act theatre

One Minute Play Festival

Seattle participated in its first One Minute Play Festival a few weeks ago in the midst of Chaos Theory‘s run and a whole slew of job-related things. You can watch the full thing at Howl Round TV here.

Or, for your reading pleasure, here are the pieces I submitted.

“With a” directed by Desdemona Chiang

Two women, SONJA and DUNCAN, sit next to each other looking out. Maybe they just tried to have sex. Maybe they are at the end of a very long day in which, yet again, they didn’t say anything new or interesting to one another. They have heard each other’s stories. It’s over. They both know it. They look as if they have sat there for a long time. DUNCAN tries to say something and can’t quite do it.

SONJA: I think it was when

DUNCAN: No it wasn’t

SONJA: Yes, it was. It was when I asked you if you’d ever change your mind about oysters.

DUNCAN: That’s ridiculous.

SONJA: I know.

DUNCAN: We’d only been dating for a month.

SONJA: But that’s when I knew. That’s when I knew we weren’t…

They sit.

SONJA: Should we yell, or something?

DUNCAN: Do you want to yell?

SONJA: I just thought. You know. After three years. Shouldn’t it end

DUNCAN: with a bang?

SONJA: Yeah. Stupid.

DUNCAN: I could yell, if you want.

SONJA: That’s sweet.

DUNCAN: I guess we should go.

They sit.

SONJA: Or. We could

DUNCAN: Sit here?

SONJA: Yeah. For just a little

DUNCAN: A bit longer.

SONJA: Yeah.

They sit.

End.

 

“In Line” directed by Ali El-Gasseir

Three strangers stand in line. The world is on mute.

ONE: You’re standing in line.

TWO: You’vebeenstandinginlineforthelongesttimeyoucanpossiblyimagine.

THREE: You’ve been standing in line on the worst week of your life. You got dumped, of course. That effing bill got sent to collections because hospitals can’t send bills to your email like normal people.

TWO: Seriously, has the line moved at all?

ONE: Just one inconvenient piece of business before you carry on with your day.

THREE: When you get home, you’re gonna pour the largest bourbon in the largest glass in the world and cry. Softly. All night if you have to. Show them all you can commit to something.

ONE: It’s moving slowly. No need to get bent out of shape about it.

TWO: You could have done this any other day. But no. You’re here on your day off. Like a genius. You could be in bed, moron.

FOUR enters talking on a cell phone and cuts the line obliviously. They each want to react and confront him, but they don’t. They may cough and subtly try to get FOUR’s attention, but mostly they just stare angrily at him. FOUR talks on his phone completely unaware.

ONE: What a jerk. Someone should say something.

TWO: Screw this day.

Next.

FOUR is next. The line moves.

THREE: You will sell your soul to Satan if that guy gets syphilis in the next twenty-four hours.

End.

NEXT UP:

Gala Schmala at Theater Schmeater – Seance featuring Julia Griffin and Karen Jo Fairbrook, directed by J.D. Lloyd; June 6-14

On The Boards Northwest New Works – That’swhatshesaid featuring Erin Pike and directed by Katherine Karaus; June 13-15

 

One Minute Play Festival, Schmee Gala, NWNW and more!

It’s been crazy pants town time (this is a combination of words that vaguely go together) at Meakerland. Here’s what’s coming up or down the pipeline. (What direction do pipelines go?)

One Minute Play Festival May 10 & 11

A little over a month ago, I received an email from Dominic D’Andrea about writing for the One Minute Play Festival. I wrote two, one- minute pieces for the festival. With a will be directed by Desdemona Chiang and In Line will be directed by Ali El-Gasseir. The festival will take place at ACT Theatre. The full list of playwrights and directors is here. It includes some of my favorite playwrights including Keiko Green, Stephanie Timm, Wayne Rawley, and Juliet Waller-Pruzan. Purchase your tickets here.  

seth and bach popcorn pretzelChaos Theory Through May 17

CHAOS THEORY, a play seeking order opened! Reviews are coming in and they’ve been highly positive so far. We still have four weeks to go so I’m anxious to hear other thoughts about the play. Getting to hear how people are making sense of the world is what truly excites me about this piece. Are Frannie, Bach, and Seth the same person? Is Mack/Josie real? It’s been great to hear audience reaction and theories about the sanity levels of the characters. Plus, it’s funny. Get your tickets at Annex Theatre.

