in King Lear at Beck Center) and I once entertained the idea of staging free Shakespeare in Public Square. This was some fifteen or so years ago, when you would find very few establishments open in the vicinity of the Terminal Tower after four pm, any day of the week. The plan was to perform one act from some Shakespeare play every day at lunchtime. Five acts, five days. People would come back day after day to see what happens next!

People who put on plays by Shakespeare think like that.

Things downtown have changed, Public Square has changed, and I very much hoped my friends at the touring Cleveland Shakespeare Festival would add this site to their roster of performance sites. They wasted no time. Since 2017 they have produced free Shakespeare in spitting distance from the site of long-lost, 19th century Cleveland theaters such as the Lyceum and the Euclid Avenue Opera House.

Why yes, even my own production of Troilus and Cressida played there last summer, though I was out of town at the time.

Immediately following the closing, matinee performance of the aforementioned Lear (and after a farewell toast with the company; I must recount my experiences in this production soon) I hightailed it downtown to finally catch a CSF show on Public Square.

On Sunday, that performance was Henry V, in a production conceived by Kelly Elliott, the first such production of that play that CSF has attempted since their second season, twenty years ago in 1999.

Her choice to cast all women in this production is not only in keeping with adaptations in American and England and elsewhere, but a call to action to all young, male-identified performers everywhere.

In her director’s notes Kelly explains, “I did not set out thinking I was going to cast this production of Henry V with all women. But I did.” She goes on to describe a scenario I am all too familiar with; too many skilled and eager women at auditions, too few men, and those who deigned to offer their services all too confident of their inclusion in a play written for a large cast with only four named (and minor) female roles.

"Strip his sleeve and show his scars!"
HENRY V, IV, iii
So fuck it. She cast those who, apparent to me and the audience, were best suited to each role and to the ensemble. Of this there is no question. They’re great, starting with the bold, and might I say fierce, Shley Snider as young King Harry on down.

Let me mention a few things I loved about Kelly’s work on this production, her first directing for CSF, and if I am dissing all previous directors of their work that includes me, so, you know. Get over it.

PROJECTION. The show starts with the Chorus (Jenny Hoppes) beginning the performance from the back of the stage. The mics only pick up the actors onstage, she began bellowing “O, For a Muse of Fire” from the rear of the “house” and her voice carried through the crowd until she reached the front and did not need to try so hard -- though she and all other company members remembered throughout they were working al fresco and we were never at a loss for their text.

I recall a free a performance of Much Ado About Nothing in Fort Tryon Park in NYC that my wife and I saw way back in 2002, produced by Gorilla Rep. No mics. They just shouted for two hours. It was amazing. The sun went down (the show started at 8:00 PM) and the acting company used flashlights to keep each other lit. That shit was bargain basement but it was raw, it was big. They didn’t need no stinking sound system.

CSF has a sound system, but these girls were BIG, and by that I mean they filled that space.

REGARDING SOUND. The sound check alone, before the performance took some time. Kelly brought the tiring tents close, and used a curtain between them to create a close backdrop. The show was close, which hard to accomplish in an open space. And they made sure the sound system worked for the actors and the audience, that neither they nor we had to compromise.

That’s sound and also set, for those keeping track. Kelly created a tiny set, with instant entrances, the timing was excellent. I was in the middle of a wide open space and yet my focus was contained. And, as the old people like to bray, I could hear every word!

HUMOR. Jesus God. These women were funny. A playwright friend of mine made a jape recently on social media about how it’s not really Shakespeare without at least one crotch grab. We had one of those in Lear (sorry, Jeff) but they didn’t need one in Henry V. Instead, we were treated to a racy conversation from the French nobles about the merits of horse-riding which could only have been imagined by women.

It may be the best CSF production I have ever seen, and I directed Timon of Athens, which was legendary. You owe it to yourself to get out next week, and to see one of the final three performances. I recommend Tremont this Saturday because I would.

Cleveland Shakespeare Festival presents "Henry V" directed by Kelly Elliott, at various locations through July 7, 2019.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

And Then You Die (revisited)

James Rankin as Pengo
Monday night, a small gathering joined me at my house for an informal reading of And The You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years). This is the monodrama I wrote ten years ago, took the New York Fringe, and revised for a run of performances at Cleveland Public Theatre in 2011, performed a single evening with I Hate This (a play without the baby).

Pairing the two shows together only pointed up the flaws in this newer piece. Though they share themes and feature a similar character (me) IHT is straightforward and weighty while ATYD flails all over the place, trying to decide what it wants to be. Or so it seems to me.

It was Chennelle’s suggestion that, having proposed a revision, I may want to hear the script read out loud first, and by someone else. We asked James Rankin to read the script, he has already performed in several plays I have written, including Double Heart, both of my Agatha Christie adaptations, and The Great Globe Itself.

The crowd was intimate, by design, as I limited the gathering to folks who were unfamiliar with the play, mainly folks I had only met in the past eight or nine years.

It was refreshing to listen to the play, to experience it in real-time like an audience member. The structure takes the audience all over the place, from the past to the “present,” from formative moments to the job of training for a marathon itself.

The middle section is powerful with poetic imagery, and it made members of this audience wonder why it took so long to get to that point. Of course, the early scenes give the middle scenes their strength, building the story and the character so it/he can take flight.

I also made a running list of all of the Cleveland references, and how many were helpful and which were not. It’s definitely a play which takes place in Cleveland, and nowhere else. But it does get bogged down in minutiae of interest only to a local. That’s fun and all, but takes up valuable verbal real estate.

