A Few Questions about Chaos Theory from Annex Theatre

Photo Ian Johnston. Drew Highlands, Evelyn Dehais, Keiko Green, and Jana Hutchison.

Photo Dangerpants Photography. Drew Highlands, Evelyn Dehais, Keiko Green, and Jana Hutchison.

Annex Theatre sent me some questions regarding Chaos Theory – a play seeking order. Here’s some of the  endearing snark I served up.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Like where you’re from? Why you wanted to be playwright and how it all came to be?

I’m from Middle Tennessee originally, in a conservative hamlet called Franklin, where I confusedly returned post-college to work as a Borders bookseller,  because I didn’t know what I was going to do with my degree except pull it out at dinner parties for my middle school beanie baby collection. In this dark time in Tennessee, I mostly drank whiskey secretly in my room of my parents’ house and straightened books on shelves and talked to a bunch of conservative Christians during the 2008 elections about how it’s not that they hate gay people they just didn’t want to be around them (whoops). So yeah. After a year of that nonsense, I moved to Seattle, started touching myself again, and wrote some plays – mostly about the end of the world.

What inspired you to write Chaos Theory?

People don’t make much sense in a way that makes sense – does that make sense? We’re predatory about weird things (like the chair we sit in every day and milk). Most of us enjoy feeling altered (drugs, booze, etc.). And we define our realities by the people who surround us. So what happens when the people who make us who we are go away, or start slipping away for no discernible reason? Chaos, baby. Chaos. And I was reading Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku so the story just started falling into place.

Without giving too much away can you give us a little snippet of what the show is about?

A group of friends start to build a machine. Or, maybe they’re going crazy. Who’s to say? Stuff happens. Stuff doesn’t happen. Sex. Dopplegangers. People who don’t know how to talk about their feelings try to talk about their feelings. Maybe things get cold.

Do you have a favorite character? If so who and why?

It changes for me pretty regularly, and not just because the cast does such a good job of embodying them. I don’t know. Seth is the one who says funny things and people don’t really hear him. I identify with him a lot. I call this the Fozzie principle. Frannie is the one who throws herself into her work instead of dealing with (at least one) reality. And Bach. Yup. Bach’s my favorite. The funniest best friend with the amazing ability to pick up women with a single wink. Yeah. Bach’s the best.

What made you decide to propose this play at Annex in particular?  

Annex seemed like the best home for it. I didn’t have a director at the time that I proposed it, but I wanted to show the play to Annex because I saw the type of work that they were doing and I wanted to be a part of it, even if it wouldn’t be for another year. As luck would have it, Pamala really connected with the script and Annex took me on. No waiting. It was the most awesome phone call to get.

What is your favorite food and why?

I fucking love Mexican food. I live next to the Rancho Bravo Taco Truck in Wallingford. I’m a regular. They see me coming. They know. We share knowing winks. When I first moved to Seattle, I lived next to Paseo. I still have dreams about those sandwiches.

Chaos Theory opens on April 18th (that’s only a week away) and runs through May 17th. I’d love for you to be there. Get tickets.

Chaos Theory – a play seeking order April 18 – May 17

 

Chaostheoryteaserposter

 

When her lover disappears, Frannie sinks into a pajamas-only depression.  Her friends try to distract her with a book on chaos theory…little knowing they’re headed down a slippery path through enticing alternate realities.  Does this Machine they’re building actually work, or are they luring each other into collective delusions of wish-fulfillment?  Is life better with a laugh-track?  And what if these seductive changes bring about the end of the world?  Featuring Evelyn DeHais, Keiko Green, Drew Highlands, and Jana Hutchison.

