Posts Tagged ‘Stuart Hoffman’

G-d’s Honest Truth

April 28th, 2015 No comments

Save a Torah

I went to see G-d’s Honest Truth, a play by Renee Calarco, at Dobama’s space last night. The play was staged by Interplay Jewish Theatre in partnership with Dobama and made possible by the strong work that Faye Sholiton always puts into her projects.

G-d’s Honest Truth is a good, solid play that, I’m sure, started its life when Ms. Calarco heard the tale of Rabbi Menachem Youlus, who trolled the Eastern seaboard of the United States from 2004-2010 selling Torahs with fake histories.

As a playwright—-hell, as a person, like many other people—-I’ve heard my share of strange stories or stories that are pretty incredible. But as a playwright in particular I’ve thought to myself: “Myself, how do I dramatize this.” With the peculiar case of Rabbi Youlus in mind, I think Calarco has really done something impressive: not only has she managed to contextualize the events, but also she has managed to frame them in the history of a family and a community—not just in the sense of how the events impacted a family and community adversely (and the implications of it), but also how the events, in an odd way, lifted a family and community and enlivened it. These are contrary impulses, but life is filled with contradiction and Calarco does a great job of balancing them.

Youlus, in Calarco’s play, is named “Dov,” and was read by Stuart Hoffman: who seems to be everywhere these days—which is good because Hoffman is quite talented and always fun to see. Dov first appears with a married couple (Laura Perrotta and Scott Plate) whose son (Greg Violand) is about to be married. Larry (Plate) is carefully and meticulously inscribing the ketubah while Roberta (Perrotta) is having her dress made and ranting about how Larry has waited until the last minute to create ketubah when he had the whole of a two-year engagement to get it done. Dov casually drops the story of the “Holocaust Torah” and how a Polish priest unearthed it at Auschwitz, miraculously. The torah was wrapped in the torn clothing of the prisoners and even had bloodstains on it. Dov comments that a nearby synagogue is considering purchasing it, a fact that stings the impulse of Roberta and Larry. The two convince the board of their own synagogue to purchase the Holocaust Torah, which it does for half-a-million dollars. This story of the play winds on until we learn that another synagogue has a Holocaust Torah with the identical story, and, perhaps more egregious still, Dov locates a long lost copy of Anne Frank’s Diary that Anne was translating into English for practice. She had only completed two or so pages.

The absurdity of the background of these ‘holy relics’ and the bidding wars that they inspire in a community of people is another piece of the backdrop for this play, as is the microcosm of the family and individuals who have to consider their own faith and reliance on stories.

Ultimately, Calarco makes effective use of the Youlus story turning it into a launching point for her play, creating a deeper and more important meditation on what faith is, what family is, what history means, and how each of us fits into it.

Valerie Kilmer, a member of the chorus, played Violand’s fiancée; as well, both Tim Keo and Khaki Hermann filled out the chorus of the very entertaining play which was read before a full Dobama house.

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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