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American Buffalo

May 11th, 2011 No comments

Donny and Teach grill Bobby

Brian Zoldessy, who directed my thesis play Patterns, does double-duty as Director and Teach in this gem of a production of American Buffalo at Tri-C East. By the time the play was over Zoldessy had so inhabited the character of Teach that I was disgusted by him: that is to say, it’s a fantastic performance and if you know Brian, you know that in many ways he’s perfect for the role. (Not to say that Zoldessy is a whiny-ass like Teach, because he’s not.)


From the moment Donny walks on (Noah Budin), you can sense that the production is going to be good. There is a presence like that of Dennis Franz both physically and in the resonance of the voice; and great attention has been paid to the iambic rhythms often employed by Mamet. The strength of the language comes through because all of the actors and Zoldessy clearly pay careful attention to what is said, how what is said is said, and, most importantly with a Mamet play, what is unsaid.

The set is wonderful with a strong sense of a rundown pawn show somewhere and the two main characters shine through as the paranoiac losers they are; with the only faithful and redeeming character, Bobby (Justin Robinson), a down-on-his-luck junky being all too willing to become like the losers he idolizes. The appalling inversion of morality that takes place in this play makes it worth seeing again if you haven’t seen it in a while and worth seeing for the first time if you’ve never seen it.

A big plus is that Zoldessy and Tri-C do a great job.

Holding Our Tongues: Censorship in the Theatre

October 6th, 2010 No comments

I attended a fantastic Dramatist’s Guild symposium on Saturday, September 20th, at Cleveland Public Theatre.  The symposium was about Censorship in the Theatre and was arranged and coordinated by Faye Sholiton who deserves a tremendous amount of recognition and thanks for her effort in coordinating this event.  The staff of Cleveland Public Theatre are also to be much, much thanked and congratulated for this event which was not only well-attended but of significant importance.

The “headline” guest was Ozen Yula.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ozen Yula, he is a playwright from Turkey whose play was not only shut down in Istanbul; but it is entirely likely that he will be the unfortunate recipient of a death threat in his home country.  For clarification, a death threat in Yula’s part of the world is not the same as the run-of-the-mill death threat one might receive in the United States.  In the US you receive a few phone calls, voicemail messages, etc., from some impotent rage-filled couch potatoes who have nothing better to do but stew around in the mess they call their life while attempting to control other people.  In Turkey, on the other hand, your photograph appears in a fundamentalist newspaper where you are listed as being a very bad person and then a few weeks later you turn up dead and your killer is never caught.

Now, Ozen Yula did conceive of and create a fairly provocative play–by some people’s standards: Lick But Don’t Swallow.  The premise is sort of like a distorted It’s a Wonderful Life or perhaps Two of a Kind if you like John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, and screwball comedies; but I digress: an angel is sent back to Earth for 24 hours during which she must save one person.  The catch? The angel is sent back as a porn star.  (Well, no one said it would be easy…)  So, the whole of the play is a male and female porn star, a camera man, and a director.  As the porn stars fuck in various positions, she blathers on about a host of issues: from famine and hunger to violence, etc.  It is clear that Yula has a droll sense of humor and is not a little irreverent.  It is quite ironic in that, given the subject matter and the handling of the content, I don’t know that this play would have a particularly great staying power in the marketplace, funny as it is.  However, now that someone want to ban the play and possibly kill the playwright (Assassination is the extreme form of censorship–George Bernard Shaw), the play will take on a degree of interest and value that it may never have had.  Like so many things, as soon as someone wants to cover it everyone in the world wants to see what is going to be covered.

So, the play was set to go up in Istanbul, Turkey (at the Kumbaraci 50 theater in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul according to Tony Brown) and due to threats, etc., the theater notified the police and asked for some protection.  At this point, the theater was shut down (even though it had just been built) due to concerns about its compliance with fire codes.  As Yula explained, this may have been coded language to remind everyone of the Sivas Massacre in 1993: where 37 intellectuals, artists, and hotel employees were burned to death by a similar breed of fundamentalist nits that continue to infest the globe in 2010.  Yula is scheduled to return to Turkey later this month and God bless him and keep him from the deranged mob that he’s bound eventually to encounter.  This is censorship in its most overt form.

Yula was surprisingly philosophic and calm about the whole thing, saying that his intent is to “hold up a mirror” to his society/culture and hopes to “help through literature” so that the poor (economically) and brainwashed masses in Istanbul can “see their lives”.  This is now his ethic of playwriting.  Yula is clearly intent on doing the same thing here as his play Don’t Call Me Fat is up at Cleveland Public Theatre right now, and addresses the American obsession with eating, obesity, weight loss, and fame–themes that Yula identified in our society by watching television!

There are all sorts of forms of censorship, but the most disturbing sort follows on the heels of the sort described above–the violent type that Yula faces–and this most disturbing type is Self-Censorship.  This form received a great amount of attention during the day as it is the kind that most people face: for a variety of reasons.  The violence that accompanies some sorts of censorship are aimed squarely at the notion of making people shut their mouths and not to say anything in the first place.  As some of us playwrights went off to lunch we joked with each other saying things like, “I want you to just shut your mouth, as my having to censor you requires too much effort” and “the sooner you learn to censor yourself the easier it will be for me.”  Ha ha ha.  But that, of course, is the idea.  The whole of censorship and control aims at ensuring that thinking is controlled and regulated.  Once thoughts get outside of the head, then there is great effort involved in stomping out the ideas that have escaped.  Other forms of censorship include indirect means.  For instance, in 1996 in Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) the Charlotte Repertory Theater was assaulted for putting up a production of Angels in America.  A local religious nit there (we have them in America too, they just kill less frequently now than they used to) objected to the gay themes and no doubt the overtly liberal bias evinced by Kushner’s politics. Because there was no method of overtly closing the production due to these themes, the nit and the Republican mayor decided to go after the production for having nudity in it.  They were unsuccessful at stopping the production, however the Mecklenburg County Commissioners later retaliated by stripping all arts funding from arts organizations in the county ($2.5 million) and continued to retaliate until summarily voted out of office in 1996. Local playwright Eric Coble wrote a play about the events surrounding this insanity entitled Southern Rapture. Other silly forms (but no less frightening in their implications) include such things as changing the advertising for the Vagina Monolgues to the “Hoo-Haa Monologues” as clearly some American’s have no capacity to think about human sexuality or the human body in any manner beyond the level of a second grader.

Other items of note.  During the opening discussion with Ozen Yula, Tony Brown moderated the interview and later a panel, which included Michael Mauldin, Head of the Dramatic Arts Program at Cleveland State University.  Gary Garrison, Executive Director of Creative Affairs for the Dramatists Guild of America talked a bit about how the DGA handles censorship issues.  Later in the afternoon, Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director for Cleveland Public Theatre gave an update on the Gordon Square Arts District planning/activities.  Later, later in the afternoon there was a panel discussion which included David Faux, Director of Business Affairs at the Dramatists Guild; Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J; and Betty Shamieh, a playwright whose plays have been highly successful in Europe and translated into many languages, but have not been staged in the US, as she sees it, because of their representation of Palestinian families and issues of concern to Arab-Americans.

On the whole, this was an invigorating and exhausting day, and much glory and honor is due to those who arranged for it to happen.

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