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Flip the Script Friday: Qui Nguyen, She Kills Monsters

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.

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When Life Gets You Down…Monologue

Real talk.

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.

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

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

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

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

#Matter by Idris Goodwin

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

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

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Flip the Script Friday: Dolly Dhingra, Unsuitable Girls

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

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

Image result for unsuitable girls dolly dhingra

Image Credit: Oberon Books.

 

Basics

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

Characters

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

 Setting/Plot

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

My Thoughts

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

Life Imitating Bollywood

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

 

How I’d Flip It

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

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Flip the Script Friday: debbie tucker green, dirty butterfly

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

dirty butterfly at the Young Vic 1 - 11 October 2014

Photo Credit: Gillian Fisher/Afridiziak.com

 

Basics

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

Characters

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

Setting/Plot

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

My Thoughts

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

Can You Feel the Music

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

How I’d Flip It

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

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

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

Basics

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

Characters

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

Setting/Plot

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

My Thoughts

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

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

Major Themes

Q & A

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

You Can Leave Your Hat On

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

How I’d Flip It

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

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Endgame: The Game

Post-It Note 1: You are at the bathroom sink, getting ready for the day. One of you is moving extremely slowly, the other is moving extremely fast.

Post-It Note 2: One of you is packing a suitcase. One of you is unpacking the same suitcase at the same time.

Post-It Note 3: You are taking a walk together. One of you can move in straight lines, the other can only move in curvy patterns.

Post-It Note 4: You are building a treehouse together. One of you keeps dropping things, and the other is scared of something above you.

Post-It Note 5: You are drawing circles on the ground. One of you is using your finger, the other is using anything but your finger.

Post-It Note 6: You are a clock. One of you is making ticking noises, the other is moving their arms in a clockwise pattern.

Post-It Note 7: You are a human and a dog on a walk, having a conversation. The dog can talk, but the human can only make barking noises.

Post-It Note 8: You are making sandwiches. One of you keeps getting your head stuck on things. For the other person, things keep floating away.

Post-It Note 9 (for three students): You are playing a card game. One of you has one arm. One of you has no arms. One of you has shoes for hands.

In my first class (13 students), the notes that ended up being drawn, at random, were 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6, and I gave the trio note number 9.  In my second class (10 students), the notes that ended up being drawn, again at random, were 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 (poor note 7 never got drawn). In my first class, the highlights were the two who drew note 1, who happened to be a pair of girls. It is quite interesting to watch two girls get ready at varying speeds, with one slowly brushing her teeth and the other fiddling madly with her hair; the two guys who drew note 2 were folding and unfolding imaginary clothes; the girls who drew note 5 got around it by using a pen (kind of against the rules, but whatever); and the three guys who drew note 9, because everything is hilarious with limited arms and shoe hands. Class #2’s highlights were the guy/girl pair who drew note 8, with the guy rubbing his head all over the desk; and the guy/girl pair who drew note 5, where the guy ended up spinning around on his bottom.

Probably one of the best parts of the exercise were the reactions. People started to really enjoy playing, and watching their classmates do seemingly random things. One student in my first class likened the activity to a sense of chaos, but a strangely satisfying chaos. For me, other than having the power to command, it was really interesting to see how seriously people took it. I mean, unlike the characters in Endgame, no one was forced to obey any of the rules, yet somehow everyone chose to stay in the universe; ostensibly, someone could have broken a rule, or refused to participate, or just gotten up and walked out of the room or sat back down in a seat. Everyone seemed to do what they were told to do, without any real reason, which is one of the foundational tenets of the Theater of the Absurd. Overall, I think that the students got a lot more out of absurdism by acting it out on their feet.