Archive for the ‘Factory Theatre’ Category

A Burst of Sunlight…with a small cloud or two

July 9th, 2008 No comments

Finally. That’s what I have to say. Finally.

Several articles have been written recently regarding the possibility of a new home for the Cleveland State University Drama Program, these follow on a proposed master plan discussed a year or so ago. The gist of the new plan includes moving the program to the Allen Theatre, right down Euclid Avenue, positioning the CSU Drama program right in the middle of Playhouse Square.

As Steven Litt, of the Plain Dealer, writes: “Meanwhile, the university and Playhouse Square are discussing a project that would turn the nearby Allen Theatre into a new home for the CSU’s drama program. It would cost at least $10 million and would divide the Allen into two or more performance spaces, while keeping most of the historic 1921 theater intact.”

Further, as Tony Brown postulates, “Here’s a possible future: A 21st-century showcase for the best college drama from Northeast Ohio’s major centers of higher education.”

Why major centers? Funny that you ask. Case Western Reserve University’s MFA Acting program has an agreement with the Cleveland Playhouse to provide a venue for the young stable of actors at Case. But this points to the absence of anything comparable for the playwrights in the CSU or NEOMFA program. And believe me, as a MFA playwright I know what a difference having MFA actors would make. I don’t want to knock undergrads, but there’s cutting your teeth and there’s cutting your teeth. Beating this metaphor to death: some of the undergrads are still drooling and figuring out what the little calcium nubs in their mouth are; but the MFA actors are outright chewing and tearing into things. I’ve seen some of their stuff, including a very good Tom Stoppard piece (The Real Thing). But this doesn’t just include playwrights and actors, this includes lighting, sound, costuming, set-design, and more…

But, I digress. It is a hope that these MFA programs can be merged (or at least come to an agreement) and the addition of the Allen Theatre could serve as a strong catalyst. Don’t get me wrong (again) I don’t dislike the Factory Theatre. It has an upstairs blackbox space that is nice and a very large theater space that is, in my opinion, not made available enough for the MFA playwrights. But the Factory Theatre was just that: a factory. A cotton factory. The Allen Theatre was always a theater.

Further, if Brown is correct, “The university [CSU] would manage the Allen as a downtown venue for a consortium of college theaters across the region to show off their work.”

And I say the more the merrier. This tangentially connects with my earlier piece on this year’s Ingenuity work–there is something magical about a gaggle of artists in one place. Ideas radiate, ricochet, and energy pulsates. And to be in Playhouse Square adds a touch of legitimacy (respectability?) for those who would otherwise seek the general run-of-the-mill, anemic theater fare.

Again, according to Brown, “Last week, [Michael] Schwartz [president at CSU] put the Allen on the front burner for his final year at the university when he announced his retirement next June.

“When I got here in 2001, we were at the very edge of Playhouse Square but had virtually no contact, and that made absolutely no sense whatsoever given our location and the voracious appetite for theater in Northeast Ohio,” Schwartz said.

“I am going to do something about that.”

… He now envisions a theater management program, a technical-theater training school, and a new scenery and costume manufacturing shop operated jointly by CSU and Great Lakes Theater Festival, which is now renovating Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre into its new performance home.

Other quotes follow, including Timothy Chandler, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent; Charles Fee, Producing Artistic Director at the Great Lakes Theater Festival; and Thomas Schorgl, President of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. A good beginning to a necessary partnership-building that can make something like this happen. Taken along with the idea I mentioned in an earlier posting, regarding a voucher program I read about in American Theatre, there are great possibilities for building a theater community in Northeast Ohio that can be truly vibrant.

God knows, that certainly is the kind of theater environment I’d like to be in the midst of!

The Douglas Tree

March 11th, 2008 No comments

Mike Sepesy’s play is the second in a trilogy of plays that involve families in a tangle of tragic events wrapped in mystical and elusive images that allow the present world to blend seamlessly with what is mythic or lying under the pond of our unconscious. The first being The Alice Seed, which I saw as a reading at the Cleveland Play House early last year and which will be fully staged this fall at Cleveland Public Theatre.

The action largely revolves around Douglas “Dougie” (Allen Branstein) a grown man who is stuck like a tree and cannot move forward with his life: whether his stuckness is due to a metaphysical ailment, a bump on the head he received as a teenager or his alcoholism is difficult to answer. Dougie’s stuckness is altered however when his long-ago ex-girlfriend Cass (Molly McGinnis)—from just before he fell from the truck and bumped his head—shows up to tell him that after that long-ago summer she had a daughter, Rose, (Virginia Konchan) and Dougie is a dad. Dougie, who was planning to kill himself, says that meeting a daughter is worth a few days, and decides to stick around and see what’s what—including that his daughter has brittle bones; her boyfriend, Marc, (James Kosmatka) is an appalling ass; and transforming himself and becoming un-stuck—finding the courage to move forward with his life: a courage for which Dougie’s father, Larry (Don Prather), is no doubt grateful.

Sepesy is very adept at controlling the theatrical elements of The Douglas Tree to layer meaning and effect and force the audience to sort things out: one of the more interesting examples being the use of the daughter and her boyfriend as representations of the younger Dougie and Cass. Perhaps the most stunning moment occurs when the older Dougie (Branstein) walks into the wood to show his daughter (Konchan) the heart he long-ago carved into a tree for Cass: at this moment Branstein opens his shirt and becomes the tree (the heart carved presumably in his chest); at that singular moment the young couple comes to life before our eyes: the young lovers Konchan and Kosmatka—acting out that long ago time. The doubling of the younger actors as both the older Dougie and Cass as well as the current Rose and Marc creates a Bahktinian dialog in terms of the temporal and physical space as well as between the actors and the audience adding the “layers” of meaning I mentioned earlier—and with great success. One of the more brutal moments of the play comes when Dougie “cuts” the heart off the tree using an axe and we see the representation of the young Dougie being axed to death—a scene that takes on the dual meaning of Dougie’s no-doubt strong desire to axe his daughter’s boyfriend Marc. The meaning of this moment is confounded for the audience by two points: Marc never returns to the stage and the absurdist technique of having Dougie go about the stage for the rest of the play wearing a blood-drenched shirt—that no one seems to notice or comment on.

I will save a later post to talk about The Alice Seed, but will here just remark on the obvious “nature” theme running through the titles: seed, tree. I will also note that the two plays draw heavily on family tragedy, absence, loss, and memory—and that Sepesy uses very strong stage images and uses them to create an enchanted environment on the stage that has a heart-wrenching pulse.

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