135 – How We Got On

How We Got On
Idris Goodwin
2F 2M

Next up in the 2012 Humana Collection, How We Got On which is stylistically one of the coolest shows I’ve read in a while.

This is a hip-hop show. Written about, written as, it’s fascinating. The four characters are Hank, Julian, and Luann (suburban teenagers trying to make it big in the small city as rappers), and The Selector (a smooth talking late night radio personality waxing philosophical and toasting to Hank, Julian, and Luann). What’s really tight about this script is the formatting. Goodwin calls for repeated lines to be performed in exactly the same tone, as if they’ve been sampled and replayed.

We follow Hank, a young lyricist and would-be rapper trying to make the freshest rhymes he can. Little does he know there’s a new kid on the block (Julian), and it sounds like his rhymes are also pretty fresh. Hank does what he can and challenges Julian to a rap battle. At the appointed time and place Hank allows Julian to go first, which is what you want as an MC, but Julian is so fresh that no one even listens to Hank’s verse.

Hank retreats into his room, swearing off performance, and as he listens to the latest rap tape he realizes Julian plagiarized his verse. It was ALL stolen. Hank confronts Julian and the two set up an uneasy partnership. Hank will write, Julian will perform. They join forces and team up for the upcoming battle of the bands. It’s the best we’ve seen yet, but they lose and Luann, an intellectual young woman who just wants to rhyme, has the answer: they need beats. They can’t just do it a capella.

Hank sets his sights on an Akai MPC, a beat-mixer, and the grand prize for a city-wide rap competition. Hank tries to convince Julian to work on a song with him and Luann but Julian’s father wants him to focus on basketball. Luann tries to impress Julain with her freestyling skills but he just won’t listen and can’t see a dude rapping alongside a girl. Luann takes Hank to the top of the watertower to learn how to freestyle and although he never freestyles as well as Luann he does regain his confidence in rapping.

A short while later after heart-to-hearts with their dads Hank approaches Julian about making the freshest rap in the Hill, but Julian’s moving back to the City. Hank reveals that his dad believed in him and bought him the Akai MPC. It looks like Julian will turn around and say yes and suddenly the conversation starts looping. The Selector toasts us out as the samples become the best rap of the show, beatboxing and all. It’s gorgeous.

This play is slick, thoughtful, and considers form in fun and interesting ways. The narrator works and tells a story in a way that feels both fresh and real and like the sort of thing you’d expect LORTs to do, but you know the Artistic Directors are way too white to know what to do with it.

Would I direct it?
Gimme gimme. I’d pitch it.

Would I watch it?
Yes yes yes yes yes.

Next up?
Death Tax by Lucas Hnath.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of How We Got On from the Drama Bookshop click here.

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134 – Eat Your Heart Out

Eat Your Heart Out
Courtney Baron

3F 3M

The next few plays are coming from the 2012 Humana Collection. First up Courtney Baron’s Eat Your Heart Out which tells an interesting story about who we can and can’t love and whether that makes us bad people. She also does some interesting episodic things… We’ll talk.

We start with Tom and Nance, both in their 30s on a first date at a local art museum in Pasadena. Tom is awkward, perhaps over-eager, and trying his best. Nance has had a day and is wary of the whole ‘online dating’ thing, but hey, here we go. They make small talk about online profiles and try to get to know each other. Cut to Evie and Colin. Evie is Nance’s overweight, teenage daughter, Colin is her best-and-only-friend who moved to Pasadena somewhat recently and is in a long-distance relationship with a girl in New Jersey. They’re discussing Evie’s current harassment by the pretty girls in school, her new official title? Miss Fat Ass. Cut to Gabe and Alice, a couple in their late 30s who desperately want to get pregnant but can’t and have turned to adoption. They are preparing their house for an interview with a social worker about their ability to raise a child. Tensions are running high because they’re both incredibly nervous, that and Gabe accidentally brought home flowers that Alice was allergic to.

So this is where the play gets a bit interesting. The rest of the show is an intercutting of three sequences: 1) Tom and Nance’s date, 2) Gabe and Alice’s interview with Alice, the social worker assigned to their case, 3) Evie and Colin’s journey from the stat of school to homecoming. This threw me a little because I didn’t quite understand why one sequence was moving forward by leaps and bounds and the other two were stuck in the same 2-3 hour stretch but it all connects at the end in a really satisfying way. Also, Colin’s nightly emails to his girlfriend help keep track of the flow of time in the third sequence.

