Thursday, April 30, 2020

Play a Day: Don Quixote at Tiananmen Square

Daniel Ho
Since April 1, 2017, I have read 120 full-length plays as part of my "Play a Day" series. This year has been stranger than most, for obvious reasons, and went by, if not with speed, but without much distinction from one day to the next. But the plays stand out.

A large number of them had to do with injustice, in particular injustice against women. But they were each unique and stylish and most of them very, very good.

It is an inspiration to read these works, and I am glad to take one month a year to just binge on them.

For Thursday, the last day of April, I read Don Quixote at Tiananmen Square by Daniel Ho and posted at New Play Exchange.

The fictional knight of Cervantes appears in Bejing during the spring of 1989 to inspire a young man who sees himself as a harsh realist during a season of hope and idealism. Cervantes' Quixote was mad, and madness led him from a life of unhappiness to one of wonder and magic. Do we need to be insane to hope for freedom? To have the passion to fight against incredible odds?

When I say "we" I don't mean Americans. We don't know what form oppression takes, as fools stage protests because they cannot golf, or get haircuts. Today they, we protest on behalf of the system. I wonder how this play would appear with an all-white cast (with perhaps a Chinese-American Quixote) to illuminate what true oppression looks like. If those who would hold signs reading "Sacrifice the Weak" were to hear the words of these young Chinese students frm the mouths of those who appear like them, they might understand.

Or not. The world went mad a long time ago.

Thirty plays, thirty days. We will write, we will read. Stay well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Play a Day: Bender and Brian

Trish Harnetiaux
For Wednesday, I read Bender and Brian by Trish Harnetiaux and posted at New Play Exchange.

Earlier this month, when everyone was posting their high school senior year photos (in solidarity with the Class of 2020, I guess?) I posted the "Man of the Year" picture of the character Carl Reed, a photo which is seen very briefly at the beginning of The Breakfast Club.

It's one of those you-get-it-the-second-time joke, if you are even paying attention, because that's Carl the Janitor, played by John Kapelos (he who also played the "oily bohunk" in Sixteen Candles) who exists both as a cautionary tale to the priviledged young detentionees, and also as a sounding board for Vice Principal Vernon.
Vernon: Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me.
Carl: I wouldn't count on it.
Carl Reed
Shermer High School
Class of 1969
Did you know ..? Rick Moranis was originally cast as Carl the Janitor. That's right! He would have had the biggest name in the credits. Only Moranis wanted to play him with a Russian accent and have a gold tooth, like a total character. He insisted upon it.

I mean, that would been have awful right? Thrown off the balance of the entire film (so would have the shower scene, but that's another story.) And they got Kapelos, and the rest is history.

And then John Kapelos tagged himself on my Facebook photo and now we're Facebook friends, and life is totally random in that way.

Harnetiaux's Bender and Brian is a Gen X relationship fever dream, inspired by the (fictional) recasting of the actors who were originally to play those characters. We follow them over the course of over forty years as Brian and Bender (their actual names) develop and maintain a deep, life-long friendship.

The playwright's dialogue is incredible, I kept laughing out loud. Like a modern Godot, these two just keep bouncing off each other, they would be lost without each other's company. It is a loving and hilarious rumination on the nature of relationships, and at the same time exploring regret for the road not taken, a hallmark of our generation.

Tomorrow is the last day of April. Who should I read?

Source: Why Rick Moranis Was Fired From The Breakfast Club, Cinema Blend (3/15/2015)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Play a Day: Twenty-Seven

David Hilder
For Tuesday, I read Twenty-Seven by David Hilder and posted at New Play Exchange.

"Ok, everybody under the age of forty, OUT."

That's, like, my favorite line of dialogue I've read all month.

Twenty-Seven is a touching memoir about growing up. Just kidding, this is a riotous sex comedy about fucked up trust fund children and the inescapable damage caused being raised wealthy and shallow.

And it is also, in is special way, about growing up. About finding true happiness and supports the unglamorous truth about really great middle-age sex. Hilder has great talent with brisk and witty dialogue and sympathetic if somewhat shameful characters.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Play a Day: Wonder of Our Stage

Monica Cross
For Monday, I read Wonder of Our Stage by Monica Cross and posted at New Play Exchange.

I am currently reading The Mirror and The Light, Hilary Mantel's third book in her trilogy of the life and work of Thomas Cromwell. If the first two novels taught us anything, it was dangerous the marry Henry VIII. This third book, which I am only partway through, teaches us how dangerous it became to marry anyone even related to Henry VIII.

Last spring I first read Wonder of Our Stage during the run of King Lear at Beck Center. Cross has since created a final revision, and so I wanted to read it again.

Mantel, in her latest work, echoes the premise of Cross's play, which is how fraught it was to be a female heir to the throne or monarch herself when it comes to matrimony. To marry a male foreigner of any rank is to be subordinate to an entire nation, to marry an Englishman is to be subordinate to a subject. Because women are subordinate, and even the Queen of England couldn't change that.

