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

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?

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Play a Day: Sapience

Diana Burbano
For Tuesday I read Sapience by Diana Burbano and available at New Play Exchange.

sapience n.
sa·​pi·​ence / ˈsā-pē-ən(t)s
wisdom, knowledge, from sapient (adj) having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment.

The latin term for a human being is homo sapiens, or "man with wisdom." Coined in the late 18th century, we did seem to be the smart ones. But what is the nature of wisdom, of intelligence? In the past two hundred years we have discovered that humans are not exclusively intelligent. We are also not necessarily wise.

The action of Burbano's script resides in a laboratory, one ostensibly for the study of great apes, specifically one orangutan named Wookie. But we the audience witness a larger experiment in human interaction, between hyper-intelligent folks on the spectrum. between races, human sexuality and illness, the effect of singing Echo & the Bunnymen in a controlled environment.

How do our minds work? How much do we yet not know? How much time do we have left to figure it out? How can we be aware of death and not go insane? Have we already gone mad and we just don't realize it yet?

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 22, 2019

Play a Day: Before Lesbians

Elana Gartner
For Monday I read Before Lesbians by Elana Gartner and available at New Play Exchange.

Today at lunch a co-worker, relatively new to the company, they asked if I have a background in history, I tell such great stories. I said no, I'm just an insufferable know-it-all.

My father had a great interest in history, that rubbed off on me. I much prefer reading non-fiction, or perhaps historical fiction. I have even written a couple plays of historical fiction, and I truly love seeing and reading plays inspired by actual history, especially American history.

A couple years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to see Good Men Wanted by Kevin Armento, based on the true stories of the over 400 women (that we know of) who passed as men to fight in the Civil War. It was like a Ken Burns special of unknown history, exciting, compelling narratives of women who fought on either side, their reasons, their passions, their great victories and even more devastating losses.

I was reminded of that Civil War play when reading Before Lesbians, the story of two women who meet the day each of their intendeds have rushed to wed them before heading off the fight for the Union. As fate has brought them together, so too does it work for them to find in each other their one true love.

The play might have been titled Inventing Lesbians, as our protagonists discover in themselves something they had never had reason to believe has ever existed before, and create without guidance a language for a desire, a passion, and a lasting devotion. It's a beautiful and heartbreaking love story.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Play a Day: The Subtle, Sublime Transformation of Benny V.

Steven G. Martin
Twenty-one new plays in twenty-one days!

For Sunday I read The Subtle, Sublime Transformation of Benny V. by Steven G. Martin and available at New Play Exchange.

Recently someone asked why I do this, why read a play a day for a month.

The first answer is that I like to. Reading these new plays, often unproduced plays, most written by playwrights I am unfamiliar with, it makes me feel part of the community. Not just the personal community, of getting to know the writers themselves, but the community of what is being written today, and how it is being written.

The follow-up response addresses this particular exercise, why a play a day? Why this one month? The month is tradition, I was compelled to do this two years ago, and it was almost April. So that’s why April, it also just happens to be a perfect month for this, the right time of year. The weather is changing, my responsibilities are lower. I have time for this.

But why a play a day? Why not read a new play whenever, when I have time. Because I am compulsive. Because I am a procrastinator. Because on any given day I could read a play, or do laundry. Read a play or take a run. Read a play or do absolutely anything else.

By setting a goal, though, I must compulsively meet it. And so I read thirty plays in one month when I otherwise might read a dozen. Or fewer. And by logging them here I hold myself accountable.

Which brings me to today’s play, The Subtle, Sublime Transformation of Benny V. by Steven G. Martin, an entirely appropriate script to read on a morning of rebirth and renewal and liberation. What starts as a workplace comedy expands into a warm, open-hearted exploration of the human experience, and one man’s adventures attempt to experience life and everything it has to offer.

It also has a lot to say about cynicism and doubt, those trolls who surround us and live within us, who work tirelessly to tear down even our most modest ambitious. Senior year in high school I took Psychology and learned that self-actualized people are insufferable to those who are not. Ah, well.

