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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, April 9, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
THE HUMANA FESTIVAL 2007: *
Actors Theatre Louisville Presents Annual New American Plays Festival! *
New Plays: *
Sherry Kramer’s WHEN SOMETHING WONDERFUL ENDS [*****] *
Ken Weitzman’s THE AS IF BODY LOOP [****] *
Naomi Lizuka’s STRIKE-SLIP [****] *
Carlos Murillo’s DARK PLAY OR STORIES FOR BOYS [***] *
Craig Wright’s THE UNSEEN [*] *
COLLECTIVE ACTIVITIES: *
The TEN-MINUTE PLAYS [***] *
BATCH: An American Bachelor/ette Party Spectacle [**] *
THE OPEN ROAD ANTHOLOGY [**] *
A PLAYDAY PLAY-A-DAY FOR SUSAN-LORI PARKS! *
HUNTER GATHERERS Harvests $25,000 New Play Award! *
THE HUMANA FESTIVAL 2007:
Actors Theatre Louisville Presents Annual New American Plays Festival
This Spring Season’s Humana Festival was the 31st—with the end nowhere in sight: that is, as long as there are crushing National-Needs for managed Health-Care. And as long as novices & hopefuls continue competing for Playwriting-Prizes and enrolling in playwriting-workshops or seminars, often conducted by Established Experts who won their Writing-Spurs in Louisville at the Actors Theatre during a previous Humana Festival.
It used to be a rule—at least among Broadway Critics—never to discuss reactions or opinions about the play on stage during the intermission. In any case, it was not possible to do this at the final-curtain, as major critics were sprinting up the aisles to stop-the-presses with their critiques. Post-Mortem was a different matter entirely…
At the Humana, however, critics from all over America gather annually to appraise often outstanding productions of New American Plays. Often, the productions are more outstanding than the plays themselves.
And—as many of the critics haven’t seen old friends since the last Humana—"catching-up" often includes such possibly out-of-bounds queries as: "Isn’t this year worse than last year’s? I don’t like any of what we’ve seen so far, do you?"
Actually, looking back at the years in which Jon Jory presided over Actors Theatre and the Humana Festival, I think the past few seasons have not been as impressive. But that may be a Failure of Memory or the possibility that the new & emerging playwrights have been so badly-conditioned by watching TV—or aspiring to write for it—that the new plays are really not as good as they were ten years ago.
In fact—for the past two or three Humanas—if I found one play that resonated, I thought that was enough to justify the trip to Louisville. [A trip from Manattan/LaGuardia that was often routed over Atlanta or Detroit, thanks to the deliberate ineptness of our potentially bankrupt Airlines and their over-paid CEOs.]
Nonetheless, Humana 2007 was much more rewarding. There were at least three new plays that engaged my attention & continued to make me think about them later. And, of course, even Now—as I prepare to write about them and the other offerings.
So I will deal with the various productions in descending-order of my personal Wonderment, tailing-off into something approaching Aversion.
Sherry Kramer’s WHEN SOMETHING WONDERFUL ENDS [*****]
Entering the intimate Victor Jory Theatre, spectators are confronted with a colorful display of Barbie’s home-life: rendered in cardboard-foldout interiors, some of her various Mattel plastic-embodiments, Ken, her Sports-car, many of her wonderful Collectible Outfits, & other Barbie Memorabilia.
Lori Wilner effectively subs for the playwright, explaining that she has to clear out her late mother’s possessions—and her own—in preparation for selling the house where she and her brother grew up.
As she describes Barbie’s Development in Life & in Fashion—opening boxes with various smart clothing-ensembles—she is also coming to terms with the great Loss of her Mother, healing the grief with a slide-show of the Family Past & of the flowers on her mother’s grave.
But this monologue is not about her personal grief & Loss of Innocence alone. It is also about a much larger Loss of Innocence about the American Dream & what America really stands for—Oil über Alles—in terms of its Foreign-Policy.