Wonder of Our Stage takes the world of Harold Bloom quite literally, that Shakespearpeare "invented the human," and this play is a deeply pleasurable contemplation on the nature of what it is to be human. The playwright here also playfully tweaks the myths surrounding Shakespeare and the suggestion that did not write his own work.

In the past I have made comment on fictional plays about Shakespeare, scripts in which he is present and those in which he is not. In any of these cases the cardinal sin is that a member of the audience must have brushed up their Shakespeare in order to appreciate the many inside jokes. This is not the case with Cross's work, which is enjoyable entriely on its own. 

Elements of many of the Bard’s work, entwined with homages to Frankenstein, Pinocchio, and all stories of a child or creation in conflict with their parent or creator. Elegiac and inspiring, this script is a must-read.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Play a Day: Crying On Television

R. Eric Thomas
For Sunday, I read Crying On Television by R. Eric Thomas and posted at New Play Exchange.

Some write plays that really want to be TV shows. Too many locations, to wacky, too much self-awareness. You can tell the playwright is writing for the stage with an eye to adaption into screenplays.

With Crying On Television, Thomas has created a stage play which has agreat deal to do with our collection obsession with television programs, but it is definitely meant for the stage.

It's a heart-warming story of a cadre of folks who (may or may not) live in the same New York City apartment, but rub each other the wrong way in a genuine attempt for connection in the place where they live.

How do adults make friends in the big city? Is it as easy as it is on a sit-com? Or can we find true love on a reality show? Each character is searching for their version of Prince Charming, who could be love but may also be a real friend.

The script is also very witty, the dialgoue had me laughing out loud, and, at one terribly awkward party, even farce-adjacent. And it's sweet.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Play a Day: Slaying Holofernes

Emily McClain
For Saturday, I read Slaying Holofernes by Emily McClain and listed at New Play Exchange.

Sometimes an evocative title can create in the imagination its own narrative, and then you read a thing and find out you were entirely in another universe, or if not entirely, at least that you were wrong.

I thought "Slaying Holofernes" might be the story of taking down wistful, entrenched, and useless academics, the Holofernes of the title a reference to he who is found in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. But I was mistaken.

Judith Slaying Holofernes
(Artemisia Gentileschi, 1613)
In this case, we are referring to the biblical Holofernes, a marauding general who was beguiled by the Hebrew widow Judith, who got him drunk and cut off his head. The tale was immortalized by the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who is a subject of McClain's play.

McClain's work is an intense courtroom/boardroom drama, moving back and forth in time to detail the unfair treatment of two women in the workplace, a seventeenth century painter and a modern numbers cruncher.

The two tales compliment each other, as we are treated to compelling debates, with echoes of the Kavanaugh hearings, which was itself a repetition on a historic theme, in which women are asked the same contradictory questions in order to exonerate the man; Why did you wait to speak? Why did you not behave differently at the time? Why don't you just shut up?

The playwright's use of classical paintings, and her stage directions regarding to use of light are particularly compelling. I am drawn to plays about painters, enticed by their description of color and theme and light. This is a powerful play, enhanced by Biblical, classical, and modern atmospheres.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Play a Day: Abigail, For Now

Jackie Martin
For Friday, I read Abigail, For Now by Jackie Martin and listed at New Play Exchange.

Last night I had a dream that I was in a public library, trying to produce my half-hour radio program for broadcast on the local station. And I was trying to sit at a crowded table, full of nerds. That's how I thought of them, in my dream.

There was one guy in particular who was railing against the system in a voice we once would have refered to as "adenoidal" and I had just had it and was trying to extract my bookbag from my chair which next to his chair, because he had an entire lack of spatial awareness and I wasn't able to sit at the table in the first place, regardless.

As I stalked away, with my bag, heading over to the recording equipment I thought to myself , "Ugh! Nerds!"

I mean, I was a nerd, myself, which in those days was different than it is today. I think. I played RPGs, had a passing interest in the occult, noodled with computers (back when only nerds would own one) and listened to Genesis. And yet, I didn't go all in, I tried to pass as straight, and yes, I would disown one of my colleagues if I there was social pressure to do so.

I was on the fringes of one circle of dorks, guys who perhaps I had spent one twenty-four hour period playing a single, unending game of "Risk" with. One of our members shot himself when we were juniors. I mourned in shame, because we were friends/not-friends. We had spent good times togther. I had mocked him behind his back.

My daughter was just making new friends as a freshman when one of them she sat with at lunch also died by suicide. As a parent, the terror, worrying that your child might be removing themselves from reality, losing hope for their own future, it's real. It is unspoken. Until it must be spoken.

Playwright Jackie Martin has crafted an unsettling fable of a teenage girl who has come to believe in a reality everyone knows to be false. Her parents are sympathetic, they are real. There are no simple answers, there is no ah-ha moment when some dark secret is made evident, we are left in the dark to wonder, as they do, what has happened to Abigail?

It is a metaphor for being adolescent, to literally evolve into a new beign, with the same thoughts and memories of the child whose form is being shed. And also for what it is like, as a parent, to feel helpless in the face of inevitable change.

The ending, too, is a metaphor. Or is it?

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Play a Day: Click. Dark.

Grant MacDermott
For Thursday, I read Click. Dark. by Grant MacDermott and listed at New Play Exchange.

