Archive for the ‘Little Box’ Category

Little Box

December 9th, 2009 No comments

I managed to get to four of the plays in Little Box this year, which is excellent for me considering the year I was in Little Box I only made it to one other than my own (K. was due with Henry virtually any day at that point). I’ll say right at the outset that the thing that characterizes the works that I say, almost universally, was their length.  My God do they need cut.  And mine did too.  So, I realize that there is an element of Karma involved here, as I was repaid for what I made others sit through two years prior.

I felt that all of the works that I saw were strong works.  So, I guess I should probably mention the ones that I went to see: Projecting, You Can See the World from Cleveland, Flock of Seagulls, and Waves.  I will talk about them each in turn, reflecting back, as I am working from memory now.

Projecting, by Rachel Baird, Directed by Jaime Bouvier, Featuring Faye Hargate.  Rachel is a classmate and, I felt, did a very fine job with this piece.  It is, I think, early in the development of it, but Projecting did some very interesting things with space and audience.  Perhaps the most transgressive action that I have ever seen in a theater occurred in this play when the lone character took a Polaroid of one of the audience members and then integrated it into the piece.  This action, along with its inclusion in the play, was perhaps the signature event of the piece, in that it dramatically re-shaped the meaning of the play almost instantaneously, as the lone character recalled the Polaroid photograph as a record of an event that happened substantially in the past (i.e. years before) when, in fact, the audience just witnessed the act of the photograph–thus throwing very much into doubt the sanity of the character on stage.  Baird describes Projecting thus:

Photographs are a way of telling stories, of tracking and keeping human histories on an intensely personal level. They are often the only real proof that a life has happened. Projection is a method of sharing these images; it is also a method of separating the self from the self, of hiding personal realities safely away in plain sight. Projecting is the story of one woman through photographs.

There are several points in this description that become interesting in light of the Polaroid.  For one, that the photographs are “the only real proof that a life has happened” of course begs the question, proof of what life?

The one that we really experience or the one that we imagined we experienced?  And is there a difference between the two?  No matter what your answer, the question is certainly raised by this play.  It is interesting, as well, that Baird notes that the “self can be separated from the self” using projection and of course this is precisely the reality that we as an audience encounter.  It is interesting, as well, to consider the term “Projecting” and its psychological implications in describing the state of ascribing to others the feelings that one has.  This state is usually a defensive posture and used to protect oneself, and the lone character in this play is clearly in a defensive state and has been, in some way, harmed: though how is unclear.  In the play, the more obvious use of projecting is the images that are shot onto the wall for the audience to consider, but clearly this form of projecting is deceptive, as the projection is actually moving the opposite direction, and thus makes for a very intriguing experience.

The use of props in this piece is equally startling, but not for their use in and of themselves, but rather what they represent as artifacts of the character’s life; and their representation of things that have passed by and gone to the great beyond.  I am, perhaps, more sensitized to this with the recent death of my grandmother and the even more recent death of my wife’s grandmother last Saturday.  This history of how we relate to each other and, especially, to those we love most in the world–and how we deceive ourselves is very much on display in this piece.

Jaime Bouvier does an excellent job of staging a play that could quickly run into the danger of boring the audience by its rather conventional format and approach: that is, one woman standing and directly addressing the audience.  But through various props and interactions with the audience, (including the distribution of small photographs of a stop light in various stages of its process: red, yellow, and green; with accompanying comments for meditation), this piece comes alive quite nicely and, but for a few long-winded points, is fresh and funny and very interesting.

The next piece on the menu this first evening I attended Little Box was You Can See the World from Cleveland Written by and Featuring Aaron Calafato. This one man show is a reflection on Calafato’s time as a struggling actor in New York City and the sort of Look Homeward Angel effect that this time had on his desires, ambitions, and ultimately decision to return to Ohio.  This piece was great fun and was, in fact, quite touching at times.  It was way too long, and at points I was simply lost as the title led me to believe the piece was about something that was simply not in the action itself: i.e. I’m watching a play about how I can see the world from Cleveland and yet all the action is taking place in New York, and is this a sad commentary on how we should view Cleveland.  The point of this action, however, becomes clear by the end of the piece, when he decides to return to Northeast Ohio, but there needs to be some attention to this ambiguous story line early on in the action to let the audience know where they are.  Calafato is very talented and very good at creating vibrant characters that are distinctly drawn.  There were moments, however, when it felt as if he was too aware of this gift and the characters were on stage just for the sake of his ability to go into them, rather than serving any purpose in the story.

Next on the list, and a week later in real-world time, was Flock of Seagulls by Stuart Hoffman.  I reflected, as I watched with a smile, on the fact that Stuart was the narrator in my staged reading at Little Box almost two years earlier.  Hoffman’s play was written by an actor who clearly would like to, as a character, sock the playwright in the eye.  This play was very much a meta-play reflecting on the relationship between character and action and plot and the relationship between the character and the audience and theatrical space. The play can, at times, be mind-bending as you try to sort out the relationship between the characters, the script, and the writer; and the awareness of the characters of the script, the writer, and the ways they can influence events.  Perhaps the funniest moment for me was the inexplicable repetition of an exchange between the characters who then realize that one of the pages in the script was actually a duplicate.  The moment of déjà vu that occurs is thus quickly and comically dissipated.  Other moments invoke the godlike nature of the writer, such as the crumpling of pages, the throwing of the script, etc.

When the play was over I asked Hoffman where he was going with the piece but he said he wasn’t sure.  I’d like to see more come of it than just some of the more slap-sticky happenings, as the subject offers some interesting potentialities for writers and actors to consider.

