Saturday, May 1, 2021

Process XXVII

NEOMFA Playwrights Festival (2021)
Perhaps this is fortuitous, but this is the week I hit the wall. Maybe it is completion anxiety, or the expectation of great things unsatisfied. I want to leave town. I want to visit England with my family. I want everything unhappy to end.

Play a Day was very challenging this year. The reading was good, but it wasn’t about the reading. I was so busy with other things it felt like a chore, which is a shame.

The playwright’s festival was marred by technical difficulties and to be honest, it filled me with anxiety to be in a public space. The screening was held outdoors, and it was cold.

While I am thrilled about my daughter’s impending high school graduation, I am constantly reminded of everything she did not get to participate in during her senior year.

But, all right. The fiction writing workshop has come to a close. I am working on a half-hour radio drama for craft and theory inspired by the works of Firesign Theatre, that is due Monday. Then I can concentrate entirely on the comic book, which is due the following Tuesday.

And that will be two semesters finished. Classes on Zoom are no longer novel, none of this is. It is convenient, but soul-sucking, and I got a stress headache on Tuesday night trying to look at my screen outdoors, in the good weather.

Speaking of which, some guys have put in a patio. I spent last summer staring at a backyard covered in cardboard (to kill the grass) and I hope this summer will be very different, in so many ways. Last night, we got drinks and attended a movie. In a movie theater, It was weird.

Happy May Day!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Play a Day: Cracked

Gwydion Suilebhan
For Friday, I read Cracked by Gwydion Suilebhan and posted at New Play Exchange.

For 2021, I conclude with a short play, not a full-length play. And I do so for several reasons. First of all, I am tired. It has been a long month. I have final projects to complete, polish and turn in before the end of the semester.

But I do not choose a short play out of resignation, far from it. I do so because this is my project, and so I celebrate the completion of another month of plays with a lagniappe. Yes, that should more appropriately come tomorrow, the “something extra”, but as I said, this is my project, and if that bothers you, you can suck it.

Speaking of which, this short play is about the egg. Not any particular egg, but the egg in general. The incredible, edible egg. And it was written by a good egg, Gwydion Suilebhan, Project Director for New Play Exchange, without whom I would not have had the opportunity to read all of these plays. And by that I don’t mean 30 plays, I mean those 149 full-length plays I have read since the beginning of April, 2017. And this one, short play.

In this short play, this six page monologue, Suilebhan presents a lyric and gentle rumination on the nature of existence, bundled into a small, delicate spheroid. A provocative, promised “demonstration” takes the shape of a sermon, through which the egg represents all things, and no thing. It’s a gorgeous piece of surprising depth.

And with that, I have read thirty plays in thirty days. The imagined thoughts of real people, reimagined classic plays and fables, the shockwaves of historic events, traveled across the nation and the cosmos, troubled and troublesome relationships. All written for our as yet still empty stages.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Play a Day: Fremont Junior High is NOT Doing “Oklahoma”!

Paul Michael Thomson
For Thursday, I read Fremont Junior High is NOT Doing “Oklahoma”! by Paul Michael Thomson and posted at New Play Exchange.

“A lot of classics are racist. And sexist. Or even homophobic! That doesn’t mean we stop doing them. We just take the good with the bad and maybe, you know, make a comment about it or something.”

And here we are.

The drama coach at Fremont Junior High has chosen Oklahoma for that year’s musical, and in a short period of time those dedicated, fourteen year-old students who will compose the company have broken into factions which reflect the current moment in national theater: do we produce a problematic yet popular American musical featuring a diverse cast, which may serve to undermine the worser aspects of the work and provide visibility and advantage to BIPOC these performers OR create a new, so-called divised play reflecting Gen Z anxiety and concerns which may not actually be good and no one’s going to want to see but at least it’s not fucking Oklahoma?

This play is so funny, even Thomson’s stage directions are hilarious.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Play a Day: What Was Lost

Steven Carl McCasland
For Wednesday, I read What Was Lost by Steven Carl McCasland and posted at New Play Exchange.

I have put the dead white male playwrights on a shelf for a while (except for, you know, that one) but I still hold a certain regard for those frustrating American navel-gazers of the mid-twentieth century, Miller and Williams. Miller fancied himself a poet but he only ever wrote a weird kind of prose. It is Williams whose work truly sings with beautiful melody.

The one thing they most had in common was the chosen subject matter of all of their plays; themselves.

McCasland has created a creation myth, about the original production of The Glass Menagerie. But he does not center the playwright but the ageing star, Laurette Taylor, who originated the role of Amanda Wingfield. It is a story of recovery, poetic in its own fashion, as Taylor presents at AA meetings, her stories of personal struggle rival that of Tom, the narrator of the play she is starring in.

Williams plays his part as well, an alcoholic philosopher who inspired his mother figure into sobriety, for her own sake, but really for his, you know?

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Play a Day: Alien Motel 29: The Secret Outtakes of the Ebony Lady Macbeth

Robert Alexander
For Tuesday, I read Alien Motel 29: The Secret Outtakes of the Ebony Lady Macbeth by Robert Alexander and posted at New Play Exchange.

Shakespeare liked a good gangster film. Macbeth? Brutus? Hamlet? Gangsters. Okay, not Hamlet. But conspiracy to commit murder to gain power or maintain the order. What are the terrorists but what the big army calls the little army?

Alexander’s script takes its inspiration from “the Scottish play” reinterpreting it as a cross-generational Afrofuturist fever dream, in which Top Dollar and Lady Lava aspire to dominance in a poetic fantasy replete with vengeful ghosts, mysterious strangers and sex robots.

It's a trip, it's got a funky beat, and I can bug out to it.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Play a Day: Clyt; or, the Bathtub Play

Elizabeth Giffin Speckman
For Monday, I read Clyt; or, the Bathtub Play by Elisabeth Giffin Speckman and posted at New Play Exchange.