Gala Schmala June 6 – 14

Doug Staley from Theater Schmeater contacted me to write a short piece for the upcoming gala, which will also be the first performance in the new space. The guidelines for the piece was incredibly effing broad – history of theatre/backstage feel. So I wrote a two-hander about Charlotte Cushman called Séance. The Gala will feature many of my favorite people including fellow playwright Keiko Green who’s currently playing Frannie in Chaos Theory (it’s all connected) and Raymond Williams who’s my marketing buddy with Macha Monkey Productions. Tickets on sale soon!

That’sWhatSheSaid at NWNW Festival June 13 – 15

It’s getting closer. Northwest New Works Festival produced by On the Boards is getting closer, and That’swhatshesaid is going to be an epic part of it. The final draft has been submitted. Erin Pike and Katherine Karaus are hard at work to make it honest and piercing. This piece is highly conflicting for me. It’s purposefully taking female characters out of context and putting them in the mouth of one female character in a way that was not intended by the playwrights. As a playwright, this would drive me nuts. However, it’s so interesting to hear what female are characters are saying in the 10 most produced plays, especially from this past year where the list was actually more diverse than it has been in years. I think this piece is going to be highly polarizing and, quite possibly, difficult to watch. (Spoiler: women were written to cry a lot and have quite a few random outbursts.) Tickets are going on sale soon.

After that? I don’t know. Hit me up.

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.

Why, First Date, why?

This response was written about a preview performance of First Date I saw in March. I fully acknowledge the play may have changed over the preview process, but I’m assuming the bulk of the writing did not, which is really my only problem with the play. 

I’m disappointed in you. You know who you are. You are the people who wrote the book and lyrics for ACT’s new musical First Date. You are the people who decided that writing a new musical didn’t need interesting revelations about dating, or evolution of communication between men and women, or character development. No. Not you. You decided to pull out every painful stereotype and cliché paired with catchy music for a truly depressing array of insipid inanity.

I have been told that I hate fun. This is not true. I party. I dance. I crack inappropriate jokes at awkward times. I like stand-up. I barbecue. I do not hate fun; I hate stupidity. There’s a difference. I enjoy smart humor and witty dialogue. I will admit that musicals are not my favorite thing in the world. However, because I grew up on musicals, I can appreciate them for what they are while hoping that they will continue to evolve to tell better stories rather than stick with tropes that worked 100 years ago.

I had high hopes for First Date: The Musical. For one thing, I love ACT. I like that they bring in new work and that a good portion of that new work is local. I like that they are pushing beyond the same tired shows over and over again (I’m looking at you, Glass Menagerie). But I am horrified First Date could be put on stage in 2012. Because I want all theatre to aspire for greater truth, even if that greater truth is just a new way to tell a love story in a funny and compelling manner, I feel this needs to be said. I would also like to note that I know I’m not their target audience. I know they didn’t care if I liked it. They knew the general population would, or at least hoped they would, and judging by the reviews and the people I sat with in the audience that night, they were right.

Brief synopsis: Aaron and Casey are set up on a blind date by mutual friends. Aaron is a comically nerdy numbers guy, while Casey is the artsy one. (Because why bother doing something different when you can pull out the old standby?) Throughout the date they have to battle the voices of their exes and best friends to figure out if this relationship is worth pursuing.

What I liked about the show:

  • Strong singing skills. Even when I hated what the songs were saying, they sounded great.
  • Overall talented ensemble including director, actors, designers, musicians, etc. Your efforts made the piece bearable.
  • Music was compelling and catchy. I defy you to get “Bail Out” out of your head.
  • Choreography and staging was fun, energetic, and sometimes truly creative. They used the space well.
  • Using friends as devices to force Aaron and Casey to air their hangups was a nice framework, and was the perfect structure to highlight the thoughts of the two daters.
  • The premise of a first date is perfect fodder for a musical.

