Saturday, April 29, 2006

Rachel Corrie Remix

I was going to delve into the workings of postmodernism, but I thought better of it.

There is something else on my mind.

For all of my Americans, I know I promised to revisit the phenomenon that is My Name is Rachel Corrie; forgive me, I've been busy sorting out my own thoughts about the matter. We're putting the weight of the world, or at least an industry on this play right now, and so few have actually seen it or read it. Of course that doesn't mean we all can't dialogue on its aftermath; undeniably, it is showing us certain aspects of ourselves that were difficult to articulate without a major incident to highlight their existence.

So the production? Intimate, faceted, careful, but full of life--the kind of spark that makes Rachel Corrie herself play-worthy. Incredibly humbling. Immediate. Fierce at times, introspective at others. This is a portrait of a girl, just a girl...and yet it somehow connects us internationally. There is an undeniable power here. And whether it made you feel (as with me), or just think, then it has served its purpose. I won't apologize for understanding it from my perspective: that of a girl, about the same age, away from home and trying to find her place in the world. If that makes me naive and simplistic, I don't care.

This is a performance of someone's words. Obviously this is not Rachel Corrie herself reading the words. We can't forget that. Placing the subject matter onstage filters it through a particular lens. There are certainly details that aren't included onstage--who hasn't seen those pictures of a wild-eyed Rachel burning an American flag?--but that should go without saying. These are her words. One version of events. Those who attack it as not really being a play may be unfamiliar with the workings of the form; documentary theatre operate under a different set of rules than your standard naturalism, and it all the better for it.

If you hate it, find it banal and capitalistic, then hate it fully, protest it, but don't protest if for more than what it is. Don't invest this play with characteristics it lacks. I'll agree that it's time to put an period on this chapter and hopefully use it to move forward to something greater. The response to it has been undeniable, and we can't just dismiss such a large shuffle in our theatrical atmosphere as some giant mistake.

This is all very strange for me, as I've been fortunate enough to approach it from the British angle, where very few I've spoken with have inflated the importance of this piece beyond what it was originally.

As for freespeechlover, if you're still reading, let me know what you think when you see it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Simple Pleasures

Go ahead, chat with me about how the West End and Broadway are perpetuating this dull and complacent bourgeois theatre. How we should want and expect more from our art. How we should consider it a reflection of ourselves and our culture, and be embarrassed. Tell me that 'they' are keeping us fed on a diet of the pedestrian and outdated. I will always agree.

That said, I will willingly admit that I spent my evening with grey-haired upper class (these are the type who still consider theatre a night out, and get all dressed up for it) at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where I paid a ridiculous amount for a seat that was one row away from being the very last one in the balcony, miles and miles away from the stage. "I hope she can project", said a flamboyant man beside me.

Seeing Judi Dench in Noel Coward's 'Hay Fever' was something I couldn't help but like. I don't want to feel like I'm betraying the progressive side of my work for enjoying it. And while the production is of incredible quality in both acting and scenography, Judi is the star of the show. With so much expectation in my head, people are usually bound to fail, but no. I hate writing glowing reviews like this, but she is the consummate actress, and it shows in every moment she's onstage.

Rumor has it she came to CSSD as a designer, and left an actress.

'Hay Fever' was a diversion, a jolly night out with dance hall music and witty one liners. And Judi did a little 'winsome' dance across the stage that pretty much justified my ticket price in and of itself.

It was--gasp--entertainment.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Say What?

Oh, that's what Rainbow Kiss means. Wow. And I thought the original title--Fuck Off-- was bad enough.

When asked what I thought of this play, I though for a moment, searched for a statement to sum up the experience, and came up with, "It was almost...almost...good? You know?" I'm gloriously articulate, but nonetheless that is how it felt to watch some moderately talented actors tackle this script. I felt a bit of their residual fear, their preparatory breath for what they were probably up against. And I what came next was energy, focus, and near-total commitment to the text, which is always nice to see. Simon Farquhar's play is very clearly the doing of a young playwright (and even more so, of a young man). Here we have Keith, abject failure and struggling single father, reaching out for contact and support in a world that continues to ignore his pleas. Enter Shazza, the most average of sluts, who he meets at the bar one night. This is the essential equation we are given to work with, and it persists into some semblance of a story, almost in the way that Keith forces their dalliance into some sort of emotional connection. There are some moments of amazing acting between Keith and his kindred-spirit neighbor, who confesses regularly on his similarly depressing life. The money-lender is convincingly terrifying, and his presence results in a few gory and visceral sequences that prove at least mildly exciting.

The main question: What can you do with a one-night-stand--can it become a relationship? Or, better yet, can you make a play of it?

