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Keyword: ‘the excavation’


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!

Demon Baby

December 8th, 2007 1 comment

Question: What’s a piñata, a twittering bird in a cage, a garden gnome, a children’s book, and several bottles of gin got in common? Well, you’ll find the answer to that question in Erin Courtney’s play, Demon Baby.

Unraveling the meaning of these objects is the key to figuring out just what Courtney has to say about how we deal with displacement and the stuffiness of our lives.

Wren (Dawn Youngs) is an American woman dragged along by her husband Art (Tom Kondilas) to London for work. Left alone all day to do what she pleases, she attempts to work, instead, on a children’s book commissioned by Alan (Curt Arnold)—a book that is to comfort children who are displaced when their parents drag them along to new places to work. The book in question (as well as the work that Art and Alan do) is for a company that is overly concerned with the relocation of its employees—as Wren and Art frequently, in one scene at least, discuss a “relocation manual”—another loaded symbol for you—and Cat (Amy Bistok) discusses her “relocation advisor.” Throughout Demon Baby, this group (Wren, Art, Alan, and Cat) are joined by Charles (Arthur Grothe) and Sally (Teresa McDonough) for Gin-and-Tonic-infused parties with heavy smoking, eating, and vapid conversation.

The lifestyle of heavy drinking and isolation may be what leads to the sudden turn of events for Wren, when she suddenly wakens one night to find an immense garden gnome sitting on her chest. The garden gnome, whom Wren refers to as the Demon Baby (Wes Shofner), is a demon baby because “there’s something a little bit different about it.” At first, Wren is very put out by the Demon Baby and afraid, but soon she comes to hold conversations with it, and soon after the two are thick as thieves.

The rest of the play revolves around the increasingly erratic behavior of Wren as she is influenced (freed from constraint?) by the Demon Baby. This erratic behavior includes one provocative scene in which Wren attempts to seduce Alan, but not knowing how to do it she simply walks out stark naked (bravely carried forth by Ms. Young). As irony would have it, though, Alan is attracted not to Wren, but to her husband. Alan is alone with Wren, actually, to review the children’s book that Wren has finished. The book is very good, as far as Alan and the company are concerned—excepting the strange introduction of a demon baby—which the company cannot accept.

In the end, the book is decommissioned, no one seduces anyone, Cat’s husband (whom we never see) leaves her, Cat falls off a roof while trying to hit the piñata (she lives), the influence of the Demon Baby affects all the partiers, and, eventually, Cat recovers from her agoraphobia. The caveat being that it ends up on Art, who at the end of the play is being visited by the Demon Baby.

The power of this play lies in the interpretation of the images/icons I mention above and that Courtney weaves throughout the piece: the bird in the cage (wren), the piñata, the demon baby, covering furniture with sheets, the content of the children’s book, etc. Through them, I think, the subconscious/unconscious reaction to displacement and suffocation—the fears and threats—are made concrete and real. And these bizarre moments are drawn in sharp relief against the vapid, tiresome lifestyle of the characters in their “normal” life. I am not going to undertake an analysis or excavation of the play at this time, but I likely will in the future, as it struck me and I truly think that there is more to this play than meets the eye.

One thing that I noticed very early on, and throughout, for instance, is the reliance by all the characters (other than Wren) on what is written. That is, what is written has an authority of incontrovertible FACT. Whereas experience is dismissed. For instance, Wren’s experience of the Demon Baby is dismissed by Art as “sleep paralysis” or something else–but the experience itself, the effect of the experience, or its result are ignored. I think Courtney has something very serious to say about our willingness in modern times to rely too much on what is construed as “socially approved” explanation (or what is scientifically known), and the “sleep paralysis” that all of these characters seem to be undergoing in both their personal and business lives demonstrates the sedative effect of ignoring experience or of seeking new experience and simply taking life as it is lived day-to-day.

Demon Baby is directed by Geoffrey Hoffman and it is his first stab at directing. For the most part, I think he did very well. There are some moments that I question—but, of course, who doesn’t indulge in the glory that is back-seat driving? Some of the more prominent moments include large swaths of dead time (scene changes, etc.) and those in which Hoffman deviates from the script. As a playwright, of course, the latter is where my great fear and offense lies. For instance, the script calls for incessant smoking by many of the characters—chain smoking, in fact. There is no smoking in the production. Now, this may have been done for political correctness (god forbid), or perhaps expediency—who knows? But it does take an element from the production that would have, at least, added atmosphere, if not demonstrated the high-strung nature of these characters through their behavior. Another, though minor, point, is an objection to the periodic use of the sound track from American Beauty. I think that sound track is overly loaded for anyone who has seen the movie, and it disrupted my experience. I think convergence-continuum and Hoffman ably used multimedia in this piece, especially in the setting—construction work outside the window and the passage of time; as well as to show—to demonstrate—the inner workings of Wren’s mind at an especially frazzled point (where the Demon Baby is helping her write the children’s book). I think Hoffman was, in many ways, hampered by a script that, to my mind, calls for a great deal of subtlety in its handling and runs a great risk of being flat—which it was at some points. It was difficult, I think, as well because some of the actors lost their British accents, or periodically moved in and out of them, and some were unfortunately flat in their interactions as well: delivery, response, etc.

I’m glad I saw it, as I read it first and it is always better to see a play than to read it, and I will likely go see it again. This is the first of the clubbed thumb deliveries to be at con-con.

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