“It wasn't until I gave birth that I started to think a lot about dying.” This line struck me particularly, because it is absolutely true. I never thought seriously of death or dying until my wife was first pregnant. Because he died, and she may well have. But then, after having subsequent, living children, it never stopped. To have a child is to put your heart into another living thing and watch it move about on its own. And one day, to move away.

My daughter leaves for college later this year. It’s beautiful. It’s worrying.

Speckman’s script tells the story of the period of the Trojan War from the point of view of Clytemnestra, sister to Helen, wife to Agamemmnon. Things do not go well for any of them. Except, I guess, Helen. She is often depicted as feckless and self-involved, she is a canvas for whatever the male writer thinks of women.

In this case she is the sibling who went away and had fun and attention while Clytemnestra remains at home, to do the things that mothers are expected to do. Care for the children, manage the relationships, and wait. Bath time is “me time” and she does seem to deserve a great deal of that.

The playwright playful anachronrizes the tale, it is then, but also now, with phones and media and humorous, contemporary turns of phrase. But it’s comic relief, which serves to make the tragedy, the drama bearable, not to send it up. The protagonist endures such grief, the absence of her husband, the murder of one child, the dismissive behavior of her other children.

She is left alone, and when the “great” Agamemmnon returns she does exact her revenge, but there is no joy in it. Why would there be?

I would imagine most productions would eschew the use of an actual bath. There’s the nudity thing, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s water. Water is the most villainous of stage elements. A water actor can develop a chill, the water can become contaminated. And then there is the danger of slipping, falling, twisting, breaking.

But in the right hands it is so magical.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Process XXVI

"The Children Who Played at Slaughtering"
Directed by Dan Riordan
Animation by Chris Gleason
My Saturday routine has been to draw all day, and especially in the evening. I have been slavishly dedicated to the all-request show Radio Free Current, where Sean McPherson refers to me as “David from Cleveland.” He’d call me that anyway, but it provides me a distinction from “David from Las Vegas.” We are both dedicated listeners. 

Perhaps it would have been worth it to bring the drawing table out of storage, but there is literally nowhere we could have put it without it being in the way for the entire semester.

This week, as I was drafting the text for the final page, I began to get depressed. Already! Completion depression, and I am not even close to finished! It needs to be turned in by May 11. I am in the zone, though. Last week I was behind, and I spent the entire weekend catching up.

But last night I was not drawing. Because I was done! I did the whole page on Friday. I mean, I’m not done-done, I need to go back and clean things up, add some backgrounds. However, the big work is complete.

Click on for detail.
I also need to write a radio drama. This is also a thing I have done. I have been repurposing a lot of my work this semester, which I am entirely justified in doing (he said somewhat defensively) because it’s about form, not originality. I adapted a comic book from a short play, there are other unproduced works that might make for good radio drama.

Speaking of which, tonight is the 2021 NEOMFA Playwriting Festival. Five short films will be presented at the Tremont Taphouse, including an adaptation of The Children Who Played at Slaughtering. It’s an eight minute film, directed by Dan Riordan, animated by Chris Gleason, with all the voices performed by Jo Roueiheb.

I’ve seen a preview. The team improved on the text, by which I mean, they changed text and for the better. It has a better ending line than the one I wrote. Also, because it is animation, they were able to add a lot of business that isn't in the text, but comments on the text, on the horrible world the kids see around them, and I love that. It’s a real collaborative effort.

Play a Day: The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up

Carla Ching
For Sunday, I read The Two Kids Who Blow Shit Up by Carla Ching and posted at New Play Exchange.

When I was younger, I held the belief that I would have one of those relationships which lasted my entire life, from childhood and on through to whenever. I held onto this belief for longer than was necessary, but when I look back it really wasn’t that long. Life really does seem to go on forever when you’re in the middle of it.

Still, I love those stories that span decades about people who are each other’s one, less than perfect soulmates, much more than friends.

Max and Diana were united when their parents began sleeping together, and over the next thirty years they manage their folks and themselves, two souls entwined in a need for trust, for having one person that they can entirely count on.

And that’s hard. To be the child of divorce, to have addictions, enter into unstable relationships. To clean up after each other’s messes, and those of their parents. It’s a very touching, soul-bearing work that jumps back and forth in time, from childhood to middle years, and all points in between, creating a tapestry of love and dependence. It’s worth it to have someone.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 24, 2021

I Hate This: Westfield Rehearsal Period

James Alexander Rankin
Rehearsals for I Hate This have continued, in my absence. It’s good not to be there, so Chennelle and James can play and collaborate and make big choices and fail and achieve without concern for what the person this play is about might be thinking.

Adapting the script into a screenplay I actually returned a few lines that I had previously cut. There’s a joke about the things I didn’t say to an offending nurse. Only I couldn’t sell it as a joke, and it made the moment angry. But James can, and now it works the way it was supposed to.

There are things that I can write that I cannot perform. How interesting is that?

Then there are those moments that no longer work, or perhaps they never did, or they just won’t work here. “Don’t just play angry,” I say. Well, what about those moments which just seem angry, and without purpose? They teach nothing, they show nothing, they mean something to me, but to no one else. Can I let those go?

Yes. Yes, I can let those go. Now, I can let those go.

Attending a run-through on Friday night I was delighted by James’ elastic presence. He is very playful and passionate, with a fluidity and a dramatic flair that I do not have. He’s using his talents to tell our story, it is performative (and my goodness, that word has been receiving some abuse lately) and dramatic, and he has permission to do this and an audience can receive it in a way they could not if it were me.

I recently discovered that a young man in Minnesota is representing his high school at the state speech and debate tournament using a piece from this play in the “Serious Interpretation” category. Others have requested it, this is the first time I have been aware of anyone actually doing it. I wish I knew what piece he had chosen to perform!

The director and I shared notes after at Parnell’s, sitting out in the cool night air of Playhouse Square, watching drunken CSU students making their way in packs, up and down Euclid Avenue. I am vaccinated, so is she. The world has opened up a crack, and I hope we do not regret it.

Playhouse Square will premiere "I Hate This (a play without the baby)" in Summer 2021. Details to come.

