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Keyword: ‘James Kosmatka’

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

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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