What I Saw In New York

Hoo boy. I’m only just now crawling out from under this horrible flu-like thing that everyone seems to have. The one whose main symptom seems to be sapping you of all ambition.

I caught it right after I got back from a trip to New York for the Dramatists Guild annual meeting. I made a long weekend of it, so I got a chance to see some pretty extraordinary shows, all of which I recommend:

  • Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz. Star-packed, and not just onstage. Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Judith Light, Justin Kirk and Rachel Griffiths are all in the show, except Rachel Griffiths was out, so her understudy was in it – and it turns out, it was her Broadway debut. All her friends were in the audience; her mom sat right behind me and teared up; the cast was practically crying as they handed her flowers. It was really pretty special to catch. Oh, and the dude who plays Mitchell on Modern Family sat right in front of me, because I had good seats, because that’s how I roll.
  • Tribes by Nina Raine, directed by David Cromer. One of my rules is to automatically go see whatever is on at Barrow Street Theatre. I have never, ever been disappointed, and this one keeps the streak going. Really, really good. It was a preview, and I have a rule about not talking much about previews because who knows what will change by opening, but I will repeat that it was really, really good. You should consider emulating my “go to whatever’s on at Barrow Street” rule.
  • Grant Stewart Quartet at Smalls Jazz Club. Also caught a late night after hours jazz show at my favorite jazz club. Being at Smalls is like watching a few friends jam in someone’s basement. You start out standing in the back, and as people fade away, you move up until you get a seat. I ended up in the front row, where I could have reached over and played along on the piano, and if I had stretched out my foot, I would have kicked Grant Stewart in the shins.
  • Venus in Fur by David Ives. He’s one of the ones on the list I’ve memorized for when I inevitably get that “what playwrights have inspired you?” question during talkbacks or press interviews. This one is getting deservedly rave reviews for being fun, daring, theatrical, witty and smart, and for Nina Arianda’s performance, which is so good, the New Yorker even did a long article about it.

And, of course, I spent the last day doing some writing in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, because that’s also how I roll.

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My 2011 In Review

2011 was a pretty good year. In fact, looking back over it all, I kind of can’t believe how much I did:

  • My first musical, IN THE PALE EARTHLIGHT (book and lyrics by Tim Bauer, music by Richard Koldewyn), had a book-in-hand-until-they-danced reading on the big stage of Berkeley Rep, part of Monday Night PlayGround.
  • I got paid to do some ghostwritten punch-ups of someone else’s musical.
  • I wrote 3 ten-minute plays, 1 instant play, 2 one-minute plays, 1 new full-length, and revised 2 other full-lengths.
  • ZOMBIE TOWN: A DOCUMENTARY PLAY was part of PlayFest at Orlando Shakespeare Theater.
  • SEPARATE VACATIONS, a full-length play improvised from an opening scene I wrote, was staged as part of ‘Act One: Scene Two’ by Un-Scripted Theater.
  • SEEING MR. ALBERT, a short story, won the Live Writing Contest by the Portuguese Artists Colony at Fivepoints Arthouse.
  • HOT SPOT was produced by the Bay One-Acts Festival.
  • QUESTIONING and WHAT PARTICULAR SKILLS DO YOU BRING TO THE WORKPLACE were produced by the One Minute Play Festival.
  • I hosted 11 Friday Night Footlights readings.
  • I co-hosted 4 Playwrights Pub Nights.
  • I attended the Dramatists Guild’s annual meeting in New York as the new San Francisco regional rep, and then went to the Dramatists Guild’s first-ever national conference, where I spoke on a panel about dramatists on the web.
  • I read new work with the Portuguese Artists Colony at Fivepoints Arthouse, and was later asked to become a new colonist.
  • I took two classes with Anthony Clarvoe through Playwrights Foundation – highly, highly recommended – where I started revisions on my latest full-length.
  • I saw 35 plays, from Broadway and Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, to regional and local and indie.
  • I saw 36 new play readings, from Dramatists Guild readings to Orlando PlayFest readings to local staged readings like Theater Pub and BAPF.
  • I read a whole bunch more plays, both as a member of the Magic Theatre Literary Committee and as a dude with a whole lot of plays on his bookshelves.

Probably need to do some rebalancing for next year, but that’s for tomorrow, when I do my 2012 plan (inspired by Marisela’s work plan).

What script are today’s playwrights following?

What script are today’s playwrights following?

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times theater critic, tries to figure out “why so many who are bursting with bright ideas and in possession of a solid sense of craft are having such trouble laying down tracks for their theatrical visions”:

Sitting through a succession of new plays on a recent visit to New York, I was reminded of car trips as a child with my grandmother behind the wheel of her gigantic red Lincoln Continental. Her destination was clear, but her route, like those of the playwrights who were chauffeuring me around Broadway, was a guessing game.

This isn’t intended as a general dismissal of these plays, which have varying degrees of merit to them. Rather, it’s an observation of the plight of today’s dramatists struggling to define the terms of contemporary drama for a mainstream urban audience that seems just as uncertain about what constitutes a good 21st century play as they are.

