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Insomnia

May 24th, 2011 No comments

Channeling Genres in Insomnia

Went and saw Insomnia at CPT last week (or maybe two weeks) with Jordan Davis. Had a real good time and enjoyed the show at CPT thoroughly.

 

Insomnia proves again why the combination of Raymond Bobgan and Chris Seibert is powerful. POWERFUL. Tack on Holly Holsinger who can thoroughly dominate (as both an actor and director) and you’ve got some seriously muscular theater, which Insomnia is. Both Bobgan and Seibert demonstrate again (also Holsinger) why the organic process that they use to create inspired productions works and works well. Their exploration of personal story, myth, and religion works on the level of the unconscious leaving one with the peculiar sensation of having slept well and dreamed. And their exploration and use of space, acting techniques, sound, lighting, as well as in the more physical aspects of comic theater give the mind’s eye a feast of stage images to connect with the psionic elements.

The play opens in the attic of a house, which is of course suggestive of the psychological landscape in which the play’s action will take place. At first I wondered if the piece weren’t somewhat like Albee’s Three Tall Women, with each woman representing a different phase of life for the “main” character. I initially thought that this “main” character, in terms of focus, was Holsinger’s character (Ev) but it became quickly clear that Seibert’s character (Zelda) represented an imaginary friend or invisible playmate; and that the “main” character might be Evelyn (Anne McEvoy), who comes up the stairs from the “real” world below.

Seibert as Zelda plays a magnificently manic playmate who reminded me all-too-well of my daughter: with endless pulses of energy and a ruthless and relentless desire to play something regardless of my own lack of interest. Zelda made manifest that constant pushing and prodding that children do so well, as well as a deceptively naïve sweetness that became sharply brutal and precise in a flashing turn. Holsinger lives up to her name by singing frequently throughout the piece, showing off a lovely, deep voice and from the program it appears that the songs are original.

The physical aspects of the production (presentational) are tremendous. At the outset there is only Holsinger on stage, but soon there is thumping inside a trunk which was perhaps overlooked by the audience (was by me) from which Seibert emerges, playfully. She uses a croquet mallet as a periscope and then dances across the stage. Holsinger and Seibert play dress-up and enact the rapid-fire characters and dialogue of a circa 1930s/40s movie, like It Happened One Night or His Girl Friday. In an inspired dream sequence Seibert becomes an elemental force from another plane, cloaked in a diaphanous flowing garment—a resplendent ghost.

Equally strong is the sense/meaning of loss and reckoning in the play; the terrible sense of having settled and having not fulfilled a potential. The sense that life has become mundane and polite; a place that is all too easy for each of us to fall into and to which to become accustomed. If we are not careful and watchful we are at risk of taking much for granted: our life path, the people around us, and perhaps worst of all, our own selves. Insomnia addresses this head long and with an unflinching gaze; so much so that one might lose sleep at the horrifying confrontation.

Not to close on a down note, but I want to get off my chest the fact that I did not like the ending of the piece. There are several reasons for this, but the two biggest include that it 1) broke the frame of the play (with Holsinger going around and out to talk with the audience) and 2) it attempted to but a bow on a play that was best left unwrapped. I understand the impulse. In talking with Jordan Davis afterward we discussed that one great difficulty in this type of piece is that it is very difficult to close off. In my own work I often confront this problem and flinch in the face of providing a neat ending—it is too much for me to bear. I believe Insomnia could end when Holsinger’s Ev is revealed as being the “main” character and walks confidently out of the attic closing the door to descend to the remains of her (old?) life below. The powerful sense that there will be change is comparable to that of Nora slamming the door at the end of Ibsen’s play. I don’t know if there was too much of a sense that perhaps people would miss the resolution of that, or if that was not concrete enough resolution, or if there needed to be some clarification. I didn’t think so, and to me it undermined the power of what came before.

Cut to Pieces, another fabulous piece about which I cannot say enough is coming back soon to CPT and I can’t wait to see it.

After Insomnia, Jordan and I went to Happy Dog and heard The New Soft Shoe, which does covers of Gram Parsons. It was a pretty cool show and we sat with some friends of Jordan’s, one of whom, strangely enough, was a graduating Case student who was in Gilbert Doho’s theater class when I went to speak to them about my play Patterns. Small world.

