Sunday, November 26, 2023

Translations

Last night, I saw Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Translations, Brian Friel's disturbingly timely portrait of imperialists and resistance fighters competing to sink to new lows of inhumanity.

Today, Dublin is still dealing with the fallout of riots that followed a recent knife attack. Violence has begotten more violence, just as it does in the play. Translations begins with arguments over words, a topic that remains fraught today as well. While much rhetoric is aimed at the "violence" of language, ultimately words are just words, and as characters in the play make clear, the names of things are continually evolving anyway.

Debates over place names turn violent in Friel's play after British Lieutenant Yolland, played by Raffi Barsoumian, begins to fall in love with a curly-haired Irish lass named Maire, portrayed by Mary Wiseman. He speaks virtually no Irish, and she speaks virtually no English, but they bond while dancing, and their scene together just before the intermission is heartwarming and funny, even if the audience can see the society around them will never allow their budding romance to bloom.

Barsoumian plays the awkward and shy Yolland with a sweetness and good nature, as well as with a conscience that leads him to examine his own role in Britain's colonial project in Ireland. When the lieutenant disappears, it seems that resistance fighters couldn't have found a more innocent victim. The British army responds predictably, with an over-reaction that is likely to accomplish nothing but create more resistance fighters.

Though this production was planned months ago, parallels with the Hamas-Israel conflict seem inevitable. In Ireland, the troubles depicted in the play in 1833 had deep roots, going back to the 1798 uprising referenced by Friel, and much more before that. The violence continued into the 1980s when the play premiered, and did not substantially end until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

With the temporary cease fire in the Middle East leading to at least a little progress, we have to hope that other parts of the world don't spiral down into the chaos and violence Ireland suffered for so long.



Thursday, November 16, 2023

Arms and the Man

I just got back from seeing Gingold Theatrical Group's magnificently fun production of Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man on Theatre Row.

The set, splendidly designed by Lindsay G. Fuori, is meant to resemble a Victorian toy theatre, something I've written about on this blog in the past. When Shaw later wrote a screenplay based on his play, he imagined a filmed version that looked like it was taking place on a toy stage, and that is what you'll see in the present production.

Shanel Bailey, who was wonderful earlier this year in the revival of Lynn Nottage's Crumbs from the Table of Joy, plays Raina, the romantic young woman who hides a soldier in her bedroom in the aftermath of a battle. Keshav Moodliar plays the soldier, who drives much of the action of the play, and gains the affections of Raina in spite of her engagement to a dashing but dim Major Sergius Saranoff, played by Ben Davis.

Other strong performances are delivered by Delphi Borich, Thomas Jay Ryan, Evan Zes, and Karen Ziemba, the last of whom previously played the title role in GTG's Mrs. Warren's Profession in 2021. Director David Staller brings the whole thing together with style and grace.

The production closes on Saturday, so see it while you can!

Monday, November 13, 2023

Semi-finalist for the Clive Award

Today I received news that my play Dark Night of the Soul is a semi-finalist for Fellowship for Performing Arts' inaugural playwriting competition, the Clive Award.

Fellowship for Performing Arts was founded by award-winning actor, Max McLean, whose one-man rendition of the Book of Genesis was developed at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey and later produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The production company tells stories from a Christian worldview to engage a diverse audience. It has a special interest in the works of C.S. Lewis and produced new theatrical adaptations of The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce as well as a play and film about Lewis’ spiritual journey called The Most Reluctant Convert.

This year the company launched the Clive Awards as a competition to encourage the writing of new works that advance its mission. Dark Night of the Soul, which provides a fresh new take on the story of Joan of Arc, certainly fits that bill. The play was previously chosen by Nittany Theatre at the Barn as the winner of the theatre's 2017 National Free Speech Contest.

Finalists for the Clive Award will be announced next month. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

A Mangled Mind

If you've seen the farce The Play That Goes Wrong, you know how much fun the writing team of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields can be. Now that team is back with a new show called Mind Mangler: A Night of Tragic Illusion.

I saw the first preview last night, and I don't want to give away any of the show's secrets, but if you enjoyed The Play That Goes Wrong, you'll have a rollicking time at this show as well. Instead of watching an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery go off the tracks, though, you'll be watching one of the world's worst mentalists run into problem after problem as disasters mount up on stage.

Henry Lewis plays the titular Mind Mangler, a character who promises to mystify the audience, but more often has them roaring with laughter. Lewis plays the character straight, so when his tricks inevitable turn sour, the results are all the more hysterical. Occasionally, some of his tricks actually do work, which leads the audience to be delighted at being fooled when they least expect to be.

