Archive for the ‘Mike Sepesy’ Category

The Alice Seed

October 29th, 2009 No comments

I really enjoy this play by Mike Sepesy, as well as the follow-up: The Douglas Tree.  There were things I liked about the production and things that I did not.  Mostly the things I didn’t like revolved around the sneaking suspicion that Mike wasn’t given the resources that his play deserved.  I don’t want to be an ass and make obnoxious suppositions, but I’ll say that I’ve seen two season-level productions at CPT by local playwrights: The Alice Seed and The Stars Fell All Night, (and some others that weren’t billed this way) and I don’t think either was served very well by the production it received.  The directors were either found or acquired last minute, the sets were questionable, and the productions seemed rushed, the choices made were wrong, etc.  I’ve seen other productions at CPT that were of good quality: Boom, Fefu and Her Friends, Our Town, etc, so why, I wonder, not the local playwrights? (Excepting the caveat of Cut to Pieces, which was very well done.)  It may be that the plays may be viewed as extensions of the process by which they come up: little box, big box, production–and resources are allocated lightly in the first two.  If that is the case, then the evolution of resources needs tweaked.  Otherwise, I may have to speculate on some other cause…

Grieving parents struggle in Sepesys The Alice Seed

Grieving parents struggle in Sepesy's The Alice Seed

I saw a reading of Mike’s play at the Cleveland Play House in 2007. That was an interesting process, as they actually used music stands.  This was thankfully not the way that Clyde approached my reading in Little Box; but even with this restricted process Mike’s writing came through.  It came through strongly again in the production I saw.

The Alice Seed is a play about grief.  The play is draining.  It is well-written and hard to watch.  As a playwright who has written texts that involve draining themes and intense interactions between characters, there are things I might tweak in this play, as the confrontations between husband and wife can become circular and border on tiresome–they weren’t, but there were moments when I began to think, “okay, we’ve been through this…”  And I was afraid it might go into tiresome; but Mike is a good writer and his sense of that is acute. As well, life is like that, and this story is a tough one.

This play is a screenplay–or should be.  I would love it as a movie/film.  There are things that it needs that are difficult on stage–that is, resources need to be allocated.  They were not.  This required an active imagination on the part of the audience.  I think most people were in this space, at least the people I heard from, and this is what theater should be: imaginative. This is not a play that requires a natural/realistic set; but having some pieces set that way would have helped.  The putting green Astroturf was a distraction, and it disturbed the scenes that took place in the house.  I would much rather the set have been a house with a pretense toward the woods, than the reverse that it was.

The one scene that went way over the top for me was the doctor scene.  A doctor comes to the middle of the stage and we seen the dire diagnosis directed toward Alice. She has cancer.  The dramatics that were attached to this announcement were excessive and unnecessary.  The doctor was reduced to an evil machine that kept repeating ‘your daughter has cancer’ with ominous echoes provided by two musicians (chorus?) above.  The starkness and lighting cast the doctor character with a villainy that shifted the focus away from the grief and bordered on editorial.  The theatrics, being way over the top, distracted from the course of the play.  The effect was almost comic.  I understand the emphasis: that this was the moment when things went bad for the family.  But it was played with too heavy a hand.

Other theatrical points were wonderful.  The hands of Alice reaching out of the ground, cast as shadows on the upstage wall were great.  I liked the effect of the trees on the set.  The musicians: shout out to Bobby Williams of con-con fame, where impressive and the sound effects they provided were often very well done.  The one caveat here being the voice of Alice and the really unnecessary “see you soon, mommy” comment.  The first scene with the mother, Dolores (Jackie Cummins), in the woods and the atmosphere and “swamp” sounds, was one of the best for me and still is with me as a strong impression.
Mike draws very strong characters and the best, perhaps, is Paul (Michael Andrews-Hinders) whose fierce moral system and sense of himself is amazing: and the ominous scene between Paul and Dolores in the house, after Judah (Mark Mayo) has run off, is drawn in hard relief and edged with deep threat and menace.  Sepesy hit his target hard here.

Mike’s sense of storytelling is equally compelling.  He knows balance.  He knows how to heighten the tension and release it.  He knows how to bring you down into the emotional trauma, and then return you with light-hearted moments.

In her notes on the play, Alison Garrigan (who directed and is herself a fine actress) comments that there are “conjure-wive” tales from Appalachia that serve as cautionary tales.  This has that element certainly, with Dolores dying in the end over a promise she made to get her dear Alice back.  When I talked with Mike after the show, I asked him if that was in the reading at the Play House: Dolores dying.  He said it was, but that she should be pulled under the ground with Alice at the end (which did not happen as there was no drop floor/trap constructed for the production). I forgot about this ending, and I think, while I understand that it does serve that cautionary purpose, a stronger story has Dolores and Judah going forward together.  I think a more haunting ending is that there is no easy way out and the loss must be endured forever.  As I get older I realize there are some things that happen in life, some damages, that cannot be undone and from which one cannot recover: that people can get broken and not be fixable.  That is deeply sad and deeply frightening.  I know if something happened to either of my children, something deep inside me would break forever; so the grief in The Alice Seed rings true. In terms of a horror story, I think this reality–the living–is the one that is truly awful–that is to say, I wish Dolores wouldn’t die; even though that detracts from the “contractual” supernatural event.

I love seeing Sepesy’s plays: he is funny, draws startling characters (is himself an excellent reader and character voice), and has a profound mythic sense when it comes to theater and a strong sense of theatrics in the theater space.  I hope CPT considers The Douglas Tree and provides the resources to make it a truly fine production–and I look forward to Mike’s new filmic work.

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.


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

%d bloggers like this: