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Flip the Script Friday: Black Lives, Black Words – Part I

I think this has been my longest blog hiatus since I began it back in 2013. July and August really came and went fast for me. On July 31, I submitted chapter 3 of my dissertation, and on August 1, I left for my 9th ATHE, in Boston. I spent four days catching up with friends, making new ones, and participating in the activities of the conference. I stayed in Boston a few days longer to visit with my grand-big Dan, and he took me to Maine for the very first time, where we saw the beaches of Ogunquit and Kennebunkport, and had dinner in Portland – now I’ve been to every state east of the Mississippi. Only seven more states to go – anyone up for a trip to North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, or Hawaii?

I’ve spent most of August trying to figure things out for the fall. I’m going to be teaching COMM ARTS 100 – Intro to Speech and Composition. I’m (hopefully) going to finish the final 2 chapters of my dissertation in the next 2 or 3 months. I’m also going to be considering my post-graduation options, probably going on the job market, and just figuring out life and stuff in general.

I have missed y’all and the blog, so what better time to start back up than the present, with everyone’s favorite, Flip the Script Friday – with a twist. Politics have been crazier than ever, especially this summer, and with no signs of it slowing down, I thought – what kinds of thoughts can I contribute, in my own little way? A friend of mine is starting a blog about playwrights of color. Rather than copy her idea, I’m modifying FTS (what a cool new acronym!) for the near future to focus on this fantastic book of short plays I’ve found in the library. The book is entitled Black Lives, Black Words and was published in 2017 by Oberon Books, with Reginald Edmund as editor. It is part of an international project to increase black visibility in the theatre, and includes some really poignant scripts. Rather than flip the scripts, I’m going to write up short synopses of some the pieces in the book and share some of my thoughts. I’ve only read the first few, but hopefully I’ll be able to fit the rest of the book among my regular, non-research reading and write more. And now, here is the first of the plays from the book I’ll be reviewing:

#Matter by Idris Goodwin

Synopsis: A conversation on race emerges over Facebook between acquaintances Kim (black) and Cole (white). In response to Kim’s post of “a hashtag and three words,” Cole posts “a hashtag and three words.” The conversation becomes more and more explosive and acrimonious, from scientific to personal, with an unexpectedly sad ending.

My Thoughts: Goodwin really lays it all out there, and concisely summarizes both sides of an argument in a way that comes off as individual and thoughtful rather than preachy and trite. Both Kim and Cole feel victimized by prejudice AND guilty of it at the same time, for different reasons. I feel like it’s like a high-five where the hands just completely miss each other. Both characters speak valid points – sometimes they listen, but they do a lot of talking past each other. What’s really intriguing, though, is the playwright’s continual return to the phrase “perfect star,” – as if that’s a third race.

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Flip the Script Friday: Tim Kelly, The Uninvited

And after a month way too busy for words (as evidenced by the lack of entries), I’m back. I don’t know how much I’ll be posting, but it’s Friday the 13th, so I thought it would be appropriate to bring back Flip the Script Friday with a selection from 13 Plays of the Ghosts and the Supernatural. Today’s selection? The Uninvited by Tim Kelly.

The Uninvited Logo

Photo credit: Somerset Valley Players

The Basics

The Uninvited is based on a novel by Dorothy Macardle. It was made into a movie in 1944. Interesting facts (about the movie): the screenplay was written in part by Dodie Smith, and it was apparently “the first movie to deal with ghosts as entities rather than illusions or misunderstandings.”

Characters

  • Stella Meredith, an 18-year-old who owns a country house, for some reason.
  • Commander Brooke, her grandfather.
  • Pam, a woman who, along with her brother, looks at Stella’s house and eventually buys it.
  • Roddy, Pam’s brother
  • Lizzie Flynn, their maid. She’s Irish, but for some reason I pictured her as a sassy black lady like Leslie Jones. She has the best lines.
  • Wendy, an actress and medium who is a friend of Pam and Roddy’s.
  • Max, a painter and friend of Pam and Roddy’s.
  • Mrs. Jessup, a nosy neighbor.
  • Dr. Scott, a doctor of some sort.
  • Miss Holloway, Stella’s nurse who is incredibly creepy.