April 18 – May 17 at Annex Theatre (Tickets)

Production Team 

Stage Manager – Kaeline Kine
Scenic/Props Designer – Robin Macarteny
Costume Designer – Amy Escobar
Lighting Designer – Gwyn Skone
Sound Designer – Kyle Thompson
The Machine Designer – Emily Sershon
Production Manager – Catherine Blake Smith
Technical Directors – Ian Johnston, Emily Sershon
Graphic Design – Ash Williamson
French Dialect Coach – Evelyn Dehais

Regarding the possibility of multi-orgasm storytelling

All right, the title is kind of click-baity, but I promise I have a point. Recently, a friend asked me for playwriting book recommendations. Aside from the fact that I was tickled  someone asked me, I realize that I don’t have a lot of books about playwriting that I actually enjoy reading, or even that I find useful. It’s not that playwriting books are bad, it’s just that they all tend to say the same thing. The old standby (and most often recommended) is Backwards and Forwards by David Ball. He, like most writers who write about writing, only talks about one way of storytelling – what I’ve come to call “The Solitary Orgasm Method,” or when I’m feeling particularly plucky, “Missionary.”

Notice - it only peaks once

And only one climax

Of course, this is the standard. It’s the way most plays and fiction are written. For the Women #4 Project, I’m in the process of reading the top 10 produced plays of the past season and thanks to a sick day in bed (thanks norovirus?) I binge re/read almost all of them.  The majority of these plays tread this well-worn path. And that’s how it has started to feel – well-worn. We’ve conquered traditional storytelling! It has been beaten to death with a shovel, and crippled and sewn back together, and walked a mile in your shoes, and etc. etc.

What is it about chronologically linear that’s so compelling, or if not compelling, prevalent? I came to a few conclusions,

  1. It’s easier to write.
  2. It’s easier to understand.
  3. It has a long history.

But those things don’t inherently make it better. Non-traditional/non-linear narrative is not incomprehensible and not uninteresting. After reading the third traditionally linear play in a row, the strings started to become too clear. I found myself ahead of stories, expecting twists, knowing where the next fight was breaking out. But also, more importantly, I was bored. I ended this marathon of a reading session, by re-reading one of my linear plays. Sadly, I was bored by that, too. I thought, I’m a writer! I’m creative! I should be doing something different. Right?

Shouldn’t we crave breaking out of the comfort zone fort we’ve built ourselves out of pillows and blankets and teddy bears? They are very comfy pillows, sure. But is it as satisfying as it could be? Why do we get trapped here? There aren’t any rules about it. I’m gonna say it again. There are no rules that say THIS IS THE WAY A STORY HAS TO BE OR THE WORLD WILL CRUMBLE AND NOTHING WILL MAKE SENSE ANYMORE (first person to mention the dead, white, guy who made up a bunch a rules gets punched in the jugular; if I wanted Aristotle’s opinion I’d go back to my undergrad Introduction to Theatre History class). And yet, I often feel stuck in the Strict-Rule-Land of Aristotelian Unity.

There’s nothing wrong with traditional storytelling, structures with only the one, ahem, climax. But I’ve come to think of this as a very masculine way of approaching story. Think about it. Men very rarely have the potential for multi-orgasm. Women on the other hand – whew boy. We can have way more than one. What about a story that goes fast, slows, fast, medium, fast, slow, etc. building and crescendo-ing in little ways and then big ways; spinning into so many directions we can’t think straight, and then approach clarity(ies) over and over again? How do/can we move toward a more prevalent, feminine story structure with multiple peaks and valleys? Sure, multi-orgasmic structure doesn’t serve all stories. However, does Missionary have to be the default? Does Missionary, in fact, serve all stories?

Our own timelines and histories might be linear, but the way in which we recall them is not. In the course of one conversation our minds jump from thought-to-thought, memories, images, that one embarrassing moment from seven years ago that still makes us cringe. It’s the emotion that matters, whatever the timeline. So, let’s try to write a few plays that may mess with tradition. Buck (yes, buck) tradition. Or, at least toy with the notion the next time you sit down to write instead of auto-piloting to a linear structure. How about when we’re stuck on where to go next with our story we start with changing up the structure. Rearrange those scenes. Forget backwards and forwards. There are diagonals and zigzags in there.

