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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.

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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.