Month: September 2011

Etymology Naked Girls Reading finalist

I received an email today announcing my short story Etymology is a finalist for the Naked Girls Reading writing contest. Describing my joy at this announcement would fall short, so I’ll be brief: There has been dancing, singing, and later this evening there will be beer.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

When she is submerged in words, late into the evening, I walk to the desk, rub her shoulders, whisper an invitation to bed, and say even early man took a break from hunting to mate.  She tries to explain the limited linguistics of early man that led to the naming of mountains and gods as I kiss her ears, unbutton our shirts, massage her wrists away from books.  She says that language led to everything we name now, to our apartment, our mismatched breasts, our pillows, our bed.  The headboard in our neighbor’s apartment we try to overpower.

 

The reading will happen in Chicago on November 18th after naked girls read each submission. So, in my mind, if a naked woman reads my work aloud, I’m already winning. Now I just need to scrounge up the money to buy a plane ticket.

OSF’s August: Osage County

August: Osage County
Author: Tracy Letts
Date attended: 15 September 2011 evening
Venue: August Bowmer at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Director: Christopher Liam Moore

Why this play now?

I generally enjoy plays about families that are more than off-kilter (see post re: Lie of the Mind). However, I didn’t feel that this play actually added anything to the discussion of what family means, or even how we grieve the loss of a family member.

The play opens with the father giving a lengthy monologue to a women he’s hiring to look after the house. In the monologue we discover that he’s a poet who drinks and whose wife takes pills and is diagnosed with mouth cancer. He also mentions T.S. Eliot a great deal. The next scene is a few days later after the father has gone missing. The wife is high on pills and calls her three daughters home to take care of her and then we discover the father has committed suicide. The action continues to unfold in a meandering way revealing nothing particularly revelatory about family, death, survival, or sisterhood. In fact, the play just seems to force one shit sandwich after another onto the family, but for no purpose except to showcase the family’s cruelty.

The play ends in a particularly trite moment with the mother sobbing, her family having left her, and Johnna sings “This is how the world ends” over and over, never finishing the famous line. Despite all of that the play was engaging if only because the actors were incredibly talented. The story just never said anything worth the ticket price. It seems to revel in shock-value of how horrible people are instead of using that horrible nature to actually say something about families, or how we cope with death. In many ways, even though the family is brought together because of a father’s suicide, they never seem to talk about his death. It seemed that the death was simply a tool to get all the daughters back in the house but served no other purpose.

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Families are psychotic
  • Trying to understand
  • Survival
  • Selfishness vs. self-sacrifice
  • Truth
  • Wasted potential

Were there moments of disunity, or areas in which the story-telling deviated from the apparent desired direction? (apparent in this case meaning the direction as it appeared to this member of the audience)

The whole show felt unified on its specific path, though I don’t think that’s a merit in this case. The redeeming factor of the show is that the actors were all wonderfully skilled at portraying the family. The down-side was the play felt scattered. Unlike, Sam Shepard for instance whose families are evil but with a point, the Westons felt evil for evil’s sake. By the end of act one, I was wondering where the story was actually heading and not in an interested way, but because I didn’t think there had been enough information to actually present a cohesive theme or direction.

Every scene was filled with vitriol and bitterness for no apparent reason. The show’s central point seemed to be the family reaction to the father’s suicide, but then Letts added too many elements on top of that very basic and emotional idea. The mother’s addicted to pills and has cancer; the oldest daughter is going through a separation; the middle daughter is having an incestuous affair with her first cousin (later revealed to be her half-brother); the youngest daughter is self-centered and pathetic; the youngest daughter’s fiancée is a stoner, who molests the 14-year-old daughter of the eldest sister; the mother’s sister had an affair with the now deceased father, etc. Add to that, the mother’s abuse as a child which she uses as an excuse to verbally attack her children, and the number of physical assaults that occur between various members of the family and the experience becomes so watered down that there’s nothing left to actually interpret.

