Last Friday I was on my way to Minneapolis for APO Region Rally (the very last one), followed by a quick weekend jaunt to Baltimore for a wedding, but I’ve been reading some plays recently, so I wanted to get back in the groove of Flip the Script Friday. Here comes the first of 2 Qui Nguyen plays I’ve read recently, the fantastic fantasy that is She Kills Monsters.
October has been a more difficult month for me than I thought. One of the most difficult months of my life, in fact. I won’t go into any more details, but I will share with you one way I dealt with it.
Last night, I was awake at 2 AM. Still fully dressed, still fully stressed, and I just wanted to scream at the world.
Then, I thought to myself…where have I heard that phrase before? And then I realized…
It’s from a monologue in Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror.
So, I immediately tore up my apartment looking for my copy, and eventually found the monologue I was looking for in an anthology.
And there I was, whatever-past-two in the morning, sitting on the floor of my living room, leaning against my couch, loudly reciting a monologue called “The Coup” as loudly as I could. It got me out of my head for a bit, and I actually enjoyed myself. I followed it up by pulling my copy of bash off the shelf and reading iphigenia in orem, then rounded out the night by sitting on my bed and reading a humorous monologue out loud.
Then I went back to reality.
It was an unusual attempt at self-care, but not an unwelcome one. I would recommend.
Picking up this book again and reading through some of the plays is like…scripts flipping themselves, with a vengeance.
There’s been so much anger these past few weeks, and it’s been more than just race. Everywhere from on our screens to in the streets, women are under attack. It’s the Women’s March of 2017 all over again…
…but this time, they’re fighting back.
Two plays from Black Lives, Black Words that I read this afternoon exemplify the struggles of both race and gender, and go about them in very different ways.
First, in, Officer Friendly by Rachel DuBose, we see an alarming image of racial discrimination and gender bias smashed up against one another like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a trash compacter. In eight stop-motion-like scenes, we see the full range of feeling from Nina, a black woman, in an encounter with white male “Officer Friendly,” as he is known, at a bus stop. In the blink of an eye, the scene shifts from active suspicion of Nina, to the officer evading all of Nina’s logical and appropriate questions, to an attempt to cajole a false confession out of Nina, to a “mind if I stand here with you?” which turns into a “my you’re pretty,” which turns into a “let me protect you.” That was a long sentence, but as Nina gets on the bus, it’s a giant sigh of relief. In Call and Response by Becca C. Browne, the characters are all female and African-American, but the pain and oppression is still present. A seven-year-old girl approaches Claire, who is sitting in Chicago’s Millennium Park, feeding the birds. Their conversation begins with the girl asking Claire why she is not attending the march. As Claire reveals the facts, that her sister Della was murdered by a police officer, the girl mysteriously echoes her words – as if she has experienced this exact same moment before. As Claire is just about to ask the girl her name, along comes Brianna, a protester, who is leading a call-and-response chant about Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven-year-old girl who was murdered. When Claire learns this, she is immediately inspired to join the march, along with the girl, who reveals that she is Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and asks Claire to say her name.
My Thoughts: Although these two plays probably don’t go together in anyway, it feels like they should. DuBose’s play takes a tense situation that happens all too often and all too quickly and slows it down, beat by beat, whereas Browne’s play is a notably calmer atmosphere which is more surreal, but escalates to a frenzied chant. Rhythm and cadence is something that we take for granted, but in these two short pieces, I can see how time can be played with and manipulated for the purposes of showing what’s really there.
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.
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 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.”
- 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.
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.
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)
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.
#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.
- 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
- A and B, high officials in Zhongnanhai
- Other policemen and security men
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.
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.
Unsuitable Girls premiered in 2000, at Contact Theatre in Manchester.
- 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…)
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.
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.