Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Play Exchange

I just made a page. Check it out here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I was looking through old draft posts

and saw that I forgot to post this. Or maybe I lost my nerve. Anyway here's a chestnut from last September.

Notes from Arden column about the 99-seat conversation/controversy happening in various online forums is thorough, enlightening reading. Of course one thing sticks out at me as being hilarious--
In 2003, Kendt’s view may have had such validity and influence, he actually got what he asked for, though what appears to be around a 50% drop in 99-seat-theater production between 2003 and 2013 is more likely attributable to the real estate bubble, and how it has caused the cost of commercial leases to soar. Much has been written about the shuttering of established Hollywood-based 99-seat companies such as Open Fist and the Celebration theaters, due to rising real estate costs; before that, also in Hollywood, Unknown Theatre lost is lease, as did Theatre des Artistes. Theater closures due to the sharply escalating costs of leases have also affected North Hollywood, and Rogue Machine, mid-city, is concerned for its future.
Although I fled before its demise, I don't think we only have real estate to blame for Unknown's shuttering.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hello 2015!

I must've seen Sonic Youth play this song during the Washing Machine tour. I went with Sarah all the way to Memphis from central Arkansas in what must've been my sophomore year of college. I first mentioned that show on these pages in 2006 while posting about a show I saw at the Wiltern with Matt.

It's funny that this song should come to mind so much in the past month. P.T. Anderson's amazing Inherent Vice mentions skip tracing constantly, and the song's final refrain, "Hello 2015!" has been ringing in my head for the past few days.

But I haven't seen Sarah since college, Matt's in Brooklyn and Sonic Youth are a thing of the past.

Hello 2015.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Overdue CTG post #2: Luna Gale

I also had every intention of writing about Luna Gale at the Douglas, but I saw it so long ago my memories of it are fading. I saw it right after Thanksgiving, which must be nearing six weeks of history. And as we all know from Serial, no one remembers anything that far back.

Mary Beth Fisher as social worker Caroline Cox in Luna Gale,
giving just about the best stage performance I saw in 2014.
What I do remember is that I found the production both problematic and inspirational, which still made for a pretty satisfying night of theater. Its attitude towards religion was both the problem and the inspiration for me.

Rebecca Gilman is a master playwright, but my experiences of her plays usually involve admiration and irritation in equal measure. Luna Gale is gripping, funny, suspenseful, and overall finely tuned, but its treatment of its fundamentalist characters bothered me in a way that I can't really let go of. The audience didn't seem to share my frustration; the Hollywood Reporter review by Jordan Riefe gets at what I'm talking about so well I wonder if we saw the show on the same night--
There's no doubt who the bad guys are in Luna Gale, a play that had liberals from L.A.'s west side hooting when Caroline turns the tables on her right-wing Christian antagonists.
In fact the audience during my performance started groaning knowingly during the religious grandmother's very first mention of her own faith. Are we really so cynical that the first time a character mentions having religious beliefs, we assume she's a moron or a monster?

One could argue that Gilman wasn't really soliciting that reaction from the audience; the audience brings what it brings, and it would play differently elsewhere than Culver City. But using a world weary social worker as an intro to the religious obstructionists in her play limits our ability to empathize with these characters. (Quick, incomplete plot summary: the fundamentalist grandmother uses her manipulative preacher friend to help her keep her granddaughter out of her drug-addict daughter's care.) And yes, the script does explore all the characters' good intentions and moral failures, and that's a big part of what the play is about. But it also careens into implausibility when the social worker's boss reveals himself as a closet Christian and colludes with the grandmother's preacher to influence the situation. The unethical behavior displayed by these people makes for some thrilling dramaturgy in the howler of a scene Riefe refers to above, but it's either too dramatically good to be believed, or it betrays an extremely low opinion of the religious characters and their actions.

All this is followed by two monologues that add up to a sentiment so on-the-nose it produced my only groan during the play. The specifics escape me, but the meth addict mother describes being high in a lengthy reverie that's echoed in another scene by a religious character delivering the same type of speech about a relationship with Christ. Opiate of the masses and all that. Got it. Thanks.