Not to harp on the amazingness of Sam Shepard, but when Shepard uses these elements it doesn’t feel forced or shocking. He uses it to make a broader point. Letts’s play came off more about shocking the audience with a “real” family but without ever really achieving great story-telling or any revelation. Had he instead focused simply on the family trying to cope with the father’s suicide, the story could have been poignant and vital. However, as it stands there was no character with which I could identify and other than a few funny lines, I felt like the back and forth quality the play is lauded for was entirely overrated.

OSF’s Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar
Author: Shakespeare
Date Attended: 15 September 2011 matinée
Venue: New Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Director: Amanda Dehnert

What elements need to work in order for the story to be successfully conveyed?

  • Generally, presenting a side in the wrong and a side in a right, however, this production didn’t do that and I was greatly impressed with the choices they made to support the decision
  • Human side of Brutus
  • Marc Antony

How did the production’s interpretation serve the story?

In the lobby and courtyard of the theatre, the production team created large banners with two interpretations of assassinated politicians with quotes on either side supporting the title. For instance, Abraham Lincoln had one side labeled TYRANT and another EMANCIPATOR. They presented the play in the round in a blackbox space with a female Caesar. Calpurnia was cut from the story, and there was a greater focus on the text. The play had a timeless feel. One character took pictures with a digital camera, they fought with quarter staffs, in one scene they used a gun, and they stabbed Caesar with knives. The costumes also reflected a timeless quality with a focus on flowing or draping fabrics.

The actors were in the theatre as audience came in and they spoke with audience as actors, not as their characters before the show. There was also an element of audience participation. Whenever Caesar lifted her arms the audience was asked to applaud, stand, scream, and cheer. Sometimes this level of audience dependency comes off annoying, however the effect worked well and propelled the audience immediately into the story.

Because we were in the round we felt conspiratorial with the assassins and then during Marc Antony’s speech, we felt allied with Caesar. I enjoyed that there was never clearly a right or wrong side. The audience became a hive-mind answering to whomever was giving you a more compelling cause to action.

Why this play now?

I must say that this play employed many conventions I happen to love, including theatre in the round, actors on stage at the start of the show as actors not as their characters, bare stage, double-casting, gender-blind casting, emotional intensity, and live sound effects. I have never seen Julius Caesar staged and I don’t know if any productions after will live up to this. I had always assumed that in order for the play to be successful the audience would have to believe that Caesar was righteous and good with no possibility of Brutus being in the right. The production instead showed two sides of everyone – the just and the vengeful; righteous and hypocrite – which made the play all the more powerful and made Brutus, Marc Antony, and Caesar all too human.

I was sitting among several middle school students from San Francisco and eavesdropped on their responses. They had some really interesting observations and some silly ones. They didn’t think the blood looked real, which I think is more a factor of it not being a movie. One student said he thought it was too bloody to the point of making him queasy. They also talked extensively about the choice to have Caesar’s ghost on stage after she’s been killed. Caesar walked among the remaining actors throughout the rest of the play, sometimes sitting and watching and occasionally welcoming them to their death by wiping clay on their face – an effect I truly enjoyed, but one in which I overheard the students say “But she was dead.”

The play is more about mob mentalities than justice. Brutus kills Caesar for Rome, not for personal gain, but he’s easily swayed into a mob sense of justice as I never believe Cassius acts in Rome’s best interest but his brother’s. Marc Antony with his amazing speech is able to convince the community to take up arms to revenge Caesar’s death. The murder of the poet Cinna was wonderfully staged to showcase this sense of Rome spinning out of control with blood lust.

One of the most successful uses of the space was the utilization of live sound. During the scenes in which Cassius is talking about the ground shaking, and portents of doom, the actors and crew banged on the seats in a random-rhythmic way from behind, sending at a loud vibration up my spine at random intervals. They also lit the catwalk at one point, while the stage was completely dark and actors talked in low light center stage adding to the Brechtian no-seriously-this-is-a-play, we’re-in-a-theatre, aesthetic-distance-is-awesome way.

An element I had not considered until seeing the play is the righteous suicides throughout the story. Portia, Cassius, Brutus all commit suicide it seems to protect themselves from a greater shame. In a way it feels anti-Shakespearean. We do not see a good guy vanquish a bad guy, which adds to the duality presented by the play. Are their actions for the greater good? Or, are they selfishly motivated?