MacDermott has created a psychological thriller which literally set my heart racing. There were places reading this story when I could no longer breathe well. It is a tense shocker about secrets, the internet and social media, generational conflict, student-teacher relationships, taboos, truth and self-loathing. A gripping small-cast drama and truly disturbing.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Play a Day: Millenials Suck!

Alisha Espinosa
For Wednesday, I read Millenials Suck! by Alisha Espinosa and listed at New Play Exchange.

When you grew up defines your generation. But being a young adult comes with the requisite baggage of feelings and fears and it is the manner in which the latter copes with the former that makes you Millennial, Gen X, Boomer, Silent, Greatest, and so on, back and back through American history.

I mean, don't get me started. When it comes to generational politics, I am the one who gets a conference call from the lunchroom at work if the subject comes up.

Just yesterday, a Millennial cohort lamented "Why do people hate us Millennials so much Lol," and I said who are you calling people? Only Boomers do that. Another threatened to search "Millennial" on my fb page and I told them to go ahead, because I knew I was a card-carrying ally and then I told her her to search "Boomer" on my fb page and she came back and told me I am a joy to behold.

I did a "Boomer" search on my page myself and was surprised at how much shade I throw at them. It's startling.

Millenials Suck! is a collection of vignettes on a common theme, and it is alive with music and movement, packed with tales of aching and anger in the Big City. Espinosa chronicles the desire for and fear of commitment common to young adults, but complicated by the present moment.

We, Gen X, were raised in a nation that told us we should be able to have anything, because it was America, and it was easy -- our only war lasted a month and it was a rout. So any problems we have must be our own. These young adults today have seen that society collapse like a house of cards and refuse to take the blame for it, which is only correct.

If the Post-Millennials in my own home are any indication they will be much more cynical than their parents, and far more militant. But I digress.

The playwright wrestles issues of race and class and gender and ideology, with humor and style, creating a cohort of charismatic characters, trip from one small NYC apartment to the next (and also a county fair) with a wise and open heart. I loved this. I don't miss being in my twenties.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Play a Day: Cul-De-Sac

Joanie Drago
For Tuesday, I read Cul-De-Sac by Joanie Drago and listed at New Play Exchange.

Absolutely everything comes back to quarantine. Today we will post the fortieth of my short plays which have been turned into brief videos since March 15. Most of them, written before the onset of COVID-19, have taken on contemporary resonance recorded as they under shelter-at-home regulations.

Likewise, I want to stage a live, three camera performance of Cul-De-Sac, like a 70s sit-com complete with canned laughter, but also the stage blood, full frontal nudity and armfuls of carrots the text requires.

It's the boredom of quarantine, and the potential for madness I would like to express, which in this case is played for laughs, while at the same time exhibiting a keen emulation of the social commentary of (spoiler alert) Ray Bradbury.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Play a Day: How Blood Go

Lisa Langford
Twenty plays in twenty days. Like most people, I feel the days are only melting into each other.

For Monday, I read How Blood Go by Lisa Langford and posted at New Play Exchange.

Lisa's work is poetic and comic and cutting and brilliantly outlandish.

Last fall I had the pleasure of seeing the premiere of Rastus & Hattie, which was inspired by the Westinghouse "Rastus Robot" from the 1930s. Did you know Westinghouse built a prototype robot for attending to housework ... and gave it African features?

That part is true. Langford took this concept to extradordinary lengths; I wouldn't call it Afrofuturism but rather Afrohistoricism, bending time and space to satirically comment upon the African American experience.

With How Blood Go she takes studies into how black patients are treated poorly as compared to white patients by the medical establishment, and weaves it into a broader historic context.

The character Quinntasia visits her friend Did in the hospital, and goes about making her comfortable in the absence of proper care by the medical staff. "We take care of everybody," Quinntasia laments. "Who take care of us?"

While my mother was dying, she was looked after by a team of compassionate caregivers. Mostly women, mostly African American women. If black women didn't show up, America would collapse entirely.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Play a Day: Paper Cranes

Kari Bentley-Quinn
For Sunday, I read Paper Cranes by Kari Bentley-Quinn and posted at New Play Exchange.

Okay, so. First things, first. I have been asked to consider a new title for my monodrama I Hate This (a play without the baby) for performance in another country. The request was sincere, and respectful, and included a good argument for making the change in this case.

Also, yesterday I spent the afternoon rooting about in my mother's attic, appraising personal effects, making notres of the things that she had stored for someone to eventually make a decision about (not her.)

Now I am reading a play about love and mourning and I am finding it all a bit too much to take. Still, good play.

"Everyone's always infecting someone with something."

This is such a warm and tender play, full of grief and longing. I was once told I wrte plays about "decent people" and I am still not sure if that was a compliment or a criticism. So many stories are people with awful, deceitful characters, people I don't want to spend two hours with, or five minutes.

Okay, sometimes. But not usually. And they don't touch me at all.

Bentley-Quinn has crafted a sextet of inter-twined relationships and in anothers' hands they would all meet in a big, explosive, shocking reveal but surprisingly, they do not. And that was the right choice because this story of grief and loss deserved to remain at the center of the plot and not become the subject of emotional porn.

