Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Photos of JAN KULTURA in Rehearsal With UptownWorks NYC

UptownWorks NYC posted photos from rehearsals for my play Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets The Crowd which they will be presenting as part of the inaugural event in their Liberated One-Acts series of staged readings.

Plays by Michael Panes, Christian Cole-Howard, and Gabriel Straszun will also be featured that evening.

The reading will be held on Sunday, December 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Liberated Fitness NYC at 1005 Columbus Ave, New York, New York 10025.

The event is free but it is recommended that one email to reserve seats.

UptownWorks NYC is directed by Amanda Black and Daniela Hart.

Photos courtesy of UptownWorks NYC

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Staged Reading: JAN KULTURA, SUBSTITUTE TEACHER, MEETS THE CROWD Presented by UptownWorks NYC 12/13

My one-act play, Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets The Crowd will be be receiving a staged reading directed by Daniela Hart as part of the inaugural event in UptownWorks NYC's Liberated One-Acts reading series on Sunday, December 13, 2015 at 7:30 pm.

I will be in attendance.

UptownWorks NYC is run by Amanda Black and Daniela Hart. This post will be updated as more information becomes available

The evening's bill will be:

Reindeer Afterlife by Michael Panes
What Do You Mean? by Gabriel Straszun
Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets the Crowd by Ian Thal
The Arrangements by Christian Cole-Howard

The cast for Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets The Crowd, will include Robert Vail, Kelly Wright, Olivia Stoker, and James Koroni.

Liberated One-Acts will be presented at Liberated Fitness NYC at 1005 Columbus Ave, New York, NY Admission is free, but it is recommended that one make a reservation at

The text of Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets The Crowd is available on The New Play Exchange.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


My one-act play, The Second Annual Administration Building Takeover And Slumber Party, will be be receiving a staged reading as part of Arts Resources for the Tri-State's New Works festival in Huntington, West Virginia on Saturday, December 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm.

The reading will be directed by Stephen Vance and feature a cast of Michael Naglee, Joanna Murdock, Nora Ankrom, Dylan Clark and will be followed by a staged reading of Mike Murdock's Brighter Days. Tickets for the paired reading will be $10.

Arts Resources for the Tri-State is located at 900 8th Ave, Huntington, WV.

The text of The Second Annual Administration Building Takeover And Slumber Party is available on The New Play Exchange.

N.B.: Arts Resources for the Tri-State has created a Facebook page for the New Works 2015 festival.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ilan Stavans "The Oven": Performance and Panel Discussion At Charlestown Working Theater

Tonight, November 20, I will be moderating a panel discussion after a performance of Ilan Stavans' The Oven at Charlestown Working Theater. My panelists will be Stavans, who wrote and performs in the show, and director Matthew Glassman.

The Oven is an autobiographical piece about Stavans' experience of an ecstatic ritual as a guest of an indigenous religious group in the Columbian Amazon.

Stavans is a professor of Latin American and Latino cultures at Amherst College, and a prolific translator of English, Spanish, Yiddish and Hebrew literature.

Matthew Glassman is an actor, director, and playwright affiliated with Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: New Rep's Boston Premiere of Arthur Miller's BROKEN GLASS

On The Arts Fuse I review New Repertory Theatre's production of Broken Glass, a play by the major American playwright, Arthur Miller, that first premiered in 1994 had to wait until his centenary before it was ever presented in the Boston-area.

A major theme of the play is anti-Semitism: Both the violent anti-Semitism that erupted in Germany in November 1938, in a pogrom now known as Kristallnacht and the more polite form it takes in America. Most radical is Miller's treatment of the internalized anti-Semitism exemplified in the figure known as the "self-hating Jew":

Today’s dramas about identity politics are usually confident tales of empowerment. Miller goes in a far more radical direction: he creates a harrowing portrait of Jewish self-hatred. “Self-hating Jew” is a charge that has been leveled by and against Jews from a number of directions — religious and secular, the ideological left and right. Typically, this involves Jews adopting or excusing the attitudes, beliefs, rhetoric, and behaviors of anti-Semites – often with the benefit of increasing their status as individuals amongst anti-Semites.

Philip works as the head of the mortgage department at the Brooklyn Guarantee & Trust Company. (He brags he is the only Jew employed at a company owned and operated by what would later be known as White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.) However, when Philip first meets Margaret Hyman (Eve Passeltiner), he is offended when she mistakenly addresses him as Goldberg; he even goes so far as to insist that he’s not Jewish, but Finnish. He will only affirm his Jewish identity when it confers special status: he is not just the only Jew at Brooklyn Guarantee, but the only one to set foot on the yacht owned by his boss, Stanton Case (Michael Kaye). Philip imagines that his son, an Army captain and West Point graduate, will someday become the first Jewish general in the U.S. Army (in truth, that title may belong to Civil War-era Brigadier General Frederick Knefler).

I also consider the historical contexts of the play: Its 1938 setting, the on-going atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia when it premiered in 1994, as well as the human rights crises faced by the world in 2015.

Read the entire review on The Arts Fuse!

Friday, August 28, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: Maiden Phoenix' THE WINTER'S TALE

On The Arts Fuse I review Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company's all-female outdoor production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale that closes on August 30:

While I do note that there are at points where the production is uneven (some of this reflects more on the difficulty in staging any of Shakespeare's "problem plays" than it does on the company), it has many aspects that make it worth seeing, including how director Sarah Gazdowicz makes use of the landscape of Somerville's Nathan Tufts Park:

Sarah Gazdowicz bridges the shift in genre by shifting the playing space during the intermission. The tragedy is staged at the peak of Nathan Tufts Park by the historic colonial-era Powder House that gives the neighboring square its name. The comedy transpires by the cyclopean-style masonry that separates the upper and lower parts of the park. The stone Powder House is a wonderful backdrop, but the steeply sloping foot path and the large stones that challenge the leg muscles of kids and adults make for a more inspired setting. Gazdowicz’s tableau work is far more intriguing in the latter two acts. Her actors are sometimes half-hidden in crevasses, perched on irregular ledges, or have to adapt their stance to the incline — particularly during the festivities that are part of the sheep sheering ceremony.

And I am particularly excited by Juliet Bowler's performance as the paranoid and later penitent King Leontes:

Juliet Bowler is a powerful Leontes. Her vocal precision heightens the paranoia of the King in his madness; his carefully constructed walls of words are impregnable to any voice of reason. But she also does a fine job of portraying Leontes’ grief when he finally realizes what he has done, as well as well as his inability to forgive himself, even in the end, when others have forgiven at least some of his sins.