I'm not about to defend fundamentalist Christian zealots, especially the ones who use politics to advance their moral agendas. But I also -- and this is where the play inspired me -- want to challenge the easy, modern, secular assumption that people who are religious are automatically worthy of suspicion. I've already had to address it in a play I've written with a minister character in it. My stage directions describe him as ethical and every time I've had an actor read it I have to tell the guy, "He's not creepy." I get that there's plenty of reason to jump to these conclusions, but this all got me so worked up that I think all this may be something to explore in my own writing.

Overdue CTG post #1: What The Butler Saw

Not the CTG poster, but the first image that came up on a Google search.
I've had every intention of writing a bit about the recent production of What The Butler Saw at the Mark Taper, but the holidays got the better of me and now it's January 1 and I'm playing catch-up, which I find hilarious since I've been trying to wrap things up here and I can't even do that in an efficient manner.

Seeing the play got me reading Joe Orton's diaries so he's remained in my thoughts and I want to get all this down. I'm an Orton fan from way back, and wouldn't have missed a professional production of his masterpiece for anything. And I was not disappointed. I laughed throughout, marveling at the wit and shimmering wordplay, and of course that ending always does me in, what with the absurd farcical revelations of everyone being related, Winston Churchill's bronze cock being waved triumphantly before the quack shrink Dr. Rance announces "Let us put on our clothes and face the world" and the cast ascends a rope ladder that's dropped through the skylight. I love the final stage direction--
They pick up their clothes and weary, bleeding, drugged and drunk, climb the rope ladder into the blazing light.
Joe Orton

JW and my friend Bertie enjoyed it almost as much as I did. Of course, at the end of the first act, Bertie leaned in at the act break and said something like, "All the rape humor's unfortunate, isn't it?" And I completely agreed. I hesitate to say that it made the play feel dated (for reasons I'll get to in a minute), but it did give me pause.

That said, I read more than one review of the production that called the play out-of-touch. At least one critic wondered why CTG was producing it. More than one review suggested that it was too long because Orton died before he could rewrite, lamenting how unfortunate it was Joe got his brains bashed in before he could tighten the thing up. Such a suggestion is as beside the point as it is factually incorrect. Orton writes in his diaries of making revisions based on the suggestions of Kenneth Halliwell and others. Maybe he would've continued to revise if he'd lived, but who cares? He finished the play, made some revisions, and died. It's not an incomplete work. There's no need to discuss it as such.

I don't think it should come as a shock to anyone that the play was written in 1967. That's pretty well documented. It's old. And yes, the playwright died before the premiere, but to suggest that it would've been better if he hadn't been murdered is like suggesting Tennessee Williams' plays would've been better if he weren't a pill addict. No wait, I think it's worse, since I guess one could argue that Williams' addiction has something to do with his writing, whereas Orton's murder was committed independently of his completion of this play, by someone other than Joe Orton. Sorry to belabor the issue but can we just talk about the production? Can we talk about the actual script instead of some speculative improved script we can't possibly know would exist in the most fortunate of alternate histories?

Okay, back to the rape humor. I'm not so annoyed by calling out that stuff (it is in the actual script, after all), and I'm on board with criticisms of the casual treatment of that subject. But it's also worth noting that the play's victim of improper advances, Geraldine Barclay, is also the play's token innocent. And she's preyed upon, manipulated, and tormented by everyone else in the show. They're all menaces of one sort or another; it's part of the point. I do think the production could've transcended being a merely well-staged English farce into something far more provocative if it had started with that idea as its focus. This production made me want to direct the play so I could do a take on it that treats this idea with the utmost seriousness.

Still, it's really rich to express outrage about a dead playwright being jokey about rape in 1967 when we stage racist, sexist and homophobic work constantly by people with names like, I dunno, Shakespeare? Last I checked it was the director's job to present historical scripts in ways that will make them resonant in today's moral and cultural climate. There are plenty of ideas in Orton's plays that resonate; I don't think any director that's half as clever as he was would have that hard a time keeping his writing relevant.