Saturday, November 17, 2018

When Your Mom Is a Sex Therapist

Last night, I saw Lola Maltz's show My Mom Is a Sex Therapist at The Duplex. I first saw the piece back in 2013 (also at The Duplex), but it has grown and deepened considerably since then.

Maltz (who previously went by Cara Maltz) tells about her life in story and song, accompanied by pianist Garrit Guadan, and in this version by two other instrumentalists as well, giving the musical a full band.

Calling it a one-woman show would be somewhat inaccurate, as Maltz and Guadan engage in plenty of scripted banter on stage, including in the song "He Likes Me." Maltz also gets the audience to join in during the chorus of the song "Love Yourself" which provides some hysterical double entendres.

Songwriter Joshua H. Cohen has added a few new numbers for the piece, and fortunately his music fits Maltz's voice perfectly. If you get a chance to see it in a future incarnation, don't miss out!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mother of the Maid

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing Jane Anderson's new play Mother of the Maid at The Public Theater.

Anderson, who also wrote Defying Gravity, uses her latest play to tell the story of Joan of Arc through the eyes of saint's mother. The result is a touching story of fame, glory, family, and heartbreak.

Stage and screen legend Glenn Close plays Isabelle Arc, the titular mother in the piece, and her daughter is played by Grace Van Patten, a relative newcomer who was also in The New Group's production of The Whirligig last year. Both performers hold their own, however, and they are complimented by a supporting cast that includes Dermot Crowley, Andrew Hovelson, and Daniel Pearce.

I saw the matinee performance on Halloween. During the first scene, some ghosts or goblins must have been playing tricks on us, because a power drill could clearly be heard somewhere offstage. Close and Van Patten continued through the noise, but then hammering started. Didn't the noisemaker know there were multiple matinees going on in the building? Close turned to the audience, apologized, and asked out loud if something could be done to stop the noise. A voice over the intercom said, "Absolutely!" The audience burst into applause.

The intercom voice said that Ms. Close could go offstage and wait, but Glenn (can I call her Glenn, now?) said she'd wait with the audience. "Anybody have any questions about the show?" she asked. Our new personal friend Glenn then answered questions about the play, her career, and her life. She graciously complimented both Anderson's play and her co-star Grace. (Sure, we can call her Grace!) She asked people in the audience where they were from. "Tasmania? When I went to Paris to shoot Dangerous Liaisons, we had a nanny to help with my daughter who had just been born, and our nanny was from Tasmania. The sweetest woman!"

Eventually, the noise stopped and the performance resumed. If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm a sucker for Joan of Arc plays, and that my own play Dark Night of the Soul tells the story of the saint's trial. (It also won the Nittany Theatre at the Barn's 2017 Theatre of the First Amendment Play Festival.) Anderson's handling of the story is different than most, however, as we glimpse Joan's life through the lives of others. Some of the most interesting scenes were between Isabelle and a Lady of the Court, played by Kelley Curran. I'd seen Curran before in the Red Bull Theater Company's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, but she particularly impressed me in this role, as a clueless but well-meaning noblewoman who wants to help but is powerless amidst the political turmoil of war-torn France.

The delay in the performance meant that I was late for the "Frankenreads" event at the Morgan Library that afternoon, but after the performance, I did manage to catch the end of the marathon of readings from Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. There's also a wonderful exhibition about the book at the Morgan which you should check out, but definitely make sure you get down to the Public, too. Mother of the Maid is not to be missed!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Results are in...

Well, my play Worth did not win the the Khaos Company Theatre's Dionysia New Play Festival. However, fellow playwright Nancy Gall-Clayton was victorious with her play The Wedding Dress. Congratulations, Nancy!

Fifteen plays each had their opening scenes performed in Indianapolis yesterday as part of the festival. The audience then voted for their favorite, with the winning play getting performed in full at the festival next year. Last year's winner, Yellow Heat: Vincent Van Gogh in Arles by Allan Bates, was presented last night, and now next year's audience will get a chance to see The Wedding Dress.

Nancy Gall-Clayton has had her full-length plays produced at CenterStage Theatre (General Orders No. 11), Bard's Town Theatre (The Snowflake Theory), Horse Cave Theatre (Just Taking Up Space), and Lilith Theatre Company (Wearing My Own Clothes).

As for the rest of us playwrights at the festival... better luck next year!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Khaos Reading

Today the Khaos Company Theatre in Indianapolis performed the first five minutes of my play Worth as a part of the Dionysia New Play Festival.