How do you art? Do you write? Do you paint? Do you cook? What is most valuable, the product or the doing? The destination or the journey? I myself have had a tenuous relationship with visual art (more on that here) but it brings me joy and I would very much like to return to that place. Reading this play was a reminder of why, and also how.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Play a Day: And Then You Die

Portrait by Amy Arbus (2010)
Ten years ago, my monodrama And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years) workshopped at Cleveland Public Theatre before receiving its world premiere at the Robert Moss Theatre in New York City as part of the New York Fringe Festival.

Training for my first marathon in 2006 was a life-changing experience, the culmination of a quarter century of trying and failing to be a consistent runner. As with my previous solo performance, I Hate This (a play without the baby) I relied heavily on the journaling I did tell the story of the preparing for the race itself, adding stories from my adolescence and early adulthood which described my struggles with health and exercise.

Response was positive in New York, getting laughs where expected and eliciting a strong response at the conclusion. I paid special attention to the critics, however, who were generous but also offered some helpful reflection.
“David Hansen’s autobiographical one-man show, about his lifelong obsession with long-distance running, is a simple and tragic yet reaffirming tale, told earnestly and with minimal poetics ... how refreshing to be touched by something real.” - Michael Freidson, Time Out New York

“We meet a lot of people that have crossed or influenced Hansen's life, but you will have a hard time understanding why they are important ...His father who used to run when he was just a child, his first inspiration, was he around to see him run the Marathon? … We needed more of these pivotal influences.” - Antoni Minino, Fab Marquee

"Segments about how he trained for the race, especially his final preparatory run, from his own home on one side of greater Cleveland, to his parents house across town, are similarly fascinating … What I wanted was to understand why running is so fundamentally important ... But this show never really gets us to that place.” - Martin Denton, nytheatre.com
Also, this comment left on my blog from audience member (now my friend) Cris Dopher:
“I was impressed with your clarity, organization of thought, and bold maneuvers on stage … If there was anything I was confused about, it was the family timeline and your relationship with your daughter ... you concentrate on your boy(s) so much throughout the show, and then at the end - it's all about your little girl. I wasn't sure why the switch.”
And Then You Die
(How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years)
Good question.

When I had the chance to remount the show at CPT in 2011, paired with I Hate This as a single evening, I was took the opportunity to cut the show down to an hour (previously it ran about 75 minutes) which was a welcome change for everyone involved, but this piece suffered in comparison to the very weighty first act.

Writing for the Plain Dealer, Christine Howey said I Hate This “borders on brilliant,” but that ”the second play just can't measure up to the first. However transformative the process of completing a 26-mile run might be, it pales to insignificance after the cataclysmic event so tellingly presented earlier.”

So, I’ve left this piece alone for a while. But it’s one I have lately been coming back to. I want to respond the criticism, to rewrite the entire thing. Because there is a story there, one I enjoy telling, about running, about why we run, and about maturity, and having a goal and trying to reach it. About becoming a whole person, one who is happy with themselves. Or at the very least, has a capacity for happiness.

This is my goal for the rest of the spring, to rewrite And Then You Die, aiming for a performance some time in early fall. The decision to tackle this now isn’t arbitrary, either. This fall I will be running the Chicago Marathon, raising funds for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

Please check out my Team Challenge campaign page, read why raising funds for this organization is important to me, and make a contribution. Any amount with be greatly appreciated.

Play a Day: Paper or Plastic

For Saturday I read Paper Or Plastic, book by Miss Hazel Jade & Jeff Brown and available at New Play Exchange.

A musical! An honest-to-God musical! This past week members of my Facebook cohort have been sharing this list of musical favorites and hatreds. I don't generally like to use the word "hate" if I can help it, but for this I made an exception.

MUSICAL I HATE: Bye Bye Birdie




MUSICAL I CHERISH: Hedwig & the Angry Inch







So now you know. I'm not really a musical guy, anyway. But it was a pleasure to read the book to this new musical -- even better, to listen to the demo recordings on Soundcloud, music and lyrics by Joe Stevens and Keaton Wooden.