Play a Day: The Sugar Ridge Rag

Philip Middleton Williams
For Saturday, I read The Sugar Ridge Rag by Philip Middleton Williams and posted at New Play Exchange.

Those who most loudly proclaim the importance of American “freedom” are ironically the least independent people in our society. They listen to their leaders, and they blindly follow. In the past, that meant going to war wherever they were sent. Today it means not getting vaccinated.

Williams’ sweet family drama is about identical twins Dave and Pete in the early 1970s. One enlists in the army, to become a medic. The other heads to Canada, to go to school, but also to stay. He won’t go when drafted, not just because he’s gay, but becaue he doesn’t believe in it.

What is unique is this piece is that it is not a Vietnam era tragedy in which the father is a bellicose, authoritarian bigot or the mother a homophobic shrew. They are accepting, if not immediately, then easily. Their love of their children is more important than societal pressure or their own generational impulses.

No, the conflict is between the brothers and their separation. This play is a picture of how this war, which tore apart a nation, failed to tear apart one family, which is an uplifting tale to hear.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 23, 2021

Play a Day: Last Ship to Proxima Centauri

Greg Lam
For Friday, I read Last Ship to Proxima Centauri by Greg Lam and posted at New Play Exchange.

So-called “cancel culture” is the phrase used by those who feel threatened by the idea of one being held accountable for one’s own actions. Tearing down a Confederate statue is not erasing history, it is no longer accepting the adulation of bad history. The history remains, but we will no longer allow it to be held up as an example of good behavior.

How will future generations judge us? Four, five mass shootings in the span of one week? And we remain indoors, we aren’t in the streets, we have not called for the resignation of every elected official for their refusal to act? What does that say about us? Are we not all responsible?

Lam’s play Last Ship to Proxima Centauri is fucking hilarious, and deeply troubling. And fucking hilarious. What if the Americans were the last to arrive at a planet already resettled by all those other survivors of our dying planet, none of whom are of European ancestry? Why on Earth (or Yeni Dünya, the “New World”) would they not be less than happy to see us?

“They all had guns. And they shot all the blacks all the time.” That is our history, as it is remembered. Any argument to the contrary begins, “Whatabout ?”

What keeps this play charging along are those gut punches Lam includes, without additional commentary, suggesting that the 100,000 Americans held in stasis for the 2,000 journey include some “very fine people” or when the one BIPOC American who is received during the ship’s crash landing defends the reputation of white Americans by stating that “most of my friends are white.”

It’s devastating, devastatingly funny, and now I need to write my Senators.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Play a Day: Syd

Craig Houk
For Thursday, I read Syd by Craig Houk and posted at New Play Exchange.

On the evening of June 24, 1973, the Up Stairs Lounge on the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans was intentionally set on fire. The fast-moving and intense blaze lasted for only twenty minutes, but in that time 32 people were killed. The Up Stairs Lounge was a popular hangout for the NOLA gay community, and until the Pulse shooting in 2016 was the single greatest tragedy targeting the gay community in American history.

“If God is love, then why is the world so filled with hate?”

This true history is the backdrop to the tale of two families, neighbors. The Larson family has a son named Roscoe who does not appear on stage. The Trahan’s daughter, Sydney (or Syd, of the title) is studying to be a nurse. Roscoe is a gay man, Sydney is a lesbian. They have both spent time at the Up Stairs Lounge.

How the parents either do or do not come to terms with who their children are is at the root of this tale. Living in a more accepting place and time, it is difficult to imagine the kind of murderous hatred people can feel, even toward their own children. Each parent self-defines as Christian, though each has a different idea of exactly what that means.

This is a devastating, often ugly, and ultimately hopeful expression of love, faith, family, and acceptance.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Play a Day: Frozen Fluid

Fly Jamerson
For Wednesday, I read Frozen Fluid (An Antarctic Gender Non-Conforming Creation Myth) by Fly Jamerson and posted at New Play Exchange.
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” - Rev 22:13
An Antarctic fever dream, stretching back to the beginning of recorded time to the present moment, from when humans were all genders in one being, before being split apart by the gods, or by God, or by nature. For original life on Earth was one gender, all life was all one.

All-One! Dilute! Dilute! OK!
(If you get it, you get it.)

Three researchers (each who happen to identify as one of three genders) investigate the implications of global climate change, its effects on plankton and algae blooms, and the calamity of masses of dying whales. Exhibiting either dreams or madness, each get caught in spectacular considerations on identity, the importance of naming the animals, as Adam was said to have done, naming themselves, and naming each other.

What’s in a name? A name is a symbol that represents the individual. I changed my name when I turned eighteen, and I have never regretted that decision.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Play a Day: Mama Bear

Sharon Harris Warrick
For Tuesday, I read Mama Bear by Sharon Harris Warrick and posted at New Play Exchange.

A play about women and about mothers, and also about the men who fail them. This is a prison story, three African American and one white woman occupying two cells. One of them has committed what most would consider the most heinous crime, the murder of their own child. It is the stuff of classic tragedy, recast in a modern setting, or at least, late twentieth century.

Warrick has created four distinct personalities who bounce off of each other with varying degrees of caution, and it is those moments where they feel the freedom to be honest that connections are finally made. The enemy is out there, it is not each other. This is a generous tale about the eternal sisterhood.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Play a Day: Misfit, America

Nelson Diaz-Marcano
For Monday, I read Misfit, America (An American Western With Color) by Nelson Diaz-Marcano and posted at New Play Exchange.

Let us speak of Replacement Theory. White Supremacy, now in its death throes, wails about their fear of being replaced. They fear their dominance has already passed (which is nonsense) and that they face an existential threat, one which is based on the idea that White is a “race” and that it may someday vanish.

So what if it did? That is a question for another time. I, for one, am not truly concerned that, for example, the works of Shakespeare will pass from this earth. There is room enough for all writing, and all people.

