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Flip the Script Friday: William Butler Yeats, Purgatory

Happy St. Patrick’s day, y’all! In honor of the obligatory day each year Americans become Irish in order to have an excuse to drink (and it’s a Friday this year, so of course it’s going to be a big, soggy mess), here’s a play from Ireland.

A few weeks ago, hiding in a corner of one of the bookshelves at the library was a tome entitled 13 Plays of the Ghosts and Supernatural. Naturally, I was intrigued, so I picked it up. I was delighted to find that rather than a bunch of boring classics or plays by nobody I had heard of, it contained a sweet little selection that crossed borders and genres. It’s been sitting at the bottom of various book piles ever since I got it, but I decided that today would finally be the day I’d pick one, read it, and write about it. So here’s an oldie, but a goodie: Purgatory by Ireland’s own William Butler Yeats.

Undated photo of the playwright (Wikipedia)

The Basics

Purgatory was first produced at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, on 10 August 1938.

Characters

  • A Boy
  • An Old Man

Setting/Plot

Sometime, a ruined house with a bare tree in the background. The old man tells to the boy the story of his parents and this house, which was once theirs, alluding to people he sees in the windows which the boy cannot. After the old man tells of how his father was murdered in that house, and that he was the one who did it. He then demands that the boy – his son – hand over his backpack which is full of money. They struggle, breaking the bag and spilling the money on the ground. The boy threatens to kill the old man, but as he is distracted by the appearance of the silhouette of his grandfather’s ghost in the window, the old man stabs him with the same knife he used to murder his father.

My Thoughts

A short and thought-provoking piece that seems to give the reader more and more with each read. It’s written in kind of a modified rhythmic verse, which gives it a creepy edge; it doesn’t quite have a rhyme or a meter scheme, but seems to be purposeful in its pacing. The fact that the two characters are a father and son, and that rather than the perpetuation of the cycle, with the son killing the father, the father kills the son instead, thus breaking the cycle. But perhaps, in a way, sending the old man to purgatory, forever condemned to live and relive the murders of his own father and his own son.

Major Themes

Over and Over Again

OLD MAN: But there are some

That do not care what’s gone, what’s left:

The souls of Purgatory that come back

To habitations and familiar spots.

BOY: Your wits are out again.

OLD MAN: Re-live

Their transgressions, and that not once

But many times; they know at last

The consequence of those transgressions

Whether upon others or upon themselves;

Upon others, others may bring help,

For when the consequence is at an end

The dream must end; if upon themselves,

There is no help but in themselves

And in the mercy of God. (Yeats 179-180)

There’s this eerie quality about it. The old man speaks of purgatory and warns of what it entails. He seems to remember quite a lot; the type of binding of the books in the house, the exact conditions of the night when he was conceived. And when the boy starts to see the ghosts he has been denying, it’s almost as if he’s seeing into his father’s past.

After the old man stabs the boy, the stage darkens except for the only other thing on stage: the tree, surrounded by white light. Even though people have been murdered and one day the old man will die too, the tree has clearly been there since the old man was a boy and will continue to stand there after the man is gone. A bit reminiscent of The Giving Tree. But unlike the man and the boy, the tree cannot perpetuate a cycle of violence or procreate in the same way man can, just silently oversee the events in its presence.

A Horse, A Horse

Hoofbeats that are heard only by the old man, and not the boy. Horses seemed to contribute to both the birth and the undoing of the old man; his father was a groom in the stable owned by the family of the woman who would become his wife; he rode up to the house on a horse in order to sneak in and sleep with her; and he lost all her money betting on horses, sending his son, the old man, away. The old man kills his father out of rage, and the boy because he cannot bear the thought of him procreating with someone, potentially like his father and mother did. The logic is twisted – maybe it’s me – but there’s something about horses and sexuality that is really driving this old man to do these things.

How I’d Flip It

For some reason, I’m seeing black and white. Like, paper cuttings. The house is described as black and charred, after the old man’s father burnt it down while drunk, and the tree is in a white light. Purgatory itself is described as a gray area between heaven and hell, so I think my designs would incorporate that grayscale; no color at all. A lot of shadowing and dimensioning could be fun, especially with the outlines of the ghosts in the window, and possibly some sort of giant horse projection or something. For some reason I’m also thinking snow, and a lot of sharp angles, maybe even a leafless tree, one that almost looks like a tall hitching post rather than a tree.

