Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Gents, Eskimos, Lights Rise on Grace

UPDATE: In the comments, Adam points out that the Pulitzer Prize nomination form ( waives the $50 fee for drama entries. Which is good, because Chad doesn't really need my money. ;-) -JA
I saw three great plays weekend before last and thought I would jot down some notes and praise before the rapture happens and everyone loses interest.

Four O'Clock Productions presentation of Willy Shakespeare's THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA was the first play I saw on my three play weekend-- my friend Isaiah Tanenbaum was playing Speed. The director (Erik Lurz) took an interesting angle on the play and decided to set it in the 1930s bars around Brooklyn and Manhattan. I thought there were moments where the concept worked quite well-- in particular when a sonnet was sung as a torchsong by Carolyn Demisch, and a few places here and there where the sitting around in a bar ambience added something to the shooting the shit scenes some of the minor characters have.

But, I have been forever spoiled for Shakespeare adaptations by seeing a stellar, ultra-low budget TITUS ANDRONICUS at STAGEStheatre in Fullerton, CA, in the late 90s (co-directed by Patrick Gwaltney and Adam Clark? or KC Mercer? Anyone in OC remember?), where they went whole hog gangster on the material-- transforming the script into the ultimate 30s era gangster vengeance fest. Loved, loved, loved that show. So, I kept comparing this to that production and wishing the director had had a little more fun and taken a little more license. And cut those painful, unnecessary set changes.

I give the director great props for changing the notoriously crap TWO GENTS ending and having the women walk out in disgust instead of going through with the marriages. I am sure that in the afterlife, Shakespeare and I will one day be sitting in a bar ragging on some of our own plays in a comraderly playwriting fashion and he will confess that he had some producer breathing down his neck so just said "screw it" and did not spend a second thinking about this ending. Anyway, I thought Isaiah was a clear standout and all the supporting actors in the piece were solid to amazing. The leads were a little young (although age appropriate to the script 'tis true) and left me feeling a little like I was watching a college production. The costumers (Nicole Quinones and Christina Hernandez) knocked it out of the park! Probably with about as much money I will spend at lunch today and I am cheap. Lovely outfits on their nubile little cast. Definitely on board to check out Four O'Clock's next Shakespearen adventure whenever that happens.

Saw TWO GENTS as a matinee, then that evening I met up with several of the attendees at the Chris Shinn Workshop I did at EST's summer retreat and we all went and saw fellow classmate Ken Urban's new play, produced by his theater company, The Committee Theatre, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ESKIMOS.

Loved it! The picture at the top of the post is from this one, and the guy in the greenish/yellow shirt on the right side of the picture is comic genius Andrew Breving who stole the show for me in every one of the multiple madcap roles he plays in this. He is especially appealing/annoying as the co-worker from Hell, Tom, who shares a cube with Marvin (a solid Michael Tisdale). I have worked with so many Toms (my office amigos!) that I found the whole work culture parody in Ken's play absolutely hysterical. Seriously need to poach this actor and put him in all my plays (so do all of you). So funny.

The story concerns Marvin, who has lost his sister in a bombing. She left a final message on his cellphone for him, and by extension the cell phone has become something of a sacred talisman for him. When the cellphone is stolen from him, he makes contact with the new owner and goes to extreme/ultimate lengths to get the phone back. I love this concept. Added to that, Marvin's grief has become actualized in the world of the play as a bleak, snowscape full of black ice and deranged Eskimos. The Eskimos only speak in actual spam email text (from spam emails sent to Ken over the last year). Occasionally the real people in Marvin's life speak in spam in moments when he is overwhelmed by the world and unable to process them.

I really responded to and was effected by the poetry of Marvin's grief world. And I loved the suspense elements in this. The voice on the phone that Marvin connects with turns out to share his bleak grief world unexpectedly and she works as a professional spammer-- which I thought was clever. The final, emotional climax of the play is enacted in the snow with the spam Eskimos and was very powerful and moving. I think there is a delicate wonder and pain to the script that was really touching. It was also fascinating because Ken had worked on one of the scenes from the play in the Chris Shinn workshop-- so it was neat to see what had been a class exercise for us a few months ago on stage in an off-Broadway production.

Then on Sunday, I ambled over to the Fringe Extension to see Outstanding Play Winner LIGHTS RISE ON GRACE by Chad Beckim. Seems like every Fringe show I saw the playwright has been enlisted to pass out programs. I picked up programs all over the city from the likes of Adam Szymkowicz, August Schulenburg, and Mac Rogers during the fest. I wonder if people have stories like that from the early careers of Arthur Miller and Edward Albee? I didn't notice Tom Stoppard doing that when I went to Coast of Utopia. But, low and behold, I picked up my program from none other than Chad Beckim! Must be in the new Dramatist Guild contracts (playwright agrees to license this play to the producers and pass out programs . . .)

On to the play! What a gorgeous script this is! It is a three person comtemporary drama that manages to deftly weave together the stories of three fragile people trapped in complex circumstances who can't help but wound one another at every turn. The transitions in the play (assisted by the masterful direction of Robert O'Hara and a stunningly tight and focused cast: Ali Ahn, Alexander Alioto, and Jaime Lincoln Smith) are really amazing. The play has a fluidity and sense of speed and purpose that is quite dazzling. Toward the end of the play, I thought the characters were so vulnerable and so in danger I was having a hard time even watching. The dark trap of the plot unfolds like an awful flower-- it was lovely to contemplate the frightening and unfortunate ways the characters had trapped one another with their needs-- but it is a pretty brutal place to go.

Anyway, if I were on the Putlizer Committee (which is not even a distant possibility) and this was submitted for consideration (which Chad should do immediately, I will loan him the $50 fee if he needs it) it would take an act of God to get me to vote in anything against it. Enough said. All praise to Chad and all good fortune on his play.


Adam said...

I think the fee is waived for the pulitzer for playwrights. or it was 4 years ago i know. Although there might be some sort of nominating process in order to apply.

Johnna Adams said...

Last I looked at the form-- which was not all that recently-- there was no nominating process, you just send in the form and a videotape. I will investigate this. Never hurts a person to know how the pulitzer nom process works. No one has dies from having too much of this type of information that I know of.

Johnna Adams said...

Link to the entry form:

You are right! The fee is waived for drama entries. I will update the post. I don't see any nominating process though. As far as I can see, you can self-nominate if you want.