Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Winterling

Sometimes my naivete can be a benefit. Having never read any of Jez Butterworth's work before, his ear for dialogue was what hit me first. The rhythm and repetition, so poetic and integral to his characters, was dovetailed into a story that played out like a snapshot of some larger tale. What I loved was the way that each character's present in these circumstances was just a section their lives, their individual metanarrative. With the Winterling, there is a strong sense of before and after, and yet you submit to enjoy the interceding moments, the present of a play which is only simple at the surface.

Had a conversation in the foyer with Paul, concerning the origins of this sort of male centered, London criminal storyline. Which came first: the Guy Ritchie craze, or the soulful crafting of Jez Butterworth? It certainly hope it was the latter. And as much as I liked Snatch, I have to say I preferred the Winterling, even in its imperfections, for giving me such a sense of mystery, hope, and humor all wound up into one. He has given each character an opportunity to have their fears and flaws, while still remaining likeable, the sort of people we hope achieve what they wish to achieve.

(And kudos to the girl who held her own in this male-centric world.)

The Winterling continues at the Royal Court through April 8---which happens to be my birthday!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It's like sexual frustration, but artistic.

"We're artists, not scientists. Thank God for that."

Been feeling a little lost and misguided lately. Sounds so cliche.

It's as though I've spent so much time encouraging and facilitating the creativity of others, that my own creativity has drawn itself into a dark corner, infuriated and pouting. It doesn't want to come out. I want to do everything--write, direct, act, find new writing... But how do I get good at all of those except by focusing on one thing at a time? How many successful indie film actresses do you know who also run a theatre company or work as a literary manager? Exactly.

Eh, anyway, the last thing I saw was a cycle of three new plays at the National. Burn/Chatroom/Citizenship were all commissioned specially to target a teenage audience. They are meant to address the issues of growing up in our modern society. Chatroom (by Enda Walsh) ends up as an overly-stylized after-school special, but Burn (by Deborah Gearing) is a beautiful and haunting tale of a foster kid, whose life becomes a legend retold before our eyes. And Citizenship is Mark Ravenhill's latest effort, funny and socially conscious, although still smacking of a heavy-handed "It's okay to be different" message for sexually confused teens.

Call me crazy, but I don't think we need to talk down to adolescents. Let's challenge them instead.

Burn/Citizenship/Chatroom continue at the Cottesloe, National Theatre through 3 June, although not all three run at every performance.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Yes, this is me playing catch up!

Our Verbatim team awaits a final decision on the CSSD festival this week. Keep your fingers crossed that we get accepted. We went out to see the popular and publicized The Exonerated at the Riverside Studios earlier this week. The show has made its way to London from New York, where is experienced a very successful run, and countless celebrities lining up to be involved. It comes with such a feeling of momentum attached to it.

This documentary piece explores the stories of 6 innocent people (5 men, one woman; 3 black, 3 white) unjustly imprisoned on death row. These are their words, and there is no need to embroider such vivid accounts. The play presents itself as a seated-reading, with onstage scripts, stands, stools, and microphones. But the telling remains eloquent and full of life. When you realize that this has actually happened, the drama is almost unnecessary. There is a certain bravery in telling these stories, over and over again. That is the beauty of verbatim: getting the word out. You can't write this stuff. Seriously.

This one on time when I felt strangely alone in an audience. Here I was, alone and American in a room full of expectant Brits and Europeans, listening to stories that I almost knew before they began. The cultural temperature was interesting only because I was caught in its cross-wind. Certainly, I received this piece much differently from most others in the room. The jokes about OJ Simpson, the fashions, the prison situations. The Racism. Sexism. Government and political corruption. The fact that we perpetuate the Death Penalty at all. I know the context, the north and south, the place where things like this are possible. They do happen. Speaking to my group afterward, it was clear that the issues raised by the play are different here than they are at home. Racism isn't as black and white in the UK. Jess couldn't comprehend the south; she didn't even know what a confederate flag was. Or the confederacy itself for that matter. And I tried, fumbling, to adequately explain how black men barely have a chance sometimes. That the cycle of crime perpetuates itself, and boys can get caught up in it. That the public outcry for justice will often result in a media frenzy just to get a conviction so someone pays the price for the crime. That the political divides are as cartoonish as you might imagine. That our president was responsible in his days as governor for administering lethal justice to numbers that cannot be matched. And that there are people who support this emphatically.