Billed as a "new high school musical" Paper or Plastic chronicles the doubts and hopes of a very modern clique of high school seniors in "flyover country." These intertwining tales are a healthy reminder that any adult who tells you that high school is the best time of your life is a very unhappy person.

I have teenagers, and these worries and dreams are quite close to surface for me now, which Jade & Brown describe in realistic detail; the fear of missing out, fretting over applications and aspirations, the helplessness one feels acting as the adult for parents whose own marriages and lives are falling apart. Stevens & Wooden have created some lovely pop ballads for their characters, I'd love to hear them performed by actual teen performers.

These kids are trying to figure out the same things we all have, but today its different. Liberated from binary choices brings freedom, and danger, yes, but freedom has never been synonymous with ease.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 19, 2019

Play a Day: The Cabots of Broadway

Greg Hatfield
For Friday I read The Cabots of Broadway by Greg Hatfield and available at New Play Exchange.
An actor's life for me
- Leigh Harline / Ned Washington
I like historical fiction, on stage, in books or on film, for its sheer audacity. As writers we can pull the great men and women into our narrative which elevates our story to near mythic proportions.

Hatfield provides us a compact historical fiction, an American theater dynasty. The Cabots suffer triumph and tragedy that spans the 20th Century, offers of fame and wider audiences (European tours, the allure of Hollywood, and later TV) elusive and sometimes fraught.

Those of in “the life,” even on its fringes, live and breathe a theatrical vernacular which some may find pretentious, but no more so than those whose lives are immersed in sports or politics. The deeper you go the more easily you can connect with others who walk the same path.

One character reminisces, “I was doing Lady Macbeth and Desdemona in rep and switched the lines midway through the play. No one noticed.” This is a thing that happens and I know it because it’s happened to me.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Play a Day: The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret

Mariah MacCarthy
For Thursday I read The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret by Mariah MacCarthy and available at New Play Exchange.

Millennials got a thing about the 90s, which is totally cool and makes sense because, for those even old enough to remember, it was fun and silly and pointless and trivial. Also, they were children, and the 1990s was a sweet time to be a kid, unlike the 1970s and shut up I don't want to talk about that.

Saturday Night Live has undergone something of a renaissance lately, which has everything to do with the women and people of color, but during the 1990s it was pretty lame.

Remember It's Pat, featuring Julia Sweeney as a person of indeterminate gender? Yuks were inspired by people trying to figure out whether Pat was he or she. This wasn't a one-off either, Pat was a recurring character -- they made a feature film based on this routine.

The term "transgender" dates back over fifty years (and so do I) but it didn't come into the popular vernacular until the past decade or so, and comedy based on making fun of members of the trans community has thankfully moved into "grampa" territory.

MacCarthy's cabaret is a hilarious romp about gender fluidity, butch, douche, femme, fuckboi, a 90s retro dance party with an awful lot of real live making out. Humorous situations are mined not from folks trying to figure out who others are (although there is some of that) but who they themselves are. Some seek love, from others, from themselves. "It's complicated."

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Play a Day: Craigslisted

Sharai Bohannon
For Wednesday I read Craigslisted by Sharai Bohannon and available at New Play Exchange.

There is an entire world out there with which I am entirely unfamiliar, and it's on Craig's List. A couple years ago a post was brought to my attention, a "missed connections" listing that referenced an outdoor Shakespeare performance downtown. Some guy was trying to hook up with someone he met while seeing my production of Henry VIII.

Gave u a free shirt at Shakespeare play - m4w (Tremont)

This morning's play script is about a young women who is trying to make her way through college by answering personal ads from Craig's List. It's charming, whimsical, with a touch of menace, peopled with hilarious and engaging characters and playful situations.

It's also a subversive feminist commentary on poverty, empowerment, and agency. I would love to be a fly on the wall for post-show conversations on this one. We live in an era where those who perform sex work and demanding freedom and dignity, but we also need to look at the economic conditions which compel those who otherwise wouldn't to pursue this career.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Play a Day: Antigone's Sister

Emma Goldman-Sherman
For Tuesday I read Antigone's Sister by Emma Goldman-Sherman and available at New Play Exchange.

