Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Help with Play Suggestions

The Drama Department where I teach has decided to try to plan our seasons two years in advance. The way we decided to start this process was to come up with eight "themes" (we do four shows a year), and to find plays that fit the themes. I will put the themes below -- if you have any suggestions of plays that fit these themes, including your own, please share your ideas. The themes are:

The Human Condition
Memory and Imagination
Personal Responsibility


Joshua said...

My play TALLBOY WALKIN' might be of interest to you - the theme of the play is personal responsibility, and then some.

Anonymous said...

Here are a few recommendations (for the University Season):

1. Three Sisters by Chekhov. I would highly recommend David Mamet's translation of this play. This is one of a handful of plays that I will never get tired to rereading.

2. The Arabian Nights by Mary Zimmerman. This is a beautiful adaptation that I enjoyed as much as her brilliant version of Ovid's Metamorphosis a few years ago. One of the central ideas in this play is memory: individual, collective, and the politics of memory. The play is epic in its mythological scope, but contains occasional reminders of present life in the middle east.

3. Top Dog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks. In my opinion, no other play in the American theatre of the past 20 years rivals the accomplishment of this work (not even in Angels in America). The play is both realistic and highly allegorical and fantastical. It is also concerned with many of the themes you mentioned, especially memory and history.

4. Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega. A work that contains all of the themes that you mentioned.

5. Life is a Dream by Calderon de la Barca

6. Cuba and His Teddy Bear by Reinaldo Povod. This is a play that I have wanted to for years.

7. That Championship Season by Jason Miller. I sometimes feel that I am the last champion (pardon the pun) of this work. At any rate, I'll keep yelling until someone near me produces it. Jason Miller also wrote some wonderful one-act plays in the early 1990s before his death. They are also worth considering.


Anonymous said...

One more suggestion:

Indians by Arthur Kopit. I love the carnival and vaudeville style of this play. Even though it feels very much like a socially conscious play of Vietnam-era America, it is nevertheless still effective today at challenging the amorphousness of American and Western history. After reading the play again recently, I also found that the play placed a number of recent historical events in America in a new context for me.


Joshua said...

Top Dog / Underdog is a terrible play, terribly written and terribly realized. I understand that Suzi was awarded a Pulizter for the play - it's simply my opinion, of course, that it blows chunks - but there are much better plays deserving of attention. I really believe Parks is incredibly overrated and it's a huge pet peeve of mine - she's not comparable at all to Kushner, in any sense of the word, Parks is not a dramatist, she's a poet without thought to story or character - she's not in the same league of Kushner, she's not even playing the same game - Kushner is far better and I don't even consider him the best in the past 20 years (if anyone can truly state such a thing) - Parks ain't it - sorry to get ghetto on this, but to say that no other play in American Theatre for the last 20 years can rival hers is a strong, strong statement and one I feel I can let by without challenge.

For work in that arena done better, look at BOY by Diana Son for a play about identity - THE WAR BOYS or IN THE HEART OF AMERICA by Naomi Wallace for meditations on America memory and identity -

Kieth Atkins is another playwright in Park's story genre who does what she does, only much better. I also would recommend the work of Chicago playwrights Carson Becker and Brett Neveu.

That Championship Season has been made into a film twice, so it's not hurting for attention - neither is THREE SISTERS - it's been done everywhere, I myself have seen it at least four times since college, once just last year, and have vowed never to watch it again as a result. We also did Life Is a Dream at grad school when I was there - so I'm sure plenty of other colleges are doing it.

I agree with Brian on Kopit, but my personal favorite is Paula Vogel (who also has a Pulizter) if you're only going to consider famous playwrights -

My personal urge to you, Scott, is to look to undiscovered writers unknown in your region. Put their work up. And I'm not trying to mack my work at you - I would be happy to give you the names of a few writers that deserve recogition beyond what they're getting.

Do work of people today, and show your students how their own stories, and those of their comtemporaries, can be brought to light with theatre.

I know it often sounds as though I am dissing classics (cause, well, because I often do) - but I really think the best way of reaching students through theatre is by showing them what they themselves can do through original stories - when I got to U of I and met actual playwrights, it blew my mind because, up until that point, I hadn't even realized live writers wrote current plays simply because I hadn't done any plays like that.

I'm ranting, Scott, on my pet subject yet again, and tying up your blog. I will shut up - at least for now.

Freeman said...

Here are a few suggestions, some of them obvious. I think most good plays have some connection to these themes (being so broad) but I think these hit their target relatively well.

Courage - The Normal Heart (Larry Kramer)
Desire - Glenngary Glenn Ross (David Mamet)
The Human Condition - Endgame (Samuel Beckett)
Love - Passion (Stephen Sondheim)
Memory and Imagination - Krapp's Last Tape (Samuel Beckett)
Personal Responsibility - All That Fall (Arthur Miller)
Survival - Wit (Margaret Edson)
Wisdom - King Lear

Anonymous said...