So I made this little exercise (not exactly an original one at that) to apply to future plays when I’m either early in the process of writing it, or maybe when I go back for a re-write to shake myself up: Erase the idea of rising action coming up to a single peak. Instead imagine a series of branches reaching out concluding, or cutting off into something else. Or, several balls of yarn that all got released and are rolling in different directions. Or waves. Or, hell, a Pick Your Own Adventure book. Think of an image that will change the structure from the expected to the unexpected and try to shape the story around that picture instead.

And then, spend some alone time in your bunk.

Got an image to add to this non-linear story structure exercise? Leave a comment!

Updates from the Whiskey Bar

I was trying to come up with a metaphor for how busy I’ve been but the only ones I came up with were bee or beaver related, and who needs more beaver references? (I love beaver! Okay that’s it. I’ll stop.) Over the past four months I’ve closed Buckshot, cast and had the first read-through of Chaos Theory, a play seeking order with Annex Theatre, had The Inevitable End of Christmas Present produced and directed by Rachel Delmar at Playing in Progress SnowGlobed, participated as a virgin playwright in 14/48 The World’s Quickest Theatre Festival, and I can finally announce that I’ll have a piece in On The BoardsNorthwest New Works Festival 2014. I’m ready for a nap. Or, drink more whiskey. One of the two.

honeytoad

On the accolades front, WRECKED season two was nominated for Best Writing in Comedy Series (as well as six other awards) by the Indie Series Awards. It’s also an official selection for LA Web Series Festival and HollyWeb Festival. These festivals and awards ceremonies are happening in the spring, right around the same time everything else I’m doing is going on, so if you have the money to fly down to LA and live tweet it for me, that’d be great. I’m so proud that WRECKED is selected alongside so many other amazing series, like Husbands and Out with Dad. While I share a writing credit on many of the episodes of WRECKED season two, the episode Kitchen Sink is all mine. You should watch it.

About Woman #4 at NWNW: I know several talented women in Seattle. Not least of them is Erin Pike. A few months ago, shortly after writing this about Sugar Daddies, Erin and I met up for a drinks to talk about a collaboration. She wanted to look at the depiction of female characters in contemporary theatre. Spoiler alert – when they aren’t being under-represented or entirely omitted, they tend to be shells of characters. They ask questions. They back up other statements. They worry about their weight. They sometimes have opinions. It’s not all damning. But there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement with the portrayal of women (not just in theatre, btw, but that’s what we’re looking at specifically). When she decided she wanted to submit it for NWNW, we  cut the sample of plays down the most produced plays in the past year. We’re using this list from TCG. The piece for the festival will be a one woman show, 20 minutes long, and constructed entirely from the dialogue spoken by women in these plays. To paraphrase the director of the piece, Katherine Karaus about all three of us working together, it’s likely going to be the most misogynistic collaboration ever. We’ll see. We’ll see.

UPDATE: WOMAN #4 IS NOW (FANFARE):  That’sWhatSheSaid. 

chaos theory

About Chaos Theory, a play seeking order: Chaos Theory will feature the amazing talents of Keiko Green, Evelyn Dehais, Drew Highlands, and Jana Hutchison directed by Annex Theatre Artistic Director Pamala Mijatov. The design crew includes some of the most amazing artists in town including Robin Macartney, Gwyn Skone, Amy Escobar, and Kyle Thompson. The images on the right are samples of potential PR images so it might change. Here’s a wonderful synopsis (I hate writing them – this one was written by Annex PR peeps and it’s delightful):

When her lover disappears, Frannie and her friends seek solace in a book about chaos theory that leads them to build a machine that might take them into other dimensions—but instead they fall into different realities and just might bring about the end of the world. Featuring Evelyn DeHais, Keiko Green, Drew Highlands, and Jana Hutchison.

(It is in no way affiliated with Team of Heroes but there’s been some confusion since a character in Team of Heroes was called Chaos Theory.)