A powerful re-imagining of the Antigone myth, one in which the playwright aggressively seeks to subvert the dominant paradigm. Cleaving to Sophocles' original, Goldman-Sherman has created an astonishing emulation of the structure of both Greek tragedy and comedy.

These lines are clearly divided between the women, especially in the character of Antigone whose pain and pathos are clearly described and felt, and the men, who are all utter clowns.

The women's tragedy is lyrical and knowing, the men ignorant fearful and low. However, as is evident in today's America, it is hard to laugh at the buffoon on high when in his shallowness and bigotry exacts such a high price in pain and suffering from those who are in the most need.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Play a Day: The Bloodless Jungle

Peter Lawson Jones
For Monday I read The Bloodless Jungle by Peter Lawson Jones and available at New Play Exchange.

Jones is a Cleveland icon, not only a playwright and an actor of the stage and screen, he is also a lawyer with an extensive record of public service, and he pours a great deal of his lifetime of professional experience into this play script about a State Senator running his first campaign for U.S Congress.

Bloodless Jungle was written a couple years back, and it is amazing (and demoralizing) how much has changed in such a short amount of time, but there is nothing dated about the plot. Our protagonist, Ethan St. John (great name) is a Frank Capra character, that rare politician who will not compromise his ideals in order to win an election.

Political dramas have become very popular. What I most enjoyed reading Jones's play is that he presents a slate of characters with varying agendas, from the unpaid volunteers to the highly paid operatives, each with distinct, vivid personalities. He doesn't traffic in types, providing each sympathetic arguments. It's hard to take sides, especially knowing what we know in today's political climate.

The unhappy question in the real world is, will "Mr. Smith" ever again even get to Washington?

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Play a Day: Death and The Tramp (El Muerto Vagabundo)

Georgina Escobar
Fourteen plays in fourteen days!

For Sunday I read Death and The Tramp (El Muerto Vagabundo) by Georgina Escobar and available at New Play Exchange.

"The day you understand the meaning of death is the day you start living."

This lovely Día de Muertos play for children and families is presented in English and Spanish, and also through shadow puppetry, projections and several other magical stage elements to weave a tale of memory, loss and despair, as well as remembrance, determination, and hope, told with delight and clarity.

This uniquely original story did put me in mind of other tales of the Underworld and of the Dreamworld. The fear that those who have no living persons to remember them will be olividado, or forgotten, was the theme of the Pixar movie Coco (this play was produced a year before that film was released) though in Vagabundo, souls who are forgotten do not cease to exist, they wander the earth without a home.

That's where this piece takes on real world significance, as I wondered if the land of the dead truly exists, or if the earth is a place we never leave. Loss comes in many forms, death being only one of them. To be dispossessed, homeless, without a nation, unwelcome anywhere. There are greater fears than the end of all.

The setting is beneath a bridge. And don't we need more bridges.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Play a Day: Hold Steady

Tira Palmquist
For Saturday I read Hold Steady by Tira Palmquist and available at New Play Exchange.
“How did our parents do it?”

“They didn’t think about it, probably.”
The Big Chill is an iconic film about white privilege, about a cohort of Baby Boomer age people in their mid-thirties, folks who attended university in the late 1960s with all of the historic baggage that brought with it, monied liberals who, at the dawn of the 1980s were troubled by their own success, how they had traded their ideals for a very comfortable lifestyle.

Unfortunately, many Boomer aged audiences took this film as validation for their own having sold out, and found it not ironic at all to purchase the soundtrack, a greatest hits of the Motown era, to make it a number one album and even spawn a second soundtrack of songs by African American R&B artists from the “Big Chill era” (as it was marketed) when there is not one single person of color in the entire movie.

Palmquist’s play, Hold Steady, concerns a Millennial friend group, a modern, diverse collection of sympathetic characters … well, except for Quinn. What is it with people whose names begin with Q?