Sorry, I hate describing what this play isn't when what I meant to say is how enamored I am of what it is. A testament to the paths of grief and and th inevitability of change, and the hope that we can understand and survive the needto move forward into an uncertain future.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Play a Day: Sour Mash

Benjamin Gonzales
For Saturday, I read Sour Mash by Benjamin Gonzales and posted at New Play Exchange.

My brother's first off-campus housing, he lived in the upstairs room of a professor of English who would answer the telephone by shouting, "WHO'S THAT?"

Gonzales's play is a classic drawing room comedy of manners with additional contemporary relevance. I laughed out loud many times, the wordplay in this farce about class, race, and whiskey is truly delightful.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 17, 2020

Play a Day: John Proctor is the Villain

Kimberly Belflower
To round out the week, I am enjoying a script that I have been looking forward to for months, yet purposefully avoided.

For Friday, I read John Proctor is the Villain by Kimberly Belflower and listed at New Play Exchange.

Last weekend my new play The Witches was to have received a workshop production at Cleveland Public Theatre. As I was trying to create a modern take on the historic events of the Salem Witch Panic of 1692, I was worried that I might be influenced by this piece which has been getting a lot of attention.

I need not have worried. If anything, Belflower's play script has inspired me to return to my own text and push it further. Because her play is startlingly biting and beautiful and just what we need right now. I hope it gets produced all over the place.

And it is in reading such pieces that I feel challenged to create more and better work.

I love the title, that's first. And I was stunned and delighted that the holding company for Arthur Miller's written works granted permission for text from The Crucible to be quoted in this play. We could compare and contrast how those gatekeeping works by dead white men such as Samuel Beckett or Edward Albee have (mis)managed their estates, in this case I was gratified to know the keepers of Miller's work appreciate that criticism does not mean erasure.

Taylor Atwara, Anna Nicolosi 
Academy for the Performing Arts, 2023
Photo: Daren Stahl
John Proctor Is the Villain
is a high school drama which excellently describes the familiar manner in which woman is still pitted against woman in American society, a society still haunted by its Puritanical roots, for the continued domination by men. The cracks are beginning to show, though the light shining through them remains dim. It's a hopeful story, but also realistic. There's so much work left to be done.

This script is tense, taut, humorous, dramatic, powerful, poetic, and devastating, and high schools everywhere should be producing this.

In the past two days, I have read plays about transgressive relationships between teacher and student, this one and Meet Me In The Bathroom. One of the iconic taboos, as it is not only a violation of our communal understanding that it is criminal for adults to engage in sexual activity with children, but also represents a violation in the bond of trust between student and mentor.

It is a power play; one uses their position of power to satisfy their own desires, with little or no regard for the damage that might cause the disempowered.

As a child, or pre-adolescent, I was exposed to the Kubrick film version of Lolita, and also the popular song which name checks the author of the novel from which it was adapted, "Don't Stand So Close to Me." At that time, in these cases, such titillating fare made an impression on me because I thought of myself as the child, receiving forbidden knowledge, and not as the adult, and I was caught up in the romantic danger of it, instead of paying attention to the very apparent abuse.

This was further complicated as I entered high school and as a freshman was complicit in turning a blind eye to an actual teacher-student relationship. "Tell my parents I'm with you," is a lie teenagers have been pressed into telling on their friend's behalf since before the invention of the telephone.

Whether it be Nabokov or Sting, we used to learn about these stories from the predators point of view, one who positions himself (usually himself) as the hero. Increasingly, as with these two scripts, we see it from the student's. And that is a powerful thing.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Play a Day: Meet Me In The Bathroom

Cassie M. Seinuk
So the other day I got shamed by an actual, platinum-certified rock star for mocking the name of his band on the morning announcements in 1985.

Seriously, he took me to task for being a dick thirty-five years ago. Not that I wasn't a dick, but that's how he remembers me.

The lesson here, maybe, is never to be a dick. Ever. Not now, and not in high school.

For Thursday, I read Meet Me In The Bathroom by Cassie M. Seinuk and available at New Play Exchange. It's a cutting teenage drama, one that literally takes place entirely in one high school bathroom.

Seinuk creates a modern Greek tragedy, complete with chorus of voices, debate and off-stage violence, and the Unities followed in spirit if not the letter.

The question, for several of these teen protagonists, is when does betrayal actually happen? When an act of tragsression is committed, when the act is proposed, suggested, or as yet unspoken, living on in the mind of the perpetrator?

An intense tale for the #metoo era, flashing with on-point modern lingua (it helps that I have teenagers in my house) old wrongs fuel present actions and the conclusion is tragic for everyone involved.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Play a Day: Bone Is For Dog; Meat Is For Man

Stacey A. Bryan
We are halfway through the month of April, which is amazing. Because what is happening? In today's play, life is decsribed as "messy and loud." At the moment it is very tidy and quiet.

Too quiet.

For Wednesday, I read Bone is for Dog; Meat is for Man by Stacey A. Bryan and available at New Play Exchange.