“We will not be replaced!” cried the Tiki Torch wielding dickheads at Charlottesville, four years ago. One of America’s most prominent white supremacists, Tucker Carlson, has been flouting the word “replacement” when discussing the advancement of voting rights for people of color. White votes are being “replaced” and “diluted”. He acknowledges and mocks the term “white replacement theory” even as he uses to promote voter suppression. We call that gaslighting.

In this play, Diaz-Marcano presents America in microcosm, a desert town called Slab City in which a reformed Nazi skinhead and his Afro-Carribean Latinx lover live on the outskirts of Western civilization, caring for their two-spirited Native and adopted child Támit. Striving to create a new future, the past returns for revenge and though there is great loss, the younger generation are able to escape and move into a New America, to be two of those the character named Roberta calls those “great people in between the stars and stripes.”

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Play a Day: Robert Hawkes is a Vampire

David L. Munnell
For Sunday, I read Robert Hawkes is a Vampire by David L. Munnell and posted at New Play Exchange.

There are people in your life who, though you may have only known them a relatively short span, occupy such a grand picture in your imagination, embodying such a familiar type and yet entirely unique unto themselves, that it feels that not only have they always been with you, they have always been. Such a man is Robert Hawkes.

I call him Robert Hawkes. I think we all do. Can’t call him Hawkes, or Mister Hawkes, certainly not Robert or any of its diminutives, he is Robert Hawkes. English teacher, actor, playwright, lover, bonvivant, curmudgeon, that old guy you get to do the outdoor Shakespeare.

He played Lear to my Kent. We like to tweak each other on Facebook. He is one classy fuck.

It makes complete sense that David Munnell would choose to create a play with Robert Hawkes as the central character, because someone had to. And he has created a remarkable simulacrum of the old man, one who enjoys words, the company of women, and a microwave dinner.

It would not surprise me at all to discover he is actually a vampire, though it does make me shudder to think of all the driving back and forth to Lakewood we did.

Robert Hawkes
(Vampire)
The point being, it makes perfect sense that Munnell would make Robert Hawkes into the character at the center of this play because we all have a Robert Hawkes. Some of us have two. This could also be my wife’s grandfather. You don’t have to know Robert Hawkes for this to work, because you someone who is. Inquiries could include a request to change the name to the guy like that in your town. 

Some day, I will be Robert Hawkes. I lie awake at night, wondering if I already am.

The night in question, a trio of women (Fates? Weird Sisters? Wives of Dracula?) visit Robert Hawkes in his home in search of ancient and forbidden knowledge, the Vampyr Prognostica. And they have a dance of language, which is the best kind of dance, and you are led to wonder if he is, in fact, a vampire, or just some guy who has read a lot of books.

I mean, it’s right there in the title. But you still wonder.

This is a gothic mystery with a great deal of wry and witty wordplay, and also a copiously horrific amount of blood which is also delightful.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Process XXV

They say that two-thirds of the way through any endeavor, a person becomes distracted, unmotivated, desiring to quit, perhaps. Don’t ask me who “they” are, but I have heard it more than once. 

Forty-five minute class? You start watching the clock at thirty minutes. Six week rehearsal process? You start losing your focus around week four, wondering if the show will ever open. After six months of pregnancy, the father leaves.

Okay, maybe not. But maybe?

It didn’t happen to me last semester, I drove straight through without stopping to question. But after creating six out of nine panels for my queer comic, I just kind of lost it. Page six is inked but incomplete, seven is an unfinished pencil. I’m actually going to start page eight, to keep leaning forward towards completion. In that way, I may be able to bang, bang, bang, finish them all one after the other.

My wife reminds me that I have been goggling at how far ahead I have been, on everything, that I only think I’m behind because I have slowed down a bit. I think she’s right. I’m glad I didn’t leave after the sixth month.

This week I also wrote up the second part of my story about race in the 1980s for the fiction writing class. Next weekend will be quite eventful, Saturday night is the premiere of the All-Ohio Show for the 2021 State Thespian conference (see graphic for details) for which I am an advisor, and on Sunday the NEOMFA short films will debut at a bar downtown.

That’s weird. I wrote a thing. And then I will witness an animated film created from that thing I wrote. And I have zero idea what that is going to look like.

Play a Day: Bill Clinton Hercules

Rachel Mariner
For Saturday, I read Bill Clinton Hercules by Rachel Mariner and posted at New Play Exchange.

It was not my intention to read a play about Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton this go-round, but these things happen. What I found surprising about the work is that it was written before the 2016 election. It is a monologue of the 42nd President giving a speech to a public audience. These are not meant to be private thoughts, these are the thoughts that he is choosing to share.

And overshare. Clinton was one for oversharing, at least as far as Presidents go.

Three years ago, the Slate podcast Slow Burn revisited the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal. It was revelatory, it was eye-opening. It was shame inducing. Shame because yes, we defended him. Yes, we said his personal life was none of our business. Yes, because it was a Republican staged sham and entirely unfair.

Because this play is told from his perspective, he cleverly acknowledges the scandal, and more than cleverly he dismisses it. He has always missed his momma. And Monica was a flirt. And he was the most powerful man on earth.

"Bill Clinton"
Pristina, Kosovo
That is the true narrative of this piece, which is beautifully and believably written. The comparison between himself and Hercules, the demigod who returns to earth to instruct and lament man’s inability to abandon hate and mistrust for peace. Here the master orator, code-switching as necessary, between Bubba and William Jefferson Clinton, espousing his love of Arkansas watermelon at one moment, and Nelson Mandela the next.

Did you know there is a statue of Bill Clinton in Pristina, Kosovo? Now you do and so do I.

This Bill Clinton comes to lament the decisions he’s made, but only insofar as it relates to a greater peace, and domestic surveillance. He says nothing of damaging the social safety net, encouraging the prison-industrial complex, or again, what he refers to as “his love life.”

His love for his wife appears genuine, and he truly believes she will be elected in November 2016. But then, we all did.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 16, 2021

Play a Day: Father/Daughter

Kait Kerrigan
For Friday, I read Father/Daughter by Kait Kerrigan and posted at New Play Exchange.

