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My Barking Dog

June 8th, 2011 No comments

Went and saw Eric’s play a week or so ago and it was simply fantastic. For the second time this year, Coble teams up with Nick Koesters (Side Effects May Include) and, again, with highly positive results. Coble is a very good writer, and appreciation I’ve gained since taking a course in adaptation a year or so ago and studying his adaptations of Washington Irving stories in Gold in the Bones. I myself was doing an adaptation of Washington Iriving’s The Alhambra, and studying the choices Coble made in his own adaptions was both enlightening and refreshing. Additionally, many years ago I saw his play Bright Ideas at the Playhouse, which is a send up of the Scottish play, based around of all things child rearing. I also have a copy of his play Natural Selection which was in the Humana Festival and is quite brilliant in it’s own right.

My Barking Dog

Coble has the ability to weave complex stories that address complicated problems or longings or impulses in modern society and make them both tight and hilarious. My Barking Dog is very carefully constructed and builds meticulously toward its great truth, which in my opinion is an exploration of how modern society has gone grossly astray: the machine has long been running us.

My Barking Dog begins with two stories of isolation and posits a modern world that is barren of essential meaning and meaningful connection, and therefore psychologically chilling. The two main characters are exemplars of the brokenness of society. Melinda (Heather Anderson Boll) is a socially stunted factory worker who works the night shift at a printing company; there she does a mindless job which she loves because it lets her avoid people and cultivate her yearning to be one with the machine that she “feeds” paper into. Similarly, Toby (Koesters) plays an out-of-work middle manager who finds that he is completely replaceable as a cog in the machine and whose sole pursuit, when we discover him, is identifying wireless networks in his apartment and placating his insomnia. The world changes for both of these characters when a Coyote (barking dog) comes out of the “wild” and onto the fire escape of their apartment building. Melinda turns from feeding a machine to feeding the dog; and Toby forsakes his wireless network hunting to come outside.

There is a natural inclination on both the part of a playwright and audience member to expect the two dysfunctional characters to “find one another” and be saved by this new relationship and human encounter. This is a choice that, thank God, Coble avoids. Instead, Melinda finds a love of revolution and creating destruction from her encounter with the Coyote; and Toby, preposterously, gets impregnated by the Coyote and has its pups–thus entirely re- and comically mis-directing the romantic impulse of this plot line. Along the way, Coble skewers so much of modern life and angst that the play just breezes along gradually unfolding to reveal the dystopian lives we live today enwombed as we are by our technical electronic blah blah blahs and avoidance of meaningful interaction with the world around us.

In the end, Toby forsakes the modern world for life with his mate in the wild, and Melinda vows to bring the wild back into the cities and reclaim them for Nature.

Jeremy Paul
directs My Barking Dog (I wonder if the man ever sleeps), and does a fantastic job with interpreting the meaningless tasks that the characters “live” in their “modern” life into engaging stage images that mirror the textual vapidness of their lives. He also keeps the movement and time tight so that the play moves ever onward to the inevitable conclusion.

As much as Coble probably hates it, there is some comparison to be made to Fight Club with its radical re-creation of a character whose sole “job” becomes the destruction of modern society to create a chaos that frees people from their “things”; but the Coyote and the absurdity of Toby’s character allows the play to avoid too painful and damning a seriousness that the message really does carry. We have lost and are continuing to lose very real and important parts of ourselves and we give ever away more of our humanity to the machines that we have created–both literal machines and systemic machines–the Dark Vaders and Empires which inevitably follow on such concessions as we are making now.

Boll has a tremendous ass and looks great smeared in whatever she was smeared in (lotion?); and I wish I could say the same for Koesters, but alas, I’ll remember the admonition that he who lives in a glass house should not throw stones… and just say admiringly that Koesters is braver than I am–especially as regards playing the “bitch” who delivers Coyote pups by Caesarean section.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that My Barking Dog is in Kentucky some time soon. Now I’ll go back to reading extant texts from a much more civilized time: The Iliad. After all, nothing speaks of intimacy and humanity like running a spear through so-and-so’s teeth.