Read the entire review on The Arts Fuse!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The New Play Exchange: Recommendations Received and What I Have Learnt

In my previous post, I described the New Play Exchange in terms of some of the problems in "the new play sector" that I believe it may help resolve, noting how playwrights simply upload their plays and allow them to be searched by those seeking new plays to develop or produce.

A key tool that makes it possible for directors, literary managers, and dramaturgs to search for new plays is metadata. Some of that metadata is simply information about the themes, genre, and cast breakdown of the play -- data attached by the playwright. But there is also data added by the playwright's colleagues; other registered members of the Exchange: Recommendations.

Yesterday, I shared recommendations I have given to other playwrights' work. Today I share some recommendations that I've received.

Playwright Claudia Haas wrote the following about my as-of-yet unproduced one act play, Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets the Crowd:

This is one high-octane, verbally rich play. The barbs and creative reasoning (appropriate for the "creative economics" debated here) kept me riveted to the page with huge smiles and chuckles. All four characters have the smarts and are engaging and you cannot wait to hear what comes next. As the play draws to a close, you are left with, "Wait? Satire? Or is this a truth about our current economic climate?" Theatres, universities and high schools would all serve this play well. And leave everyone discussing the play.

Asher Wyndham, on the other hand, recommended four of my plays. Concerning my The Conversos of Venice, the full-length play that has received the greater share of my creative energies over the last several years, he writes:

A great play for community colleges and universities or theatres that want to produce a historical drama that is not written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. A captivating continuation of the Shylock story that is both comedic and tragic, with lines that capture the grandiose personality of each character. Great parts for actresses (esp. Gessica) and actors (esp. Shylock and the hilarious Capitano and Launcelot). The playwright's knowledge of the period, the alliterative power of the poetry, the rhetorical strategizing, the spectacle, the largeness of the world on the page and (hopefully) the stage is...breathtaking.

My one-act play, The Second Annual Administration Building Takeover And Slumber Party, had been slated to premiere this summer at a theater festival, but was cancelled after the the director and at least one actor pulled out, citing "scheduling conflicts". My colleagues have assured me that this isn't as unusual a circumstance as it should be. Nonetheless Wyndham was inspired to write:

Hey student actors! Are you disenchanted with academic administration? Then read this comedy, and perform it! This comedy is an intelligent, probing satire and criticism of administrative politics--- and it will certainly ruffle some feathers in administration. Honest, necessary political theatre just right for a daring group of actors. It's a lot of fun, with quick witty dialog. There's a pillow fight!!! The statement on student activism at the end of the play is powerful. There's no play like this.

Arlecchino Am Ravenous is arguably my most popular play. This one-act started life in 2008 as a structured, long-form improvised performance at the now defunct Willoughby & Baltic art space. I went on to perform it numerous times over the years. It was later performed by Jonathan Samson in Bangkok and presented as part of Laugh/Riot Performing Arts Company's short play festival, Rollercoaster. Arlecchino Am Ravenous also recently appeared in the literary magazine, Steel Toe Review which led to a project about which I hope to be able share news in the near future. Wyndham writes:

Arlecchino of Bergamo is an unforgettable, larger-than-life buffoon. From Heaven to Hell, from auto-cannibalism to clowning, the actor must showcase near madness, an animation and athleticism that is kind of like commedia del'arte to the power of 10. The playwright's logophilia -- the specificity, onomatopoeia and rhythm of Arlecchino's thought-process-in-action -- reminds me of wacky Mac Wellman.

The shortest play of the bunch is Two Cats Explain The Monstrous Moth Group which premiered last year as part of The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest's Summerplay festival. In Wyndham's words:

What's in Ian Thal's Kool-Aid? Whatever it is, I want to drink it. Cats & a bat in an attic -- Thal's images are wonderfully child-like. A perfect piece for puppeteers or costumers seeking a one-of-a-kind challenge. Fabulous, freaky, f-d up -- read it, perform it, direct it.

So What Have I Learnt?

A sample size of two playwrights, especially two who are bound by the rules of the NPX to only post positive recommendations, may be too small a group to arrive at any conclusions of my work, but there are a few things I can glean from them:

Both Haas and Wyndham suggest that at least three of my plays are ideal for a school environment -- particularly in a college and university theater setting (though I suspect that The Second Annual Administration Building Takeover And Slumber Party would be seen as "biting the hand that feeds you" if produced by a university theater department.) It's not something I've given a great deal of thought to, but both of them are more experienced than I am in the business, and if they consider that a potential market, then it's one I ought investigate.

There's also a lot of talk about my use of language: Haas describes one play as "verbally rich" ; Wyndham writes about my "logophilia", citing my "onomatopoeia and rhythm", "alliterative power of [my] poetry, [...]rhetorical strategizing". I take this to mean that it is evident to the reader that rather than setting out to be a dramatist from the beginning, I was a poet who chose to write plays out of a desire to work in long form.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The New Play Exchange: Some Brief Recommendations

Earlier this year, I joined the New Play Exchange, a platform that may end up radically changing the new play sector of the theater industry.

Under the old model, playwrights would submit their work to theaters and hope to get someone interested in the work they had labored upon. On the other end of this submission process developed a class of of theater professionals whose duties included the appraisal of new theatrical texts -- often known as dramaturgs or literary managers. For playwrights, the experience is something I have elsewhere called "the dramaturgical black box." On top of this process is the natural tendency amongst those making the selections to privilege the cohort with which they are affiliated, meaning that often attempts to reform widely perceived biases within the system reaffirm the privilege of social capital that comes from attending the right school with the right people, writing plays that neatly fit into the right genre, living in the right metropolitan area at the right point in one's career, and receiving prestigious fellowships and awards (often chosen by other people with associated with the right schools.) In short, the social capital of the people associated with the play often ends up being more important than the play itself.

The New Play Exchange serves as an alternative model in which playwrights upload their plays to a database, affix metadata about the genre, themes, and cast breakdowns. The metadata then allows directors, dramaturgs, and producers to search out and discover plays rather than wait for one to come in over the transom, or rely primarily on their professional cohort.

Other metadata are recommendations posted by users. Since most of my current writing about theater has been in my capacity as a critic, I have not yet posted a great many recommendations to the New Play Exchange, but I will share those I have posted thus far, and soon, I will post some of the recommendations I've received.