I didn't get a chance to see it myself, but fellow playwright Nancy Gall-Clayton was there and sent the below picture of the actors. Nancy's play The Wedding Dress also had its opening scene performed. The audience will be voting for their favorite of 15 plays having selections presented, and the winner will have his or her full play performed at the festival next year.

Worth tells the story of a money manager trying to convince a prospective investor he can make him rich... but little does he know the investor is actually investigating the firm for fraud! If the play gets picked up for next year, I'll let you know.


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Presumption

Playwright Richard Brinsley Peake holds the distinction of writing the first stage adaptation of Mary Shelley's Gothic novel Frankenstein. He began writing dramatic sketches in 1817, and the following year wrote the notable operatic farce Amateurs and Actors.

Peake's main claim to fame, however, came in 1823, when he wrote Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein. It had an initial run of 37 performances and remained in the repertoire of the English Opera House through the middle of the century. Leaflets distributed by picketers claimed the play was impious, but protesters apparently had never seen the show. Reviewers actually found the play to have an admirable moral, warning mankind not to pursue things beyond our scope.

The manuscript filed with the censor and a published version provide substantially different texts, and both depart tremendously from Shelley's novel. In the book, Elizabeth is Victor Frankenstein's adopted sister, but the two later fall in love and plan to marry. Peake makes them actual brother and sister, and gives both of them new love interests. Elizabeth is engaged to Victor's friend Clerval, and Victor is in love with Agatha De Lacey, a character from the narrative the Creature tells in the book.

And what does the Creature say in Peake's play? Absolutely nothing! Keeping with the tradition of mute characters in melodramas, the Creature expresses himself only through pantomime. In the original playbill, the part of the Creature was denoted simply by a dash. He was played by noted actor T.P. Cooke.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Frankenstein

Last night, I went to a fascinating talk by Christoph Bode at the Pforzheimer Collection of the New York Public Library.

Dr. Bode, who teaches at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, spoke on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He began his talk by discussing the significance of the University of Ingolstadt, where Victor Frankenstein studied. Why Ingolstadt? Of all the places where Frankenstein could have studied, why did Shelley choose there?

The University of Ingolstadt, which was founded in 1472, was extremely conservative, but its conservative bent created a progressive backlash. Several students who cherished the ideals of the Enlightenment got together to form a secret society championing their values. The group, which came to be called the Illuminati, eventually got banned and became the focus of a number of conspiracy theories.

It would have been in this environment that Frankenstein received his education. Interestingly enough, the university was moved to Landshut in 1800 following the French Revolution and the military threat of Napoleon. In 1826, it was moved again to its present location in Munich, where it was renamed... the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich! Yup. Dr. Bode now teaches at the same school where Frankenstein went to college.

If you want to find out more about Mary Shelley's novel and the numerous stage and screen adaptations of it, you're in luck! In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of the novel, the Morgan Library is putting on an exhibition that runs through January 27th. From 3:00 to 5:00 tomorrow, they'll also be sponsoring a "Frankenreads" program, in which people read aloud sections of the book.

Frankenstein's stage adaptations began in 1823 with Richard Brinsley Peake's Melo-Dramatic Opera in Three Acts, Presumption, the subject of my blog post tomorrow!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Three Hamlets

I've written before about the two texts of King Lear, but as complicated as the editorial tradition is for that play, the text of Shakespeare's Hamlet is even more problematic. We have not two but three authoritative texts of Hamlet from the 17th century.

No one knows for sure when Hamlet was first performed. There is a note about the play in the Stationers' Register in July of 1602, stating it was "lately acted by the Lord Chamberlain his servants." However, the poet Thomas Nashe wrote in 1589 about a play called Hamlet, and the Admiral's Men did a production of a play of that name in 1594. Was that's Shakespeare's play?

Unlikely. Shakespeare doesn't appear to have written any plays as early as 1589, and he wasn't particularly associated with the Admiral's Men. Nashe, in the same passage mentioning Hamlet, also alluded to Thomas Kyd, the author of The Spanish Tragedy, so perhaps Kyd wrote an earlier version of the story, and then Shakespeare created his "reboot" later. We'll probably never know for sure.

In the first decade of the 17th century, though, Shakespeare's Hamlet seems to have been very popular, even being performed by crews on ocean-going ships to entertain themselves. In fact, the first documented performance of what we can be sure was Shakespeare's Hamlet was on board the Red Dragon, a ship then off the coast of present-day Sierra Leone. That's right. The first fully documented production of the greatest play in English was actually in Africa.

