An Odyssey

Aug. 15th, 2017 01:00 pm
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When we first put together a schedule for the summer, it didn't look as though we'd be able to make our usual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but as the plans got rearranged and put back together it turned out there was a narrow window when Jason and I could get down to Ashland just to see Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of The Odyssey, which she was reviving herself for the festival.

For those of you keeping track at home, Mary Zimmerman is probably my favorite stage director. She created Metamorphoses, one of the most perfect theatrical experiences of my life, and I loved her White Snake, as well. I am really enamored by her talent for taking ancient, epic stories and making them personal for modern audiences. I have read her version of The Odyssey in the past and been completely mystified how it might be staged, so I was very excited to see this production.

We flew down from Seattle on Sunday afternoon and checked into the Ashland Springs Hotel, which is a lovely, classic hotel just a block from the festival theatres. After a pleasant walk through Lithia Park, complete with a wade in the stream there, we had dinner at Amuse, our favorite restaurant in town, where the standout this time was a dessert of cherries soaked in balsamic vinegar and served over vanilla ice cream and a brown sugar cracker for a marvelous combination of contrasting flavors and textures. Then we headed over to the Elizabethan Theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre built to echo Shakespeare's Globe.

Detailed reflections on The Odyssey )

Overall I liked this show, rather than loving it. I think that if I ever decided to take on this story myself I would investigate other adaptations, or simply begin with the source text and carve my own show from it, rather than working from this script. I am very glad to have seen it, but would rank it below the three other shows I've seen her direct.

We went back to the hotel and watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones before bed. In the morning we had breakfast there and then I was able to squeeze in a massage across the street at Waterstone Spa. I always enjoy my experiences there, but this was definitely the best massage I've gotten there, and especially helped my thighs, which were still painfully tight from all the gardening on Friday.

When that was done, we piled quickly into the car and after a much-anticipated lunch at Jack-in-the-Box, hopped on our flight back to Seattle. Reunited with Alice, Steve, and Eric, we met Jason's best friend, Todd, for excellent sushi at Chiso in Fremont, and then I got to read Alice bedtime stories for the last time in a week before Jason took me back to Sea-Tac for my redeye to Boston. The flight was easy and quick--we made it in under four and a half hours, one of the fastest transcontinental flights I've ever flown--and I hadn't checked a bag, so I was able to walk out to a cab and be home just about the time we'd been scheduled to land. Jason and Alice are staying for another week, planning to go camping north of Boise over the weekend and catch the total eclipse before heading home.

It was strange to be doing all this travel and engaging in rituals of personal grief and delightful sensory experiences while violence in Charlottesville and its aftermath were taking over the news. I'm very glad to be home and able to engage more fully in the resistance to those awful events. Thanks to all those who kept me informed and in touch over the weekend.
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I had a unique theatrical experience tonight.

What role does fear play in your life? )

I think this is the purpose of theatre, distilled: to enter a dark room not knowing what to expect and to find yourself there on the stage.

The Fear Project runs until May 13th.

*That story...content notes: drug abuse, violence, suicide. )
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This year Alice requested that we not undertake a major trip for her Spring Break. She's been very busy and feeling the lack of downtime, so despite my regretting not getting a real vacation, we agreed we would stay home. But then I suggested that perhaps we could pop down to New York for a couple of days, which we haven't done with Alice in a couple of years and she thought that might be ok.

Trip, trap, trot. )

On the way home I asked Alice how she thought Spring Break is going and she said "Mama, it's amazing," so I'm counting this trip as a win.

Easter Day

Apr. 17th, 2017 12:13 am
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Lately, Sundays have become especially busy. If I only have two or three events on my calendar for a Sunday, that's a pretty easy-going day--sometimes there are five. Perhaps because of that, today felt only moderately busy.

I was surprised to find, as Easter approached, that I was thinking of my mother more than usual. It felt so strange to be planning for the day without figuring out how to include her. Perhaps it's because for her it was still a very religious holiday, or just because I have so many memories, so many pictures of us all gathered in the sunshine in our Sunday best, with her tucked between her giant girls.