OSF’s Henry IV Part Two

Henry IV Part Two
Author: Shakespeare
Date attended: 14 September 2011 evening
Venue: Elizabethan Stage at OSF
Director: Lisa Peterson

What elements need to work in order for the story to be conveyed successfully?

  • Hal needs to be the Hal from Part One in his debauchery, slowly building to the King’s death which is his impetus to grow up
  • Falstaff and Hal’s relationship still needs to be strong so we feel the pang when Hal rejects him after his coronation
  • Clearly explaining the civil war and denoting the opposing sides so it’s understood

How did the production’s interpretation serve the story?

OSF’s production implemented a loose rock and roll, timeless theme. The costumes weren’t necessarily any period. And Rumor, the prologuist, acted as a master of ceremonies wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt. The transitions tried to increase the show’s pace by playing guitar riffs while characters ran back and forth in a wonderfully choreographed way. One of the interesting choices was making Poins deaf. Though I felt like that actually detracted from the relationship between Hal and Poins because you didn’t get a sense of back and forth. Instead, Poins signed his responses and Hal acted as his translator. I thought it was interesting though, and I’d be curious to hear the reasoning behind it because I’m intrigued.

Why this play now?

The difficulty with Henry IV Part Two is nothing exciting happens. There’s a war but we don’t see it. There are no tragic deaths except the King, which isn’t tragic but necessary. There are few emotional moments and the ones that could be dubbed emotional generally aren’t because we haven’t seen the characters together until this moment. There aren’t even that many scenes in which we see relationships build. Henry IV, both parts, are more about Hal than the King and, yet in Part Two Hal is only in five scenes. There is only one scene with Hal and Falstaff together. And only one scene with Hal and the King. On top of that there’s the political story which has characters that come in once and are never seen again, but are continually referenced often by different versions of their name. So, it’s a difficult show to communicate story because it’s talking about political shiftings as opposed to showing them.

What holds the play together is Falstaff. As such, his connections with Hal, Shallow, Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet need to be strong so that Hal’s rejection of him at the end of the show is entirely heartbreaking. Sadly, the production didn’t seem to focus on that relationship and as a result what happened was a series of scenes that seemed little connected to one another except that Falstaff was there. This ultimately is the Bard’s fault for giving the script so little emotion or action. If there’s only one scene with Falstaff and Hal, then in that one scene, we have to know their whole relationship and then see it dashed by the end.

In terms of what this play has to say now, I feel like Henry IV is about growing up, fitting into a role, and evaluating your future. This applies to all characters in the show, not just Hal. In the dramaturgy program, there was a quote that summed up what the show offers:

The character of Rumor opens the play with his prologue, setting the tone for what is to come: uncertainty, reversals of fortune and most of all, false expectations. Much of the play that follows is spent building up those expectations among both the characters and the audience and then dashing them, allowing the reality to be shown as somehow false or cheap or hollow.

OSF’s Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure
Author: Shakespeare
Date attended: 14 September 2011 matinée
Venue: Angus Bowmer at OSF
Director: Bill Rauch

What elements need to work in order for the story to be successfully conveyed?

  • Humanizing (fallibility) of all three leads Isabella, Angelo, and the Duke and hopefully in humanizing conveying some likability
  • Angelo’s attraction to Isabella and the choice to proposition her
  • Claudio’s rationale that his life is worth more than Isabella’s chastity
  • Isabella’s innocence, naïvety, and stubbornness which would actually make her believe that her chastity is worth more than her brother’s life, which would leave Juliet unmarried to raise a child on her own
  • Isabella’s growth to compassion and greater human understanding by the end to plead for Angelo’s life

How did the production’s interpretation serve the story?

OSF’s interpretation is Vienna, an American city sometime in the seventies. They integrated live Italian music (signified by titles like “Song for Work,” “Song for Lost Love,” and “Song for Death Row”) and Italian dialogue translated into the original verse by other English-speaking characters. The casting decision which made Mistress Overdone a transvestite was my favorite choice by far.