I love this, because it is about a Gen X/Millennial father/daughter relationship told in two different time periods when each is roughly thirty years old, watching each first navigate a romantic relationship from its inception, and then their relationship as parent and child.

Because it manages love and disappointment and hope and the desire to be desired. And because it delves into what is ugly and awkward and so so deeply upsetting without flinching. Because it’s brutal in its honesty. Because I feel like I could be any of these people. I feel like I am all of them.

Also, seriously; two actors play these two couples, and the older couple is SO late-90s Gen X and the other is SO right-now Millennial, it kills me. I would love the opportunity to see two actors play these four characters.

I am a father who has a daughter and I think this is a beautiful description of that uniquely indescribable relationship.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Play a Day: Johanna: Facing Forward

Tlaloc Riveras
For Thursday, I read Johanna: Facing Forward by Tlaloc Rivas and posted at New Play Exchange.

This play is a work of nonfiction, adapted from personal writing by Johanna Orozco and also the journalism of Rachel Dissell. The play premiered at Cleveland Public Theatre/Teatro Público de Cleveland in 2015, and is the true story of a young woman who was shot in the face by her boyfriend and how she survived.

It’s not just about that. It’s about domestic abuse, and about the failure of our protective services. It is also about the fourth estate, and how journalism has been compromised by the corporations who have acquired our media outlets and have compromised them to serve profit.

Cleveland Public Theatre, 2015
And it’s about women. How they are hurt, and once hurt how our systems are more successful at protecting the men who have harmed them.

The subject matter is compelling enough, but it is well-served by the playwright. Rivas structured a fact-based script which is gripping, moving, poetic and frank.

As a personal note; I don't know any of the players involved in this tragedy. But I do know the high school. Located on Cleveland's near west side, Lincoln-West is a city school, and before COVID we would bring the residency program there once or twice a year, to teach Shakespeare, and The Crucible. It's a great school, and I engaged with brilliant, young students there, taught by strong, dedicated teachers. Devastating events like these can truly happen anywhere.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Source (warning, graphic images): A look back at Johanna Orozco: Facing Forward, by Rachel Dissell, The Plain Dealer (5/19/2015)

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

I Hate This: Twenty Years On

James Alexander Rankin
Every five years from the death of our first child, there is occurs a unique occasion to revisit the play I Hate This (a play without the baby)

In 2006 came a rebroadcast of the Ideastream radio adaptation. Five years after that, in 2011, Cleveland Public Theatre produced an evening featuring both solo performances I Hate This and And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years), back-to-back.

In 2016, Chennelle directed me in the show at the Reinberger Auditorium, a one-night-only performance. It was a revelation, coming back to do it then, with the eyes a new director.

As the 20th anniversary approached, his 20th birthday, during COVID, I had the idea to make a film. Just using the camera in my phone, recording scenes here and there, on the fly. Some guerrilla filmmaking, as it were. Shoot some monologues in a hospital room one week, at the museum the next. And for this project I would again engage Chennelle to direct -- and employ a new actor to play me, someone age-appropriate for the person I was in 2001.

Folks have requested a film since the beginning. Hospitals much further afield (I was once contacted from the UAE) or those not interested in a live performance but who would like to use the play as a teaching tool. It had never seemed practical before, but now I thought I'd just make one.

I had only just gotten in touch with Chennelle about this video project when I was contacted by Daniel Hahn at Playhouse Square. They have been offering online productions since the beginning of the pandemic, and were looking to create something original. Would I have any interest in their producing a video recording of I Hate This?

I do not believe that anything happens for a reason. But they do happen.

Chennelle Bryant-Harris
Last week we had a couple nights in the space, to rehearse. It was a blessing. Rehearsing in-person for the first time in thirteen months.

James Rankin will perform. Listening to him read it, I had forgotten how it builds. I lived inside of it for so long, I just haven't thought of the writing.

Chennelle had requested I redraft it as a screenplay, which was very helpful for everyone involved. In doing so, I changed a few words or phrases here or there, to adapt it for another voice to speak. But James has already acquainted himself with the script, and asked to change some back.

I have cut a variety of passages since the first performance, eighteen years ago. Some of them for the better, but I wonder. I am glad for the opportunity to wonder.  

Our cinematographer, Ananias Dixon, has already become something of a co-director, or perhaps a co-conspirator. It was a joy to watch him and Chennelle jump out of their seats to swirl around James, collaborating to negotiate how the camera is going to swim and move around James, to be his confidant in this story. It will not be a static recording of a stage play. There will be magic.

Playhouse Square plans to premiere "I Hate This (a play without the baby)" in Summer 2021. Details to come.

Play a Day: Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine's

Madhiru Shekar
This week, New Play Exchange posted a list of plays curated by Audrey Lang, "Scripts About Teenage Girls." Today's play has been selected from that list.

For Wednesday, I read Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine's by Madhuri Shekar and posted at New Play Exchange.

There are many reasons to set your play in the past. One of the most important reasons is that before today there weren’t cellphones. There are stories that can no longer be told, or told in the same way, with cellphones in the picture. There was a time when we could not access all human information in a moment, or to be able to reach someone, to know where they are.

Maybe today doesn’t suck as much as we imagine.

Do you know what it feels like to be a teenager, and having to lie on behalf of a friend because they were seeing someone they shouldn’t be? Someone older? Maybe a teacher? I know what that feels like. It happened. It has always happened. It will always happen, cellphones or no.

Shekar’s play, set in the not-too-distant past, centers on a production of Antigone at an all-girls’ school. The transformative power of theater is a popular trope, especially, you know, among theater people. In this tale we have a charming male drama coach, new to the school, one who inspires his young charges, and helps them to break through their personal issues to be more their true selves. He also fucks one of them.

Themes of pride, confidence, and the indefatigable power of women, all present in Antigone, are also reflected in this play, as the girls band together to protect one of their own.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Play a Day: The Crown Forum

Craig Ester
For Tuesday, I read The Crown Forum by Craig Ester and posted at New Play Exchange.