This year, I reviewed two plays by Cassie M. Seinuk. Last week it was Wax Wings' production of her Eyes Shut. Door Open. which is described as a modern update to the Cain and Abel story (my full review can be read here.):

Seinuk knows her mythology, and drawing upon not just Genesis but also Greek and Norse mythology. Her allusions to and repetitions of mythological violence elevates Eyes Shut. Door Open. above the popular plot formula of dark domestic secrets revealed at a family reunion.

I reviewed her earlier play, From The Deep (full review here when it was presented by Boston Public Works:

From the Deep manages to be psychologically realistic despite being set in a rule-bound imaginary space. Seinuk deftly acknowledges the political and social realities off-stage without taking the focus off of the struggle that Ilan and Andrew face as they attempt to maintain their sanity.

Asher Wyndham is something of a New Play Exchange hero, having, as of this writing, written fifty-eight recommendations, including four for my plays. While his play Allegra Gray is still in development, I was impressed with how he dealt with the ethical conundrum faced by his protagonist:

ALLEGRA GRAY treats the protagonist's decision to either keep or abort a pregnancy as a very personal drama: As a local celebrity, she is forced not only consider how her decision will affect her family, but her career, and ability to live in her city, as she becomes the target both of well-wishers and advocacy groups unafraid to engage in public shaming. Wyndham's play avoids simple moralizing, rather dealing with how individuals must navigate the myriad balance ethical demands they can only face on their own.

I was particularly interested in reading Trish Harnetiaux' play, If You Can Get To Buffalo because of its setting. LambdaMOO is an online community founded in 1990 that predates Facebook, Myspace, and even, and Friendster -- and in which I had participated since 1996. If You Can Get To Buffalo is adapted from Julian Dibbell's 1999 book My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World and his 1993 Village Voice article, "A Rape in Cyberspace, or How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society". Both Dibbell and PBS talkshow host Charlie Rose appear as characters in Harnetiaux' play:

Speaking as a long-time denizen of LambdaMOO (though my time began a few years after the events of 1993), I find that "If You Can Get To Buffalo" captures the creative approaches to identity (and in many cases, ethics) that marked the milieu -- as well as the trouble that people had articulating just what life was like in this new frontier -- not just to those for whom the internet was still unexplored, but even to those who were experiencing it daily.

Having seen a reading of an early version of Meron Langsner's Burning Up the Dictionary in 2011 and later, in a full production by Vagabond Theatre Group, I had this to say:

"Burning Up The Dictionary" very cleverly tells its story of a couple negotiating the intimacy of their private language after their break-up. Particularly smart is the final scene actually forces the audience to question whether they may need to reevaluate their understanding of what had been said and done; it's not a plot twist, so much as a semantic twist.

Up next: Recommendations I have received and if I have learnt anything from them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: Double Edge Theatre's "Once A Blue Moon"

Last week, I travelled to the rural town of Ashfield, Massachusetts, to review Double Edge Theatre's summer spectacle, Once a Blue Moon (Cada Luna Azul).

What sets Double Edge Theatre apart from other troupes is that it has always forged an intimate link between the world of physical theater and the world of literature and ideas.

As I note that while Once a Blue Moon is a devised piece featuring contributions from many collaborators, the particular role that, Double Edge's artistic director, Stacy Klein, has in shaping the performance:

Those who have thrilled by Double Edge’s performances in conventional theater spaces have had a glimpse of director Stacy Klein’s expansive imagination. (My first encounter was a 2007 production of Republic of Dreams at the Charlestown Working Theater). But you don’t really know just what she is capable of unless you see Klein working on her home turf. She uses music, sound effects, dialogue, and the movements of actors and puppets to guide the attention and focus of audience members. In some ways, Klein is like a highly skilled filmmaker who uses camera pans and zooms to control what appears on the screen. Of course, in the theater Klein is working in real time, in three-dimensional space. There’s no editing room here.

Of course, Klein knows that the human visual cortex remains a far more powerful instrument than Hollywood’s most expensive cameras.

You can read the entire review on The Arts Fuse!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: I Review EYES SHUT. DOOR OPEN. By Cassie M. Seinuk

I haven't blogged about the last few reviews I did for The Arts Fuse in part because they came out so close to their closing date.

My latest review is of Wax Wings Productions presentation of Cassie M. Seinuk's Eyes Shut. Door Open. -- a Cain and Abel story set on the SoHo arts scene:

Seinuk, of course, knows her mythology, and the allusion to and repetition of mythological violence elevates Eyes Shut. Door Open. above the popular plot formula of dark domestic secrets revealed at a family reunion.

I also admire the acting from the three person ensemble of Victor Shopov, Melissa M. DeJesus and Michael James Underhill as well as Rose Fieschko’s fight choreography. However, I feel let down by some of the production design choices:

Lighting designer Christopher Bocchiaro (whose work I generally admire — particularly in ASP’s recent production of Measure for Measure, and Apollinaire’s Blood Wedding) and sound designer Patrick Greene made some messy missteps here. Turner’s PTSD flashbacks were conveyed through a number of unsubtle and clichéd choices: Red-lit chiaroscuro, voices slowed down, distorted, and pitch-shifted down an octave or more. The upshot was memories of trauma made campy rather than cathartic – the episodes were suited to a straight-to-cable horror movie.

Read the whole review on The Arts Fuse!

Monday, June 15, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: THREE by Emily Kaye Lazzaro

On The Arts Fuse, I review Emily Kaye Lazzaro's Three currently running at the Boston Center for the Arts. The play, directed by A. Nora Long, and presented by Boston Public Works, is, sadly, a huge disappointment. For several months, I have championed the mission of Boston Public Works, a theater company centered around a collective of playwrights producing their own work (see my 2014 interview with four of BPW's member playwrights), however, with Three I saw what may be the weakest script I have ever seen receive a full, professional production. Prior experience is that similarly bad scripts never get further than a staged reading or student production, so even though I had seen my share of bad plays this season, nothing prepared me for the cheap plot devices, characters who are no more than one-dimensional stereotypes, and pretensions to social relevance.

In truth, Three is not much of a play at all, but an anthology of “very special episodes” (possibly season finales) of an unproduced television or web series. Many young playwrights seem to be going this route. It may be too soon to tell if this trend is good for television or the web, but it’s certainly not good for the stage, even though Lazzaro has a good ear for turning the vernacular of her generation into pseudo-naturalistic dialogue.

