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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: Fiona Peek, Salt

 

Happy Friday! I’ve been feeling a little salty lately – I don’t know exactly what that means, but it’s a good segue into this week’s Flip the Script Friday: Salt by Fiona Peek

Basics

Salt premiered in the Studio at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, UK in 2010.

Characters

  • Simon – a lawyer, age 41
  • Nick – a freelance journalist and aspiring novelist, age 38
  • Amy – an art gallery curator, age 38
  • Rachel – an orchestral musician, age 40

Setting/Plot

Present day, a kitchen, usually Simon and Amy’s, sometimes Nick and Rachel’s. Simon and Amy are a successful couple with steady jobs, several children, and expensive tastes. Nick and Rachel are their friends – a little down on their luck and desperately trying to have kids. Nick’s writing career is floundering, so Amy, who’s been Nick’s friend for a long time, convinces her husband to lend the other couple some money. After a discussion of ethics, morals, and the future, Nick and Rachel reluctantly accept the money, and things change in a direction nobody expected. Friendships and alliances are made and broken over wine, cheese, shrimp, chili, and an array of other dishes over five scenes and several months.

My Thoughts

At first glimpse, oh, it’s another Friends/Seinfeld tale of the angst of young white urban professionals (although nowhere in the script does it indicate anyone’s race; in fact, in my mind, I pictured Nick as Italian and Amy as Hispanic.) but it’s really not. We really get to know each of the characters as individuals and in pairs, other than Simon/Rachel, who have a bit less of a life connection than any other pairing. It also really gives life to the concept of the kitchen as the main place for the development and carrying out of relationships; not the living room, dining room, or coffee shop; things like selecting dishes, setting the table, pouring drinks, and preparing food become stand-ins for broader concepts, like emotions and ideas. Plus, when you add glass and knives, who knows how much fun you could have.

How I’d Flip It

I imagine it a lot like God of Carnage, only warmer and less stiffly formal. Peek indicates that the table is “rhomboid, not square” and that there is a certain pattern/dance towards setting the table in each scene. You could really play around with that, for example, in terms of speed, duration, tempo, body movement, and even the types of dishes used. Though the title is kind of misleading – the concept of “salt” comes up maybe once – it’s a solid play that asks big questions about the little things in life.

 

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Flip the Script Friday: Richard Greenberg, Take Me Out

It’s Friday, so it’s time once again to flip that script.

Regardless of whether people like it or not, I should be reading more plays in general. This week, I was thinking of reading a Noel Coward play, because the book I’m currently reading (Two for Sorrow, by Nicola Upson) mentions him in several places, but then I realized I don’t have any Coward plays in my collection. So I just picked a random play that I hadn’t yet read off the shelf, and now I’m sharing it with you: Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg.

Basics

Take Me Out premiered in London in 2002, at the Public Theater in New York City later that year, and on Broadway in 2003.

Characters

  • Kippy Sunderstrom, baseball player, “big dumb Swede” who’s smarter than he looks
  • Darren Lemming, baseball player, gay (closeted until the end of Act I)
  • Shane Mungitt, pitcher, “redneck” with a thick accent and intense rage
  • Skipper, another baseball player (doubles as William R. Danziger, a random person who writes Darren a letter)
  • Martinez and Rodriguez, two interchangeable baseball players who speak only Spanish
  • Jason Chenier, another baseball player
  • Toddy Koovitz, another baseball player
  • Davey Battle, a baseball player for an opposing team
  • Mason Marzac, Darren’s accountant
  • Takeshi Kawabata, pitcher, a baseball player from Japan

Setting/Plot

Present day, New York City. Take Me Out, in a nutshell, is the members of a minor-league baseball team. In the first act, we meet most of the players, including newcomer Shane Mungitt – a man of few words, except for when it comes to outing his teammate, Darren Lemming. In the second act, we see the buildup of the team, its relationships, and the return of Shane; short-lived, as he pitches a ball at Davey Battle which takes him down for the count, for good. In the third act, Kippy and Darren attempt to get Shane out of prison, and despite winning the World Series, end up at an impasse.

My Thoughts

Racism. Sexuality. Death. Nudity. Baseball. What’s not to love about a play that contains all of these things? But on a more serious note, this play deals with a ton of issues that are still prevalent in sports in the 21st century. As far as I know, there still are not any out gay Major League Baseball players, and incidents of racism still take place. What’s most interesting about this play is how multi-faceted all the characters are. Kippy refers to himself as a “big, dumb Swede” but is incredibly introspective and well-spoken, coming off at varying times as a lawyer, pastor, and philosopher. Darren, who is both mixed-race and gay, seems to be the most level-headed of the bunch, aside from Kippy. Rodriguez and Martinez only speak in Spanish, and I see this as akin to a “Tower of Babel” situation; they’re clearly talking about the same things that the others are, yet they can’t understand the English speakers and vice versa. Kawabata, the Japanese pitcher, is on an island of his own in the first two acts, speaking only Japanese, but reveals himself to be an eloquent English speaker in the third act.

Biting the Baseball?