Why this play now?

I struggle with Measure for Measure, like I assume most modern audiences and readers struggle with a play claiming to be a comedy that seems to be far from it. Isabella’s insistence that her chastity is worth more than a human life, Angelo’s utter abuse of power and reneging on his promise, the Duke’s inappropriate proposal, the Duke’s punishments which do not seem fair or just, Claudio’s betrayal of Isabella, Mariana’s stupidity, etc. all frustrate me. The required elements were all there, which helped with the story, but did not address the question why do we want to produce Measure for Measure?

Clearly, Shakespeare will always be done, and there’s nothing we can do about that, nor should we. However, just because it’s Shakespeare does not necessarily mean it’s good, vital, or necessary. Some of his plays are amazing, but some are completely outdated and even the best interpretations cannot save the story from itself. I feel the same way about Taming of the Shrew. I was recently proven wrong about Comedy of Errors only in the sense that I actually enjoyed the production which I never thought possible, but I still don’t see what Comedy has to say now. Which is the question I have with Measure for Measure. 

The one moment that I gained understanding about why this production, was in the final scene when Isabella enters to begin demanding justice. The production staged her entering from the upper house right door and when she began entreating the audience, they raised house lights ever so slightly to allow us to witness his downfall. “Ah,” I thought, “We will be his judge, jury, and hopefully executioner. We get to hold corrupt politicians accountable. This is the point!” Alas, the feeling wore off as the scene went on and the Duke played with Isabella, denouncing her, making her feel crazy, and withholding the information that her brother was actually alive. I understand that the Duke wants to hide Claudio’s life from Isabella in order to test her ability to forgive. However, I can’t forgive Angelo or the Duke.

The most tragic proof of Shakespeare’s insanity when he wrote the play is Mariana. She’s not only hopelessly in love with a jackass who already turned her down once because she no longer had money, she doesn’t seem to care that he propositioned Isabella for sex, or that Angelo will believe he’s having sex with Isabella as opposed to her. Adding insult, she still wants to marry him and the Duke punishes Angelo by forcing him to marry her. She’s his punishment. And she wants to be his punishment. She then entreats Isabella to beg for Angelo’s life. By this moment, I was squirming in my seat. He was going to murder her brother. She believes her brother is dead. Let him die. Don’t beg for him. Let him go.

So, no, I don’t think I have an answer why we should put this play on now. Perhaps a different interpretation, or a modern adaptation would bring to light what is salvageable and might actually develop characters for the women instead of what is currently represented. Although I did like that Isabella didn’t give the Duke an answer to his proposal. The lights went to instant blackout as soon as she walked up to a microphone to answer. The last sound was the intake of breath before she speaks.

 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Imaginary Invalid

Imaginary Invalid
Adapted by: Oded Gross and Tracy Young
Date Attended: 13 September 2011
Venue: Angus Bowmer at OSF
Director: Tracy Young

Why this play now?

OSF’s adaptation of Imaginary Invalid is far from the original, but with translations of Moliere, that’s generally a good thing. It’s difficult to hold comedy up to a standard the way I do for dramas. The fact of the matter is, comedy is harder than drama. Everyone has a different sense of humor. And just like I would want to shoot myself if someone forced me to watch the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, I imagine some would rather have their feet boiled than sit through a 1960s Paris themed, commedia dell’arte adaptation of a French comedy.

Lest I be accused of being a fuddy-duddy, I should explain my views on theatre comedies. Generally, if the comedy is not contributing anything new, I ask myself, why should I care? I have no patience for Neil Simon, for instance, or most of Michael Frayn’s work because their plays have nothing to offer beyond the evening of entertainment and most fail at that (explain to me why I should care about a relationship comedy in the 60s set in New York when there’s little-to-no mention of actual issues happening in the era and in that particular city). And I do use the word entertainment as opposed to theatre because there is a difference. That being said, I have enjoyed recent interpretations of Moliere. I worked at Intiman Theatre when they performed a new adaptation of Doctor in Spite of Himself which was heavily inspired by commedia and incorporated many comedic elements that I enjoyed and that elevated the piece to theatre because it resonated beyond the slapstick jokes (though there were also many dick, fart, and poop jokes as well). So, in other words, the comedy has to operate on other levels in order for me to enjoy it fully.