I’ve probably had too much to drink (actually, I’ve had nothing at all to drink) but I managed to start and finish a Flip the Script in one sitting, so that’s something.

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Flip the Script Friday: Lucy Prebble, Enron

*Originally posted 7/22/16 – Revised, updated, re-posted 2/17/17*

Hey y’all, so I’ve decided that today will be another Flip the Script Friday. It’s everyone’s least feature blog feature except for this blogger but it’s my blog so I choose what I get to post.

Seeing that I originally pressed the publish button on this one in July 2016, it’s probably time to reread and post an entry about this play so I can finally return it to the library after traveling with me and getting lost under one of the seats of my car for a while. Ladies and gentleman, Enron by Lucy Prebble. And…go.

Basics

This play premiered at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester, England on 11 July 2009.

Characters

  • Ken Lay, CEO of Enron
  • Jeffrey Skilling, President of Enron
  • Andy Fastow, CFO of Enron
  • Claudia Roe, Enron executive
  • Skilling’s Daughter
  • Arthur Andersen, accountant
  • Ramsay & Hewitt, law firm (one male/one female)
  • Sheryl Sloman, Citigroup analyst
  • Lawyer
  • Irene Gant
  • Analysts from JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers
  • Reporter
  • Congresswoman
  • Security Officer
  • Senator
  • Court Officer
  • Public Officer
  • Employees/Market
  • Traders
  • The Board
  • Press
  • Raptors
  • Passersby

(whew, quite the list!)

Setting/Plot

1992, Offices of Enron.

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Flip the Script Friday: Jordan Harrison, Maple and Vine

This is one seriously fantastic new (ish) play. Even if you don’t like plays, or scripts, or Flip the Script Friday, you’re going to want to read this review and probably, subsequently, the play. Just think of this post as a book review. It’s something unlike I’ve ever read before, and I’d be thrilled if I ever got the chance to see it. It’s called Maple and Vine, by Jordan Harrison.

The Basics

Maple and Vine was written by Jordan Harrison. It premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2011. 

Characters

  • Katha – An assistant at a publishing house. Mid to late 30s. Married to Ryu.
  • Ryu – A plastic surgeon. Mid to late 30s. Married to Katha.
  • Dean – Late 30s, member of SDO. Married to Ellen.
  • Ellen – Late 30s, member of SDO. Married to Dean.*
  • Jenna – Co-worker of Kathy’s at the publishing house.*
  • Omar – Co-worker of Kathy’s at the publishing house.*
  • Roger – Member of SDO.*

*NOTE: Ellen/Jenna are played by the same actor, as are Omar/Roger.

Setting/Plot

Present day, American metropolis (most likely New York City, but never directly stated – Katha does talk about moving to Nyack, though). Corporate drone Katha and plastic surgeon Ryu have hit the wall, in both their personal and professional lives. Both feel unfulfilled in their careers, Katha due to office gossip and Ryu tired of his entitled trophy-wife clients. One day, after Katha has quit her job, she meets Dean in a park, looking right out of the 1950s, and finds out that he is part of a group called the Society of Planned Obsolescence, which consists of couples and families who live in a private community where it’s perpetually 1955 – living history, but not for tourists. Katha is intrigued, and convinces Ryu to give up his job and do a “trial run” at SDO with Dean and his doting wife, Ellen. As Katha (now referred to as Kathy) and Ryu settle into their new lives as a housewife and a box factory worker, they face challenges in trying to keep up with the times, while Dean and Ellen encounter struggles as well due to some unfinished business.

My Thoughts

Even though it takes place in the slow pace of the “1950s,” it reads like a thriller; you want to find out what happens next, what Roger comes up with, how Kathy and Ryu change, what kind of style the playwright is going to utilize next. Speaking of style, Jordan Harrison really ramps up the 50s nostalgia by sprinkling direct-address scenes in between the action. It’s much more powerful in the first act, as it feels like Dean and Ellen are narrating newsreels straight to you. As the action goes from big city to 1950s community, Kathy starts to appear more and more frequently in those scenes while becoming less of a main focus in the main plot, just as she is relegated to the home. The dream sequences in the second act are a little out of the ordinary and seem like a way to keep the audience aware of the Jenna and Omar characters (who, by Act II, have absolutely no reason to reappear in the play).

