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AtTENtion Span: A Festival of 10-Minute Plays–Part II

October 29th, 2007 No comments

Blind Man’s Bluff

Written by Steven Korbar and directed by Mindy Childress Herman

I was a bit disappointed by this one. The acting was solid as was the directing. But the script itself, for me, didn’t live up to its potential–that is, I thought it could have done a lot more than it did. Wayne Zahn (Derek Koger) is a blind man who likes to set up–what else?–blind dates with women over the Internet, and–of course–sends out pictures of male models that he passes off as photographs of himself–apparently thinking that because he’s blind no one else will be able to see the difference either. He meets up with sexy Felicia Rufus (Sarah Kunchik) who isn’t amused by the switcheroo that dear old Wayne has pulled on her. This is essentially the set up and the premise of the whole short piece. The two argue, present justifications, debate, etc. And toward the end actually have a meaningful heart-to-heart moment about his/her own weakness, ideal, disappointment, and defense mechanisms. But all the same, Felicia is still not happy and walks out, leaving Wayne to phone the next number on his list who also liked his online avatar. This play has some genuinely funny moments (Felicia, for instance, chides herself that she should have known Wayne was blind because his hotmail address is ‘eternaldarkness@’) and the thing with the guide dog is modestly cute (Wayne talks to the dog who is outside the restaurant and the dog barks appropriately); but there is much that is irritating as well–for instance, Wayne looks around all the time asking Felicia where she’s at (when she moves, of course) when I know damn well that any blind person with heightened senses would be able to tell where the person was; and, in general, the notion that a blind person cannot get a companion, has to pay prostitutes, and generate false personas cannot be in any way taken seriously; finally, there were too many easy jokes and too many cliches to really get behind this and feel it in any meaningful way. I think Korbar needs to take a look at this and cut out all the crap and figure out how these two people can connect–even if for a short drink–because even the connection they make isn’t enough.

Henry and Louise and Henri

Written by Kathleen Cahill and directed by Greg Vovos

Hands down the funniest of them all. Henry (Dennis Sullivan) and Louise (Lynna Metrisin) are American tourists sitting in an outdoor cafe in Paris. Henry is irritated because he’s hungry and all he’s been given is bread: no wine, no meat, no nothing. And the waiter (Ryan Smith) who keeps showing up doesn’t speak a lick of English–or if he does he isn’t letting on–and isn’t interested in taking the order of the two tourists. Irritated and tired (because they walked all day) Henry just wants to eat something and complain about how France isn’t like America. In America he’d have his food. In America he’d have the service that he wants. Louise isn’t listening. In a zone of her own since the outset, she stares off–visibly distant from her husband. When she does finally speak, at Henry’s insistence, she wants to talk about the little museum they went to earlier and how physically moved she was by the beauty she there beheld–Metrisin’s acting is intentionally Pollyanna and over-the-top in its gooey ‘wasn’t it just so beautiful’ sort of way. When he hears all this, Henry is sorry that he got Louise talking in the first place; and, true to his American nature, can only talk about how small the museum was and how he had to duck and how small the paintings there were, and if Henri Matisse weren’t a midget. Louise isn’t amused. She describes how much it means to her and how she had an orgasm while experiencing the beauty that took over her body. She is transformed. She can never go back to a life the way it was. Henry is happy for her, but he goes back to the small museum: for instance, the paintings were just unorganized and on the floor and scattered all around: anyone could just come in and take one and no one would even know–the sheer irresponsibility of it was astounding to him. This, of course, is when Louise takes a small painting from the waistband of her pants, revealing that she and her husband were thinking alike. Henry is overwhelmed by this. He can’t conceive her act. It’s not like not paying the toll on the Mass pike. It’s not like she can just roll through customs with it. What was she thinking. Louise, however, states that she is satisfied with her decision. In the heat of this discussion, the waiter appears and tries to take the bread. This sends Henry into an aggressive tizzy and he fights with the waiter, finally slapping him across the face. The waiter hails a cop (Tom Kondilas) who chases Henry away as Louise safely tucks the stolen painting back into her pants. She orders vin rouge and, drinking it with a naive pollyanna happiness, tells the world how much she loves France. This play is one of the best in the festival for its delicacy of character emotion and quick ability to flesh out deeply meaningful characters and connect with the audience. Additionally, it is well acted and well directed and genuinely enjoyable to watch. It was tender, it was heartfelt, it was funny.

