Saturday, May 4, 2013

Checkpoint #3 Comment Links

Show and Tell #3!: "Clybourne Park"

Given the imminent production being produced by Cripple Creek Productions in New Orleans this month, I decided to choose Bruce Norris’s uncomfortable hilarious play Clybourne Park.  The play had its world premiere at the Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theatre on February 21, 2010. Despite its relatively short initial run (only about four weeks), Clybourne Park went on to have major productions in London (2010), Rhode Island (2011), and Philadelphia (2012) before finally landing a sixteen-week limited run on Broadway in April of 2012. The show has been immensely successful since its first production and has earned the 2011 Laurence Olivier award for Best New Play, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. This information was gathered various articles on and from my own copy of the script which can be found online at sites such as or in most major bookstores.

Act I of Clybourne Park takes place in 1959 in “a modest three-bedroom bungalow” on Clybourne Street in a predominantly white neighborhood of Chicago. At the top of the show, Russ and Bev, the married couple who owns the house, are packing up boxes and preparing to move after the recent suicide of their son. However, Russ and Bev have decided to sell their house to a middle-class black family. Their neighbors, Karl and Betsy, and a reverend named Jim arrive at the house in an attempt to persuade the couple to sell their home to a white family. These conversations are witnessed by the house’s black maid, Francine, and her husband, Albert. Act II picks up fifty years later in 2009. The house is now run down, in need of repairs, and situated in an all-black neighborhood. The houses new residents, Lena and Kevin, are looking to sell the house to Steve and Lindsey, a white couple looking to renovate the house and reinvigorate the neighborhood by buying houses and beautifying them. The discussions are negotiated by the couples’ respective lawyers. Ultimately, the negotiations lead to verbal conflicts centering on race relations in modern America.

One interesting dramaturgical choice that Bruce Norris makes is that he specifies that the actors in the show double up on roles so that they play one character in Act I and another in Act II (in the original production, one actor was tasked with playing three roles). For example, the actors who play Francine and Albert in act I also play Lena and Kevin in act II. In this particular case, the actors are tasked with playing African-Americans from two very different periods in American history. In act I, Francine and Albert are hesitant to speak out and get involved with the affairs of the white characters until asked for their opinions. In act II, though, Lena and Kevin are much more expressive. While not necessarily confrontational, neither individual is afraid to stand up for themselves and stand their ground against the vaguely racist comments that are made during the negotiations.

Another dramaturgical choice that caught my immediate interest is Norris’s choice to include the character of Kenneth, Russ and Bev’s Korean War veteran son who suffered from PTSD and committed suicide. The character and his actions are brought up and discussed in act I. However, Kenneth only appears at the end of act II after the “modern” characters have stormed out of the house in anger, thereby reversing time from 2009 back to 1959 for the last five minutes of the play. His physical appearance is accompanied by the digging up of his army trunk by Dan, an electrician working on renovating the house. Inside the trunk is Kenneth’s suicide note. In several ways, Kenneth acts to connect the two storylines by showing how history has an impact on the current events of the play. After all, had Kenneth not killed himself, Russ and Bev would not have been compelled to sell the house in the first place.

Reading Response to "The Drowsy Chaperone"

First of all, I would like to start by saying that I enjoyed reading (and listening to) this script much more than I originally thought I would. When I was first introduced to the musical several years ago, I thought the whole thing was too campy and simplistic for my own personal tastes. However, after looking at the show from a more analytical angle, I have gained an appreciation for the deceptive simplicity of the show and what it aims to achieve with its meta-commentary on musical theatre. Ultimately, I can’t wait to write my final analysis on this musical