Extravaganza

May 5th, 2011 No comments

So, I’ve fallen down in terms of updating this blog, but I’ve yet been busy seeing shows and thought I’d just summarize what’s been going on.

Went and saw Valparaiso at convergence. It was great. I was talking with Clyde about the show and he remarked how much the main character’s identity was defined by those around him and the malleable nature of this particular character (as a sort of ‘new’ Everyman).  With this in mind I watched the show carefully and indeed picked up on the commentary that Delillo was making on how empty and soulless some people nowadays can be with their lust for fame and desire for sycophants to cuddle their knees.  In this show the main character becomes famous after getting on a flight for Valparaiso, Indiana and ending up in Valparaiso, Chile.  The fame is unearned. Through endless re-telling of a vapid tale, the character mythologizes himself (in an empty myth).  The character becomes whatever those around him want him to be. His wife cheats on him. And in the end we learn that he was actually attempting to kill himself in the airplane bathroom on the flight to Valparaiso. (An act which can variously be seen as the ultimate narcissistic action or the greatest act of self-nullification.)  There was section of talkshow and audience interaction which I enjoyed, especially as my own show Patterns at CPT used the talkshow as a vehicle for both character and audience engagement.

Next I saw Fever Dream at CPT.  I wasn’t that crazy about the script that Sheila Callaghan put out there and was much more impressed with Crumble (Lay me down Justin Timberlake).  I think it was likely a very difficult play to adapt from the original, with which I am only familiar by having read about.  There were moments in the play that were truly absurd and with a high-potential for strangeness; and then there were other sections where the impulse to create this naturalistic, highly elaborate plot-driven  hulking thing took over that bogged the rest of the strangeness down.  I thought Beth Wood did a fantastic job mixing the tempo, especially with the sections of Callaghan’s script that sort of lumbered along. The choreographed sections were wonderful and the design of the set was stunning and something to see.  Beth clearly encouraged the actors to play with what was possible in the space and move freely, actively, and daringly around it (given some of the things that individuals did).  Despite the periodic clunkiness of the script, I had a fine time at the show.

The Excavation at Theatre Ninjas was the highlight of the shows that I saw.  All around this show I heard from other playwrights, and even my wife who infrequently gets to theatre, that The Excavation is what theater should be.  It was the vanguard of non-linear storytelling, with each “scene” offering up 1) 3 individual scenes from which you could select and 2) having time enough to see two of the individual scenes before the “scene” shifted and the play moved forward.  This fact alone created a possibility for seeing the same play but experiencing it in dozens of different combinations each time.  The play, additionally, highly encouraged inquiry and self-directed engagement (a la museum). I regret, of course, only seeing it one time as clearly there were many, many different ways of seeing this play and many, many different experiences that could be had.  The play was highly interactive, on all fronts.  From the obvious breaking of the fourth wall and potential for direct engagement with the audience/actor; to very direct engagement during the Roman orgy, in which everyone in the space is encouraged to join in and dance, raise hell, drink beer, and so on; to various experiments and “excavations” that are occurring throughout.  In one sequence a “little girl” took myself and another theater-goer to a strange, small space where we had to hide from giants, eat snacks, draw with crayons, and generally “pretend.”  This is something I’m used to, having kids at home, but for those who do not this side trip had to be a blast back to a time when we used our own mind for entertainment and relied much less on the gadgets and devices that seem to clutter our lives nowadays.  Hats off to Jeremy Paul on this piece, because it was fantastic.

After The Excavation my wife and I went to the Vaudevillian Throwdown at Speakeasy, which was another piece of glory in a wonderful Cleveland night.  The two performances were by Pinch and Squeal, doing their very droll burlesque skits and routines (see photo above); followed by Sabrina Chap, who is a magnificent talent and whose music I immediately purchased of iTunes and have been enjoying since.

I even got to meet her and buy her a drink, which was quite an honor as far as I’m concerned.  I also picked up her book, Live Through This: on Creativity and Self-Destruction, which I’m looking forward to digging into soon.

In the mean time, I’ve started writing again and have a few pieces in the hopper. I’ve started helping out with the CPT slush pile. And finally I’ve got a meeting coming up next week to explore a new direction that I hope to go with some others that should be quite exciting!

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