But back to the content of the piece, it speaks to the way I’ve been thinking/feeling lately – how life seemed so much simpler back then, or at least in the 1980s/1990s. True, we still used our land lines and we didn’t have Google to help us function, but expectations were lower. It was a simpler time. It was a better time. Nobody hid behind their social media accounts or sat (like me and many others) in front of their computer screens every waking moment of their lives. People had meaningful relationships after meeting at social events designed for that purpose, unlike the anonymity and nebulousness of the world of dating apps. People had fewer possessions to keep track of. Granted, it wasn’t perfect – the draft, the Cuban Missile Crisis – but there are some elements of that era which would not be unwelcome to see return. And I know where your mind is right now, but I am of course against anything related to the MAGA movement because the overall quality of life in America has exponentially improved to the point that if I had the chance to move back to the 1950s, I would say no without a second thought. Life was not perfect then, and it isn’t perfect now, but the conveniences and developments that have taken place since the 1950s make me incredibly grateful to be living in this time.

Major Themes

Give Me the Simple Life

SCENE 10.

(ELLEN speaks directly to us. She smokes, wonderfully. This time DEAN is standing farther off, just out of the light.)

ELLEN:

Here are some things you’ve never heard of.

Hummus.

Baba Ganoush.

Falafel.

Focaccia.

Ciabatta.

Whole grain bread…

(She raises her eyebrows significantly: “Yes, not even whole grain bread.”)

Let’s start with Dean and Ellen. Dean seems like the perfect 1950s guy, and he is, aside from his love affair with Roger. Of course, back then, it was unheard of for gay couples to have a household, but the way Ellen deals with it (and remember, all these characters are products of the 21st century) is just so 1950s. The sneaking around, the denial, the secrecy, the doubletalk – though they didn’t appear in I Love Lucy, the way everyone reacts to it shows how scarily accurate this society is aiming for.

KATHA: You’re the one who’s always talking about the hours. The emptiness. The injecting goo into trophy wives who think you’re their best friend. Give it six months. Think of it like a vacation. A vacation from your life. And if you miss all that, I’m sure they’ll be dying to have you back. (Beat.) Do you love your job?

RYU: No.

KATHA: Do you love your life?

RYU: No.

KATHA: Do you love me?

RYU: Yes.

Then, there’s Katha and Ryu. In the beginning, they seem rather whiny and I actually pictured them to be millennials, or at least decades younger than Dean/Ellen, when it turns out they’re all roughly the same age. Katha and Ryu have a code word whenever they need to talk about something non-1950s related, but it becomes used less and less frequently. Katha, in particular, undergoes the most dramatic change. In the present day, she’s a jaded, miserable, pill-popping drone whose sex drive has completely gone away. As the couple regress to the 1950s, they discover what makes their lives meaningful and whole, letting go of their past lives in both a literal and spiritual sense.

Hi Honey, I’m Home

My favorite part of the play is seeing how Kathy and Ryu flourish in their new environment. And it doesn’t feel forced; you get to see all the little victories that validate their new lives, such as watching Ryu learn how to assemble a box or Kathy as she follows a recipe for the first time in the kitchen. There’s no magic, just a logical learning curve which makes the questionable “fakeness” associated with the concept of SDO seem like a warm bath rather than a bucket of icy water tossed into your face. Rather than become 50s caricatures like Dean and Ellen seemed in Act I, Ryu and Kathy emerge as…well-informed for their time period, while at the same time firmly ensconced in their new lives. It’s not a complete trading of places, because Kathy and Ryu’s personalities don’t change, just their outfits and speech patterns.

The Elephant in the Living Room

In case you couldn’t tell by his name, Ryu is Japanese. His and Kathy’s surname is Nakata, and as an interracial couple, it’s pretty obvious that they’re an anomaly in their new society. Although it’s never a good thing to be on the receiving end of discrimination, and I think that Ryu totally goes overboard in his new “backstory,” I’m glad that a) it exists, and b) it is very much discussed in Act II as much as it is unremarkable in Act I. Even though Kathy and Ryu embrace their new lives, and yes, some racial comments/incidents occur, by the end, the two of them have brought the normalization of interracial couples into the 1950s – as weird as it sounds – and by subtly bringing in this 21st century concept, it makes them way more likeable; even though their world has gone backwards in time, they’ve inexplicably spun an inaccuracy into an advantage.

