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A Mini-Vacation in Minneapolis

Just back at my AirBNB in Black River Falls, WI, after a four-hour round trip to Minneapolis and back. Saw the city for the first time, and watched my dear friend in his play.

I don’t like to review performances of people I actually know, but for the most part, it was awesome. From the moment he stepped out on stage, I was like….”this guy.” My friend. The other cast members were quite talented as well. There were some interesting staging choices, killer rapping, and overall, a powerful yet touching story. I realize that this is probably the least descriptive review ever, but I wanted to write something about this play without giving away too much information about it; I guess I’m weird like that, and I probably need to go and see more shows where I don’t know anyone in the cast.

Up at 8 tomorrow morning and out by 830 in order to make it back home on time. Wish me luck y’all.

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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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Sweat + Small Stuff = …

It’s almost midnight, once again, and I got back from two hours at the gym about twenty minutes ago.

As I am actually sweating, today was just one of those day where the small stuff really made me sweat, with a few panicky moments.

For starters, today was one of my favorite days of the semester, Mafia Day, where I get to discuss the play Trifles with my sections, and reward them with a game of Mafia to bring out their acting skills. In my first section of the day, it was pretty much dead (no pun intended), but in the second section, it got rowdy, boisterous, and fun, with wild accusations being thrown across the room, friends becoming enemies, enemies becoming friends, and of course, in the last few minutes of class, I screwed up the game.

We were down to 11 students: 4 mafia (1 had been discovered) and 7 townies. The two students up for “the pit” were the Milliner, who was innocent, and the Lounge Singer, who was in the mafia. The vote was cast, and 6 hands went up for Milliner, and 6 for the Lounge Singer. I was confused, but then someone pointed out that the Librarian (who’d been killed in the round prior) had stuck her hand up for the Lounge Singer, so her vote did not count, putting the Milliner in the pit by a vote of 6-5. Unfortunately, stupid me got caught up in the heat of the moment and announced that the Lounge Singer had been killed when it had been the Milliner. That mistake caused the Lounge Singer to reveal that he was in the mafia, significantly changing the outcome of the game: now, 3 mafia and 6 townies were left alive. We only had about one minute remaining, so in the fourth round, obviously the mafia chose to kill the Milliner since I obviously did not do a good job of it, leaving 3 mafia and 5 townies. A quick round of accusations resulted in the Town Mayor and the Welder up for “the pit” (which didn’t matter, since both were innocent), ultimately ending our game with 3 mafia and 4 townies. Had the game been able to continue from that point, the mafia would have one final chance to win, if they were to successfully nominate and vote out one more townie, they would gain control and win the game; but the remaining townies could also have won as well if they managed to guess correctly.

If we press the rewind button, and I’d announced the correct death, we’d have been down to 4 mafia and 5 townies. Again, same scenario as above, only with fewer people dying. Either way, it’s likely that the mafia probably would have won, but the surviving townies were rather outspoken and might have knocked off the remaining mafia, who were all keeping to themselves.

Fail on me, number one.

The next two were even smaller, but still stung: first, as I walked into my office, I heard a crunch – I stepped on an assignment that one of my office-mate’s students had slipped under the door, tearing a hole in it with my boot. I fired off an apologetic email to my office-mate (who was gracious enough to respond, saying that it was not my fault), and went to copy said torn paper. On my way to the copy room, I walked past one of the other offices. Its door was propped open, and it was dark inside, which is quite unusual. Knowing that there were several expensive things in that room (a desktop computer, a coffee maker, personal items), I knocked on the door, causing the light to turn on…startling one of my colleagues, who was taking a quick nap at his desk. I shrank back and apologized for disturbing him, even though he told me that the door was propped open because he was expecting a student anyway.

Ay-yay-yay. I gotta stop saying that.

And I gotta stop sweating the small stuff, once I apologize to my student for accidentally pushing him into the pit.

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Flip the Script Friday: Oleg Bogaev, The Russian National Postal Service

Friday the 13th…spooky, but most of all cold. I think I can count on one hand the amount of minutes I spent outdoors today. At least it’s supposed to get up to 30 tomorrow. Since I’ve got a long weekend ahead of me, and I hope to fill it with reading. As for today’s play, I went online a few days ago to look up something about something for something research related…and ended up stumbling across a trove of Russian plays translated into English, courtesy of the Center for International Theater Development. One of them was I Am Me by Alexandra Chichkanova, which I saw done as a lovely site-specific traveling performance around campus by an alumna of my program. I skimmed through almost all of them, and this one sounded the most interesting and unusual: The Russian National Postal Service  by Oleg Bogaev.

Image result for the russian national postal service

Studio Theatre Production, 2004. http://www.michaelgiannitti.com

 

The Basics

The Russian National Postal Service: A Room of Laughter for a Lonely Pensioner, by Oleg Bogaev and translated by John Freedman. This English translation was first performed at The Studio Theatre, Washington, DC, USA in 2004. The play had its world premiere in Russian at Tabakov Theater in Moscow in 1998.

Characters:

  • Ivan Sidorovich Zhukov
  • Queen Elizabeth II of England
  • Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
  • Lyubov Orlova – a Russian film star
  • Other characters from Russian history and world literature

Setting/Plot

Interior of Ivan’s apartment.

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Back on the Tack Jack

Just wanted to be random for today. It’s been a long one, 25 hours of it, since I flew from Baltimore to Atlanta to Madison, where I returned to a relatively clean apartment, and more junk mail and happy mail than bills.

And I’ve been making my way through this terribly informative video on Tomson Highway and Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout, which has been growing on me since I read it on Friday…so see for yourself. Warning, it is an hour long.

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Amazing Show, Kinda Crappy Title

Last night, I went to see the tour of Israel Story Live! That’s What She SaidIt was basically a live version of a podcast called Israel Story Live, that told five woman-based stories:

  • the story of Shavit, who became obsessed with documenting the lives of Israel’s female Parliament members
  • the story of Lizzy, who searched for her mother’s past and her biological father, and finding the answers in a childhood photo
  • the story of Mariam, a Bedouin woman who rebelled and went abroad only to come back to her home village and become an entrepreneur
  • the story of Yisca, whose journey to a new identity crossed genders, religions, and oceans
  • and the story of Ruth and Ramonda, wives of political bigwigs from opposing Israeli/Palestinian factions.

There was live music, video, dancers, storytellers, and more than a few technical difficulties, but on the whole, it was AMAZING. I’m running out of words to describe it.

I loved it so much that I bought a CD of the music group who played at the show and halfway home realized that I don’t have any type of CD player. Yep, that good.