So let’s get into it! Alice and Evie have a rocky relationship, Alice thinks Evie’s miserable because she’s overweight. Evie mostly feels she’s miserable and overweight, one doesn’t cause the other. The two lash out at each other verbally, Alice tries to hold back but her anger gets the better of her. Colin likes fixing people and is attracted to the problem of Evie, but he’s not particularly interested in whether she’s heavy-set or not. He just wishes she’d calm down and either take revenge on the girls that are torturing her or forget about it. Once Colin’s relationship is on the rocks Evie wonders if losing weight could make Colin fall in love with her.

Alice and Gabe do their best to impress Nance and Gabe obscures the horrible divorce that tore his family apart. When this comes up in Alice’s solo interview with Nance the night goes to hell. Nance has been ignoring calls from Evie all night which leads to Alice and Gabe calling her a bad parent and discussing her privilege at not having to impress anyone as the perfect parent in order to earn the right to become one.

Tom and Nance both feel a bit desperate, and a bit not-committed to the date itself but they’re both incredibly lonely. Nance discusses the horrible relationship she has with her daughter and the nature of her divorce, she tries to scare Tom off, when that doesn’t work she invites Tom home with her.

As Homecoming night gets closer Colin and Evie decide to go to stick it to the popular girls and have a good night in spite of them. Nance convinces Evie that the dress she’s purchasing is too big, and to get a size down and diet for the two weeks leading up to homecoming. Evie acquiesces and, although she diets, come Homecoming night the dress won’t zip. Evie is mortified and won’t come out of the bathroom. She desperately calls her mother but Nance is busy dealing with Alice and Gabe and in a fit accidentally leaves her phone at Alice and Gabe’s house as she heads to her date with Tom. Colin decides to bounce, sick of waiting for Evie to get over herself. Evie has a panic attack so intense she feels like she has a heart attack and winds up in the hospital. She calls her mom one more time but the phone is answered by Alice. Alice and Gabe go to the hospital to tend to Evie, Tom and Nance head home. Alice stays with Evie and assures her that her mother will be there soon. Gabe catches up with Nance as she and Tom debate heading upstairs with Evie’s car in the driveway. End of play.

This is such a whirlwind and so exquisitely done. The characters all feel real and tackle a number of issues without becoming an issue play. It never feels After School Special it always feels complex and real. It’s wonderful and I’ll definitely revisit Baron if she’s got more to offer.

Would I direct it?
I wouldn’t pitch it to my company but if someone wanted me to direct it I would. It’s got a lot of great potential.

Would I watch it?
100%

Next up?
How We Got On by Idris Goodwin.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Eat Your Heart Out from the Drama Bookshop click here.

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133 – Tiny Alice

Tiny Alice
Edward Albee
1F 4M

Remember that highly acclaimed Albee play about the guy they convince to marry a house? Yeah me either.

Okay, I don’t even know where to start with this one, but let’s give it a shot, eh? A Lawyer meets with a Cardinal (those aren’t their names but we never get their names) to discuss a large donation that the Lawyer’s employer wants to make to the church, 1 million a year, for 20 years. The catch? Miss Alice, the Lawyer’s employer, would like  to meet one of the members of the clergy, a lay brother named Julian, who currently serves as a secretary of sorts, to facilitate the deal.

The cardinal agrees, we send Julian over and he’s greeted by the Butler (fortunately his name is Butler). Julian and Butler examine the to-scale model of the house that is on display in one of the rooms, it’s so eerily accurate that it even has a model of the model inside. Julian’s examination of the model is cut short and after exchanging words with the Lawyer he’s sent up to meet Miss Alice who he’s told is young but the woman he meets is geriatric. They attempt to have a conversation but she either can’t hear him or thinks he’s shouting. After Julian considers the futility of the whole thing Miss Alice sits up straight, removes her mask an wig, and reveals herself to be an attractive young woman. She insists that Julian visit often to get to know her so she can make up her mind about her donation.

Lawyer and Miss Alice have taken a deep-seated interest in Julian because he never finished his vows and for a period of about six years he vanished. We learn that he checked himself into an insane asylum because he believed that God was unknowable, and while he believed in God, he thought the church was describing something that didn’t exist– a fairy tale– and he couldn’t abide it. He also may or may not have had a child with a woman who thought she was Mary mother of God during his stay but we don’t really touch on that again so…

During one of his visits Julian notices the chapel in the model is on fire. Lawyer, Butler, and Julian rush to the actual chapel in the house and douse the flames, while Alice is left alone on stage where she alternates between prayers about the chapel and complaints of Lawyer, her former lover, hurting her wrist because he was jealous of Julian. After the flames are put out Miss Alice asks Julian to stay, perhaps to protect her from Lawyer, perhaps she has something else in mind.