Find Mucking

Written by Jayme McGhan and directed by Greg Vovos

At open, Kathleen (Margi Herwald) is masturbating on a desk–or is on the brink of orgasm anyway–while reading a car manual. We, the audience, of course, don’t know it’s a car manual at the outset, but the fact that it is, and we learn this later, demonstrates the way this play rolls. While Kathleen is thus involved, Maureen (Sarah Kunchik) enters through an upstage window startling the room to life. I am unsure of the relationship between the two, formally, but they are lovers. It is possibly a professor student situation. Regardless, the two women are lovers, but in the most unlikely of ways. Kathleen loves to have German philosophy and linguistics and forms of dry composition read to her–such as congressional hearings–as a means of ‘warming up.’ Maureen, on the other hand, loves the ‘hard’ sciences: chemistry and biology, talk of oceans and saltwater. As soon as they are into it, Kathleen stops: complaining that she can smell the reek of ‘doc martins and individual thought’ all over Maureen–is she cheating? There are the denials and arguments and in the end we find out that Maureen in fact is cheating: a young art/lit student named Desmond. He seduced her with Dali and Joyce; and eventually Maureen seduces Kathleen by the same methods–this ‘new’ method–art, emotion, love. This piece was definitely funny in a smart and creative way; and quotes like “you know you’re my one true brain,” and “spank my Nietzsche” are a true part of that.


Written and directed by Greg Vovos

So, what could be better than an end of the world cocktail party? How about one at which all the guests–one after the other– make his/her exit from the soiree over the side of the building they’re partying on? And what could be better than that? A media rep is on hand to film it all. It’s hard to tell if this is just a fun piece or if it is making a serious statement about the media in our society–as the final moment is that of the lone survivor from the party–the camera man–moving down to the side of the building: he looks over the edge, pretends to jump, laughingly changes his mind, and walks out the upstage door. The remaining image for us being the man’s black jacket back emblazoned with the word MEDIA. This short piece is a good time. It begins innocently enough with a man answering the door and a woman coming in with a bottle. Soon, a dozen people have come through the door and are swirling around atop the Gordon Square theatre’s balcony–which has now become the stage. Then, out of no where, one of the party goers voices his heard more loudly than all the rest: she is protesting something and says something to the effect, “Can you believe that they would do that to me?” After her statement silences the whole crowd of party-goers, she walks to the front of the stage/balcony and jumps. It is, of course, obvious that the actor is only falling three or four feet, but she drops and disappears and screams, decrescendoing her scream over time–attenuating it, as it were–until she slaps the floor–the thud being of course… So then, over the next dozen actors or so, the same scenario plays out. It is brilliant in its simplicity and in its hook: the party rages, a party-goer talks loudly about some insult–boom, over the edge he or she goes. It reminded me of 4 Murders by Brett Neveu where, of course, four murders occur–but it’s how they occur–and how the audience comes to expect them like clock-work–that makes the play interesting.

Scream was a great finale to what I would assert was a fun and successful 10-minute play festival, as 1) it involved all the actors from all the plays, 2) at the end they all pop-up from the balcony and take their bows. But more, the manner in which the audience had to travel around with chairs involved the audience; the short pieces were fun and active–for the most part–and engaged the audience and, like Raymond Bobgan, CPT’s Executive Artistic Director says,

“It’s a bit like a wine tasting. It’s about enjoying all the flavors, savoring the exploration, and defining your own tastes. Not every wine will appeal to everyone, but the next is just around the corner.”

The Unseen Hand

August 7th, 2007 No comments

Have been wrestling with a play of mine, listening to Jonah Knight’s show Theatrically Speaking ( and reading, reading, reading.

I just finished Shepard’s The Unseen Hand again and have been trying to synthesize all of the elements. Primarily, however, I’ve been focused on three things: 1) the overall meaning of the play, 2) the transitions from what I’ll refer to as French scene to French scene–that is, what keeps it moving forward, and 3) the theatricality of it.

In terms of overall meaning, my opinion is that the play is a pretty serious indictment of modern American society. What greater symbol can there be than the hulking corpse of a 1951 Chevy convertible decomposing at center stage? That said, I think the reach of it is bigger than that. The ‘unseen hand’ is a metaphor for the way each of us indoctrinated by our cultural surroundings–or our societal constructs: ethics, mores, beliefs, values, and so on.

Willie: Whenever I think beyond a certain circumference of a certain circle there’s a hand that squeezes my brain.
Blue: What Hand?
Willie: It’s burned in. You can’t see it now. All you can see is the scar.

The ‘unseen hand’ is that which prohibits us from thinking beyond what we have been taught to think; limiting our vision of the future; restricting us from all our possibilities to the dull, thud of a life we often find ourselves living. Every day we dream a thousand possible futures for ourselves and yet are restricted by a ten thousand reasons why we can’t do what we dream. It is as Joseph Campbell says, our dragon:

“Dragons represent greed, typically. The European dragon guards things in his cave — heaps of gold and virgins. He can’t make use of either of them. He just guards. There is no vitality of experience of either the gold or the females. Psychologically, the dragon is the binding of oneself to ones own ego. Killing the dragon is breaking away from the ego to open the realm of relationship. The real dragon is in you. The dragon is your ego holding you in.”