Considering there was a lot of good, it’s hard for me to describe what followed. But the problem stemmed entirely from moronic writing and easy laughs based on tired clichés and stereotypes about how men and women don’t understand each other. If the writing had been better, this show would have been an entertaining night of theatre at the very least.

I will preface these next lists by saying had the play done only a few of these things, it would not have been awful. But feeling the need to do them all in succession and seemingly without any thought toward the implications made for a thoroughly aggravating experience.

Clichés:

  • Aaron’s ex left him at the altar. They tried to make this not the same thing you see only in sitcoms by instead saying that he was left at that the chuppah. Now that’s comedy.
  • The homosexual male best friend of Casey calls her “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore” on every phone message he leaves because that’s the only type of homosexual ever to get stage or screen time.
  • Casey wants to order a burger, but instead orders a salad. They try to turn this into relevancy by saying that Aaron really wants to order a salad, but he orders a burger. I bet you can’t guess what happens next. Yup, that’s right. They switched plates. How would anyone see that coming?!
  • Casey is a photographer but hasn’t actually taken photographs in many years because she’s afraid of being bad at it and revealing too much of herself. She’s essentially a self-defeating stereotype of a woman too afraid to commit to anything because she’s got abandonment issues. Groan.
  • By the end of the show we don’t know much about the characters, which could be fitting into the first date model. However, because they bring Casey’s therapist on stage to talk about her daddy issues, and Aaron reads a letter from his dead mother, I would think that having some more character development would be in order.
  • Casey’s sexual history comes up and surprise, surprise, she’s not a virgin. And because she’s had sex with more than one person her whole life, it’s insinuated that she’s a slut. In fact, the first slut joke comes about 10 minutes into the show. I’d also point out that his sex history is not discussed. We only know that he dated the ex-fiance. His sexual history is not up for debate; why is hers?
  • A biological clock ticks for Casey. Seriously.

Desperate attempts to make this show seem relevant:

  • Song about Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and how you can’t escape it. Sorry, I live now. Who doesn’t know this?
  • Song about who pays for the check. Did you know that the reason men and women don’t know what to do about the check is because of feminism? Well, I’m glad there was a song to point that one out for me. God. Aren’t feminists the worst?
  • Joke about Newt Gingrich, or some other prominent republican possibly winning the election. Granted no one wants that.

Okay, now we get to the overall message the show tried to push. Here are the unpleasant stereotypes it could not see beyond. I’d again like to say, that had only a few of these happened, this would not have been that bad. But all of these combined to form one production. In 2012.

Stereotypes about women:

Women hate their bodies. In the first song, within the first verse, we hear a woman complain about her body. I believe it was something about her thighs, but there were so many negative things women said about their bodies that it’s hard to remember which came first. After this incident, it was moment after moment of fat-shaming, or negative body image. Casey professes to love her body and not be ashamed to order the burger she really wants because she’s so “tough,” “artsy,” and “edgy” (these are also the only words Aaron ever uses to describe her). But Casey is convinced to order a salad by her best friend (voice in her head) because she’s single and will always be single if she orders that burger because the man will see it as a portent for things to come. There were many more moments, small and subtle as they always are, smugly insinuating that no matter how we may protest to love our bodies, we are actually all insecure little girls thinking this dress makes us look fat. There was also a particularly disturbing moment when Aaron rants about his ex. While some of that song depicts horrible actions the ex did while they were in a relationship, he spends significantly more time describing problems with her body and sexuality, like her growing double chin, chunky thighs, and her ineptitude at sex because she didn’t worship his penis.

Women love bad boys because bad boys treat them poorly. Oh yeah. Women love them some bad boys. Especially when they forget their birthdays, rip them off, cheat, disappear for days, etc. They can’t get enough of that because bad boys have big penises (yes, they sang that).

Women have daddy issues. After the bad boy song, Casey decides she doesn’t want to date Aaron because he is not a bad boy and women only want bad boys, ladies. As she’s about to leave Best Friend intervenes asking Casey what her therapist says about “all this”. So, Casey sings about how Mommy and Daddy never loved her, and though both her mother and father are mentioned in the song, clearly it’s Daddy’s love she’s seeking. Cause women can’t ever be women without some Daddy issues. It’s also probably why we like bad boys.