That being said, the flow of the action of The Drowsy Chaperone follows an interesting pattern. The musical begins with the Man greeting the audience and inviting them to “escape” with him into the world of a famous (fictional) 1920’s musical comedy. In fact, in most productions, the Man’s apartment turn s into the various scenes and sets that are used throughout the play-within-a-play so that the Man quite literally escapes his dreary surroundings. In a similar way, the musical begins with the celebration of an imminent marriage between Janet and Robert. Janet, like the Man, is attempting to pull off her own escape by leaving the world of show business behind to settle into a happy marriage like any average young woman of her age. In fact, much of the show revolves around individual characters attempting to escape some aspect of their lives. Mr. Feldzieg wishes to escape an unpleasant demise at the hands of two gangsters, Kitty is trying desperately to escape mediocrity and achieve stardom, and the chaperone herself is just trying to get away from sobriety. Tension results when other characters and situations do their best to prevent such escapes from occurring as a means of keeping the stasis.

Reading Response to Hatcher's "Three Viewings"

Perhaps the best way to first approach Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings is by finding a thread that ties the three separate (but intertwined) stories together. Obviously the three extended monologues in the play each take place at the same funeral home, but there exists a singular theme between them that gives the play a cohesive whole.

First, though, I will focus on some of the surface similarities or those that are most obvious. Emil, the director of the funeral parlor, acts as the undertaker for Nettie James (Mac’s grandmother) and Ed Carpolotti (Virginia’s husband) and is thus indirectly connected to the two women who deliver the subsequent monologues after his own. Emil is perhaps the most obvious connecting thread between the monologues simply because he is so intimately involved with the preparations of the bodies of the deceased loved ones.

 However, on a much deeper level, a common theme throughout the three monologues is that of recognizing love only after it has been lost. For Emil, what first started as an obsessive infatuation with a frequent funeral-goer named Tessie turned into a legitimate longing for her once she passed away. Once Emil was tasked with the incredibly intimate task of preparing the body for cremation, he found that her pacemaker was still ticking. So, Emil holds onto the device as a way of holding on to her memory. For Mac, attending her grandmother’s funeral leads her to the realization of how much she misses her husband and children after accidentally killing them while she attempted to commit suicide by car exhaust inhalation. For Virginia, the loss of her husband enables her to reflect on their long marriage and realize just how much he loved her all these years. As unfortunate as it is, for each of the characters, death acts as an agent to help the characters recognize and cherish the love in their own lives.

Reading Response to Overmyer's "On the Verge"

First of all, if I were asked to design a poster for Eric Overmyer’s On the Verge, or The Geography of Yearning, my initial impulse is to slap a picture of a dictionary on there since that’s what the audience will need to bring with them if they want any hope of understanding what the various characters are saying.

On a more serious note, however, I would show an imaged of the three women scaling the face of a cliff. However, instead of using a rope, I would find a way to photoshop the image to make it look as though the women are using a timeline as a means of scaling the cliff. Cheesy, I know, but it emphasizes the play’s idea of facing the future as though it is an uncharted territory ripe for exploration and discovery. The tagline from the script at the bottom of the poster would be “I am experiencing a definite, a palpable – yearning for the future!”

 Also, one particularly intriguing aspect of the play is the character of Mr. Coffee. He is one of two characters that only Fanny ever interacts with, the other one being the dream figure of Grover, her husband. Mr. Coffee, dressed all in white, does not seem to be from any particular era in history yet he knows Fanny and Grover well enough to inform her of her husband’s death. Judging from the fact that Mr. Coffee says he only had one meeting with Grover and that he says that he will meet Fanny yet again, it is incredibly possible that Mr. Coffee acts as an angel of death in the play. After all, since the women are in fact exploring aspects of the future, part of every person’s future is the inevitable end of one’s life.

Reading Response to Smith's "Fires in the Mirror"

For many audience members and readers, it is all too easy to get caught up in the story behind Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror: Brooklyn, Crown Heights, and Other Identities. I know that I personally was not at all familiar with the events of the Crown Heights riots until reading this play in class, and I was immensely intrigued both by the story and Smith’s own presentation of the events from various perspectives of the community.