This year I actually wondered if we had to celebrate Easter as a family. And then I thought sure, keeping the tradition of getting the family together a few times a year is no bad thing. I wondered if I might turn to my sisters and ask what plan they might come up with that didn't involve my house, or me cooking. And I thought about hiring a chef, which I've done a few times, or going to a restaurant. But in the end I decided that I did want to cook and to gather family and friends around the table.

The day started early, getting to First Parish by 8am so we would have time to eat breakfast there and practice our skit before the choir gathered at 8:30. Jo and I were performing a piece based on The Yellow Tutu, with narration by our fabulous DRE and some mean-girl assistance from members of the choir. It was short and sweet and involved the indelible image of the two of us dancing in front of the congregation wearing tutus on our heads.

Our minister had asked us to wear silly hats and I'd decided to get this blue fascinator, which was an utter hoot to wear. The adult and children's choirs collaborated on "Easter Bonnet" and we sang lots of joyful hymns. We also did a responsive reading that I found really moving, adapted from a sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Some Modern Beatitudes )

During her invocation for communion, Marta also gave us a chance to speak the names of the dead who were in our thoughts today and I was so grateful for the chance to say my mother's name, to invoke the presence that has been hovering over me this week.

Alice had a grand time in the Easter Egg Hunt--her first year in the graveyard with the big kids. We stayed for the first part of the second service, in which Alice was one of the readers, while Jason and I reprised our performances, and then snuck out. The car said it was 82F as we pulled out and I was dreading turning on the oven for dinner. But while I took a nap, Jason turned on the AC and it was actually pleasant inside throughout the day. Alice found her Easter basket and seemed to enjoy the various treats and toys I'd included in it.

While Jason de-cluttered and got the dining room set for dinner, I roasted the lamb that had been marinating since yesterday, on top of potatoes, onions, mushrooms and garlic, which I seved with a very tasty demi-glace. I made way too many deviled eggs, with the help of Lisa, Paulo, and George at various points. Beckie & Neil brought the traditional too-much-nosh (shrimps and cheeses and summer sausage and pate and olives, oh my!). Anne & G. brought Greek-style braised green beans and I made a chopped Greek salad and heated up some Hawaiian rolls that miraculously survived several months in the freezer to be wonderfully soft and tasty. Dave and Jo collaborated to decorate the spiced carrot chiffon cake I had made yesterday with honey-cream cheese ice cream and pecans. By the time Hatem got out of work and could join us, we were just about ready to put it all on the table.

The food was reasonably good (not the best I've ever managed, but no one complained) and it seemed like an especially good group of people and conversations. Jo and Beckie helped enormously with the clean-up and by the time everyone had left around 5:30, another half hour got the kitchen to a state where I felt I could leave it. So I took another short nap, rising in time to be awake when the Mourning Becomes Electra arrived for a line-thru of the whole show.

I was able to do the whole thing without my script, though I did get confused and have to call "line" a couple of times. I felt pretty good about it and most other people are also in pretty good shape. This is going to be a really powerful show and there are a lot of dark moments, but we had fun together and it was really nice to be in a room with most of the cast, since that hasn't happened much yet. Jason got Alice to bed during one of the stretches when he's not on stage, but I was able to pop up and kiss her goodnight.

The cast and crew took off and after a break, it was time to finish up the kitchen and get the garbage, recycling, and compost to the curb. And now, I think I can say that I am well and truly done. I'm very excited that Alice doesn't have school in the morning.
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• Mike Doughty
• Robyn Hitchcock
• Tartuffe
• Precious Little
• Lines in the Sand
• Edward II
• The Witch of Edmonton
• Parable of the Sower
• Springtime for Haman (x2)
• Silent Sky

I am hoping to come back and write more about each of these, but decided it was better to make a list than forget them entirely.
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While I was in Northern Ireland this summer, I started making a list of all the stories I tell that I'd like to write down. This is one of them.

Last year, Alice had a bit of a crisis. She told me that she didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. This was news to me--the last time I'd checked in, granted a few years ago, she'd wanted to be a ballerina/astronaut/chef. But now she didn't know.