About 14/48 The World’s Quickest Theatre Festival: I felt touched (slightly inappropriately but in a good way) at being invited to participate as a virgin playwright in 14/48 at ACT Theatre in January. 14/48 was one of the first performances I saw when I moved to Seattle several years ago. Sometimes looking like it’s more fun to participate in than to watch (I can now safely say that having done it) the experience was highly rewarding and one that I hope to do again. Writing two 10 minute plays over the course of 48 hours, working with two different directors, and seven different actors, not to mention a slew of talented musicians, and designers, I felt incredibly humbled. My buddy, Catherine Blake Smith summed up her experience as an audience member for both nights here.

While all of this was happening, The Sunbreak.com, my critic home took a hiatus or hibernation, depending on who you ask. The maintaining of The Sunbreak is incredibly difficult, time consuming, and not exactly lucrative, but as far as an arts resource in Seattle it’s top notch. As of this writing, I’ve been told that it will make reappearance in the next month or so (awesome), but sadly, I think my time with them is over. I’ve reached a point where it’s hard to see a show that I know no one involved. I’ve shared too many drinks with too many artists to continue at The Sunbreak. (Though if you buy me a whiskey you’re more than welcome to get a theatre rant from me.) While I still hope that the big houses start to produce more plays by local playwrights, take risks, and stop focusing on the plight of middle/upper class white guy, I don’t think I’ll be voicing them at The Sunbreak. I do believe there are reasons to hope, though.

Seattle Rep produced Bo-Nita last year by Elizabeth Heffron, a local playwright (who’s balla), and it was incredible, not least of which because of Hannah Mootz. ACT continues to open its doors wider to the community for projects like Seattle VICE and riskier endeavors in their CHL spaces. Though its mainstage is still lacking in richer work, I hope that they start to take risks in the years ahead. Balagan too, is getting larger, and starting to focus on Seattle original musicals. In the mean time, my heart lies with the fringe theatres (lies like a trampy mcproud slut) because they are unafraid, boldly soliciting work from local artists that speaks to where we are now, not where we were three years ago in New York.

Last, but not least, a big thank you to my good friend, Tom Fucoloro. My site had been down for eight months due to an update issue with WordPress. He fixed it. Thank you, Tom!

Buckshot World Premiere by Macha Monkey Productions

Buckshot premiered on November 8, 2013 in Seattle, produced by Macha Monkey Productions and directed by Peggy Gannon.

Katie Driscoll and Gianni Truzzi in Buckshot. Photo by Shane Regan

Katie Driscoll and Gianni Truzzi in Buckshot. Photo by Shane Regan

Cast 

Katie Driscoll – Alana

Daniel Wood – Saul

Megan Ahiers – Mel

Jordi Montes – Jax

Narae Kang – Jalyn

Gianni Truzzi – Uncle Hal

Randall Brammer – Booker

Reviews

Seattle Actor

I’ve seen quite a few plays about childhood abuse in one form or another, but this one was especially strong dramatically because it never tried to hype any of the drama. Again, Driscoll’s natural, ordinary, decent and conflicted Alana was our path to that involvement. I am in deep admiration of Meaker’s script, Gannon’s direction and the cast’s performance. This is really a show worth getting to and one which, I predict, will lead to rich and important conversations after.

The Stranger – An Exercise in Ambiguity, Buckshot is an Unsettling Family Drama

Buckshot, a new play by Courtney Meaker, is an exercise in prelude—it ends precisely where a news story, based on police reports and interviews with rattled neighbors, might begin. It is also an exercise in ambiguity, picking apart how years of memories and influences can lead a person to do something that, from a distance, might seem insane.

The rest of Buckshot is a slowly widening crack in the door of Alana’s consciousness…

Meaker’s play is a world premiere with a promising premise that, with a little tinkering, could become something even better.