Diminishing The ‘Hat’? About That Casting Controversy

Diminishing The ‘Hat’? About That Casting Controversy

Stephen Adly Guirgis on the casting of non-Hispanic actors in the roles of Puerto Rican characters in a production of his play:

What I saw on that stage was young, white, otherwise talented actors who were regrettably ill-equipped to even approach a three dimensional rendering of the characters they were assigned to portray. And the entirely white audience on the night I saw the show ate it up like pie. It was surreal. I felt like I was in a time warp. It felt like I was witnessing something that I had only read about in history books. It felt like a modern day minstrel show. And all this in a city with a 40 percent Latino population, and in a play cast, not in Indiana or Wyoming, but New York City and Hartford.

In a Dusty Drawer, a Trove of Theatrical Voices

In a Dusty Drawer, a Trove of Theatrical Voices

Several hundred audio tapes were just found “in a dusty bottom drawer in a storage room at the Dramatists Guild of America,” presumably hidden away and untouched for several decades.

There was a question-and-answer session with Richard Rodgers in 1971. A session from 1973 called “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Neil Simon” with — guess who. A conversation from 1977 with Stephen Sondheim, Julie Stein, Betty Comden and Sheldon Harnick about the anatomy of a theater song. And about 200 other reels, the oldest from 1956, the newest from 1991.

Digitizing is happening right now!

What I Saw In New York

I just came home from a New York trip, if by “just” you mean “several weeks ago” and then you rewrite the sentence so it works grammatically.

I saw some terrific shows, then came home and realized I’d more or less duplicated the itinerary of Monica Byrne. I saw:

  • Cymbeline by Fiasco Theater at Barrow Street Theater. Loved the stripped-down aesthetics, the doubling and tripling of characters, the acting, the music, the whole thing. You walked away thinking Cymbeline must be considered Shakespeare’s best play.
  • The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill by the Neo-Futurists. I’m a huge fan of the Neo-Futurists (and even wrote a ten-minute play called “A Futurist Supersaga in Six Acts” a while back), but this one went from being hilarious to played out (and then back to hilarious at the very end). Probably the greatest five-minute play ever, but a little thin for a whole evening.
  • The Submission by Jeff Talbott at MCC Theater. Great acting; a little predictable storyline. Going for the whole “shock the liberals” thing that Clybourne Park tried to do.
  • The Lyons by Nicky Silver at Vineyard Theatre. Nicky Silver is one of my main influences, usually listed first whenever I have to fill out an artistic statement. Kind of can’t believe I got to see a world premiere of his. Sold out. Extended. Oh, and it’s so good.
  • Sleep No More by Punchdrunk. An immersive theater event that’s one of my favorite experiences ever. One of those shows you remember ten years later. I kind of wish I could move into the “hotel” they created. Or at least that I could go back every few weeks for the next year. This slide gives a tiny idea of what it was like: the audience is in masks and is free to follow any of the characters as they make their way from room to room. Amazing.

I also visited the library at New Dramatists, where I got to see original scripts by many of their past and present resident playwrights. Which is a huge thrill for a theater geek such as myself.

Theater In a Pub

The New York Times recently wrote about the beauty of watching theater in a pub:

“What works in our favor is the intimacy of the experience,” said Tim Roseman, who shares the job of artistic director at another pub space, Theater503, with Paul Robinson. “You genuinely feel you are in the same room as the actors, that you breathe the characters’ air, and this makes for an electrifying experience.”

Of course, San Francisco has its own theater pub, and next up is the return of Pint Sized Plays, featuring plays (none written by me) that last the amount of time it takes to drink a beer. It’s a chance to do something that the New York Times thinks is cool without having to fly to Brooklyn to eat a cupcake.

Update: Looks like I picked a good day to mention this. SF Theater Pub was just highlighted in the SF Bay Guardian’s Best of 2011.

‘LEFT GLOVE’ by Mac Wellman

Last week, I was a lucky recipient of a beautiful book of drama/poetry by Mac Wellman. All six longtime readers of this blog will remember that, a while back, I raved about hearing Mac read a work-in-progress at the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Solid Objects has now published it, and it’s a lovely object indeed.

Solid Objects publishes “short, self-contained works that might not otherwise find their way into book form.” One that was already on my list because of this review on Bookslut is Master of Miniatures by Jim Shepard, about the special effects director who created Gojira, aka Godzilla.

Mac’s play, being a Mac Wellman play, is cool and crazy and you can get a good picture just from the opening page:

A chorus of gloves enacts the Ballad of the lost LEFT GLOVE:

Quiet play as a Lumerian walkthrough.

YAMAHA NAZIMOVA, a glove loser
JEWEL BECKETT, a glove finder;

THE, the Indicator
AND, the Connector
IF, the Questioner
UM, the Thumb
ER, the finger farthest from Um;

MORPHO, Venus Anadyomene
in her nocturnal aspect as a
Luna moth;

Various other Moths and Spiders
(And, Er, Maths and other Myths);

and the CAHOON: A ghoul of affliction
and Hater of Lost Gloves.

I was struggling to come up with one sentence to sum up how I felt upon reading this play, and then I saw that Monica de la Torre did it perfectly on the back of the book: “Left Glove will fit thee like a glove if thou relishest the sort of play in which the most awe-inspiring acrobatic feats are performed by no other character than language.”

Yes Yes YES.

(Disclosure: The publishers sent me this book for free. Front cover art and design of the book by Jonathon Rosen.)