Talking about Barbie’s Sofa, she suddenly makes a connection between that sofa and America’s SOFA in 1964. This was our Status of Forces Agreement about American troops stationed in Iran. She segues to a slide-show illumination of our subsequent actions in the Middle-East.
For Kramer, it’s all about Oil. And our insatiable appetite for Power, vehicular and otherwise…
For me, this was a most ingenious device: making parallels between the Dream—as played out through Barbie & her millions of little American Girl Collectors—and the Dream, as played out by The Departments of Defense & State, the CIA, Col. Oliver North, & Standard Oil.
For a number of my colleagues, this ideological-conflation of Barbie & Aramco was a most unwelcome surprise, quite out of place! It seemed to some a sudden intrusion of a Leftist Attack on George Bush’s War on Terror—or his Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction—into a charmingly bittersweet memory of growing up in small-town Springfield, MO, and coming to terms with Maturity.
Actually, a real American Coming-of-Age should involve not only "putting away childish things"—as the Old Testament says—but also becoming aware of what it means to be an American & what the country that bears the name has become, thanks to President Dwight David Eisenhower’s feared Military-Industrial Complex. And also, thanks to our Collective TV/Barbie-Obsessed Inattention…
As Lori Wilner packed-up all the Barbies & Kens, all the lovely mini-outfits, all the interiors & furniture, it did occur to me that regional-theatres who want to stage this sneakily satirical drama will have to find a Major Barbie Collector in order to have proper props!
But this is not a play for Lovers of the SUV or those remaining admirers of Pres. Bush’s all-out-effort to Make the Middle-East Democratic. [He was, of course, talking about Democracy, not the despised Democratic Party!]
But our ousting Iran’s Prime Minister Mossadegh and installing the Shah Reza Pahlevi—well before 1964—was also All About Oil, not about Building Democracies…
I very much admire what Sherry Kramer has achieved in When Something Wonderful Ends. And I grieve with her for all that we have all lost.
Hearing Wilner/Kramer talk about the past in a loving Jewish home—no, she couldn’t go to the Prom because the Boy-next-door was not Jewish—was to be reminded of one’s own childhood and that time when all the contents of the home had to be sorted & packed.
I was told that Sherry Kramer was not able to be on hand when her play opened the Humana Festival. She had just been at the funeral of her beloved brother…
Ken Weitzman’s THE AS IF BODY LOOP [****]
Mary Baker Eddy would have readily understood the Central Problem of Ken Weitzman’s The As If Body Loop. As Founder of Christian Science & author of Science & Health, with Key to the Scriptures, she knew very well that We Make Ourselves Sick…
And, although we should be able to make ourselves well again, that is not so easy. It often requires the aid of an outside Healer, a Christian Science Practitioner, perhaps…
The Best Defense against Illness is keeping one’s mind clear and free of Material Animal Magnetism. Negative Thinking can make you ill. Permitting others to "dump their garbage" on you can make you sick.
Sympathy is one thing, but Empathy may take you too far into the pains & illness of others. It can lead to the As If Body Loop, in which the Empathizer, Facilitator, or Healer also experiences the actual pains & symptoms of the patient.
Aaron—who lives & breathes football, and also devises NFL TV-segments—is frequently doubled-over with crippling stomach-pains. His younger sister, Sarah, a social-worker, suddenly appears in his studio, seriously ill, temperature falling & getting colder.
Back at the odd home in which she, he, and their neurotic brother, Glenn, grew up—under seriously Dysfunctional Parents—Aaron finds her getting steadily worse, to the consternation of their mother, the Attic Lady, who is grooming Glenn to be a Charismatic Healer. Despite the fact that he has absolutely No Charisma at all & breaks out in rashes at the least personal challenge.
Add to this mix the concept of the Lamed Vavniks, those 36 people among All Humankind who must Bear the Pain of the World, lest Jaweh destroy us all for our ungratefulness—by falling into despair. This bit of Talmudic Lore could mean that Sarah is one of the Chosen 36!