“Everybody’s so worried about being ashamed that they don’t get better.” Facts.

Ester pens a familiar yet fresh family drama, the young PK saddled with the weight of his father’s legacy and haunted by his own lack of faith. Often in these narratives, doing the right thing takes precedent over being true to yourself. In this case, however, Ester’s characters possess a true and honest affection, and a refreshing impatience with bullshit. The reconciliation provides satisfaction, and the world moves forward.

“You can’t tell somebody you love them and then disappear when that love requires action.”

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Play a Day: La Sirena

Eteya Trinidad
For Monday, I read La Sirena by Eteya Trinidad and posted at New Play Exchange.

I heard a joke recently. Three sirens sit together on a rock, singing. Some sailors sail past and say, “Hey, let’s have sex with them,” and jump in the ocean and die. The sirens don’t notice because, really. They’re just three women, minding their own business, singing together.

That’s it. That’s the joke. Get it?

Trinidad’s play revolves around the close friendship of Thelxi and Chim, and the diner where they work. The place is lorded over by two white men, the owner, Tanner, and the busboy/waiter Wyatt. It is also about art, and sexual assault, about workplace harrassment, and the uses of a sincere apology.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Play a Day: Hey Siri

Dr. Mary E. Weems
For Sunday, I read Hey Siri by Mary Weems and posted at New Play Exchange.

We live in the future. Science fiction has long consisted of machines that we could speak to, like they were other people. B-movie robots, for example. HAL was a computer, whose disembodied voice was created to be calming to the listener.

And now many of us have phones that are also disembodied voices that have been programmed to respond as though they are other people. Alexa. Siri. Those are the two we all know by name, I guess.

Dr. Mary Weems is a poet and an author and a professor and another one of Cleveland’s great writers. This piece was composed a few years ago, and it is an unintentional COVID play, the story of three individuals, closed off from the world, who each have a close relationship with the iPhone. They are each lost souls, an Iraq War vet, the adult child of a heroin addict, and a woman with a strong attachment to dolls.

It is also about Siri herself, as an actor, visible, on stage, plays this artificial intelligence. She acts as therapist to each of them, sometimes a dispassionate provider of information - which can be taken as advice - other times an apparent mind-reader, able to console the human to whom she is speaking.

The question is, are these troubled individuals using Siri for guidance? Or are they healing themselves? The need for connection runs strong throughout, some are able to move beyond their lonely confines, for others it is too late.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Process XXIV

I have always been bad at composition. I like drawing people, but not things. But things provide a sense of place. My first year as an editorial cartoonist for our weekly high school paper, my editor told me I needed to add background. If only a single line, so that y characters weren’t floating in space.

After I had created three comic strips for the daily paper at school, I self-published a collection (God, that was expensive and what no one was shopping for) and the cover is terrible. Just the main characters from each strip, floating in space.

Looking at that cover, I wouldn’t have bought it. Too much white space, as they say.

Creating a cover for The Negative Zone, I am creating a 1980s inspired superhero comic cover, with a bunch of inside references mostly from the class, and even from the class I took in 1988, if you can catch it.

And we are now fully vaccinated. And we have returned to the deck. The furniture is there. The lights are hung. It is time, once again, to work outdoors.

Meanwhile, on Thursday evening I attended the first in-person rehearsal in thirteen months. Same director, though Chennelle. From The Witches to I Hate This. A solo performance, one actor. But also director, playwright -- and cinematographer-collaborator, and a stage manager. A creative team, still distanced, still masked, but all in one room.

Is there a light? Can you see the light?

Play a Day: I Wanna Fuck Like Romeo and Juliet

Andrew Rincón
For Saturday, I read I Wanna Fuck Like Romeo and Juliet by Andrew Rincón and posted at New Play Exchange.

Come on, girls -- do you believe in love? Because Andrew Rincón has got something to say about it, and it goes something like this. A poet (the stage directions) tells a story of love between two (or three) shepherded by a god of love and a Catholic saint.

It’s a story of the ending of relationships, and also the beginnings, from Heaven to Hackensack. And even if Kanye and Kim have broken up since this script was written (sorry, Valentine) it remains a touching, hopeful and hilarious examination of love and why it matters. 

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 9, 2021

Play a Day: At the Barre

SMJ
For Friday, I read At the Barre with book and lyrics by SMJ, and music by Sarah Flaim and posted at New Play Exchange.

A love story about loving someone else and loving yourself and loving your body whatever shape it takes. Catherine is a ballet dancer and Shawn is a mime, each pursued by inner voices (made manifest by other actors) who wrestle with their personal and professional drives and desires.

If the stage directions and suggested choreography are appropriately followed this would be a hilariously absurd feast of physicality, describing the hardwood jungle of New York dancers and the desperate fantasticness of New York bar life. And there are songs!

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Play a Day: A Godawful Small Affair

Hayley St. James
For Thursday, I read A Godawful Small Affair by Hayley St. James and posted at New Play Exchange.

Any play that uses a lyric from “Life On Mars” as a title must be read.

David Bowie left the earth, and everything went to shit. I’m not the first person to say that, it was a meme during the year 2016. What most do not know is that Bowie died - then my father died - then Prince died, then everything went to shit. In that order, over the course of three months. That's how things so swiftly fell apart for me.

St. James script is a pandemic play, and between their pandemic play, and my pandemic play, and surely the countless more pandemic plays out there, pandemic plays are going to be a thing, and several of them will actually be very good, and important, and even timeless artifacts, documenting a world we never thought we would need to endure.

Or to someday soon endure again. Sorry. 

St. James’ story is one of loss and longing, and the walls both real and imagined that separate us from our loved ones. I have been fortunate enough to be quarantined with a family, and one a supportive one. We respect each other, we respect each other’s walls, but also (not to crack the wind of a poor phrase running it thus) leave our doors open.