As our heroes gather for a ten year high school reunion, they share their worries and concerns about relationship and career goals, but as with so many of us it all revolves around money. What you can do, what you can’t do, what you hope to do, what you can reasonably settle to do.

I mean, there is a literal fight over fifty bucks. That scene is amazing.

Many of my friends and colleagues are Millennials, and believe me, they don’t spend their all time eating avocado toast and none of them attended the Fyre Festival. And Palmquist has created a fascinating and vivid weekend gathering, ripe with real world dialogue and situations reminiscent of the people I know.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 12, 2019

Play a Day: Shruti Gupta Can Totally Deal

J. Stephen Brantley
For Friday I read Shruti Gupta Can Totally Deal by J. Stephen Brantley and available at New Play Exchange.

Okay, so I live in Ohio where the governor just passed a bill that makes abortion illegal if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Ohio is also the home of Stage Right Theatrics who produce the Conservative Theatre Festival which seeks to present “hard to find” conservative views on stage.

Now, I’m not going to argue whether or not there is inherent liberal bias in the theater community. What I am going to argue is that the stage is a forum for new ideas and (as twere) to “hold the mirror up to nature.” And as long as I see conservative politicians limiting or eliminating the rights of marginalized people, I have no use for hearing their point of view argued in the form of a play. Their rights are not threatened. Their views dominate. They are not being censored, good people do not want to hear them whine about being censored.

Which brings me to this morning’s play, which was delightful even while it was upsetting. Brantley has crafted a witty, romantic fairy tale of the America that I love so much, the one in which people from varied and diverse backgrounds come together, learn from each other, and love one another.

I mean, Shruti Gupta (the play) is conservative, because it’s about family and commitment. About Indian immigrants who created a new life together in the United States, and their children who are each seeking strong, permanent relationships. They also happen to be hard-working professionals whose desire to contribute to the community by excelling in their chosen fields.

But this play could never be accepted into the Conservative Theatre Festival because the son is marrying the man he loves, and the daughter, Shruti, is a “Dreamer,” an undocumented immigrant who was brought here when she was two.

This is a very timely piece, and accessible. I actually gasped while reading when the actress ex-girlfriend of Shruti’s new boyfriend ignorantly suggests she audition for the role of Jasmine in the new Aladdin musical … because earlier this week the exact same thing happened to someone I know with subcontinental ancestry. Same show, only the guy’s part.

There are microaggressions, and worse, emboldened white men seeking to undo all the progress of the 20th century with their mouths and their bare hands. And yet, the play concludes with love and family and hope, and lots of dad jokes.

Or as I like to call them, "jokes."

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Play a Day: Joan's Arc

Emily Hageman
For Thursday I read Joan's Arc by Emily Hageman and available at New Play Exchange.

"Even strong people need help," Mason tells his best friend Joan in this touching, gripping high school drama, a teen caper set against the background of a school shooting.

Speaking personally, at my age, it is hard to make that leap. The plot is not about the shooting, the real mystery is about manipulating test scores, which is also an argument modern dilemma.

The fact that a school shooting is a thing that happened, like it could have happened anywhere, that is what is truly disturbing because that is true. That is normal.

My daughter attends high school. She has suffered the loss of a friend from a self-inflicted gunshot. And so did I, when I was in high school. A suicide is not a "shooter," but they do have elements in common. The guns. The loss. The injury to a community.

Hageman does a masterful job creating teenage speak. Teenagers and young adults are so fluid with their language, before they are forced to conform to a unified vernacular, to appear respectful, or adult. To have a job. To stop having to put up with the snide comments from their elders.

They crack and comment and make each other laugh, but they also obfuscate and deflect and defend. Language is common denominator, and a shield. This is evident as the main character, Joan, sets her self apart from her peers by speaking in complete sentences, By her directness. Even that is a form of defense.

