“The future can look mighty scary, especially when you consider the present.”
“Why challenge assumptions when you can have them confirmed? . . . You can’t burn books anymore, they’re all online.”
–columnist Jon Carroll, SF Chronicle 3/4/14
Theater Marin’s current season is nothing if not ambitious, bringing to the stage plays that were new a hundred years ago, by playwrights in their prime. The works of Strindberg, Brecht, Ibsen, and O’Neill play more often in the black boxes than the big houses. They laid the foundations for modern theater that is still evolving today, and I’m grateful to Theater Marin for taking up the challenge of putting some of them on. Good theater, no matter when it was originally produced, continues to enlighten us to this fact: no matter what era we live in, we humans are always milling about, trying to find our own ways through the turmoil and constraints of our contemporary societies.
The current production “An Evening of Short Plays” opens with two short plays before the intermission. Susan Glaspell’s Trifles (first produced in 1916) takes us into the farmhouse investigation of a rural murder scene, where the two detectives come into and out of the set, looking for “evidence.” In a witty take on women’s innate superiority in a time of repression, their wives remain in the kitchen chatting and rummaging through the effects of the accused, uncovering (and then covering up) a host of clues to which their husbands remain oblivious.
Next Berthold Brecht’s The Jewish Wife plans her escape from 1938 Nazi Germany before it is to late to leave. In a remarkable performance Judith Stein, along on the stage for most of the play with only a telephone and an empty chair to which to direct her words, builds the story of her world in a stage of collapse. How can she tell him that she is leaving him in order to save his career? It will only be for two or three weeks. . . . .
The real powerhouse of the evening’s lineup is director Ron Nash’s production of Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie. Set in Sweden in an era when social class and class awareness ruled all of society. There were boundaries which could not be crossed, and the Countess Miss Julie (Stephanie Ann Foster) is determined to ignore them all. She seduces her father the Count’s valet Jean (Michael Walraven). These two actors so intertwine their performances that it seems almost a perfect dance, a powerful waltz to the music of passion and despair, as the dutiful cook Kristin (Jocelyn Roddie) looks on. This is one of those memorable productions that keep you thinking and wondering long after you have left the theater. I think we may expect the same when Ron Nash takes on Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten for Theater Marin in May. Don’t miss that one, either.
“An Evening of Short Plays” ends soon. Two performances left: Saturday March 1 at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday March 2 At 3:00 p.m.
Stage: The Little Theatre at St. Vincent’s, 1 St. Vincent Drive, San Rafael CA
Box Office: 414-448-6152 or www.MarinOnStage.org
–translated from Samlade otryckta skrifter (Stockholm 1919)–
“An effective play should contain or make use of:
–hints and intimations
–a secret made known to the audience either at the beginning or toward the end. If the spectator but not the actors know the secret, the spectator enjoys their game of blindman’s bluff. If the spectator is not in on the secret, his curiosity is aroused and his attention held.
–a punishment (nemisis), a humiliation
–a careful resolution, either with or without a reconciliation
–a quid pro quo
–a reversal (revirement), an upset, a well-prepared surprise”
I was listening to a public radio station last week—an interview of an actress nominated for her performance in a leading role in one of 2013′s best films. The part of the conversation that most caught my attention did not make it into the final cut of the interview available on the web for me to get the quote right, so they (the actress, the interviewer, and the broadcaster) must here remain nameless.
The question (here paraphrased) was “When you are reading a script, what is it that you find attractive, that makes you want to be a part of this production?”
The answer (here also paraphrased): “You know, that is a very difficult question to answer. I can’t really say. But I can tell you what makes me take that script and throw it across the room and up against the wall. When all the characters speak with the same voice. Scriptwriting is such a difficult art. All the characters spring from the mind of one person, and it is almost impossible for that person to give each character a voice that belongs to him, that is not the writer’s voice.”
As writers, whether of scripts or short stories or novels or narrative nonfiction, we need to be vigilant about that issue: that each of the characters speaks in a voice that is uniquely his own. Each of our characters must be fully drawn as a living breathing human being, the sum of birthplace, parentage, education, livelihood, essences of comedy and tragedy and confusion in daily life across the sum of days so far. Some might think of this as backstory, but there is so much more to it than that.