To save her from rapidly approaching death, Aaron decides he & the reluctant Glenn must find one or more of her counseling-patients—whose pains & fears she has taken on.
Serendipitously, Aaron encounters the violent & verbal Martin, who Is The Man. He also becomes the source of Aaron’s healing himself. And being revealed as the Chosen Healer in his crazy family.
This production is funny, frantic, & philosophical, thanks to the playwright, director Susan V. Booth, and the cast of Marc Grapey, Kristen Fiorella, Josh Lefkowitz, Jana Robbins, & the dynamic Keith Randolph Smith—an actor with many professional credits.
Paul Owen’s ingenious settings did much to set the mood and move the action along.
There are certainly enough New Age Healers & Patients out there to make this play a Talking-Point for months to come. Weitzman might want to sharpen it a bit: Move it a bit away from Bizarre Fantasy into the realm of the Possible!
We do make ourselves ill. And other people do dump their garbage on us, which doesn’t really help them heal. It only makes us share their pain…
Take it from me: Jin Shin Jyutsu will do wonders for you!
Naomi Lizuka’s STRIKE-SLIP [****]
They used to call San Francisco The City That Waits To Die, but Greater LA is even more at risk. At least SanFran has stone-mountains to anchor some of its many wooden/plaster houses. Not so the City of Angels…
Naomi Lizuka’s Strike-Slip deals not only with a Seismologist who is an expert on the many known & Unknown Faults of Los Angeles, but it is also concerned with his unhappy wife & an interesting assortment of multi-raced characters, whose lives amazingly interlock in this Impending Earthquake Metaphor.
Expert or not, no one can exactly predict when the next Loma Prieta Quake will strike. That seems also true of the relationships of Lizuka’s very human characters.
Curiously, this play ends before there’s any real Closure for most of the players. That is not a fault, although audiences may well have become so interested in the fates of several of them—if not all—that they will be discussing what might happen to these vibrant people in the future, long after they’ve left the theatre.
It did occur to me that the interlocking mini-dramas were rather like a Pilot for an Extended TV-Series. But why would an American Playwright want to do that? Haven’t there been enough Los Angeles-based TV-series already?
Chay Yew directed the excellent cast, which included: Nelson Mashita, Justin Huen, Ali Ahn, Romi Dias, Heather Lea Anderson, Tim Altmeyer, Hanson Tse, & the power-house Keith Randolph Smith.
Carlos Murillo’s DARK PLAY OR STORIES FOR BOYS [***]
Internet-inspired dramas may soon multiply like mayflies. We just had one at 59E59 in Manhattan. It was titled 6969—which is code for Abort.
Both that play and Carlos Murillo’s Dark Play or Stories for Boys have been inspired by Internet Chat-rooms, where lonely and/or crazy people hope to find What They Are Looking For.
The problem is that things & people are often not what they seem in an e-mail or chat-room exchange. Love may be Blind, but Lust can be even blinder. When the keyboard-chatterers come face-to-face, Disillusion is always a possibility. Death is another!
Murillo’s almost pre-adolescent Nick [Matthew Stadelmann] presents himself as his imagined sister, Rachel, typing online. The lovelorn 16-year-old Adam [Will Rogers] is smitten & begs to meet her.
Nick puts him off repeatedly, but finally agrees to meet him. Adam is understandably dismayed to meet the eager Nick, not Rachel.
Nick survives the multiple knife-wounds, but the girl he’s just shagged in his dorm-room wants to know what all those red welts are.
At the close, he tells us he is still undecided about his Major.
Michael John Garcés staged the cast, which included Liz Morton, Lou Sumrall, & Jennifer Mendenhall.
Craig Wright’s THE UNSEEN [*]
There are these two beaten-down guys in what must be Isolation-Cells deep in some kind of prison, although what the audience sees instead is a raised-platform with a central-section, featuring a heavy metal-grill, from which there issues a dim light: another prisoner perhaps?