What I enjoyed about this production of Imaginary Invalid is how it balanced the comedy with stakes that were very real which was something Doctor didn’t do. I have not read the original work, but according to the dramaturgical program Illuminations, the play deviates from the original intent of the play which was to showcase doctor’s, or other persons in power, ability to harm for their own gain even if they are supposed to heal. This adaptation instead focuses on how to live life. Additionally, the adapters create a romance between the maid and Argan’s brother, introduce a new character as the maid’s brother (and incorporate feigned deaf and dumbness into that role for great comedic effect), and allow the other unattractive daughter to have a romance with the unattractive doctor-suitor.

It took me a while to warm up to the comedy of the piece. Fart and poop jokes abound, but there were also moments of great tenderness and even brilliant humor. By the second act, I was sold on the hyper-sixties music and the romances between the characters. I especially loved Toinette’s, the brilliant maid, relationship with the daughters, Argan, Beralde, and her brother. Introducing the romance between Toinette and Beralde introduced a level of emotion I wasn’t expecting.

By the closing song, I was happy that the story had taken the turn it did. It’s nice when a comedy can transcend comedy while still fitting into the mold. Everyone still got their happy ending, but the play also took the risk of telling a more interesting story than just a comedic vent piece about doctors.

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Power of the mind to harm the body
  • “All you need is love”
  • Living life instead of trying to live longer
  • Corruption and fallibility of doctors
  • Various deception lazzis
  • Miscommunication

And, poop, fart, and penises 

What moments encapsulate the story?

  •  Oldest daughter’s plea to let her fool herself as she exited the stage – this was the moment signifying the big shift in the play taking it from simple comedy to a more complex story, though still not necessarily drama
  • Relationship build between maid and Beralde up to the kiss
  • Not really important, but a funny moment: Wife saying she wore a WWJD bracelet when she was young to show her devotion to Jesus and a watch that said “What time would Jesus think it is?”

Were there moments of disunity, or areas where the story-telling deviated from the apparent desired direction? (apparent in this case meaning the direction as it appeared to this member of the audience)

Having Argon on stage at the end of intermission was a little strange because there had been no precedent for it in the show. I also didn’t think the musician speaking with one member of the audience trying to write a song about her added anything to the story, though it was done in a very charming way and was incorporated into the show, so it didn’t feel like a waste.

Overall, the production was well-suited to the Paris 1960s theme. The music had some hits and misses, but the final song resonated, especially when they chose to cut-off the last word. I also thought the line-up to curtain call was well done with the gap between Toinette and Guy representing Beralde. I was almost sad to see him actually re-join for the curtain call, though it made sense that he did, and I’m not one to prevent an actor from taking a bow especially if it’s a comedy.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s The African Company Presents Richard III

The African Company Presents Richard III
Author: Carlyle Brown
Date Attended: 13 September 2011 matinée
Venue: August Bowmer Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Director: Seret Scott

Why this play now?

The African Company Presents takes place in New York in 1822, while New York has just recently (in the past year, or two) passed legislation to end slavery in the region. The story revolves around The African Company which is, as you can guess from the title, presenting Richard III. They have the audacity to perform the play at the same time as the Park Theatre’s performance of the same play. Based on real events, the story focuses on a small company of actors, most of whom were recently slaves, as they perform Richard III despite Stephen Price’s (the manager of the Park Theatre) best efforts to shut them down.

The danger with period pieces is audiences boiling their reaction down to a simplified, “Look how far we’ve come, now where’s the bar?” It’s a risky endeavor especially when period pieces revolve around race, gender, or sexuality. No one wants their work to be dismissed so easily, so contemporary playwrights tackling historical moments need to surface other elements that force audiences to confront themselves as much as the past. Brown uses this moment in history to talk about the relationship between art, race, and revolt.