Women are a slave to the biological clock. We can’t help it. The clock ticks (in this show the clock actually ticked). We need a man. We need babies. Cause we’re not getting any younger. So, why not settle? Huh? Come on. He’s nice. He has a good job. Isn’t that enough? Apparently, yes it is.

Stereotypes about men:

Men don’t understand women. We are largely getting this story from Aaron’s perspective. Even though we can take rides in both Casey and Aaron’s heads, make no mistake, this show is about Aaron. And Aaron thinks women are tricky. Women are complicated. Women don’t know what they want. And he thinks this because he’s a man and that’s what men think, right? Dear writers of this show: all people are complicated and difficult to figure out. It’s not about how men don’t understand women, or that women don’t understand men. It’s that sometimes we don’t understand ourselves and that makes it harder to empathize with anyone who’s doing something differently than we would. But that’s not nearly as funny as the same, “God, women are so complicated! What am I going to do? [laugh track]”

Heterosexual men can be conned into doing anything if you call them gay. Want to know how Aaron’s best friend (voice in his head) convinces him to order that burger? Calling him gay. Yup. That’s how you do it. Because homosexual men aren’t manly, right? They don’t order burgers. They only eat salads. Because women only eat salad, and gay men are essentially women. Facepalm.

Homosexual men are all limp-wristed and effeminate. There was one gay man in this show until the end. I was willing to excuse the token effeminate gay male because there were so many other things to be mad about (like no mention of queer women at all) but when the gay best friend shows up to the bar to find Casey, who does he find but another effeminate gay man! And who are the voices in their heads? Effeminate gay men! All with limp-wrists and lisps! Yay! See, we’re cultured! We know what gay men are like.

Men have issues because of Mom. Aaron has issues because his mom was so “career-driven” and busy at work that she didn’t spend any time with him at home. This is something that is said on stage in 2012 in a CONTEMPORARY musical. Moms man, they’re the worst. Amirite? What I’m assuming is the writers had originally done a “Cats and the Cradle” thing with Aaron’s backstory, but then someone had the brilliant idea of changing it from Dad to Mom because that will make the play feel more “real,” and then NO ONE THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT THAT WOULD SAY. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. I’m thinking maybe they just didn’t think about it, instead of actively saying to themselves, “Yeah. Moms with careers suck. They don’t spend time with their children.” Do you know how vitriolic the words he used about this situation sounded? His mom was too busy with her career after sacrificing her body to birth him that she missed a couple of his home games. I’m so sorry your mother wanted to work. That must have been devastating for you.

At that point, there was no hope left for me liking this musical. Believe me when I say that there was more than what I’ve written here. More un-insightful jokes. More gross depictions of men and women. I wish I did like it. No. That’s not right. I wish they had written something smart. I wish they had written something that would flip theses stereotypes into something new, that would comment on how dating culture is bizarre, awkward, and yes, funny. I wish they had written something that balked at cliché instead of going for the easy laugh, that actually dared to talk about the difficulty of human connection. I firmly believe you can do this with humor, because you know what? People are funny without resorting to the same “Let’s get laid” jokes that permeate the romcom and in part, this musical. But no. That would not be the story the writers of First Date wanted, because that would have assumed that audiences wouldn’t find jokes about how women and men don’t understand each other funny.

 

New projects and announcements

Apocalypse Soon was a huge success at Ghost Light Theatricals Battle of the Bards. My cast killed it, as they were destined to do. And even though we didn’t win Battle of the Bards, all three shows broke $1500 in donations which is something that has not happened in Battle of Bards history. Here is the final score for those who who are desperate to know how the whole thing turned out. The winning show, Paper Bullets, is going to be an awesome experience written by the very talented John E. Allis who currently writes for The Seattle Star and blogged for the last 14/48. You can look forward to seeing Paper Bullets next season at Ghost Light Theatricals!

Done with one show and on to the next. I’m pleased to announce a new project. I will be directing at Stone Soup Theatre’s Double XX Festival a short piece written by Deborah Yarchun called Streakers.