What of the new lovers who have been trapped together? And those who have been quarantined alone? It’s a non-binary love triangle that celebrates the joy of coupling, but also the ennui of sameness. Google the phrase “time passes so strangely these days.” It is a refrain in this script, but also the subconscious mantra for our time.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Play a Day: What's Wrong With You

Jan Rosenberg
For Wednesday, I read What's Wrong With You by Jan Rosenberg and posted at New Play Exchange.

I love smart play scripts about modern teenagers so much. I love them even more when they feature drop dead, whip-smart dialogue while also communicating deeply felt character and emotion. 

Rosenberg’s story of a Gen Z cohort who engage in outrageous dares, faking injuries for social media, is thrilling, moving, and very, very real. There is an almost complete absence of adults, highlighting the extent to which these kids have been made to be self-reliant, but also the chilling degree to which they are on their own to manage their many emotional challenges.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Play a Day: All Our Yesterdays

Chloé Hung
For Tuesday, I read All Our Yesterdays by Chloé Hung and posted at New Play Exchange.

Written in the recent aftermath of the kidnapping of over 275 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, Hung creates a scenario of the missing, coping with abduction and rape. Moving from the present (six months after the kidnapping, in late 2014) to moments in the recent past, two sisters engage in rivalry based on the one’s attendance at a school, the other left at home. 

They are each sharp, desirous individuals, wanting advancement, education, a bigger future. It is tragic and aching to see and understand how great each could be, were it not for the violent evil of men.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Monday, April 5, 2021

Play a Day: Black Metamorphosis

Sam Kebede
For Monday, I read Black Metamorphosis by Sam Kebede and posted at New Play Exchange.

The written introduction to this play (a note on casting, not actually part of the play script) is by itself a monologue that is worthy of performance. 

Kebede’s outrageous satire on white power and global dominance is hilarious from beginning to end, first describing the Illuminati’s millennia long mission to destroy the black race, which evolves into a take on Kafka’s Metamorphosis in which a poor which man wakes up one morning to discover he is a black stereotype, with everything ugly you can metaphorically derive from that.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Play a Day: Clara Thomas Bailey

Caridad Svich
For Easter Sunday, I read Clara Thomas Bailey by Caridad Svich and posted at New Play Exchange.

A magical monologue in three parts (it’s not really a monologue, but it’s like a monologue) told in second person singular, like a conversation in the mind. 

A tale of urban anxiety and loss, fearing pain, death and isolation, and the human aspiration for success, for contact, for calm and clarity, for creation, full of beauty and wonder and doubt.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Process XXIII

Next Wednesday, I will receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I will endeavor to pound water and orange juice all day prior to the shot, as is recommended by people I don’t know on the internet in an attempt to prevent serious feelings of illness the next day. And yet, I have a lot of stuff scheduled for the coming week.

There will be rehearsals in the evening - live, in-person rehearsals downtown - as well as an online reading for a writers group on Thursday. The cartooning must continue, and I have fiction to write, as well as, you know, the jobs.

Why am I sharing what is coming, instead of reporting on what the past week was like? Maybe because I am full of anxiety and the past week didn’t really feel like much. We are nesting in Athens for an extended holiday weekend, which should be relaxing but I mean come on. It’s just a more relaxing place to do the work.

Meanwhile, the short animated film adapted from my play script The Children Who Played at Slaughtering is in development. And that’s all I need to say about that! Entirely out of my hands. One voice artist is playing all of the kids, I’m just excited to know it’s happening.

Now that it's April, I have also started reading a play a day. That is a thing I have done for a few years. People suggest plays for me to read, I can’t possibly read them all before the end of the month but I do log them in my NPX “library” to read soon. Just today someone read one of my plays and posted a recommendation, for The Negative Zone, the script I am adapting, one page at a time, for my comics studies class. 
"Everyone needs a safe space. It can be your room, your study, the garage, the kitchen, or even an erstwhile comic book store in someone's basement." - Philip Middleton Williams
That’s a piece I would like to see on stage some day.

Play a Day: Uncle Remus, His Life and Times, As Told to Aaron Coleman

Aaron Coleman
For Saturday, I read Uncle Remus, His Life and Times, As Told to Aaron Coleman by Aaron Coleman and posted at New Play Exchange.

“Get someone to hear your tale!” 

Late in 2019 the You Must Remember This podcast did a six episode series on Disney’s Song of the South, breaking down not only the errors that were made in creating the film, but also the original history of the stories themselves -- as written down by white Southern journalist Joel Chandler Harris in 1881.

Not the first example of white appropriation of African heritage, and certainly not the last. I have wondered if the folk tales of Br’ers Rabbit, Bear, Fox and all the rest will or can ever be re-appropriated by African American artists and storytellers, and incorporated into our great storytelling tradition.

In this play, the playwright himself travels back in time to meet the real Uncle Remus -- of course, there was no “real” Uncle Remus, but through a wild and wily adventure the Aaron Coleman of the play discovers the truths concealed in the fiction, and an even more important truth about himself, in the end literally (in the literary sense) reclaiming the narrative for future generations.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Friday, April 2, 2021

Play a Day: Monica: This Play Is Not About Monica Lewinsky

Dianne Nora
For Friday, I read Monica: This Play Is Not About Monica Lewinsky by Dianne Nora and posted at New Play Exchange.

“I have faith in people and I can’t seem to shake it.”

This is a fascinating brain experiment, to cast the idea of a woman about whom we have the most intimate knowledge, but about whom most people know absolutely nothing. 

In that, this fictional version of Monica Lewinsky becomes an everywoman. Some suffer their abusers in private, others on full display, and the real Lewinsky is one of the most public examples of that. 

But this play is not about her specifically, but every woman’s journey toward feeling whole, to having a heart (as is described so poetically in the denouement) that can heal itself.

Nora’s narrative jumps back and forth in time with a dry wit, passion, and alacrity. It is an experiment which determines its thesis.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Play a Day: Well-Intentioned White People

Imani Vaughn-Jones
For five Aprils I have read one full-length a play, every day, from those I find at New Play Exchange (NPX). You can find them all by selecting the Play a Day tag at the bottom of this post.