Setting/Plot

A house on a cliff in Cliff End (western England), “the present.” Keep in mind that this play was written in the 1940s. The entire play takes place in the drawing room of a country house. Stella is selling the house, against her grandfather’s wishes, to Pam and Roddy, who come with their sassy maid, Lizzie Flynn, AKA the true star of the show. Weird things happen right from the start, when Pam feels a chill in a random part of the room. Strange goings-on at their housewarming prompt the four friends (Pam, Roddy, Max, and Wendy) to investigate the mysterious deaths of Stella’s parents, Llewellyn (a painter), and Mary (whose portrait hangs above the fireplace), at the possible hands of Carmel, a Spanish woman who lived with them as well, when Stella was a baby. Wendy leads the group in a seance, which brings some spiritual activity, eventually revealing some truths about the Meredith family. Oh, and in the end, Pam suggests that Roddy write a play about everything that’s happened, which is a major eye-roll moment.

Major Themes

Lights, Smells and Sounds

A creepy old house wouldn’t be complete without flickering lights, odd smells, and random noises. In this case, the light is a night-light that comes from the nursery where Stella was raised, in addition to a weird glow around the portrait of Mary; the smell is that of a distinctive mimosa; and the sounds of crying, and a music box. The spirits are very much present, possibly linked through their artifacts, despite no one in the Meredith family currently residing in the house.

Art and Soul

The centerpiece of the play is a painting of Mary Meredith, the former matriarch of the Meredith family who died mysteriously, and whose painting Pam desperately wants to give Stella. Commander Brooke, for some reason, staunchly refuses that it be moved, to which I’m like…wow, it’s not even your house so stop micromanaging. Many of the arts are represented, including theatre (Wendy, an actress); literary (Roddy, a writer), and visual arts (Max is a painter. We never really find out what Pam does for a living). Wendy, Roddy, and Max have the most in common with the spirits. Although it’s Wendy who leads the seance and gets possessed, and Max who recognizes the woman in the mysterious sketch Roddy and Pam find in the house, it’s Roddy who eventually faces the spirits head-on.

How I’d Flip It

It seems like a pretty interesting living room drama, akin to Blithe Spirit. It would need some retooling in order to see it in “the present,” but it might work. The special effects would be fun to work with, especially with the color blue, and the very descriptive scene where Stella sneaks into the house and communicates with the spirits of the dead, in a very Poltergeist “they’re here” moment.

The Last Word

Of course, Lizzie Flynn has the best line of the play:

LIZZIE: What sort of heathen mischief are you up to now?

WENDY: We’re hoping to make contact. (LIZZIE looks grim).

LIZZIE: With whom, may I ask?

MAX: Mary Meredith, we think.

LIZZIE: (Dubious) She’s going to come out from wherever she is and talk to you, is that it?

WENDY: It doesn’t happen that way…

LIZZIE: I wouldn’t know.

WENDY: The spirit will spell out things with the glass.

LIZZIE: What if the spirit don’t know how to spell? (Knock at the front door. LIZZIE is cynical about WENDY’s efforts.) Maybe that’s Mary Meredith. (she exits)

Image result for leslie jones ronda banks

Photo credit: Bella Bronson/Getty Images

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Flip the Script Friday: Howard Brenton, #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei

Today’s Flip the Script Friday comes from my play collection. Here’s a contemporary play about a controversial and misunderstood real figure – the late Ai Weiwei of China. Accordingly, this play is called #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, by Howard Brenton.

Basics

#aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei by Howard Brenton, based on Ai Weiwei’s account in “The Hanging Man” by Barnaby Martin, premiered at London’s Hampstead Theatre on 11 April 2013.

Characters

  • Ai Weiwei
  • Airport Official
  • First Police Guard/First Army Guard
  • Second Police Guard/Second Army Guard
  • “Minder”, an interrogator
  • “Professor”, an interrogator
  • “Sportsman”, an interrogator
  • Thin Young Man, a recorder
  • and B, high officials in Zhongnanhai
  • Other policemen and security men

Setting/Plot

2011, Beijing Airport. Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist, is about to fly to Taipei, when he is detained by officials for questioning, and subsequently held captive for 81 days.

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Flip the Script Friday: Dolly Dhingra, Unsuitable Girls

Well hey there gang. The Wi-Fi at home decided it does not like me anymore, so until something changes, I’m basically going to be living at Starbucks and the like. I’ve been extremely stressed recently, with several bad headaches. Not sure why – the prospect of turning 30 in a week, my lack of dissertation progress (at least, to my expectations; I am doing a little bit of something each day for it), and general life stress. This new lack of Internet dealio does not help.

Anyhoo, I decided to clear my mind by enjoying a nice meal at Cafe Hollander, and despite the noise, managing to get through an entire play: Unsuitable Girls by Dolly Dhingra.

Image result for unsuitable girls dolly dhingra

Image Credit: Oberon Books.

 

Basics

Unsuitable Girls premiered in 2000, at Contact Theatre in Manchester.