But, I don’t think Shepard’s aim is that deep. I think it is more at the societal constructs that keep us limited; so, Shepard creates a pretty elaborate “dark universe” to house this: Nogoland. Literally, No Go Land the land where you don’t go anywhere or do anything. You rot.

Actually read an interesting article by Ron Mottram from Inner Landscapes: The Theater of Sam Shepard in which he states, “In a description that both parallels and parodies the process of evolution, Willie tells Blue how he is descended from a race of ‘fierce baboons that were forced into human form by the magic of the Nogo,’ a word that puns on the Greek and Christian uses of the term Logos, the controlling principle or divine word that is the primal creative force in the universe. Having evolved beyond the capacities of their controllers, they have been put under the domination of the Unseen Hand.” pp70

You don’t live. Or what living you do is for corporations: we are baboons groomed solely to sort diamonds for the Silent Ones. The PBS show I saw on Shepard talks about his experience growing up in a California wasteland very like that at the beginning of the play: “All around is garbage, tin cans, cardboard boxes, Coca-Cola bottles and other junk.” The underbelly of America. The wreckage of a consumer society, a society that thrives on its gilded surface: seen most clearly in The Unseen Hand and Other Plays in the Kid’s monologue. It is also seen in later plays, such as True West, where each character bemoans the stifling, suburbia that dominates the American landscape. The ennui of Nogoland is best demonstrated by Sycamore’s fate: his desire to fit in and do nothing and his becoming what Blue was at the outset of the play: old, tired, content to sit in an abandoned car under an overpass. Who are the other characters that populate Nogoland? The sorcerers, the high commission, prisoners of the diamond cult, the lagoon baboons? Hard to tell, in my opinion. But there is much in the play that hints at strong suspicion of the government: history changed, use of nerve gases, and the strong, Orwellian bureaucratic structure of Nogoland society–which strangely resembles our own. It is worth noting that Blue, Cisco, and Sycamore are just as out of place in the “new” America as Willie is.


Strong sense of character through dialog/language. Strong sense of theatre through action.


The stuff that Blue takes from the backseat of the car. The seemingly endless stream of stuff in the car.
The High Commission
The Brand
The Sorcerers
Secret of the Nogo (No go — i.e. no movement)
Prisoners of the Diamond Cults
Bring back from the grave
Conversation surrounding the 51 Chevy
Blue is 120 (modern medicine)
Radio station on the moon (Moon Channel)


  • Right off we see a world dominated by junk — 51 Chevy beat to hell; garbage cans; tin cans; etc. The oppressive, endless repetition of the diesel truck: the light, the noise.
  • The tape/light loop of the trucks
  • The radio
  • Blue and his appearance
  • Willie and his appearance
  • The kid and his appearance
  • Willie freaking out
  • The temporal rearrangement
  • The youth returning to Blue
  • The appearance and behavior of Sycamore.
  • Lights on the stage as the map is drawn.
  • Kid with his pants down.
  • Uses rock chords to back-up the Kid’s speech
  • Willie’s Trance (Kid’s words in reverse)
  • Gun shots.
  • Day-glo painted ping-pong balls/paper
  • Sycamore: Ancient voice. Guitar with closing speech.


Mistrust of Government; pp6;
The Past: “used to be”¦ settle w/a six gun”¦ now it’s all secret”
“no good old boys these days”¦chips on their shoulders”
Authenticity: “the real people”¦ the people people”
Azusa (A to Z in the USA): Azusa as representative of America.
Cowboy: “car’s like a good horse”
Attitude generally: independence, defiance, iconoclastic American self-sufficiency.
Suspicion: Willie’s motives/person
Unseen Hand: a muscle contracting syndrome hooked up to the will of the Silent Ones.
Science/Technology: awe of, uncertain understanding of it, strange uses we put it toExposition is well-woven

Movements (French Scenes):

Scene 1:
Blue Morphan talks to himself.