When I was six years old there was a special on TV called "Really Rosie". Based on various stories by Maurice Sendak, set to music by Carole King, it was the story of a girl named Rosie keeping the kids on her block entertained on a boring summer day by convincing them all to be in her movie. I loved that show. I convinced my parents to buy me the album, which included a bunch of songs not in the show. I knew every word, I acted them out in front of the mirror, I was Rosie. The following year my elementary school did "Really Rosie" as our annual pageant and I was the only first-grader recruited for a speaking role, as the Narrator.

The first time this came up, I told her that nine is a great time to not know, that there are many more things to do in the world than she can really fathom at this point, and it's hard to choose when you're a smart kid who's interested in a lot of different things, and it's completely ok not to be sure. "OK, Mama, thanks," she said.

When I was eight years old I decided that what the world needed was a modern adaptation of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," so I wrote one. I reserved the hall at our church and recruited everyone in my third grade class to be in it and my mom to provide punch and cookies. We had a single performance, to a standing ovation of our parents. When it was over my mother asked what my next project would be and I said "Directing is too much work! I'm not going to do it again until I'm...nineteen!"

The second time this came up, a few weeks later, I tried to explain the timeline for making this decision: a sense of whether and what kind of college by junior year of high school, a major a couple of years later, whether or not to go to grad school in that field or something else a couple of years after that... "OK, Mama, thanks," she said.

When I was nineteen I somehow ended up directing "A Little Night Music" for the Tech Random Music Ensemble at MIT. That was the second of four fledgling theatre groups I was involved in, at four different schools, during my college years. When I graduated I had this idea about going out to Minneapolis and trying to become a stage manager, but never really figured out how I would do that. By the time I was 25 I was tired of theatre, tired of Boston, tired of a lot of things about my life, so I moved out to California and didn't do theatre for ten years.

The third time this came up, a few weeks later, I finally figured out that this was a real crisis, so it was a longer conversation and I asked more questions until I finally understood what was bothering her: not that she didn't know what she wants to be, but that she didn't know how to answer grown-ups when they ask her what she wants to be. OH! I explained that it's not a test--what they are really asking is what they might talk to her about. I suggested that she reframe the question in her own mind to "What are you really interested in at the moment?" Instantly she said "Interior design."

When it looked as though I might not be able to conceive, I felt a deep need to create something. Jason and I had talked for years about doing a show together and other opportunities emerged that led to the creation of Theatre@First. And then Alice was born. When she was four years old, we introduced her to "Really Rosie" and at dinner one evening she asked me if I knew who Really Rosie was. I told her yes, that when I was six years old I wanted to be Really Rosie. And as I said that I realized that's exactly who I am.

Six months later, Alice wants to be a fashion designer. We'll see.


Feb. 2nd, 2017 12:33 am
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Before I've totally forgotten, I want to reflect on the production of Othello that we saw over my birthday weekend in New York. Starring David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig, it is a phenomenally muscular production and one of the best directed pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

The surroundings are very spare: an unpainted plywood box makes up the performance space--walls, ceiling, floor, with tiers of benches for the audience built along three sides of the long, narrow stage. There is no other set, just mattresses strewn on the floor. The lighting is provided by worklights and practicals--at one point a cellphone--and one panel of LEDs to provide occasional washes of color, but several scenes are played in the dark. Rather than shutting us out, the darkness draws us in, forcing us to listen in a box that reflects every breath, every whisper. When we can see the cast, they can see us, and they can never be more than ten feet from some part of the audience. We are in the scene, we are helpless witnesses to Iago's perfidy, we are complicit in Desdemona's murder.

While the two stars shine darkly, the whole ensemble of twelve is beautifully woven together. The men who play the minor roles are soldiers--hanging out in a room inspired by forward operating bases used in Afghanistan and Iraq, carrying modern weapons, playing Guitar Hero in their downtime. One of the actors has a prosthetic leg. We are constantly reminded that Othello is a story of wartime.