The Title, Though

At first glance, I thought that the title was kind of weird. I think the phrase “Maple and Vine” is stated only once in the play, used when referring to the location of Kathy/Ryu’s house in the SDO community. I was thinking along the lines of “Hollywood and Vine.” Repeating it over and over in my head, it came to me – of course, it’s the same Bible verse that appears in The Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare) and gives the play Cling To Me Like Ivy its name. In case you’re lost, it’s that saying about how a woman should be attached to her husband just like a vine to a tree. After that, I appreciated the title a lot more.

How I’d Flip It

Scenery-wise, I’d have to go with proscenium. The content literally begs to be enclosed in a picture frame, as unexciting as that may be. The costumes would be fun, attempting to contrast the 21st century crew with the SDO folks. Sound-wise, I think it would be fun to have some sprightly 1950s-commercial sounds, the ones that accompany cleaning products or instructional videos on how to properly pack a suitcase. For some reason, I’m not hearing a lot of 21st century sound for the first act, and it would be interesting to have it quiet, at least during the Katha/Ryu scenes. I’d really need to find songs from 1955 or earlier; I don’t want to get kicked out of the SDO. Another fun idea: pipe in some snippets from old radio broadcasts – either commercials, banter, or headlines from that year.

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Flip the Script Friday: Tomson Highway, Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout

I thought I’d start off 2017 by reviving everyone’s favorite feature, Flip the Script Friday. I’m still in Baltimore until Sunday without access to my script collection, and I only managed to pack one script in my suitcase, so it rather than either pore through online databases or the file of scripts on my computer, I just picked up the book and read it cover to cover. I ended it slightly more confused than when I’d began, despite flipping back and forth several times. I hope that this blog entry can do this quite interesting and offbeat play justice. Heading up north to Canada with Thomson Highway, I delved into Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout. 

Love the title, by the way.

Image result for ernestine shuswap gets her trout

The Basics

Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout premiered at Sagebrush Theatre, Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada on 24 January 2004.

Characters

  • Ernestine Shuswap – Fifty-three years old, “earth mother” type.
  • Isabel Thompson – Forty-three years old, religious, on the snooty side. Older sister of Delilah.
  • Annabelle Okanagan – Thirty-two years old, a down-to-earth foil for Isabel.
  • Delilah Rose Johnson – Twenty-one years old, pregnant, and described by the playwright as “high-strung.” Quite unlike the other three, she is chirpy and chipper to a fault, but there’s something a bit off about her. Younger sister of Isabel.

Setting/Plot

August 1910, Kamloops. Four First Nations women are preparing a banquet, expecting a visit from Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, or as they refer to him, “Lolly-Yay” or “the Great Big Kahuna of Canada.” Delilah is sewing a tablecloth, Annabelle is preparing a boiled beaver, Isabel is baking “624 Saskatoon pies,” and Ernestine is hoping to prepare a rainbow trout. As they perform their tasks, they interact with one another and with the text of “The Laurier Memorial,” a list of grievances about the treatment of their environment – specifically, fishing/grazing/hunting rites – written to Laurier and signed by 14 tribal chiefs. Ultimately, one woman takes her fate into her own hands; one woman reveals a shocking detail about her past; one woman prays and rationalizes her way out of everything, and one woman just wants a damn trout.

My Thoughts

This play is extremely intense, both in its very language-specific dialogue/text and its hard-to-imagine but really cool stage directions. As someone not from the community, I found it hard to connect to the characters at first, until I realized the experimental nature of the piece as a whole. I ended up needing to consult some online sources in order to come to a quicker conclusion for my thoughts, which are still incomplete at this time. But back to the play, I think that it’s highly localized and really gives off a sense of who these four women are and where they come from, with a healthy dose of Canadian folklore and saucy humor about lady-parts. Though the progression can seem confusing, looking at it from more of a performance art perspective rather than a literary perspective gives it a lot more meaning.

Major Themes

You May Call Me…

Even though there are, in hindsight, a ton of themes to talk about, the one that spoke out to me the most was that of identity. Colonialism is front and center in this piece, and the characters are constantly reassuring one another of who they are and where they come from, by rarely ever referring to each other by just their first names despite being close friends, but have a language wherein they refer to each other and themselves by their full name and hometown, which, for all of whom, is “First Name Surname of Kamloops, B.C. Midway through, Annabelle comes in to announce to Ernestine and Delilah that their language has been banned, and instead of being mournful, Ernestine and Delilah take the opportunity to make a joke about periods, a point to which I’ll return in a second. The dialogue between the women is less consequential than their long and frequent monologues, which reveal bits and pieces of their backstories, delivered as if they are racing to preserve them before they become extinct.

George Carlin Would Approve

Despite the play taking place in buttoned-up period in history, the four of them make some pretty dirty jokes, either intentionally or unintentionally, and the sexual innuendos jumped out at me from the page right from the start. For example, Annabelle is preparing beaver, remarking that it’s a meat that the white men consider to be inadequate, Isabel and Annabelle refer to an offstage cow and her udders, and Ernestine talks about tits (the birds). Even though the trout is the item which is prized the most, it’s the beaver that interests me; they all (save for Delilah) have a strong opinion about what it means, and it’s not hard to imagine that it stands for the subjugation of First Nations women and the obstacles that they face in society, including problems such as what Delilah is going through.

Image result for robin sparkles beaver

Strings Attached

One of the most notable discrepancies/oddities that I noticed in the script was the music. Highway subtitles this play as “a string quartet for four female actors,” to which Caroline De Wagter compares the four characters: first violin (Delilah), second violin (Annabelle), viola (Isabel), and cello (Ernestine), in order from youngest to oldest, highest pitched to lowest. Once I read this, it’s easy to see the connections: Delilah has a habit of laughing at random times and having a high-pitched voice; Annabelle often serves as her confidante; Isabel sort of marches to her own beat; and Ernestine’s earthiness is a constant element of everything she does and says. Highway also mentions in stage directions that the underlying music, the “river,” should be the notes of a cello, which to me symbolizes Ernestine Shuswap’s connection to the land, as she has been on Earth the longest of the four. The strains of the cello are heard often, even when Ernestine is not the central focus of the scene, and Highway ends the piece with the sound of Ludwig von Beethoven’s “Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Opus 69.” I thought that this was an odd choice, considering that Beethoven has nothing to do with Canada. After I listened to it on YouTube, it reflected the rhythm of the piece, with frantic zigzags up and down the scale and lack of a distinct pattern, but rather a cycle. Likewise, the four women in the play are seldom in sync, Isabel, for one, seems to go a mile a minute whereas Delilah, for the bulk of the play, is seated in relative quiet.

How I’d Flip It

Given the fact that the stage directions are intense and specific, I didn’t have too much in mind. Originally, my thoughts were more of a black-and-white, simple color scheme, but I saw pictures and video of a production with colorful handmade dresses, which could also be interesting. I think that arena staging would be kind of cool, maybe with the audience waving mini-flashlights or glow sticks for the scene where Ernestine is swimming among the fish in the river. The coolest part of the dramaturgy is in the script itself: a document which Highway instructs should be printed and distributed to the audience members upon leaving. That, in my opinion, takes it full circle and gives the audience the perspective of the women, who spend parts of the play proofreading and editing its contents and have a connection to their land that is palpable, through their daily life and activities.

Works Cited

Mündel, Ingrid. “Troubling Visions.” Canadian Literature 192 (2007): 164-166. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Jan. 2017.

Percy, Owen D. “Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 38.2 (2006): 211-2. ProQuest. Web. 7 Jan. 2017.

Wagter, Caroline De. “Old Margins, New Centres: (W)righting History in August Wilson’s Radio Golf and Tomson Highway’s Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout” In Maufort, Marc, and Caroline De Wagter, eds., Old Margins and New Centers: The European Literary Heritage in an Age of Globalization L’heritage litteraire europeen dans une ere de globalisation. Brussels, Belgium: P.I.E.-Peter Lang S.A, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 6 January 2017.

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Flip the Script Friday: John Logan, Red

Now that I’m ABD, maybe my thoughts on theatre will have a little more value. Or maybe not. Either way, it seemed like a good time to bring back nobody’s favorite feature, Flip the Script Friday. I was planning to finish one of the (many) unfinished posts, but I ended up pulling Red by John Logan off the shelf, and as it turns out, like most plays, it just feels right for this day, this week, this whole situation.

Image result for red john logan poster

The Basics

Red premiered at Donmar Warehouse in London on 3 December 2009.

