Saturday, May 25, 2013

Notes toward a program note

for The Miss Julie Dream Project.


The plot of Miss Julie is simple. To put it as bluntly as one co-writer Samm Hill did, "Rich Girl screws The Help and pays dearly for it." Of course, as is true in most stories, the devil -- as well as the depth -- is in the details.

The circumstances are, as always, meaningful. It's Midsummer's Eve, The Servants are dancing and Rich Girl Julie wants to party with them. Jean The Help takes a break in the kitchen where his fiance, Kristine The Cook, is standing over the stove. Julie joins them and begins to flirt with Jean. Kristine falls asleep, then goes to bed. The offstage Servants storm the set, making Julie and Jean hide while they take over with a dance. When they file out, the two leads return, disheveled. They've done the deed, and she will never recover.

As the play ends, she goes offstage to kill herself at his instruction, unable to cross their class divide or endure the approaching scandal. We are meant to experience a tragic end, but not sympathy. That's for the weak. Her death is, to the playwright's mind, necessary. This is the necessary end of an aberrant family line.

Julie may be a rich girl, but she's more than that. She's the product of a wealthy man and a modern, unconventional woman who thought women could do things only socially acceptable for men to do, and vice versa. Nowadays most people would take that for granted (one hopes), but to Strindberg it was an illustration of a decadent aristocracy.

Julie's mother and her decadence ruin her father's reputation, drive her to madness, and literally set fire to the family estate. They split her parents apart, make Julie take sides, and teach her to hate men. And all this happens before the play even starts. To my mind she has a right to be a little edgy. To August Strindberg, she's a rotten tree that must be pulled down.

When devising a project for Fell Swoop Playwrights' first production, I wanted to consider a collaborative event, something process-oriented, something that would require the confluence of our many distinct voices and minds to complete. I kept remembering the wild dramatic journey of Strindberg's A Dream Play, and finally re-read it. It was full of vivid moments and characters, but nothing clicked. Then I re-read Miss Julie. I was struck mainly by the dreams both Julie and Jean relate (Julie's trapped atop a pillar unable to get down; Jean's trying to climb trees and peek into nests looking for golden eggs). It dawned on me that some kind of modern-day mash-up could be especially interesting. So I suggested a dream sequence with Julie as the protagonist. That's as far as my thinking went until I got back pages from eight Fell Swoop member writers.

The pages I received were wild and diverse; they engaged the source material in surprising ways -- sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. As I worked with their material and my own to form a narrative, I also engaged more closely with Miss Julie, both as a dutiful dramatist respectful of his forebears, and as a 21st-century queer advocate. How does one reconcile this "major text" with its retrograde politics and its blatant misogyny, particularly in a world still hostile to women and gender ambiguity?

I'm lucky to have a majority of women as my collaborators on this project. Their voices give nuance and humor to a project that could easily go dark and didactic (as some of my early, discarded pages did), and they highlight in unexpected, playful, and subversive ways the absurdity of Strindberg's terror of women and gender ambiguity. They guided me to a clarity about both our play and the dead old master's that I'm not sure I would've arrived at otherwise.

In the midst of all the wild shifts of our theatrical dreamscape, we tried very hard to keep it grounded in a simple conflict: that of an actress and her most challenging role. It's a relationship that should be familiar to anyone who's ever tried to understand a classic novel, perform in a great play (or watch one from the audience), or play a hard piece of music. It's intense, confounding, and hopefully rewarding. Our intention is that even those who know nothing about Strindberg or Miss Julie can still enjoy our show. Fingers crossed on that one. What I do know is that we've gotten a brand new play -- first draft to first production -- up on its feet in less than 6 months. With nine writers, no less. I bet not even Strindberg ever pulled that off.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Did I mention

I'm doing this show? And that we have this crowdfunding campaign going on? 

And that we're in the 2nd week of rehearsals with a killer cast and it's going to be amazing and I'm insanely proud of it and I would love you all to buy tickets and/or contribute to help the show succeed because it means a lot to me and to my fellow writers at Fell Swoop Playwrights thank you so much happy Thursday!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gay Magical Elves

Bret Easton Ellis writes in Out about the weird Jason Collins coming-out adoration news cycle. 
The Gay Man as Magical Elf has been such a tricky part of gay self-patronization in the media that you would by now expect the chill members of the LGBT community to respond with cool indifference. The Sweet and Sexually Unthreatening and Super-Successful Gay is supposed to be destined to transform The Hets into noble gay-loving protectors—as long as the gay in question isn’t messy or sexual or difficult.
 God help the gay man who comes out and doesn’t want to represent, who doesn’t want to teach, who doesn’t feel like part of the homogenized gay culture and rejects it. Where’s the gay dude who makes crude jokes about other gays in the media (as straight dudes do of each other constantly) or express their hopelessness in seeing Modern Family being rewarded for its depiction of gays, a show where a heterosexual plays the most simpering ka-ween on TV and Wins. Emmys. For. It?
Read the rest here

Except for his whole rationalizing away his past tacky Twitter HIV jokes, I'm pretty much on board with this. 