Julian and Miss Alice grow closer together and eventually she pushes the subject of marriage. She tells Julian that she will donate the funds to the church if and only if Julian will agree to marry. They bring the Cardinal to officiate but something fishy is afoot. Butler and Lawyer discuss needing to fill Cardinal in about what exactly is happening. Cardinal is uneasy at first but gets it over with, it is for the best after all.

After the wedding Miss Alice will not see Julian. She does her best to avoid him immediately and everyone takes a strange turn, staying about five feet away at all times. Miss Alice packs her bags. Julian doesn’t understand what’s going on. Miss Alice attempts to explain. You see, there is a force that lives within the model, she calls it Tiny Alice, and that force is what spoke through Miss Alice during their engagement, and is what Julian is married to now. Because that makes a lot of sense. The marriage seems to have freed Miss Alice to leave as she chooses but Julian has a panic attack and in a struggle Lawyer shoots him in the stomach and leaves him to die. Why does that satisfy the house? I have no idea. Alice comforts Julian for a bit before he starts a delirious monologue about God, the house, and the nature of the universe. End of show.

Did that sound abrupt? It felt abrupt. The show I mean. Albee does an okay job adding to suspense and tension over the course of the show but the reveal is too quick and too weird and doesn’t get explored nearly enough to let us understand what’s going on. In looking at reviews the first production fared well and every other production has done incredibly poorly. Perhaps there was something Albee left off the page that he could provide in rehearsals? Or perhaps we were too entrenched in the Albee zeitgeist. Either way what remains on the page is slight and a bit nonsensical and I absolutely understand why even my Albee-aficionado friends don’t know about it.

Would I direct it?
Nah.

Would I watch it?
I don’t think so…

Next up?
Eat Your Heart Out by Courtney Baron.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Tiny Alice from the Drama Bookshop you could click here BUT EVEN THE DRAMA BOOKSHOP DOESN’T CARRY IT.

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132 – Soul Samurai

Soul Samurai
Qui Nguyen
2F 3M

So last year I had the good fortune to see Vampire Cowboys‘ production of Six Rounds of Vengeance, this really beautifully structured comic-book epic penned by Qui Nguyen. When I was at The Drama Bookshop after their flood I decided to pick up Soul Samurai which is set in the same world as Six Rounds, Long Tooths and all, and plays a bit like a 70s action flick.

We follow Dewdrop through flashbacks of her happy days with her girlfriend Sally (sadly taken by the Long Tooths) and her path to becoming Dewdrop, the Soul Samurai, as she defeats Boss 2k. To set the scene after the Long Tooths (they’re vampires, kids) take over New York the city becomes chaotic and a few warlords rise up to take control (Grandmaster Mack runs the LES, Boss2K owns Coney Island, and so on). Most people have left Brooklyn behind but Dewdrop needs in, turns out that’s where Sally was taken years ago, and where Boss2K, the object of Dewdrop’s vengeance remains today.

We clock how Dewdrop takes the loss of Sally and even have a few haunting visitations of Sally’s ghost, after one of these episodes Dewdrop decides to train with Sally’s old mentor: Master Leroy. There, in proper action flick fashion, Dewdrop gets her ass kicked and then has a training montage where she finally becomes worthy of becoming a student (but not yet good enough to take down Boss2k). Unfortunately for Dewdrop, and to the story’s delight, Master Leroy gets taken out by a new threat: Lady Snowflake. Dewdrop swears revenge and heads into Brooklyn.

Dewdrop takes out Boss2K with finesse but she and her sidekick Cert didn’t make an exit plan. They head for the subway tunnels to get off the streets but are ambushed in the dark. They wake up in a church their ambushers were really the over-eager protectors of a Parish. The preacher and Dewdrop argue over whether God can protect us from the Long Tooths or whether we need to just do it ourselves. The preacher offers Dewdrop a car but assures her the church is safe. Almost immediately after that Lady Snowflake enters, bent on revenge. Snowflake kills the pastor on sight and removes her mask, revealing herself to be the Long Toothified Sally. In the ensuing chaos Dewdrop and Cert flee.