As of right now the show is slated to perform on the second weekend of the festival, April 26th – 29th. Streakers blends ritual, sex, and humor centering around the death of a pet. General auditions for all Double XX Fest pieces are coming up on the 18th and 19th of February if you know someone who would be interested in participating in any of the fantastic shows directed by Seattle women.

My playwrighting class is coming to close which means there will be a showcase of student work. As of right now, the date is set for Friday, February 24th at ACT Theatre. The showcase will feature ten minute selections from all the students in class. This class has been absolutely extraordinary, and I would encourage any writer in the Seattle area to take it. For the showcase, I’m preparing a scene from a new work, tentatively titled, Slip. Here’s a short excerpt:

ALANA
That’s just it. It’s like I remember something. Like that word on the tip of your tongue. When my mom said his name

MEL
What was it?

ALANA
Sorry

MEL
His name?

ALANA
Hal.

MEL
Hal?

ALANA
Hal.

“Little bunny foo-foo” plays on out-of-key piano. It’s out of joint.  An EASTER BUNNY comes across stage hiding eggs. ALANA can hear the music and sees the BUNNY. 

MEL
We could try to find a picture. See if it will jog your memory. If it means something to you. I want to help.

ALANA
No. I’d rather just

MEL
You okay?

ALANA
Huh?

MEL
What’s the matter?

ALANA
Did you see

MEL
I’ll make you tea.

EASTER BUNNY satisfied with the placement of eggs, exits. Music stops. Light shift.
Slip.
ALANA’s childhood house. She is sixteen and drunk.

ALANA
Tea?

MOM
You’ve been drinking tea?

ALANA
Mom?

From the stage directions: “A slip is a shift in time, not a flashback. It is as if ALANA is falling through memories but is still also active in the scene happening in real time. Sometimes, these moments take a minute of adjustment for her, and sometimes they are immediately understood as current reality.” I’m quite excited about this play and curious to see how it develops.

I have not forsaken the writing of responses to shows, but I’ve been going to so many, I have had barely enough time to sleep between my full-time job, seeing shows, rehearsals, reading, and writing plays. Excuses, perhaps, but I may write a brief rundown of all the shows I’ve seen this year, which I think is already in the double-digits.

And finally, I may have a dramaturg gig lined up for the foreseeable months. More on that to come after the workshop readings of the play in question.

It is an exciting time for theatre in Seattle, especially with the announcement that Intiman Theatre will be returning this summer for a short festival of works. As someone who used to work at Intiman, I could not be happier about this announcement and am particularly excited to see the roster of artists involved. It should be an amazing year for Seattle Theatre.

Balagan’s Dog Sees God at ACT Theatre

Dog Sees God
Author: Bert V. Royal
Date attended: 8 October 2011
Venue: Balagan presented in ACT Theatre’s new Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space
Director: Elizabeth Eller

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Discovery of self
  • Sexuality
  • Bullying
  • What happens after death
  • Dealing with grief (but, not good grief)

What moments encapsulate the story?

  • CB’s spoken letter to his pen pal opening and closing
  • Pen pal’s response in the finale, though it was a hitting me over the head with a message
  • Tricia letting her real face show by analyzing CB’s and Matt’s relationship
  • Subtle tension between Tricia and Marcie
  • Sally’s performance piece

Why this play now?

At its heart, Dog Sees God is about bullying and uses the Peanuts characters to illustrate terrible acts of violence teenagers perpetrate on one another. In an age in which bullying is still rampant especially in regards to gay teens, it makes sense that this play would be performed now. However, I have several reservations.

To begin, the play is very much a “subject” play. Dog Sees God is about bullying. There’s no other summation for it. I’m not a fan of shows that have such an intense point because they generally require no interpretation and become preachy. The play adds other elements to make up for the subject heavy show, like CB (Charlie Brown) trying to figure out where his dog has gone now that he’s died, and discovering sexuality, or just discovering who they really are. Where the play is less successful in terms of its subject is that it’s too explicit to be performed in high school where the message would be better served, and has too much high school heavy humor to be continually amusing to an adult audience. (I for one am past the point of finding stoner philosophy funny.)

