Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Love Songs of Brooklynites

This Friday (the 13th) my new one-act play The Love Songs of Brooklynites will have a reading at the Dramatists Guild.

Part T.S. Eliot, part Preston Sturges, The Love Songs of Brooklynites takes the audience on a theatrical journey about finding ourselves while finding others.

The reading features Zach McCoy and Jessica Vera. It will be held at 7:00 pm in the Mary Rogers Room at the Dramatists Guild, 1501 Broadway (between 43rd and 44th Street) on the 7th Floor.

See the picture below to take a look at the venue. Hope you can make it!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Age of Garrick

Though the Licensing Act of 1737 kept politics off the stage in Britain for much of the eighteenth century, British theatre continued to make tremendous artistic strides, particularly in acting.

The provincial actor David Garrick moved to London the very year the Licensing Act was passed, and had the good fortune to be coached by Charles Macklin, an actor renowned for his performances as Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. At first, Garrick performed at a theatre of dubious legality known as Goodman's Fields, but in 1742 he made his debut at Drury Lane, one of the two patent theatres with a near monopoly on drama in London.  He soon began a long and productive artistic partnership with Peg Woffington, the leading actress with the Drury Lane company. Such was his success, that in 1747 Garrick took over the management of Drury Lane and instituted a number of reforms.

The most important of these reforms came in 1762, when Garrick banned spectators from the stage. Wealthy patrons had traditionally paid extra to sit on the stage itself and be seen as well as watch the actors. The practice was common before the English Civil War, and while it abated during the Restoration period when expensive new scenery was being introduced, theatres at the beginning of the 18th century placed benches onstage for the audience. Garrick abhorred the practice and eliminated the onstage benches. This allowed for greater realism, both in scenery and in acting. He also raised ticket prices to pay for the fancy new sets he was commissioning.

In 1771, Garrick hired the French-born artist Philippe de Loutherbourg to design sets at Drury Lane. De Loutherbourg also made numerous innovations in lighting, which made his sets even more impressive. His sets moved as well, so clouds could drift across the sky, and miniature ships could appear to sail through the water in the distance. Eventually, de Loutherbourg created a miniature stage he called the Eidophusikon, which controlled the lighting and scenery to an extreme degree, but had no room for actors. People paid money simply to watch the brilliant moving pictures, and the Eidophusikon attempted to compete with the theatre itself. Fortunately, the Eidophusikon never put Drury Lane out of business.

Garrick wasn't satisfied with the new plays being written, however, so he began writing his own. He collaborated with the playwright George Coleman the Elder (best known for his hilarious but misogynistic comedy The Jealous Wife) to write The Clandestine Marriage, which was based loosely on a series of satirical pictures by William Hogarth. Garrick's plays might not have been terribly original, but they were entertaining and remained popular well after his retirement. In 1769, Garrick held a massive celebration of William Shakespeare in the Bard's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Though it was a little late for the bicentennial of Shakespeare's birth five years earlier, Garrick spared no expense in arranging a Jubilee celebration, which featured a pageant of Shakespeare's most popular characters. Unfortunately, heavy rains flooded a special tent for the occasion, and all Stratford was covered with mud. Not to be put out, Garrick wrote a play about the event, called it The Jubilee, and performed it at Drury Lane along with the procession of characters.

Garrick's most important contribution, however, came in raising the standards of acting in the eighteenth century, not just in England, but on the European continent as well. The French philosopher Denis Diderot after seeing Garrick wrote a famous essay called "The Paradox of the Actor" in which he tried to determine what made a great actor's performances so engaging. According to Diderot, great actors like Garrick display the illusion of feeling without feeling strong emotions themselves. The paradox is that the more emotional an actor becomes, the less able he is to convey emotions consistently on stage, while the more rational he is, the better he is to show different emotions night after night. Intelligence was what a great performer needed, not feeling.

Though Drury Lane dominated London's theatre scene under Garrick, the rival theatre at Covent Garden scored a palpable hit in 1773 with a play by Oliver Goldsmith called She Stoops to Conquer. Goldsmith loathed the sentimental comedies that had become popular in the eighteenth century and considered his play a "laughing comedy" since the crazy antics of the characters provoked outright guffaws rather than the knowing smiles of earlier works.

Though not as bawdy as Restoration comedy, She Stoops to Conquer captures much of the energy of earlier comic works, and it helped to pave the way for another playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan. In 1775, Covent Garden produced Sheridan's play The Rivals, about a man who creates an alter-ego for himself to be his own rival for the love of the woman he wants to marry. The play features a duel, which had special interest for the audience, since Sheridan himself had fought two widely publicized duels over the honor of his fiancée and later wife, the singer Elizabeth Ann Linley.

In 1776, Garrick retired from the stage, and the newly successful Sheridan bought his stake in Drury Lane. He soon took over the theatre, and tailored his next play, The School for Scandal, to perfectly suit the strengths of the actors in the Drury Lane company. The play was a massive hit, and Sheridan later used his fame to launch a successful bid for parliament. From 1780 onward, he enjoyed a dual career as both a theatre manager and a politician. The mild-mannered Age of Garrick was over, and increasingly the theatre was becoming politically charged.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Reading Next Month at Dramatists Guild

Next month, on the auspicious evening of Friday, October 13th, my new one-act play The Love Songs of Brooklynites will have a reading at the Dramatists Guild as part of their Friday Night Footlights program.