Not an illustrator. Actually a runner.
Finally, it is a period piece, the story of a Gen X father preparing for a marathon in 2006. References to the now disgraced Lance Armstrong and now ubiquitous Alexander Hamilton ring differently than they did even eight years ago.

My audience was asked to reflect back to me what they felt the play is about, what message it attempts to convey, and some of the answers surprised me.

The effects of long-distance running on the human body, the functions of the body, its capacity and fragility.

I have created an alternate professional life for the main character, that of a visual artist and illustrator. How relevant this is was the subject of some conversation, and also how more clearly to draw these aspirations to the personal and athletic goals, errors, and achievements.

One of the New York reviews from years ago remarked on how characters arrive, never to be heard from again, which is a thing that happens during a person’s life. But the place of “father” in all of this, the original inspiration for becoming a runner was an important question for me, and I received some valuable feedback on that.

My goal is to rewrite the play entirely, leaving most of the skeleton intact and changing all the words. My writing has evolved in the last ten years, or I like to think it has, and this is a story I want to return to, to get right. Listening to it read has only strengthened that commitment, the fact that I am training for the 2019 Chicago Marathon will provide a lot of time to ruminate on the revision.

I'm taking the TEAM CHALLENGE for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation,to raise $2,000 and run the 2019 Chicago Marathon! Will you kick in something today? Visit my TEAM CHALLENGE page and learn more about my reasons for supporting this cause. Many thanks!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My Own Private Dramaturge

Calvin G. Thayer & Toni K. Thayer
circa 1985
My wife’s grandfather, Calvin G. Thayer, was a professor of English at Ohio University. When he died in 2004, his widow, Mary, thought it was only appropriate that we take his theater books. The collection included a large if incomplete set of hardbound Arden edition Shakespeares.

These baby-blue covered books have proven invaluable to me in the time since, as I have returned to them, again and again, for assistance in my work in education, and in directing the plays of Shakespeare.

Students of Shakespeare know Arden editions to be extremely helpful in understanding text, as they include footnotes on every page, sometimes so many notes that they take up more space than the text itself.

These copies, however, are unique in that they include Calvin G.’s handwritten notes in the margins, and it is his particular wry insight and commentary which made him the man he was, and remains on the pages of these volumes.

During the process of rehearsing for King Lear, as directed by Eric Schmiedl for Beck Center for the Arts, he was my own personal dramaturge. As I studied my lines for the role of Earl of Kent, often I would find CGT's cramped hand, commenting in one way or another on the proceedings.

The King banishes Kent for standing up to him in court, insisting Lear “revoke (his) gift” or change his sudden decision to punish the princess Cordelia. Instead of leaving the kingdom, however, Kent chooses to disguise himself and remain available to assist the ageing monarch.
KENT: Now, banish'd Kent,
If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemn'd,

So may it come, thy master, whom thou lov’st,
Shall find thee full of labors. (I.iv)
In red ink CGT writes, “Why does Kent love his master?” He then answers his own question in green ink, quoting Sonnet 116:
Love is not love.
Which alters when it alteration finds …
"Why does Kent love his master?"
Sonnet 116 is one of the few Shakespearean sonnets you can quote in a marriage ceremony (and I have) because it is one of the few expressions of pure, unconditional love to be found in them. You love because you love, and situation does not change that fact.

Why does Kent love Lear? Because he does. Understanding this informed my entire performance, including and especially Kent’s outburst in the first scene.

Kent is also a verbally aggressive character, and his hatred toward the servant Oswald (one who felt confident enough in the new power structure to be dismissive of Lear) leads to this hearty exchange:
KENT: Fellow, I know thee.

OSWALD: What does thou know me for?

KENT: A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver'd, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch;one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deny the least syllable of thy addition.

OSWALD: Why, what a monstrous fellow art thou, thus to rail on one
that's neither known of thee nor knows thee!

KENT: What a brazen-fac'd varlet art thou, to deny thou knowest me!
Is it two days ago since I beat thee and tripp'd up thy heels before the King? (II.ii)
Kent goes on. CGT writes,“One of the few truly satisfying passages in the play.” He underlines satisfying, which I take to mean (because he surely believes the play as a whole to be a great work) that it satisfies, that it feels good.

"King Lear" at Beck Center for the Arts
Photo by Andy Dudik
In our production Eric has done a tremendous job streamlining the text; he abridges it, yes, but also takes liberties with where lines fall and in what order. While it is greatly enjoyable to hear a fine actor vent Kent’s spleen in its entirety, this is not that show. My line as delivered goes like this:
KENT: A knave, a rascal, and eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, lily-livered glass-gazing son of a mongrel bitch that I tripped up and beat before the king.
Purists will take issues, and that is what purists do. For me, I find the line at present to be immensely satisfying.

Speaking of edits, in Act II, scene iv, Lear discovers Kent shamed, languishing in the stocks (for having assaulted Oswald) and demands an explanation. In the unexpurgated  tale, which Eric had lightly edited, Kent tell of how he had gone to deliver letters from the king to his daughter Regan.

It’s a bit wordy, describing how Kent had kneeled appropriately, but had been ignored, how another servant had arrived, one from Goneril, who had received proper attention, and how Kent had waited patiently while everyone was rude to him.

This little drama is new to the audience, as it is a scene that Shakespeare didn't actually choose to dramatize. CGT comments,“I suppose we must take his word for it.”

Kent then goes on to describe the issue at hand, his altercation with Oswald, and imagining myself sitting on the floor, feet in stocks, whining about that other event, the one we haven’t even seen, and I suggested to Eric we cut it and stick to the stuff we’re already familiar with.

Yes, I am an actor who actually suggests saying less. I suppose you must take my word for it.