Essentially, I think the playwright went wrong with using the Peanuts characters and I’m not saying that because I have intense feelings for the Peanuts characters. I mean, I watched the Christmas Special and The Great Pumpkin and read the cartoon on Sunday morning, but I’m not bothered by them having meaningless sex, or doing drugs, or getting drunk in the cafeteria, or making out in the music room, or joking about sucking dick, or getting high. No, I don’t care that the Peanuts characters are doing these things. I care that it feels like lazy storytelling from someone guessing what it’s like to be a high school student. I care that the decision to make these things happen to Peanuts characters is the focus. In a lot of ways I feel like I’m supposed to be shocked that Lucy is in an institution for burning the Little Red Haired Girl’s hair, but instead I ask myself why?

There were many other moments that made me question why the Peanuts characters, like Beethoven (Schroeder) having a father who was imprisoned presumably for molesting him. Beethoven is now gay and though it’s not explicitly stated that his father was the cause, the mere fact that they mention the father in terms of committing such an awful crime makes you wonder what the relevance is. Charlie Brown uses it to excuse why the group no longer speaks to Beethoven except to bully him, but that doesn’t feel genuine. It feels like a playwright grasping at straws trying to connect these Peanuts strip characters to a hostile teenage environment. The fact of the matter is that friends grow apart and that perhaps is more tragic than being torn apart by an uncomfortable out-of-nowhere experience.

Another minor playwright annoyance was not giving CB or Van’s sister a name. Schulz’s estate did not sign off on this production when it was written. Hence, Pig Pen has now become Matt, Charlie Brown is CB, Schroeder is Beethoven, Linus is Van, Lucy is Van’s Sister, Sally is CB’s sister, Peppermint Patty is Tricia, and Marcie is still Marcie. The fact of the matter is that I’m really annoyed that two very pivotal characters in the original strip do not have names except in relation to their brothers. This is perhaps a small thing but considering these two characters were not only central to the original comic strip, but also pivotal to the play, they should be given real names.

Aside from that the actors pulled out some amazing poignant moments on stage that could have been lost in the over-dramatized moments. Sally’s (yes, I will call her by name) performance art about the cocoon and waking up as a human instead of a platypus as originally desired was heartbreaking. The tension in the scene with Beethoven and Matt was absolutely fantastic and the classroom reeling after Beethoven’s suicide was also well done, though the suicide element was a little too much for me given all the other crap the characters were doing on stage.

Ultimately, I felt like the playwright did a disservice to the story. Trying to cram battling homosexuality, bullying, drug use, drinking, abortions, pyromania, sex, threesomes, eating disorders, suicide, etc. just felt completely disingenuous to high school. Yes, high schoolers deal with all of these issues, but I think that putting them all in one place, in one group of friends, a group of friend that the audience was familiar with no less, felt a little too much Degrassi to me.

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.

Icicle Creek Theatre Festival at ACT Theatre

On Tuesday and Wednesday ACT Theatre presented the Icicle Creek Theatre Festival. I’ve been obsessed with new work lately and I love seeing plays in process. (I was even more excited [because I’m a nerd] that these plays had a dramaturg work with them.) Similarly to Pipeline, a talkback followed the reading with the playwright, director, and dramaturg leading the discussion.

The first night featured You for Me for You by Mia Chung. From the Icicle Creek Festival website:

In You for Me for You, Mia Chung explores the lives of two sisters from North Korea who escape one harsh and unforgiving reality only to enter another very foreign world; a world where a smuggler and a paper balloon can shape a woman’s fate.
With whimsy and magic, the play journeys through time, space and evolving identities, crossing borders of the mind and heart, and examining what it takes to create and sustain a family and a life in a new world.

The staged reading was directed by Sheila Daniels, had beautiful non-linear story-telling, and amazing depictions of communication breakdown. I particularly enjoyed the generic white woman talking in a fast-paced, broken-down, mechanized way illustrating Yuna’s attempt to parse out words. The sister connection was beautifully portrayed, and the simple moments with small objects were well-rendered and captivated the simple in a complex environment. The stakes resonated beautifully. The life Yuna lives in New York on behalf of Minjee, her sister, only to sacrifice it for Minjee’s life which she may not appreciate showcased the inherit risk in trusting and loving someone.