Ultimately, this is a story of finding your people. And we all need to find our people.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Play a Day: Dividual (BONUS)

Dividual (2019)
dividual adj.
di·​vid·​u·​al | \ də̇ˈvijəwəl\
3 archaic : divided among or shared by a number
"the moon … her reign with thousand lesser lights dividual holds" — John Milton
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Paul Manganello is a Detroit-born theater artist who first journeyed to Cleveland to join the company of the Great Lakes Theater "Classics On Tour" production of Jabberwocky. He auditioned with a piece from his own solo performance Zealous Whig, about Italian philosopher (and friend of Thomas Jefferson) Filippo Mazzei. I was immediately impressed by his witty writing and comic timing. His turn put me in mind of a young Robert Benigni.

Before rehearsals for Jabberwocky had really begun, he joined me for a visit to Cleveland Public Theatre's Dark Room where he presented part of a new piece he had been working on in front of an audience of supportive strangers, and even sang at the (permanently?) on-hiatus Reception. In short time he developed a fondness for the CLE, and saw in us the potential for hi native Detroit. He even posted on Faceboook about our revival, telling friend back home, "Cleveland can do it, why can't we?"

Zealous Whig (2011)
Last year Paul and his brother Jim as the team "Fratellanza" brought their performance The Judge to CPT's Test Flight series of new works. This was the first time I had an opportunity to see the breadth of physical comedy and elegant movement he brings to his original writing.

This weekend Paul, along with long-time collaborator, friend, and musician Michael Malis, have brought another new work to Test Flight, titled Dividual, and I was asked to provide a third eye to the proceedings (Paul called me a "Total Theatre Person," which I liked) witnessing what is truly a work-in-progress over the brief time they have in the Levin Theatre.

These are a few notes on the week so far.

Monday, April 8

Paul and Mike walked me through the piece, describing the set, the possible projections. Mike played samples of the score and other recordings and Paul read the text. The piece will be about thirty-five minutes long -- it is on a double-bill with Rich Stimac's Zoodiac.

The story concerns data mining, and in particular one fellow whose job that is. I was struck by the modern sense of alienation our phones serve us, in contradistinction to our desire to use these scrying mirrors to connect.

The Judge (2018)
There were moments where I hoped for clarity, and the three of us discussed how these might best be provided.

Tuesday, April 9

This evening I got to watch the first act, performed on stage with music. Stools, microphones, a rug, an array of electronic music producing devices. Also a bicycle helmet, which really pulled the picture together (you think I am being sarcastic, I am not.)

I had to imagine the lights, but the images were clearer, we began making up names for the protagonist's workplace. "The Hole" or "The Machine." Michael's soundscape lifted Paul's performance, and subtly provided voice to an unseen character.

Before I departed, leaving them to their work, we threw ideas around for a certain non-choreography and I was excited to know how that was going to look tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 10

The Jabberwocky (2017)
And like that, it's a show. The screen, lights, hat rack -- and an audience! Members of Zoodiac company were there to watch as Paul and Mike stumble through a technical ("stumbling" is a theater term, no one literally stumbled) and their response was very positive.

Both shows are putting final touches on the evening, we three had time to discuss voices, how best to distinguish between characters, but the lighting brought many elements of the narrative into sharp relief.

The isolation. The longing for connection. The grand bargain we have all struck trading our privacy for magic.

It is time for an audience. Will I see you there? Will we connect?

Cleveland Public Theatre presents "Dividual" as part of Test Flight, April 11, 12 & 13, 2019.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Play a Day: One Month Along

Franky Gonzalez
For Wednesday I read One Month Along by Franky Gonzalez and available at New Play Exchange.

Tales of jealousy, impotence and rage are a reality-check and always remind me how fortunate I am to have been engaged in an emotionally solid relationship for nearly twenty-five years.

I am not bragging. I am relieved. I fear for what my life would have been without it. Not good, how’s that?

Gonzalez’s play traces the creation and disillusion of a love triangle, but not in that order. The title, One Month Along is almost certainly a reference to Kaufman & Hart’s Merrily We Roll Along as each tells a story scene by scene in reverse chronological order.

As opined by Harold Prince while producing Sondheim’s musical adaptation of Merrily it is nearly impossible for an audience to take in a narrative in that way.