Finally, I had a note of my own. Near the end of the play the king reconciles with Cordelia, in prison, accepting responsibility for his actions:
LEAR: When thou dost ask me for blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. (LEAR V.iii)
Shakespeare says almost the exact same thing in Hamlet, only this time to son is reconciling with the mother:
HAMLET: And when you are desirous to be blest,
I'll blessing beg of you.
(HAM III.iv)
I don’t know why, but I always have such difficulty getting my young actors to understand what that means, and why it’s important, and at that moment in the play. I am grateful to know how much more clearly it is stated in Lear, and that I can use that in the future.

One last story about Calvin G. If you have seen or read my play I Hate This (a play without the baby) you know we named our first born son Calvin, and that was in honor of my wife’s grandfather. Following the very first performance, sixteen years ago, a local poet came up and asked about the name, because it was too much of a coincidence. Calvin Thayer-Hansen? Did we know Calvin Thayer, the English professor? And of course, we did.

This man went on to explain how he had been a pre-med student at Ohio University, and took a class his freshman year in medieval literature. Calvin Thayer was his professor, and saw in him something other than medicine. Calvin recommended him to the honors tutorial college. He took CGT’s Shakespeare History class, and was his advisor on his honors paper -- the subject, none other than King Lear.

Thanks to Calvin G. Thayer we may have one fewer doctor in the word. But we do have internationally-renown poet, performer and educator Ray McNiece.

Beck Center for the Arts presents "King Lear" directed by Eric Schmiedl, now through June 30, 2019

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Summer of Shakespeare

Robert Hawkes (Lear) and Jeffery Allen (The Fool)
"King Lear" at Beck Center for the Arts
Photo by Andy Dudik
The folks I work with in the school residency program at Great Lakes Theater are some of my very favorite people in the world, and it is a point of pride to mention that former actor-teachers have gone on to not only become successful, professional theater actors, directors, and technicians, but also occupy positions of responsibility at virtually every professional theater company in Cleveland.

There is a lot of Shakespeare going on around Northeast Ohio this summer, and it is delightful to note how many actor-teachers, past and present are company members.

Beck Center for the Arts opened King Lear last night, featuring former actor-teachers Jeffery Allen (The Fool), Shaun Patrick O’Neill (Oswald), myself (Kent) and recent hire Tyler Collins (King of France).

Opening June 21, the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival presents an all-female production of Henry V, directed by former actor-teacher Kelly Elliott, and featuring present actor-teachers Kimberly Seabright Martin (Montjoy, others) and Adrionna Powell Lawrence (Dauphin, others).

Kim and Adri are also performing as Rosalind and Celia (respectively) in As You Like It at French Creek Theatre in Sheffield Village, which opens August 16, directed by former actor-teacher Brian McNally.

Later in the Cleve Shakes season, former actor-teacher Khaki Hermann plays Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

Hamlet opens at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, opening June 28 featuring former actor-teachers Trevor Buda (Horatio) and DeLee Cooper (Ophelia swing).

Chennelle Bryant-Harris and Kelsey Tomlinson
"Tame" at Rubber City Theatre
There is even a current actor-teacher, Adam Graber, who is traveling to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival to assume the role of Curtis in the production of The Taming of the Shrew which was first produced at sister company Great Lakes Theater in March.

And speaking of Shrew, that scrappy little Akron theater, Rubber City, received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to commission a new work inspired by Shakespeare’s famously misogynistic comedy, interpreted “through the lives of LGBTQ+ characters.”

This new work, Tame, features former actor-teacher and present GLT Educational Assistant Chennelle Bryant-Harris in the Petruchio inspired-character, here named Porter.

Rubber City Theatre presents Tame by Josy Jones and directed by Dane CT Leasure, opening this Thursday, June 7 at 243 Furnace Street in Akron.

Happy PRIDE!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

On Death

This post includes spoilers for William Shakespeare's four hundred and thirteen year-old play KING LEAR.
“Thou wilt come no more.
Never, never, never, never, never.”

- LEAR V.iii
Gloucester (Anne McEvoy) and Lear (Robert Hawkes)
My phone has this odd bug … I’ll be listening to a podcast and the Music app will suddenly start up, playing some song I purchased from iTunes at some point in the past fifteen years.

Today, before rehearsal, that song was "You’ll Be Back" from Hamilton. What an exciting time that was, three years ago, discovering this new musical, this national craze, at the same time as my seventh grade daughter.

I haven’t listened to this score for, what? Half a year? Since summer vacation last? So I had to ask myself, why this feeling of sadness, of melancholy, especially in reaction this, one of the lightest, most frothy tracks on the album?

Ah yes, always. Hamilton is steeped in melancholy for me. We purchased it shortly before my father died one February Friday morning. The year 2016 was dizzying, thrilling, full of anticipation, promise, and fear. And all year I was keeping my chin up, deep in mourning.

All the celebrity deaths that year. “Let’s all make a protective circle around Betty White!” I didn’t find it amusing. You know what I found amusing? That moment in Oh, Hello On Broadway when George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) says, “Ladies and gentlemen, it behooves you when a famous person dies, blame it on the year and make it about you.”

Just as we were adjusting to the new normal, death of a father, death of democratic norms, came the call. My father-in-law had cancer, the kind you don’t get better from. We were still in it, only my father dropped dead one day. They were all correct, those who said that was better. Yes, Chris hung on, danced at his daughter’s wedding. But his care took such a toll on my wife, on my mother-in-law.

My wife gently reminds me she wouldn't have traded those seven months with him for anything.

When he passed that December, my son was ashamed that he didn’t grieve in the same manner he had for my father. He didn’t openly weep, he was numb. We tried to reassure him. My father was a shock, a surprise. You knew this was coming.