[...]Lazzaro makes an effort to label Three a feminist work, but she sets the bar pretty low – this is feminism as brand identity with little political or social commitment. Yes, the play is about three women and was written by a woman, but the three characters are passive. They never take an active role – they don’t even take a reactive role; life just happens to them. Maybe there are people who would be shocked to learn that there are women who enjoy both alcohol and penises, but I doubt they attend fringe theater productions. Moreover, I know of 20-something women in my immediate social circles who are quirkier, wittier, funnier, more socially aware, and who lead more interesting lives than the females in Three Perhaps Gen-Xers and baby boomers will come away thinking that they have learned something about the millennial generation, but it is like going to an Olive Garden restaurant for authentic Italian cuisine. There are excellent contemporary plays written by women, featuring all-female, or mostly female, casts – I’ve reviewed some – but Three isn’t one of them.

I dubbed Three a "vanity project" -- a label to which fellow playwright, Andy Boyd objected:

Read the full review on The Arts Fuse and decide for yourself if I made my case.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: Actors' Shakespeare Project's "Henry VI, Part 2"

On The Arts Fuse, I review Actors' Shakespeare Project's production of Henry VI, Part 2, which despite being the origin of the oft-quoted line, "The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers", is rarely performed. This presentation, currently running at The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University through June 7, is masterfully directed by Tina Packer. I was particularly taken with the character of Jack Cade, the villain of Act IV, played by Allyn Burrows:

However far he may depart from his ‘real life’ inspiration, Cade (Burrows) is unprecedented amongst Shakespeare’s characters: a truly lethal clown – through much of Act IV he and his followers ravage England, lopping off the heads of one nobleman after another to great comic effect. He even has his own convoluted claim on the crown, reciting his questionable pedigree — a parody of York’s own claims — even as he strikes the figure of a lord of misrule, espousing an incoherent philosophy that is alternately a parody of anarchy and communism (Shakespeare’s distrusted the hoi polloi as a political class). Behind the mayhem (York’s and Cade’s) is a thirst for absolute dictatorship – the famous line about killing all the lawyers (an ambiguous rallying cry for both tyrant and anarchist) comes from one of Cade’s followers. The historical Cade might have been less of a clown, but the theatrical one comes off as an unacknowledged forerunner of Alfred Jarry’s famous Père Ubu (as well as Mister Punch and Fredrico García Lorca’s Don Cristóbal) He is also a prescient parody of the political extremists and tyrants who have shaped the past century for the worse. Burrows’ portrayal of an ignorant but bloodthirsty imp of perversity is a rip-roaring joy.

I also suggest that perhaps the current pop-culture zeitgeist makes the time ripe for this particular play to be revived more often:

Given the current pop-culture climate in which audiences thrill to stories of cynical realpolitik handily trumping the virtues and idealism of public service (as in the case of popular series such as House of Cards, and Game of Thrones) – the zeitgeist is ripe for Henry VI, Part 2 to be revived – and perhaps, with the taste for long form storytelling so prevalent, Parts 1 & 3 may deserve some love as well. Nonetheless, Part 2 is sufficiently self-contained, beginning with the marriage of Henry and Margaret and ending with the First Battle of St. Albans and start of the Wars of the Roses. Familiarity with the oft-staged Henry V and Richard III provide more than adequate background on what happened before and what happens next.

Read the full review on The Arts Fuse!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: I Review Bridge Repertory Theater's "Julius Caesar"

On The Arts Fuse, I reviewed Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. While I admire the visual style and the sonic rawness of this interpretation, I feel much of the story and political subtext is buried in the breakneck pacing.

Julius Caesar has long been the best known of Shakespeare’s Roman plays: its plot and the historical events that inspired it are common knowledge, and Marc Antony’s funeral oration has long been used as an object lesson in the rhetorical use of irony and sarcasm. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus are beginning to generate some more productions and interest, but for the time being, Caesar still reigns.

The Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston is currently offering a stripped-down, modern dress production that clocks in at about 100 minutes without an intermission. Director Olivia D’Ambrosio is due some praise for helming a visually distinctive minimalist presentation, but her breakneck ‘fast and furious” pacing ends up leaving the Bard’s poetry and the subtleties of the realpolitik narrative in the dust.

I was entertained by the roughly twenty-minute set of improv by Fine Line Comedy that followed in which they lampooned the play and production.

Read the full review on The Arts Fuse!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett's "Albatross"

Back in February I reviewed Albatross, a theatrical adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's narrative poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I judged the play, written by Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett, performed by Evett, directed by Rick Lombardo and produced by The Poets' Theater quite highly, noting its all around excellence, and I expressed hope that it could be remounted (preferably elsewhere, as a representation of what Boston's theater scene can offer.)

My hope has born some fruit, and Albatross is bing remounted at New Repertory Theater, May 21-24.

Read my review on The Arts Fuse!

Monday, May 18, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: I Review Jeff Talbott's “The Submission”

On The Arts Fuse I review Zeitgeist Stage Company's current production of Jeff Talbott's play, The Submission a dark and transgressive comedy directed by David J. Miller about a playwright who hires an actress to hide the fact that his play about an alcoholic African-American woman and her card-shark son was actually written by a middle-class gay white man:

Today, many dramatists feel under pressure to represent a more diverse cast of characters, while questioning whether they (or others) have the right to write about people whose experiences are unlike their own. And if they do attempt to jump into other shoes, will it be seen as legitimate or will it be condemned as exploitation? In this script, playwright Jeff Talbott argues that “some guy [sitting] in his middle-class apartment” is capable of imagining other lives, even if there are questions (political, artistic) about whether he has that right.

However, while I admire Talbott's sense of dialogue and the dynamic performance of the actors in this production, I find it flounders on a rather substantial plot hole:

The catch is that The Submission is saddled with too many implausibilities that go well beyond what can be tolerated in either a farce or a satire. It’s one thing to turn a reasonably protective dramatist into a bullying control freak. But Danny is so incurious and dismissive of other people’s experiences, so unaware of the racial coding of the language he uses, that it is hard to imagine he could write anything credible about working-class African-American families. Indeed, all the listicles and YouTube videos with such titles as “Ten Things White People Need To Stop Saying To Their Black Friends” are written for people just like him. How could Emilie, the literary office at Humana, or anyone working on the production possibly conclude that a play written by Danny was an “authentic” portrait of African-American life? Is everybody in the theater world brainwashed to the point that their notion of ‘the real” is rooted in the same pop culture cliches and political correctness strictures absorbed by Danny and Trevor? If that’s the case, Talbott’s script never considers a possibility that darkly and daringly comic. Is Danny really that much of an emotional idiot savant, or does Talbott imagine that the staff of the Humana Festival is haplessly gullible?

Read the rest on The Arts Fuse.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Kilroys Were There: Playwrights, Gender, and Class: At the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Conference, Boston 2014, Part V

Note to the Reader: The following account of the June 26-29, 2014 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference in Boston was originally written for The Arts Fuse, to which I am a senior contributor but for various reasons, was not used.