Wallace & Valdez are on either side, visually wide-open to the audience. Wallace is the more thoughtful of the two; Valdez, the more elemental. They do not know why they have been imprisoned, nor why they are repeatedly tortured & interrogated.
Anyone in the audience who hoped this would either be another Waiting for Godot or a scathing satire on Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo was soon disappointed.
Considering the Current Events in both those prisons—not to overlook the on-going discussions about the Issue of Torture as a means of Eliciting Intelligence from the Enemies of Freedom—one could have hoped for something more Potent, more Topical…
Marc Masterson staged. There was no Intermission, but the play seemed its own kind of Torture…
The TEN-MINUTE PLAYS [***]
There were only three of these, though one remembers more of them years ago. Does Memory Fail? Was there ever a time when there were more of them—and these shorties were actually ten-minutes?
Julie Marie Myatt’s Mr. and Mrs. is a skit of Marital Misapprehensions: She tells him—while they are waltzing & posing for album-photos—that she married him for his Money. He says he married her for her Looks.
This works well in performance—not only thanks to Maurine Evans & Mark Stringham as the elegant bride & groom—but also because of the Sumptuous Production-Values provided by designers Paul Owen & Susan Neason. Jessica Burgess staged effectively.
I Am Not Batman permits a deprived ghetto-youth [Phil Pickens] to imagine being Batman & saving his pathetic father from muggers. This was accompanied by a percussion-set made of Found-Objects! Ian Frank staged Marco Ramirez’ Comix-fantasy.
Clarisse and Larmon, by Deb Margolin, shows a sad, baffled couple being presented by a smartly-uniformed US Soldier with a color-photo of what must be their dead soldier-son. They are also staring at a photo of his shattered leg. After some meditation on returning their son to her womb—from whence he supposedly sprang—she tears the leg-photo in twain & stuffs it up under her shabby dress.
As with the Issue of Torture of Enemies to get Intelligence—faintly suggested by The Unseen—so also this short drama—deliberately?—misses the opportunity to say something Powerful about the White House’s shameful handling of Military Deaths & Dismemberments in Iraq.
The Intent may have been to make the point more poignantly through indirection & implication. But the writing is not good enough to achieve that. And Jessica Burgess’ direction makes a brilliant actor like Keith Randolph Smith look like a klutz.
The grieving couple is/are understandably stunned, but should they also seem moronic?
BATCH: An American Bachelor/ette Party Spectacle [**]
It’s Good News that Philadelphia’s New Paradise Laboratories are making their own Theatre Performance-Art. Their current Batch—an unusual improvisatory event—uses the talents of three men & three women, variously trans-gendering themselves to provide visions, not of Hades, but of apparently Surreally-Abstracted Typical Bachelor Parties. And their Female Counterparts!
Unfortunately, your scribe has never been to a Bachelor Party, so he had no concept of what the Real Thing might be like. But—judging from recent films & exposés—what happened on the stage-platform & down its square-hole looked like a Skull & Bones Initiation.
OK, but why bother? Perhaps my problem is that I am too old to have been either a Boomer or Generation X?
But wouldn’t that be even more of a Challenge: to let the Old Guys & Gals in the audience know what they missed by being Born Too Soon?
If we are dedicated to Holding the Mirror Up To Life—or Nature, as the case may be—even a distorted image ought to have some Real Context…
Or not? Whatever…
Created by Alice Tuan & Whit MacLaughlin—in close association with the New Paradise Ensemble—Batch was performed in the theatre-area of a large Louisville Gay Bar/Theatre/Dance facility.
Who would have guessed there were so many Potential Gay Patrons in the Home of the Kentucky Derby & Col. Harlan Saunders & Kentucky Fried-Chicken?
THE OPEN ROAD ANTHOLOGY [**]
Considering the constantly-rising costs of gasoline, the American Open Road doesn’t seen quite as open as it once did.
Nonethelesss, the Romance of the Open Road—whether beckoning to hikers, bikers, covered-wagon-drivers, or RV-nomads—has long been attractive to Americans.