One of my favorite moments was Jimmy nodding to the goal of any play, or at least what we hope the goal of theatre when he says (paraphrasing), “What are we going to do? Change the world with a play?” (Granted not every production aims so high, but I believe we should always start with great aspirations.) He goes on further to say he doesn’t want to incite a riot; he acts to be loved. It was this debate that felt incredibly vital for me. The issue of art vs. entertainment; merely putting on a play vs. hoping to change the world through theatre; fear vs. action. But then again, that’s my favorite theatre topic.

In the final moments of the play, after all the actors are imprisoned (which was some lovely staging), Billy presents a new play, one that will showcase their unique voice and experience. Billy Brown’s play, The Drama of King Shotaway, was the first known play written by an African-American. I loved how it ended with claiming their voice and how Shakespeare was the impetus, but not the end-all be-all (reference intended) in art, theatre, or equality.

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Performance of race, gender, job roles, royalty, etc.
  • Necessity of theatre
  • Theatre as a symbol of rebellion and revolt
  • Theatre, and Shakespeare specifically, as the art of the masses, not for the few (Shakespearean “Holla”)
  • Parallel story contrasting Richard and Anne with Jimmy and Anne

What moments encapsulate the story?

  • “We’ve proven we can do anything with nothing.”
  • Papa Shakespeare’s dream about the ladder going up and up
  • Papa Shakespeare explaining what he does as griot
  • Jimmy’s line (paraphrasing) “What are we going to do? Change the world with a play?”
  • Billy’s thoughts on Shakespeare near the end. He says that the audience is here to see what they, the actors, can bring to the piece, “So speak Shakespeare however you want to speak it.”
  • Billy getting Price to negotiate a number to end their run early only to turn down the offer because he had no intention of actually selling his performances, only to prove that Price believed they could still be bought
  • Billy’s subsequent monologue about his auction when he was first brought to America

Were there moments of disunity, or areas where the story-telling deviated from the apparent desired direction? (apparent in this case meaning the direction as it appeared to this member of the audience)

I felt that Price and the Constable were highly expositional and in some ways, unnecessary. The only scene in which Price felt necessary was the negotiation scene with Billy. Otherwise, I felt like he and the Constable could be cut. Price’s opening monologue set us in the period, which was helpful but I felt could have been accomplished with the African Company alone. I’m torn though, because I don’t know how else to do the negotiation scene with Price. It’s important for us to see that whites were still trying to buy blacks in any way they could legally accomplish, and that Billy Brown as a character and a person would not stand for it, but wouldn’t shy away from performing acquiescence to prove his point. The “change of heart” was a wonderful moment, and it led so well into his monologue about how much his old master had spent on him at the auction.

Other than that, I would have a liked a few scene edits, and more of Billy and Papa Shakespeare because they said the most interesting things. However, wanting more generally isn’t an disunity issue.

Six plays in three days

This afternoon I will begin my drive to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This will be my first trip to OSF and to say the least, I’m incredibly excited. Here’s my schedule:

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

I’m a little bummed I won’t be able to see Ghost Light or Willful. The only tickets available were out of my price range. But on the whole, I’m really happy with the schedule. Out of the list, I’ve only ever seen Henry IV, Part Two staged. And I get to do that nerdy thing of going on the backstage tour, which I never get tired of no matter how many theaters I’ve worked in.

Collektor’s Lie of the Mind at ACT Theatre

Lie of the Mind
Author: Sam Shepard
Date Attended: 9 September 2011
Venue: Collektor presented at ACT Theatre
Directed by Rob West

Why this play now?

Sam Shepard’s work focuses on the breakdown, or re-definition of the American family. His work reminds me of a Douglas Coupland novel called All Families are Psychotic. His families are violent, darkly funny, generally horrible, at times sweet, and all too real. He’s a strange playwright to say you enjoy, but I enjoy him. His work speaks about masculinity in a very compelling way without explicitly being about masculinity. And even though his men generally dominate the story, his women are always intense and far from one-dimensional.

