Saturday, April 17, 2021

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

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?