The final piece that I’ll discuss is Waves by Jaclyn Villano.  Directed by NEOMFA Playwright Michael Parsons and ably acted by Marla Williams, this piece explores grief as seen through the story of a mother who just lost her school-age daughter.

There is a rhythm to the piece which reflects the title, and there is a definite ebbing and flowing of energy from the script itself.  The whole is very ably written and emotionally engaging (and draining) and has an outlook that ruminates and then chooses life in the face of what I can only imagine as being the darkest moment in the life of a parent.

I have discussed with both the playwright and the director some of the issues that I have with the form of the piece, but that is only my opinion and the form seemed to work well-enough for most of the audience.  Three of the four plays I saw at Little Box took the form of direct audience address, which for some reason I find disconcerting.  I’ve discussed this elsewhere.

I’m not going to go into a detailed analysis of this play as it really would serve no purpose except to be as long an effort as the original to which it refers.  And this is where the point should be soundly made, as much to my own consciousness and to anyone else, that writing is a process and that, for the playwright, what is on stage early in the process is rarely what the audience sees as a finished product and that the process is long and hard and repetitive and that I myself put an audience full of people through a grinder several years back–all on the way to creating a better play, which I’m sure will be the case for all of these pieces in Little Box.


February 24th, 2008 1 comment

I sat down next to Barbara Becker when all of us (Raymond, playwrights, actors, and directors) were meeting to discuss how Little Box would work. She was kind enough to move her papers and let me sit. I was struck by her genuine nature, she is a lovely person. She is also an attractive person who is quite fit. I was therefore surprised, after the Little Box meeting, to see her stand up and limp around: well, not just limp, it is a serious impediment. This brings us to her play.

As described by Becker herself in the Little Box description:

Ictus is a journey through a foreign country and through the world of catastrophic illness. An athletic, healthy, thirty-five year old woman experiences a severe stroke or brain attack while traveling through Italy on vacation. In seconds her life is derailed. Unable to speak or swallow and paralyzed she must find a way to put her life back together as she struggles through rehabilitation of her paralyzed body. The brain is the center of the self. How do you put your life back together if everything that makes you you is damaged or out of commission?

Ictus is derived from the Latin, icere “to strike with a weapon” and one can almost hear a warrior boasting, “I brought him down with one fell stroke…” such is what happened to Becker, as she ably demonstrates in her work.

The stroke happened while she was in Italy, far from any hospital. One of the daunting statements, and I hope I’m getting it right, is that a portion of your brain the size of a pea dies every 5 minutes that the brain is denied blood and oxygen. It was 5 hours before she got to a hospital that could treat her. As she notes in her play, “that’s a lot of peas.”

Thematically, the trip to Italy works very much in Becker’s favor, as does her constant use of Italian throughout. The trip to Italy and our trip through her stroke work off each other to show the foreign character of the experience: you are not in world that you know anymore; the things you took for granted are no longer things that you may assume, everything is foreign now.

Ictus stars Laurel Brooke Johnson who’s seen some movie and tv work. She does a fantastic job demonstrating the physical difficulties faced by Becker: walking, speaking, struggling to stand, etc. And does a compelling job demonstrating the anguish and frustration that surely must have dominated, and still must dominate, Becker’s daily life. Johnson also has a blog.

Structurally, the play presents a linear timeline of events that take up at least a year, from the trip’s promising start in Italy to her return home from the Cleveland Clinic. It is framed by a timeless space in which Johnson (Becker) examines five or six pairs of shoes set on chairs about the stage. These shoes are from her own life and represent events and stages of her life: running shoes she wore in marathons, dress shoes for various occasions, etc., all the phases of her past life: her once normal life. The final frame sees her in the same place: shoes all around, but this time a new pair have been added: the right shoe larger than the left (presumably for a brace). One thing I found neat was the physiological, if you will, examination of the shoes—the wear patterns—how these changed. It was done at both the beginning of the play and at the end. What was most striking was the final analysis where the pinky toe area of the right shoe is examined: it shows wear—where dragging it across a floor has caused excessive damage.

I am reminded here of my one time next door neighbor as a boy: Mike Stout. Mike had been impacted by polio as a boy and one of his legs (and subsequently his foot) was smaller than the other. He too had to purchase shoes of the same style but in different sizes for each foot. I always wondered at this. Wondered at how one would go about purchasing shoes in this way: did he have a special shoe store that he went to? Or did he have to explain at every store why he wanted to break apart a perfectly good pair? Or did he have to buy two pairs, knowing he would never use two of the shoes?

I think the framing device works to great effect. I think the linear portion works fine, too, but at times it is a bit of a strain—as the audience member is going through highly narrated events in a point-by-point way. There is great potential for dead time here and, in fact, there are points that the piece drags—either the rhythm/pacing needs to be examined or something needs shortened. However, these faults are ably compensated in theatrical ways: for instance, a projector and screen is used as a visual aid to many segments that have the effect of adding energy to the piece. For instance, right after the stroke Becker is forced to write everything (as she cannot speak) and the projector shows, in tremulous scrawl, the words she puts on the pad of paper. There are other comic points, too: when they are testing her ability to recognize objects and emotions and she is asked “is this man happy or sad” and the projected picture is an absurd fellow with a smile that seems as much gas as genuine emotion. There are other elements of staging that add energy to the presentation as well.

Overall, I like this piece and I think Becker deserves a lot of credit for putting up what is extremely personal and her equally personal ruminations on the event. Her examination is insightful and elements are cautionary: value what you have. This is made more poignant, I think, by the fact that she is so young and this happened; yet the reality is that many of us will face something similar in our own lives—as aging and the decline of the body is a fact each of us faces.

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