The common denominator: we all get to see them naked (well, all except Marzac, because he’s not a baseball player). The shower is the one place where their differences get washed away; at the end of the day, or the end of the game, they’re all men, with the same DNA and despite differences in skin/hair/eye color, height, and weight, biologically the same as one another. In the first act, when Darren’s sexuality is known but not made a big issue, all the players being naked in the shower together is second nature. They talk, laugh, joke, and argue, taking no account of their naked bodies. In Act II, the first time we return to the showers after Shane outs Darren to the media at the end of Act I, there’s suddenly tension in the shower, embarrassment among former friends, and people turning around in different directions before quickly exiting the shower and dressing, akin to a loss of innocence, the innocence of ignorance to anatomy of your fellow teammates. Act II is also when we see the Shane/Darren incident in the shower, where Shane tries to ignore Darren, who’s not having it. It’s actually kind of hilarious when (mixed-race) Darren says that he knows (white) Shane’s secret, that he’s actually “a colored guy,” – you can do the math.

From the Baseball Field to the Bedroom

A final note…does anyone else not see the symbolism in “pitcher” and “catcher” in a play about sexuality and baseball? I guess Greenberg might not; Darren plays center field. The person who is said to be catcher is Jason; we do not end up finding out too much about him, other than the fact that he’s young, kind of dumb, and uneducated in the ways of the world. The two people who are pitchers are Shane, who represents the antagonism in professional sports against homosexuality, and Kawabata, whose story arc has nothing to do with sexuality and who rarely, if ever, interacts with Darren. It does, however, give new meaning to the line in Kawabata’s final speech in the play, and some his only words in English – “why must everything have meaning?.” If I had the chance to meet Greenberg, I’d ask him why he made those choices, but I’m suspecting I might get a Kawabata-style answer.

How I’d Flip It

For some reason, the image that came into my mind was that of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which I visited with my family when I was a kid. I don’t remember it that well, and maybe I’m amalgamating it with my visits to the Louisville Slugger factory in Kentucky, the Negro Leagues Museum in Missouri, or any of the many baseball stadiums I’ve been to, but there are displays about baseball players set up in lockers, with their uniforms hanging as if they’re about to go play or something, and I kind of imagine that setup, with each player “appearing,” as the script says, at least initially, from a designated locker, either in a straight line or a U-shape, and then each player’s shower head hanging above and in front of their locker. You could really mess with the audience by putting varying items in each locker, or by arranging the players in a specific order in the lineup: for example, if a U-shape, having Darren and Shane facing each other at the ends, or in a straight line, maybe arranged in some sort of racial order or something.

The very title of the play “Take Me Out,” is another interesting choice; you’ve got the American tradition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and the not-so-tradition of coming out in professional sports. And then there’s also the song that you’re already playing in your mind right now but I’ll link you to it anyway…

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Flip the Script Friday: Nora Glickman, Una tal Raquel (A Certain Raquel)

Originally posted 3/4/16, revised 6/10/16

Here’s another play of which I’ve been aware of and a fan of for years. I don’t know why it isn’t more popular, because it’s fabulous, unconventional, and exciting. It’s Una tal Raquel (A Certain Raquel) by Nora Glickman, an Argentinian-American playwright. Una tal Raquel tells the story of an unlikely heroine in 1930s Argentina. And it’s all true.

 

Basics

Una tal Raquel (A Certain Raquel) was written in 1999 by Nora Glickman. Its first performance was at Teatrotaller in Puebla, Mexico.

Characters

  • Raquel Liberman, age 35
  • Raquel Celman, granddaughter of Raquel Liberman, age 25
  • Yaacov Ferber, husband of Raquel Liberman, age 39
  • Bronia Koyman, a madam, age 45
  • Dominguez, a client
  • Simon Brutkievich, the head of Zwi Migdal
  • Mauricio Kirstein, trafficker
  • Jose Korn, trafficker
  • Max Kaufman, Raquel’s friend
  • Julio Alsogaray, police inspector
  • Customer, Society Lady, Auctioneer, Audience
  • Reizl and Doctor Silva (characters in Ibergus, the play within the play.

Setting/Plot

1900-1935, and present day; Buenos Aires, Argentina. We begin with Raquel being questioned by Alsogaray in 1935, as well as by her granddaughter, before launching into the play itself. Raquel’s husband Yaacov fled Poland for Argentina, sending her when he had enough money, only to die shortly after her arrival. Upon meeting Bronia Koyman, Raquel gets involved with the Zwi Migdal, a vast Jewish mafia responsible for the operation of casitas, or brothels, all over Buenos Aires. Unlike the seamstress job she thought she’d have, she becomes one of Bronia’s girls. She learns the gravity of the situation during a night out at the theatre, where an unruly mob catches her and Bronia in the balcony while watching a production of the play Ibergus, in an act of meta-theatre. Although Raquel arranges for Max to “buy” her at an auction so that she can go on with her life, a trick mock wedding to Korn puts her right back where she started. Finally, Raquel gets the courage to go to the police, and the prostitution ring of Zwi Migdal is busted.

My Thoughts

I was in love with this play when I first read it; rereading it for this feature, I saw a few things that I didn’t see earlier, such as the fact that Glickman kinda “yada-yadas” over the good part. It’s not too clear how Raquel gets to the police, or why she waits so long to do it. Raquel also has her weak moment, when she falls into the trap, and seriously, you could see it coming from a mile away.

 

Flip It?

Glickman’s stage directions, with the creative use of props and music to create the set, are exquisitely well-thought-out. I’d play it as is and see how it goes. Maybe add in more Argentine tango.

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Flip the Script Friday: Theodore Dreiser, The Girl in the Coffin

Without my handy dandy library of plays here with me in North Carolina, I turn to the massive number of scripts I have stored on my laptop for this week’s Flip the Script Friday. I picked one at random, and as it turns out, it’s quite apropos…but more on that later. Now, it’s time to Flip the Script with The Girl in the Coffin by Theodore Dreiser.

Basics

The Girl in the Coffin was written by Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) in 1913 as a part of a series of supernatural plays. It played on Broadway from 1917-1918.

Characters

  • William Magnet – a foreman of loom workers. Father of Mary Magnet. I wonder who she could be.
  • John Ferguson – a strike leader
  • Mrs. Mamie Shaefer – a striker’s wife
  • Mrs. Margaret Rickert – another striker’s wife
  • Mrs. Hannah Littig – an old woman
  • Nicholas Blundy – a young mill worker
  • Timothy McGrath – a member of the strikers’ executive committee

Setting/Plot

Early evening, large mill town, the 1910s. We open on the drawing room of William Magnet, where Mary Magnet lies in state in her coffin, presided over by Mrs. Shaefer and Mrs. Rickert. Along with Mrs. Littig, they commiserate on Mary’s untimely and saddening death, while Nick Blundy enters with a pillow that says “Asleep” in purple satin. [So weird.] Magnet enters, and everyone else leaves except for Mrs. Littig, at which point Magnet asks Mrs. Littig where Mary’s favorite gold ring went. Mrs. Littig says that she does not know. McGrath soon enters, and we learn of the mill strike, led by John Ferguson. McGrath pleads with Magnet to talk with the workers, because he speaks Italian and Ferguson does not, but obviously Magnet has other things to attend to. As McGrath leaves, Ferguson enters to talk to Magnet about the strike, and Magnet forcefully shuts him down, railing against Mary’s unknown lover, which prompts the best line in the play:

FERGUSON: You are not the only man in this town tonight whose hopes are lying in a coffin.

SNAP. Plot twist. Ferguson and Magnet have a heart-to-heart, and upon McGrath’s return, Magnet leaves with him to go to city hall. Littig reenters, and wouldn’t you know it, she has Mary’s ring, which she gives to Ferguson, under Mary’s instruction.

My Thoughts

A powerful little play, with a plot like Our Lady of 121st Street and an early-twentieth-century realism akin to Trifles. This play definitely proves that not all short plays are throwaways. Some of the minor characters are a little weird, but Magnet and Ferguson are pretty darn incredible in their words and actions. Quite obviously, Mary has died giving birth to Ferguson’s baby, which is the reason why he’s just as upset as Mary’s father Magnet. At first, I thought Magnet and Ferguson were on different sides, but ten I realized that Magnet was a leader figure to Ferguson and McGrath. An odd name, it reminded me a lot of “magnate,” also known as a company bigwig, often emotionless, quite the opposite of Magnet. The twist ending is just the right amount of surprise; I felt like that blue and gold ring was going to come up somewhere, but by the time it did I had forgotten about it. The fact that it ends up with Ferguson only cements his connection with Mary, his lover.

How I’d Flip It

Obviously, realism is the way to go. For some reason, I have this image of Whistler’s Mother, as at the opening, Mrs. Shaefer is described just so. Also, there is a “chalk drawing” of a woman, almost as if a young Mary did it as a self-portrait, and for some reason, a portrait of John Ferguson just hanging out there. On the whole, I feel like it works quite well as is. The imagery is pretty stark, and with the proper design elements, it could pack a punch. You could easily adapt it to any sort of workers’ union situation, from Latino fruit pickers in California to clothing sweatshop workers in India or China. Those would all be interesting twists.

In a 1918 article from Pearsons Magazine, reviewer H. O’Hara would have preferred if Mary’s spirit came up and started stirring shit up. Bwahaha. That’s what Blithe Spirit is for.

Apropos…

A coffin was discovered under a house in San Francisco today, that is believed to be 145 years old. Spooky.


Works Cited:

Dreiser, Theodore. The Girl in the Coffin.

Frederickson, Kathy. “The Girl in the Coffin.” In Newlin, Keith, ed., A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia. 166-167. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Konstantindes, Anneta. “Who is Miranda? Mystery of the young blonde girl who has lain perfectly preserved and still clutching a red rose inside a tiny coffin for 145 years beneath a San Francisco home.” The Daily Mail Online. 26 May 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3612053/145-year-old-coffin-young-girl-San-Francisco-home.html.

O’Hara, H. “Lights Out on Broadway.” Pearsons Magazine 38 (February 1918): 348-349.

Vazquez, Joe. “Construction Crews Discover Young Girl’s Casket Underneath San Francisco Home.” CBS San Francisco. 24 May 2016. http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/05/24/san-francisco-young-girl-miranda-casket-discover/

Wikipedia.

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Flip the Script Friday: Stella Kon, Emporium And Other Plays

Originally published 2/19/16; revised 5/13/16, now with pretty pictures designed by me!

It’s been a slow week for blogging, and kind of a tough week in my life, but I managed to get myself up and out to grocery shop, grade, and go to the social dance over at Holt Commons, so it’s time I managed to get another episode of Flip The Script out. Today’s script comes from Singapore. For my final project for International Theatre for Young Audiences, I have to create a lesson plan about a children’s play from another country. After looking at the ASSITEJ website, I decided on Singapore and luckily found several plays from the country, including this book of five plays by Stella Kon. Join me if you will.

 

The Naga in the Swamp (1977 – side note: this book was published in 1977, and there is no information on original productions, so I am assuming that all five plays were written circa 1977)

naga5

Characters

  • Sri Makhota
  • The Princess (his sister)
  • The Penghulu
  • First/Second Courtiers
  • First/Second/Third/Fourth Rakyat
  • The Naga
  • Other Courtiers and Rakyat

Setting/Plot

Kingdom of Palembang, time unsure. Probably long, long ago. The Naga, which is a dragon-like creature, threatens the kingdom but is ultimately brought down by two separate strategies, a confrontation led by Sri Makhota, and an effort to drain the swamp, led by the Princess.

My Thoughts

A very short and straightforward play. It is surprising, though, how many things of note are packed in. For one thing, in a reversal of the norm, the Rakyat, or workers, speak in a lilting verse as they toil, whereas the Princess and the other characters do not. I also see the differences between male and female work ethic; Sri Makhota, the man, talks a big game, then falls asleep, but eventually helps to get the job done, whereas the Princess is proactive in mobilizing her forces to do what needs to be done.

How I’d Flip It

This would be great fun to produce for a group of children. There is the opportunity to have a dance number, potentially with a giant naga. I can also imagine the Rakyat handing out tools to the audience and inviting them to shovel, pick, and maneuver hoses to “drain the swamp.” It is a one-note piece, but it might work well in tandem with another. I like the teamwork aspects of it, and different problem-solving techniques. I do not think I’ll use this one in class, but it’s worth noting.

Asoka

naga4

QUEEN: What kind of a stupid show was that? No action! No romance! No suspense!

MINISTER (anxiously): I am so sorry, Great Lady. They promised me challenging, exciting new concepts…

QUEEN: Dullest thing I ever saw. Have them strangled immediately. As for you… (Kon, Asoka 18)

Characters

  • The Emperor Asoka
  • The Queen
  • Minister of the Palace
  • General of the Southern Army
  • Captain of the Left Hand
  • Captain of the Right Hand
  • Old Man of Kalinga
  • Singer of Kalinga
  • Five Unseen Voices
  • Court Actors (Prince, Princess, Minister, Attendant, Musician)
  • Two Martial Arts Fighters
  • People of Kalinga
  • Soldiers of the Army
  • Palace Attendants

(phew, that’s a lot of people for a tiny children’s play!)

Setting/Plot

India, 280 BCE, bordering the nation of Kalinga. The Emperor Asoka has conquered Kalinga, but is having a bitch of a time getting there because the entire population has staged a sit in on the roads. He orders his soldiers to get in by any means necessary. After they plow through people, seemingly calm and at peace on the roads, Asoka goes to investigate and discovers the glory of Buddha and the need for piece. Oh, and in the middle, there’s a scene where the queen wants to be entertained but isn’t, which is where the above quote comes from.

My Thoughts

Way too didactic. Not a whole lot of action happens onstage, mostly because it is things like battles and killings and such, but I think that the message here is considerably weak. Basically, it’s just that peace is better than war, and just general realization that war is bad. It’s not particularly evocative either.

How I’d Flip It

I don’t think Asoka would resonate with children too much. Maybe older children or teenagers. Still, there are pieces out there about war and peace that are probably more interesting. Next!

Kumba Kumba

naga3

Characters

  • Changka, the head of the tribe
  • Ellel, his wife
  • Ish, Changka’s son
  • Ink, Onk, Boh, Bah, male members of the tribe
  • A Weaver, A Potter, A Sewer, female members of the tribe
  • Lord of the Shining Sun
  • Lady of the Bright Moon

Setting/Plot

Caveman times, somewhere in a cave. The first page of lines is just the characters repeating “Kumba kumba” over and over again to one another, apparently its meaning changing each time. The rest of the play is actually kind of cute, despite being a little too Richard Scarry: Cavemen hunt animals. Cavemen decide that killing each other would be fun, until they are told that that would be a bad idea. Cavemen use weapons to invent games and musical instruments.

My Thoughts

Upon re-rereading it, it’s actually kind of cute and daresay, endearing.

How I’d Flip It

Definitely for a much younger audience, but it could be incredibly imaginative. We don’t know what people looked like in prehistoric times so anything goes.

Emporium

naga2

Characters

  • Kong
  • Manfred
  • The Impoverished One
  • The Addict
  • The Alienated One
  • Two Security Guards
  • Businessmen/Shoppers/Photographers

Setting/Plot

Ostensibly Singapore in the here-and-now. Kong, a rich mogul, announces the opening of shopping mega-mall he calls “Kong’s Towers.” His also-rich heir/son/next-in-command Manfred explores the towers and meets some less-well-off people among the shoppers, including the homeless, and begins to question his lifestyle. He loses his mind and declares himself to be an advocate for the poor, and then gets arrested because people believe that he’s not actually Manfred.

My Thoughts

Surprisingly, when I read it again, I liked it less. Initially, it was a story about the perils of consumerism and not looking out for the downtrodden. Then, I reread it, and Manfred kind of comes off as a bit of a cult leader by the end.

How I’d Flip It

I think this might be interesting to produce, especially in a materialistic place and time. It could be a colorful and fun shopping mall, in contrast with the homeless people.

In the Repair Shop

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Characters

  • Din
  • Minah (Din’s mother)
  • Mat (Din’s older brother)
  • Steve
  • Chang (Steve’s father)

Setting/Plot

This play is different from the others in that it actually has a little bit more in the way of subterfuge/stakes. Basically, Din’s friend Steve shows up at Mat’s repair shop, looking for a job because his parents are dead. Then, Steve’s father Chang comes around looking for him, and it turns out that Steve lied and he just ran away, even though he tells Din how much he loves his parents, despite Chang convinced that Steve hates him, and Minah and Din having a similarly awkward relationship. It’s a pretty huggable end: Steve goes home, Minah makes one last crack about Din’s hair, and all is well.

My Thoughts

My favorite play of the five. I just think that it’s the more relatable, partially because of its universality in both values and context – in most cultures, disrespecting one’s parents and/or lying is universally frowned upon, unlike the conflict of consumerism/capitalism (Emporium), or hunting (Kumba Kumba), and unlike ancient China, ancient India, cavemen, or a mega-mall, repair shops are commonplace everywhere. It is implied that Mat’s repair shop is for appliances, but other places could have it be a repair shop for bikes, cars, or computers. Also, the names are pretty generic without being boring: Chang is the only one that is 100% local in name, whereas anyone could be Steve, Mat, Minah, and even Din (although I’m not sure if it’s Din like dinner or Dean, like James Dean – either way, it’s not a stretch in most languages).

How I’d Flip It

For some reason, I’m having visions of the Fix-It Shop from Sesame Street. I would make Steve’s “fancy shirt” something tie-dye or in a Hawaiian print or something. I just really like this play; it could be done by kids or for kids.

Works Cited

Kon, Stella. Emporium and Other Plays. Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1977.

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Some Great Lesser-Known Irish Plays

I took a course in Irish theatre a few years back, and was amazed at the diversity of theatre that comes from one little island. Everyone knows Dancing at Lughnasa and Juno and the Paycock, but, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a list of some Irish plays not everyone knows about, and why they’re great.

  1. Martin McDonagh, The Beauty Queen of Leenane

This play is a dark exploration of mother and daughter, spinster and invalid, and what happens when a man enters the picture.

2. Samuel Beckett, Happy Days

Winnie is buried in sand on the beach. She talks. That’s pretty much it, but it’s riveting.

3. William Butler Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan

4. Brian Friel, Translations

5. Denis Johnston, The Old Lady Says No!

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Flip the Script Friday: Brent Hartinger, The Geography Club

And we are back with Flip The Script Fridays! Woo-hoo! Today’s script is one I recently read for class. It has its flaws, and actually I was not a huge fan of it, but after class yesterday, I had a totally new perspective on it. Here it is, The Geography Club by Brent Hartinger.

Basics

The Geography Club was written by Brent Hartinger in 2004. Hartinger adapted the play from the book of the same name, which he also wrote. The play premiered as a staged reading at the Seattle FringeACT Festival of New Plays in 2004, and then opened the first annual Northwest Playwright’s Alliance Festival of New Plays in 2008.

Characters

  • Russel Middlebrook, a gay high school student. The narrator and protagonist.
  • Kevin Land, a gay high school jock, love interest of Russel.
  • Min Lao, a lesbian (or bisexual) student, best friend of Russel and girlfriend of Terese.
  • Terese Buckman, a lesbian student and soccer player. Girlfriend of Min.
  • Ike, a “political lefty” student questioning his sexuality.
  • Gunnar, Russel’s friend. Heterosexual.
  • Trish Baskin, a high school student and potential love interest of Russel, oblivious to his sexuality.
  • Kimberly, a heterosexual high school student. Love interest of Gunnar.
  • Belinda Sherman, a high school student who is really interested in geography.
  • Brian Bund, a nerdy high school student.
  • Jarred and Nate, two antagonistic jocks.

Setting/Plot

A twenty-first century high school. Russel finds himself attracted to Kevin, a jock. He confesses this to his best friend, Min, who reveals that she has been in a lesbian relationship with Terese, a popular soccer player, and encourages him to go the distance with Kevin, which he does. Meanwhile, Gunnar tries to set Russel up with Trish so he can double-date with Kmiberly. The date goes horribly, with Trish completely blind to Russel’s lack of interest. As Russel and Kevin’s relationship grows stronger, they realize, along with Min, that there may be more students like them, or who want to talk about it. Along with friend Ike, they want to form a club, but they are afraid of what will happen should the school find out that its students are forming a gay-straight alliance. The gang gets together and dreams up a club that nobody would want to join – the Geography Club. Once they have made it official, they all meet up to discuss their feelings. Two obstacles present themselves: first, the matter of nerdy student Brian, who they feel bad for, but ultimately vote not to include him in the group because he does not identify as gay or bisexual, and second, a student called Belinda who signs up to join the club ostensibly to learn about geography, causing the group to evaluate allowing her in as a member for similar reasons, and hoping that she doesn’t cause problems once she finds out what the Geography Club is all about. Belinda ends up getting in, and fortunately for the group, she does not seem to mind. Though the group seems to prosper, Brian continues to get bullied, including an embarrassing incident where he is publicly humiliated and forced to wear a bra, and Russel’s reputation plummets. Then, word gets out about The Geography Club to the rest of the school, and the group members immediately throw around accusations, with Belinda being widely suspected as the culprit, because she has the fewest ties to the other group members, but also Russel. Due to the unrest between the group members and within their relationships, Russel and the others decide that they do not need the Geography Club anymore. In a twist, however, Belinda finds out and reveals that was Brian who submitted the paperwork for a “gay straight alliance,” taking the fall for the group. Although the two main relationships are finished, the gang ends up reassembling, this time as a proper, bona-fide gay-straight alliance.