Scene 2:
Willie enters.
Movements (Conversational)
Blue thinks Willie is a vagrant who will beg.
Blue thinks Willie is a robber who will steal.
Change: Willie knows Blue
Blue denies
Willie pursues
Blue — “you’re crazy”
Willie — moves into Expo: high commission, etc.
Blue — act of kindness (blanket)
Willie in the driver seat
–Willie talks of driving
–talks of deer hunting
Willie provides the history and exposition (maintain control over its psychosomatic functions)

Scene 3: Cisco enters.
What questions are raised (and directly asked) by this scene? How does Shepard handle this scene?
Cisco is very emotional and open. Blue is defensive.
Obvious joke (Blue throws the whiskey away/holds up rifle)
Cisco comments on personality (remembered), rusty rifle.
Blue (it can still shoot)
**A lot of domain relevant knowledge is interspersed in jargony, flashy ways here (greased enough, let a gun go to rustin’ like that”¦)**
Cisco volunteers to show a scar for proof (as well as exposition about the event)
Blue lowers the gun (he protests that he saw them both die)
Cisco tells that Sycamore should be coming.
**Shepard then draws the action back to Willie on the ground
Cisco and Blue review what is known so far. (expo)
Cisco asks for food.
**Runs close on anachronisms””some language.
Predictable stuff with discussion of what’s a highway patrolman, what’s a car, what’s a”¦ etc.
Humorous set of transactions surround these things”¦
Blue and Cisco talk and the conversation is comic in that Blue tries to explain modern inventions to Cisco but from his own unique perspective and understanding.
**Shepard ties it in though as the speculation about prisoners on the moon comes back to Willie saying he came from outer space.**
Like old times: robbin’, rapin’ and killin’

Scene 4: Druken Kid
First thing I notice here is the use of profanity. It is extreme. Especially when compared to the “outlaw” Morphan brothers””who don’t at all.
Kid addresses a rival school.
Kid threatens Blue and Cisco. (empty threats–a society of ‘big talkers’)
Cisco pulls a gun.
Kid cries and explains.
Kid goes away.

Scene 5: Willie wakes up
Blue talks to Cisco about how things have changed.
Recognize the Kennedy thing, a bit of historical subjectivism on the other stuff.
Willie wakes up.
“brains eaten out” pp20
Theatrics of the “temporal rearrangement”
How they handle the age transformation”¦
Rock around the Clock

Scene 6: Sycamore
Sycamore adds a tension just in his manner: dress, style, etc..
By the time Sycamore arrives the whole notion of raising the dead is common-place, so no more is wasted on that. However, there is a shift in tone to Blue and Cisco being seen as boyish while Sycamore is seen as the control, the brains, the will, and the plan. His line is taking the other two to task on what they have not done, laziness, etc.
Can’t believe there are no trains.
Trains are then used as a part of the plan.
Lots of exposition in the planning.
Kid offers his ideas. (commentary on the difference between bandit gangs and guerrilla armies) Why have the Kid know all this? 1. unexpected; 2. makes you take a comic character a bit more seriously;
Kid gets the gun and does his speech.
Willie undoes everything by reversing the speech. (Black Sabbath–idea of the Catholic Mass in reverse)

By undoing everything Shepard is stating that we all have the power to revoke the Unseen Hand and control our own lives and destinies by simply revoking the power that our “American” middle class, materialistic needs/desires exercise over us. I.e. we all work shitty jobs that we hate because we have to have our iPods, computers, cars, houses, clothes, etc., and that this mass consumerism effectively operates by controlling us as an unseen hand–the “master of the puppets.”

Alaman left, Zane Grey, Desert Gold (songs of the cattle trail)
Willie is free from the Unseen Hand (restrictions)
He departs and tells them that he has a world to change; they can do what they want with theirs. (optimism for him; pessimism for the audience)

Scene 7:
They don’t know what to do.
Blue and Cisco decide they gotta get out. Gotta beat it. Cisco pleads to leave with Blue very much like later with True West.
They leave. Sycamore stays.

Scene 8:
Sycamore alone.
He speaks in an ancient voice.
Seems to become as Blue was at the beginning.
Crawls into back seat of the Chevy.


Willie comes seeking Blue and his brothers
Willie can’t think beyond a certain point
Willie and the Sorcerers/Unseen Hand
Raising the Dead (Cisco and Sycamore)
Tension over whether to help or not; finally they decide to.
Agreement to help/planning.
Incident with the Kid.
Willie talks backwards and undoes the Unseen Hand; He’s free.
Blue and Cisco go off (into the sunset?) somewhere else
Sycamore stays and turns into Blue. (comment on society)


Blue Morphan — Morph (form, change from)
Morphan Brothers

Closing Thoughts

In terms of Shepard’s oeuvre, themes that dominate his later work are here apparent, though handled with a bit more comedy: the illusion of the old West; the residue of that dream in American life and culture; the disillusionment of what America has become as the pioneer, individualistic spirit has given way to rapcious greed; and the absurdity of this culture’s (or any culture’s) operations when looked at ‘objectively.’ The characters of Blue, Cisco, and Sycamore are representative of other characters as well: the two cowboys in Cowboys #2, Dodge in Buried Child, and the sibling relationships present in True West.

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