But my son lost both grandfathers in as many years. I am glad he was close to my dad. But Chris was supposed to teach him so much more.

Kent in the stocks.
I am in therapy. I am having difficulty moving on, of making sense of all of this. Turning fifty, watching my children move into the last stage of childhood. I realize I may not have much longer, I didn’t used to be able to see the end, and now I can.

What have I accomplished? What have I yet to do? Will I do it?

And what will oblivion be like? I will miss this world, I want to see so much more. That is why I have been investigating Buddhism, to make peace with the void.

Performing in King Lear exacerbates this anxiety, especially in the role of Kent, working to help and protect those he loves from harm and then watching helpless as, in spite of his best efforts, they are all dragged down to their doom.

Kent survives, but Albany’s appeals for the nation to move forward do not compel him. He will die soon, too, of a broken heart.
“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go.
My master calls me, I must not say no.”

- LEAR V.iii
Have a beautiful Memorial Day.

Beck Center for the Arts presents "King Lear" directed by Eric Schmiedl, May 31 - June 30, 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) (1999)

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was either:
  1. Written by people who love Shakespeare for people who hate Shakespeare.
  2. Written by people who hate Shakespeare for people who love Shakespeare.
  3. Written by comedians for an audience of absolutely no one.
Nick Koesters, self & Allen Branstein
(Beck Center for the Arts, 1999)
The bane of critics everywhere and to the delight of audiences everywhere, this show has been produced constantly since first produced by the Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1987. The wife and I saw the original in 1997, near the end of its nine year run at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End.

Classify this one as Shakespeare (not) On Stage, as not only does Shakespeare not appear, but the entire play ostensibly celebrates Shakespeare while simultaneously reinforcing those elements that everyone hates about Shakespeare.

It is also horribly dated, including gags that are casually sexist and outright racist, that is, unless you think the idea of three white guys deciding to interpret Othello as a rap song as “cute.”

This month, I will appear for only the third time onstage at Beck Center, and each time in the Studio Theatre. Eric Schmiedl’s adaptation of King Lear opens May 31. Seven years ago, I played Chris in Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn.

Twenty years ago, with Nick Koesters and Allen Branstein, we performed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).

I was shocked when director Roger Truesdell asked me to consider the role, especially playing against two accomplished comedic actors. “But Roger,” I said. “I’m not funny.”

“Yes, you are,” Roger said. “You’re just afraid people might think you are.”

The one saving grace of Complete Works is the note on the front page which reads:
“... it’s also important to keep the show fresh and timely by updating the many topical references as events warrant.”
To put it another way, you are free to change the script to make it funny. As a result we felt entirely justified in not only changing the late-80s pop culture references to late-90s pop culture references, but also anything else that wasn’t funny.

What we couldn’t do was write a different play, so we still labored with the Titus Andronicus cooking show, including my lame impersonation of the then-87-year-old Julia Child (huh-larious) and the aforementioned “Othello Rap.” At least we could pretend to be appalled, like you do, and to change truly offensive verses like:
Now Othello loved Desi like Adonis Loved VENUS
And Desi loved Othello cuz he had a big … SWORD
AL: Desdemona, she was faithful, she was chastity tight
DAVID: She was the daughter of a duke
NICK: Yeah, she was totally white
My voice was more Ad Rock than Ice Cube.

We also had great fun tweaking other local companies. Our changes are in red.
AL: One popular trend is to take Shakespeare’s plays and transpose them into modern settings. We have seen evidence of this with Shakespeare’s plays set in such bizarre locations as the lunar landscape, Nazi concentration camps and even Akron.
DAVID: Akron?
NICK: Who does Shakespeare in Akron?
Later, I had a discursion regarding ‘The Apocrypha’ or those works whose authorship was once in dispute, referred to as “‘The Lesser Plays,’ or simply, ‘The Bad Plays.’ And yet, not all of The Apocrypha are completely without merit … except Edward III.”

Cleveland Shakespeare Festival had produced the only-recently canonized Edward III that past summer. One night a contingent from the company were in the audience and they booed my little joke.

“Oh,” I ad-libbed,” you’ve seen it.”

I went on to to describe what a fascinating play Troilus and Cressida is, but then bore the shit out of absolutely everyone, which is coincidentally what I also did for Cleve Shakes audiences in 2018.

We changed scripted references about Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Boris Yeltsin to Donald Trump, Rudolph Giuliani and Vladimir Putin, which are more relevant now than they were twenty years ago.

The inclusion of Putin was odd, though, because the run of the show ran over into the year 2000, and Vladimir Putin was only just inaugurated on January 1st of that year -- we changed the reference from Boris Yeltsin after the announcement.

No one knew anything about him, except the name, so I suggested we change Nick’s recitation on "Chernobyl Kinsman" (Two Noble Kinsman, get it?) to include this exchange:
NICK: Does it have Vladimir Putin in it?
DAVID: It doesn’t have anybody pootin’ in it, Nick.
He's a monster. We didn't know.

We threw in Ally McBeal jokes, Jar-Jar Binks jokes, references to The Blair Witch Project, and my personal favorite, when Nick’s Macduff emerged with "the usurper's cursed head,” he was, in fact, holding a replica of his own head, which was the same prop used when he played the lead in Macbeth at Beck Center the previous season.

It gets better. As prescribed in the stage directions, “(drop kicks the head into the audience)” -- but then Nick hollered, "GOOOOOAAAL!!!!" and ran in a tight circle, before sliding on his knees and ripping off his shirt to reveal a Brandi Chastain inspired black sports bra (Google Women’s World Cup 1999.)

The script as written closes with a familiar theater cliché:
"If you enjoyed the show, tell your friends. If you didn't, tell your enemies."
By the second weekend we were sold-out in spite of receiving some scathing reviews from those aforementioned critics who simply hate the idea of this admittedly dumb little play.
AL: If you enjoyed the show, tell your friends.
DAVID: If you didn't ... you must work for the Free Times, man.
Exit, pursued by a laugh.

Beck Center for the Arts presents "King Lear" directed by Eric Schmiedl, May 31 - June 30, 2019

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Million Dollar Quartet (musical)

James Barry (airborn) as Carl Perkins
in "Million Dollar Quartet"
(Great Lakes Theater)
Finally took in our latest offering at the Hanna, the jukebox musical Million Dollar Quartet. Word has been strong, audiences are loving this, I have had the chance to meet and talk with several theatergoers who may not be familiar with the work of Great Lakes Theater but have seen and followed this show from Broadway to the tour to independently produced productions like this one, and their praise for these particular artists is high.

Personally, I was excited to bring my mother-in-law to see the show. She lives in Athens, and the time has never been right to get her to a show there, but I definitely did not want her to miss this one. She is a great fan of live music, rhythm and blues, and the works of Cash, Perkins, Presley, and Lewis. The whole family came and it was a great evening in downtown Cleveland.

Everyone had their favorites, I think my wife was particularly taken with Sky Seals’ soulful performance as Johnny Cash, and the girl had a lot to say about fiery Gabe Aronson as Jerry Lee Lewis, and the production is definitely constructed so that it is that man’s show to steal. The boy, the bass player, was very impressed by Eric Scott Anthony as Brother Jay. We asked if it was because he rode the bass on his back near the end, but no, he was the way he rode the thing across the floor playing slap bass, that he knew had a high level of difficulty.

The term “jukebox musical” used to be pejorative, used dismissively by critics to describe shows made of unoriginal tunes, strung together to create an artificial narrative. But these shows are so prevalent the term itself is no longer a put-down. Yes, these are previously written songs, but if the book is strong enough and carries you through and the artists are to-notch, what you get is an evening where everyone gets a live, powerful rendition of songs they already know and love. The audience last night was quite enthusiastic, indeed.

Growing up in suburban Bay Village, I was raised to believe rock and roll started in the sixties, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. We didn’t listen to R&B or rockabilly, I was only marginally aware of Elvis (who passed, as a punchline, when I was nine) and entirely unfamiliar with any of the black progenitors of rock and roll.

It wasn’t until hooking up with the woman I would later marry and getting to know her family and what they listened to that I started to know, understand, and deeply love the music which inspired the British Invasion acts. Most significantly was when we took a road trip to Memphis, visiting Graceland and Sun Studio.
July 10, 2000 (journal)

Did Graceland. I was amazed. Much more enjoyable than I ever imagined. It’s small -- homey, surprisingly un-opulent. It had been described to me as being tacky, but I would call that classist.

What my wife thought she saw was a man from dirt-poor roots who did not try to become someone else, struggling to be normal.

The much-maligned Jungle Room is great! The decor is fanciful, but also kind of sexy. Loved the wall fountain. It’s funny, by that I mean it has a sense of humor.

Everything is modest. A kidney-shaped swimming pool a small one. An ordinary-sized kitchen. Nothing grand. Normal-sized rec room. It was touching. Charming. Some fun, swinging, 60s, 70s era living.

We didn’t go overboard on souvenirs; postcards, a few books, a CD of gospel songs. I am starting to “get” Elvis.

Noticed Colonel Tom Parker was mentioned exactly once the whole time we were there.

July 11, 2000 (journal)

Drove over to Sun Studio. Our tour guide was named Mick, late 20s. Spiky black hair, great glasses, attitude.

And what’s the tour? The front office, the studio itself, that’s it. Mick described the scene, and played a selection of sound clips from recordings and outtakes created right in that very room. It was more than worth the admission.

Our guide was just so great. The tour group was small, and he engaged each of us. Mick was sincere, he loves this music, tapping his foot. He had this wry smile all the time. I wish we had asked him about himself.

Hard to put my finger on, but that is now my favorite rock and roll museum.
Great Lakes Theater presents Million Dollar Quartet at the Hanna Theatre through May 26, 2019

Friday, May 3, 2019

Family Theater Day (2019)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
(EnTechneVision Inc.)
The temperature spiked twenty degrees, and with it, face-ripping winds, ripping down Euclid Avenue. Because that is spring in Cleveland!

Spring also means the opportunity to check out some incredible, international touring companies share their work at student matinees in the days prior to Family Theater Day, this Saturday May 4 at Playhouse Square.

“Playwriting reached its peak with Shakespeare’s King Lear,” or so says Captain Nemo in the EnTechneVision, Inc. production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from Canada, a seriously intense production happening in the Ohio Theatre.

The reference to Shakespeare's mad king is echoed in a great storm scene in which the captain rails at the sea and sky with, "Blow winds, and crack your cheeks!"

Utilizing three live performers, puppets, actions figure and some seriously beautiful projections, this is a wild adventure perfectly suited for a third-to-sixth grade audience. The language is dense and the subject matter heady (the first children’s play I have seen to introduce the concept of nihilism) it has a strong message about ecological disaster, and urging humankind to find a balance between technology and nature.

Conversely, another program that questions our dominance over wildlife is Shh! We Have a Plan by the Northern Ireland troupe Cahoots, gently told with light and sound, puppets and pantomime and absolutely no dialogue.

There were several short plays we composed for Guerrilla Theater Company which did not include dialogue, though I have to admit I wasn't very good at it, not when I was twenty-five.

Dance of the Demented includes signs with words on them, and I still felt I needed there to be dialogue at the end. One piece I composed which was entirely choreographed (titled, without irony, The Dance) about the importance of human connection, was misinterpreted to be homophobic.

Torque wrote the best of our wordless scripts, The History of Western Civilization, which you can read more about that play here.

Plays that do not include language must be deceptively sophisticated. You must be understood, and we are acclimated to leaning heavily upon language to make ourselves clear. To tell an entire story, to communicate not only emotions but also plans and ideas, takes great plotting, and planning, and rehearsal and physicality and just, you know, everything that makes up live theater.

Now I want to write an hour-long, dialogue-free children's play.

Playhouse Square presents Family Theater Day this Saturday, May 4, 2019

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Play a Day: Tastes Like Chicken

Joe Barnes
For Tuesday I read Tastes Like Chicken by Joe Barnes and available at New Play Exchange.

"Happiness means doing what you want, when and where you want to do it."

Well, no it isn't, and that's the point of this scathingly dark comedy which pokes holes in the devastating effects of the late twentieth century and America's descent into solipsistic navel-gazing and self-pleasuring self-analysis.

I blame the Baby Boomers, but you know that.

Joe Barnes is the most level-headed, knowledgeable and unbiased source of international political news and commentary I am connected to on social media. He is my Super Ego is trying times. Which makes it all the more hilarious that he composes hilarious and intentionally politically-incorrect burlesques like this one.

A dysfunctional family satire about the abdication of personal responsibility, and how easy it is become a complete sociopath when there is someone there to reassure you that it is all right. The social contract is flimsy and fragile, and also flammable.

And there you have it. Thirty plays in thirty days! It has been a tremendous month, and I have a lot to think about and process. But there is also work to do. I have put off any writing this month, tomorrow morning I will resume my pages, and return to projects which have waited patiently while I read.

Applications, submissions, proposals, play scripts.

What should I write tomorrow?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Play a Day: King Lear (BONUS)

This is a year of many auspicious anniversaries.

Thirty years ago I performed my first Shakespearean role, that of Friar John in Romeo and Juliet. Twenty-five years ago I directed my first Shakespeare, which was also Romeo and Juliet. In that production I provided a recorded voice over for Prince Escalus.

Twenty years ago I directed Hamlet, and did a walk-on as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father.

I have performed a few other Shakespearean roles. Petruchio in the Guerrilla Theater Company production of The Taming of the Shrew. Bardolph in Henry IV for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. Pistol in the Merry Wives of Windsor at Great Lakes Theater, and also in The Tempest as Adrian.

What? You don’t know who Adrian is? He is the least-consequential named character in all of Shakespeare. He has a name, "yet--" he does nothing and provides absolutely no information we do not already know. In this production his signal contribution was to get his head bitten off by a harpy.

The fact is, in spite of being regarded as a Shakespeare guy, I have performed very little Shakespeare. This summer, however, I will be playing one of my very favorite roles, that of the Earl of Kent in the True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear and his three Daughters, or as more popularly known, King Lear.

As Adrian with Dougfred Miller as Antonio
The Tempest, Great Lakes Theater (2007)
Is it just me, or is this play going through something of a renaissance in the 21st Century? Is it because the Baby Boomers are entering their final years and want to redefine him for a new age?

I have had the opportunity to witness a couple iconic performances of King Lear in my time. In 1990 we and a college group visited London and Stratford and saw Lear performed by John Wood, who most Gen X Americans would know as Professor Falken from the motion picture War Games. The two standout performances were that of the non-yet-famous Ralph Fiennes and Alex Kingston as Edmund and Cordelia, respectively.

Several years later, Toni and I were in London and saw Ian Holm play Lear at the National, following his long hiatus from the stage. On that trip I picked up a copy of the book Shakespeare Made Fit: Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare edited by Sandra Clark.

In that I learned of Nahum Tate’s adaptation of Lear, in which he created a much happier conclusion, one in which Edgar and Cordelia (who never speak to one another in Shakespeare’s original) fall in love and overthrow Edmund to live as King and Queen of a united England. Published in 1681, “Tate’s Lear” was the favored version until around 1863, when William Macready staged the first truly popular restoration of Shakespeare’s original tragedy.

David Troughton as Tom, right
With Penelope Wilton
The Norman Conquests, BBC (1977)
It was Tate’s version that was to be my third Shakespearean production, announced for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival’s 2000 summer season. When it became necessary to abridge that year’s production schedule from three productions to two, Tate’s Lear was cancelled. We had a wonderful cast who were tremendously disappointed, and it still pains me to remember that I let them down, having made the proposal myself not to move ahead with the production.

Ironically, perhaps, one of the other two productions that year was a compact and modern production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Eric Schmiedl. Referred to as “The GQ Love’s Labour’s,” Eric had cut the text down to just the lovers’ story (no Don Armado, sorry, no Holoferenes) punctuating the narrative with a few passages from popular magazines describe what the modern person wants in a relationship.

My relationship with Eric goes back to our tenures briefly overlapping at Karamu in the early 90s, later we were in the Cleveland Play House Playwrights’ Unit. He has directed me in Sarah Morton’s Night Bloomers, Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn, David Sedaris’s The Santaland Diaries, and now we are entering the rehearsal process for a streamlined, studio production of King Lear at the Beck Center for the Arts.

Kent is such a desirable role for a man my age, and I hope I can do him justice. He has the first line of the play, and it is entirely unassuming, one of the rare circumstance in Shakespeare when the action just starts, right in the middle of a conversation, Kent speaking with the Earl of Gloucester about a point of interest which has marginal bearing upon the issues of the narrative.

He is pressed into action, having to suddenly bridge a confounding gap and is forced into action he couldn’t have considered five minutes previously. He is not particularly remarkable, except for his absolute devotion to those he loves, sharp wit, and his ability to kick a young man’s ass.

David Troughton as Earl of Kent, right
With Linda Kerr Scott and John Wood
King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Company (1990)
I have seen two men whose performances as Kent rest upon my shoulders. The first was David Troughton, whose work I had first seen when he played Tom in the BCC production of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests. Why a ten year old would be watching a British comedy about intimate relationships you can blame on my brother, regardless I remembered him when our school group visited Stratford that 1990.

Troughton was a then-member of the RSC, and in addition to leading workshops and acting as a mediator between our team and the company, he and his wife Alison welcomed us into their home and they were just remarkably kind and thoughtful people.

He and Ciarán Hinds conducted the final battle between Achilles and Hector (respectively) from Troilus and Cressida for us during a stage combat workshop. I saw him play Holoferenes in Love’s Labour’s Lost onstage, and he was Kent to John Wood’s Lear.

It was a remarkable week.

Most recently, I saw the production at Great Lakes Theater, directed by Joseph Hanreddy. That was four years ago. Hanreddy has done such marvelous work with our company, and this was no exception, a towering performance by Aled Davies in the lead role. His Kent, his "Caius" was Dougfred Miller.

I first met Doug the summer of 2005, when we played Merry Wives of Windsor at Great Lakes. Doing summer shows, my birthday often overlaps rehearsal or performance (this has happened numerous times) but I don't tell anyone. There's too much, I want it to be about me. That July 26 I walked into Becky's after rehearsal, on my own, prepared to drink a solitary toast to my own 37th anniversary. Doug was there at the bar and invited me to sit with him -- I hadn't really gotten to know anyone in the cast yet, and he expressed a deep, sincere interest in me, which was very gratifying on such a day.

Dougfred Miller as Earl of Kent, right
With Cassandra Bissell
King Lear, Great Lakes Theater (2015)
The next year we created a great moment together on stage for The Tempest -- the one in which I played the least consequential named character in Shakespeare. Doug was Antonio, the usurping Duke. Director Andrew May had stage these moments where Ariel was literally playing with us -- we were like puppets on strings. She paused us as I (as Adrian) had made a fist, as to strike Antonio. We were released and I hit him, Doug (as Antonio) reeled from the impact, as our "strings" were cut, sending us crashing to the floor.

Not remembering having been in this state, I rose from the floor, rubbing my hand as he rose rubbing his chin. We looked at each other -- and then away. A marvelous take. If anyone in the audience caught the exchange, I have absolutely no idea.

A performer possessed in equal measures great compassion, dedication to craft, an unparalleled wit and god-like sense of comic timing, his Kent was to me emblematic of Doug's work at its finest.

As we begin rehearsals for King Lear this evening, I enter the only way I could, following the example of such generous men, with humility and hope.

Beck Center for the Arts presents "King Lear" directed by Eric Schmiedl, May 31 - June 30, 2019.

Play a Day: Brujaja

Melissa DuPrey
For Monday I read Brujaja by Melissa DuPrey and available at New Play Exchange.

Set in La Doña, a botanica or shop for alternative medicine and practices, this script is an elegant story of modern America with deep, multicultural roots.

Ours is a land of seekers, we have always sought secret knowledge to assist us with our dreams. But medicine and science has led to Big Pharma, as desire for truth and enlightenment turns to organized religion.

And so there are always those who seek answers elsewhere, and for good reason. Unfortunately, suspicion and mistrust can also lead to disaster and pain. Yes, the drugs that were originally created to help us can also kill us, but so will the measles.

"You cannot pretend to know all the answers," says the mother to the daughter, and it is an important lesson. As DuPrey's brief play reminds us, we cannot ultimately hold back change, but that we have each other to guide us through difficult times.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Play a Day: Nutshell

C. Denby Swanson
For Sunday I read Nutshell by C. Denby Swanson and available at New Play Exchange.

The word theater derives from the Greek for to behold, or "seeing place."

The character based on the true life individual Frances Glessner Lee informs us "the word autopsy derives from the Greek for seeing oneself."

Swanson's Gothic investigation of this near-forgotten mother of forensic investigation is rich with gallows humor, presenting an unreliable narrator whose live was dedicated to making the unseen seen.

The stories we tell about women, true and imagined, are about controlling women, their behavior, they are treated as symbols, not people, in order to mold their behavior. This is true of our folk tales, as well as our modern television procedural dramas.

It is also true of the stories we tell about people of color, though, as is the case with the violence against women forever captured in the crime scene dollhouse dioramas painstaking crafted by our protagonist, these injustices are hiding in plain sight.

I have read twenty-plays in twenty-eight days, four solid weeks of play-reading. Each day I meet a new playwright, and there are so many I have not yet experienced. It is a great joy to indulge in the work of fellow writers.

Tomorrow night we begin rehearsal for King Lear at the Beck Center. Tuesday I will close the month with a thirtieth play. On Wednesday I will resume my daily ritual of writing at five each morning.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Play a Day: Cooties

Alexandrew Recore
For Saturday I read Cooties by Alexandrew Recore and available at New Play Exchange.

If there is a theme for the plays I have been reading in April of 2019, it is the need for connection.

I should go back and check. They may all be about that. I mean, are all stories about that? They can't be. What about all plays? Maybe. Or at least plays I enjoy.

I don't like plays about men dominating everything. Those are plays I do not enjoy. I don't think they are plays I write. Maybe they are. I should go back and check.