And yet, Gonzalez story is streamlined, with only three characters, the plot basic enough to follow that we can accept that each scene takes us back and back, peeling away the layers of deceit and unhappiness to get to the original sin of this doomed relationship— the idea that you can wish a romantic partnership into reality based on an idea.

You can’t. People make mistakes along the way upon which the failure of a relationship can be blamed. But it’s all the result of the initial, arrogant notion that wishing something into being can make it so.

Bonus points for referencing Troilus & Cressida.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Play a Day: Here Be Dragons

Rachel Lynett
For Tuesday I read Here Be Dragons by Rachel Lynett and available at New Play Exchange.

When I was a kid in the late 1970s, my brothers introduced me to a Dungeons & Dragons knock-off called Tunnels & Trolls. Like Marvel at that time still positioned itself as the younger, hipper version of DC comics, T&T was an RPG with an attitude, and a sense of humor which was absent in its rival.

T&T originated out of Scottsdale, Arizona as a mail order RPG where their DMs would play games with folks in far-flung areas by mail. Campaigns took some time, I can tell you. To more easily facilitate game play for those who did not yet have a cohort of players they created the “solo adventure,” like a non-lineal book that took you from one page to another, back and forth, by a roll of the die.

For the record, the first T&T solo adventure, Buffalo Castle, predates the first Choose Your Own Adventure book by at least a year, in case Netflix wants to use that in their defense in the Bandersnatch lawsuit.

The version of Here Be Dragons I have read is a draft version, one currently in process, but it is an exciting concept with a troubling premise, and one I hope the playwright pursues and takes to greater extremes. The “game master” character presents the audience with several opportunities to either alter the outcome of certain circumstances, or to see exchanges from varying points of view, through the use of dice, or other decision-making devices.

The subject is toxic masculinity within the gaming community. The bros have always lorded over alternate worlds (much as they have this one) often with tragic results. My first solo T&T adventure was Lee Russell’s Labyrinth. The cover art features a muscular hirsute Minotaur holding a maiden by the wrist. She is wearing a dress featuring a breast-exposing bodice, and her face is turned away. I first played this game when I was ten.

This is an intriguing narrative, not just about abuse but complicity, and the kind of mania which can overtake an individual when an imaginary world holds more interest, excitement -- and safety -- than reality.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 8, 2019

Play a Day: Familium Vulgare

Melisa Tien
For Monday I read Familium Vulgare by Melisa Tien and available at New Play Exchange.

This past weekend, my wife and I attended a beautiful French Quarter wedding in NOLA for some Millennial aged artist friends, Melissa and Patrick.

I have mentioned Missy a number of times in this blog, she directed the reading of The Way I Danced With You at Playwrights Local. The service was conducted by Chennelle, another person who followers of the blog will be familiar with.

The ceremony itself was held in Preservation Hall, and afterward as we were comparing notes my wife and I both observed that this was the first time we had been witness to a marriage ceremony where we saw ourselves in the shoes of the parents, and not those of the young people involved.

So it was this morning as I began reading Familium Vulgare (translation: common family) which describes a Chinese-American family, the tragic and fatal allergic reaction the mother suffers from a bee sting, and the immediate fallout among the other members of the nuclear family - father, son and daughter.

The father is described as in his 50s, and so it is with me. When I was at school someone said you know you have matured as an actor when you can read a play without automatically casting yourself as the lead character. That’s as may be, sounds like just some more bullshit theater advice, regardless, may I suggest true maturity as a writer is creating a play in which everyone is the main character, no individual personality is more or less significant than the others.

And yet, to me, today, the father striving to cope with grief through his Buddhist philosophy is the main character. Your opinions may vary.

What Tien so movingly captures is the manner in which different folks struggle to manage the earth moving devastation of a recent loss; the father by clearing the decks, the son by visiting an revisiting recorded memories of the past, and the daughter through a psychic connection with the very creatures who brought death to her mother.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Play a Day: Miranda from Stormville

Adam Bertocci
Seven plays in seven days!

For Sunday I read Miranda from Stormville by Adam Bertocci, and available from New Play Exchange.

“No one needs fixing. Just love or some cheeseball shit like that.”