Lie of the Mind revolves around two families dealing with the abuse of a woman and her abuser. The two families imprison the abuser and abused for their own protection and to heal. Beth, has suffered brain damage and her brother is trying to take care of her with some, but not entirely helpful, assistance from their mother and father. Jake’s mother keeps him in his childhood room while his mind tries to sort out killing Beth. In the beginning, Jake believes Beth is dead, and Beth tries to get back to Jake. By the end, Beth believes Jake is dead, and Jake tries to get back to Beth.

The set is constructed in such a way that the two families are each using one-half of the stage and there are occasional moments where it’s as if they can see one another through time and space. I can’t remember if the stage directions specify having them on two separate sides of the stage, and while that worked for me, I was tempted to see it staged in the same space, though you would likely lose some of that poignance of seeing each other through walls, across states.

Beth speaks in a broken childlike simplicity that borders on poetry. The building of the relationship between Beth and everyone else on stage, even the ones that don’t directly interact with her, creates a heartbreaking and far from fulfilling story, which is another thing I love about Shepard. You do not leave his shows with warm fuzzies. The evil do not necessarily get a comeuppance, and even don’t seem evil by the end, though you still might want them murdered. Shepard doesn’t give you what you want. He gives you what would happen with a sort of magical realism sensibility without ever completely broaching magical realism. In short, he makes a compelling and all too necessary piece of the theatre.

Quote from the play featured on the program:

There’s this thing in my head. This thing that the next moment – the moment right after this one will – blow up. Explode with a voice.

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • The failure of memory
  • Examining the meaning of “dead to me”
  • Shifting definitions of love
  • Dependency
  • Family imprisonment and the imprisonment of the mind

And so much more.

What moments encapsulate the story?

  • Beth calling for her Mom from the hospital room
  • The last moment, folding the flag and the lines (paraphrased) “It’s funny the things that come back to you.”
  • Beth sorting out love in front of her family and Frankie
  • The relationship scene between Jake and Sally trying to remember the promise they’ve made
  • Frankie trying to get Beth to put her shirt back on
  • Mike helping Beth to walk in the hospital by having her stand on his feet
  • Mike’s frustration and realization that his family has already forgotten what Jake did to Beth, or that they’ve simply moved on from it

Pretty much every scene with Beth was heartbreaking and imparted some greater meaning to the piece.

Were there moments of disunity, or areas where the story-telling deviated from the apparent desired direction? (apparent in this case meaning the direction as it appeared to this member of the audience)

I wasn’t a fan of the choice to go to blackout at the act breaks and bring the lights back up as the actors are still going offstage. It made me try to impart some greater wisdom to the choice, and all I could come up with was a Brechtian vibe, but I don’t think it fits. The first time it happened, I thought it was an accident and the second time it happened, I kept trying to put a reason to it instead of focusing on the act that just ended. Because the scene changes were done in character, I couldn’t parse out why they would go off-stage as actors in full light. Perhaps they couldn’t see well enough to get off stage, but they always entered in the dark. However, if this is the only real moment of disunity, that’s awesome.

In terms of the play itself, Shepard had a third act issue. The third act is monologue heavy. Shepard in general, is a monologue heavy playwright and all of them are well-written. However in the third act, everyone has a monologue and that lessened some of the revelation that the third act provides. I’m torn, because I really enjoyed them all, but I do feel that they lost something in being one right after the other. Meg’s monologue to her husband about women and men was one of my favorites. Although, I wanted her to drop Baylor’s socks on the floor and out of his reach, instead of dropping them on his lap.

I’m still trying to figure out how Shepard wrote a play, the main premise of which is domestic violence, and yet, a play which never seemed to address domestic violence. The end is setup so Beth has the opportunity to confront her abuser, and yet, she doesn’t see him. Jake is dead to her. It’s like he’s not there. Mike is the only one who seeks revenge about the beating and recognizes how awful it was, however I couldn’t decide if his anger was out of protectiveness of his sister or something personal within him. In other words, Mike’s vengeance seemed not to be about Beth and what she was going through, but about how Mike felt abused by the situation. I like that I don’t have an answer to it, and that several days later I’m still trying to figure out what the ending meant, and how it made me feel.