Regarding today's script, which is titled Cooties. Anther digression which is not entirely irrelevant. The most popular sketch we ever produced as Guerrilla Theater Company was written by Beemer, about a boy and a girl playing in a sandbox, in which he keeps asking if he can put his shovel in her bucket. This ninety-second play was also titled Cooties, and though it is not the same play it could be.

Recore has recorded a whip-smart college roommate sex comedy, hysterical and at sudden turns touching and poignant. featuring crisp, hip and knowing dialogue, aloof and outrageous, with potential sex partners circling each other at arms length, like as if La Ronde were called L'amibe.

Ultimately, however, its about young people yearning not to be alone, expressed at times through verse and movement, with an audacity I envy. It is the comic strip I wanted to have written in college.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 26, 2019

Play a Day: Am I White

Adrienne Dawes
For Friday I read Am I White by Adrienne Dawes and available at New Play Exchange.

"Resisting a thing brings up the opposite of what we want. Force brings about counter-force."

We listen to a lot of ska in our house, or at least it comes up a lot. The wife loves it, two-tone music. A celebration of diversity, an opposition to fascism, authoritarianism.

The original skinheads were an outgrowth of this, in Great Britain in the 1960s. SHARP, "skinheads against racial prejudice." Few Americans are aware of this history, and would be surprised to learn how many trappings of the white supremacist skinhead were simply hijacked from this entirely antithetical movement.

Appropriation comes in many forms.

Dawes play questions the very nature of race, and the madness that inflicts our nation as a result of our original sin -- not just slavery, but the self-hypnosis under which we put ourselves to create an artificial concept called "race" by which others are held apart.

Set in the months before 9/11, it was a startling reminder of a time before the general public was aware of just how vast and angry the white supremacist movement was, a time when it was unthinkable that a white supremacist could ever become President again.

Inspired by true events, a young person of color passes as white and through his time in prison, strong dream imagery and news accounts, learn how he came to develop the self-loathing which would lead him to reach for a place of prominence in a new family, a family fueled entirely by the hatred of people like himself.

Racial purity is a lie. Hitler's "fatherland" was for the crossroads for marauders and conquest, there is no one, pure race. So as long as one lies and is beholden to lies and believes in lies, why not crawl into absolute denial and pretend to be what doesn't exist in the first place?

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Play a Day: Spoons

Ben Firke
For Thursday I read Spoons by Ben Firke and available at New Play Exchange.

I was compelled by the keywords for this script which include not only "intimacy" and "trauma" but also "The 2016 Golden State Warriors Blew A 3-1 Series Lead."

There are plentiful tales of the "whore with a heart of gold," the stories of sex workers that are entirely male oriented fantasy wish-fulfillment, to wit, "She doesn't care about any of her other johns, but she loves me."

Already this month I have read one script about sex work, Craigslisted (wow, was that only last week?) from a female perspective, breaking down that myth by clearly describing the needs and neuroses of someone who chooses or is economically compelled to walk that road.

Spoons walks a careful line down the middle, trying to present both male and female perspective, even if it leans heavily on his unhappiness.Which only makes sense, he is reaching out to her, he has need which he is paying her to fulfill.

But the playwright works very hard to make this her story, too. I can sympathize, that was the journey I took to make The Way I Danced With You more about her than him. As in my script, we are left uncertain as to where this relationship will go, an I was grateful for that.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Play a Day: A Maiden of Venice

Aleks Merilo
For Wednesday I read A Maiden of Venice by Aleks Merilo and available at New Play Exchange.

Perhaps more appropriate for the date of Shakespeare's death, which was yesterday. Alas.

There are those who will tell you that The Taming of the Shrew is a play about sexism, that Othello is a play about racism, and that The Merchant of Venice is a play about Antisemitism.

They are wrong. The Taming of the Shrew is a sexist play, Othello is a racist play, and The Merchant of Venice is an Antisemitic play.

There are those who would then tell you you need to look at these plays from an historical perspective, that words like sexism, racism and Antisemitism did not exist at that time. Neither did the words radioactivity, or bacterium, but they still existed even without names, and could harm you.

We still perform these plays, when we perform them, because they are Shakespeare. The words are so good, but so too are the characters. Katharina, Othello, Shylock, they are more interesting and nuanced and even sympathetic than the more stereotypical versions of type created by lesser playwrights of the era. But they are each of them brought low as a result of being who they are, and make no mistake, Shakespeare's audience thought their downfalls were hilarious.

Merilo has written an elegant take on The Merchant of Venice, told from the Jewish characters' point of view, with special emphasis on Jessica, the daughter to the money-lender Shylock. In this version his true name is Shalah, which means tranquil, secure, even prosperous. It is the Christians who use the other name, and insist upon calling him that.

We see and understand in Shakespeare's play the poor treatment Shylock receives, but as he represents and exhibits the worst traits stereotypically ascribed to his "race" the audience is left to understand that the Jewish people are in the situation they currently suffer (confined to their ghetto, limited to practice usury, verbally and physically abused on the street) because of these unpleasant, suspicious behaviors.

Merilo's story begins with Leah's death bearing Jessica, and patiently describes Shalah's trials in raising a child on his own, and enduring the privilege exhibited by the young Antonio, who, though he himself begins as a penniless ne'er-do-well, still believes himself higher than anyone who is Jewish.

This is also a very timely play. The sense of danger, fear, dread, that those who are defined as others must live with, every day. Just last week This American Life reported on one American town that was devastated when ICE agents rounded up hundreds of undocumented workers. So many today who wonder, "When will it happen? When will they come for me?"

Who should I read tomorrow?