Jonathan Sayer plays a completely random audience member who just happens to be in the theatre wearing a shirt labeling him as such. While the Mind Mangler tries his hardest to make his stooge appear to be a randomly selected participant, Sayer's character consistently fails to do what he is supposed to, with predictably comical results.

What really makes the show, however, is its heart. The Mind Mangler, recently divorced and attempting to get his life back on track with a nationwide tour of the U.S., is trying his hardest, which gives his failures an emotional resonance in addition to their comedic absurdity. Check it out if you can!

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Reviewing Utopia

The latest issue of the journal Shaw is now out, and it includes a book review I wrote of Si├ón Adiseshiah's new book Utopian Drama: In Search of a Genre.

Adiseshiah's full-length study of how dramatists have staged utopia naturally has a chapter on Bernard Shaw, whose Back to Methuselah is a classic work of utopian literature. She also delves into some other plays by the writer, however, including The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles and Farfetched Fables.

I enjoyed the rest of the book, as well, which includes studies of Aristophanes and other writers of Old Comedy, as well as the early modern author Margaret Cavendish. British dramatist Howard Brenton also gets his own chapter. Though he isn't produced much today, I'll be talking about his play Bloody Poetry in January when I deliver a paper on Lord Byron's impact on modern drama at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association.

The journal has full-length articles by Bernard Dukore (whom I met this summer at a Shaw conference at the College of William and Mary), Michel Pharand, Brigitte Bogar, Kay Li, and others. It looks like editor Christopher Wixson has put together a wonderful issue. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Adelphi Screamers

On this All Hallow's Eve, I wanted to write about a theatre that has been home to some of the spookiest dramas of all time, London's Adelphi Theatre, formerly known as the Sans Pareil.

Founded in 1806, the Sans Pareil was located on the Strand, which runs from Trafalgar Square down toward Temple Bar. Near Adam Street, prospective playgoers would see a theatre front that looked like this:


Technically the theatre was founded by John Scott, but it was really run by his daughter Jane, actress, producer, director, and author of such melodramas as Asgard the Demon HunterThe Old Oak Chest, and Camilla the Amazon. The stage looked something like this:


Scott retired from the theatre after getting married in 1819, and that's when the Sans Pareil changed its name to the Adelphi under new management. The theatre frequently performed adaptations of the works of Charles Dickens. These included an adaptation John Baldwin Buckstone did of Dickens's early sketch "The Bloomsbury Christening." Buckstone would later adapt Dickens's goblin story The Chimes for the theatre.

It was stories of goblins, ghosts, and sensational crimes that got the theatre's plays nicknamed "Adelphi Screamers." This was true even after the building was demolished and rebuilt in 1858. The rebuilt theatre became a home to hits by Dion Boucicault, including The Colleen Bawn and later The Octoroon. In 1862, Boucicault adapted Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth under the title Dot, winning another huge success for the Adelphi.

Today, the theatre is home to big-budget musicals, most recently Back to the Future. It seems the Adelphi's role as a temple of popular culture continues even today.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Romantic Futures

Today I went to the Stuart Curran Symposium on "Romantic Futures" and got to meet up with various people and hear about the novel behind an important play of the early nineteenth century.

I've previously written about W.H. Murray's melodrama Obi; or, Three-Fingered Jack, which is based on the story of the Jamaican folk-hero Jack Mansong. The piece was later published in the Dicks' Standard Plays series, and I've also seen illustrations of the play for the toy theatre.

Kristina Huang gave a paper at the symposium about the play's source text: Obi; or the History of Three-Fingered Jack. The 1800 novel by William Earle is written as a series of letters from a resident in Jamaica to a friend living in England. The novel was adapted as a pantomime by John Fawcett prior to Murray's adaptation, and Murray's printed text attributes its plot and principle incidents to the pantomime.

Later at the symposium, we heard from the editors of The Routledge Handbook to Global Literature and Culture in the Romantic Era. Those editors include Arif Camoglu, whom I had only met virtually, when we were both on a Zoom panel on Lord Byron last year.  The other editors are Bakary Diaby, Omar F. Miranda, Gaura Narayan, and Kate Singer

Next up on my academic calendar is the Modern Language Association's convention in Philadelphia this January. I'll be delivering a paper on Byron and modern drama, as well as chairing a panel on Charles Dickens and D.H. Lawrence.