The characters are very specific. Desdemona, often treated more like a plot device, is a real character here, with her own motivation and arc. Jason found Roderigo oddly effeminate--on reflection I think that was intended as a contrast with the soliders. Emilia is a toned military wife, able to give as good as she gets. Her race is one of the most interesting choices of this show--if Iago is married to a black woman, what spin does that give his slurs of Othello's skin color, and his fears of being cuckolded by his commander. Bianca, who is very sketchily drawn in the script, is played as a Turkish woman--a local woman accepting flirtation and gifts from the soldiers occupying her home and with the simple detail of a headscarf becomes suddenly very real.

But this is Othello and Iago's show. They are like wrestlers, constantly vying with each other, the one always testing the strength of the better man, looking to turn his own virtues against him. Both completely at home within the language and able to make it feel spontaneous, immediate, vital. The one odd inconsistency was both actors' accents--while I could almost justify Craig's slippage as wily code-switching, Oyelowo's intermittent Nigerian accent was harder to rationalize, but the rolling tones of it were beautiful and underscored his story of an outsider and former slave. Both actors have enough charisma to fill a much larger space and the constant challenge of each other's presence kept the energy driving throughout the three hour show.

Sam Gold's cut of the script was phenomenal. He pared it down to the point that we could feel Iago's barbs stabbing one by one into Othello's mind, cut away the unnecessary, and kept the whole thing moving from start to inevitable finish. I do not love Othello as I do some of Shakespeare's work--it is too tragic, too evil for me to truly enjoy--but this production was glorious. The tension was powerful, rather than torturous, and I was riveted throughout. Every moment was thought out and directed with a singular vision, without ever feeling over-controlled. An amazing feat of directorial skill, this easily leapt into the top five shows I have ever seen, and vies for the best production of Shakespeare's work I have ever witnessed. What a privilege.
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So then tonight we had dinner at Kitchen and it was delightful. We were seated in the back room, which must be lovely on light summer evenings, but was dark and cozy on this winter's night. It's was a squeeze to get into our seats and the woman at the next table was asking if they could be moved somewhere quieter, but once we were seated I found it comfortable and not too loud.

We explained to our server that we had an eight o'clock curtain, so we would order everything up front and leave it to her to set the pace to get us out the door in time. We shared a dozen oysters (I especially enjoyed the Ichabod Flats) and then had risotto--shrimp scampi for Jason and duck for me. That included pate melted into the rice for an incredibly rich flavor and texture, shreds of confit, and bits of crackling skin on top for crunch, with a smear of a berry glaze around the edge. Being able to order a half portion left me with room for their fresh doughnuts with cinnamon and vanilla cream. I started with a glass of Taittinger Brut and followed with the special Merlot our server recommended with the duck, while Jason had a "Diablo" (Lunazul Blanco and Framboise) that was lovely. Our server was delightful--I liked her right off the bat and we had a great conversation about movies that just pull you in and make you want nothing but to grab everyone you know and talk about the film--I think we talked her into seeing TFA on Monday, even though she's never seen any of the other Star Wars movies.

We were done by 7:30, with plenty of time to walk across to the Calderwood Pavillion for Citizens of the Empire, directed by Lindsay Eagle--one of my favorite directors in the Boston theatre scene--and starring (among other familiar names and faces) the fabulous Juliet Bowler. I have a lot of questions and quibbles about the show, but overall I was very impressed. It's a strong story and I love how they staged it. And it's such a treat to see science fiction on stage. If you're in the area and have a chance, I'd recommend it--there are half-price tickets left for the next two weekends on Goldstar (though Saturdays are sold out) and full price tickets through the BPW site for all nights.

The birthday weekend continues getting better and better!
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I had a conversation yesterday with a group of local theatre folk, a couple of whom I was meeting for the first time. While I've written in the past about the many different considerations that go into casting, something new emerged that I hadn't realized explicitly.

When I'm casting (a process that takes into account each actor's performance in auditions, other work I've seen them do, whether they're good cast-members, whether they're new, whether they will increase our diversity, whether they are a good fit in the cast I'm putting together, etc.) I am usually asking on some level, "What will the actor learn in this role?"