Reading a stack of plays every April is a journey around the world, or at least this hemisphere, something we all can use right now. Stacey A. Bryan is a playwright in St. Thomas and takes us there in this play.

So many people close to me are tormented by those voices in our heads that tell us we are wrong, what we are doing is wrong, the person that we are is wrong. Bryan's protagnist Layla has a literal person in the mirror who reminds her daily of how far short she has fallen.

It's a play with a strong message about body issues, but it's also a romantic comedy and a family drama, a poetic and earthy account about seeking perfection in yourself, and acceptance with what you eventually find.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Play a Day: Peter Cratchit, Esq.

Kerr Lockhart
For Tuesday, I read Peter Cratchit, Esq. by Kerr Lockhart and available at New Play Exchange.

A sequel to Dickens's classic, the son of Bob and Emily Cratchit is the director of the charitable organization left behind by Ebenezer Scrooge. Lockhart creates snappy, witty conversation, and peoples the story with characters original and familiar, a celebration of the world of non-profit and the pople in it.

This Christmas fable takes place in the middle of August, something I can entirely sympathize with as I, too, have to begin celebrating the holidays in my own way at that time of year, sending the guidelines to our holiday writing contest to Cleveland public schools in the middle of summer.

Who should I read tomorrow?

J. Todd Adams as Bob Cratchit
(Great Lakes Theater, 2014)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Play a Day: Drowning Ophelia

Rachel Luann Strayer
For Monday, I read Drowning Ophelia by Rachel Luann Strayer and available at New Play Exchange.

Water is a powerful agent. It is a lubricant. It is an adhesive. It can cleanse. It can kill you.

The use of actual water onstage can be as disorienting as nudity. Each, handled in appropriately, can take you out of the production.

Because water is an uncertain element. You can slip. You can fall. And then there's the whole just being wet part.

In Bloody Poetry, as John Polidori I had to enter wet. I had fallen out of a boat (offstage) and had to enter dripping. For Lysistratabuckets of water were dumped on people, so much so that one hot weekend an actual fog was generated onstage due to the water and the heat.

That last production was produced at Cleveland Public Theatre, where I have seen a great deal of water used on stage, in Melissa Crum's haunting production of The Drowning Girls, and in several of Rayond Bobgan's devised works. I recall Open Mind Firmament, which concludes with W.B. Yeats (Brett Keyser) sweeping torrents of water into the air, caught by the light, sweeping in fractured arcs.

Hamlet is an inscrutible play. Shakespeare is usually pretty straight-forward. If someone is sad, it is because we just saw what has made them sad or, failing that, they will just tell us why they are sad.

Hamlet, the man, in spite of all his talk, leaves things out. Or he doesn't make sense. We are missing bits. Unfortunately, trying to divine his motivation has made people question the motivation of everyone else in this play, in spite of their more traditional Shakespearean behavior.

Ophelia tells her father that Hamlet has courted her in "honorable fashion." We should believe her, but few do. His smutty talk at the play leaves many to assume they have had sex, but it's his smutty talk. Later, she sings bawdy songs which many take to believe as commenting on their carnal experience, even going so far as to suggest that she is pregnant. Shakespeare is usually more unfront about such things.

Why does Ophelia go mad? It is because her lover rejected her and then murdered her father. Her lover murdered her father, Occam's razor.

Strayer's Drowning Ophelia is a survivor's tale, of a woman's journey to rise above the brokenness and betrayal one feels when abused by a beloved family member, one whose departure makes confrontation impossible.

Ophelia never had the opportunity to confront her abuser, and so Hamlet gets to move forward feeling as though he got something wrong and feel bad about it. Strayer's protagonist also grapples to attain peace through action, fighting madness, and we are left to hope that she some day will.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Play a Day: The Great Porn Caper

Bryan Stubbles
For Easter Sunday, I read The Great Porn Caper by Bryan Stubbles and available at New Play Exchange.

Bryan is a prolific playwright from Utah, currently staying-at-home in Jakarta (or so he claims) and a social media gadfly who has often promoted my schtick at his blog, Unknown Playwrights, which you should visit and often.

I am a big fan of his research into theater posters from across time and space. Theater posters still promote interesting and evocative graphic design, as movie posters absolutely no longer do.

The Great Porn Caper is a playfully sordid road trip for disaffected Post-Millennials (can we stop saying "Gen Z" for God's sake) which roils with absurdity and loopy wordplay while also taking the piss out of Neo-Nazis, white trash, and Donald Trump, or did I just say the same thing three times.

I would love to see a production of this play, preferably in a storefront theater with like twenty folding chairs for seats, and not just because I want to see young people in swimwear although that is part of it.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Play a Day: Marginalia

Katherine Gwynn
Traditionally, I provide a bonus post on Saturdays in April. One post is for having read a new play, the second to reflect upon a play that is currently in production, that I have just seen, or maybe even a production of my own plays.

Not so this April. I have seen plays, recorded to be broadcast on screens. My wife and I watched Lauren Gunderson's I and You at the Hampstead Theatre, we saw that on Instagram last week.