What text did they perform? Well, at the time, there were two different versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet issued in affordable quarto editions. The First Quarto, issued in 1603, is sometimes referred to as the "Bad" Quarto, because it departs both from the subsequent quarto editions and the First Folio edition issued by Shakespeare's actors after he died. The sections involving Marcellus, Voltemand, and Lucianus (the poisoner in the play-within-a-play) are substantially the same, leading some critics to believe that the First Quarto was sold to the printer by a hired actor who had played those three roles.

On the other hand, the so-called "Bad" Quarto could just be an earlier version of the script. In any case, it's vastly shorter and more simplified than the other texts we have. Consider the First Quarto's version of the "To be or not to be" speech:

                    To be, or not to be, I there's the point,
                    To Die, to sleepe, is that all? I all:
                    No, to sleepe, to dreame, I mary there it goes,
                    For in that dreame of death, when wee awake,
                    And borne before an euerlasting Iudge,
                    From whence no passenger euer retur'nd,
                    The vndiscouered country, at whose sight
                    The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
                    But for this, the ioyfull hope of this,
                    Whol'd beare the scornes and flattery of the world,
                    Scorned by the right rich, the rich curssed of the poore?
                    The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
                    The taste of hunger, or a tirants raigne,
                    And thousand more calamities besides,
                    To grunt and sweate vnder this weary life,
                    When that he may his full Quietus make,
                    With a bare bodkin, who would this indure,
                    But for a hope of something after death?
                    Which pusles the braine, and doth confound the sence,
                    Which makes vs rather beare those euilles we haue,
                    Than flie to others that we know not of.
                    I that, O this conscience makes cowardes of vs all,
                    Lady in thy orizons, be all my sinnes remembred.

The gist of the speech is the same as the one we all memorized in high school, but, oh, the differences!

It's also noticeably shorter. When a second quarto edition was issued the following year, the cover page claimed it was "Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie." Yup. The Second Quarto is nearly twice as long as the previous printing. Unlike the previous edition, it also does not seem to have been a performance text. The Second Quarto is considerably longer that the "two hours' traffic" it typically took to perform an Elizabethan play.

So what exactly is the Second Quarto? Perhaps Shakespeare was particularly fond of the piece, and wrote more than he needed, so in performance the company could choose to perform or not perform different sections. For instance, Hamlet seems to have been written shortly after Julius Caesar.  The play has numerous allusions to Caesar, including this speech spoken by Horatio in the Second Quarto:

                    A moth it is to trouble the mindes eye:
                    In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
                    A little ere the mightiest Iulius fell
                    The graues stood tennatlesse, and the sheeted dead
                    Did squeake and gibber in the Roman streets
                    As starres with traines of fier, and dewes of blood
                    Disasters in the sunne; and the moist starre,
                    Vpon whose influence Neptunes Empier stands,
                    Was sicke almost to doomesday with eclipse.
                    And euen the like precurse of feare euents
                    As harbindgers preceading still the fates
                    And prologue to the Omen comming on
                    Haue heauen and earth together demonstrated
                    Vnto our Climatures and countrymen.

That passage doesn't appear in the First Folio compiled by Shakespeare's actors in 1623. By that time, Julius Caesar was not as fresh in people's memories, and the company had probably dropped the passage in performance.

Yet the First Folio has other passages not found even in the expanded Second Quarto. It, too, is probably not a performance text, but likely a revision of the play Shakespeare did later in his career, rewriting various passages and providing optional scenes that could be played or not depending on the context of the performance.

For example, the long sequence in Act II alluding to the so-called War of the Theatres appears only in the First Folio, and not in the early quarto printings. After the players arrive, Rosencrantz explains:

Nay, their indeauour keepes in the wonted pace; But there is Sir an ayrie of Children, little Yases, that crye out on the top of question; and are most tyrannically clap't for't: these are now the fashion, and so be-ratled the common Stages (so they call them) that many wearing Rapiers, are affraide of Goose-quils, and dare scarse come thither.

This is a reference to the popularity of children's companies that were in vogue for a while and had contributed to a number of quarrels writers waged both in print and in play texts. It would have gotten a lot of attention during times when the children's companies thrived, but might have been cut when the public's interest in child performers waned.

So which text should we perform today? Editors generally compile them together to give directors a choice of which passages to include and which to leave unsaid. In a sense, they are doing the same thing Shakespeare himself probably did, when he offered texts to his company considerably longer than the daylight hours they had available to perform. Hamlet offers us an embarrassment of riches. How much (or little) we wish to perform is up to us.