Monday, August 15, 2022

Congratulations, Madam President

Last night was the finals of the Secret Theatre One Act Festival, and I'm happy to report that Rebecca Ana Peña won a best performer award for her role in my play My Fellow Americans.

Bec got to play the President of the United States making a televised speech right before important issues intervene. The staff at the Secret Theatre chose to use the one-woman play as the opener each night we performed.

This is the first time I've had an opportunity to work with Bec, but hopefully it will not be the last. It was also my first time working with director Rachael Langton, though I previously saw her work at the Metropolitan Playhouse, where she directed Bec in East Side Stories, Actually.

My Fellow Americans started out as one of eight plays performing on Wednesday nights at the Secret Theatre as "Program D" of the festival, before advancing to the semi-finals, and then the finals. Two other plays that were part of the Wednesday-night line up also advanced: Happier Days by Jennifer Ju and The Gatekeepers by Dan Perry.

I snapped this photo last night after the performance. That's Julie Berndt on the left ("Lady Bredwell" from The Gatekeepers), followed by Jen Lyon ("Actor" from Happier Days"), Susan Jane McDonald ("Lady Teaworthy" from The Gatekeepers), Rebecca Ana Peña ("Woman" from My Fellow Americans), and Qesar Veliu ("Actor" from Happier Days).

Congratulations to all involved!

Saturday, August 13, 2022

We made the finals!

I had a great time at the semi-finals of the Secret Theatre One-Act Festival on Saturday, and the good news is, my play My Fellow Americans made it into the finals!

Rebecca Ana Peña does a superb job in the show, playing the President of the United States making an important speech as pressing issues intervene. The play's director, Rachael Langton, also came out to see it on Saturday, and we were able to take a photo together outside the theatre.

Thanks to all those who came out to support the show during its run and for the semi-finals. If you haven't seen it yet, you have one more chance! The play will be performed TONIGHT, Sunday, August 14th, at the Secret Theatre's new location in Woodside: 38-02 61st Street, Queens, NY 11377.

In addition to seeing our show, you'll be able to see the other plays that advanced to the finals, including The Gatekeepers by Dan Perry, Starry Starry Night by Brian Leahy Doyle, My Piano Doesn't Like Me by Larry Rinkel, and Happier Days by Jennifer Ju. Curtain time is 7:30pm, and you can get tickets here.

There will be an afterparty at the theatre, and they plan to announce the winners of the festival at 10pm. The audience will be asked to vote on Best Play, Best Director, and two Best Actor Awards. Hope you can make it!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Secret Semi-finals

My play My Fellow Americans made it into the semi-finals of the Secret Theatre One Act Festival, which means you have another chance to see it this Saturday.

My Fellow Americans stars Rebecca Ana Peña as the President of the United States on the night of an important public address. After the speech, pressing issues intervene.

Rachael Langton directed the piece and did a wonderful job. Our show will be going up with the "Semi-finals A" program at 5:30pm on August 13th. (Yes, something on the eventbrite page says the performance doesn't start until later, but be warned that curtain is indeed at 5:30pm!)

In addition to my play, you'll also get to see Dan Perry's very funny play The Gatekeepers with Susan Jane McDonald and Julie Berndt. Other plays that made it to the semi-finals include The Madness of Memory by Vivian Lermond, Emeline Pettifogs by Ivan Faute, A Bell Tolls by Monte D. Monteleagre, My Piano Doesn't Like Me by Larry Rinkel, and Starry Starry Night by Brian Leahy Doyle.

I had a previous play, Burns Night, done at the Secret Theatre's festival in 2019 when they were based in Long Island City. The company is still in Queens, but it's now based in Woodside, where they have an amazing and cozy space with an eclectically decorated lobby. It is smaller, though, so get your tickets before they sell out!

If we advance to the finals, there will be one more performance on Sunday, August 14th. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

An Oresteia without Aeschylus

Last night, I saw Robert Icke's original drama Oresteia, a Euripidian meditation on the Iphigenia myth that also includes the story of her brother.

You might be thinking, "Wait, didn't Aeschylus write Oresteia? Isn't it about... you know... Orestes...? Hence the title? What does this play have to do with Euripides and Iphigenia?

The answer is everything. Icke's mis-named four-act drama, which does have some passing resemblances to Aeschylus's trilogy, begins with what is essentially an adaptation of the Euripides play Iphigenia in Aulis. This is the longest act in the play. (Or at least it felt like it.)

What's wrong with adding yet a fourth play onto the cycle Aeschylus wrote (other than that it makes the performance four hours long)? After all, Greek tragedies were originally performed as a tetralogy, with three tragedies followed by a satyr play? (Sadly, we don't have the satyr play that originally accompanied the three tragedies in Aeschylus's Oresteia.)

Nothing's wrong with it, I suppose (other than the disturbing tonal shifts it creates and the before-mentioned four-hour-long running time), but it's not what Aeschylus would have done, or indeed any other Greek dramatist, for that matter. As Aristotle wrote, the ancient Athenians believed that tragedy was the imitation of an action, not a recital of an epic tale. (That was kept for epic poetry.)

Aristotle observed in his Poetics that playwrights "who have dramatized the whole story of the Fall of Troy, instead of selecting portions... either fail utterly or meet with poor success on the stage." Aeschylus's Oresteia (including its lost satyr play Proteus) tells only the story of what happened in the aftermath of the Fall of Troy. By including the the story of Iphigenia, Icke expands the play to include events that happened even before the fighting at Troy began.