The Kilroys, a collective of female playwrights formed in 2014 and based in Los Angeles, had made a splash in online discussions of the new play sector in the week or so before the conference, and was on the tip of the tongue at many. On one front, The Kilroys are a production group modeled upon 13P. 13P had been founded by playwrights whose own experiences with the submission and development process had left them feeling disenfranchised and with plays unproduced. Their mission was to produce one play by each of the member playwrights and then implode (their website continues to exist primarily as a public archive of the project.) In the wake of 13P's deliberate expiration, other 13P-style groups have come into existence, such as Boston's Boston Public Works (see a recent interview with four of BPW's members here), and Washington, D.C.'s The Welders.

That The Kilroys were yet another 13P group, or that they were centered on producing work by female playwrights (one of a number of underrepresented groups among writers in contemporary theater) attracted little controversy. While parts of of Emily Glassberg Sands' 2009 study on gender bias in American theater have been disputed in terms of her methodology and the conclusions she drew, the broader conclusion that female playwrights are less likely to have their plays produced did seem to be supported (a more recent but less formal study by Donna Hoke suggests that a major cause of under representation is that female playwrights simply make fewer submissions). So while The Kilroys' primary mission to produce work by their member playwrights was widely lauded, their decision to publish “The List” attracted far more attention. The List was of 46 plays by 42 female playwrights that had had thus far only one production at most. The plays were selected from over three-hundred plays recommended by 127 “influential new play leaders” invited to participate by The Kilroys themselves.

One of the few published criticisms of The Kilroys' List was in an essay in The Clyde Fitch Report credited to CFR Staff (note, that while I am a sometime contributor to CFR, I was not one of the contributors consulted in the writing of the piece, and I do not agree with all the opinions voiced in that essay) several issues of privilege were raised -- most importantly that of the 46 plays, only one was by a playwright who was not identified as already having an agent and a publisher. The geographical pipeline that privileges New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and London stages in determining what gets produced in “the regions” was evident when one considers, as Jessie Baxter, Literary Director of Fresh Ink Theatre Company did. While participating in a panel discussion Baxter, in the midst of discussing her company's mission to develop New England playwrights, noted that “No one was offering both development and production opportunities for new work in Boston,” in part because, “New England writers tend not to have agents.”

Of the over three-hundred plays that were nominated for the Kilroys' List, all but one of the 46 that made the final cut were, by most standards, institutionally privileged playwrights. Recent works by well established playwrights such as Theresa Rebeck, Paula Vogel, and Timberlake Wertenbaker, all of which are likely to be produced widely in the next several years without help from The Kilroys, made the list. Most of the 42 authors whose work made the List of 46 were already well-connected. Looking only at residencies, fellowships, and productions since 2000, I found that twelve of the playwrights had been playwriting fellows at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center; another twelve had been in residence at The Lark Play Development Center; Seven had been affiliated with Page 73 Productions; Six had had plays produced by Playwrights Horizons; Another six are currently resident playwrights at New Dramatists; and three were alumnae of WordBRIDGE Playwrights' Laboratory (a program designed for playwriting students.) The playwrights whose work made the final 46 were also generally alumnae of the seven playwriting programs whose graduates dominate the new play sector, which Todd London, Ben Pesner, and Zannie Giraud Voss identified as Columbia University, Yale University, New York University, University of Texas/Austin, University of Iowa, Brown University, and the non-degree granting program at Juilliard in their book Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play

Indeed, of the approximately 250 plays that were nominated and did not make the same cut, most of the playwrights were of these similar cohorts, albeit with fewer honors, or with a less fortunate geographical situation.

In short, the list was not “46 plays by playwrights theater people don't already know but should” but “46 plays by 42 playwrights that theater people likely already know” (indeed, I'm a fan of a few of the dramatists on the list – notably Jenny Schwartz, and the aforementioned Wertenbaker.) There were even two Pulitzer Prize finalists in the mix! (Most Pulitzer finalists were probably too successful to make “The List”.)

The playwrights whose work made the list who already had successful careers and received institutional approval that few playwrights, male or female, critically acclaimed or not, ever achieve. By any standards, these were insiders who had already been vetted by other insiders and being selected for further honors by another set of insiders. Many of the insiders involved in the selection process, as dramaturgs, literary managers, and artistic directors, were already professionally attached to the plays that were nominated. It does not take a cynic to note that an artistic director can nominate one of next season's plays for The Kilroys' List and then include The Kilroys' List in their promotional materials.

The ironies are manifold: a group whose own mission is to get work past the gatekeepers and onto stages, issuing a list that normalizes the authority of the gatekeepers (albeit a group of gatekeepers considered to be sympathetic); a list that aims to increase awareness of women playwrights and advance gender parity, promotes the careers of already successful playwrights and ensures that the overlooked continue to be overlooked. Furthermore, the way that The Kilroys' List became a rallying cry and mantra on both social media and the LMDA conference allowed literary managers and artistic directors to pretend that they were not institutional gatekeepers and that it is their aggregate decisions that contribute to a lack of gender parity (indeed, a curious finding of the Glassberg-Sands study was that female literary managers were more likely to discriminate against female playwrights than male literary managers.)

Finally, all the attention on the list, and the reluctance to engage with the attendant contradictions critically ignored the most radical thing that The Kilroys and other 13P-style groups are doing, which is bypassing the gatekeepers and empowering playwrights in a new play sector in which playwrights are often disempowered.

Not addressing the privileges of class and geography that run rampant in American theater is going to limit any strides towards gender parity to an elite class of playwrights who went to the right schools, made the right connections while still at school, live in the right metropolitan areas, and received the right fellowships at the right time of their careers, and continues to normalize a system that priviliages personalities over plays.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Dramaturgical Black Box: A Playwright's Perspective: At the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Conference, Boston 2014, Part IV

Note to the Reader: The following account of the June 26-29, 2014 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference in Boston was originally written for The Arts Fuse, to which I am a senior contributor but for various reasons, was not used.


For the playwrights, the world of literary managers and dramaturgs is a black box: plays or ten-page excerpts are sent in with a brief cover letter and possibly some supporting materials, and anywhere between three weeks and three years later, there is usually (but not always) a response. Oft times it's a simple form letter, and other times it's a surprisingly human piece of correspondence from someone who wants to make a genuine connection with playwright. What happens in that intervening period is mysterious to the playwright and is subject to much speculation when playwrights speak amongst themselves.