My Thoughts

A long synopsis and a bit convoluted, I know, but with some interesting dynamics. I am sure that the book is fantastic, but it does not work as a play for a number of reasons. In the play, Russel narrates between almost every scene; it’s annoying, distracting, unnecessary, and actually made me feel less sympathetic to him. I preferred Kevin. Min and Terese are problematic characters as well; I like their pairing, but Min seems to refuse to own her sexuality, shuffling between “lesbian” and “bisexual,” whereas the woefully ignored Terese is all the stereotypes of a lesbian teenager, a butch soccer player with a manly name. Gunnar, Trish, and Kimberly are all kind of doltish, which is reflective of real-life ignorami, but it veers dangerously close to being silly in how blind they are. Overall, it’s didactic and there is a lot more talk than action, with some key moments happening offstage. The most egregious thing is that the character who endures the most pain – Brian – ends up benefiting very little from the huge favor he does for a group of people who kind of screwed him over, and that Russel, Kevin, Min, and Terese kind of get a pass, thereby negating their whole “we’re so misunderstood and persecuted” complaint. Even though it’s about equality, the Club members have their own axes to grind and can be stuck up and downright intolerant; not unlike real high school students, but in the play, they just seem to be so proud of themselves for doing nothing.

How to Make a Not-So-Great Play an Exciting One

 

In yesterday’s class, we broke up into groups, with the goal of creating a pitch and a trailer for one of the six plays we read. Initially, I joined the group that was to work on The Wrestling Season, another play about GLBT issues in high school which I preferred, but the group doing The Geography Club had only two members as opposed to the five members of The Wrestling Season‘s group, so I volunteered to switch over, which turned out to be the better choice. Initially, I thought we spent way too much time planning, but the execution ended up being concise and effective. Here’s what we came up with:

First, we turned off the lights in the room, all except one fluorescent above one of the chalkboards.

Then, my group members told the class the context of our pitch while I drew a map of the world from memory (of course, after I finished it in about 90 seconds, my scumbag classmates were all “where’s Indonesia? Where’s Hawaii?”) and wrote THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB in huge letters across the top.

Then, we played the karaoke version of David Guetta’s “Titanium” (click here and play the song while you read the rest of this post)

Then, one by one, the three of us each went up to the board while the song played, saying a line from the play and erasing one letter in the word “geography” until it read “gay.” These were three of them; I can’t remember the other three.

“I was deep behind enemy lines, in the very heart of the opposing camp.”

“There was no neutral territory on our high school campus.  The different groups and cliques were like countries, and the borders were solid. You couldn’t just cross them at will.”

“What’s done is done. I don’t think I could turn the lights back off even if I wanted to.”

Once I erased the last letter from the board, making the word “gay,” I looked at the audience, smiled, and then looked back to the board, erasing the rest of the words, putting down the eraser, and wiping my hands together to get rid of the chalk before leaving the scene, just with the world map.

We got a huge round of applause, and remarks like “I want to go see The Geography Club now,” and “I want to remake that trailer with you drawing the map, and then reread the play, knowing that it’s going to be frustrating and disappointing.” Someone even asked me how I drew the map, and I was like…uh…I know what the world looks like enough to draw it free hand?

Flip It?

After seeing how creative we could get with The Geography Club in this assignment, I would actually feel good about staging a production. It would be interesting to do it maybe on top of a giant world map (maybe in the round, or a raked stage under a proscenium?), with minimalistic features, intersperse it with geography facts (or GLBT geography facts), or have fun with color, maybe going Wizard of Oz with black and white sports uniforms for the jocks and then colorful outfits for Russel, Min, etc. once they enter the realm of the geography club. As far as songs, I might use “Foreign Letters,” by Chava Alberstein; “On the Floor,” by Jennifer Lopez, “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles, or “All Over The World,” by Herman’s Hermits.

1

Flip the Script Friday: Nola Chilton, Naim

I’ve decided to set a goal for myself to reserve Friday to write about theatre. No real reason, other than that it sounds cool, I guess, and it’s something toward which to work. I was on the lazy side today (come on, it’s New Year’s Day) but I managed to skim over a play. It’s one of the ones I scanned in on Sunday at the library, and a relatively short one, so let’s see how this goes for Naim by Nola Chilton.

I couldn't find a suitable image, so I made this one all by myself with Canva! Copyright me! Maybe I should create my own art tiles for all the plays I review?