Many audience members and readers will want to dismiss the play’s first sixteen or so monologues because they do not have any direct bearing on the story of the riots; however, Smith’s choice to include these monologues about identity (both racial and religious) reveals much about the social forces in effect that brought the Crown Heights riot to its climax. After all, if audience members do not first understand how black and Lubavich members of the Crown Heights community express their own identities and how they regard one another, it can be very difficult to understand why the tensions that led to the riots even existed in the first place.

Monologues from some Lubavich women describe various religious practices, such as keeping their hair short and wearing wigs and now using electronics on the Sabbath, as a way of illustrating how they are a close-knit community that is dependent upon one another for help and support. In a similar vein, one young black girl talks about how the other students in her class use their hair as a way of expressing their racial identities. Already, we see how something as simple as hairstyle can be used to express and shape a person’s identity.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Show and Tell #2!: "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches"

My favorite play, Angels in America, is a two part “gay fantasia on national themes” by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Tony Kushner. However, for this show and tell post, I will only concentrate on the first part of the play titled Millennium Approaches. First written and workshopped in 1990, Millennium Approaches had productions in London (1992) and Los Angeles (1992) before being performed on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 1993. This production earned Kushner his Pulitzer Prize for Drama and first Tony Award for Best Play. Both parts of Angels in America were adapted into an HBO miniseries in 2003 directed by Mike Nichols. This information was garnered from the production notes at the beginning of my copy of the script. This play can be purchased online on sites such as or in most major bookstores.

Millennium Approaches tells the story of seven individuals living in New York City from October 1985 to January 1986 during the height of the AIDS crisis and in the middle of Reagan’s tumultuous tenure as President. Early in the play, Prior Walter, a gay designer, discloses to his boyfriend, Louis Ironson, that he is dying from AIDS. Louis, who is HIV negative, struggles with the prospect of losing his lover to illness and considers abandoning the relationship. Throughout the play, Prior hears the disembodied voice of an Angel. At the same time, a Mormon couple, Joe and Harper Pitt, fight over whether or not Joe should move to Washington D.C. for a better job opportunity. Harper’s addiction to Valium makes her hallucinate frequently, and Joe struggles with his own same-sex attractions. Towards the end of part one, Louis and Joe leave their respective partners and begin to find comfort in one another. The play ends with the Angel appearing to Prior in all her glory and proclaiming him to be a prophet. Other major characters include a conservative lawyer with AIDS, a former drag queen named Belize, and Joe’s doting Mormon mother who comes to live with Harper after Joe leaves her.

One interesting dramaturgical choice that Kushner makes is that, despite there being eight actors who play the eight main roles (this includes the Angel), there are twelve other supporting roles that are also played by the eight actors, creating what Kushner calls “an actor-driven event.” Kushner goes so far as to dictate which actor should play which roles, often creating some interesting dichotomies. For example the actor playing Prior also plays a man in Central Park that Louis goes to have anonymous sex with after he has left Prior’s hospital bed. However, the act is abandoned when the condom breaks and the man fears contracting HIV. Essentially, the man has Louis experience a lesser form of the rejection that Prior will feel when he realizes that Louis has left.

Another interesting and excellent dramaturgical choice Kushner makes is having two scenes play out on stage at the same time. In scene eight of act I, Joe and Harper discuss Joe’s latent homosexual feelings while Louis theorizes about justice and hypothetically asks Prior what would happen if he abandoned the relationship. The scenes play out at the same time, but the couples take turns having their own conversations. However, later in scene nine of act II, Louis tells Prior that he is giving up on their relationship at the same time Joe tells Harper that he is a gay man. Because the tension and energy is higher, the lines frequently overlap each other as each individual struggles to cope with the difficult situations that they are facing. To list another example, Harper’s hallucinations and Prior’s fever dreams brought about by his illness also occur simultaneously at one point, bring the two hurting characters into a safe, almost celestial world where they can experience the “threshold of revelation” (scene 7, act I).

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia of national Themes. 1995. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2006. Print.