Occasionally, once a playwright has submitted their work, they are invited to meet with a dramaturg or literary manager either as part of a development workshop or as a one-on-one consult about the script. Some of these encounters are rewarding, but some are at times immensely frustrating. Companies and dramaturgs often enter with preconceptions of the working relationship with the playwright. The playwright simply wants to have their play produced, and depending on the situation, the dramaturg can be either an ally and collaborator, or an obstacle and opponent. As Sarah Lunnie, Associate Literary Manager at Playwrights Horizons observed during a discussion of dramaturgically driven companies, using a dating analogy,
“You don't want to keep going on dates with someone who doesn't like you.” Some playwrights don't want to or need to work with dramaturgs, but are placed in a circumstance where a dramaturg is preordained. Meanwhile, dramaturgs have skill sets that can more be more fruitfully applied elsewhere. It becomes unrewarding for both the dramaturg and playwright to have the relationship forced on them.

Attendees were able to witness the playwright/dramaturg relationship up close in a Friday, June 27, 2014 playwriting workshop chaired by Rebecca Kastleman (Harvard University.)

Several weeks before the conference, a call was made to Boston area playwrights. Playwrights were asked when submitting their scripts to identify their plays as problems that needed to be solved through consultation with the dramaturgs, rather than simply express a desire to have a second pair of eyes on the script. It's certainly reasonable to expect a dramaturg to identify problems with a script, but does it not border on infantilizing to ask the playwright to identify their own work as a problem that someone else needs to solve? Lunnie's quip about dating is quite applicable; adults should not feel pressured into relationships that infantilize.

If the writers' plays were selected, they would be paired with an early career dramaturgs with whom they would consult over a period of weeks. At the session, the playwrights and dramaturgs reported on their collaborations.

Since these plays are still in development, and I only know them from the summaries given at the session, I will not comment on the specific plays, but only give impressions of the processes. Some of the plays, as described, seemed to be so well developed that I found myself questioning whether the dramaturgical consult was necessary, and whether or not the play would have been better served with a workshop with actors and director. Other times, it seemed to me that the play was in such an early stage that the playwright still had to resolve important issues of narrative structure or character motivation, that I had to wonder if the consultation was not premature.

Premature dramaturgy, unfortunately, is not always just a pedagogical exercise. In 2013, I was made privy to communications from a member of the production staff at one of the nation's most well-known regional theaters. The theater had made a commitment to produce a new play before it had actually been rendered as a performable draft. Despite a round of workshops the year before, when the script was finally brought to the rehearsal room, the consensus in the room was that the play did not make sense. Rehearsals were suspended so that the director, dramaturg, and playwright could be sequester themselves somewhere to salvage the script in time for curtain call.

Not surprisingly, the play received consistently negative reviews. This however, was not a unique, freak occurance: Recently, I reviewed the premiere of Ronan Noone's Scenes From An Adultery, at New Repertory Theatre. The play was developed in-house as part of New Rep's Next Voices Fellowship Program – and clearly New Rep had committed itself to producing it before Noone had finished writing it, or even before there was a promising draft.

The idea that playwrights are not obligated to resolve obvious problems with their scripts before a dramaturg is brought in is itself a problem, especially with the limited amount of time a dramaturg has to work on a script. Some of the plays presented in the Friday workshop seemed to be symptomatic of this problem. In a time of economic crisis it seems misguided for a theater to devote resources, including the valuable time a dramaturg could have been devoting elsewhere, to a play that is clearly not ready -- and of course, the biggest loser is the audience that had to pay the ticket prices that are the norm at major regional theaters. Certainly if plays are getting fast-tracked to production when even the director recognizes that the play is not ready (and when there are likely many plays out there that are ready, yet are not being produced), then the current model of new play development is broken – in part because the paradigm is not about finding the best previously undiscovered plays and getting them on their feet, but inserting unfinished work into a development process.

While some of these tensions are often in evidence when playwrights grouse amongst themselves about less-than-satisfactory dealings with dramaturgs, some dramaturgs, as Lunnie's use of the dating analogy indicates, are also quite aware of them. In some informal conversations I had with the conference, I was asked what playwrights need. I noted that in the books I have read on dramaturgical practice, notably Lenora Inez Brown's The Art of Active Dramaturgy best standards and practices are already spelled out. Unfortunately, between the limited resources and the mandates given by their employers, dramaturgs do not always have the freedom to engage in best practices.

Playing It Safe With Film Critic Wesley Morris: At the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Conference, Boston 2014, Part III

Note to the Reader: The following account of the June 26-29, 2014 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference in Boston was originally written for The Arts Fuse, to which I am a senior contributor but for various reasons, was not used.


newplay on Broadcast Live Free

As one of only four film critics to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, former Boston Globe contributor, Wesley Morris, now a staff writer for Grantland, might have seemed to be equally an inspired and odd choice as a keynote speaker, given his minimal involvement with theater. Perhaps this would be for the best, a theater critic might have expressed a strong opinions on plays that at least some of the attendees had worked on and anybody of similar or greater stature in the theater world (say, an elder statesman like Robert Brustein who was conspicuous by his absence) would have likely been divisive in a room filled with theater professionals.

Morris walked a fine line between his own expertise as a critic of popular culture, and a guest who needed to flatter his hosts, “I feel like you are the conduit between those two experiences: the creative act, and the one where I am on my sofa weeping.” The result was that he alternately described his role of a critic as a “glorified civilian movie-goer” who “[likes] to think I want the same thing from my plays and movies as anyone wants,” while also saying that, “objectively speaking, I see [what I do as] crime reporting” elaborating that with regard to race and gender, “sometimes movies do crazy things that don't make sense.”

During the question and answer session after his address, Morris was asked about changing roles of criticism on both the web and in print -- a question that placed his address into context. He affirmed that the web might be the last refuge for long form criticism written for a general audience, noting that on Grantland, he can publish a 3,300 word article addressing a single topic, something that would be impossible with a daily, or even weekly, newspaper. Given the decreased page space given to criticism in print publications, and how much of our cultural discourse has been reduced to sound bites, slogans, and tweets (tweeting was in great evidence at the LMDA conference) – a phenomenon that websites like The Arts Fuse (for which this essay was originally intended) exist, in part, to counter.