Why? Because I joined NPX to be part of a larger playwriting community and I saw all these folks reading and recommending each other's work and I didn't know how to fit that into all my other responsibilities. So I made it a thing.

I do read other plays throughout the year, but at least I know I will read at least thirty, thirty entire plays, every year. And by posting them, it keeps me honest. And I get to share these artists and their work with others. 

For Thursday, I read Well-Intentioned White People by Imani Vaughn-Jones and posted at New Play Exchange.

Recently I noticed that a white friend of mine had the habit of posting gifs on Facebook of African American people making big, expressive faces. They were always meant to be supportive, a way of amusingly expressing agreement. But there’s a term for that, it’s called “digital blackface.”

For a while I thought, man. I wish one of our mutual, black friends would say something to them about this. And then I thought, oh yeah. That’s actually my job.

Vaughn-Jones's play is a map of microaggressions, as the protagonist Nia navigates social interaction with her white husband’s parents, members of her otherwise all-white writer’s group, and finally her own husband’s inability to stand up against racist comments when he feels doing so would compromise his career.

The tension builds and builds and once she breaks and expresses her feelings is forced to cope with white defensiveness and their (our) inability to take responsibility for their (our) actions. Because, at long last, it is not one person’s responsibility, it is not her responsibility, to fix what is wrong with us. That’s actually our job.

Who should I read tomorrow?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Process XXII

I love being back in school. Last week in craft and theory we were view a German New Cinema film. My parents took me to foreign films. As a child. Some of them might be considered inappropriate for a nine year old boy. But these were amazing films. 

My brothers love movies and I was exposed to those. And I met friends in college who also loved non-Hollywood films, sophomore year we lived in the same building and it was like every night was a mini-film festival, between cable and their eclectic VHS collections.  

I tried taking a graduate level course when I was twenty-five, but I failed. I dropped out of the course. I have no idea what was going on in my mind that I thought I should do that. I should ask my ex-wife. I must have had some idea. 

I have always had big plans and bigger doubts. I hate talking a big game and then realizing I had no business being in it. I was engaged in creating a new theater company, wasn’t that enough?

And yet, of course, I should have done this earlier in my life, when it would have been a set towards a larger today, but when exactly would I have done that? Every time I thought of going to “grad school” I started a new theater company instead. And that seemed to be the appropriate thing to do at the time.

So, this is it. What is, is. This is the time, this was always going to be the time. There is no other time than this.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Process XXI

"You know how you call a guy whose wife died a widower? Or, if your parents die, you're an orphan. You know, there's no word for someone whose kids die. Because it's like the worst thing that can happen." - "Falcon & The Winter Soldier" 3/19/2021
Yep, that was part of our Friday night TV viewing. We actually laughed.

The comic book I am creating will require no fewer than eight pages. I am taking a short play I wrote a few years back, and adapting it into the comic. Each short scene from the play will take one page. 

What this means is I need to edit a scene, which may take five to ten minutes in performance, and bring it down to fifteen panels. Subtlety gets thrown out the window.

Which is fine. But the strip I meant to have completed by last Saturday night is dicey, a lot happens, and it delves into some issues for the characters … I found it very difficult to distill in this way.

I’m still feeling overwhelmed, or maybe just whelmed, you know?

Wednesday afternoon my wife and I received our first dose of vaccine. I did not cry, though I might have, I was texting a colleague who was anxious about doing so themselves. I was helping to ease their anxiety.

If I wasn’t striving to ease someone’s anxiety every day of this pandemic, I might have cried all through that, instead, too.

Are we on our way out? Is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end? It is hard to lament a lost year when I have been so creatively active: productions in Cleveland, California, Chennai, writing a full-length play, a one-act play, a ten-minute play adapted into a screenplay for production.

But that’s just me. I lament what my daughter has lost, her senior year spent at home. Such a social and active young woman, confined to the strict conditions of the COVID-19 Pandemic. What she’s been through may define the rest of her life.

But so. I have drafted another page. Moving forward. Happy first day of spring.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Twenty Years On

William Sidman
"The Dead Sparrow" (1890s)
The events of March 19, 2001 are so close in my memory that it is difficult to believe that everything else has happened since.

Who was I, twenty years ago? A 32 year-old man, not exactly young, certainly younger than this. I had no steady employment, had none for almost three years. Managed a theater project. I had no children.

Twenty years ago I smoked cigarettes, every day. I drank beer and wine, but small liquor. I watched television from tapes, got my news from papers. Agonized at length over what the critics said, not just about my work, but about everyone else’s work.

I hated critics. I used to care about critics.

My concerns were narrowly focused. I was selfish, and took joy in that selfishness in so much as it meant I could concentrate on the two most important people in my universe, my wife and me.

I thought of myself as a writer, but I did not write. I had written one produced play - I had written one play, and had it produced. I contributed small pieces to other shows. But I did not write. I kept journal entries. I wrote about me.

I had no experience with children. I knew no children. I was terrified of children.

My experiences in education were poor. I did not possess a twenty year history with one company, I had not visited scores of schools. I did not know how to create a lesson plan. I knew very few people with children.

I had little patience. I had little compassion. I was not kind to people. My interests were small, I wanted to reach outside of this but I did not know how.

I had an illusion of the future. I had no vision for the theater company I was shepherding, no artistic philosophy of which I was confident. I was blithely ignorant of my place in the larger society.

And I did not know how a child would be part of this. We were in our thirties. If we were going to have a child (only one child) this was the time to have it.

Why? I did not know. Why did I want a child? I did not know. How did I imagine a child to be part of all of this? I did not know.

Everything I think, everything I know, everything I want. Everything I am part of. Every emotion I have. Every expectation of every morning. My awareness, my understanding, my self, my love, my happiness, my hope, my belief in the future. Me. I was born, the person I have become, whoever he is, started on that day, the day I learned my child was dead.



"I Hate This (a play without the baby)" is available at Amazon as paperback or ebook.