Please Don’t Encourage Them — Sugar Daddies at ACT

Photo by Chris Benion

Photo by Chris Benion

Published at TheSunbreak.com

At the end of Sugar Daddies (at ACT through Nov 3; tickets), I thought, “Did that just happen?” Yes. Yes it did, and much like with my experience at First Date at ACT a couple of years ago, I can’t un-see it, I don’t understand why people were amused by it, and I can’t let it go — the wasted resources and talent, the “I should have knowns; I mean it’s called Sugar Daddies for crying out loud,” and of course the time I spent debating if it was worth coming back for Act Two, but “I guess I did pre-order that beer and it’s $6 so I might as well sit down.”

I told a few theatre folks about my dislike for this play and the resounding answer was “But it’s Sir Alan Ayckbourn! You can’t say that about him! He’s a genius!”  Then they left me alone feeling sheepish, staring at my shoes, wondering if I had missed something. But no. I didn’t miss anything. It doesn’t even qualify as fluff (and I like fluff when it’s well done). He doesn’t just get a pass for being prolific, even if he has written more plays than his age (a fun fact in my press materials). He can take it. But I can also say that out of the sold-out performance I saw, I was one of only a few who weren’t amused, so chances are it’ll be a smash.

The title says it all. There’s a young girl, Sasha (Emily Chisholm) who is naive and seemingly dumb, captivated by the kindness of a man in his seventies who she calls Uncle Val. He buys her things — clothes, furniture, tickets to the opera, drinks — for nothing, not even a kiss, just to make her happy. She believes him, even though everyone around her says he’s going to want something in return eventually. He begins to change. We see his controlling nature and anger. Everything comes at a price. Etc.,etc. This is played for laughs for the most part, with a few genuinely creepy moments, moving the action slowly and forcing me to check under my seat to see if they misplaced the stakes.

It has the same subtlety and nuance as the storylines you can see on a teeny high school drama about a poor fifteen-year-old kid fantasizing about her English teacher, except the English teacher is seventy and used to turn women into prostitutes. There is no deeper revelation, or even a surprise twist to make the play slightly absurd (which would have made it more palatable). No. It plays out just as you would think — the women are trivial (one, a ninny constantly wondering why her boyfriend doesn’t call her back; two, an older brutalized woman of Uncle Val’s who still jokes around with him as if he didn’t screw up her life; and three, the twit who doesn’t really think anything of all the money Uncle Val spends on her), and of course the men drive the action so it doesn’t really matter that the women are trivial anyway. Bonus: if you don’t have enough “straight man raped by foreign object” humor in your life, Sugar Daddies has you covered.

In the end, Ayckbourn attempts a Hail Mary play, trying to create a complex character out of Sasha when he had written nothing complex about her before. Chisholm does her best to make you believe she was really manipulating Val in some way all along but it’s too little, too late. He does the same with Uncle Val, played by a very well-cast Sean G. Griffin, giving him a moment where the audience is supposed to coo at his manipulations and forget/forgive that we heard he was notorious for beating the crap out of his girls.

This play has one saving grace — the cast. I’ll watch them do things and talk Brit to me anytime. With Anne Allgood (one of my favorite actresses to watch in Seattle), Emily Chisholm (who tries to give depth to a depthless character), Elinor Gunn (who was the only character to consistently make me laugh), and John Patrick Lowrie, Sugar Daddies is, at least, competently performed, even if I’d rather the characters were written with meat to them.

Sugar Daddies comes on the tail-end of a rather frustrating season for me to watch. When taken in context of the rest of their season — mostly about white, male-dominated, hetero-normative, middle-to-upper-middle-class folks, and entirely riskless, Middletown excluded — Sugar Daddies fits perfectly. The answer to that age-old question of how many plays about middle-class, straight, white people, that offer no emotional weight or aesthetic/philosophical queries can you possibly fit in one season? Five. The answer is five. I like that ACT makes theatre affordable and brings new work into the city. I’d like it more if they chose compelling work, too.