We make it to the Brooklyn/Queens expressway with Long Tooths hot on Dewdrop’s tail. She leaps from their car to the 18-wheeler pursuing them and kills the driver, causing an accident, but ultimately saving themselves. In the wreckage a not-yet-dead Boss2K emerges and goes for Dewdrop. Just then Cert flies in with kung-fu kicks and b-boy breakdancing. He bests Boss2K but not before he gets bitten. Dewdrop and Cert have the first heart to heart as he asks her to kill him (he doesn’t wanna chase her ass as a badass Long Tooth, y’know?). She finally acquiesces before fleeing toward Queens. Unfortunately, along the way Lady Snowflake catches up and she has some serious beef. She’s mad Dewdrop abandoned her, she’s even more mad it took Dewdrop 5 years to get revenge. They have some tender moments and, to quote Nguyen himself, “the best girl-fight to ever be seen on a NY stage.” Battle-worn  and weary it looks like Dewdrop’s going to give in and let herself die, but in the last moment she runs Lady Snowflake through. As the sun begins to rise we get a video projection, Dewdrop and Sally years earlier, very much in love and very normal having a kitchen conversation. End of play. Roll credits.

Except as the audience leaves another clip plays, one of Dewdrop heading home from her battle with Lady Snowflake promising more adventures to come!

The play is a riotous good time. Blending 70s NYC with high-concept japanophile martial arts movies that tells a beautiful love story between two girls. Some of the sections need a bit of cleaning up and finessing, it doesn’t sit quite as well as Six Rounds does, but I’m sure the fight scenes will make you forget about the minor shortcomings of the play. All in all it’s the sort of thing that should be staged more in NYC. Vampire Cowboys, Qui Nguyen, give me more!

Would I direct it?
Maaaaan it’s gonna be a while before there’s a NYC production that isn’t done by the VC’s but like YEAH.

Would I watch it?
Please.

Next up?
Tiny Alice.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Soul Samurai from the Drama Bookshop click here.

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What a Year

Hey y’all.

I can’t believe it’s been an entire year and I haven’t blogged about a single play. I mean, to be fair, I directed three shows, had my 54Below debut, stage managed an immersive event, and wrote a play, on top of y’know Hot Pepper Theater and a bunch of other stuff. But like man, I gotta be better about this.

I can’t promise I’ll keep writing at this rate for months but I’m hoping to have a few weeks worth of content coming your way at the very least (He types, trying to avoid looking directly at his bookshelves that are overflowing with unread plays). Anyway! I hope you’re well, and if you’re new to Playperday or have been around for a while: Welcome! I write about a lot of the plays I read, mostly for myself, but I figured other people might find it useful too.

New post coming at 9am!

Cheers!
Todd

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131 – Saturday Night / Sunday Morning

Saturday Night / Sunday Morning
Katori Hall
7F 2M

So I started SMing a show and it’s incredibly out of hand and eating up a lot of my time. This might be briefer than other entries. Let’s get on with it shall we?

It’s the end of World War Two and we’re in a beauty shop/boarding house in Tennessee. The verbal swordplay of the characters is sharp and quick and things can shift quickly from a harmless joke to a brutal assault. Miss Mary, owns and operates the business and employs sisters Taffy and Mabel. Leanne, a tenant who always seems to be late on her rent, is lovesick over her Bobby, the boy she loved who went to war. He never sends her letters so she often mopes and worries that he’s dead, or worse, doesn’t love her anymore.

Newcomer Gladys asks if there’s room for her to stay at the house. She’s a church-going girl and she and Leanne hit it off. They’re kind to one another and Leanne offers to share her room. Gladys can read, write, and type (skills the rest of the girls don’t have; most of them are uneducated) and the sisters Taffy and Mabel have an idea to get Leanne to stop moping all of the time: Gladys should write Leanne letters as Bobby. Gladys has issues with the thought at first, she doesn’t want to lie, after all. But she’s taken with Leanne and would like to see her happy. She agrees.

The letters from Bobby are beautiful and poetic. He reads them as we imagine him and Leanne’s hopes are lifted. She wants to reply to Bobby (which seems like a bad idea to Gladys). This keeps up for a short while but secrets are hard to keep. Speaking of secrets Gladys has a big one. Over the course of the play she asks for god’s strength to lead her not into temptation. It turns out she’s in love with Leanne. The truth comes out when Bobby gets home from war, unsure of what’s happening with Leanne and what she means by ‘his letters’. Gladys confesses everything to her, but Leanne would rather love the idea of Bobby than the actuality of Gladys. She leaves. A parade of the boys goes by. Taffy talks about how all of the boys’ve come home. Miss Mary corrects her: some of them. End of play.

Sorry for the brevity. It’s a beautiful and funny play. It’s poignant and has a lot more tension than I underlined. There’s also a great moment where they wash off someone’s hair on accident which requires like, ten really good wigs. It’s fun and heartwarming and sad and heartbreaking the way any good play should be.

Would I direct it?
I’d love to.

Would I watch it?
Yes.