The reading will be held at 7:00 pm in the Mary Rogers Room at the Dramatists Guild, 1501 Broadway (between 43rd and 44th Street) on the 7th Floor. The public is welcome, but make sure you bring a photo ID to get through security.

Zach McCoy is playing Chuck, a new transplant from Wisconsin to Brooklyn, and Jessica Vera is playing Abbie, his upstairs neighbor with a tech job and a habit for stress baking. Zach was previously in my play THE STATE OF COLORADO v. TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, and Jessica did the role of Jenny Marx in a lot of the early readings of Capital.

If you're interested in coming to the reading, feel free to contact me. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Desperate Measures

Yesterday, I went to a preview at the York Theatre Company of Desperate Measures, a wonderful new musical that reimagine's Shakespeare's Measure for Measure as... a Western of all things!

Though the conceit might sound a bit odd, it works. Let's see... Shakespeare has a law-and-order governor intent on never showing mercy. Yup, that works in the Old West. He has a troubled young woman who wants to take shelter in a convent. Works. Rampant prostitution? Works, works, works.

Instead of keeping the dialogue in blank verse, book writer Peter Kellogg transforms the unsung portion of the play into rhyming couplets. Though this makes the show sound more like Moliere than Shakespeare, it creates a theatrical artificiality that works well with the ridiculous plot.

The play handles the twists and turns of that plot rather differently than the Bard. In Shakespeare, we are made to suffer as we watch the characters agonize over seemingly impossible choices, but in Desperate Measures, we are invited to laugh. The ridiculousness of the characters' situations is particularly highlighted in the Act II number "Just For You," which combines Kellogg's witty lyrics with infectious music by composer David Friedman.

Friedman's country-music score soars during comic numbers like the strip-tease "It's Getting Hot in Here" and the I'm-not-in-love song "What Is this Feeling." Together with Kellogg's words, it transforms Shakespeare's darkest, most problematic comedy into a knee-slapping musical. This is definitely a show you won't want to miss.

For more information, visit the theatre's website:

The York Theatre Company

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Back From PA

I'm back from the State College area in central Pennsylvania where Nittany Theatre at the Barn recently had a staged reading of my play Dark Night of the Soul.

The play was the winner of the theatre's 2017 Free Speech Play Contest. It tells the story of Joan of Arc, and is based in part on the actual records of her trial. You can find out more about the play at a special website I set up about it.

Laura Ann Saxe played Joan, and Dave Saxe read the part of the Earl of Warwick, the English nobleman charged with the task of discrediting and executing her. The trial was presided over by Bishop Pierre Cauchon (played by John Koch). Most of the clergy present were intent on finding Joan guilty, but one young Dominican, Brother Martin (played by Jeff Buterbaugh), clearly sympathized with her.

Though this was just a reading, it was staged with a set and lighting. Actors wore costumes with a period flair, even though they were not intended to be accurate for the 15th century. There will be more readings of the play next month at The Villages in Florida on October 26th and 27th.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Free Speech Reading Tonight!

Tonight is the reading of my play Dark Night of the Soul, the winner of the Nittany Theatre at the Barn's 2017 Free Speech Play Contest.

I saw a rehearsal last night, and the actors are terrific. Laura Ann Saxe plays Joan of Arc, and Dave Saxe plays the Earl of Warwick, the English nobleman intent on having her burned at the stake.

John Koch is wonderfully creepy as Pierre Cauchon, the bishop who presides at Joan's trial. Brother Martin, a young Dominican who wants desperately to save Joan, is played by Jeff Buterbaugh, a student at nearby Penn State.

The reading is semi-staged. The actors won't be in 15th-century costumes, but they are wearing something to give the play period flair. There will also be a minimal set and a few light cues.

If you're in Central Pennsylvania, please come out at 7:30 for the reading. Donations are suggested but not required. For more information, please click here.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Clyde Fitch

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently saw Clyde Fitch's play The Climbers at Metropolitan Playhouse.

The play is a wonderful depiction of New York social climbers at the beginning of the 20th century. A man risks and loses his entire fortune in a bid to provide for his family in the manner to which they have become accustomed. He dies, and on the day of his funeral, the family discovers they have nothing.

Fitch mines the dark comedy in this absurd situation. It is particularly delightful to watch a pair of women show up the very day of the funeral to see if they can get some bargains by buying the new gowns the family has just purchased in Paris. After all, they'll all have to go into mourning for a while, and by the time they can stop wearing black, the gowns will all be out of fashion, so why let them go to waste?

The scene is doubly funny, because the family is thinking the same thing. Now that they're left with nothing, they need to raise as much money as possible, and what better place to start than by fleecing the neighbors, overcharging them for Parisian fashions? The widow (wonderfully played by Margaret Catov) is anything but grieving during the exchange, but knows precisely which cards to play to get the best price for what she's selling.

Fitch's The Climbers premiered in 1901, three years after his play Nathan Hale about the famous American spy. Metropolitan Playhouse has produced a number of his later works, including The Truth and The City. Fitch also adapted Edith Wharton's novel The House of Mirth, which the Metropolitan Playhouse staged in 2012. Wharton apparently didn't like the play very much, but she and Fitch became friends.

At one point, Fitch had five plays running on Broadway simultaneously. Few people have heard of him today, but the revival of The Climbers proves his works continue to fascinate. If you're interested in seeing the production, check out the theater's website here:

Metropolitan Playhouse