Characters

  • Chumpa Chameli. 28, a “bossy heroine.”
  • Sab and Mandy, her childhood friends, 25 and 28.
  • Mum, Chumpa’s mom, 55.
  • Audrey Sackville, Chumpa’s boss at High Society, 40s.
  • Ashok Sahota, Chumpa’s boyfriend, 28.
  • Mem Sahota, Ashok’s cousin, 28.
  • Vinod Kumar, Bollywood actor, 32.
  • Manoj Sahota, Ashok’s father and local video shop owner.
  • Other minor characters (Mrs. Middleton, Mr. Patel, Agent, Doctor, Matchmaker, Potential Dates…)

 Setting/Plot

Present day, East End of London. We open on Chumpa, wearing a wedding dress in a locker room of a swim club. More on that later. Meanwhile, Mum and Manoj are attempting to navigate the logistics of Chumpa’s wedding to longtime boyfriend and total sleazebag Ashok. After Chumpa declares she is not going to marry Ashok, Mum has a heart attack, leading Chumpa to promise God that if Mum stays alive, she will get married. Mum recovers, so Chumpa’s got a new mission. Chumpa then navigates through a parade of potentials through agencies, through her non-Indian friends Sab and Mandy, and continually running into Ashok’s cousin, Mem. In a side plot, Chumpa is attempting to break into the journalism world, and after being fired by Mr. Patel of Concrete Weekly, lands a job with High Society, where she ends up interviewing a Bollywood star who proposes marriage almost instantly. It looks like a fairy-tale ending, but unsurprisingly, not the fairy tale you’re expecting.

My Thoughts

I picked this play off the shelf randomly, and I think I’d rate it as just fair. There’s quite a lot of drama and a touch of Bollywood fantasy meeting the reality of 21st century relationships, which is an interesting combination. With all the location changes, implied musical numbers, and the whole swimming pool thing, it seems to be more suited for a film script than a theatre script, but if the Contact could pull it off, power to them. Overall, it’s not the most polished piece, with a few elements missing and kind of a sappy ending.

Life Imitating Bollywood

There’s a consistent theme of Bollywood throughout the play, from the myriad references, to implications of dance numbers, even resulting in a more-or-less Bollywood ending. There’s something about it that doesn’t quite work here, at least for me. I feel like in the wrong hands, this play could appear stereotypical and hackneyed (video-store notwithstanding) rather than current and bringing something new to the table. It’s an interesting contrast of worlds, but Dhingra could definitely accentuate it more, or make it seem like less of an abrupt transition. To me, it seems like the characters are almost aware that they’re actors in a Bollywood-esque scenario, which makes it seem less genuine, to a degree.

 

How I’d Flip It

I feel like it would be incredibly hard to stage, but it would definitely provide an “in” for audiences unaware of  the aspects of Indian/British-Indian culture. There are a lot of fun cultural references, dramaturgically speaking, for audiences to get to know. For some reason, though, I think it would be better flipped onto a screen as a short film or a miniseries rather than a stage play. Not saying that is a bad play per se, I just feel like it could get messy and confusing, especially in a small space.

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Flip the Script Friday: debbie tucker green, dirty butterfly

It’s been a rather unproductive, unpredictable week in so many ways, that a play by debbie tucker green fits my feelings perfectly. I’ve just had 5 hours working at a craft fair and tomorrow is market day plus salsa saturday, but today is friday and I feel like Flip the Script Friday needs to return, so let me introduce you to dirty butterfly. No capital letters needed.

dirty butterfly at the Young Vic 1 - 11 October 2014

Photo Credit: Gillian Fisher/Afridiziak.com

 

Basics

dirty butterfly premiered in 2003 at Soho Theatre Company in London.

Characters

  • Amelia, black
  • Jason, black
  • Jo, white

Setting/Plot

Somewhen, somewhere (presumably London). The playwright notes that the “audience surrounds the actors.” Amelia, Jason, and Jo are all neighbors in an apartment building. Jo, who is white, has some type of unstable, abusive relationship, of which Jason and Amelia are intimately aware. The epilogue takes us out of the apartments and into a public space, a cafe where Amelia works. Jo enters, and the two have a conversation, punctuated by blood, vomit, footprints, and a trail of paper towels.

My Thoughts

This short-ish play is clearly green’s style, much like random, with truncated words and overlapping voices. It’s a mix of Sarah Kane, Caryl Churchill, and Suzan-Lori Parks. I’ve read a few other works by green, but dirty butterfly is probably my favorite so far. I wasn’t quite sure what the title meant, but for some reason, the paper towel trail and the blood seemed to make things take shape; you know, when you stain or cut a folded piece of paper, and then it’s symmetrical when you unfold it?