Knowing that, you would think that ingenious playwrights—even with time-limits imposed—would be able to imagine some Frightening-Fictions or Salacious-Satires that would rivet an American audience. Not to mention delighting an Anti-American Audience in "OId" Europe…
Despite the multiple-prize-winning talents of such writers as Constance Congdon & Kia Corthron, this Actors Theatre Anthology didn’t score a hit. Not even a near-miss, despite the musical-fragmentations of the GrooveLilys. In fact, some of the older critics on hand were mildly irritated by music from an era beyond their ken.
Last year, the funniest of these short-skits—designed for Actors Theatre Interns to perform—featured Siegfried & Roy’s Tigers, lamenting that they’d never again be invited to the Las Vegas Mansion, after what had happened: "We’re tigers. That’s what we do!"
Somewhat similar—but more deliberately vulgar—was this season’s pair of possums, running out onto the Interstate to confound night-drivers on the Open Road. On their backs, with legs up in the air, they taunt drivers: "Lick my possum-balls!"
Tina Landau was more subtle last time.
Constance Congdon contributed On the Road & True North. Kia Corthron’s credits were Quagmire Choir & Trade. Michael John Garcés offered The Ride & On Edge. From Rolin Jones: The Mercury and the Magic & Ron Bobby Had Too Big a Heart. Kathryn Walat’s contributions: Borough to Borough & Dunkin Amerika. From A. Rey Pamatmat: 1260 Minute Life & Ain’t Meat.
Better luck next time…
A PLAYDAY PLAY-A-DAY FOR SUSAN-LORI PARKS!
In the African-American Playwrights’ Sweepstakes, August Wilson seemed to be ahead, having finished his ten-play cycle of Pittsburgh Plays shortly before his untimely death. But 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winner Susan-Lori Parks is forging ahead, having written a play a day for 365 days! These are now being produced around the United States.
In a special seminar at the Humana, this amazing project was discussed. A Major Player in this astounding project is Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, working with Theatre Emory of Emory College. Together with other theatre-groups in Atlanta, all 365 plays will be offered on 365 days Free!
This Performance-Project began on 13 November 2006 and will conclude on 12 November 2007, so there is still ample time to sample some of these short Dramatic-Meditations. More than 600 theatres are involved, from Atlanta onward: Austin, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Colorado, Seattle, the Western US, the Northeast, the Southeast, Universities, Washington DC. Well, you get the Idea: almost everywhere!
Arthur Miller, Eat Your Heart Out! [wherever you are now…]
No place to hide. No-where to escape! No excuse not to see at least a week’s worth of these plays!
Just think what our Collective Cultural Life would have been had Shakespeare written a play-a-day for 365 days!
HUNTER GATHERERS Harvests $25,000 New Play Award!
With a check for $25,000 in his Hunter-Gatherer Pouch, no longer will Peter Sinn Nachtrieb have to go out looking for nuts & berries in the Berkeley Hills! This "inky-dark" Black Comedy—produced originally by San Francisco’s Killing My Lobster—won the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award.
This handsome award—always presented in the context of the Humana Festival—is funded by the American Theatre Critics Association and the Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. Two runner-up consolation-prizes are also offered. Shortly before he died, Arthur Miller did, in fact, win one of these!
Actor/playwright Jeff Daniels won $7,500 for his drama, Guest Artist, produced initially by the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI. It deals with a burned-out playwright coming to the small town that has commissioned what may be his last play… Chelsea, anyone? Actually, Daniels is a a founder of the Purple Rose. And he was in The Purple Rose of Cairo…
Michael Hollinger was the other $7,500 winner, for his play, Opus. It deals with a string-quartette that is not always in tune with each other. This is promised for Manhattan.
Who knows what the Future Holds for the 32nd Edition of the Humana Festival…
As Joyce Kilmer once wrote: "Only God can make a tree…" He was explaining that: "Poems are made by fools like me," but he could have included Playwrights among those who cannot make a tree.
But then, why should you want to make a tree anyway?
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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