Morris mostly stayed away from discussing theater in depth. The topics that garnered the greatest attention, were his praise for the Netflix-produced television series, Orange is the New Black, (which, judging by reactions from the audience, and the number of mentions it received in plenary sessions, appears to be very popular with LMDA members) and his 2011 review of The Help which was informed by his own encounter with a “mammy” doorstop in a west Texas restaurant as the only African-American among a predominantly white group of friends which underlined to him just how ambiguous the symbols of America's racial (and gendered) history can be, and the cognitive dissonance they continue to cause. Quite simply, Morris discovered that while he and his liberal white friends saw Mammy as a racist stereotype, the white proprietor viewed Mammy as an homage to the black woman who raised her.

When he did speak about theater, Morris was appreciative but far less profound, often contrasting the medium with television. In discussing gender, he stated that, “The thing I love about the theater[is that] there is such a dearth of interesting women on TV [and] the theater is much more women-oriented or open to women's experience.” While at the same time, noting the moral simplicity in most television, which he described as currently wallowing under “misinterpretation of what it is to be an antihero,” Morris praised theater's sophistication, stating that, “theater is much more open to the fluidity of morality.”

Most of the attention that Morris was able to directly address towards theater was with regard to theater on television and film. Referring to PBS's longsrunning series, Great Performances, he noted, “They have nine cameras. You just need one camera.” Arguing that there is an essential difference between being seated in the auditorium and having one's eyes guided by camera work, made timely now that major theaters present high-definition footage of their performances to cinema screens for paying audiences, he commented, “I don't know why you have to cut [...] Just put a camera in the best seat in the house.” Morris concluded that, “For twenty-five dollars I want to see the fucking stage. I don't need to see the close up; she's not acting for the close up.”

I would suggest that the problem is not necessarily the number of cameras, or number of edits, but as I have noted elsewhere, the often poor quality of the camera work and editing. Strong directors and actors are very skilled at drawing audience members' eyeballs to various points on the stage or upon the actor's own body – mimes like Marcel Marceau and Dario Fo were absolute masters of this. The issue isn't a matter of one camera in the best seat of the house versus nine cameras scattered around the theater, but of whether or not the camera (and the editing) is guided by the visual dramaturgy of a given performance -- and quite often, it is not. Filmed theater is simply a different medium from both film and theater. Cameras are not eyeballs – the human eye is attached to a sophisticated complex of cerebral wiring that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years.

Perhaps this is a problem with Morris being a film critic and only a casual (yet articulate) theater-goer. He stated his appreciation for many of the plays that have been circulating on the main stages of America's regional theaters in recent years, but his own comments missed the subtleties -- so when he decried the use of stage plays being adapted to feature films, using the example of Roman Polanski's 2011 adaption of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage, he complained that Polanski's signature style changed the meaning of the play. What Morris missed is that while film-goers are accustomed to there being a “definitive” take on a story, the strength of some plays is that they can admit any number of strong, but contradictory productions -- and this is why many audience members and critics will flock to see multiple productions of a favorite play: to experience the differences.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When a Conference Comes To Town... At the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Conference, Boston 2014, Part II

Note to the Reader: The following account of the June 26-29, 2014 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference in Boston was originally written for The Arts Fuse, to which I am a senior contributor but for various reasons, was not used.


The last time I had attended a major national theater conference was in June of 2012, when Theatre Communications Group (TCG) came to Boston. I had noted at the time, that TCG had repeatedly demonstrated contempt for local volunteers and showed little interest in the local theater community. TCG's behavior was sufficient for me to create an #OccupyTCG hashtag to use on twitter.

Because of the low bar set by TCG, I was obligated, as embarrassing as it might seem, to inquire and observe how LMDA, as an organization, conducted itself as a guest in Boston. Happily, perhaps, in large part because much of the conference was organized by Magda Romanska (both professor of theatre and dramaturgy at Emerson College, and dramaturg at Boston Lyric Opera) I can report that whereas TCG as an organization, demonstrated arrogance and callousness, LMDA, by contrast, demonstrated decency and graciousness.

Where TCG volunteers were informed that they were not to participate in any discussion session except as silent observers, LMDA volunteers were full participants (some were even presenters.) Where TCG volunteers were not permitted to approach the buffet tables, and bartenders were instructed not to serve them drinks at any of the evening events, LMDA volunteers were invited to both the opening night party, and the closing night banquet. Where TCG only issued a thank-you email after they became aware that both volunteers and members of the host community were upset by their behavior, LMDA volunteers were thanked by name at the banquet and applauded by the diners present.

Meanwhile, where TCG's only recognition of Boston's theater community was a fashion show featuring costumes from recent productions, LMDA featured local artists as presenters in several sessions, and even set aside an evening where conference attendees were encouraged to see local productions.

Critic's Notebook: At the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Conference, Boston 2014, Part I

Note to the Reader: The following account of the June 26-29, 2014 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference in Boston was originally written for The Arts Fuse, to which I am a senior contributor. As it grew in length, and was continually delayed because other assignments had more pressing deadlines it started to develop into a form that was not well-suited for The Arts Fuse – a website more devoted to articulate arts criticism for a general audience. Bill Marx, my editor, had suggested I consider ways to fold this coverage into another, more topical essay, and while my time at the LMDA conference gave me certain insights that have since found their way into my theater criticism, I felt that these journals would be of greater use if shared than if kept to myself.

These “notebooks” are incomplete – they do not reflect every discussion I attended, nor every idea in which I took interest. I took over thirty pages of notes on a number of issues at the conference, but not all of them made their way into essay form.


Ask the average theater goer about the role of a dramaturg in making theater, and they are unlikely to have more than a vague idea. Indeed, even attendees of the four day 2014 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) annual conference hosted by Emerson College this past June, resisted giving an easy definition of their work, and would, when pressed, give any number of definitions.

Scholars often argue that dramaturgy is an aspect of all theater-making in that it is a practice that attends to the composition and presentation of the elements of a performance. By that standard, Aristotle's Poetics, in that it analyzes tragedy, is dramaturgy's oldest text. Different theatrical traditions are often said to have their own dramaturgy; one only need compare Italy's commedia dell'arte with north Indian kathak, to see just two examples of theater forms that are themselves diverse, yet have a clear identity that distinguishes them from all other forms.

While it is arguable that every director and every playwright practices dramaturgy, the notion that there is a theater professional whose title is “dramaturg” is a more recent one, dating to 1767 when the Hamburg National Theater hired the philosopher and playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing as an in-house critic.

It took much longer for dramaturgy and dramaturgs to find a place in American theater, and while it is almost certainly an over-simplification, the commonly told story is that its origins began when Yale School of Drama, under the leadership of Robert Brustein, began training theater critics alongside other theater practitioners. Consequently, these critics-in-training found themselves involved making theater while at school.

