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Holiday Giving — Do Your Part

December 2nd, 2016 No comments

We’ve entered the giving season, so I thought I’d write about one organization, other than Playwrights Local that is, to which I’m giving my money.

I’m writing about a black box theater in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland. A theater company that changed my theatrical life, and radically altered my perception of how intimate, how powerful, how threatening, and how exhilarating theater can be.

petrol23I was introduced to convergence-continuum in 2007, when Mike Geither took me to see Chris Johnston’s play Spawn of the Petrolsexuals. The experience was fundamentally altering. Chris wrote a play about a dystopian, bombed-out landscape in which homeless superheroes fought brutal, oil-hungry Commandoids that I can only compare to the Enclave, for those of you familiar with Fallout. There was Angerboy, and Freegrrl, Ingen and Holyman. It reminds me, now looking back, of an early Eric Overmyer play, like Native Speech. The set the convergence created was a character in the play: fabricated steel structures, junk scattered, a broken television set, the massive east wall that was used as movie screen, a motorcycle, a garage door that really opened on Scranton Road, garbage cans, and the trap door near the west wall that leads to the cellar.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, playing Darkangel—-a sort of black sorceress –- opens the trap door leading down to her underground lair and, as soon as she opens the door: the image of Darkangel looking down is on the movie screen east wall. I watch her descend away from me in the theater. I watch her descend toward me on the screen.

It was too meta. I was IN a B-movie and IN a real theater experience all at the same time. My head swelled to explode. The production was well-executed, but the feeling was raw. I went back two more times to see Chris’ play because I’d never seen anything like it. And this is what I hear whenever I take someone to convergence who has never been to convergence. The person who accompanies me is blown away, overwhelmed with a theater experience that they’ve didn’t know was possible: to be that close, to be that much a part of the experience, to feel so intensely.

Convergence is a true ensemble company. It’s made up of passionate, wholly committed actors, directors, light designers, sound designers, playwrights, video designers, costumers, set designers, painters, box office managers, and musicians—all volunteers: virtually impossible to believe in many ways. And they are all successful!! Critically acclaimed productions! Awards for acting, design, productions! And all working for the production itself, and not some small rapacious little thing like money or notoriety or any self-proclaimed “groundbreaking” aesthetic.

So, besides this… why give? convergence-continuum, the theater company, doesn’t own The Liminis, the theater space, in which they create their magic worlds! The Liminis space itself, that was so unique to the production I described above—-the garage door, the trap door, the movie screen wall—-all of the three-dimensional feast of experiences possible in a location—-is at risk.

What if theatre weren’t a mirror reflecting the familiar, but an opening into unknown territory? What if there were no fourth wall? What if, instead of going to the theatre to watch a play, you crossed the threshold into the world of the play to experience it? Theatre that expands the imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space, and performance that challenges the conventional notions of what theatre is. What sort of theatre would this be?


I’m giving to convergence right now. Please give to them as well.

Harm’s Way

August 30th, 2015 No comments

Harm's WayI just finished reading Mac Wellman’s 1978 play about angry people doing harmful things: really angry people living in a world where the landscape reflects or projects their inner turmoil.

The landscape that Wellman creates which stands out for me most is Scene Three:

A nightmarish hillside. Dim fires and explosions in the distance. There are three tall poles, or posts, on top of which are mounted wagon wheel. BY WAY OF BEING HIDDEN and two dummies are strapped respectively atop each of these.

The setting is apocalyptic. Getting all filled up on zombie shows: Fear the Walking Dead, and Z Nation (on Netflix), as well as what I’ll repeat, again, is one of the best pieces of social satire I’ve seen in a long time (Zombies of Mass Destruction). Regardless, I’m sort of in a place where I can easily picture total destruction and the haunted backdrop of the destroyed American landscape. Wellman seems to flick his pen to conjure this.

I was reminded of Caryl Churchill whilst reading this. Especially, Far Away.

Just as much as the setting/landscape, the characters are bombed out, devastated people. There’s not too much of humanity left in them and things are pretty bleak. SANTOUCHE, our through line in this fairytale, is an ignorant piece-of-shit killer on the run. He’s on the run for shooting MOTHER who shot her young son (CHILD) because he wouldn’t eat his Wonderbreaded American sandwich. In all fairness, Child did have a nasty mouth of his own alongside an antagonistic attitude. The shit goes down in an “alley between darkened tenements.” Santouche is there with his acquaintance, FISHEYE, whom Santouche verbally abuses like Walter abuses Donny in The Big Lebowsky. Fisheye tells Santouche he better beat it as people have seen the killing. On stage these people are THE CHORUS who also play instruments throughout: “a fiddle, a drum, and a flute or trumpet.”

I appreciate the use of a Chorus more and more now every time I see it utilized. It’s flexible and ambiguous. Convenient and practical. It also adds a bit of spectacle alongside the Brechtian wall-breaking that it provides. In this case, it adds character flavor and music, which is always fucking nice.

Santouche runs off to his special lady ISLE OF MERCY, which is what Santouche must believe a woman is—maybe a special lady or maybe just a lady friend, who knows. This interaction is the first in which Santouche displays his astonishing ignorance of himself and argumentative logic. It’s like watching Bugs Bunny flip an argument on Daffy Duck: “Duck Season.” “Rabbit season.” “Duck season.” “Rabbit season.” “Rabbit Season.” “Duck Season.” Santouche needs something to sell. Isle of Mercy agrees to sell a broken watch and meet up with Santouche later, at a fair across the river, to give him the proceeds.

In Scene Three, besides the startling landscape I described at the outset, Santouche encounters BY WAY OF BEING HIDDEN, who is a gender bent, non-specific Man / Woman. Whilst trying to get Santouche to get him/her down from the wagon wheel pole, BW says:

“Look, I’ll do good by you, you’ll see./
You let me down and I’ll even it up, /
Don’t you worry about that, a man like me /
You can trust, I swear.”

Only to create startling mystery at the end of the scene when BW entices Santouche up to help by stating:

“I’m a girl.”

I was also astonished by the “a man like me / you can trust, I swear.” I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this line: the act of presuming to say it to a complete stranger and, for the stranger hearing it, how to comprehend the naivety expected on the part of the speaker. There is implicit irony in the statement itself, as if there are two completely different people inside of BW: one of who is vouching for the other. Compounding this, of course, is the irony that the man swearing about his trustworthiness claims, a page later, to be not a man at all.

The interaction between BW and Santouche also touches on the problems of trust and willingness that this play relentlessly pounds. Each character is motivated, for the most part, by selfishness. Each wants what he wants. This creates a problem for each character, as, when he finds himself in a tough spot, he must rely on other characters that have no sense of empathy whatsoever. Inclination to help must be bought or traded. There is no trust. Everyone is lying. Everyone is hiding something and trying to get around on someone else.

There is a texture that feels like the old west to this play. A sense of Wellman critiquing the American psyche: the confident self-reliance in situations that are, as often as not, created by some ignorant action to begin with. That, and everyone is packing a gun.

To be continued….

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