When I said this, one of the other people said "But you wouldn't want a whole cast of people working outside their comfort zone," and I'm not sure of that. I think that in general I always want my actors to be working, to be reaching. I rarely cast people entirely against type--while I tend to find type-casting insipid, casting against type is tricky--but I do try to cast actors where they will be doing something at least a little new. This is harder with smaller, background roles, because there is less scope to many of them. I've made casting offers that basically say "I know this role would be easy for you, and therefore you may not want to take it, but I could really use your skills in it." But I've also not cast the obvious choice in roles because I thought that would be too easy and therefore not fun for the actor, and therefore not exciting for the audience.

And I wonder--do other directors recognize this? Do you do it explicitly, or not at all?

One of the many reasons I'm looking forward to Metamorphoses is that I think the nature of the script will require stretching from every member of the cast--and there are no small parts.

NB: I realize I'm posting here less. I would like to be writing more and I need to think more about why I'm not doing that and what changes I might make to re-focus.
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When we lived in London, Jason went to see Copenhagen. Something about the description and the reviews put me off and I didn't go with him. He quite enjoyed it, but even his positive comments didn't sway me. And then Porpentine Players announced that they would be performing it, with Ron Lacey in the role of Heisenberg, and here's the thing: I would show up to watch Ron Lacey read the phone book. Seriously--I'm convinced he would do it with grace and humility and a restrained sense of humor, finding all the nuances in it and making it a great evening of theatre. And I'm generally a fan of Porpentine and want to support them. I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, especially after reading a negative review that hated the script and didn't love the production, either, but I still wanted to be there.

It was marvelous. Jaw-droppingly, stunningly, amazingly marvelous.

In many ways Copenhagen reminds me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, with its repetitions and re-statements of a central theme, coming at a problem from all angles. That's not its only similarity with Stoppard's work: Frayn is also concerned with the basic unknowability of history--what exactly happened in private conversation, what precisely was the relationship between people, how can we accurately gauge the motivations that lead us from one moment to another, even well-documented moments reported from several perspectives.

The play focuses on a meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941. In the midst of World War II, the German Heisenberg visits Bohr and his wife and amanuensis, Margrethe, in Occupied Denmark and asks--well, we're never sure precisely what was asked, but it had something to do with the morality of working on the German atomic weapons program. What exactly was asked, what was meant, what was intended, and what was understood forms the backbone of the play, as the three characters--"now we are all dead and no one can be hurt"--argue it back and forth, running through multiple "drafts" of their collective memory.

Physics is the backdrop of the story, the water they are swimming in, the air that they breathe, the meat that they gnaw throughout the script. The program helpfully provides short explanations of a cloud chamber, the two-slit experiment, Heiseberg's Uncertainty Principle and Bohr's Complementarity Principle, all of which have bearing on the theoretical underpinnings of nuclear weapons. I think it's possible to enjoy the play even if you don't understand the physics, but a basic understanding definitely helps the viewer not to get lost in the details.

But the story is, as all stories are, about the people involved. The relationship between Bohr and Heisenberg is beautifully drawn, sketched out from many different angles. They were, in many ways, like father and son, for better and worse, and that relationship is complicated and shaded by the death of two of Bohr's sons, particularly Christian, whose death in a boating accident becomes one of the repeated refrains of the script. Margrethe is the mother--caring, supporting, badgering and chivying the men through to the end. Bohr repeatedly urges Heisenberg to explain his ideas in "plain language," rather than relying solely on mathematics, "so that Margrethe can understand it," but it is clear that Margrethe understands not only the physics, but the physicists, in ways that they cannot understand themselves.

The cast was spectacular. They made these characters breathe and live through incredibly dense material. Floyd Richardson's Bohr is a difficult father, whose frustration erupts through the gentleness of his facade. Ann Carpenter's Margrethe is patient, but merciless. And Ron Lacey's Heisenberg is a creation of surpassing beauty--nuanced, detailed, and specific in ways that surprised and delighted me throughout the show. Director Jon Taie creatively used the space and designed the blocking so that the characters' orbits are constantly shifting around each other, reminding the audience of the particles under discussion and the nuclear forces that bind us together.

