Desire Under the Elms and American Hwangap

I was very disappointed to hear that Desire Under the Elms is closing early.  I thought that the first 5 minutes, with two brothers doing hard farm work, hauling stones, gutting a pig, while stones were hung perilously all around them, was one of the more exciting, visceral theatrical experiences I’ve seen in awhile.  I got discount tickets to see it with my sister during previews.  If you can get cheap tickets, I say it’s worth the coin.

But, definitely don’t miss Lloyd Suh’s American Hwangap, at the Wild Project right now.  Like, go right now.

Oxtail Soup

I have been working on a play where one character is making ramen in the kitchen.  Another fellow walks in and they start talking about the soup and what makes a good soup.  What goes into it.

I want to model this soup off the broth of a beloved New York noodle shop and scoured the web looking for the broth recipe.  Nowhere that I can find.  I am bummed because I can’t finish the scene until I get the soup right.

I finally found this recipe for oxtail soup which he was willing to give away.  My mom used to make a soup like this when I was growing up except she put peanuts in hers (Chinese style) and she cooked it in the pressure cooker.  It was one of my dad’s favorite things.  But, I wouldn’t eat it because it was, well, an ox tail and it freaked me out.

Now, I am a vegetarian of 17 years so I’ll probably never know what it tastes like.

But the characters in my play do.  And it’s delicious.

Imagination

In an interesting confluence of events:

I saw Crystal Skillman’s reading of The Sleeping World at Rattlestick this week, on the set of That Pretty Pretty with one of the actors from That Pretty Pretty in it.  So, I was watching this deep, sad, funny play about four friends coming together to read the unfinished play of their friend who took his own life the year before.  But at the beginning, I show up and I’m in  the hotel room from That Pretty Pretty.

And the ghost of Jane Fonda was in the air.  And I’m half waiting for jello wrestling to begin.  But, the actors are insistent, Crystal’s words are good, and I am lucky enough to have seen a lot of plays, so I know that this is the part where I turn on my imagination.  And so I close my eyes and shift my brain and the hotel room melts away and instead, we’re in The Sleeping World.  On a cold, snowy night at New Dramatists. And I’m in the world of the play.  And I’ll follow them anywhere.

I had to ask my students to do this today as well.  We brought a performance to their school.  There was but a stool, a desk, a chair, one costume piece and a pair of shoes.  And they had to believe we are in Chicago, on Mango Street and Esperanza is about to share her journal and her dreams with us.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/ec/MangoStreet.jpg

They did pretty well for the first theatrical performance for some of them.  They were a little squirmy.  I think they found it challenging to sit for more than an hour and focus.

The beauty of theater is that it can happen anywhere.  With very little.  But what we ask of our audiences is hard.  To be in the moment.  To imagine.  To believe.  But, when all the magic is in order, we are all there, imagining, together.

I am trying to figure out how to make it easier for people that aren’t regular theater goers.  Children and adults.  How do we get them to lean in and believe?

The Good Negro, Joe Turner’s and That Pretty Pretty

Been a busy couple of weeks teaching.  One of the benefits to what I do for a living is that I get to see some great theater for free, sometimes things I wouldn’t afford to be able to see on my own.  Working for TDF,  I saw The Good Negro, Tracy Scott Wilson’s new play about the civil rights movement and loosely based on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  She brings the man down off his pedestal and humanizes him for sure.  And in these Obama days, it’s an interesting reflection on the power of rhetoric.  I was also blown away by the magic and craftsmanship of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Lincoln Center’s new production with Ernie Hudson (Yes, that’s right.  Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson.  I think he’s great in this.).  A forgotten song.  A missing woman.  A shower of gold.  A magic man who binds people together.  It’s 3 hours long and it seemed like a mere moments.

It’s the kind of play that makes a playwright envious and awestruck and hungry to see it again and wondering if she’ll ever get the mastery and imagination necessary to build something like that.  I am ashamed to say this is only the second of his plays that I’ve encountered.  Now I have to read the other 8.

Also saw, That Pretty Pretty at Rattlestick.  Man.  She broke all the rules.  I was telling my Pace kids this week that if you’re going to be artmakers, you need to be seeing thing as much as humanly possible.  I had them read Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Address.  It is sort of all over the place but he talks about the real and the unreal, chasing the truth in artmaking, but more than anything, being aware of the world around you and the implications of the deeds being done.  I think the thing about Sheila Callaghan’s play is that she’s somehow capturing the way that we are thinking right now.  She deals with gender and the mess of making art, stealing and borrowing other people’s stories and messing with people because you are stronger.  The narrative is fractured, but I think it reflects these times of piecemeal narratives and stories told, then re-told, then reinterpreted, then broken and re-ordered and turned into bricolage.  Pretty cool.

On another note, some success yesterday with a class in a long term residency that I have that had not really taken to writing or performing so much yet.  But, I did some Teacher in Role work with them and let them ask questions of the character and suddenly, all they wanted to do is be involved and give the character advice on how to be an agent of change in her own life.  It really stunned me and affirmed the power of this kind of work.  It just works.

Oh, and have you seen Electric Company lately?

Telephone

I haven’t written in awhile because last week was so busy with seeing shows of people I know and teaching a lot.

It started off with a bang with a reading of Lynn Rosen’s Puddy Tat at New Georges.  I can’t wait until this play comes to the stage because it is surprising and funny and startling, watching a man become a beast and a “Cat Man” brought to life.  Then, there was Crystal Skillman’s Nobody at the wonderful Jimmy’s 43, a site specific piece in the darkened backroom of Jimmy’s which was moving and moody and mesmerizing. Next was Tongue-in-Cheek Theater’s production of Recent Tragic Events by Craig Wright and a Joyce Carol Oates in puppet form.  Lovely detailed character work and pitch perfect comic timing.  I needed to laugh next week.  Even if it was during a 9/11 play.  And while I never do it, afterwards, I traded 9/11 stories with a friend in the audience.

I was teaching at Hunter College High School.  That’s all I’ll say.  I taught through the whole school day.  The rest is a story for another day.

And then The Foundry’s Telephone just blew me away.  It made me decide to see shows earlier in a run so when they are that mind altering, I can tell people before they close.  It just closed.  Damnit.  What started out as a meditation on the telephone and conversation and communication by Bell and Watson turned into fragments of conversation in a darkened room.  Missing and catching one another.  Why do we do that?  Why can’t we hear one another across the phone waves or even, when someone else is standing right there?

My heart hurt afterwards, and I don’t exaggerate.  It hurt.  For the whole next day.

And I remembered why we do this.  Why we try to tell these stories to other people in a darkened room.