My characters are not me, and I am not them. Their voices must be different from my own.
Most important of all, I want my pages and my words to be read, and acted upon—not thrown across the room in contempt.
“Part of my job [as a playwright] is to try and keep people interested in their seats for about two and a half hours. It is a very difficult thing to do. . . . I want to make people feel, to give them lessons in feeling. They can think afterward. In some countries this would be a difficult approach. . . . [to make them think] ‘we’ve been through this and we know what it is like.’ This is what audiences have muttered their heartbeat as they have watched Oedipus or Lear or Willy Loman.”
A light in the West
by David Hirzel 10/10/13
First Magi: The sun has set. No cloud disturbs the sky. No breeze ruffles the water.
Second Magi: All is calm. All is still. By degrees the glow fades—gold to orange, orange to lavender, lavender to indigo over our heads.
Third Magi: No star in that darkness.
First Magi: It is as if the entire world is waiting for one light to illumine the coming night.
Second Magi: There will be no moon.
Third Magi: It is the new moon.
First Magi: A new moon, a new light we know is coming, for all the darkness that now sweeps over our heads.
Second Magi: Look there! [He points] The night’s first star. It casts a glow upon the still water of the sea.
Third Magi: A trail of silver, from that one light. I’ve never seen that before, a reflection on the water, of a single star. Is it the one we seek? This evening star?
First Magi: It must be. See how that silver lane, rising, crosses the horizon’s level glow?
Second Magi: A cross.
Third Magi: A sign?
First Magi: It is the sign. It must be.
Second Magi: A light to lead us.
Third Magi: You are right, that line of rising light, it crosses with the glow of the set sun against the horizon.
First Magi: It must be a sign. To us. To we who seek.
Second Magi: As the darkness settles over the world. Do you not make it, the light, the sign spoken by the prophets? The birth of the Messiah.
Third Magi: That star was foretold to be in the East. This one is in the West. Over the sea. Above the water. It is but the evening star, the one we know well. It cannot be the prophecy. We must look elsewhere, if we are to find him.
First Magi: East. West. God has sent us a sign. It is not for us to overpower his wisdom with our reason.
Second Magi: North, South. They are all one. On the morrow, let us go and find the Child.
Third Magi: He will not be in the sea.
First Magi: Turn around. Look East. There. Behind you. [They turn]
Second Magi: Look there. Nazareth. Bethlehem.
Third Magi: The night has fallen over there. He is born among the common folk?
First Magi: You cannot say, “Look here!” “Look there!” The Messiah comes to tell us, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”
[World Premiere @ Sausalito Presbyterian Church 12/8/2013]
It is rare that I run into Famous Actors from the stage or screen, and rarer still that they run into me. And rarer still, that they might remember the incident as clearly as I do, or at all. This story, as of yesterday, now belongs only to me.
We were together in Jamaica in 1985—Peter O’Toole and I. He was shooting a film, Club Paradise; I was a transient guest at the hotel being used for some of the scenes. I was younger then, innocent of the ways of the world. I thought the fiberglass cannons—twenty-four pounders, I should say—were a part of the décor of the hotel’s crenellated balcony walls. Turned out they were props for the movie.
Our brief stay at this hotel being ended, we packed our bags and headed for the parking lot on the opposite side of a round-top wood door through a stucco wall. Just ahead of me (with our suitcases in hand) a large black washerwoman with a huge basket of fresh white laundry on her head was about to pass through that door to the outside.
At just that moment, as she opened the outswinging door, Peter O’Toole, always the consummate actor and now with the cameras rolling on the other side, was cued to rush past her and burst through that same door. Past the washerwoman, and into me.
We collided. O’Toole with me, that is. We looked into each others’ eyes, up close (my blues and his) for the briefest of moments, with that “Oh, excuse me!” expression one has for strangers in such moments. Then I carried my luggage on out through the door, and to my waiting car. O’Toole, I suppose, was next engaged in re-shooting that scene. Which was never used in the movie which on release sank like a stone. Not one of his more renowned efforts.
The moment was one of my few brushes with stardom. I’ve remembered it fondly, in great detail.. I don’t suppose my costar in the moment remembers it at all. He might have, but now it’s too late to tell.