It was not a perfect performance. The Nave Gallery space has many limitations--the most distracting one for me was the sound of the projector used to show us images of the scientists and family members mentioned. There were various stumbles over the complex and repetitive lines as the momentum of the conversation sometimes ran faster than the actors could keep up. And while Taie managed the challenge of directing in 3/4 round with more grace than most, there are the inevitable moments when it isn't working for some segment of the audience. As a director there were certainly times I thought how I might have done it differently--that's part of the joy of theatre for me--but overall I was incredibly impressed.

You can read [ profile] sovay's similar, but far more poetic review here, or that negative review I mentioned, if you're curious. But first, you should buy tickets to see it this coming weekend, before it closes and you've missed an incredible show.
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I have the honor of being cast in two shows this fall!

First up is the staged reading of Vivat Regina, the sequel to Mrs. Hawking, in which I played the title role last spring. It's a lot of fun claiming to be able to peform feats of derring-do and hiding in punchbowls with a straight face.

More details )

Hope you'll come see the performance (ONE NIGHT ONLY!) on Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 8pm
at Unity Somerville, 6 William Street, Somerville, MA 02144
Suggested Donation $5 - General Admission - No reservations required
For more details, visit our website:

Also--distant early warning, mark your calendars now--I will be playing Hecuba, the Queen of Troy, in Trojan Women on November 14-22. That's going to be really exciting--it's a meaty role with huge emotions. Not gonna lie, this is not light, happy theatre. But it's going to be glorious in its scope and power and I am hoping to step up my game and knock your socks off.
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Herein the long-awaited report on the shows we got to see in London last month. )

Overall, it was an excellent week of theatre and I'm delighted with the variety of shows I got to see.
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I want to start this by stating that in regards to auditions for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead I am definitely considering cross-casting (casting women in male roles and vice versa). I'm not asking a "what should I do" question here, but rather exploring the ethics and considerations around the issue of cross-gender casting.

That said, I'm interested in people's thoughts on the subject.

Traditionally, community theatres do a lot of cross-casting because their demographic tends to be female-heavy, while many plays have few roles for women and the ones they do have tend to be subsidiary.

At Theatre@First I (as well as other directors) have frequently cross-cast roles, usually women-as-male-characters, only once that I can recall a man-as-female-character. I have also campaigned for, been cast, and played to acclaim a major male role (Dysart in Equus). We have done two shows scripted for all-male casts, Twelve Angry Men and Bent; in the former case the director decided to go with Twelve Angry Jurors and cast several women, while in the latter case the director stuck with an all-male cast. We have also done one all-female show, The Vagina Monologues, and are currently in production with a second, Top Girls. We have frequently made other decisions (e.g. having a large chorus in Murder in the Cathedral) to create more female roles.

I don't have the numbers on hand, but for a typical show I'd estimate our audition pool averages 30-40% male. Only once in our history have we had trouble recruiting enough men to play the male roles in a show and we usually do not cast all the men who audition, sometimes choosing women over men for some male roles despite the availability of men.

Now we've got Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead auditions approaching. The other show in production right now is all-female, with a cast of nine. R&G has 16 roles, of which two are written to be female. They each have very few lines, but several of the male roles have none at all. The four lead roles are scripted as male. At the moment, our audition pool is 60% male.

Does it still make sense to cast female-heavy, regardless of the scripted gender of the roles? Is this fair to the men trying out for this show? Is compensating for the historical disparity of roles still an operative principle? I'm curious how people feel about this.
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The cast of The Bully Plays has made an anti-bullying PSA:

Please share the video and help us to spread the word about the show.

Half of our proceeds will benefit The Center for Teen Empowerment and the anti-bullying work they do in our community.
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By now I hope that everyone local on my f-list knows that Twelfth Night is now open and running this weekend and next. If not, details are behind the cut.