My daughter started calling me “poppa” a couple years back, which I thought was sweet until I realized she was inspired by the name Eleven calls her captor in Stranger Things. Nowadays she calls me “Pops” which I have to say is pretty awesome.

In this keen adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a nineteen year-old Miranda calls her father Pops, too. He is in the throes of Alzheimer’s, and it is against that backdrop, of grappling with an elderly parent whose fix on reality can change by the moment that new relationships form and others break apart.

It is an existential struggle for our female protagonist, thrown into an uneasy partnership with “Will Ferdinand,” the son of a man of prominence, on his way to Atlantic City, now lost in New Jersey. Unlike Shakespeare’s ingenue this young woman is wise beyond her years, though still burdened by an inability to break free of circumstance.

Bertocci has a remarkable facility with words, and he takes delight in messing with the works of Shakespeare. We met several years ago, when he attended Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick) in New York City. He told me he appreciated the hidden jokes in the script that only a Shakespeare enthusiast like himself would get, which was pretty flattering.

Hip Shakespeare dorks must, must also read his Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, which GQ calls "a blast," and they are not wrong.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Play a Day: The Way I Danced With You (The George Michael Play)

Sarah Blubaugh &
Cody Fitzpatrick Steele
This is closing weekend of the premiere of my play The Way I Danced With You at Ensemble Theatre in Cleveland Heights. You have two more opportunities to catch it, today at 2:00 PM and tomorrow at 7:00 PM.

Presented as part of the 2019 Colombi New Plays Festival, we have had a marvelous run following an extended development process.

Last weekend my new children’s play About a Ghoul closed at Talespinner Children’s Theatre. I wrote that piece in about eight weeks, last November and December. I recently found notes from late 2013, which were my exploratory writing for this play. I’d had it on a list of “plays I would like to write” for longer than that. It was just said “George Michael” but I knew what it meant.

In the past five years we've read it in a bar downtown, in Valdez, Alaska, and in the Waterloo Arts District. It's been produced on the West Side and the East Side. Dani and Charles have gotten around.

Sarah Blubaugh
People love this piece, and I am so glad they do. It has moved audience members to tears, I didn’t know I could do that. It has been a joy watching Sarah Blubaugh and Cody Fitzpatrick Steele grow in these roles -- especially Sarah, who had what I felt was a very challenging task, adapting her idea of Dani, a character she had already grown very attached to at the Blank Canvas production last year, to a different actor’s idea of who Charles should be.

It’s an intimate, two-person work that keeps the audience guessing until almost the end. A real psychological mystery. Each development process the script has changed, even here; at the suggestion of director Tyler JC Whidden we removed a few words, just a few, and in doing so extended the mystery even further so that the reveal was all the more satisfying.

Theater is all about collaboration, even or especially the writing.

Read "The Way I Danced With You" at New Play Exchange.

Play a Day: The Coward

Kati Schwartz
For Saturday I read The Coward by Kati Schwartz, and available at New Play Exchange.

I have teenagers in my house. I have listened to and documented teenagers talking to each other in a coffee shop. It is very difficult to write for teenagers or young adults, everyone has such strong opinions about how it’s done.

One out of one hundred people have told me that the dialogue for The Way I Danced With You is too mature for eighteen year-olds. I do not listen to them. I wrote it the way I thought it should sound for a particular type of young adult person, and that’s that.

Schwartz does masterful work capturing the essence of young adults speaking in conversation. It is at once affectless, and entirely earnest. Here she presents attendees at a college-age, summer drama camp, with a compact collection of interesting characters who each have their own way of navigating the backstage (off-off stage, in the dorm room) need to be noticed and accepted.

The brittle conflict between Christopher and Jill, two young homosexuals who feel threatened by each other, is so handily represented through turns of control and manipulation, the words we use to intimidate and also to gain sympathy. It’s a rewarding tale of bullying which would be well used by any college program or (mature) high school drama company.

I have my own experiences at the insecure one, the brunt of those seeking a beta male to dominate. I found an awful lot to relate to in this script.

Who should I read tomorrow?