I am smitten with the play and playwright. Chung’s work was poignant, funny, heart-wrenching, challenging and incorporated moments of magical realism – all with without becoming over-sentimental.

The second night featured The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter. From the Icicle Creek Festival website:

The Whale is a poetic, disturbing and strangely beautiful journey through the life of a small-town shut-in named Charlie, whose self-imposed exile is the result of a brutal and disturbing form of internalized homophobia. His fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick, and his literal, and figurative connection with the solitary, hunted beast bring poignance and power to this startling and lovely new play. The Whale was recently awarded the Marin Theatre Company’s Sky Cooper New American Play prize for best new American play.

The reading was directed by newly appointed interim artistic director of Intiman, Andrew Russell. I was less smitten with this work, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t find value in it. There were many themes floating around, all of which had potential, but were repeated so often they lost vitality. Some of the balls in the air were excess, hypocrisy, opposites, honesty – all really amazing, but all repeated to excess (which may have been the point). The execution of these ideas felt watered down. The main character Charlie felt real, but the characters who orbited him felt like illusions, felt caricature-ized with less agency than the man who could no longer move himself off the sofa.

There were however, some very interesting elements at work. For instance, the play featured a large (600 lb) man who was on the stage the whole time, and because of his huge-ness, he doesn’t move much. The other characters simply orbit around him and so the idea lends itself to potentially incredible movement work to translate effectively. (Russell actually staged this on its feet so we were given a taste of what that might look like.) The essay the daughter wrote about Moby Dick was an amazing idea and well-executed in the first and last moments in which we heard it. The writing was very sweet and highlighted the major conflict between father and daughter and how they view one another without being over-sentimental which is a hard balance to strike.

I would love to see both of the plays again fully staged to see how they change. They each offered artistic views not otherwise present on Seattle stages and it’s always a privilege to see a writer’s process.

A Vibrator Play at ACT Theatre

In the Next Room, or A Vibrator Play
Author: Sarah Ruhl
Date attended: 8 August 2011
Venue: ACT Theatre
Director: Kurt Beattie
I have not read the play.

Why this play now?

The first thing I thought when ACT theatre announced they would be producing In the Next Room was “I want to research the history of vibrators.” I was ecstatic when I opened the program to discover a three page article written about the history of hysteria. The writer of this article captured the humor of the topic, while also giving equal weight to the highly patriarchal truth behind the treatment of hysteria and the increased distance women developed between their bodies and their pleasure.

I was further excited by the number of older audience members in attendance. I was sandwiched between two elderly ladies who giggled uncontrollably practically through the whole show. During intermission they stopped giggling and started talking, a little tentatively and mostly in the theoretical, about their bodies and masturbation.

For this reason I feel the show belongs to the relevant current mythology of theatre. They talked; they had questions; and it inspired conversation which is really all you can ask from a production*. I left them to discuss through most of intermission so I didn’t hear the bulk of their conversation, but by the time I was back they had moved on to simply discussing the giggle-worthy moments of the show, of which there are many. This is perhaps the only hesitancy I have about the show and perhaps it’s a bit judgmental, but there were too many cheap giggles throughout that they distracted from the actual poignant stories taking place (see final comments for more).

*Clarification added 8-21-2011 by request: Ideally, the conversation will lead to self and artistic examination, which will hopefully lead to action and further analysis. What is not ideal is simply discussing after/during the show and then forgetting what you saw ever happened. Art should continue to inspire and challenge how you view the world and yourself.

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Electricity as the cure for all our ills
  • Orgasm is scientific as opposed to pleasurable
  • Fear of trying to please women the “old-fashioned way,” and by extension fear of female anatomy

What moments encapsulate the story?

The wonderfully affecting love story unfolding between Annie and Mrs. Daldry mattered more to me than the story between the doctor and wife. The subtle development of their romance through to the bitter kiss moment on the piano bench was heart-wrenching to watch. This development alone makes the whole show worth seeing, and inspires me to work on the production in the future.