What you don't know--unless you were at opening night last night--is that this is a really great production of one of Shakespeare's very best plays. I have seen many versions of this show and never seen a "downstairs" team (Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Fabian) to equal this one. I usually sit with teeth gritted through those parts, waiting to get back to the "upstairs" scenes, but in this case they were spectactular--creative, inventive, and hysterically funny. Mike Glicksman's Feste was also amazing--he composed all the music and plays it on the accordion to great comic effect, making particularly the "drunken revels" scene completely new for me. And Malvolio--this is a completely different take on the character than you have ever seen, I promise you. Brad Smith is brilliant in the role and without undermining the self-important, annoying aspects of it, manages to make Malvolio human and sympathetic. For the first time I understood why he's usually played more vilely--the conclusion of his plotline makes it hard to hold onto the funny--but T@F doesn't shy away from the complexities of the moment and finds a way to walk the line, respecting the truth of his moment without letting it derail the happy ending.

I could say good things about every member of the cast, although the other characters are played more traditionally, but seriously--if you like this show, you want to see this version. If you've never liked this show, this is the time to try it again. And if you love this show, you're in luck!

Twelfth Night Details )
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Last night we saw Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, a dinner theatre version of War and Peace, or at least the romantic plotline thereof. We really enjoyed it.

Borscht and Baritones )

This afternoon we saw Christopher Durang's "Sonia, Vanya, Masha and Spike," which recently won the Tony for Best Play. I hated it.

Ask me why! )

So, win some/lose some, but seeing even bad theatre with good friends makes for a good time!
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I love Mary Zimmerman's work. Her stage adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses is quite possibly my all-time favorite work of theatre and I have been very impressed by the other works I've been able to see--White Snake and Arabian Nights. I have a Google Alert on her name* so that I can find out when people are staging her work and make an effort to see it if it's at all in range.

When I therefore found out that she was adapting The Jungle Book, I was very excited. First, because this seemed likely to be an opportunity to share her work--which is mainly quite adult--with Alice, and because it was happening in Chicago, where one of my best friends is living. Sadly, it's not going to work out for me to get to Chicago this year, but then they announced that the show would be coming next to the Huntington, here in Boston, in the fall, presumably on its way to Broadway as Disney's latest musical. I got tickets and am all excited.

And then Mary did an interview in Chicago Magazine in which she said several things about race in the context of the show that were pretty horrible. Oh, Mary, I thought and was pretty unhappy to glimpse the clay. Then Jamil Khoury wrote an essay about the tone-deaf, insensitive and downright stupid things she had said about race, together with his accusation of Orientalism as a running thread in her work. And my heart sunk.

Now, I've been through this myself. Being accused of racism is never a comfortable experience. I learned a lot from that conversation and have tried to do better since; it's certainly made me more sensitive to the appearance of racism in other works and to the importance of thinking and communicating as clearly as I can figure out how about all kinds of diversity in our work at T@F. The tickets are bought and I would see for myself and if it meant a long, serious talk with Alice about negative portrayals in the show, so be it. But, ugh.

So I was happy to get another alert this morning about this posting. Through the Goodman Theatre, Mary Zimmerman reached out to Jamil Khoury. They had a meeting and what sounds like a very good conversation and then she responded to questions via email that he published. All of which reveals that her engagement with race and other negative issues is much more nuanced than it came across in the awful Chicago Mag piece, which is another lesson in itself. While the follow-up doesn't entirely absolve her, it does makes me feel more comfortable about taking Alice to see this show, and about my ongoing adulation of Zimmerman's work.

Someday I hope to stage her work. Someday I hope to create work that has power like hers. She is what I want to be when I grow up. And yet, like me, she is still learning. Which is encouraging, in a way.

*This sometimes has unintended consequences, as it's not such an uncommon name. Someone named Mary Zimmerman dies every week or two and there's a columnist by that name at a paper in Wichita who writes anti-abortion screeds I ended up registering in order to comment upon scathingly.
lillibet: (Default)
I just got home from the dress rehearsal for Some Girl(s), the latest in our series, Bare Bones: Staged Readings at Theatre@First. It's a really good cast, with some very exciting newcomers that I hope will be back for more adventures with us and performances from familiar faces like you've never seen before.

It's about relationships, about the ways that we impact each other's lives without understanding, how we fail each other and ourselves, and how at least some of us get past it. Very interesting stuff. Brian Keller, in particular, has a tough job to keep us listening to him, even when he's not an especially sympathetic character, and he does a nice job with it.

