Archive for the ‘Jordan Harrison’ Category

Finn in the Underworld

September 16th, 2009 No comments

I’m pretty excited about the upcoming production at convergence-continuum. A few years ago I went over to see Act a Lady by Jordan Harrison which was an hilarious romp. So, this next piece by Harrison is to be anticipated, too. However, this one is not a funny romp. In fact, it is the exact opposite: dark, brooding, and sinister.

Finn in the Underworld at convergence-continuum

Finn in the Underworld at convergence-continuum

Clyde Simon, the artistic director for convergence, is pretty careful in laying out the season–placing comedic hits like Charles Mee’s Big Love right in the midst of summer to catch that breezy, sunny disposition that keeps us all optimistic, happy, and alive; but coming right back as the weather changes over to windy, overcast, and cooling to stoke our more fearful and depressed autumnal dispositions. Finn in the Underworld is the perfect direction, as Lucy Bredeson-Smith (who plays Gwen in the play) points out, for Halloween.

I recently sat down and interviewed the cast and director of the upcoming production, so I went to Playscripts and read much of the play that they have freely available online: Then, when I got to The Liminis, as I waited while they all ran tech, I finished up the play with the scripts that were laying about on the set. I was not disappointed.

It was initially a strange sensation, reading the play. I am used to finding books through Google Books, reading happily along, and then encountering pages missing from the middle of the book–Google’s meagre concession to copyright concerns. This extraction of pages leads to a choppy reading experience. So, as I read Finn in the Underworld I was suddenly greeted by jumps in the script that sent me looking for page numbers to make sure that pages weren’t missing…that Playscripts hadn’t done the same thing. They hadn’t. Harrison’s script plays with jumps in time and it caught me off guard.

The jumps in time are what most attracts me to the play. It is fascinating to see an encounter at 7:35 pm only to (later on) pick up the thread of what happened earlier at 2:00 in the afternoon. The jumping fills in the details on events in strange ways, creating connections that go different directions in time and create a curiously timeless, eerie feeling…as if one were, I don’t know, in Hades? I was very much reminded of Fefu and Her Friends by Fornes which creates a similar feeling through the four mobile scenes in the mid-section of the play. There is something strangely vibrant about seeing scenes out of order and then connecting pieces of information from one place back to another. Harrison’s play handles this very competently and it creates a spine-tingling experience.

Harrison has described his play as a ‘psychosexual gothic horror story,’ which is an apt description, as there are elements of all of this in the play. Gothic stories, especially stories with horror elements, remind me of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights–the mad woman in the attic or ghosts on the moors. But the elements are present here, too: a dark house, an unexplained death, a family mystery that spans generations, and, very like the tales by the Bronte sisters, a jagged-love that is doomed from the start. Appropriately, Harrison quotes Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House at the outset of his play: “An evil old house, the kind some people call “haunted”, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored.”

For those of you who want a surprise, go and see this play! It will deliver. For those of you who want to see the play, but don’t mind having your surprise compromised, spoilers follow.

Warning: Spoiler Alert — What follows reveals plot, story, and will ruin your fun.

The quote from Hill House is more than just support for the Gothic horror feel of the piece. Other than the way Harrison plays with time and play structure, the one event that threw me the most was the revelation that Carver Bishop was already dead: thus putting the ghost element squarely at the center of the horror story. But, this is not nearly enough. Harrison, like Jackson, continues, with a house that is itself alive and that wishes to consume all of those within its walls, to keep the men and women forever, tucked inside of some unearthly plane of semi-existence.

This plane is where the second act of Harrison’s play occurs, and very like the Hades mentioned briefly above, the action that transpires is very Greek in its notion of the Underworld: very Greek because the river Lethe, which flows through Hades, erases the memories of the dead who drink from it. As with those poor dead folk in Hades, so it is with all the characters in the play who are consumed by the house–and as it no doubt is for those consumed by family grief or a tragic history–memory becomes questionable, personal history is drowned or left in a murky twilight, and logic begins to run in circles. For me, this last part of Harrison’s play is the most disturbing. It is oppressive, suffocating, and claustrophobic–and it is by no means an accident that it transpires within the confines of bomb shelter.

This play runs through October 17 at convergence and I can hardly wait to see it.

Act a Lady

October 13th, 2007 No comments

Convergence-continuum.Act A Lady, by playwright Jordan Harrison, gets off to a fast start when Miles (Clyde Simon), a small time grocer or dry-goods man, tells–half pleads with–his accordion-playing wife, (Lucy Bredeson-Smith), that he and two other men, True (Wes Shofner) and Casper (Stuart Hoffman), from the local Elks club want to put on a play that will require their wearing ‘fancy-type women-type clothes.’ But despite the fact that it’s 1927, in Wattleburg, Minnesota, the play is for a good cause, Christmas for the kiddies, and the women-folk seem to be of a mind to allow it to proceed.

The three men get a director from Germany, a tough no-nonsense woman, Zina (Lauri Hammer), and a competent make-up artist, Lorna (Denise Astorino)–both of which they will need. For you see, the men aren’t going to put on any play for the kiddies, their going to put on an 18th-century costume drama: fancy-type women-type clothes and buckets of pasty white makeup: we’re talking whalebone and hoops, petticoats and gowns and enough over-the-top court-style intrigue to cause even the staunchest Elks club member to let his beer warm as his heart palpitates.

But the women folk underestimate the power of the petticoats and gowns, and soon each man is having a gender-bender of an identity crisis. Each man finds his inner woman, and soon its difficult to tell which man’s self is walking down the sidewalks of Wattlesburg. Whatsmore, even the women get in on the action led by German director and the devil-hunting accordion player–who breaks down and puts on pants.

Act A Lady was by all reports the bell of the ball at the Humana Festival in 2006 and is very ably directed by Arthur Grothe. Without a doubt, Clyde Simon, Wes Shofner, and Stuart Hoffman do a most excellent job and clearly have fun doing it. Each is smug and humble as a Wattleburg Elks man–excepting the playful flirtation of True toward Lorna and, of course, the playful flirtation of Casper toward True–and outrageously petty, willful, and conniving as an 18th-century lady.

As the murderous plot of the court intrigue revs up, the gender confusion in each character matches the intensity–culminating with each male character (in drag) having an encounter with his male self (played by the ladies in male dress). In true Jungian complexity, each male confronts his Anima and although the confrontation leaves much to be desired, the point is made that each man is undergoing a profound transition and change. But this change does not fall solely on the men, the women too (who get short-shrift in this script) find their Animus and along with it not only the necessity but the gumption to take control of things.

Ripe with plots, counter plots, sub-plots, and intrigues, Act A Lady is a meeting between Moliere and David Greenspan and is a swell way to pass an evening’s entertainment.

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