Solid Performance, Predictable Story: Broke-ology at Seattle Public Theatre

Photo by Paul Bestock

Photo by Paul Bestock

Published at TheSunbreak.com

Ever since the economic decline (you know, the one that’s going for so long that we’re kind of numb to it except we realize that we have to buy the value pack of chicken ramen instead of real chicken), theaters have been pushing the financial sufferings of families. Insert something clever about having to pay $60 for tickets to see a play about economic hardships here. The commonality between these shows — aside from the theme of a family that suffers together sticks together — has been the sheer dominance of the white, middle class family, economic struggle seemingly erasing any POC experience from our stages. Broke-ology by Nathan Louis Jackson at Seattle Public Theatre (through October 20; tickets) at least shakes up our theatrical routine by showing a family of color, though there’s nothing new added to the already persistent economic family hardship storyline.

Expertly directed by (oh-my-god-I-have-such-a-crush-on-you-even-though-I-know-you’re-way-out-of-my-league) Valerie Curtis Newton, Broke-ology centers on the King family. An aging, sickly patriarch (Troy Allen Johnson) steers us through grief, senility, and a house that no one wanted to stay in forever. While the themes may be more in line with economic failure, the meat of the play is what to do with a forgetful, dying father. Though this storyline shows some promise, from there we walk the well-trod path of a solid, though predictable, production.

As any true disappointment knows, in practically every family (especially in dramatic representation) there’s a college kid (“good” son), and a not bad, but not as well off “troubled” son.  In this case our troubled son, Ennis (Corey Spruill), is working a crappy food service job and has a baby on the way. Also typical of this storyline, the “good” son, Malcolm (Tyler Trerise)  has a choice afforded to him because he graduated college, while the troubled kid is stuck. Broke-ology tries to flip this idea by making the argument that Malcolm is stuck too, but in reality we know that having choices, no matter how difficult, is not the same as having none. At the epicenter is a dying father the brothers are trying to keep alive while knowing neither can afford to act as caretaker for him.

The cast is solid, with Spruill at the helm keeping the energy and pace up (scenes he’s not in tend to drag). And Johnson has some truly wonderful moments as he contemplates his own future in the home he’s made. However, what hurts the pace of this production more than anything is the writing of a character we neither need, nor that serves the story — Sonia King, the dead wife and mother, played by Amber Wolfe Wollam. Though I hate advocating the deletion of a female character, and Wollam plays her well, there is no need to have the mother “haunt” Allen physically. Her presence only seems an attempt to force more of an emotional bond with the family — an unnecessary bond  to form, since there is never any question about the love the sons have for each other and their father.

Further, as the play progresses, she becomes only a symbol of Allen’s decaying mind, rather than a character of substance actually required to tell the story. (Though problematic and unnecessary, the beautifully staged time transition from before any children are born to the much later time post-mother’s death communicates in an instant the loss of a parent and loved one. Credit due to Wollam, Johnson, and Newton on that lovely bit of storytelling.)

So what do we have? It’s another solid play about family economics, but one that has yet to actually provide new information about the struggle to carry on through difficulty. This isn’t just a problem with Broke-ology, it’s a problem with all the plays written during and post-economic collapse that try to humanize and characterize our day-to-day difficulty but fail to say anything other than we’re still floating; we’ll carry on. Great. But can the next play Seattle produces about this topic have more bite, especially when you have stellar cast and director?

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Photo by Washington Ensemble Theatre

Photo by Washington Ensemble Theatre

Published at TheSunbreak.com.

Directed by noted Seattle actor Michael Place, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, by Rajiv Joseph at Washington Ensemble Theatre (through October 7; tickets), poses existential questions with a poetry and fluidity that makes it at once heartbreaking and brutal. Though these questions are handled with delicacy, the revelations are nothing new, so while I was not subjected to any ah-ha’s myself, the fact that a tiger is broken up over his place in the world after death did give me pause (paws?) and shed a small amount of light on dusty crevices of Nietzsche.

The play opens on two American soldiers guarding a Bengal tiger at the zoo in Baghdad, and the audience is thrown into the mundanity of war while the tiger (played by the beautifully skilled Mike Dooly) waxes poetic about being a tiger and the pangs of dealing with more obnoxious creatures like lions, or the politics of escaping the zoo into a city that is very much not a jungle.