Farquhar seems to be wearing his heart on his sleeve. It may not be possible to encounter a playwright penning a relationship play who doesn't chuck himself somewhere in there, for better or worse. While his dialogue is sharp, contemporary, and amusing, the play is often clumsy. There were a few times, I winced, thinking, 'why did you have to do that?', but there were also times when I cheered him on in my head, congratulating on a particularly clever or illuminating section. If the junctures of this play weren't so visible, it would be something.

What he has succeeded at is creating a sense of context, giving life and depth to an entire way of life in Aberdeen. The texture of this city emerged through the words, and gave life to the circumstances. (Even if David had to explain most of the slang to me).

Rainbow Kiss continues at the Royal Court Theatre through the 6th of May.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Playwrights + Dramaturgs= Bosom Buddies

I'm in the thick of a conference presentation, so no updates as intended, but I thought this was funny. David was feeling sympathetic to our dramaturgical cause:

"Learning To Love Your Dramaturg' by Deacon MacEvoy

So you've entered another collaborative process. You've got a director (sometimes just for a bit), some actors (that have to call themselves performers) and a bunch of guys that do technical stuff that you don't understand...

But wait! Who's this? In the corner. Whose that rather devilishly attractive stranger? Who are they? What do they do? My friends, it is a dramaturg.

They are not there to assist another role. They are a genuine entity to themselves, as everyone else is. But don't feel bad if you don't understand what they do. No one does.


Perhaps they can offer more than you realise. Perhaps you can talk to them. Perhaps you can befriend them. Maybe they can go for a sneaky cigarette (and an even sneakier chat) with them. Perhaps they are a cheeky bugger and are actually a better playwright than you. They're probably ginger. Perhaps they're in your Top 5... What Top 5 exactly depends on... Well... Let's just not go there...

If no one knows what a dramaturg is then I would like it stated for the record that as individuals in every project I've done - the dramaturg has been indispensible to ME and I couldn't have got by without them. Always feeling the love and thank you all so much.

So I tell you all to ask your dramaturg questions. Embrace your dramaturg. Use your dramaturg. Heavy pet them. Love them. Spoon them. Be the big spoon. Be the little spoon. Ravish them. They need it. They love it. The filthy sluts.

If loving your dramturg is wrong, I don't want to be right..."

Oh, and on a more serious note, if anyone wants to suggest some questions for the panel discussion I'm holding in June, fire away. It's on the state of political theatre--how, why, and what.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Some say a good dramaturg always comes armed with a good quote...

"Only people who want to create can be as children and enjoy as children. Your bed is in the open air. You find your way in empty space. Stand upright...See the dancing pulse of the sun and trust your brimming heart. The trembling in your limbs is the trembling of truth."

Peter Handke

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The word of the day is prosaic!

Ah, the classics. There remains a great many of these feted pieces that I have yet to experience. All of the ancient and traditionally praised work of centuries before stands before me in this enigmatic mess. I read them, expecting great impact...but the truth is, I am not as receptive to the large strokes, the big ideas, the deus ex machina. Don't get me wrong; I love Shakespeare just as much as the next dramaturg on the block. I absolutely respect the time-honored work of the Greeks.

But I rarely see them treated as new, sometimes they are produced on their good graces alone. I feel that we have collectively lost touch with these works, and very few people are trying to get them back.

With my boyfriend in tow, I stumbled upon Frank McGuinness' Phaedra at the Donmar Warehouse. Not only had this unfortunate production been pushed back, but it was because one of the leads had to be replaced at the last minute, resulting in a girl with a flashlight throwing lines to replacement Hippolytus when he dropped them. Props to him for jumping into a role so late in the game. But what is everyone else's excuse?

This telling, after Racine's, is aimless. With vague costumes and setting, we are left floating in an equivocal mess. We could be in ancient Athens, but no one wants to say. Instead of creating a world where these events and passions are possible, a world where the acts of the gods upon these hapless humans is a foregone conclusion, we have a strange attempt at a middle ground. Phaedra wants to be naturalistic and modern; McGuinness has taken the language to a muddled middle ground where the ideas can't mesh with the awkward interruptions of modern phrasing and vernacular. These are characters without a properly matching voice for their action. And of course, as in other Greek tragedies, the 'action' lies in wordy description of offstage events and interior desires. Phaedra never accepts this, and instead tries to be what it is not. We cannot sympathize with these characters the way we would in a kitchen-sink-drama, because they are not set up that way. Even the actors were aware of that, as the actress playing the title character explained, "The one thing that you don't do with the Greeks is ask what sort of woman am I playing. The process is not one of finding out what sort of shoes she wears. When you play this kind of role you are a blank canvas who is affected by outside forces. It is a primal and mythological experience, not small and internalised like western drama."

It isn't enough anymore---for me, at least-- to put these works up for their own sake. As with the selection of any play, we have to ask why this, and why now? Is there some new insight to be gained? How can we illuminate some part of this story, and how might we do it with respect to this play and this audience?