Can You Feel the Music

debbie tucker green really personalizes the play with 2 interesting song choices: “Secret Place” by Jhelisa and “Don’t Stop Movin'” by S Club 7. You couldn’t pick two more opposing songs if you tried. Jhelisa’s song is ambient and largely instrumental, and S Club 7 is just pop at its most 2000s. One song pulses with the Earth; the other has a dance beat but is escapist in its message and nature.

How I’d Flip It

green’s staging and notes are pretty straightforward, and I would definitely honor her wishes for a 360-degree arena stage. A revolve might be interesting, too. I feel like I’d put the three in folding chairs at random angles to one another on a donut-shaped stage, and then for the final scene, either raise the middle or put something there to indicate a coffee shop. This play and its characters have sharp edges, so a circular stage would catch them even further off guard.

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Flip The Script Friday: Catherine Grosvenor, One Day All This Will Come to Nothing

Hey, it’s Friday! What are the odds? Well, 7 to 1, but let’s not split hairs. Anyway, today I finally swapped out the mattress that the apartment came with with my own, figured out how to turn on the air conditioning, and swatted one of the three flies that have been bugging me. So now, in my newly cooling apartment with a comfier bed and one fewer fly, it’s time to flip that script. It’s another one fresh off the random contemporary drama shelf in the British drama section of the library: One Day All This Will Come to Nothing by Catherine Grosvenor.

Basics

One Day All This Will Come to Nothing premiered on 18 March 2005 at Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Characters

  • Anna – police officer, 30
  • Paul – bar owner, mid-30s
  • Adam – runaway, 16
  • Harriet – Mark’s mother, late 50s/early 60s
  • Martin – Mark’s father, late 50s/early 60s
  • Dead Guy, Man In Street, Young Man, Man in Hostel – Missing people. All played by the same actor.

Setting/Plot

No particular time, an “industrial city.” In the main plot, police officer Anna, who specializes in missing persons cases, is faced with the sudden disappearance of Mark, who is both her work partner and romantic partner. As she deals with her own emotions, and encountering a parade of missing men, none of whom are Mark, she also contends with Mark’s parents, who deal with the guilt and sadness of the situation in their own ways; Martin, by becoming obsessed with the cosmos, and Harriet, who’s turned into a couch potato. In a side plot, bar owner Paul discovers Adam attempting to bury himself in a hole in the ground, and takes him back to his bar where he cleans him up and puts him to work. The two plots coincide when Anna walks into Paul’s bar in the final scene, where their paths finally intersect as they attempt to explain the unexplainable: the nature of the missing.

My Thoughts

For a play which I’d never heard of by a playwright I’d never heard of, I thought it was fantastic. Even though this should go in the “how I’d flip it” section, I think that this would be a really good play to teach a class about scene treatment or basic acting styles. Almost every scene has no more than 3 characters, and most have just 2. it would be interesting to divide the class into groups, give each group a scene to perform only giving them the basic character/plot outline, and perform it for one another, in order, and just see what happens. I was actually imagining one of my recent class sections doing just that, and weirdly enough, I was imagining one of my students…and the character that she was playing in that scene said “Caroline,”…which is the name of the exact student I was thinking of. Creepy, no?

But back to my thoughts; I really like the vagueness of it all and the hush-hush nature. It’s like, everybody has something to hide, but nobody has anything to hide at the same time. The characters have a lot of substance, especially Anna, who is the only one who travels between the two story lines. Another thing that’s really interesting is how many times Anna encounters the “missing man,” who is not Mark but is still, in some way, a missing person, yet her relationship with each doesn’t go beyond much past yelling at the man in the street, or sleeping with the man in the hostel. The final scene, in which the three “young characters” (Anna/Adam/Paul) all interact, tells a little bit more about Paul’s story but doesn’t tie up loose ends for Adam and Anna, which works, for some reason.

Major Themes

Q & A

There are quite a lot of question-and-answer scenes, including the first one, which mostly consists of the dead guy interrogating Anna, rather than the other way around. The final scene is mostly Anna/Adam asking Paul questions. Not sure where I was going with this theme, but it comes up a lot in the Anna/random guy scenes, where Anna, the police officer, is the one getting interrogated.