"terribly written and realized." Wow. I had to laugh because I feel exactly the same way about every Vogel play I have read and seen.

What I find most interesting about Parks is her play with language and structural patterns.

That said, my notion of the "most important play of the last 20 years" should have been qualified. I should have said that, for me, TopDog/Underdog renewed by faith in and love for the theatre. No other "modern" play from my own experience, and I am a voracious reader, has come close.

However, I do sympathize with what you are saying. During my stint as a book reviewer for a paper, I chose to mostly focus on local novelists rather than big names [I discussed this in a recent post]. My logic for that decision was rooted in the same reasons you are now giving to Scott.

At the newspaper, publishers would send advance preview/review copies of the novels of local writers. With playwrights, just finding out about new works is very difficult, much less finding a copy (if the work has been published) or production (at least where I live--which is not NY but definitely not Bumfuck, Iowa).

I was only pointing out the plays that I have read that I feel are worthy of consideration.

Now, back to "TopDog" briefly...

Critic Jonathan Kalb hosted a panel on the plays of Suzan Lori Parks the other year, and the comments by director Leah Gardiner [on TopDog/Underdog] best summarize my own feelings towards this work:

“Everything old is made new again. Fashions return but with a different twist. Musical phraseologies which seem new emerge from the history bank of sound. Slang words from last week live in our culture for years. How often are we reminded that the old really isn’t old, and that the new is not always new? As in anything rooted in the past, Suzan-Lori Parks takes her interpretation of what was and assigns a new voice to it. In Topdog/Underdog, Lincoln and Booth are not the historical characters as we know them. They are instead two modern-day brothers who after several years of separation come back together to revisit their past and redefine their present. Their history dictates their future, making that which appears old appear new. Like a jazz riff, Topdog/Underdog flows like a con game both inside and outside our consciousness. We swim in the river of the blues with a lot of stops and starts along the way. Soul music allows us to go deeper into their humorous sensibilities. Hip-hop guides our understanding of what these men endure, living in a confined space placed against the backdrop of urban America. We are presented with the culture of black life, musical traditions influencing the presence, the language, the sound and the rhythms of truth. We are participants, not merely spectators, in a historical-theatrical storybook, one which unfolds delicately but powerfully before our eyes. As with any epic drama, Topdog asks us to face the successes and the failures of our society. In its specifics, it presents boldly drawn characters who represent the beauty and poetry of our country. We are asked to celebrate life in its purest form through the eyes of these two brothers, peeling away at a historical backdrop made anew.”

I’ll stop for the sake of time, but I did have some ideas about the actors and the language. One person said during one of our talk-backs in Philadelphia: “there’s no hip-hop in this play!” And I had to stop and think, but there’s a beautiful exchange between the brothers when they are shooting the dozens—a term in the black community which plays on language: Lincoln says, “Sure, sure yer sure?” And the exchange is: “sure yer sure. Ya sure?” Booth says, “I’m sure.” “Ya sure? Sure yer sure?” And there’s the hip-hop, that rhythm—da duh, da duh da duh, da duh, da duh da duh da duh—which has its origins in bebop. That musical combination alone, in my opinion, takes this play out of naturalism and moves it into much more of what Suzan-Lori really represents, that is a non-linear, a more theatrical approach to making plays."


Freeman said...

Just to say:

I dig Top Dog. Is it perfect? No.

But hey, what is?

Dorothy said...

My one act play "Molecules" is about love. It's the "molecule" of a relationship. It was done by Cornish College. You can read it
there :
Just clink on where it says link and it will load to word for you...

Maria Irene Fornes is a very interesting playwright who deals with courage a lot. But she isn't new... :)

MattJ said...

Some of my thoughts for the season off the top of my head.....

Courage - Check out Terra Nova, by Ted Tally, it sort of ties, courage, survival, and the fragility of being human together

Desire - A Mouthful of Birds, Caryl Churchill. It's about possession; in that we are possessed by that which we desire

The Human Condition - Definitely Beckett or Ionesco come to mind; The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros, Endgame...

Love - Some Shakespeare maybe? (R&J, Midsummer?)

Memory and Imagination - Copenhagen: Michael Frayn... there's also some interesting questions of personal responsibility in there; ethics

Personal Responsibility -
Survival - Journey's End: R.C Sherriff

Anonymous said...

Check out The Clearing by Helen Edmondson it is an amazing play. She also has very good adaptations of Anna Karenina and the Mill on the Floss

Laura said...

Courage *
Desire *
The Human Condition *
Love *
Memory and Imagination
Personal Responsibility *

I'd say Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' fits well with a lot of these themes, in particular the ones starred.

specialists asthma said...
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