The soldiers, a manic trying to impress everyone but showing his adeptness to no one, Kev (Ryan Higgins), and the much more hard-nosed seen-it-all, even though he’s barely twenty two, Tom (Jonathan Crimeni), quickly devolve into a predictably idiotic encounter with the tiger that ends with Tom losing a hand and the tiger dying a less than noble death inside his cage.

From there, we see a city not just burnt to nothing by war, but also endlessly haunted by the creatures harmed by it (animal and human), feeling the effects of constant, pointless firefights while never seeing the action on stage. No. The stage is used to question the endlessness of war and whether or not any God is watching or acting for its creations.

The play is lucky to have such skilled actors and such a skilled director. Higgins and Crimeni are tragically horrible, while still being likable. Mike Dooly, as the morose tiger, aches with the knowledge that God has abandoned the city and himself. And Erwin Galan as the interpreter, Musa, is lovely as a victim of two regimes, neither of which treated him well.

The set, designed by Tommer Peterson, is beautifully constructed and utilized expertly by Place, gradually peeling back layers of a crumbling city as the play moves forward and alliances shift.

All that aside, there’s one overly distracting element about Bengal Tiger that left me unsatisfied even after some truly amazing performances, and that’s the use of female characters, or lack thereof. Call me a bitchy woman if you must, but come on. The women (Keiko Green and Leah Pfenning) in this play have no substantial contribution beyond virgin/whore/caregiver/shrieking freak-out roles, barely holding two minutes of stage time when they are present. At best they are props, and at worst they are emotional strings that Joseph chose to pluck for no other reason than to get a reaction from a suggested brutal rape and murder scene. Great. Reducing female roles to these basic stereotypes is utterly lazy, boring, predictable, and demeaning. And frankly, I expect more from the writer of Gruesome Playground Injuries, which performed in that space not three months ago.

In 2013 I expect more. Let me re-phrase: I want to expect more, but the realist in me knows that it’s fruitless to hope that a play treating all its male/animal protagonists with depth and nuance would also do the same for the very sparse female roles. And while it didn’t ruin the otherwise breathtaking performances from the actors listed above, it did depress me that two potentially skilled actors wasted their time serving as props for the gain of  male posturing. I’d almost rather they hadn’t been there at all than have them used in such a lazy way.

A “Gruesome” Twist on Romance from Azeotrope

Amanda Zarr and Richard Nguyen Sloniker in Azeotrope’s production of Gruesome Playground Injuries (Photo: Azeotrope)

Amanda Zarr and Richard Nguyen Sloniker in Azeotrope’s production of Gruesome Playground Injuries (Photo: Azeotrope)

Published at TheSubreak.com.

Romantic comedies don’t really do it for me. Boy meets a girl (or boy meets boy, or girl meets girl). They’re perfect for each other but can’t be together. Trials and tribulations of a ridiculous sort happen (usually involving a large deception one of them can’t see past), while the sarcastic best friend says, “Just get over it.” They do in a cute way. And they skip into the sunset, bubbly and better off having accomplished something over the past hour and a half that leads the audience to believe they will be together for a long time.

Popcorn eaten, soda drank, we leave feeling nothing more than a stomach ache from the mixture of salt and sugar, never to think about this story ever again. Because we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it so many times we can finish the lines or  guess the next plot point before the story even hints at it.

Azeotrope’s Gruesome Playground Injuries (through August 11 at The Little Theatre;tickets) does not fit the mold. Told moving backward and forward in time the dynamic story unfolds with glimpses at the brief self-destructions of two people who want to fit together from age 8 to 38 but can’t seem to smoosh into a couple without creating more scars. With only two actors (Richard Nguyen Sloniker and Amanda Zarr) and a phenomenal script by Rajiv Joseph, director Desdemona Chiang creates a truly compelling night of theatre, ending with the desire to see more of the story.

Both characters are self-destructive to the point of self-harm, but in tragically different ways. Kayleen is a cutter with a stomach issue (she vomits a lot) and a talent for lusting after or genuinely loving Doug, but unwilling to let herself have him. Doug can’t stop hurting himself in much more creative, but seemingly unintentional ways, always seeking to make Kayleen happy though the two are never dating or a couple, but describe each other as best friends. Their betrayals are smart and nuanced emerging slowly, eating at each other years after the incident.

Sloniker, as the rambunctious Doug — who can’t exist in the world without marring his body through some form of stupidity (like blowing up his face with a firecracker) — wields his character with clear force and intensity. His transformation from hyperactive boy with passion for a girl into a man who calms to surrendering his desire for her is utterly captivating.

But where the hell did Amanda Zarr come from? Los Angeles, according to the program, but I sincerely hope she sticks around. With subtlety she delivers a heart-wrenching performance as Kayleen ending in one of the saddest monologues I’ve ever seen about why we do the things we do and why we can’t just let ourselves be happy (we don’t fucking know).

In The Little Theatre (formerly WET’s space) Deanna Zibello designed a set that morphs through an arrangement of curtains into various hospital-type settings. The choreography of these moments creates a consistently fresh space with only small awkward bumps in the machinery.

Gruesome Playground Injuries is another strong piece of theatre from Azeotrope (they produced Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train last year at ACT to wild acclaim). Hopefully, the run will succeed even without the marketing of ACT behind it. The talent of Chiang, Sloniker, and Zarr should not be wasted on small houses.

Everything Happened Last Night

I’m not kidding. Everything happened last night (June 9th), if you’re a writer named Courtney Meaker, which, hey I am.

BUCKSHOT workshop reading at Seattle Creative Art Space

First and foremost my play BUCKSHOT had its second public reading. The reading was directed by Peggy Gannon and featured an amazing cast: Katie Driscoll, Allison Strickland, Pilar O’Connell, Sarah Rose Nottingham, Carter Rodriguez, Daniel Wood, and Santino Garcia. The public reading was the necessary next step in the workshop process. The feedback I received was not only incredibly helpful, but picked out things that I hadn’t realized were in the play, which is always exciting. Working with Peggy Gannon and this cast also provided a very teasing glimmer of what the full production might look like. In short, I think the production will be fantastic, but I’m biased. Back to rewriting and nailing down a space for the fall!

BUCKSHOT will be produced by Macha Monkey this fall. 

Chaos Theory a play seeking order announced as part of Annex Theatre‘s 2014 season

Because I was at the reading for BUCKSHOT, I was not able to attend Annex Theatre’s season announcement party (which was zoo burlesque themed, because they are awesome folks). I pitched my play Chaos Theory, a play seeking order to them for next season back in May. Pamala Mijatov, Artistic Director of Annex, will be directing. To describe the dancing that occurred after I heard this news would teeter between 80s dance and strip club, so let’s just say that I’m really excited to work with Pamala, and that I need to take a dance class to learn some new moves.

The official announcement will come out this fall, but after the season preview party, we were allowed to tell folks publicly.

Chaos Theory will be produced at Annex Theatre in April of 2014. 

WRECKED Season Two, Episode Five “Kitchen Sink”

And lastly, the episode that I wrote for WRECKED Season Two premiered at midnight last night. “Kitchen Sink” has been titled many different things since I wrote it in December. The first name I gave the episode was “Sexy Fun Times” because the episode is about the sexy night of our heroes. On set, shorthand for the episode was “Sexisode.” But then Liz Ellis, the creator of WRECKED, asked me a few weeks ago what I wanted to call the episode now. “Kitchen Sink” is a reference to a cut line. I had written Maggie or Ted saying something sad about how kitchen sink sex probably wasn’t the answer to their issue. It was the final nail in the coffin – realizing that they probably aren’t right for each other any more. The episode is hysterical and sad, if I do say so myself, and can be watched as a standalone.