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Among the surprising parts of this play is the sexuality and nudity, which in a play this dark might not be evident. The two main moments are when Paul strips Adam, and Anna takes off her own clothes. Paul strips Adam in the bar, and dresses him in an all-black bartender outfit, which kind of seems to me like he’s giving Adam a new identity, or helping him fade into the background. At Anna’s third random man encounter, the man (referred to here as Young Man) drunkenly runs into a concrete barrier while attempting to charge at Anna. When Anna goes to see if he’s okay, he runs away, and out of guilt, Anna takes off all her clothes. We see her again later in a cheap motel in “cheap clothes” and later, at the bar, in a trenchcoat because it’s been raining. Overall, the nature of clothes in this piece seems to coincide with the whole concept of anonymity and the identity of the missing.

How I’d Flip It

My aforementioned teaching idea. I’d really like to feature a three-way stage (Harriet/Martin’s home, Paul’s bar, and all other scenes). Maybe Harriet/Martin in dull colors, Paul/Adam in dark, and Anna in a bright blue police uniform as she moves between worlds.

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Flip the Script Friday: Isaac Bashevis Singer and Eve Friedman, Teibele And Her Demon

In honor of the triumphant return of Twin Peaks, and because I still have the book out from the library, here’s another selection from 13 Plays of the Ghosts and the Supernatural. This one reaches back into Jewish folklore: Teibele And Her Demon, by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Eve Friedman.

The playbill of this play is really awkward looking, yes, more awkward than this, so I used a picture from what seems to be a Romanian production. (http://www.teatrul-evreiesc.com.ru)

 

The Basics

Teibele And Her Demon was first performed in New York City on 16 December 1979.

Characters

  • Alchonon – a “shabby scholar”
  • Teibele – a young, attractive agunah, or woman trapped in marriage in Orthodox Judaism
  • Menasha – Alchonon’s friend, a peddler
  • Genendel – Teibele’s friend, a widoe
  • Rabbi
  • Various others

Setting/Plot

1880s, the small town of Frampol, Poland. Teibele is an agunah, or a “chained woman;” since her husband Moshe Mattis is missing and it is not certain as to whether he is alive or dead, she is still considered to be married to him without any hope of initiating a divorce and continuing on with her life. One night, Alchonon enters Teibele’s bedroom as “Hurmizah,” a demon, and the two start a relationship; however, in real life, Teibele can’t stand Alchonon. Teibele’s “demon lover” tells her to marry the man she despises, (who is, obviously, the same person), and uses Menasha’s forgery skills to get a fake death certificate to make that happen. However, when Menasha tries to pull the same stunt on Genendel, he accidentally reveals everything to everyone, including Teibele, who is in complete disbelief that the man she loves is actually the man she hates.

My Thoughts

I actually really wanted to know what would happen at the end. In the first scene with Alchonon as the demon in bed with Teibele, I thought it was some kind of sex game, but quite obviously it’s not. Other than the rabbi, all of the other characters are completely stupid; Teibele, for actually believing she has a demon lover (that’s only for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, honey); Genendel, for encouraging her; Alchonon, for screwing up so badly as the demon that he almost gets his cover blown a number of times; and Menasha, for screwing everything up because he wanted to play with everyone. Even though the idiot guys get their comeuppance at the end, it’s not as simple as that in the story.

Fifty Shades of…Okay

Why, why, why did Teibele believe it? It’s a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde, Steve-Urkel-and-Stefan-Urquelle thing, only worse because he doesn’t even really change his appearance, basically just his tone of voice and some of the things he says, which are pretty weird. At first, Teibele just seems like she just wants to get kinky, but towards the end, when she gets confused, we see that she was not the one in control all along, and being chained to her demon-lover fantasy almost kills her. Fortunately, Alchonon has two brain cells to rub together in order to, well, if not save her, than salvage a kind of messed-up situation. There’s also the whole thing with, why’d this girl just constantly do it with a stranger who snuck into her bedroom? Once you realize she’s not in control, it turns from enjoyable and almost erotic to, wow, this woman has no clue what is going on.

Overall, it’s a clean little play that goes rather far out there for being two short acts. It’s like a bite-size version of a Buffy/Fifty Shades hybrid, only with European Jewish stick people in old-timey nightwear instead of sexy lingerie. Which could also classify it as a comedy.

How I’d Flip It

Modernizing it would basically just turn it into another Fifty Shades, but researching pajamas of the era would be interesting. For some reason, I’m thinking black box, with a lot of cardboard cutouts, maybe some sneaky entrances/exits, or trapdoors. One cool think would be to have a black set in front of a curtain painted to look like fire, and window panes used as entrances (for the demon). Blacks and reds seem to be the order of the day, but of course I’m seeing Teibele in a white gown. For some reason, I’m also imagining a red/black/white plaid pattern as a motif (bed, carpet, costume accents), something most likely not used or seen in Poland, because this is crazy-land version of Poland.