Next up?
The Mountaintop

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Katori Hall Plays: 1 from the Drama Bookshop click here.

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130 – Hoodoo Love

Hoodoo Love
Katori Hall
2F 2M

I needed to take a break from dead white guy’s writing for a little bit. I read this collection of Katori Hall’s between January and February but didn’t have time to blog about it. Hoodoo Love caught me with it’s lyrical sensibilities. It was also the first play of Hall’s that I ever read. She’s great and over this week and next we’ll discuss what’s in her volume of Plays: 1.

We have a cold open with Toulou, a young woman who ran away from the fields of Mississippi to Memphis. She assembles some ingredients for a hoodoo charm as a train sounds in the distance. She gathers her things. Flashback to one year earlier. Toulou and her lover Ace, a bluesman who travels up and down the river, have just finished having sex. They chat, she pees, they talk about demons, magic. He plays on the harmonica. She asks where he’s off to next and if he has other ladies (he does). She says they have nothing on her and she can be his muse if he’ll let her. She sings for him and he laughs. After he leaves she sings again, finding her voice. She’s powerful and wonderful.

Candylady, an older hoodoo woman, talks to Toulou about love. They discuss the best ways to keep a man and suddenly Jib, Toulou’s preacher brother arrives. He asks if he can stay with her while he looks for a job. Toulou isn’t keen on the idea but acquiesces. A month later Toulou’s getting sick and tired of Jib. She gets a new job and Ace comes back into town. Jib and Ace play a less than friendly game of cards as Jib tries to get some information out of Ace. Toulou comes home late, she tried to get in as the opening act at a bar on Beale street but wouldn’t you know it Ma Rainey, queen of blues, walked into the auditions. Jib and Ace are both drunk.

Ace has flowers, Toulou asks if they’re for her but apparently they’re for his dead wife Abby. It’s the anniversary of her death. The next day Candylady teaches Toulou how to make a charm to make Ace stay with her. She also gives her dragon’s blood to put in his food. It pretty-much equates to food poisoning. Toulou takes care of Ace over the next few days, he’s bedridden and can’t perform. She sings to him and he falls in love with her voice. A week later Candylady and Toulou finish the ritual. After that Toulou and Ace start performing together. They’re a hit! Ace asks Toulou to jump over a broom with him and get married. He asks her to come to Chicago with him tonight. They promise to meet on the midnight train. Jib comes home drunk. He’s angry that Toulou would degrade herself like this. He breaks the broom. He pins her down and talks about how she needs to be loved right. He rapes her. Candylady hears a commotion and goes to help. She is rooted in place. End of Act One.

Act Two. Toulou sings a song called Misery. Candylady talks to her, tells her she should’ve run away with Ace. Toulou stands, revealing she’s 6-months pregnant. Toulou doesn’t understand how Candylady knew she was running off with Ace. The walls are thin. Toulou asks why Candylady didn’t come to her aid with Jib. Candylady doesn’t have much of an answer, but gives her a red vial to deal with him. Jib has been raising funds for a church in Memphis.

Ace rolls back into town, a little said to see that Toulou’s pregnant. He’s sure she’s got a man. He’s angry to boot. Last night he drank with Jib and he has a feeling l’il hoodoo Toulou cast a spell on him. He pulls out her mojo bag, breaking the spell. Jib strolls in, Ace invited him to come up for the night. Toulou’s furious but decides to deal with it if it means Ace’ll stay. They have a meal but it doesn’t go over well. Jib forgets his new flask at Toulou’s and she dumps the contents of the vial in it. Much later Ace and Jib return from drinking on Beale. They find Jib’s flask and decide to play cards for it. During the game Ace tries to weasel some information out of Jib. Talk ’round the town is that Jib’s been sleeping with his sister. Jib’s had enough of the flirtation with the subject, and as he’s about to lose he says that Toulou’s baby might be his. Ace takes a long swig from the flask he’s won. Toulou gets home and Ace lashes out verbally. He grabs his thing but struggles, he falls to his knees. Toulou realizes what has happened. She gets Jib to ask Candylady for the antidote, but there isn’t one. Ace dies in her arms. She sings a song.

Epilogue: She sings the song she sang at top of show. Candylady and her daughter Acie Mae wish her well. She catches the last train out of town to go sing the blues. End of play.

It’s this really gorgeous lyrical play with a lot of life and magic in it. It was breathtaking and heartbreaking. I loved reading it.

Would I direct it?
Boy would I ever.

Would I watch it?
Absolutely

Next up?
Saturday Night / Sunday Morning

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Katori Hall Plays: 1 from the Drama Bookshop click here.

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