My daughter and I watched the "Great Performances" broadcast of Ken Logan's Red, starring Alfred Molina. My daughter is a visual artist, I thought she might be interested, and I am glad to say I was right.

Those are the plays we have seen in April, 2020.

For Saturday, I read Marginalia by Katherine Gwynn and available at New Play Exchange.

Gwynn celebrates marginalia, those notes found in the marins of printed works, as well as the illustraions created for illustrated manuscripts, as well as those who dwell on the margins, the powerful women, the knowledge-seeking women, the men who would live in sbsurvience to women, those who would seek non-heteronormative relationships, and the transgendered who seek to be seen for who they truly are.

Today, and with plays such as these, those historically in the margins move onto the page itself. In the 14th century abbey which is the setting for Gywnn's drama, this journey is only beginning.

The playwright also celebrates passion; passion for books, passion for reading, passion for writing, and passion for passion. It is a lively little abbey, peopled with charming characters, each seeking their own garden of earthly delights. If only the world were more like this Benedictine cloister.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 10, 2020

Play a Day: Inherited Traits

Nick Malakhow
For Friday, I read Inherited Traits by Nick Malakhow and available at New Play Exchange.

When I was a senior in high school I took Psychology. Learned a lot of things that were not helpful. You are warned not to self-diagnose, but hey. Seventeen year-olds, what are you gonna do?

We had to write a term paper. I asked, as a joke, if I could write about parapsychology. Probably heard the term first in Ghostbusters. The teacher was a gadfly, he said sure.

So I asked for a suggestion, because I didn't really want to write about ghosts or anything like that. He told me to write a paper on astral projection, so I did. He even recommended others teachers I could speak to as subhects. That was crazy.

What I most learned through my brief study was that I can respect those who have experiences that defy modern scientific understanding. I also came to understand and appreciate that I am firmly grounded in this reality and that I will never be able to open my mind to have such experiences.

Or maybe that's not true. There was a period in college where I was separated from my physical self and at that time, perhaps. I was leaning into the Dreamworld and finding I could spend some time there.

If this all sounds silly to you, congratulations. You are firmly grounded in this reality.

Malakhow spins a tale of ghosts and relations, for it is the ghosts of relations who haunt us the most.

These past few nights I have been thinking of mom before sleep, and feeling quite melancholy. It comes at me with surprise, and quite hard. Only at bedtime, though. There's too much to think about during the day.

Isaac in the play Inherited Traits is also haunted by his mother, who she was or is. And by her literal astral self, who can only see so far herself, even in this state.

I always wonder, does Hamlet's father know everything once he's dead? Does he understand the past? Or is he still limited by his own experience being murdered, and the seeing his brother and wife together in the aftermath of his death? If we do have life after death, what is the extent of our consciousness?

The narrative in this play has tension and humor, an ingithful view into generations of shame but also care, and a lot of open wounds begin to heal.

Who shoud I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Play a Day: Aliquippa

Lydia Valentine
For Thursday, I read Aliquippa by Lydia Valentine and available at New Play Exchange.

Lately I have been made aware of the use of board games to illustrate to young people (and not young people) the concept of instutitional racism.

One example, in brief: Four people play Monolpoly. Actually, two play, and two watch. The two people playing move around the board, accumulting property and wealth.

After maybe a half hour to forty-five minutes, the other two are invited to join the game. Two people have all of the wealth and property, and the other two have nothing but are free to move about the board, scraping together cash and paying rent for everything. Got it? That's America.

With her play Aliquippa, Valentine has composed a painful and joyful family drama of tragedy and hope. Four generations of Lockwoods aspire to difficult dreams in a nation where the rules remain set against African Americans. The playwright neatly weaves issues of economics, chemical dependence, and raising non-heteronormative children, providing each of her characters the opportunity to have a voice, doing so with a great deal of warmth and familial humor.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Using Monopoly to Introduce Concepts of Race and Ethnic Relations by Warren Warren, The Journal of Effective Teaching (2011)
The Disturbing History of the Suburbs, Adam Ruins Everything (2017)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Play a Day: Be a Mensch

Daniel Takacs
For Wednesday, I read Be a Mensch by Daniel Takacs and available at New Play Exchange.

Four years ago, which may as well be a lifetime ago, we were talking about four hundred dollars. As in, what percentage of Americans are four hundred dollars from crisis. That that is the line between moving forward, and total disaster.

Asking for charity has less stigma than it used to. It still has a stigma, no question. But how many people do you know have been assisted by a Go Fund Me page - maybe set up by someone on someone else's behalf - to get them through a difficult economic time?

Socialism remains a dirty word, state-sponsored socialism. But we practice private socialism every day. Targeted assistance. I give my money to help the people I know. But it's not much. It's never enough. Imagine if we all gave to help everyone. But Americans don't want to help everyone, because we hate those other people.

Now, to family. Whether we're teaching Salesman or Glass Menagerie, we ask the question, what do we owe family? Do we owe them anything? What do they owe us?

Takacs has created a modern sit-com with Be a Mensch, a Jewish Glass Menagerie (complete with fragile unicorn) in which the eldest son is also faced to choose between his family and self-determination, dominated by a larger-than-life absent father figure. Only in this case Abram is not dreamily self-involved as Tom Wingfield is, but harshly realistic.

It's a coming of age story, one with a much more satisfying, if troubling, conclusion than Tennessee Williams's memory play.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sources: Could You Come Up With $400 If Disaster Struck? Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR (4/23/2016)
The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans by Neal Gablet, The Altantic (5/2016)

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Play a Day: Her Own Devices

Lindsay Adams
Seven plays in seven days! Life swims past you when you never leave your house. For Tuesday, I read Her Own Devices by Lindsay Adams and available at New Play Exchange.

An appropriate read for these peculiar times. A pre-adolescent girl has been captive her entire life, held as a test subject ostensibly for her own safety. She has an autoimmune disorder, and absoluely any pathogens will kill her.

Or at least, that is the premise. That is what we are told. That is what any of us are told. What if COVID-19 is a myth and everything we have been told is a lie for some other purpose. Everyone staying indoors, no longer working, forbidden - by the state - from meeting in groups.

It's a good thing we have faith in our government instutitions. But I digress. Or do I?

The protagonist, the girl Madeline, would be inscrutible except we are let into her thoughts by way of her imaginary friend, and Adams has created a mind at once expanded and crippled by a lifetime of isolation and increasing mistrust by her doctors/captors.

This is a search for what is true and what is not, and also questions whether our inherent free-will is something we should really be happy about.

Who should I read tomorrow?


Monday, April 6, 2020

Play a Day: My Father Left Us and All I Got Was This Rembrandt

Ryan Bultrowicz
For Monday, I read My Father Left Us and All I Got Was This Rembrandt by Ryan Bultrowicz and available at New Play Exchange.

Been thinking a lot about casual sex lately. Not the sex part, the casual part. The agreement part, the apartment part. The negotiation, the passion (or lack thereof) and the conversation. Before, during after. Mostly before. What was that like? I mean, what was I saying, way back then? I shudder to think.

Bultrowicz here crafts a compact case of coitus interruptus, a potential hook-up which is uncoupled by the roommate, a savant of unfixed gender (they are referred to as sometimes he, then she, but never they) whose interest in jigsaw puzzles becomes a puzzle to piece togther a masterpiece.

It's a witty Millennial moment about relationships, as the invited guest gets to know these two who bicker like affectionate siblings, exchanging sharp, intelligent yet blasé banter. Nothing good happens past 2 AM.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Play a Day: Junk Bonds

Lucy Wang
For Sunday, I read Junk Bonds by Lucy Wang whose work is posted at New Play Exchange.

Here's a story. Twenty-five years, I had burned my prospects to the ground. My ex-wife was gone, my theater company had broken up, I was waiting tables, living alone, and needed a hernia operation.

So naturally, I auditioned for a play.

In 1994 Junk Bonds received the Chilcote Award for Best Play at the Cleveland Public Theatre 13th Annual New Plays Festival, and received a full production there in May 1995.

I believed I was perfect for the role of Connor, a hyperkinetic trader in his early 30s and losing his hair, but instead was offered the role of Kent, an ex-Marine in his "early-to-mid 40s" which is to say someone entirely unlike me. I was sorely miscast and should have turned down the part outright, and that is a lesson I offer to my young protégés. You feel like you have to say yes to absolutely everything, even if it doesn't feel right. I tell them there is always another play.

The scene is a financial services firm, the plot regarding one trader sinking the company through incremental, overwhelming loss. A quarter century on, the script is as relevant as ever. But it is a time capsule from when the trading floor was dominated by men and the business was done almost entirely over the phone. Before the internet, before 9/11, before the housing meltdown of 2008, and yet it could happen again.

Wang's rapid-fire banter, chatter and verbal abuse is deliriously loopy, poetry in and of itself, where masculaine toxicity is a sport, one the protagonist Diana, a Chinese-American, the new girl, has to learn or lose.

I didn't understand half of what I was saying, way back then. That's okay, the director didn't either. What I should have caught was the use of the word "junk" as in heroin. Because this play is totally about addiction.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Play a Day: Riot and Dishonor

Luke Brett
For Saturday, I read Riot and Dishonor: A Tale of Teenage Falstaff by Luke Brett and available at New Play Exchange.

Everyone makes Shakespeare references. Just last week Bob Dylan released a fifteen minute song abou the Kennedy assassination called Murder Most Foul, a line from Hamlet and I should know, I said it.

Then there are the many plays divined from the works of Shakespeare, prequels and sequels and stories retold from the point of view of other characters, completely abusrd or deadly serious. Some of them are even okay.

Lisa Ortenzi, Kelly Elliott,
Leah Smith, Tyler Collins
Reading at Nighttown (February 2018)
Writing in the voice of Shakspeare is a trick and challenge. You are, after all, setting yourself up for a harsh comparison. On the other hand, take it too lightly what have you done? Set your standards lower than you might otherwise? What self-respecting writer would choose to do that?

Well, Luke Brett would. Riot and Dishonor is an origin story for Sir John Falstaff. We meet young Jack as a kid, with his trusty sidekick Bardolph, and follow him as he becomes the cowardly, alcoholic rake Harold Bloom called "the greatest personality in all of Shakespeare."