After graduation, many found their way into staff positions within the still growing regional theater movement. The role was often that of acting as an in-house scholar who provided historical research to be used by the director, designers, and cast, wrote interpretive essays for the playbill, and served as a literary manager who evaluated new plays thrown over the transom.

Still, while the audience sees what the actors and designers do, and they are able to evaluate how well the director combines these diverse contributions into a coherent whole, discerning what role the dramaturg has played is far more difficult. Even as a theater critic, I more likely to notice the absence than the presence of a dramaturg: such as when a new show has little thematic coherence or had been poorly researched, or when a new interpretation of a classic work goes completely off-the-rails. If a director or designer does not respect a good dramaturg's expertise, they will not be persuaded to refrain from a bad production choice. If an artistic director has bad taste, even with the best literary manager at their side, they will not be able to program a season of excellent plays.

When I was invited to cover the LMDA conference for The Arts Fuse, I was excited to have an opportunity to pull back the curtain and demystify the roles of dramaturg and literary manager, both as a critic and as a playwright. The role of critic and the role of dramaturg are, of course, similar: both pose questions and provide context: the difference, of course is that the critic's work is done in public where the critic is expected to render judgement. I will, consequently, pose questions and render opinions. I do not expect these opinions to be universally accepted, anymore than I do when I review a play.

In recognition of the diverse subjects covered at the conference this report will be arranged as a collection of notes, arranged thematically, rather than chronologically.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: “Scenes From An Adultery” — Where’s the Sex?

On The Arts Fuse I review Ronan Noone's sex-farce, Scenes From An Adultery currently playing at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown and directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary. Unfortunately the script is both sexless and feckless.

Many a fine comedy has been built around gossip, secrets, and people’s askew perceptions of the sex lives of others. The problem for Noone’s Scenes From An Adultery is that these aspects of farce contrivance are not what generate the comedy. They are merely the theatrical scaffolding upon which the humor — rooted in detailed characterization, clever word play, and a mania for bourgeois respectability — is often built. His figures lack quirky, strange obsessions or exaggerated vices.


The dialogue is lacking in wit, to say the least. This is what, once upon a time, maybe back in the 1970s, passed for ‘sophisticated,’ risqué adult comedy — using words like “penis,” “tits,” and “cunnilingus” on stage.

Particularly worrisome to me is that the script wasn't merely developed in-house as part of New Rep's Next Voices Fellowship Program, but that Noone teaches playwriting at Boston University and is therefore presumingly training the next generation of dramatists. Neither fact bodes well for new play development in the Boston metropolitan area.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Theresia Walser & Karl-Heinz Ott's "The Whole World" Reviewed on The Arts Fuse

On The Arts Fuse I review the grotesquely funny domestic comedy, The Whole World by German playwrights, Theresia Walser and Karl-Heinz Ott which was presented in a staged reading by German Stage at the Goethe-Institut Boston, on April 23rd. The reading was directed by Guy Ben-Aharon.

Walser and Ott’s version of middle-class monstrousness isn’t about pointing out how animal urges are trapped under a civilized veneer (Harold Pinter). The play focuses on the incoherence that lurks underneath the narratives we tell about ourselves: it is about the slippage from the innocent self-mythologizing we do to make ourselves the protagonists of our own stories to a condition moves into the realm of pathological lying. The couples do not begin in conflict – Tina and Dolph are seeking friendship with a couple they imagine to be very much like themselves, merely different in an interesting fashion – only to discover that Regina and Richard aren’t even remotely similar to anything Tina and Dolph would care (or dare) imagine existing in the ‘whole world.’ It isn’t a playground conflict or workplace struggle (Yasmina Reza) that incites the psychic savagery between the couples, but the nihilism that lurks underneath the price we pay for our bourgeois comforts. This shouldn’t lead you to think that The Whole World plays like some sort of psychological horror show; as in the plays of Edward Albee, Pinter, and Reza, the audience’s laughter increased with every twisted revelation of disfunction.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A 2010 Exchange With Pulitzer Prize-Winning Dramatist Stephen Adly Guirgis

The Pulitzer committee announced its 2015 prizes this past week, awarding its prize in drama to Stephen Adly Guirgis for Between Riverside and Crazy.

Back in 2010, I had a brief exchange with Guirgis on this very blog. He had objected to comments I had penned in 2006 regarding an earlier play of his, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot -- arguably, my first published piece of theater criticism. While I conceded that the play was filled with the sorts of monologues that actors enjoy performing, I considered the play to be poorly structured, and narratively incoherent, as well as containing a pronounced undercurrent of hipster misogyny (because sexual harassment of women is edgy and cool!) and old-school antisemitism: Most notably the Deicide charge that the Jews are to be held responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth (a doctrine explicitly rejected by the Second Vatican Council with the 1965 publication of Nostra Aetate).

The play takes place in a courtroom in the afterlife in which the defense attorney for Judas Iscariot (whom many scholars believe to be a fictitious character whom the Gospel writers created to personify "the perfidious Jews") tries to overturn his eternal damnation -- her strategy is to pin the crime of the crucifixion on another individual -- and since the Roman military governor, Pontius Pilate has washed his hands of responsibility, she ends up trying to pin the crime on another Jew: Caiaphas, the high priest of the Second Temple.

Some point over the years, Guirgis got wind of my critique, and while he was willing to concede that The Last Days of Judas Iscariot might not be the best written play (he wrote "My play is wildly imperfect, [with] lots and lots of flaws"), he objected to my characterization of the play as anti-Semitic (" I can assure you it was not written in hate. It was written, in all it's imperfection, with love.") Perhaps his intent was muddled by the structural problems in the play. Oddly, he never really addressed my concerns about misogyny.

You can read the whole exchange here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ian Thal's Plays on The New Play Exchange

A few months ago, The New Play Exchange, a project that may revolutionize the new play sector of the American theater industry, went online. The Exchange is a "script discovery and recommendation engine" and I've posted some of my plays there.

So artistic directors, dramaturgs, and new play fans interested in what I do can read the current drafts of my full-length play, The Conversos Of Venice, as well as shorter works like Arlecchino Am Ravenous, Two Cats Explain The Monstrous Moth Group, Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets The Crowd, and The Second Annual Administration Building Takeover And Slumber Party, all of which are available on my page.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Arlecchino Am Ravenous in STEEL TOE REVIEW #20

My one-act play Arlecchino Am Ravenous recently appeared in Steel Toe Review #20. You may read it here.

The other theatrical offering for the current issue is Ron Pullins' DADA's Home. I played the role of Pico in Ron's short play of the same name back in 2011.