Characters

  • Mark Rothko – The painter, in his fifties. Originally portrayed by Alfred Molina.
  • Ken – Also a painter, Rothko’s assistant, in his twenties. Originally portrayed by Eddie Redmayne (no pun intended).

Setting/Plot

1958-1959, Rothko’s studio in the Bowery, NYC. Aspiring painter Ken becomes the assistant to painter Mark Rothko, who has been commissioned to provide artwork for a new Four Seasons restaurant. Rothko challenges Ken to reconceptualize what art is, and Ken serves it right back to him in a showdown of words.

My Thoughts

Initially, I wasn’t impressed. It just seemed like one long monologue by Rothko with a few interjections by Ken. The later scenes really evolve into a sort of questioning pattern that makes you understand more of just who Rothko is, what makes him Rothko, and similar ideas about other artists of his time. Pretty much everything about Ken is arbitrary, just as Rothko seems to think Ken is, until he outwits the artist in his own game. For a play that is all about one color, even in the title, there are certainly many shades of it.

Major Themes

Opposite Day

It’s all about opposites in this play. Old/young, black/white (or in this case, black/red), abstract/realistic, expressionism/pop culture, high art/low art, art for the sake of art/culinary “overmantle” art. I found my allegiance constantly switching between the two characters. Rothko stands for a generation affected by two World Wars; for Ken, WWII was a part of his childhood, plus, he has more to worry about in his own life, which leads to another opposite: inside/outside. Rothko is the master of his own domain; in his studio, he can control the light, the sound, and the color; in the outside world, he can’t, which is why, in an almost absurdist sense, he can’t handle the outside world. Unlike Endgame, both characters do leave the studio, but when Rothko returns after seeing his work in the restaurant, he decides that he cannot handle it and goes to almost drastic measures before acknowledging that Ken belongs in the outside world, and the studio space which he values so much is too precious to him, and is enough of a world for him to not need what lies beyond its walls.

Fifty Shades of Red

Obviously, red, being the title of this play and a staple of the real Rothko’s work, is present in a big way, but it becomes a point of contention towards the beginning that unleashes Rothko’s crazy to its fullest extent. As Rothko muses on the primed canvas, searching for a color, Ken makes the mistake of suggesting “red,” and all hell breaks loose. Rothko goes on a rampage, dissecting the word and the concept of red until it loses all its meaning, and then regains it. The fuming Rothko sees in scarlet, crimson, maroon – anything but the passive, pedestrian “red.” He and Ken then battle over what red actually means, from apples to the Russian flag to stop signs to Satan. Wrestling with this concept of color, as seen through two very different sets of eyes, sends me thinking about that great monologue in The Devil Wears Prada, where Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly horns in on Anne Hathaway about the importance of having a specific shade of blue.

Related imageImage result for meryl streep blue sweaterImage result for meryl streep blue sweater

In a way, Rothko is Miranda Priestly, in a kind of screwed-up, chain-smoking, postwar painter kind of way.

How I’d Flip It

Paint the set blue! Just kidding. There are so many possibilities for set and lighting choices. It could be as simple as an empty room, or some sort of wall mosaic of canvases. Either way, I’d make the entrance/exit look very stark, especially when entrances and exits are made, with some flash of light or something. I can’t think too much about this play for too long, because I’m getting a headache. Maybe I’m just hungry.

Image result for meryl streep that's all

 

2

Flip the Script Friday: Leanna Brodie, The Book of Esther

It’s been almost a whole month since I’ve posted a Flip the Script Friday, despite having spent the majority of said month researching and writing about theatre. At this year’s ATHE, I did something I usually don’t do, and bought a ton of books from the exhibition hall once they went down to half-price on the last day. Most of them came from Playwrights Canada Press, so get ready to see a lot of Canadian plays hanging out here. Canada has produced some fantastic playwrights and plays, especially in recent years. Also they usually have really pretty cover images. Today’s script is one of them: The Book of Esther, by Leanna Brodie.

Basics

The Book of Esther premiered in 2010 at the Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ontario, Canada, and then in 2011 at Festival Players of Prince Edward County in Picton, Ontario. Interestingly, at the Blyth production, the actor who played Seth (Eric Phillips) also directed, and at the Festival Players production, the playwright herself played the role of Anthea.