The Exonerated didn't raise any questions for me. It was a fairly straightforward detailing as you might expect. It was enough to be what it was. Colleen and I agree, however, that one of the best opportunities presented by verbatim theatre is the ability to present the gray area between issues, where you are left with more questions than answers. Inspiring change, provoking thought, you know? Maybe it was too easy to forget about this play because the ending was so neat; they were all freed. They suffered, and are forever damaged, but they are free.

(But basic percentages tell us there are others. What do we do about them?)

The Exonerated continues through 11 June 2006 at the Riverside Studios. Check with the box office for celebrity participation.

Other Hands

So I've obviously been struggling with this question of finding our contemporary voice in the theatre. Not that it has to be any one way, but I've been waiting for something refreshing and true to our times and circumstances.

Thank you, Laura Wade.

In her new Other Hands, Wade has managed to give us a glimpse into modern life. No big dramatic devices. Just real people, letting us into their lives, almost as if a wall was removed for us to peek inside. These are people we know, the ones we both love and get frustrated with. We see Hayley and Steve's cohabitation and lack of communication, the internet, the office environment--all of these modern forms of isolation that we are familiar with. This play is for today, no doubt. And the physical affliction they suffer--a sort of repetitive activity nerve damage destroying the use of their hands-- serves to manifest the paralysis and deterioration caused by these modern habits. But there are no huge statements to beat you over the head. Her dialogue is hilarious and moving at the same time. Her characters are real; we know these people. And as you get your bearings, and are certain that the next event will be predictable, she disrupts your expectations. First and foremost, this is the story of a relationship misplaced and finally rediscovered.

Even the writers I work with are so often tempted to raise the stakes of their work by inserting illogical and forceful outer circumstances, contrived pressures to push something forward. But that isn't necessary.

And it isn't necessary to cut down your play into some unrecognizable streamlined form all the time. Maybe we need that entire scene to introduce or enjoy a character or an idea, maybe we need time alone with them. I know I have the tendency to encourage economy, and ask if we really need to see this or that. But Laura Wade has made me rethink that. Sometimes viewing a simple truth onstage is enough, and it deserves its own time to just exist in that space. She has layered events and meetings, conversations, exchanges, and disagreements with incredible success.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Deep Cuts

Well I've returned from my hiatus, enforced because I dropped my beloved laptop late last week and had to send her off for repairs. I feel so disconnected from modern culture when alone in my flat with only books to read and journaling to do. I planned to do all sorts of interesting and alternative things with my time, but sadly, I was stuck in rehearsal most of the time, as Colleen did several rewrites in the span of two days, sacrificing sleep and sanity for a show that goes up on Friday.

And just briefly, please let me vent. Working in a bookstore has only intensified my hatred of 'chick lit'. If these books are telling the truth of the feminine experience, then I don't want to be a woman anymore. For the love of god, stop embarrassing yourselves with your tacky formulaic writing! Perhaps this is but residual bitterness for the days I spent reading "In Her Shoes" when I was laid up after my wisdom teeth extraction. I want that time back, Ms. Weiner, you bitch! Whoever is buying these books and perpetuating the existence of a genre without any merit whatsoever should be punished. Their penance should involve a hefty dosage of Jane Austen or Sharon Olds or something [Ed. Note: It used to say Any Rand here, but then I realized I actually hate Ayn Rand--sorry, Judy--for being a pretentious twat. It was just a feeble attempt to come up with relevant female writers. Funny how when you need to think of an example of something, the options just fall out of your brain.]

Anyway! I had the distinct pleasure of standing through Mark Ravenhill's newest play, the world premiere of The Cut at the Donmar Warehouse recently. I purposely avoided reading Shopping and Fucking beforehand, in order to reserve judgment. And so, I have no scale on which to reference this play, except on its own merits.

When the acting is placed in such trustworthy hands, you can relax and let the script do its work. I'm not certain that it was saying anything new or as entirely provocative as it fancied for itself, but the tone was intense and the story carried. It takes a lot of guts to be so purposefully vague, never revealing your hand, so to speak. The eponymous cut is never divulged. Ian McKellen is responsible for much of the momentum, although even he can't save it from feeling somewhat incomplete. The atmosphere of Orwellian threat, heavily Pinteresque, is haunting and spare in a thoroughly modern way.

I found out after I had seen it that the actors had just discovered an extra page in their scripts. It had one line, the new last line. Just a few words, but what a difference they make. Economy of dialogue, kids. Keep it focused.

The Cut continues at the Donmar Warehouse (sold-out except for standing tickets) until April 1.