Perhaps the thinking was to include the things that ultimately caused the events in the Oresteia, but Aeschylus makes it clear that ultimate causes extend back generations. If one is to include Euripides's Iphigenia at Aulis, why not also include Seneca's play Thyestes, since it tells the story of how the troubles of the House of Atreus actually started? Well, never mind. Icke includes an adaptation of Euripides before sending the audience off on a 15-minute intermission.

The play's second act roughly recounts the events of Agamemnon, the first play in Aeschylus's cycle. Occasionally, Icke includes some sly allusions to passages Aeschylus wrote, such as Klytemnestra discussing global communications in a manner reminiscent of that character's speech about signal fires in Aeschylus. What this play lacks, however, is a chorus, though perhaps the reporters are supposed to be stand-ins for the chorus.

After Aeschylus, the role of the chorus declined, and many of the plays of Euripides can easily be portrayed with no chorus at all. The elimination of the chorus makes this play feel more modern, as Euripides tends to be in general. Icke's third act (performed after a second intermission of ten minutes) sometimes mirrors the Libation Bearers of Aeschylus, but in spirit, it feels closer to the cynical Electra of Euripides.

A third five-minute intermission in Icke's drama is followed by a trial scene somewhat similar to that of The Eumenides by Aeschylus. Icke also takes advantage of some logical inconsistencies in Libation Bearers to create an interesting plot twist that does not exist in Greek mythology. The result is somewhat interesting, but why call this play Oresteia and why list Aeschylus as the playwright?

Had this original drama not claimed to be by Aeschylus, I probably wouldn't have seen it, and therein might lie the answer. If you want to see original plays that actually claim to be original, you might instead want to go to the Secret Theatre in Queens this Saturday, August 13th for the semifinals of their one-act festival.

My play My Fellow Americans made it to the semifinals, so you'll be able to see it on Saturday if you missed it earlier in the run. For more information, watch this space!

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Byron's Plays... and Mine

Today I chaired a panel on "New Approaches to Lord Byron" for the BARS/NASSR 2022 "New Romanticisms" conference, and tomorrow I'll be attending my own play My Fellow Americans at the Secret Theatre in Queens.

Byron was a tremendous dramatist, penning such plays as Manfred, Marino Faliero, and The Deformed Transformed. The first panelist we had was Arif Camoglu, who spoke on Byron and the Ottoman gaze. He showed a rather trivializing account of Byron published within the Ottoman Empire that reproduced the famous portrait of Byron in Albanian dress. Oddly, there was no comment given in the publication about the famous writer wearing dress that was normally worn in the Ottoman Empire, not in Britain!

After Arif, I spoke on shaping a new Marino Faliero at Drury Lane. Byron published the play in 1821, not intending to have it performed (at least not any time soon). However, Robert William Elliston, the lessee of Drury Lane at the time, wanted to perform it anyway, so he sent a cut copy of the text to the Examiner of Plays to get it approved by the censor. Unfortunately, in order to get the play passed the censor, quite a bit had to be excised, including some of the most stirring passages. I got a chance to see the cut copy of the script at the Huntington Library, though images of it are now available online.

Our third panelist was Lesley Thulin, who spoke on deformity in Byron's unfinished drama The Deformed Transformed. Lesley is writing a dissertation on disability and political economy in Romantic literature. She noted that Byron, who had a clubbed foot, could in some ways relate the the play's disabled protagonist, but in general, she tried to steer clear from biographical readings of the drama, since the aristocratic Byron was economically insulated from many of the effects of a disabled body that the title character had to endure. Though Byron left the play unfinished at his death, Mary Shelley later wrote a short story called "Transformation" that re-envisions Byron's story and supplies it with an ending.

The conference continues until August 5th, the rest of it held in person at Edge Hill University outside of Liverpool. I couldn't get back over to the United Kingdom to attend in person, though, in part because tomorrow is the fourth performance of My Fellow Americans, which is being produced as a part of the Secret Theatre's One Act Festival. If you haven't seen it yet, please come! Make sure you get tickets to Program D.

Rachael Langton directed the play, which stars Rebecca Ana Peña as the President of the United States. I hope you can make it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Finding the Secret

If you haven't seen my play My Fellow Americans at the Secret Theatre yet, you'll have another chance tomorrow, July 27th.

The show starts at 7:30 pm and stars Rebecca Ana Peña as the President of the United States. Rachael Langton directed the piece. I met them both through the Metropolitan Playhouse, where Rachael directed East Side Stories, Actually, which featured Bec as one of the performers.

Our piece is first in an evening of one-act plays that also includes short works by Paul K. Smith, Jennifer Ju, Dan Perry, Lisa Siebert, and Ruth Zamoyta. You can get your tickets here. Make sure you purchase tickets to see Program D, which will be showing both this Wednesday night, and again on next Wednesday, August 3rd.

And how do you get to the Secret Theatre? Well, practice, of course! It also helps to take the 7 train to 61st Street / Woodside. It's a neat neighborhood, with a lot of great Thai food, including Thailand's Center Point, which is recommended by my friend Ike.

Need a map to the theatre? I've provided one here:

Hope to see you there on Wednesday night!

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Tonight's the Night!

If you missed the opening of My Fellow Americans last Wednesday, tonight's your chance to see the show at the Secret Theatre's one-act festival.

The play features Rebecca Ana Peña as the President of the United States as she makes her dream speech... but pressing issues intervene. Rachael Langton directed this production, which opens an evening of one-act plays by such authors as D Lee Miller, Paul K. Smith, Allison Fradkin, Jennifer Ju, Dan Perry, Lisa Siebert, and Ruth Zamoyta.

Get your tickets to Program D. And please bring a mask. We're not out of this pandemic yet, and audience masking keeps both us and the actors safe.

If you miss the show tonight, you'll still have two more chances on July 27th and August 3rd. Hope you enjoy the play!