Brett joyfully mangles English, creating absurd metaphor, and laugh out loud abusive language. This Pythonesque insanity set to imabic pentameter put me in mind of the works of Kirk Wood Bromley, whose delirious forays into verse were nearly psychedelic.

I had the pleasure to hear a reading of this play a few years ago, and it was a non-stop riot, indeed, from beginning to end.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Play a Day: Faire

Annette Storckman
For Friday, I read Faire by Annette Storckman and available at New Play Exchange.

True story, my very first Shakespearean performance was at a Renaissance Fair. For twenty-five years or so my hometown held a pretty popular one Labor Day weekend. The drama club at our high school whipped up a production of the "Pyramus & Thisbe" scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. I was one of the heckling lovers.

The "rude mechnicals" work, decimating this forerunner of the tragic Romeo and Juliet story should by all rights be drop-dead hilarious ... if it weren't for the heckling lovers. Bottom and his mechanicals are funny. Priviledged young people, smugly mocking these adorable, amateur performers, with their smug and horribly dated jokes, is not.

An ye harm none, do what thou wilt. - The Wiccan Rede

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. - Aleister Crowley

With her play Faire, Storckman takes us backstage for an exuberant and somewhat melancholy look a the complicated and intertwined lives of a company of Ren Fest performers.

Those who live this life of fantasy live apart from traditional American society, and often imagine themselves dwelling in a universe parallel to ours. It can be liberating, especially if one has felt constricted by social norms, to persue your bliss, whatever that may be.

In the case of the central couple of Brian and Nikki, married with a newborn, their engagement in polyamory appears to result, as it does with so many who engage in "open marriage" not as a source of freedom and joy, but as a way of coping with dissatisfaction in their relationship. Or maybe that's just me, speaking from experience.

As much as they try to escape the dominant paradigm, a patriarchal hierarchy reigns supreme, as women struggle to be the next queen.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Play a Day: Joker

Yilong liu
For Thursday, I read Joker by Yilong Liu and available at New Play Exchange.

The recent passing of Terrence McNally took me back to the mid 1990s. I am not proud to say this, but the only McNally play I have ever seen was A Perfect Ganesh at Dobama Theatre. Not one of his better-known works, it tells the story of two older women from Connecticut who travel to India as much for adventure as to escape from the reality of the deaths of their sons.

I learned about the trials of being homosexual and coping with the trauma that comes from living in a society which condemns homosexuality from such plays. Even then, people I knew who were and are gay were not out or were only then in the process of coming out.

And Dobama produced a variety of plays in that time, about that experience, including Ganesh, The Food Chain by Nicky Silver, My Night With Reg by Kevin Elyot, and of course, they were the first Cleveland theater to produced Angels in America. All in the course of just a couple years.

Non-hetero relationships have become mainstreamed in such a short period of time. Eleanor's bisexuality in The Good Place wasn't even a thing, and that was a hit network sit-com. We've come a long way from Ellen.

But not far enough. With Joker Liu chronicles a moment in the recent past, the breakthrough of marriage equality in the United States, in this case in the state of Hawaii, and also the continuing struggle for equal rights in the Philippines. As recently as last January the Philippine Supreme Court struck down another case for marriage equality this time "with finality." Or so they say.

An intimate family drama set against the backdrop of momentous events, Joker is a keen mystery, as we try to understand and sympathize with Joe, a closeted man whose efforts to do right by the man he loves is misinterpreted by all those around him. The playwright does a masterful job creating tension and an inscrutibly frustrating emotional puzzle which when unlocked reveals the many layers to a character who has kept so much pain hidden for so long.

Who should I read tomorrow?

"Philippines Supreme Court rules against marriage equality 'with finality'" by Juwan J. Holmes, LGBTQNation (1/7/2020)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Play a Day: We Will Not Describe the Conversation

Eugenie Carabotsos
Starting in the year 2017, I began dedicating the month of April to reading one full-length play each day from those posted at New Play Exchange.

In that time I have not only had my eyes open to the wide variety of new work being created by modern American playwrights, but I've even made some friends.

For Wednesday, I read We Will Not Describe the Conversation by Eugenie Carabatsos.

My only experience with Dostoevsky's novel Crime & Punishment was the compact, 90-minute stage adaptation for three actors, written by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus that played the Cleveland Play House a little over ten years ago.

Carabotsos takes her inspiration from one passing phrase in Dostoevsky's book to apply that writer's theory about human nature to the 21st century.

The Russian novelist foresaw the horrors of the near-future, of those who would believe our race divided between the men and the Super-men, and to ensure that the Cro-Magnon finally kill the last Neanderthal.

What resonates in this new work is the modern belief that we are right (whoever we are) and that they are wrong (whoever they are) and that our rightness justifies any action, and any statement. There are no disagreements, there are no differences of opinion, there is right and there is wrong. And it is this sense of being right that makes one superior to the other.

We are free to define our own reality, and in that definition we reign supreme. Carabotsos describes our society, one in which paranoia and alienation dominate our actions.

Who should I read tomorrow?