I couldn’t find a suitable image, so I made this one all by myself with Canva! Copyright me! Maybe I should create my own art tiles for all the plays I review?

Flag of Israel.svg

Basics

Naim was written by Nola Chilton in 1978, adapted from The Lovera novel by A. B. Yehoshua.

Characters

  • Adam, the husband (Jewish)
  • Asya, the wife (Jewish)
  • Dafna/”Dafy”, the daughter (Jewish)
  • Naim, young Arab boy (Arab)
  • Verducha, old woman (Jewish)

Setting/Plot

It’s not too clear, but probably in the 1970s, in Israel. Much like A. B. Yehoshua’s other work, there are tons of plot twists, but to sum it up in a sentence or two: Adam and Asya find Naim, and hire him as an errand boy, mostly because he looks like Igal, their son who was deaf and died. Elements of culture clash occur between Naim/Adam, Naim/Verducha (in a subplot, Naim is assigned to help find Gabriel, who was once Asya’s lover but is now missing) and Naim/Dafy (in another subplot, Dafy loses her virginity to Naim). In the end, Adam takes Naim back to the village from whence he came.

My Thoughts

On first glance, it was confusing. On second glance (and after having read some notes), it has many layers to it, with the Arab/Jewish conflict almost eclipsed by surrogacy (Naim becoming a substitute son for Adam/Asya), “incest” (Naim, as the “son” of the family, having relations with his “sister” Dafy, even though the two are nowhere near related), loss (Adam/Asya mourning the loss of Igal and Gabriel), open relationships (with the references to Asya’s lover, and Adam’s quest to find him), and education (Verducha and Naim bond over Naim’s education in Jewish history and culture, and how odd it seems for Naim to have been taught this instead of about his own true heritage). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this play, but the writing style of the author is what’s really fascinating.

Writing From Another Point of View

According to articles I read online by Linda Ben-Zvi and Dan Urian, Nola Chilton (who is still alive and kicking at age 91; I imagine her as a fun old lady with colored hair and funky glasses) is known for her experimental writing and staging, and for speaking her mind through her plays. She switches between first- and third-person, but ultimately, the story focuses on the feelings of the characters in the moment without delving too deeply into backstory, politics, or useless dialogue. She could have very easily made it more specific in these ways, but chose not to. I like this approach to writing; I kind of use it myself. When I write characters, especially those who are not like me (which I love doing), I try my best to imagine that I’m not me when I’m writing, but I’m the character, writing in his/her own voice. If I read the lines out loud and they sound like something that I, Jacob, would say in real life, then it’s no good. You can’t expect actors, readers, or audience members to get into your characters if you keep them inextricably linked to yourself; in most cases, other actors will be playing the characters you write, and if it sounds like you, the audience will be disinterested. In this play, Chilton definitely commits to her characters, switching focus adeptly and fluidly. The strongest characters to me were actually the two least like Chilton, the male characters of Adam and Naim. Which brings me to…

Israeli Play, Arab Character

Dan Urian has written extensively about this topic, as have others, but suffice it to say that there has been some controversy over lack of Arab representation on the Israeli stage. Not saying that every story needs an Arab character in it, but that they are underrepresented, especially in mid/late-twentieth-century plays. On pages 78-79 of his article, Urian points out Chilton’s characterization of Naim, and the character’s Israeli education – a choice probably not seen by most. I admittedly don’t know more about this issue (and I probably should take this as a cue to learn more), but the lack of politics other than interpersonal relationships is refreshing.

Flip It?

Hmm, not sure on this one. Nola Chilton seems to be a badass one-woman trailblazer on her own, from what I’ve read about her, and she provides the technical elements in notes, so I would probably want to see it like she wrote it first.

Works Cited

Ben-Zvi, Linda. “Staging the Other Israel: The Documentary Theatre of Nola Chilton”. TDR 50.3 (2006): 42–55. JSTOR. Web.

Chilton, Nola. Naim. Trans. John Auerbach. In Modern Israeli Drama, 242-265.

Urian, Dan. “‘Hawajah Bialik’: The Double Culture Of The Israeli Arab In Hebrew Drama And The Israeli Theatre.” Contemporary Theatre Review 3.2 (1995): 75-86. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web.

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On Playwriting

Hey, look! It’s an actual post! At a normal time! How exciting is this?

I was going to go to the gym, but I had an impromptu meeting, and with not enough time to go before dance class tonight, I decided to give myself some peace of mind and come here for a bit. Tomorrow is my 28th birthday, and my parents are coming in, so it’s going to get busy, but this post is not about any of those things.

Today’s topic: playwriting.

I wrote my first actual, performable play at age 18, during my senior year of high school. In my school, seniors could choose elective-style courses for English, history, and science, and in my senior year, a new teacher offered a playwriting and drama course. I must have been daydreaming in class, because I heard something about “…writing a ten minute play…” and “…due Friday.” It was Wednesday, and when I got home that night, I had an idea for a short play, which I titled Confidential. I typed it up, printed it out, and absentmindedly handed it in to my teacher on Friday.

Monday comes, and the teacher asks to see me after class. He tells me that I missed the homework assignment (whoops) but he read Confidential, the play I wrote, over the weekend, and that it was “once of the finest pieces of student writing he’d ever read.” He also said that that was our final project for the year, so technically, I was done with the class and I got an A. I think this was in December or something. I got two people from the class to perform it, and then for the rest of the year, I got to either skip class or help other people with their writing during class.