To the unawakened eye art is upholstery work

July 21st, 2009 No comments

Had a good time at CPT’s 26th season launch party on Saturday night.  They were offering $2 Magic Hat brews, so that was incentive enough–but it was in a theater too!  Well, theater discussion and some rousing Karaoke by some theater people who could actually sing.

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I got to see Mike Geither, Mike Sepesy, Chris Seibert, Raymond Bobgan, Mindy Herman and James Kosmatka, among others.  I was especially glad to see Sepesy as I have not seen him in a while and it was good to catch up.  His play The Alice Seed is leading off CPT’s season in October.  I blogged about his second play in that series, The Douglas Tree, earlier.

The highlight of the evening was the reveal of the 2009-10 season and Bobgan’s talk that accompanied it, which I found quite inspiring and which fired me up a bit.  I was reminded of my high school football days and wanted to go out on Detroit and chuck someone, which of course, would be a bad idea for several reasons.

There were at least two points in particular that roused my spirit and on which I want to comment.  The first was Bobgan’s commentary on the state of the economy and its impact on theater and the arts generally.  His comment was directed toward the fact that the arts community felt the need to defend its importance.  That it had to defend itself in economic terms–i.e. we add jobs, we attract visitors, we employ people, we contribute to the economy.  These are things that he expressed a distaste for discussing or arguing and yet which he has been compelled to discuss more and more lately.  I share his distaste for this and have myself emailed congressmen and women from various places regarding this, not the least of which is an especially noxious Jack Kingston, who apparently suggests that artists aren’t real people in the following Boston Globe quote:

"We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”

Regardless, all this overlooks the fact that actors, writers, technicians, artistic directors, assistants, marketing people, etc., all work in the arts and all get paid and contribute to the economy.  It overlooks the role that arts organizations play in revitalizing neighborhoods, as best demonstrated by CPT itself and the following June 24, 2007, Plain Dealer article, "Energizing Detroit-Shoreway; Theater renovations, new building at the heart of neighborhood revitalization."

But all this is beside the point, and was strongly and defiantly pointed out by Bobgan who said, in the end, “art doesn’t need to justify itself.”  And he’s right.

Perhaps the strongest argument Bobgan made, and the one that sticks with me, is that art is to society what dreams are to individuals.  This is something I’ve heard before–I’m not sure where exactly–but the point is profound and it is accurate.  But Bobgan took it a step further and poignantly drove it home: when individuals do not dream they become irritable, lose focus, and even experience psychiatric and emotional disorders that can lead to a lack of empathy and aggression.  Taking the natural step, Bobgan evolved the argument’s premise to that of society.  A society without art suffers the same effects as the individual without dreams.  All we need do is look at the last eight years of U.S. History to see how harrowing the result truly is.

Beyond this, Bobgan looked at the local theater scene and made some very optimistic pronouncements and even made me optimistic too.  He gave shout outs to Theater Ninjas, convergence-continuum, and Karamu.

I found the evening enjoyable and the speech Bobgan delivered heartening.  I only hope he’ll post is somewhere.

I’ve done some strategic planning for convergence for their benefit and for the satisfaction of some class requirements at the Mandel Center.  I’ll post some of that material which discusses the impact of theaters on the economics of a neighborhood sometime soon.  In the mean time, here are some interesting quotes I found from George Dawson in his book Shakespeare and other lectures

Our greatest men, both in art and science, have been distinguished by the clear understanding which they have had, that their art or science was but the outward rendering of invisible truths. It is the common opinion of art that it is something laid on the surface of society; whereas those who watch deeply, see that art is to society as the colour of the check is to the body the result of full bloom and health; for art and all its appliances are the last sign of the full vitality of a people. If you have an unhealthy people or age, it is in vain that you, as it were, paint art upon it by Royal Academies or Schools of Design, and giving of prizes; for art is not so much the product of construction and skill, as the appearance of full health in the body corporate. 402-3

To the unawakened eye, that looks upon art as upholstery work, pretty furniture, and pretty colouring; to those who say, as we often hear them saying before the works of the great masters,  "They are pretty!" to all these such teachings are idle and absurd. 403

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