Related to the the Annie and Mrs. Daldry story is the small moment in which Mrs. Daldry cannot climax with the vibrator, but realizes that her enjoyment is actually stimulated by a specific person. This is the first acknowledgement we get that “the cure” is not just an orgasm to make women (or men, for that matter) feel whole; it is stimulation beyond the physical.

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)

I had not seen a Sarah Ruhl play live before the other night at ACT Theatre, but having read a few of her plays, I feel as if I’m missing the boat in some fundamental way. I think her work is highly engaging and interesting. But in some ways it also seems to apologize for itself instead of seeing an idea through to the end. The show is about vibrators in Victorian New England which means there is an inherent amount of giggles that the audience must have. However, at some point they should drop away in favor of the story happening on stage. In a way, the giggles became the focus of the story instead of the doctor who can’t bring himself to touch his wife, and the woman who discovers she’s in love with another woman. Though both of these stories came across, the audience was too busy wondering if they were going to see another orgasm on stage. Rather than providing the proper amount of aesthetic distance to appreciate the higher purpose of the story, it instead left you wondering who was going to be spread eagle on the table next.

Reactions to A Vibrator Play

In the Next Room, or A Vibrator Play
Author: Sarah Ruhl
Date attended: 8 August 2011
Venue: ACT Theatre
Director: Kurt Beattie
I have not read the play.

Why this play now?

The first thing I thought when ACT theatre announced they would be producing In the Next Room was “I want to research the history of vibrators.” I was ecstatic when I opened the program to discover a three page article written about the history of hysteria. The writer of this article captured the humor of the topic, while also giving equal weight the highly patriarchal truth behind the treatment of hysteria and the increased distance women developed between their bodies and their pleasure.

I was further excited by the number of older audience members in attendance. I was sandwiched between two elderly ladies who giggled uncontrollably practically through the whole show. During intermission they stopped giggling and started talking, a little tentatively and mostly in the theoretical, about their bodies and masturbation.

For this reason I feel the show belongs to the relevant current mythology of theatre. They talked; they had questions; and it inspired conversation which is really all you can ask from a production. I left them to discuss through most of intermission so I didn’t hear the bulk of their conversation, but by the time I was back they had moved on to simply discussing the giggle-worthy moments of the show, of which there are many. This is perhaps the only the hesitancy I have about the show and perhaps it’s a bit judgmental, but there were too many cheap giggles throughout that they distracted from the actual poignant stories taking place (see final comments for more).

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Electricity as the cure for all our ills
  • Orgasm is scientific as opposed to pleasurable
  • Fear of trying to please women the “old-fashioned way,” and by extension fear of female anatomy

What moments encapsulate the story?

The wonderfully affecting love story unfolding between Annie and Mrs. Daldry mattered more to me than the story between the doctor and wife. The subtle development of their romance through to the bitter kiss moment on the piano bench was heart-wrenching to watch. This development alone makes the whole show worth seeing, and inspires me to work on the production in the future.

Related to the the Annie and Mrs. Daldry story is the small moment in which Mrs. Daldry cannot climax with the vibrator, but realizes that her enjoyment is actually stimulated by a specific person. This is the first acknowledgement we get that “the cure” is not just an orgasm to make women (or men, for that matter) feel whole; it is stimulation beyond the physical.

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)

I had not seen a Sarah Ruhl play live before the other night at ACT Theatre, but having read a few of her plays, I feel as if I’m missing the boat in some fundamental way. I think her work is highly engaging and interesting. But in some ways it also seems to apologize for itself instead of seeing an idea through to the end. The show is about vibrators in Victorian New England which means there is an inherent amount of giggles that the audience must have. However, at some point they should drop away in favor of the story happening on stage. In a way, the giggles became the focus of the story instead of the doctor who can’t bring himself to touch his wife, and the woman who discovers she’s in love with another woman. Though both of these stories came across, the audience was too busy wondering if they were going to see another orgasm on stage. Rather than providing the proper amount of aesthetic distance to appreciate the higher purpose of the story, it instead left you wondering who was going to be spread eagle on the table next.