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Keyword: ‘tremont’

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.

Say you Love Satan

September 30th, 2010 No comments

Went to see this at convergence. It was a good time.  Funny play, hits the notes that a funny play should hit.  Not much in the depth department.  Quick story line: guy meets guy in a laundry mat; guy and guy become sexually involved; guy finds out that other guy is Satan (Jack–Lukas Roberts); Satan wants to steal other guy’s body (and ‘hit the gym’) but can only do so by getting the body from a willing partner and by killing an infant (‘they’re like olive oil in Italian cooking: you use them in everything’).

The play has a very droll sense of humor and some very funny lines (per the above). It shoves two stories together to allow for contrasting visions of meaning: the story as described above and the story line in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.  I’m a great fan of Crime and Punishment as well as Notes from Underground; but have never read Karamazov, so I don’t know how well the contrast of content works.  I can say from a viewer’s perspective, it does not work as effectively as it probably should, as I was unable to clearly see the parallels.

According to Wikipedia (the source for everything, right?), Karamazov is a “spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason” and I can certainly see elements of that in Satan.  Obviously, if you’re not a believer in anything and find that you suddenly are dating the chief antagonist in one of the oldest stories in Christendom, then you need to re-think some things.  Themes are balanced as well by difficulties that the main character, Andrew (well-played by Scott Gorbach) has in dealing with his own insecurities and relationships with others (including a fantastically aggressive Bernadette–Laren B. Smith and a saintly Jerrod–Stuart Hoffman).  I also have to give a shout out to my Ranger, Tyson Rand, who kicked ass and stole scenes as the burly bouncer and answering machine (with a phenomenal ponytail).

On the whole the play is fairly flimsy and the seams are visible, especially the moment where the play shifts gears and pushes toward a conclusion.  This is a common problem though with comedies, as one of my friends likes to point out, as there really is no cause for an ending at all but there must, by convention, be one.  Thus, as my friend points out, the true success of Monty Python in avoiding any contrived ending in its work and just ratcheting up the absurdity.  With theater, it seems, the path to contrivance is inevitable, and was the case in my own play when it was staged in 2008.  (After all, the play has to end somewhere, right?)  Satan is a play that makes one laugh as it slings mild criticism at certain aspects of how we relate to each other in our society as well as the things we place value on, but it doesn’t go beyond that–nor do I think it was meant to.

As usual, Clyde and convergence re-imagined the space of The Liminis in a wonderful way, transforming the space into a gay dance club.  Added to this is the comic story recounted by Clyde about the opening of The Liminis (nearly 10 years ago).  The space had been a bar named Club Juana Diaz, and when it re-opened as a theater a Tremont resident, who noted the “change in clientele walking toward the newly-opened Liminis, asked one of the passersby, ‘So, is the place now a gay bar or what?’”  The space had a functioning bar for the performance, a cage area for intimate dancing, a dance floor, and, of course, the light design (Cory Molner) accounted for that most excellent of dance club features.

There are some strategies that I noticed with interest including the constant narrative voice over used by Andrew’s character. So, as he is in action he narrates his inner thought processes to the audience. I don’t know if that technique has any resonance in Karamazov, but would assume it does.  I think the notion of narrative/monolog while the character is in motion doing something else is an interesting strategy to keep the forward movement of action in what would normally be a static section (given more traditional approaches to monologic moments). Narrative is one area in which I am particularly interested right now as my thesis play will use characters who often engage in direct address (I like the notion of polyvocality as a method of decentralizing “authority” in the text of the play as much as possible). So, aspects of how to handle narrative sections are of interest to me. In most cases I like the fact that direct address breaks the wall and calls attention to itself a la Brecht, and Jenkins, and Overmyer, etc., and the interactional effect that this has on the relationship with the audience.

Another strategy I’ll comment on is that Aguirre-Sacasa’s script must leave blank space to allow for the staging company to “insert here” whatever local setting is desired.  Over lunch at the Dramatists Guild daylong event several of the playwrights were discussing this strategy for “localizing” a script and whether it had the intended effect.  For instance, there is a moment when Andrew flees Jack and ends up walking home through a bad neighborhood wearing only a towel.  In this instance, the proper name “Kinsman” was inserted to provide that local flavor–essentially pointing to a “bad” area in Cleveland.  There were other instances of this as well.  Is this an effective strategy?  Some playwrights found it to be contrived, obvious, and pandering.  One playwright felt that it threw him out of the play, drawing an awareness to external reality of the viewing location.  I’m sure there were audience members who felt that it was “neat” and had a comic effect.  One playwright was reminded of the openings of stand-up routines or rock concerts where the refrain is: “Hello, Cleveland” or whatever city.  I personally feel that if you can make it as generic as possible and yet retain the essence of the thing, that is a better way to go, rather than localizing it in such a way.  In life there are enough archetypal elements that they can be applied regardless of the locale: all cities have “bad” areas, hospitals, laundromats, etc.  Making them overtly local is just being cute.

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