Characters

  • Todd Wishart, mid-forties
  • Esther Dalzell, fifteen
  • Anthea Dalzell, early forties
  • A. D., seventeen
  • Seth Dalzell, mid-forties

Setting/Plot

Summer 1981, an apartment (Act I), which shifts into a farmhouse (Act II). Esther, a girl from a farm family, runs away to the big city to get a taste of freedom at the apartment where Todd, a gay rights activist, takes in kids from the street, like A. D. Esther’s religious, evangelical Christian parents Anthea and Seth come looking for her, bringing her back to the farm in Act II, where A. D. and Todd show up, and we begin to see a totally different side of Esther as she’s “back in her element.”

My Thoughts

This play had a lot of cool things going for it, some funny lines and great contrasts. I’m not super into Christianity onstage – it would be interesting to see how it would be pulled off. There are a lot of hidden tangles to the story, once you get into it, from Todd/Anthea/Seth’s pre-story relationship to the issue of the farm and the Dalzell family inheritance.

A. D., Ambiguous Dude

I felt really drawn to A. D. Despite having the least amount of backstory and no real relation with the other four characters, he undergoes a really interesting transformation on the farm. He eventually does reveal his real name, but until then, he’s whatever the situation merits, like “Angel of Death.” Even though it’s not really a comedy, he has the funniest lines.

[Act I Scene 6. A. D. and Anthea are in a coffee shop. A. D. is telling Anthea what he and Esther did the night before.]

A.D.: What, aside from the heroin and turning tricks on Jarvis?

[Beat.]

Wow, they’re not kidding about you Jesus freaks and your sense of humor.

[Beat.]

We consorted at a concert outside City Hall, and dance-ed unto demon rock ‘n roll; we wander-ed down Queen Street and gaze-ed upon graven images; we render-ed unto Pizza Pizza what was due unto Pizza Pizza. Then we watch-ed the sun rise over the lake, and lo, we saw that it was good. Do I get my breakfast now?

(40)

Parallel Lives

Probably the coolest part of the play is its structure. Brodie does a fantastic job of contrasting the various scenes, and patterns begin to form. I wish I knew how to make a table on this site, because that would illustrate it best, but I’ll try it in list form:

  • Act I takes place in an apartment with a mosaic of crushed Red Rose Tea figurines; Act II takes place in a farmhouse full of Red Rose Tea figurines.
  • In Act I, Esther runs away to the city; in Act II, A. D. runs away to the country.
  • In Act I, A. D. jumps into the scene through a window, scaring Esther; in Act II, Esther does the same, scaring A. D. (and even comments “I’ve always wanted to do that”)
  • In Act I, A. D. gives Esther a punk-rock makeover; in Act II, we see A. D. in farm clothes.
  • In Act I, A. D. introduces Esther to samosas and rice; in Act II, Esther introduces A. D. to potato salad.
  • In Act I, Esther and Todd have a father/daughter bond; in Act II, A. D. and Anthea have a strangely quick mother/son bond.
  • Act I opens with Anthea teaching Sunday School before going to Todd’s apartment; Act II opens with Todd at a gay rights meeting before going to the Dalzell farmhouse; the final scene shows Esther at a support group/Bible study meeting.

Canadian Learning Curve

I guess that’s how I’d best describe it. Two of the concepts in the play I needed to look up: Red Rose Tea figurines and Century Farms. So here’s the actor-packet portion of the post:

Fairy Tale Figurines (from redrosetea.com)

  • Red Rose Tea Figurines. Red Rose Tea was founded in 1890 in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, Canada, and was distributed in the USA a few decades later. It seems like they are the “Happy Meals” of tea, issuing trading cards and collectible figurines in each box of teabags. Their website has pictures of the whole collection; they’re really cute and become collector’s items really quickly. Oddly enough, the figurines are now only available on the USA market, not in Canada.
  • Century Farms refer to farms which have been held by the same family for at least 100 years. It’s a big thing in Canada, and it varies by state down here in the USA. I’ve never heard of this term before, but according to Wikipedia, Wisconsin alone has 8,000 of them, and 600 of them are sesquicentennial, or 150 years old.

How I’d Flip It

The set and costume designs seem pretty specific here. It would be interesting to see the transition between the cramped apartment and the large farmhouse. I’m having a hard time imagining all the sets-within-sets, like the coffee shop and the subway station. As far as the acting/casting goes, one of my friends would be a perfect Todd. No stark imagery came to my head, but one of the first scenes ends with the phrase “…somebody I used to know.”