Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Reading newish plays

Bobo's been reading ...

Stephen Adly Guirgis, *Our Lady of 121st Street*
Funniest confessional scene I've ever encountered. A beloved nun has died and her corpse has been stolen. The down-and-outers who were once her Catholic school kids try, in their feeble ways, to honor her. Guirgis's sarcasm is acidic, but after this and *The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,* I'm a fan. He combines black comedy with genuine spiritual questing: dark theological farce.

Gina Gionfriddo, *Becky Shaw*
This what a *Law & Order* writer can do when you take away the formulaic requirements and the censors. The mother and adoptive (?) brother have a couple of the most venomous mouths in theatrical memory. Becky's interesting, but the play is really about the sister. Cast of five. Gionfriddo discusses the state of American theater with Adam Rapp in the Brooklyn Rail, Nov. 2007.

Christopher Durang, *Miss Witherspoon*
She dies and resists being reincarnated. Cast of about six. Another theological black comedy, but lighter in tone than Guirgis, and more hopeful (in a qualified way) at the end. Miss W's spiritual advisors include a black female Jesus and Tolkien's Gandalf. Durang has long been undervalued, in my view, mostly because I feel closest to him of all contemporary American playwrights: the way-past-lapsed-Catholic anger, the love of movies and absurdity, the insistence on asking uncomfortable questions, the sheer love of silliness.

Lee Blessing, *Great Falls*
A two-hander rage-filled road trip with a middle-aged man and college-age woman. Starts out seeming to be about kidnapping, sexual abuse and the effects of divorce, then veers in a different direction entirely. Each scene in a different small town, including Kalispell (so it has a regional link for us here). Full of laugh-out-loud lines -- and anger that turns out to be justified, but not for the reasons you'd expect.

Itamar Moses, *The Four of Us*
Two young men, in scenes that are jumbled chronologically, watch their friendship crumble when one of them writes a highly successful first novel. Same massive intelligence as in *Bach at Leipzig,* but in a completely different, contemporary idiom. He finds a way to make the play coil in on itself like a Mobius strip, as reviewers have noted, so that it comments on its own development even as its action, and your understanding of that action, is still developing. Hilarious scene with an oversize teddy bear. Big demands on the two actors. Fame, friendship, our need for emotional validation.

Under the 3/24/09 post below on *Waiting for Godot,* see David Andrews' comments on 3/30 and 3/31, excerpted below. I don't know Andrews, but I sure would like to meet him, because while I disagree with him that *Godot* is dated (and deserves to be lumped in with other out-of-date plays like those of Neil Simon!), I very much agree with his list of plays that could and should be done in Spokane. (Apologies for taking so ridiculously long to comment on Andrews' postings.)

On 3/31/09, Andrews listed:
Closer by Patrick Marber, Angels in America or Homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner, A Number by Carol Churchill, Crave by Sarah Kane, A Prayer for my Enemy by Craig Lucas... should it come available how about Black Watch by Gergory Burke?... Valparaiso by Don Delillo, The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute, Polish Joke by David Ives, Topdog/Underdog by Susan Lori-Parks, The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, Take me Out by Richard Greenberg, Wit by Margaret Edson, The Goat, or Who is Syliva by Edward Albee, The Coast of Utopia or Rock 'n' Roll by Tom Stoppard... just to start. but more importantly how about commisioning new works? Or finding little performed new works?

As Andrews notes, he can't be alone in wishing that Spokane theaters would stop assuming that recognizable titles from 50 years ago are pre-sold to an older audience and therefore safe bets at the box office. Inoffensive comedies that don't have any bad words in them, just because they were written within the last 10 years, aren't demonstrating anything new.

And how often have you heard of situations in which something controversial increased attention rather than simply garnering criticism and cancellations? Bobo wants to point out just one title in Andrews' list: The Pillowman. Police state, torture, abusive parenting, terrorism, scary children's stories, copycat killers.
God, why would anybody want to see that?
And some WILL be offended. Why is that the worst possible modern-day sin? To take a counter-example: I wouldn't be offended by plays lionizing Rush Limbaugh or mega-church pastors or rabid Libertarians. I'd very much want to see plays about those topics; I want to keep refining my view of politics.
Somebody produces Pillowman, and some season subscribers will cancel. Oh, the horror. But quite possibly, even more people will think to themselves, Well, it's about time. The art form that has the potential for way more visceral impact than TV and film (up close, in your face, actors acting emotions just 12 feet away) has come around to pissing some people off.
They must be doing something right.
I think I'll buy a ticket to see what all the ruckus is about.

{ photo: Gina Gionfriddo, from newyorksocialdiary.com ]

[ photo: Lee Blessing, ingecenter.com, William Inge Theater Center, Independence, Kansas ]

[ photo: Itamar Moses, from samuelfrench.com ]

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At May 06, 2009 11:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know a good example of what you're talking about would be ARt's (excellent) production of The Shape of Things. It pissed off a lot of subscribers, but brought young audiences into the theatre in droves.


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