I returned to writing plays around sophomore year of college, and though I wrote quite a few and some even won competitions, I “retired” AKA stopped writing plays for fun sometime around the year between Israel and grad school. I have been meaning to start up again, but I have been too busy with my reading and teaching loads, and blogging, to write any prose or plays.

One thing I have done, though, is teach others how. Sort of.

I firmly believe that there is no real way to teach playwriting. It’s trickier than poetry or prose, and not everyone can write a play, but it can be rewarding. I have taken several playwriting courses at the college level. Some were effective, others were not, but each class utilized a different approach. But by this point in my life, I feel like I have a better sense of what to do, and what not to do.

DO: Experience theatre. Before you write a play, read a few plays and see a few plays. Take notice of the dialogue, the staging, and the plot. If you are at a show, try watching some of it with your eyes closed and note the differences in the experience; what do you sense? What do you perceive? Where are the emotions, what is left unsaid, where are there pauses and why? Warning, though: the eyes-closed approach does not work when reading plays.

DON’T: Get a book from the library or bookstore on “how to write plays.” These books are mostly crap. Everyone learns and writes differently, and what works for that person who wrote that book may have worked for them, but it was not written for you. If you like learning by reading, read plays or books on theory, not instructional books. If you do, at least read more than one so you can cross-reference. I don’t swear by any book, but The Playwright’s Guidebook is a good starting point for a beginner, and Playwriting in Process could help the slightly more advanced playwrights, but don’t hold any book on playwriting as gospel.

DO: Start with an idea. An image. A problem. A historical event. Even just a line. And remember that inspiration comes from everywhere. I was inspired to write Confidential after thumbing through a baby name book (for some reason, I was obsessed with baby name books as a kid) and finding out that the name Cameron was Scottish for “crooked nose.” “Huh,” I said to myself, “well that’s interesting.” And later that night, that became the first line I wrote on the page. Seriously, I started out with this:

CAMERON: It’s Scottish for “crooked nose.”

So all of a sudden, I had a character, Cameron. Luckily, since Cameron is a unisex name, I could have either a male or female Cameron. I chose to make her female, and then I inserted a question which would lead to that answer, which ended up being someone complimenting her on having a beautiful and exotic name. Then, I needed some back story; who is asking her this question, and what’s going on around them? The first thing that came to mind was “job interview.” So now I had two characters – a boss and interviewee – and a situation. To expand even further, I wanted to know just why he was asking her this question. And then it just came to me, “because his ex-wife’s last name was Cameron.” And it kept rolling, until I had 10-11 pages of dialogue, and a whole story built around it. All because of a crooked nose.

DON’T: Make the story/subject matter too big, or make too much backstory. You can’t write about everything, especially if it’s just a ten-minute play, and if you try to pack too much stuff in there, it just comes out like a cake with too many ingredients: a hideous mess. One of the worst plays I’ve ever read involved medieval England, botany, biology, zoology, astronomy, the priesthood, religious heresy, puppetry, suicide, revenge, and sexuality – and that was just the first act! Needless to say, the play took 3 hours to read and it made absolutely no sense, there was no story there. There were some poignant moments, and some moments of comedy, but it was just a mish-mosh of words and situations and way too many characters. Too much backstory is also an issue; I knew a playwright who wrote an entire page of backstory for each character before the text of the play, including everything from the character’s birthdate to their eye color to their profession to their views on feeding animals in the wild. Leave some things for the audience to figure out, and room for the characters to grow via the actors. And less is more, especially when it comes to casting. Unless you need to write a play for a specific amount of people, or an entire community, 1-3 characters are enough. 4-6 are plenty, and any more than 8, proceed with caution, unless you intend for the parts to be doubled. In that case, knock yourself out.

DO: Use good playwriting format. Be consistent with your spelling, especially character names. Separate and distinguish stage directions. Make it easy on the eyes.

DON’T: Write something just because someone told you to, write it the way you want to write it, or tell the person to write their own damn play. When making assignments for a playwriting class, make it specific as to the goal of the assignment (a monologue, a dialogue, a three person scene where it’s 2 against 1, a one-word-per-line scene), but any more than that and you’ll get frustrated writers writing things they do not care about.

DO: Look for the character’s voices. Look for beginning, middle, end, pacing, character development, plot, conflict. Don’t write sounding like you; get in the character’s head and write how they would talk. If it sounds too much like something you would say but your character wouldn’t, rewrite that line. Use language as action, and action as language. Make the story yours, but be open to criticism and rewrites if you’re looking for feedback or if you want it to get to production. No one likes working with the playwright whose words are individual drops of literary gold. Chances are, the more they think that’s the case, the more it’s not.

DON’T: Get discouraged; if/when you’re stuck, do something else. But if you’re on a roll, continue. Sometimes, if you’re having trouble deciding what comes next, maybe take a step back and ask yourself what would happen if you just ended this scene (at least for the moment) and moved on to the next one.

DO: Have fun doing it, because that’s the most important part! If you don’t like what you write, or you don’t like the direction it is taking, change it! Keep an open mind! And know when you’re finished, and celebrate with some chocolate chip cookies, or a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free alternative.