I wrote a little about this POV in a piece I read at MUSE on 8th earlier this year. I posted it on the page here. Here are the pertinent lines--
I’m tired of Queer advocacy
Should I write about how
I feel kind of bad about that?
I’m sorry but it’s true.
And when I watch
Some Youtube video
Of some queen shouting down
A delusional fire-and-brimstone
Screamer on the subway,
My knee-jerk response is
“Why are you talking to him?
And I turn it off
Embarrassed by the absurdity
The emotionalism
The whole thing making me
Extremely uncomfortable.
And then championed on social media
As some kind of triumph
Of the Gay Rights movement?
Is my discomfort self-loathing?
Or can I invoke Fran Lebowitz here
With impunity?
These questions are still hard
For me to answer sometimes.

Friday, May 10, 2013

RIP Taylor Mead

I wrote about him here last year after seeing his movie, Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man, at Outfest.

Lambda Literary has a nice obit--

Taylor Mead, actor, Beat poet, performance artist, queer, died in Colorado on May 9th. Maybe in Denver, maybe not. Probably of a massive stroke. He had planned to return to New York where he had spent a flaming, fabulous youth. He was 88.
That’s the kind short, clipped, slightly oblique language and imagery that Mead liked. But it comes nowhere near describing the complex, intriguing, artistic, underground life Mead led as the first indie film superstar, leading actor in Andy Warhol’s Factory troupe and cross-dressing artiste.
See here for the whole article.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Oh, and guess what?

I'm reading Frank O'Hara's poems at Gay May Days this weekend! It goes on all weekend, but I show up on Saturday from 5-7pm. It's at Spirit Studio on 2601 Hyperion in Silver Lake.

Come check it out. I'm not sure what I'm reading yet but it will be hot. Here's a Tumblr with more info about the event.

I saw the LaBute Miss Julie

up at the Geffen Playhouse. I saw the show as research for our production of The Miss Julie Dream Project next month at the Hollywood Fringe, so my thoughts on the production seem relevant in this case. I'm also in producer mode, and since I haven't put up a meaty post in a while, I figure self-promotion's a good reason to do so.

I just saw that McNulty's review was up in the LAT, and he makes some points I can get behind -- I was especially unnerved by the occasional jokeyness of the production -- but he's a little hard on the actors, particularly the women in the play, who I thought both made really interesting choices.

Aside from my researchy interest in seeing the show, I had a fan's excitement at seeing Lily Rabe, especially in this role and in such an intimate venue. She didn't disappoint.

She makes especially interesting choices at the top of the play. Her condescension to Jean (or John, as the Long Island transposition requires) is so casual and effortless and makes perfect sense; as Julie she easily and comfortably dominates this space. She seems to flit between interest and disregard, even after the play suggests things are heating up. Complex female characterization is Strindberg's one attribute that's supposed to trump his misogyny, and I felt like I saw that in Rabe's layered performance.

It's refreshing after certain overtly sexualized performances I've seen of the role, with Julie brazenly toying with Jean from the start, testing boundaries and walking right into the foot-kissing scene baring her soles (sorry, couldn't resist). Ken Roht's recent Miss Julie(n) up in Highland Park in February was a gay example of the same delighted sexual aggression, given a queer bent with the aggressor as femme privileged male.

I get these takes too, but they prioritize titillation over characterization, and they feel like the dramatic equivalent of criticizing the rape victim for wearing a short skirt. Oh, I'm sorry little girl (or sissy, as the case may be), you didn't want to be stripped of your agency and have to be ordered to kill yourself? Then you shouldn't have danced, kid.

I liked Laura Heisler a lot as Kristine, too. Her righteous indignation the morning after was solid and felt right for the shift in period. I love that she, given the moment to absorb the betrayal of John and Julie's offstage rutting, had fully processed it off stage, just in time for her next entrance, full of superiority and disgust. It reminded me of Trudy's fabulous (if more pragmatic and less self-deluded) tirade at Pete Campbell a few episodes back this season on Mad Men. These women may be flawed and limited by society, but they aren't weak.

And I guess that's what fascinates me most about Miss Julie, in spite of my frustration with the treatment of the title character. Strindberg's women aren't minimized by his disdain; if they're at all representative of the women in his life, I can't say I blame him for feeling threatened by them. They are not to be easily dismissed.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

And another thing!

We've started our crowdfunding efforts for The Miss Julie Dream Project. Check out our RocketHub campaign here.


I've updated the Fell Swoop website and added a page for our show.


Fell Swoop's Night of Dreams was a big hit last weekend. I don't even think I've posted that much about it since I've been so swamped with getting ready for it. And auditions. And casting. And being a producer. This producer business is a lot to do. But I'm actually enjoying it, so that's good.

Here's a cool pic of my playwright planning brunch in prep for the big party; I want to share just cuz I like it--

Here's a link to some nice pictures from Luke of the gorgeous performances from the party.

Oh, and he made me a gif again--