Purists will fight to leave these plays as is, but I agree with Robert Brustein, who writes, "...charges of 'desecration' are meaningful only if you subscribe to the idea of a 'definitive' production. I don't. The specialness of theatre--alas, the poignance of the theatre, too-- is its impermanence." Besides, how do we decide what is and isn't faithful to a text? Isn't it faithful to bring out the embedded ideas of a text, to penetrate what is there and find a heart, whether or not that aligns with what we may have come to know as the accepted traditional staging? If we don't look at these works with fresh eyes, they will become decrepit and ragged; they will show their age.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Magic realism onstage

I am in love with the words of Jose Rivera. He paints a universe onstage with reckless abandon, a world where anything might happen. Instead of worrying about what is an is not possible, he explodes his dreams onto paper, and trusts actors, directors, and designers to bring them to life.

And I find that very reassuring.


"Might there be some sort of overall Theory? A theory unifying all the fundamental forces? You see, even if you could conceive a theory which covered all the basic interactions, for one thing you theory would be far from comprehensive, as Poincare said, you can examine each individual cell of an elephant, but that wouldn't help you grasp its zoological reality, and you still wouldn't have eliminated the paradox of the cosmos! How can we grasp the world as it is? How can we close the gap between reality and representation, the gap between object and word, what are these, chocolate fingers, delicious, how, in short can we think of the world without out thinking being part of the world?"

from Life X 3 by Yasmina Reza

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The American sees The American Pilot

Soho never lets me down. David Greig script has been paired up with direction that brings us back to good old-fashioned story-telling. How refreshing to see a piece that embraces its own qualities of theatricality. At the opening, we are greeted by the image of our American pilot, spread-eagle on the ground in this unnamed village, with an onstage musician plucking his strings, filling the theatre with a feeling of folk music and cultural identity (even as it remains unspecified). The villagers enter one-by-one, casually as we seat ourselves, with glasses of tea and colorful clothing. When they begin to speak, we realize the bravery of this production, where these foreign villagers have simply been cast as people, with unexpectedly blonde or red hair who purposely keep their various UK accents. They do so with so much assurance that it is impossible to stop and worry about it.

I know from experience that there are those who would clamor for 'truth' and specificity and take this same playscript and corrupt it with the casting that you might expect--dark actors playing in heavily accented Russian or Bosnian or whatever else they find politically satisfying at the moment. But what I adored about this production is that it denied those expectations and came out stronger for it.

The story itself follows the effects of the presence of the American pilot, whose plane has crashed in the mountains, breaking his leg and stranding him god-knows-where. Mostly unable to communicate, he waits for rescue, while the villagers each weigh their options and decide what should be done with this unwanted visitor. He represents so much of the outside world, and this clash is what produces the events of the play, handled with incredibly sensitivity by Greig.

Throughout the piece, we have the cast looking on at the action, stepping in and out of the allegory, but always present. They support each other with natural sound effects on hand-held instruments, and share their thoughts in turn as monologues. The quiet solitude of this village is only interrupted once, in a sequence I will not reveal, but suffice it to say, it represents something specific with all of the height and bombast it deserves. My heart was beating wildly, I was shocked out of a complacency of viewership, and I walked out a bit shaken. It was a astounding, brave, and heartfelt risk. And as the actors rose from the final action alive and well as people in the world, I felt a peaceful sense of community overtake the room. These are the sort of stories we shouldn't be afraid of telling; this spirit would do well to replace a lot of the small-minded kitchen-sink fare that writers are still trying for.


In the past few weeks, I've seen an innocuous, little life-affirming piece (The Best of Friends at the Hampstead). It was amusing and completely watchable. The actors were thoroughly competent. The lessons were charming and universal. But it was simple.

I suddenly need BIG things. Big risks. Big statements. Big, unapologetic, sprawling, wandering, undeniable things in my theatre.

And so I saw My Name is Rachel Corrie.

It is no understatement to say that I will be forever altered by this experience. The circumstances surrounding the play are enough to spark a debate: American peace activist is run over by Israeli bulldozer as she stands in defense of a Palestinian home. Oh, and don't forget that the politics of the play have resulted in hesitancy by producers, who backed out of a scheduled NY run. We as theatre professionals should be absolutely offended by this cancellation. We should be pissed. As I recall, when Behtzi was run out of the Birmingham Rep by Sikh protests, someone (forgive me, I'm blanking on who it was, and from which theatre) said that it didn't even matter if the play itself was good, what mattered is that it got an opportunity to be put out there. These are voices that need to be heard.

Megan Dodds performs this role with a furious pride and effervescence. I want to write volumes on this, so look out for more to come. In the meantime, see it, read it, read about it. After watching, I'm finding it extremely difficult to justify my own small life, my lack of conviction.

The truth is, I am discovering, that I am political. Whether I like it or not. For so long I have managed to avoid educating myself on issues that should have formed a basis for a personal fight against a great many injustices. It's too easy to put aside these things when they are half a world away...