I might post more about this after the show, but in hopes that I'll see some of you there, I won't spoil it now.
lillibet: (Default)
For anyone who's managed to miss it, I'm directing Pride & Prejudice. The show opens next week at the Somerville Theatre on Friday, March 23rd at 8pm. We're kicking things off with a Zombie Bash--you can come in costume if you like, get your face painted in the lobby, and join us at Joshua Tree for an After Party with the cast and crew. If you can't make it that night, you've got three more chances: at 8pm on Saturday, March 24th and Friday, March 30th or at 2pm on Saturday, March 31st. For tickets, you can click through from our website or go through the Somerville Theatre website--or stop by the box office at the theatre. Advance tickets are $15, at the door it's $20.

You can see a blooper reel from the first run-through and other sneak previews on the Theatre@First YouTube Channel. You can also watch Jo and I talking about T@F and P&P Somerville City Cable.

This has been an amazing experience for me. Starting from my favorite novel, I adapted the script, re-imagining it for the constraints of our stage. We had phenomenal turn-out for auditions and the resulting cast is a spectacular blend of familiar faces and exciting newcomers. Jo has outdone herself yet again with a fantastic set that really echoes and enhances the approach of the script to this wonderful story. I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in one of the great literary loves of my life, with incredibly support and enthusiasm from the community. I'm really looking forward to opening the doors and sharing what we've done with an audience. I hope that you will be able to be part of it.
lillibet: (Default)
I'm having this conversation with Dayenne, the actor in question, who has a different perspective from many of my readers here, as an actor and a black woman and the person in the spotlight.

But since I've had such valuable conversations about it here in the past, I would like to get any thoughts that you have. I'm making this a public entry so that you can feel free to point other people to it that you think would have relevant perspectives, but I'm not going to post it more publicly, both because of its work-in-progress nature and because I simply do not have the available time this week to monitor and participate in a wider conversation.

As most of you will remember, in 2009 there was an extensive discussion about my previous casting of a black woman in Never After. In Pride & Prejudice I have a similar situation. I think that some of the significant details are different and it is my hope that I can handle it better this time around.

Dayenne, a black woman (the description she uses of herself), is playing the role of Mrs. Bennet. She is a fantastic actor (some of you may have seen her as Vera in The Oldest Profession). I am delighted to be working with her and she is excited to have been cast in a role for which she is not "to type". As in the Never After situation, she is the only major character of color in the show, due to the demographics of our audition pool (something Theatre@First continues to work to address). Unlike the Never After situation, Mrs Bennet is not a villain. She is a silly, self-centered, rather vulgar and stupid woman whose sole purpose in life is to see her daughters well married. I do not think that these qualities play into strong stereotypes about black women and it was my hope that, if anything, Dayenne being a black woman would make audiences reconsider the character and possibly find her more sympathetic.

Once again, however, I've failed to consider all the ramifications. Dayenne has pointed out to me that her being a black woman makes the higher class characters' disapproval of Mrs Bennet take on a potentially racist tone. The two characters whose disapproval is strongest (Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley) could be said to be villains and to each receive defeat, while Mrs Bennet comes out a winner, so that's something. Her children and husband reveal exasperation and condescension towards her--is that also going to be perceived as racially tinged?

We've still got a couple of weeks before opening night. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do on-stage to affect audience perceptions of the overall show's attitudes? I have asked Dayenne for her thoughts and if she would be comfortable with me including something about this in my Director's Note in the program, which was a suggestion last time around. I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on what--if anything--that should be, and any other thoughts and suggestions you have.

In the long run, I'm going to keep reaching out to actors of all descriptions and encouraging them to audition for me and casting them primarily on the basis of their talent and feel for particular roles. And I'm going to keep stumbling and learning and trying to do better by individual actors, by T@F, by our audience and by our community. And I expect that I'm going to keep falling short and begging pardon and hoping to do better, show by show, year by year, being stung by my shortcomings yet grateful for the opportunities, as best I can. Your help in this process is profoundly appreciated.


lillibet: (Default)

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